The great silence

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Mr. Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily.  He is also a contributor to The BusinessThinker.com This editorial is also published in Kathimerini.

Vivi has been cutting men’s hair in my neighborhood for the past 20 years. She is not the typical, chatty barber. She listens while her customers talk. “Today no one speaks,” she said. “If I try to start a conversation, they say, ’No, no, I don’t want to think.’ They sit in silence.”

It was not always like this. Vivi’s quiet professionalism and gentle smile allowed her customers to open up to her as if they were old friends. “They are dazed. They will burst,” she said, shaking her head sadly. And she had noticed this before the most recent round of notices for yet another extraordinary tax, before the latest property tax.

The nation’s blues were evident this summer.

“Thank God the foreign tourists came on the cruise ships,” said a shop owner on a Cycladic island where the party never stops. “The Greek tourist is dead. We’ll be holding a memorial service for him soon.” Far from the tourist destinations, in the mountains of Crete, I asked  Manolis, a grocer, how the people in the region are getting by. “Many Athenians came — those whose families are from here. People are buying food, but they stay at home to eat it with friends. The festivals are not doing well. People prefer to eat and drink at home with friends. At the festival, people at the next table will buy them a round of drinks, they will buy the next round, but they can’t know what they will pay in the end. People don’t want any surprises,” he said. I remembered how easily a simple meal at home could turn into a party involving most of the village. “Are people dancing?” I asked. “No. At the festivals, a little. But at home, no.”

The Greeks are in danger of losing their love of life. The signs of despair and fear are everywhere. It is not the voices raised in public that are most alarming, but the silences behind closed doors and sudden explosions. The reasons are many but the result is one: We have lost our sense of ourselves and of our space; today we must stand on a new foundation, without knowing what this will look like. Many are experiencing the loss of a false self, because their life was based on money, new houses, cars and loans — all those things that they are losing, that now burden them. Nothing can be taken for granted: We don’t know if we will have a job tomorrow, if our money will be enough to meet our needs, if our friends and family will still respect us when we don’t have a job, or money, or all the good things we were used to.

The Greeks have the great misfortune of being the first nation to call on the help of their European partners. The caricature of a wasteful people carousing with their early pensions and crazy policies provoked rage among those who were called on to lend us money. It hid the fact that the majority of Greeks themselves are the true victims of past policies; they are the ones who will carry the weight of debt, the burden of recovery. The shortsightedness and willful blindness of our governments brought us to this point; this, along with the overzealous desire of some partners to “punish” us, created a very negative climate for Greece. Then, the continual delay in taking decisions — at the Greek and European level — keep worsening the crisis in both Greece and Europe. The Greek government and the European leadership are continually one or two steps behind events. Therefore, whatever they do, Greece’s problems multiply. The international image of Greece, the government’s amateurish actions, the dead end of opposition party policies, the social turmoil and the high cost of revenue-raising measures all contribute to the creation of despair at a social and personal level.

Our foreign partners wanted to see us punished; now we are being punished without end, while the government has not managed to close the holes in the bucket into which we throw our money. Nor has it provided a vision of how the story ends.

To get through this, we cannot expect salvation only from our own and foreign politicians. As long as our government is adrift and the opposition parties live in utopia, our problems will not be solved. Citizens who have reserves of mental strength will have to become islands of stability, parts of a chain of solidarity. They must speak out, they must point ahead, they must create friendships and the future. And, when the spirit moves them, they must dance.

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The author:

Mr. Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily. He is also the founding editor of Kathimerini’s English Edition, which is published as a supplement to The International Herald Tribune in Greece, and Cyprus.

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