“We made a lot of mistakes when we changed to the euro, and some people made a lot of money. Now they say we must pay off the debt. That’s fine. If we owe money, I’ll contribute to paying it off. But only if those who profited pay their fair share. I’d like to line those responsible up and shoot them. But we already tried a military junta … ”
We were chatting to a mild-mannered elderly couple, who invited us to stop for a coffee and delicious home-made morello cherry preserve. As usual, talk turned to the Crisis – the complete collapse of the Greek economy with widespread unemployment and hardship. I was curious to find out how people thought it might be resolved.
“I decided some time ago that I wasn’t paying any more money to this government,” we’d been told in a similar conversation a few weeks earlier. ” I have a car but I only use it on the remote mountain roads, as I’m not prepared to pay road tax.” The feeling was widespread. The mountain areas were a cash economy. We were almost never asked to register at guesthouses, and income from our stay would never show up in the books.
Later on, we passed the massive Mesochora dam, built with EU money: a powerful reminder of all that had gone wrong. The earthworks disfigure the whole valley, but the hydro-electric power station has never been commissioned, partly due to challenges from environmentalists that it would destroy the unique Acheloos river system. “Government and big business have benefitted, but it’s the little people who are paying,” commented one local. “What we need is a European representative, an outsider, not a Greek, to come and sort out the corruption.”
“Maybe only the next generation will be able to tackle the Greek mafia and sort things out,” suggested somebody else, the father of a young family.
“Trust,” I mused to myself as we walked on. “People don’t trust politicians much in the UK, but this is what happens when trust disappears completely.” So the rapid rise of the left-wing Syriza coalition, founded in 2004, and elected to government at the start of 2015, was no surprise. It wasn’t just No to austerity. It was also No to the corruption of the established parties. Will they succeed in finding a way out of the debt crisis, without losing the trust of the electorate in their turn?