Sunday, 18 May 2008

Welcome to Europe!

The Greek government wants to get rid of its phone company: OTE. For months now they have been in talks with the German company Deutsche Telekom which now owns the majority of OTE shares, the first step for a take over.

The Greeks were already angry because of the privatisation of the pension funds and about low wages, but are even more than mad now. Proof is the spontaneous strikes and demonstrations. Strikes seem to have become a common part of daily life here in Greece, but I must say, at least the Greeks hit the streets or take action to defend their national institutions.

I mean, look at the Netherlands. It's crazy that you trust your money to somebody and suddenly your bank is sold to a bunch of foreign banks! I don't want to go to Fortis, Barclays or the Royal Bank of Scotland. Did anybody ask my opinion? No. The same for my web hosting company that was suddenly bought by a company that I have tried to avoid for the greater part of my life. Does the customer get compensated when he moves? Is he getting something from the changes? No. Only Judas gets away with hundreds, thousands or millions of euros. There goes my money!

For Greece it's just the first big takeover by a foreign company. The money taken by the Judas is probably given in a sealed envelop under the table (Fakelos), as is custom here. In the Netherlands that happens in the open and each time such shameful amounts are published, the Dutch take a deep breath and ask questions in parliament. Then the prime minister shrugs his shoulders because he claims there's nothing he can do, or a minister says that the grab-culture has to be stopped and then our political heroes go back to their daily work, which is like a quarrel between neigbours. Is anybody taking to the streets because they feel cheated? Are there any spontaneous strikes? No. But it's about time. According to the Dutch paper Volkskrant, the difference in wages between senior managers and the workers have tripled in 25 years! Is it any wonder life gets more and more expensive?

In Greece they know this grab-culture in the form of envelopes (fakelos). When you visit a doctor, when you have a child or you have to make a registration with a lawyer, then you take a fakelos to be sure that everything will get done. A fakelos contains an amount with at least two zeros. And of course Greek politicians are not much better than the Dutch. This winter there was a serious investigation into who got thick fakelos from the German company Siemens to ensure they would deliver all electronic supplies for the Olympic Games of Athens in 2004. And there is always some inquiry underway into a minister who has received too much money or who has transgressed his own laws.

Life in Greece these days is much more expensive than in the Netherlands. Even though the people fight against it. Last week truckers were striking, so were the drivers delivering petrol to the filling stations. University lecturers were on strike and some of the Olympic Airways crew. I probably forgot many more. Just as some weeks ago the electricity company went on strike and stopped daily life in nearly all of the country, last week again daily life was disrupted because of fuel shortage and so on.

In Lesvos we were not troubled too much. The Lidl supermarket was empty, there were no herbs or olive soaps in the co-operative shop and here and there there was a shortage of some things. Some people were worried whether they could leave the island, but I never saw them come back, so probably Olympic Airways got them to Athens. And we didn't have any fuel shortage because the island has such a huge stock that we didn't have to queue in order to get fuel, as they did in other parts of the country.

There was quite a different strike on a small island in the Aegean Sea: 121 refugees, aged between 10 and 16 years, went on hunger strike on the island of Leros, which they reached illegal from Turkey. They are housed in a hotel and nearby buildings but the conditions are inhuman.

Leros is part of the South Eastern Dodecanese and has a little over 8,000 inhabitants. Since the beginning of the year some 860 refugees, amongst them a lot of children, have reached the island. In Greece it is reported that more and more child refugees travelling alone are reaching the country. The people of Leros don't know what to do now. They have no expertise with such big numbers of refugees and they have no infrastructure to accommodate them. They will probably have to collect a lot of fakelos, if they want the Greek government to help them with this problem. Pretty soon the summer season starts on Leros, but all the hotel beds are already taken...

Copyright © Smitaki 2008

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