A conversation with your average Greek about debt

-This debt is unsustainable.

What do you mean?

-We have to get more loans just to pay the interest!  We will never manage to pay it off!

So what do you propose?

-Write all the debt off so we can recover.

But that would mean other Europeans having to pay for it.

-Yes, but you are all richer than us.  We have very very high unemployment.

You do, eh?  Are those unemployed looking for work?

-Of course they are!

So why are the cafeterias full of young people paying three times the price of a coffee in other European cities?

-That’s not typical. There are really poor people in Greece in other areas.

Oh really?  Can you show me one indicator that supports the idea that Greeks are poor?

-We don’t need indicators.  People are dying on the streets.

More than they are dying in other European cities?  This is inaccurate.  You have the least deaths of homeless people or elderly people.  They are living better than others.

-Because we care!  We have extended families.

No, because half the population lives with handouts from the Public Sector.  Either pensions you receive much earlier than other Europeans, or civil servant positions which are ridiculous…

-We work more than other Europeans!

Well, it must be pretty unproductive work, because your country keeps needing more money.

-Not our fault.  All our governments are sold out to the Americans and to Europe.  They suck our blood and get richer as we get poor.

Well, why are you allowing your government to make fools of you in Brussels now, demanding ridiculous things in the most rude way possible?

-They are heroes!  Someone had to stand up to the bloody Germans!

Germans have less than 50% home ownership.  Greeks are above 90%.

-That is simply a different culture.

Germans share car rides, prefer buying used clothes, have price differentiation in their product lines because they shop around for price.

-Well that’s just miserable!  We Greeks don’t bother with rubbish like that.

My point is, Germans and other Europeans try to save their money.  If they don’t have enough money, they go to the movies on a Monday afternoon when it is cheaper, they split their restaurant bills based on what they ate.

-What an awful idea!  In Greece we don’t scimp like that!  We order plenty food and then fight over who will pay the bill.

Oh really?



Playing the Eurovillage idiot

This is not a political statement.  A lot of friends and business associates are calling me these days and I thought I should put together the kind of reassuring statement our government is not.  From a communications point of view the country is in chaos.  Nobody is controlling the agenda and -though improved – Greeks are still passionate political beings.  Social media doesn’t help.

There are two, equally ridiculous, conflicting conspiracy theories.  One is that SYRIZA is a pawn of Putin.  They are expecting the Russians or the Chinese to bail us out.  The far right is also on their payroll.  It is a plan to ruin Europe.  Funnily enough that is the target of the Americans too!  In the other conspiracy theory, the previous government was ordered to step down by the US and the new one is secretly working with the Americans now….in order to ruin Europe!

All this would simply be foder for the Facebook village idiot to rant about were it not for the fact that the new government is indeed the perfect tool for anyone wanting to control the Euro.  The unflappable Merkel has overseen six bail outs so far quite successfully.  She is treating us like a patient wise old aunt, waiting until we run out of money before she gets involved.   Greece however is the country in her EuroFamily that produces such extreme stock market reactions.   Greece is the “heart”of Europe, it is a symbol.   It seems to swing out of the spotlight and then back in again.   One crazy statement from Greece (with the appropriate amount of international media attention) and currencies around the world bounce up or down.

Our politicians don’t help.  The current government is naive, disorganised and bold.   That is a dangerous combination.   Our finance minister, much like our prime minister, seems to show a blatant disregard for most institutions.   This isn’t just about bright shirts or the lack of ties.  The new government is walking an equally erratic line within its borders when attacking the church or taking back promises it made to civil servants.   Alexis Tsipras could say “we will dig a trench and float off into the Mediterranean until we get to Cuba”and nobody would bat an eyelid.  We all know he will change his mind the next day.

So don’t worry about Greece.  It is best to treat us like the village idiot.  With patience, humour and the persistence we need.   All hopes of a miracle solution, whether inside the country or internationally, are simply confusing matters.  This country needs to work hard for many years to become competitive in the global economy.  There are many of us who understand this, unfortunately none of them make it to government.  In the meantime, Greeks will do what Greeks do best since ancient times:  from Persians to Philip of Macedonia, the first world war or Byzantium, we are always making conspiracy theories about how “foreign powers”are trying to destroy us…

Why I think the “Elgin” marbles should stay in London

I am often accused of taking “extreme” positions just for the heck of it.  Well, sorry, this isn’t one of those cases.  I truly believe that Greece is better off if the parts of the Parthenon frieze stay where they are.  Here are my arguments, numbered for reference.  If you have a counter argument, give me the number and some logic, fact or new information.

1. The frieze was never “stolen” from Greece.  It was taken from Turkish lands.   Get a grip on international law please.  They had been Turkish for 400 years and before that a rather insignificant corner of the Roman empire for one and a half thousand years.  The Byzantines had already destroyed thousands of ancient Greek monuments for political reasons and through religious hatred, the Turks had let them fall to ruin through laziness or for profit of the local overlord.  That famous rock in Athens they were taken from had not been “Greek” for thousands of years when Elgin took them; it had been Athenian almost 2000 years earlier.   You have to have a pretty twisted view of history to find a direct legal line of “Greekiness” from the time the Romans conquered to 1800 when the marbles were taken.   In fact you can easily claim that the three empires after ancient Athens were in charge of the area for longer than the ancient Athenians!  (Which kind of “ancient Athenians” would you pick?)

2. Elgin saved the marbles.  Imagine where they would be if he had sold them to Napoleon?  (Napoleon offered more money that then British museum for starters!)  The Turks were in no way kind to antiquities and neither was the bunch of shepherds that lived around Athens in 1800.   We have no way of knowing whether they would have survived the war for Freedom from the Turks in the 1820s or even the German occupation in WWII.  London was one of the few places in the world to remain Nazi free at the same time as the Swastika ruled the Acropolis and many works of art completely disappeared forever from the world via Nazis which we never found somewhere in South America.

3. The new museum under the Acropolis is indeed a wonder and worthy of housing the frieze if it was to be returned.  Does anyone remember how many decades of bickering it took to build?  And the people demanding the return of the Elgin marbles were equally vociferous even before the museum!  In a city which is often completely disfunctional and horrible for tourists, where the center of town is closed for demonstrations, where you can smell the roses less often than tear gas, where the wonderful metro station near the new museum is often closed due to protests or strikes… now we think we can suddenly demand the marbles back?   Let’s just remember that for the past 200 years they have been permanently accessible to the world thanks to Elgin.  If they were returned they would simply go from one museum to another.  There is no scientific or practical way they would be reattached to the famous monument anyway.  (Nobody would be able to see them up there, they wouldn’t really fit and would probably look odd to us nowadays after all these years we have been seeing the Parthenon without them anyway.)

4. What tourists?  Millions of people visit the British museum annually.  1 in 4 tourists to London, that international hub, the place where Americans, Japanese and Chinese go first and foremost when they “do” Europe.   If the Greek government were to choose the absolute best place to advertise Greek tourism, a place to plant the idea “hey, make your next trip to Europe include Greece please” it would probably be the Ground Floor of the British museum!  Or, to put it another way, if the frieze left London, visitor numbers would be unaffected there but people visiting Greece would decrease.  The Parthenon’s status as an important cultural site would be diminished.   The copies in the new museum work fine to tell the story, what would Greece gain if the originals took their place?   It is not as if thousands of people would think “great!  Let’s visit Athens this year to see the marbles where they belong at last!”

5. Leave the “Elgin” marbles as a lost cause.  It is good promotion for all involved.   It wouldn’t even be a big deal without the fuss.  Hey, let’s start a “get Venus of Milos back from the Louvre” motion while we are at it too!  Get some of the French tourists thinking more about coming to Greece next time, why not?

6. Most of all I am ashamed of the way my compatriots whine and complain about this issue.  How they consider it their God given (which God?  Is that Zeus or the other one?) right to selectively claim anything “Greek” as and when they wish.   How they put Greece in a political corner of “spoilt brats” who act like there is no such thing as international law.  They make up excuses, imagine “facts” and twist everything at will and whim.  At a time when internationally museums are more proactively seeking exchanges and new ways to become financially viable and pertinent to society, Greek museums are as dead, inactive and bureaucratic as ever.  Greek Universities more useless than ever, especially in things related to antiquity, at the same time as British museums remain a hub of activity, innovation and collaboration.   Denying all this takes audacity and selective perception at a scale which clearly emphasizes the immaturity of this country and its citizens.  We are digging ourselves into a hole much like on the “Macedonia” issue, simply proving that in the few years since we became a unified “Greek” country for the first time (two centuries ago, just after Elgin left really) we have little understanding of what it takes to make a functional country-state.

Well we are not all like that.  So comment away about how I am not patriotic enough, how I am working against our “national interests” or whatever else you want.  But if you can’t find a decent counter argument, you have just proven my case.  Greece needs to work much much harder for much longer to prove itself internationally.  Just like two years of austerity doesn’t suddenly make us a paradigm of economic health, a few years of a fancy new museum doesn’t prove we deserve the world to suddenly give us whatever pieces of ancient art we selectively take fancy to.

Twice a stranger: the children of Lausanne

Whether we like it or not, those of us who live in Europe or in places influenced by European ideas remain the children of Lausanne; that is to say, of the convention signed on a Swiss lakeside after the First World War which decreed a massive, forced population movement between Turkey and Greece.

A bold opening, to what is one of the best books I have ever read by Bruce Clark.  Put it on your list for understanding the modern history of Greece and beyond.  …there are still many people inside and outside the Balkans who would like to see the ‘Lausanne principle’ reapplied; for example, by allowing Bosnia to break up into one or more states, or by dividing up Kosovo.

It is a serious legacy.

For the remainder of the century, the memory of the giant Greek-Turkish exchange was a powerful influence on policy makers all over the world. It was taken as proof that it was possible, both practically and morally, to undertake huge exercises in ethnic engineering, and proclaim them a success. Massive population exchanges, agreed by governments over the heads of the ordinary people, became a conceivable and often attractive option for world leaders. As the history of the 20th century shows, the temptation to use such methods is especially strong in certain types of political or geopolitical situation. For example, it can arise where one form of imperial authority (from Soviet communism to British colonial rule) is collapsing; or when a new nationalist power wants to consolidate its authority; or when a new strategic order is being created in the aftermath of war.

The beauty of the book is that after shooting off these bold claims, the author takes a quite different tack.

All over Turkey and Greece, you can see the physical remnants of a world whose component parts seem to have been broken apart, suddenly and with great violence. On remote hilltops in the heart of Anatolia, there are gutted shells of stone whose original, sacred purpose is revealed only by a few streaks of ochre paint on an inside wall; the last remains of a Christian fresco. In a nearby village, amid the wandering livestock and muddy tracks, you can often find a sturdy building of two or three storeys, now used as a hayshed or stable but clearly designed for some nobler purpose. On enquiry this turns out to be the remains of a school where Turkish-speaking Orthodox Christians were taught to be a little more Greek by teachers dispatched from Istanbul or Athens. And in the stark, featureless towns of northern Greece, the evidence from buildings is equally startling and puzzling. 

And he doesn’t just cover the topic with flowery prose.  It is the human stories that make it real for the reader:

Believers in a traditional Hellenophobia-Turkophobia would have stared at the sight of the Mytilene Greeks spreading farewell meals for their departing neighbours, and later accompanying them to the quay, where Christians and Mohammedans, who for a lifetime had been plowing adjacently and even sharing occasional backgammon games at village cafes, embraced and parted with tears. Then, seated on their heaped up baggage, with their flocks around them – the women weeping, the children hugging their pets, the gray-bearded babas all dignity, as is their wont – the Mytilene Muslims set forth for unknown Turkey.
– National Geographic magazine, November 1922

The book has the magical ability to transfer us from the touching episodes between people, to international diplomacy in the same page:

At the beginning of October 1922, a young Turkish officer called Kemaleddin went down to the harbour of a deserted Aegean port and bade an emotional goodbye to a distraught Greek woman. As he did so, he murmured the name of one of his three sisters who had been killed recently by the Greek army in his home town of Bursa. He also promised the Greek woman, Agape, that he would do whatever he could to ensure the safety of her eighteen-year-old brother, Ilias, who was one of the 3000 Greek men and boys from the town who had been taken prisoner, supposedly to engage in forced labour. This encounter between Kemaleddin and Agape, recounted by her many years later, was the culmination of a poignant human story which unfolded against the background of the momentous, and for many people, unspeakably painful events which took place that autumn on the western edge of Anatolia.

If schools in both countries were serious about education, this book would be compulsory reading.  For a Greek it is shocking to read about the masses of Muslim populations and their expulsion, yet:

In today’s Ayvalik, there are not many people with detailed knowledge of that period. If a local person wants to talk history, it is more likely to be the history of Crete, and of what it was like to be a Muslim there. Among Cretan Muslims, the memories they cultivate most strongly are almost a mirror image of those cherished by the Orthodox Greeks. The moments which official Greek history celebrates, they lament – and vice versa. In their collective memory, the advance of Greek nationalism is an unfolding tragedy.

Clark not only has a great understanding of modern Balkans but a unique capacity for empathy:

These deportees were given no choice in the matter. Nobody asked them whether they would have preferred to stay put, with all the attendant risks of being a small minority in a state where the majority was bent on affirming its domination. Nobody asked them how they felt, or to which nation or community they felt most attached. The personal feelings of the people involved were the last thing considered by the politicians who decreed the population exchange. What they wanted – and this was not an ignoble desire – was an arrangement that would be durable and minimize the risk of further war, either in the immediate future or in a subsequent generation.

As if this coctail was not good enough, the author also has an uncanny ease in attaching the past events to current developments:

Religions, languages and national traditions that used to co-exist now live separately, because no new terms of co-existence could be found. For better or worse, the Sultans provided a sort of shelter under which Muslim sheikhs could receive the faithful in Salonika, and Christian mystics could work their miracles in the villages of Cappadocia. When that authoritarian roof collapsed, people on both sides of the religious divide had to flee for their lives.

The sad fact is that multinational empires have given way not to multinational democracies but to sharply defined nation-states; and the process of redefinition has often been a violent one. 


A great introduction to modern Greece

It could almost be a travel guide but it has a story as well.   “Eurydice Street: A Place in Athens” by Sofka Zinovieff is a great answer to all those Greeks which get over excited about anything in international media even remotely negative about this country.

Athenian friends had told us we were mad to want to bring up our children where they were bringing up theirs. ‘Greece is good for holidays but not for living,’ they said. ‘It’s impossible to work, and it’s unbearably hot.’ I recalled various British friends who just thought that Athens was hideous and polluted.

Yep.   Indeed a common start to any conversation.   Ι will pack some copies next time I go abroad on business to answer them.  Her international experience and eye for detail puts it all in perspective.

Athens may be an ancient city, but it is also uncompromisingly modern. And there’s hardly anything else in between the two extremes. It’s almost as though the Athenians went straight from carved marble to reinforced concrete, skipping the intervening centuries. 

 The vehicle is perfect.   Her husband is Greek and she has two daughters to explain Greece to.   So it reads less like a pedantic travel guide and more like a novel.   From the beginning it is amusing:

Searching for somewhere to rent quickly got depressing. We enjoyed the fireplaces disguised as the Parthenon and the plaster caryatids and classical columns that were scattered around brand new houses like icing sugar decorations on wedding cakes. And we laughed about the ubiquitous and horrible, dungeon-like room known euphemistically in Greek as the playroom. But we didn’t want to live in these places. Friends from the more traditional, inland suburbs of Kifissia, Maroussi and Psychiko, in northern Athens, were sardonic. They told us pointedly that the seaside areas we were exploring were especially popular with ex-basketball players, the nouveaux riches, and Russian mafiosi.   We’d never get through a winter there, they said.

She doesn’t always manage to blend in.   But even the failures show the limits of differences:

Even I (who have always needed my sleep) was becoming accustomed to going out to dinner at ten or eleven p.m., and staying up until three a.m. or later. I remembered, somewhat ashamedly, how I had once requested to meet some friends for dinner at eight-thirty. I had been howled down:

‘What do you take us for, Germans?’ 

The author does love Greece.   But not in the exaggerated way some foreigners do.   She always has a deep reason and a simple fact to illustrate things:

As I walked down into the centre of town, I marvelled at how Athens has managed to keep so much charm in spite of the abuse it has suffered. Even in the most modernized districts there is often a sense of neighbourhood. You still have the same neighbours, even if you now see them across fourth-floor balconies instead of on the front door steps, and the local kiosk, grocery, coffee shop and church still hold central positions in daily life. 

I assume this new breed of Grecofanatics will find some bone to pick in one of her descriptions.   But as far as I’m concerned they are almost always spot on.   Insightful in ways that people living here can hardly understand, particularly since everybody is cutting down on international travel lately.    Here she walks into the civil service:

He invited me to see his office one day, and we walked through the old, scruffy building which was just about to be renovated. Long, dusty corridors gave onto rooms where civil servants sat drinking the ubiquitous frappe (iced Nescafe), smoking furiously, and playing patience on their computers. They were perhaps the bureaucrats known as ‘chair-centaurs,’ who are supposedly so inseparable from their desks that they seem to be welded to their chairs, as the centaur’s human top is joined to his horse legs. 

And the author’s anthropological background obviously comes in useful.   Admire this succing description of the most popular of Greek words:

They insulted the boys by using the word for ‘wanker’, malakas, and became highly adept at using this astonishingly versatile and common epithet. It is not only a slur on somebody ignorant or incapable, but is used by friends as an affectionate equivalent to the English ‘mate’. Thus, teenage boys can interject ‘ela malaka’ (‘Come on, you wanker’) between every other word, but it is still strong enough to be used as a satisfying insult by an angry driver or an abandoned girlfriend.

 In some ways, as I look at the quotes I chose, I am not sure anymore if this is “a great introduction to modern Greece”.  The economic crisis is changing most of these carefully painted portraits.   But if anyone can do a good description of the next phase of Greek life, my vote goes to Sofka Zinovieff.

Surprise developments in the 2012 Greek elections

I love political communication.   It appeals to the idealist in me.   The social engineering part of me thrives on twisting messages to fit into mediums that will best influence people.   And right now, Greece is the place to be.   The old media is crumbling.  Based on funding from business people that used television and newspapers to influence public spending (ie get the tenders for big projects through blackmail!) the whole model crashed.   Social media rides in and …everyone is confused!   An ex US ambassador to Greece does a great summary of what led us here on his Facebook page.  (In English, the original is here.)

So in order to get involved with a political party, first I had to pick one that is actually not corrupt.   Athena Drakou explains it all (in English) here from that perspective in this excellent introductory article of hers.   And then, a few weeks before the elections, we have to take a party that 99% of Greece hadn’t even heard about a month ago and get it into Parliament.   With zero budget!

As we look at highly dubious poll results and await the exit polls, there is a major upturn in Greek politics.   A. Apostolakis – eshop.gr founder and entrepreneur does it here .  A.Doxiadis – famous author and mathematician does it here . G.Tziralis – the Greek start up man does it here. N.Moraitakis does it here. 53 other Greeks from abroad do it here.  What we have is a pandemic of famous and important Greeks who have never before stated their political affiliations publically doing it now.   Why?

Sure it is an amazing bunch of people.  Within the party and around it, most major Greek intellectuals have gone public in support of “Drasi or Stefanos Manos personally.   It was part of our strategy (for lack of budget) but it has spiralled almost like a viral social media campaign.   Sure the party is on very solid ground through wise long term planning.   It is a loosely knit group of very clever people, each somehow pulling in the same direction without the need for a big central structure.

In the last week before elections we have witnessed a unique development as one after another, major public figures from business and culture take a stance in support of “Drasi”, either through online articles (mainly online, as the party is shut out of most media).  Even vocal supporters from “the Left” and a communist party figurehead have decided that something important needs to change in Greece.  Until now everyone kept there political affiliations a secret for fear of losing a job, a deal or a position in the civil service.   Now they are publically supporting this party for fear of there being no jobs left to get!

But ultimately, especially for a region like Greece which resembles a volcano ready to erupt, good communications will be the deciding factor.   Especially if (when) the May elections do not produce a useful government, there will be 11 million even more disappointed Greeks to kick into action.

(Full disclosure: I am in charge of the social media campaigning of “Drassi”.  For more information visit www.drassi.gr or – in English the links provided above.  For the latest guesstimates on possible outcomes you will be really hard pressed to find any authoritative account – I have put a summary  of polls here.)


How GrecoGerman family businesses will rule the world

It is fashionable (and easy) to target family run businesses as the source of a country’s problems.  Whether it is the Economist’s view of a region or the complaints of a middle manager who “just couldn’t get a promotion in there”.   I have studied family businesses as clients, as numbers and statistics.   I have lived and breathed one for most of my life.   And after enough years away from it now I can finally see the upside more clearly.

The term “family business” is completely useless.   The realization came crashing down on me as I got more comfortable with “Hidden Champions” (Simon Kucher) .    Even the Economist will take note.   After admiring the mid sized companies that are driving Germany’s worldwide export leadership, it takes some getting used to.    66% of these dynamic world leaders are family run.   Sure that is down 10% from what it was ten years ago.  Which is my point.  Not even a German family remains unchanged.

Not all families are the same.   So family businesses will also be pretty different. Kucher identifies factors unique to these winners like the drive to be No1, heavy investment in R&D, hard competition with neighbors and closeness to customers.   The fact that more people in these companies talk to customers has important implications for the use of social media too.   Nepotism may be rife in the Mediterranean but is not a given.

Pdf summary of the presentation on Hidden Champions is here –  FamilyBusinessPotentialInGreece.   Read it and then try to picture a German family business like those described in it next to a Greek one…maybe after enough Germans have bought land and moved to sunny Greece a new type of GrecoGermanic mid sized company will conquer the world!

The politics of software piracy statistics

Working with software in the Balkans, piracy has always been a prominent issue.  Whether it was during an initial meeting with a new vendor trying to figure out which parts of the market to first aim at, or with an old partner looking to squeeze out some particular segment.  “Nah, we can’t do that.  Too much piracy.”  Discussion ends.  For people in technology as long as me, a big part of us is resigned to the situation.  Everything can be copied.  Change your business model.

But then BSA (the Business Software Alliance is the most polite version of the acronym) came along.  Sure it was only backed by a few companies but they were the big ones that matter.  And their PR, well, I don’t need to tell you how many millions piracy costs the software industry because everyone else does.  OK, it sort of makes sense to accept a number like this from an organization that represents software companies.  Not!  Why on earth should we not assume that they are greatly exaggerating?  It is like accepting the data from McDonald’s about the nutritional value of their food!  “Ultimately, determining the global PC software piracy rate includes collecting 182 discrete data inputs and evaluating PC and software trends and data in each of 111 economies.”  No mention of the exact data inputs…no wonder Pearson is selling of IDC with shoddy work like that.

And it gets worse.  “Worse” as in “worrying that most people/journalists/politicians take them at face value”.  You read a title like “Piracy down in Canada”.  Based on what numbers?  BSA.  Well, actually a mish mash of pseudo proper looking numbers from IDC and whatever else they can combine to make it look scientific.  In Canada’s case even IDC and BSA admitted they overdid it.  Their numbers were wild guesstimates!   Now this sort of megahoax gets people like me interested.  Why should BSA want Canada to appear like a low piracy country?   A good example.

It seems that the main purpose of BSA is to get legislation passed so the companies involved can sell more while doing less.  To achieve this:

1. Statistics are fabricated and presented in such a way so as to apply pressure when and where needed.  Yeah, let’s change around the top ranking so as to get different countries in the spot light.

2. PR and advertising focuses on either general wishy washy “principles” or specific cases (for intimidational purposes – it is cheaper than actually suing every culprit)

3. Position the lobbying effort as high as possible with as many vaguely relevant organisations as possible.  Then get them to regurgitate the rubbish data, or – better still – to simply take action based on the false information.

So why has piracy dropped in Greece?  I would love to take the credit through the increased retail presence of ProgramA.  It has been a truly massive change in retail indeed.  But let’s be honest.  Not even GfK monitors most retail sales!   So it must be, because the Greek government bowed to the pressure and passed the laws BSA asked for.  Bill Gates shook hands with our prime minister, got his top level deal, threw in a bone with a Microsoft research centre in Greece.  Guess what?  We are no longer top of their list!

The list of countries on this year’s BSA report read like a US terrorist suspect roll call!  Georgia    95% Zimbabwe  92% bangladesh  91% Moldova    91% armenia    90% yemen    90% sri lanka   89% azerbaijan  88% libya    88%  belarus    87% Venezuela  87%  Indonesia   86% Vietnam    85%  Ukraine    85%  Iraq    85%  Pakistan    84% algeria    84%  cameroon   83% nigeria    83%  Paraguay   82%  Zambia    82%  Montenegro  81%  bolivia    80%  el salvador  80%  Guatemala  80%  botswana   79%  china    79%  Ivory coast   79% Kenya    79%  nicaragua  79%   On the other hand “Serbia is one of a handful of economies, including Italy, Greece and Colombia, where tax audits also include software license compliance. This is one of the reasons piracy has dropped six points from 2005 to 2008.”  Great work guys, you got government agencies working for you in these countries!

You know what the initials BS stand for.  Now you know what BSA stands for.  Only believe statistics you have made up yourself!

Tolstoy and the Greek War of financial Independence

“War and Peace” is monumental in the way it helped create the myth of the united Russian people.  Despite its size it glosses over and completely avoids going historically where the narrative would be in conflict.  Important battles aren’t even mentioned and the massive diplomatic effort to keep the armies fed isn’t present.  The two years that follow what is in the massive book are far more interesting as the incredibly disciplined Russian army entered Leipzig and Paris backed by superior intelligence and diplomacy.  However a Tolstoy is exactly what Greece needs now, not a loan.

It was the amount proposed as aid that got me thinking.  Sure the zeroes at the end of it are dizzying and in many ways an awesome show of EuroFinanceFirePower.  But it seems that it is just enough to keep Greece ticking until just before the next national elections.  Makes sense you could say.  Get your shop in order and you get more help, Mr Papandreou.  No giving it all away to gain favours like your Dad was so good at doing.

And then there is the matter of financing risk spread.  How involved are European banks in Greek debt?  Hard to tell but if you average out the guesstimates it seems that the amount the European Union is proposing to lend is just a bit less that it would cost their banks if Greece defaulted, a lot of which are practically national affairs.  And of course if Portugal, Spain or any other similar economy went down not even the EU or World Bank could muster enough cash.

So let Greece crash please.  We need to face up to the debt and restructure it like so many other countries have succesfully navigated these past decades.  It will do us good.  During the War of Independence against the Turks, the spirit of teamwork was incredible.  Same at the start of the second world War.  People singing in the streets for joy and working together, putting aside differences and just working to a common goal.  Both those wars then had a bleak period of infighting and turmoil as “normality” settled in.  We need to shake off “normality” not invite it right now.

We need to face up to the facts.  This is war.  We need to rally up to the common cause instead of digging our heads in a hole.  And if the politicians can’t write a book as good as “War and Peace” we need inspiring figureheads to do as good a job as possible.  This article is in English because it is not my fellow Greeks that need to read it; fellow Europeans, please take the moral high road.  Don’t chicken out and use Greece as a delay mechanism for sorting out the real structural problems Europe faces.  The EU can survive Greece’s economy crashing but if we let the threat dehabilitate us, world financial markets will just keep playing the EuroZone like this forever.  Like wolves isolating stragglers in a herd of deer, it will never end.  Restructuring debt isn’t the end of the world.  Sure Argentina got ugly, but Belize, Uruguay and even Jamaica did very civilized jobs of it.  The work of people like Lee Buchheit(download an excellent paper on the topic here) shows us exactly how the alternative would work.  Sure, there is no way to exit the european union but just as we stopped using the drachma, we could reinstate it as an inbetween phase to recovery.  And if anyone wants an inspiring story of a people rising from the ashes in tough times, follow Wilma Mankiller’s story as she fought an urban war to get Cherokee people proud again on their terms.

One way or another, in five years Greece should be able to stabilize things.  But if we build crutches into the core of a newly born Europe now, the whole idea of a truly united Europe will not be able to recover for decades.  It wasn’t the Russian winter that beat Napoleon, that is just a convenient myth, like all the myths about ancient Greek superiority we keep on the backburner in Greece as an excuse not to actually work.

I am kidding of course.  Greece has major liquidity issues, bank structural problems and an unhealthy reliance on the public sector which is completely corrupt.   We need the loans but it would be great if we could organize ourselves to actually make the necessary changes without feeling some “foreigners” forced us to make them.   If Greece is forced to make these changes too fast, a whole nation will struggle to transform itself so fast.   We have no Tolstoy and no Churchill to lead and inspire us and the social connections in the country aren’t strong enough to keep it together while we mature.


Like a lot of important writers, Leo Tolstoy was excommunicated by the Russian (Greek Orthodox) church.  The day after this was announced students and workers paraded in his honour.  So if Fitch wants to grade Greek bonds BBB- (just above saying it is toilet paper!) I say let’s take to the streets in celebration too; if this bunch of people really puts minds and hearts to it, we can and should get great stuff done!