Saturday, November 1, 2014

33 Reasons Why Athens (and Greece) is still in deep depression

...So I came upon this article last night, and it really annoyed me. It claimed to present "33 Reasons Why Athens Is The Next Big Thing". Some of these "reasons" are pre-existing and/or permanent (the food, the views etc), some are questionable (Athens is cheap? Not for the majority of its inhabitants: it is probably the most expensive city in Europe by average purchasing power). Some are misleading and dated (Athens is far less busy at night now than I ever remember it). Some are false (Athens is not laid back anymore except if you are unemployed or rich. Everybody in between is literally running for their lives). 
This is PR, par for the course, possibly part of some marketing strategy. But it isn't harmless and it is creating a false image of success that is 100% non-existent. People outside the country might be led to believe that all is well, that austerity turned out alright. It didn't: things still need to change drastically, and not only in Greece...
What I as an Athenian really resent, is this BS that's being projected by our (far-right, super-corrupt) government, of a city and a country that is "coming out of the crisis", a country that "has pulled itself together and its capital [that] has never been more lively". It hasn't pulled itself together, things are probably the worse they have ever been for a majority of working and unemployed Greeks and Athens is a city in deep depression (compared to its past almost manic vivacity). The only people who can possibly see Athens through such rose-tinted glasses are either detached foreign visitors, assuming they avoid the nastier parts and sides of the city and have no previous experience of Athens; and well-to-do Greeks, the "winners" of this crisis, the ones that project their own personal comfort to the city at large. These are exactly the sort of people, the 1% of the true victors and the 10-30% of "crisis survivors" that form the backbone of the "pro-austerity" parties. They have become fascinatingly adept in turning a blind eye to the persistent humanitarian crisis that the country and the city is suffering, cynically indifferent to the mass of "losers", inhuman in their disdain of the common people. The last image of the article, of a woman in Kifissia, one of the poshest suburbs in Athens, is indicative. The inhabitants of Kifissia are indeed well-placed in not noticing the disaster that has befallen, and is still enveloping the country. The Athens described, is their Athens.

So let me present below 33 reasons why all this hype is plain orwellian...

(1) Projecting the poverty numbers in Greece as a whole to Athens, assuming a population of 4 million people, we can estimate that the city has approximately a million people, below poverty, including (2) a record number of children - more than in any other OECD country. By a similar projection (3) another million and a half are in danger of poverty, as 2/3 of the country in total are near or below the poverty line.
(4) Homelessness is ubiquitous in a city that practically was a stranger to the phenomenon until 2010
(5) Hundreds of thousands are denied even basic health-care and insurance as (6) the national health system crumbles under the burden of austerity.
(7) Around a million Athenians are jobless, (and (8) youth unemployment in the country is at 50%+). (9) Unemployment benefits are meager, last a year and after that, people are (10) pretty much left to fend for themselves.
For those who do work, wages (especially for the young but generally for all) have (11) been dropping continuously and precipitously, often below subsistence levels. In fact most of the jobs that do exist are in the kinds of bars mentioned in the article, and in low-skilled menial work, paying 200-500 Euros, usually uninsured. Greeks are on average 40% poorer than when the crisis began, and falling... This of course leads (12) to levels of inequality (showcased in Athens magnificently if one wants to drive around a bit) not seen in the country since the 1950s (if then), high enough that even the bleeding IMF thinks something should be done about it. The disaster has affected (13) gender equality which is also rapidly declining.
At the same time that incomes are collapsing, (14) Greeks (especially lower and middle class Greeks) are the most heavily taxed citizens in Europe. Often Greeks are literally dying to pay their taxes.... It is small wonder then that (15) Greece comes last in EU Social Justice rankings
(16) A massive migration exodus of the best and brightest has occurred, reducing the size of the Athenian ((17) naturally declining) youth population...
(18) The police presence in Athens is so thick, it is reminiscent of a military dictatorship, while at the same time these same police officers - around (19) half of which vote for the Nazi Golden Dawn Party - are (20) infiltrated by nazis and in (21) collusion with them, have (22) repeatedly attacked any person (tourists included) who looks "suspiciously foreign", or doesn't wear proper clothes, or (23) is fighting the Nazis. Actual undocumented immigrants are (24) treated worse than animals. Police brutality is so out of control, that a majority of Greeks fear they might be tortured in police custody. The Nazis (and 16% of the voters in the municipality of Athens voted for the Nazi candidate) are (25) still a threat, despite the fact that their leadership is now on trial, since they are pretty much given an implicit OK by the police to attack whoever they like, and that includes, say, gay couples (in a series of attacks this summer) and religious minorities. Police too, are often blatantly homophobic.
In line with the authoritarian governing style a couple of years ago, the ministry of health (26) published pictures, personal data and names of 31 HIV-positive women who lived in Athens, accused of prostitution.
(27) A drug epidemic featuring, among other substances, a locally brewed version of crystal meth, is also in full swing. Also of course, (28) prostitution is booming.
Greeks in general are so happy that they (29) are killing themselves in unprecedented numbers, for a country with traditionally low suicide rates. The broader Athens area is leading the country in this tragic statistic. Similarly for (30) mental illness which has increased rapidly these past few years, while at the same time (31) the psychiatric infrastructure of the country is collapsing. This is evident by now in the streets of Athens.
Athenians, as all Greeks are thus (32) deeply pessimistic about the future. And they also have (33) the OECD's lowest life satisfaction score.

The list can actually go well beyond 33. The only way for Athens to return to any kind of European normal is for its citizens to revolt against the criminal austerity policies that are killing it. Otherwise the new normal will be that of a demoralized Third World city.