From Philemon to Panandreaou:
A story of the Greek downfall


by Barbara Anderson


The Salem News
Thursday, July 9, 2015


 

This land is my native land. And yet, I am sick for home for the red roofs and the olives,
And the foreign words and the smell of the sea fall.
How can a wise man have two countries? How can a man have the earth and the wind and want
A land far off, alien.

"American Letter," Archibald MacLeish

I'm not sure exactly when I fell in love with Greece. I met the Greek gods in childhood, from a Nathaniel Hawthorne story about Zeus and Hermes visiting a village in disguise and being refused refreshment until they stopped at the simple home of an elderly couple, who gave them bread and milk. As their reward, the milk pitcher remained filled for the couple's lifetime, and when they died they became trees, with branches intertwined.

The giant spruce trees in my front yard are named Philemon and Baucis, after the hospitable couple. A small statue of Athena, with her bronze horse, is next to my computer, and her sacred owl decorates my bedroom wall, as does a profile of Poseidon, god of the sea. A drawing of Athena and Poseidon is the first thing you'll see as you enter my home.

It's not all about the gods, though; a bust of Aristotle sits next to my television, Greek vases and tile decorate my kitchen and bath, and my favorite earrings carry the Greek key design, which symbolizes infinity.

I lived in Greece with my Naval officer husband and our young son for two years, between 1969-71, in the downstairs of a two-family house owned by a Greek family, who lived behind it. Georges, a carpenter, told us stories of the fairly recent civil war, and Georgia taught me to make moussaka.

I loved everything about the country: the weather, the friendly, honest merchants; the fresh food, the warm waters of the Mediterranean coast, the magnificent scenery. Though living in a modest home in a middle-class Greek neighborhood, we had a magnificent view of Mount Parnis across the Athens valley, while Mount Pentelicon, with its marble quarries, rose behind our small town of Kifissia.

Soon after settling in, I took a local bus to Delphi, to consult with the oracle, who told me what she tells everyone: "Know thyself." I was also interested in knowing Greek history, especially ancient and modern, skipping the Byzantine era. I spent hours on the Acropolis; our family drove to the ruins of Corinth, Olympus, more obscure sites down rocky paths. I read Kenneth Young's "The Greek Passion," which took me from 2000 B.C. through the attempted communist takeovers leading to the military dictatorship that ruled Athens for the time I lived there.

 

The colonels encouraged tourism and supported the U.S. military presence. As happens elsewhere, Americans chose to support dictators who held back the communists we were fighting during that era. We Navy dependents were told to avoid discussing politics with our new friends.

Back in the U.S.A., I was happy when the military junta left in 1974, and Greece returned to the "democracia" it had invented. Unfortunately, Harvard-educated leftist Andreas Papandreaou also returned, from his exile in Sweden, and formed a new party, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, which eventually won democratic elections, and here we are.

We're told about the pensions to civil servants who can retire at age 58 and the almost universal tax avoidance, fueled by government incompetence and corruption. So we can blame the Greek voters for their current state of affairs, but let's make sure we include others who validated them into fiscal insolvency.

Author Michael Lewis, who exposed some of the secrets of the 2008 American fiscal crisis and bailout, wrote an article about the 2008 crisis in Greece for the October 2010 Vanity Fair now called "Beware the Greeks Bearing Bonds." I haven't seen any mention of this article during the present crisis; I recommend you read it online.

Lewis said that until Greece dropped the drachma and went to the Euro, it was charged interest rates 10 percent higher than German rates. To enter the Eurozone and get better rates, it had to show low budget deficits and low inflation, so it cooked its books.

"To lower the budget deficit the Greek government moved all sorts of expenses (pensions, defense expenditures) off the books. To lower Greek inflation the government did things like freeze prices for electricity and water and other government-supplied goods, and cut taxes on gas, alcohol and tobacco remove (high-priced) tomatoes from the consumer price index on the day inflation was measured."

Lewis charges that Athens showed the European Union a fabricated set of books created by financial statisticians in one of the Mount Athos monasteries, which was allegedly rewarded with valuable government land. He also accuses Goldman Sachs of helping hide the Greek government's level of indebtedness, by effectively loaning Greece money in return for a reported $300 million in fees.

Which makes me continue to wonder, why didn't the German financiers notice all this going on? After 2009, EU bankers continued making loans, and collecting interest, before the fiscal dysfunction was addressed. I think they should forgive some portion of those loans now if the Greeks accept EU terms.

My studies of the Greek people teach the wonders from the Golden Age of Pericles, the genius of the playwrights and philosophers, the fierce fighting ability of warriors who defeated the Persians, outlasted the Turks, repelled the Italians, resisted the Nazis and won a civil war against the communists, who massacred 10,000 hostages as they retreated.

Why did their descendants bring their country to its knees by adopting the entitlement mentality of socialism? Though, not to sound judgmental, because here's a second question: Why did we Americans start down that same road to ruin by beginning to adopt the entitlement mentality of socialism? As we owe the Greeks for the beginnings of our American dream, we may owe them a sad bit of gratitude for the warning about its potential ending.

Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is president of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a Salem News columnist.


The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.


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Citizens for Limited Taxation    PO Box 1147    Marblehead, MA 01945    508-915-3665