Greece is embarked on sales of star assets. This is Piraeus, the main port and industrial centre of Greece, is an jewel in an economic crown of thorns. Like 11 other ports in the land whose people have been sailors for millennia, Piraeus – along with 29 airports – is going to be partly privatised. The deal with its rescue creditors is supposed to bring 50 billion euros to Athens from now until 2015.
After capital has been pouring out of Greece for years, euronews correspondent Laura Davidescu asked:
“How can it refloat its economy when 80 billion euros has left the country since today’s crisis began in 2010? The sum total of fortunes that have sailed off to foreign banks and tax havens is well over the 350 billion-euro public debt.”
Well-known journalist and author in his country Pavlos Tsimas is no more able to answer this than anyone else. He is a He sees the Greek crisis as a continuation of the speculative bubble that blew in autumn 2008, giving all of Europe a toxic splattering.
His latest book, ‘Journal of the Crisis’, takes the reader round a spiral encompassing the US, Iceland, Ireland, Portugal and Spain, and of course Greece. He shines a financial light on wealthy Greeks’ love for their country.
Tsimas said: “Around the late 1990s, when Greece started to hope that it would join the euro, money started to run towards the country, there were a flow of capital towards Greece. ‘A,’ because rich Greeks, shipping, construction, whatever, who made their fortunes abroad …and that for generations kept their fortunes abroad, started to invest in the country. ‘B,’ Greece could never tap the financial markets up before 1999-2000 because rates were extremely high. And suddenly rates fell from 19, 18, 20 percent to 4 percent, 3 percent (when the euro was adopted). And I think Greek governments got drunk on loans, on borrowed money.”
Some civil servants’ salaries doubled over a decade. Military spending swelled. Industrial production declined. Everyone, from ordinary workers up to government lived with borrowed money. Restrictive labour laws remained in place, political and business cronyism was not addressed.
Modernising the Greek economy and the way the country was administered was not a priority.
Tsimas said: “Political life was wrong, government was wrong and the way the economy worked was wrong. We lived in a bubble and people now sense it … It was a bubble.”
Almost everywhere in Greece, stone structures from long ago still partly stand, like the Temple of Zeus, symbolic reminders of structural solidity that today is needed to manage consumer and public debt – grown to Olympic proportions.