Category Archives: Economy

What Americans in Athens Think About These Elections

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American elections are always a global event, but this year, more so than ever. In the birthplace of democracy, elections are nothing new. But there’s one group of residents who will be watching these elections with particular interest. These are the Americans living in Athens, a long-established and vibrant community from across the Atlantic.

Americans have been arriving on these shores in a steady stream for decades, engaging in elaborate word of mouth games to root each other out in the days before social media, and dealing with the consequences of American policies which sometimes breed anti-American sentiments in Greece. They’ve learned to love loukoumades as much as donuts and eat their pumpkin pie savory instead of sweet.

And they’ve left their mark. There’s the private American Community School established in 1946, which currently occupies a sprawling space in Aghia Paraskevi and makes you feel like you’re looking at a school in California rather than Athens. Election fever saw them host their own mock presidential debates among students. Head to Kolonaki, and you’ll find the Hellenic American Union, established in 1957 while in Pagrati, there’s the Athens Centre, running since 1969, where you can enjoy culture, Greek lessons and more.

And there’s also IKEA. Yes, IKEA. I know it’s Swedish, but several Americans I spoke to said they go there when feeling a little homesick, because “IKEA looks the same everywhere!”

The Americans in Athens have been talking, debating, encouraging friends to vote and arranging election parties as they wait for November 8. Now when I speak to them, they find themselves in a quiet period, the eye of the storm so speak, as they prepare for what comes next.

“I feel like I won the lottery!”

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Marty Eisenstein is a guitar teacher from Boston who has been living in Athens since 1993 after following his wife here. He’s been teaching music lessons at one of the city’s private schools, Campion, for 23 years now, and has a daughter who just started state university.

Marty is a rare breed because he’s also Jewish and a guy! “There aren’t that many American guys here!” he says with a laugh. He’s hoping Hillary Clinton wins, but “I don’t want to jinx it.”

The difference between how Greeks and Americans view these elections is pretty distinct, according to him. He was in the US a few weeks ago, and says that while in America, people might call Hillary Clinton dishonest, in Greece they call her “a monster, a warmonger. That’s the first thing many Greeks say.”

He doesn’t think much will change to his day to day life, since he’s not had much hostility anyway. He does remember one moment of anti American sentiment so sudden and so strong that it made him cry. “The lowest moment in my 23 years was during the bombing of Serbia. My local bakery owner turned to me and said ‘We’re not the same, Greeks and Americans.’”

Whatever happens, he’ll still be here, teaching guitar the next day. “I lived in Israel for a few years and I think Greece appeals to that Mediterranean gene I have. In that sense I like it here, that’s what’s kept me here I think. I love the place in a lot of ways.

“If you think what Greeks have been through economically and politically, anywhere else, people would have taken guns on the streets already. It doesn’t happen in Greece. To me that’s an amazing thing. and now that my daughter is going to university for free, as an American I feel I won the lottery!”

“Trump? He’s a faflatas!”

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Stacey Harris-Papagioanou moved from Chicago to Greece in 1985 and divides her time between the glamorous island of Mykonos and Athens. Both sides of her family as Mykonian, which is why she can still afford to live on an island the rest of us can only dream about.

“The summer romance with my ex was the catalyst for moving here, but my real love was Greece.” she says.

She has two children, and has always cast her vote as an absentee. The moment she realized how important this was was during the Gore-Bush elections of 2000. “That election was so close. So not only did I make sure I was always registered to vote, but I made sure all my friends were too.”

Stacey is a very active member of Democrats Abroad, and when we speak, she’s just spent the week calling everyone to make sure they are ready to vote.

There is a big buzz around this particular election. “Everyone is saying vote, whatever you do, go and vote, and a huge percentage have already taken part in early voting and absentee voting.”

She’s only ever experienced anti-American sentiment twice, once during 9/11 when she heard people saying that America had it coming, and now when Greeks ask her “What’s wrong with the people in that country? How can anyone vote for Trump?”

“Trump, there’s a Greek word that describes him perfectly. He’s faflatas (someone who talks a lot but does little)! The difference between the candidates is night and day, and what that means for the rest of us will be night and day.” she says.

In stark contrast to the Greek way of doing things, Stacey says Americans have gone quiet and avoid political discussion as the election nears. “People don’t talk too much so as not to fight, unlike the Greeks that are very passionate and don’t mind telling their opinion to anyone. Americans a bit more reticent in that respect.”

And when she wants to get a flavor of America in Athens, she goes to the usual places one might suspect – the Hard Rock Cafe in Monastiraki, TGI Friday’s in Kolonaki and Applebee’s when it was still open. “Or a coffee with members of the American Women of Greece, of which I’m a member. We can talk about home, or where to find ingredients. We used to make tacos from scratch when I first came here, now you can just buy them in the supermarket! It’s so much easier for the new girls!”

“I was called a spy!”

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Christine Jackson has been here since 1972 after coming to Greece with her husband and arrived right in the middle of the Junta. “I was working at Deree college when the polytechneio events took place. I wasn’t there that day but colleagues heard the tanks go in.”

Christine is one of the longest established members of the American community in Athens. “Once I was called a spy! That was during the Cyprus crisis. It was totally unprovoked, I was on the street and my accent must have been wrong and a man called me an American spy.” She has one daughter, who played a caryatid in the Athens 2004 opening ceremony.

After working at the Deree college – “which I discovered wasn’t actually American,” she worked for the next few decades at the Fulbright Commission, advising Greek students who didn’t have scholarships but wanted to study abroad. “It’s an addictive job. I still do it.”

When she wants to get her American fix, she heads to the Athens Centre in Pagrati for cultural events and poetry readings. It’s a place where she’s met and become friends with other Americans in Athens over the years.

A fellow American who she very much admires is the former ambassador to Greece, Brady Kiesling, who resigned after America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, becoming the first of three US foreign service officers to resign in protest. “That’s such a rare thing for a person to be that principled.” she says.

Christine says she’s very concerned about the outcome of these elections. “I think it will be a tipping point if Trump wins.”

“You can love your country and see that it needs improvements. Greeks certainly do that with their country. Patriotism is hollow if it doesn’t embrace the fact that you want the country that you love to be its best self not its worst self.” she says.

“If you can’t beat them, join them”

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Anna Goritsa came to Athens nearly 20 years ago to marry her Greek husband. She has two sons who are going through the Greek public education system. As an event travel consultant, she works with US companies based in Greece, so she’s around other Americans frequently, along with charity work and embassy events which keep her in touch with the community.

This for her is an election that’s turned the status quo on its head. “We are living in trying times and I believe that many of us who live in Greece are insecure on what the outcome will be. I’m very concerned. I believe that many US citizens will not exercise their right to vote during these elections.”

“When I am able to watch the elections with my fellow US citizens here in Greece, regardless of their affiliations, it’s more fun because we know why we are arguing. And yes we try to avoid prickly topics because we respect each other’s opinions. When watching with my Greek friends who have never lived or stepped foot in the US we argue for the sake of arguing.” she says.

As for anti-American sentiment, she’s experienced it a few times, but that changed with Greece’s economic crisis. “Greeks are experiencing anti-Greek sentiments all over Europe and have realized that the citizens of a country should not be judged for the policies of one’s government.”

Despite the downs, there have been some funny moments too. Back in 1997, Anna says she couldn’t find good-quality deodorant in Greece and so would have family and visitors bring stocks of American deodorant for years!

The American community in Athens has been a vibrant and well-established one. They’ve been through a lot together. But, Anna says, it’s very different for the new generation. “They’re not surviving because their potential and options are very limited and many are moving elsewhere. The same challenges exist today as 20 years ago for the newcomers. The number one survival quote when you move ANYWHERE in the world is “if you can’t beat them, join them.”

“I can’t wait till it’s over”

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Nick Barnets, a freelance journalist, has been coming to Greece all his life. He spent his summers in a village in Halkidiki but moved to Athens full time in 2014 to strengthen his career as a journalist.

For him, the elections are not just a political event. As a journalist, they affect his livelihood too. His job involves covering international affairs, and that will be affected by whoever is the next president. “Since I cover Greece, and occasionally Cyprus and other parts of Europe, the way the next president’s policies affect these areas will definitely affect what I’ll be reporting on and where for sure.”

Like everyone I spoke too, he’s anxious about these elections and the way they have polarized politics in the US. “I fear regardless of the outcome, there will be now more than ever in recent history, lots of hate and anger. If Donald Trump wins, there will be fear and anger among those who did not vote for him. If Hillary Clinton wins there will be fear and anger among those who did not vote for her.”

He’s finding watching these elections less intense that the last ones, because the last time around he was working as an election researcher for CBS News. This time, he can take a back seat and observe.

“This is the first time I’ve watched a presidential election from across the Atlantic, but it’s not as distant an observance as I thought it would be. Of course I’m also a political junkie, so I’m keeping up with it vigorously despite how upsetting this election has been.”

Anti-American sentiment is not something he’s experienced, especially not since Obama’s presidency and Greece’s recent turmoils which have meant that Germany has taken the place of America for disgruntled Greek sentiment.

Nick says his Greek friends are terrified of Donald Trump becoming president and are disappointed that Hillary Clinton is his main opponent in these elections. “She’s never really been popular here herself. They just can’t believe that we could end up in a world with Donald Trump as President of the world’s most powerful country.”

Perhaps it’s because of his job, perhaps because of the relentless, vitriolic and divisive nature of these elections, but Nick has had his fill. The sooner it’s all over, the better, as far as he’s concerned. “I can’t wait till it’s over, November 8th can’t get here soon enough for me because on the one hand I am always excited for watching the election results but also want this particular election to just be over with so we can move on.”

As one of the new generation of Americans in Athens, Nick doesn’t feel the same pull as the previous generation for getting a piece of America in the city when he’s homesick. That’s partly thanks to social media which keeps him well-connected with Americans friends and family. “But I do feel like I’m right back in the US whenever I’m at The Mall, because despite the stores being different and everybody speaking Greek, it really feels more America than Greece there.”

“I haven’t voted in a while”

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I’d easily call Rhea my favourite American in Athens, since she’s the first one I ever met. It was in her bohemian dance studio, festooned with belly dance costumes and off-the wall souvenirs she’d picked up over the decades that I learned two important things: how to dance first with my heart and then with my body, and how to stop taking life so seriously. It was there that I made my first Greek friends with my patchy, faltering Greek. She’s been somewhat of a mother to me, having seen me grow from a new student shrinking into the back of the room, through motherhood, miserable life events and the crisis which meant I couldn’t afford dance classes any more, and she lost nearly all of her students.

She then did something which I felt at the time was the equivalent of a cancer patient cutting all their hair off before it falls out. She stripped her studio bare. Today, all the costumes have been given away, the zebra-skin wall hanging is gone, the swords and coin belts have disappeared. My heart sank the first time I visited her after she carried out this purge.

Rhea arrived in Athens in 1975, and of all the Americans I spoke to, she is the only one who had absolutely no connection to Greece. As a professional belly dancer in California, she had a dream that she was dancing under the Acropolis. So she upped and left, and has been here ever since. Her tales of life in Athens, including the time she chased down an aggressive driver and attacked his car with her dance sword are endless, hilarious and sometimes sad.

Is she voting? “No. I haven’t voted in a while. I’m not going to go to the American Embassy and lose an entire morning or afternoon. I hate to say it… but no actually I don’t hate to say it. I never talk about politics. I’m telling you because you asked me. We’re not going to hell in a hand basket. The world will go on as it is.”

Athens’ 12-foot American

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My final American is tall and stoic, clutching a scroll in one hand and staring quietly at the traffic and offices opposite him.

He doesn’t say a word to me, but I don’t mind. You see, he’s a statue. The statue of President Truman to be precise. This rendition of the 33rd American president, a known philhellene, is a lightening rod for anti-American sentiment. Since it was erected in 1963, it’s been rammed with a car, bombed, toppled over and splashed with paint.

On the day I meet him, with hours to go until polls open, Mr Truman is looking pretty good, but a closer inspection reveals little specks of red paint clinging to the bronze and larger splashes generously flecked on the surrounding ground.

In an election campaign where both sides paraded childish statues of each other, at least this statue of an American leader retains some dignity, even when he’s brightly decorated with pink and red paint. It could be worse. He could be a statue of Donald Trump.

A condensed version if this article appears in Greece Is. 

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The patient on the table.

About 10 years ago, there was a famous case involving a routine procedure that went horribly wrong. A mother of two went into hospital to have a simple nasal procedure. Moments after the anaesthetic was administered, doctors discovered they were unable to establish an airway.

We’ve all seen this procedure in television medical dramas. It’s supposed to take just a few minutes. In this case, a very rare complication arose and the patient’s airway was obstructed. No matter how hard they tried, the doctors failed repeatedly to intubate her and get vital oxygen flowing to her organs again.

As the minutes ticked by, it was clear that panic had set in. There were three doctors in the room, and despite obvious alternatives, they were so focused on this one technique, on succeeding in getting the intubation done that they could not see past that one approach even when it was clearly not working.

Three experienced nurses who were also in the room, however, soon recognised that something was badly wrong. One of the nurses fetched a tracheotomy kit and let the doctors know that it was available. She stood by with the kit as they ignored her repeated attempts to announce it as a suitable alternative. The kit was never used, and the airway was never successfully established.

The patient suffered severe brain damage due to the lack of oxygen over 20 minutes and her life support was switched off several days later.

This tragic story illustrates what happens when those in charge doggedly focus on one approach when it’s clear that it’s not working instead of thinking of alternative solutions, or listening to better suggestions. When panic sets in, it can make even rational people act in bizarre ways that lead to disastrous consequences.

So too is the case with Greece and the country’s bailout programme. Last week, Greece’s debt to GDP ratio hit an all-time high of 177.1%. The bailout programme that was supposed to save the Greek economy has obliterated it, and austerity has caused the debt to go up rather than down.

It’s time to state the obvious and say that austerity has not worked. Five years in, it is an approach that has created a horrendous social disaster, ruined the Greek economy and continues to stretch off far into the horizon with no end in sight.

Despite obvious proof that austerity has failed spectacularly, it’s surprising then that no one has come up with any sort of viable alternative, and this is the only solution still being pushed on Greece by its creditors.

Let’s break it down in simple terms. When you borrow money, you are rightly expected to pay it back. Greece is not saying they refuse to pay. But at what point does a debt become completely unsustainable? When people get into severe debt, they either have to declare bankruptcy (default on their loan) or are given help in restructuring their loan against their available resources to create a viable repayment plan. We’re still waiting for that in Greece.

After an abysmal Eurogroup session in Riga last week, where the country’s finance minister allegedly received a verbal battering from his European counterpart, Syriza’s leader Alexis Tsipras removed Yanis Varoufakis from the Eurogroup negotiation team when he reshuffled it.

Varoufakis has rubbed up his counterparts the wrong way with his repeated opposition to the austerity programme and as patience ran out with Greece, a sacrifice had to be made. The markets immediately reacted in a positive way to this news. However, this move amounts to not much more than shooting the messenger. Whoever represents Greece at the next Eurogroup still has to carry the Syriza government’s message.

And so on and so forth in this economic mess and its even messier handling. The mouthpiece has been changed, but the message will most likely be the same. Why is it that five years later, all we have on the table is Europe’s “austerity or nothing” and Syriza’s “a little bit of austerity or nothing”? It’s important to ask this, because whatever the treatment, it’s the patient, the Greek public that bears the brunt of it, and right now the patient’s vital signs are looking critical.

Maybe someone somewhere should listen carefully and give a voice to the equivalent of the nurse standing in a corner with an alternative solution.

This article was published in the Khaleej TImes and Athens Views.

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The Greek Crisis explained with My Big Fat Greek Wedding

I put this together to take a break from the seriousness of the crisis. With much love and hopes for a sensible end to this current mess!

Once upon a time, there was Greece

 

Greece wanted so badly to be like the rest of Europe

 

With some trickery from Goldman Sachs, they succeeded!

 

The years passed and the same two governments kept rotating.

 

And then, disaster struck. A giant fiscal imbalance was uncovered.

 

Things got bad.

 

Really bad.

 

Everyone began to freak out that Greece would leave the Eurozone.

 

The citizens of Greece began to lose hope.

 

It was time to change governments.

 

But the same old ideas were proposed again and again

 

Maybe our approach at the Eurogroups was all wrong…

 

So the negotiation team was reshuffled

 

But in the end, we’re all Europeans

 

And maybe we can find common ground after all

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Beating Old Donkeys

There is a really wonderful story my father used to tell me and my sisters when we were little. It’s a story his own mother used to tell him, about a mongoose prince. It’s a long, meandering story that used to be a great way to pass the time during the extensive power cuts of my childhood in Pakistan, and it’s one of the joys of my own journey as a parent when I listen to my father tell the story to my own sons.

I won’t go through the entire story, but the rough premise is this: a prince is born to one of a king’s  nine wives, who is half mongoose, half boy. In order to see which of his nine sons will inherit his throne, the king sends the sons on a quest. Whoever returns with the most riches will be the next king.

Long story short, the mongoose prince returns to the kingdom with an old donkey and tricks his brothers into thinking that this donkey craps money when you beat it with a stick. In exchange for possession of the mystical donkey, he asks for all their treasures from their quests combined. This they do, and thus take possession of the dud donkey.

The other brothers beat and beat and beat the old donkey, but nothing comes out except piles of manure, and finally, one coin, a khotta paisa, which is difficult to translate except to say it was unusable money. Sort of like the donkey pooping out a drachma coin right at the end.

I was thinking of this story again these past two days.

As I said in my last post about my accidental and might I add very much unwanted notoriety, I got an email from a journalist at Ethnos newspaper on Thursday. The email was polite, saying the paper was writing a story on the impressions that foreign journalists had of Greece’s new finance minister to run in today’s Ethnos.

I politely declined. I wrote back a long email explaining my position, that while the coverage of my tweet to the minister had been fun and games for the tabloids, for me it had badly impacted my image as a serious journalist. If they wanted to talk to other foreign journalists in Athens for their story, I offered to put them in touch. Journalist to journalist, I thought this would get through.

To his credit, the journalist replied giving me fair warning that the chief editors were going to put me in the story any way, that they had read my blog and would be using that in their piece. I wonder why they even asked me in the first place if they’d be putting me in the story any way. I can only thank my lucky stars that I hadn’t been stupid enough to answer the questions in the email.

This was bad enough. But when I saw the context of the piece that Ethnos ran today, going something like “The journalists of the Varoufanclub chasing him for an interview!” I saw red. I was furious. I’d say this is a good approximation of my feelings when I saw the headline.

To be fair, the online version doesn’t give the whole article, so I marched to the nearest news agents and slammed a copy of Ethnos on the counter.

“EUR 4.25.”

How much? Okay, I didn’t want to find out what the article said that badly.

I thought about writing this article, because now I don’t know who is reading my blog, what they might take from it and what they might twist, but I’m not a fan of self-censoring. As it is, whether I have an opinion or not about the new finance minister, I can’t say anything in case it gets misconstrued.

I now avoid tweeting about him, or retweeting anything from him and that’s mightily difficult in a period where the main news out of Greece is economic. But I can’t sit here with people thinking I voluntarily wanted to be a part of that article when I specifically asked not to be, and was told tough luck, you’ll be in it anyway.

What business does a puff piece about the new finance minister’s “international fanclub of female admirers queuing up to talk to him” have on the front page when there is so much real news going on? It doesn’t take much digging to reveal that Ethnos has a very thinly veiled anti-Syriza stance, so they seem quite happy to go around mud-slinging and if it comes at the expense of further erroding my professional credibility, that’s all collateral damage as far as they’re concerned.

But parading non-news as news, especially more than a week after the event, only serves to make them look unprofessional.

The media likes to take a story and beat it and beat it, trying to get it to yield more, when the fact is that beyond a short window, most auxiliary news decays and is not newsworthy any more after 24 – 48 hours. For example, on Wednesday I wanted to start working on a story about where the tie that Matteo Renzi gave Alexi Tsipras came from. It’s an Italian made tie, and I could just picture some little old artisan making gorgeous hand-made ties in a backstreet of Rome. But when I woke up on Thursday to the what the ECB had done late on Wednesday night, this was no longer a story.

Do you see what I mean? You’ve had your fun, now back off. Stop beating up the donkey, there’s only manure in there.

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All eyes on Greece as the nation votes

Votes cast at a voting centre in the Southern suburbs

Votes cast at a voting centre in the Southern suburbs

Athens’s central squares on Thursday night were transformed as Greece’s major political parties jostled for position in their final major public rallies before Sunday’s election.

In a scene so ironic it seemed for a moment to have been set out on purpose, the current centre-right government party of New Democracy was forced to share Syntagma square with the Communist party, KKE, albeit at different times of the day.

Less than a mile away lies the run-down square of Omonia, situated in a severely neglected part of the city plagued by drug use, rough sleepers, prostitutes, petty criminals and shabby buildings. It was here that the left-wing Syriza’s  Alexis Tsipras chose to hold his political rally.

Tens of thousands of people crammed into the square that is usually deserted after dark to hear his rallying cry of the coming of hope and change in Greece and Europe. Once a fringe party, Syriza’s lead in the 2012 elections caused total panic with their hardline stance against austerity.

Then, no one party had been able to form a government, leading to a second round of elections in the same year. In the space between the two events, spooked by rumours of a Grexit if Syriza came to power, voters backed off and their lead slipped.

This time, with the markets reassured about the possibility of Greece leaving the Eurozone, things are different. In a country as austerity weary as Greece, limping along exhausted with no finish line in sight, the voting public has put its weight behind Syriza more as a means to punish New Democracy than out of a real belief in Syriza’s promises.

Austerity, much despised by the Greek public, was meant to offer a way out of the country’s financial mess. Instead, several years down the line, things are barely any better. In the last few years, Greece has received a total of  EUR 227 billion in money from the EU and IMF. No other nation has received as much in the last few years.

Detailed analysis of where the money went, showing that 32% went to paying maturing debt, 19% to Greek Banks recapitalisation and 16% to interest payments, only added fuel to the fire.

Since 2008, the country’s economy has shrunk almost 25%, with the Greek stock market losing a whopping 84% of its value. Unemployment rose to 26%, millions of Greek households were dragged below the poverty line and the birth rate declined while child mortality rose.

The austerity measures imposed by a troika of the IMF, EC and ECB turned a European Union country into a shadow of its former self, and this outcome is what Syriza and other parties like it latched onto to propel themselves up the opinion polls.

In December 2014, after failing to satisfy their latest demands, the troika had given Samaras’ government an extension to the bailout terms into early 2015. With presidential elections scheduled for February, this presented a problem to the current prime minister who was seeking to show the public the success of his plan while still in office.

If the parliament of Greece fails to elect a president after three rounds of voting, Greek law states that general elections must then be held. If this scenario played out after the troika’s next bailout meeting, Samaras would have to walk away without any of the glory of being the leader that brought Greece back from the brink of disaster.

So he took a gamble and brought the presidential election forward to December, thus triggering early elections in the process.

The public response was immediate, and Syriza led the polls from the beginning by a margin of around 3%. The last polls, released last Friday, showed that the lead had widened to 6%. As of Saturday, Greek law prohibits any more polls being issued and calls for all campaigning to cease. This window of silence, the eye of the storm, is meant to allow the public time to reflect and make up their own minds without being swayed.

In a country where 22% of the voting public is aged 70 and over, Syriza’s campaign has stood out. It has been slick, modern and heavily sold the message of hope in response to New Democracy’s increasingly panicked scaremongering.

Syriza’s electorate is by and large under 30. Their campaign has embraced social media, and their campaign website is in both Greek and English. Greece’s disillusioned youth have embraced them with gusto. They have set social media alight with various hashtags, including #ftanei, meaning enough in Greek to voice their frustration at the decimation of their futures, and #sexyAlexi in homage to Syriza’s charismatic leader.

Their problem in the eyes of nervous lawmakers and economists in Europe, however, is the same anti-bailout stance that has rocketed them to popularity.

No political party has so far offered a viable alternative to austerity, Syriza included.

I spoke to Kevin Featherstone, the LSE’s Eleftherios Venizelos Professor of Contemporary Greek Studies and  Director of the Hellenic Observatory who said “Greece needs further debt relief, of some type, in order to help the return to growth and avoid crippling constraints.  More and more economists would recognise that something of this kind is in the interests of both Greece and the euro-zone.”

“The other agenda is of the need for domestic structural reform to improve the efficiency and effective of public administration. This last agenda is one that has been inadequately taken up in Greece and one that SYRIZA seems to oppose. But it is crucial to enabling Greece to converge more with the EU and to become more competitive.  Without this second agenda, the credibility of Greece’s claims on the first are seriously undermined.”

The world’s media have descended on downtown Athens, awaiting the first poll results which are expected to be available from 21:00 on Sunday night. Over 800 journalists from around 76 media outlets are in the city to cover the events as they unfold. As the world watches, this tiny Mediterranean nation that sent waves through the financial markets will wonder if Monday morning will see them counting the cost of their gamble.

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Trichonomics

When bonds get haircuts, women don’t

Trichonomics. I’m quite proud of this term. In the modern age, when you think of a concept the very first thing to do is to Google it and see if anyone has come up with it already. And so when I coined the term trichonomics, that’s the first thing that I did. So far and much to my delight, I am the first to use it.

The idea behind trichonomics was born out of a throwaway comment by my husband one afternoon. We were out and about, driving around Athens (him behind the wheel, not me) and he said “Have you noticed there are less blondes around since the crisis hit?” I remarked that I had.

Since the crisis first sank its claws into Greece back in 2008, there has been a noticeable decline in the number of blondes in circulation, along with an increase in the length of the female population’s hair.

This is where the idea of trichonomics comes in, combining the Greek word for hair, tricha, with economics. The concept is as follows — the state of a country’s economy can be gauged by the length and colour variations of its female population’s hair. The shorter and more chromatically diverse the hair, the better the economy.

Being a Mediterranean country, natural blondes are a rarity in Greece. On my very first trip here during the Athens Olympics and staying with a dear friend of mine, she smirked wryly at the sea of flaxen heads around us as we rode around Athens by bus.

She herself had just returned to her home country after a rain-sodden hiatus in Cardiff, where we had been students together. “I don’t remember these many blondes when I left. You’d think this was Sweden.” These bottle blondes were locally referred to as Duracell batteries, for reasons that I can’t go into on a blog that my mother reads. Let’s just say the curtains don’t match the carpet and leave it at that.

Greek women take great pride in their appearance. Competition in the aesthetics industry is fierce and as a result, prices for haircuts, colour treatments, manicures and pedicures are quite reasonable. Since the crisis hit, however, Greek women have opted for the more affordable option of letting their hair grow out (pixie cuts are difficult to maintain without regular trims) and reverting to their natural hair colour, also cheaper than having your roots retouched every six weeks.

Pre-crisis, my husband’s niece worked at one of the most exclusive hair salons in Athens. She used to relay stories of the rich trophy wives of Athens who thought nothing of getting a full head of extensions at EUR1000 plus at a time that would need to be done all over again in a few months when they started to grow out. These days, there is far less of that sort of extravagance. She could tell how bad the crisis had got by the free time she suddenly had in the salon on Saturday afternoons.

The effect of my trichonomics theory on the female population of Athens is a notable absence of blonde heads in the general population. I’m also seeing much more long hair than I was before. Among Asian women, a head of long hair is a source of great pride. Various oils and potions are lavished on the tresses and tips swapped over how to make the hair grow stronger, faster, darker. I know of friends whose mothers wept when they chopped their long hair off.

The power of hair, especially female hair, is well documented throughout history into today. Samson lost his powers when Delilah cut his hair off, and there are religions and sects extending well beyond Islam that require a woman’s hair to be covered. When women experience personal tragedy, they most often take it out on their hair. Good hair days make us feel invincible and bad hair days make us wish we were invisible.

So it seems only natural then that a woman’s hair be an indication of so many things — how she feels, whether she’s having a good or bad day, and in Greece’s case, the state of the economy she is living in. When Greece’s bonds got a haircut, the female population started cutting back on their own haircuts.

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Greek Local elections – Round 2

 Investors are looking to Greece this week as the country prepares for its second round of voting in local elections on May 25. Up for grabs are positions in Greece’s 325 municipalities in 13 regions. Voters will simultaneously also select their candidates for the European Parliament.

The leading two candidates in every region’s initial elections go to a final vote on May 25 to pick a winner with a clear majority of over 50%. The elections painted a disjointed picture of the country’s political affiliations. A disillusioned and austerity-weary public punished the main parties by picking satellite parties and relative newcomers.

The Global X Greece ETF (GREK) closed at $21.33 on Thursday, down 5.3% year to date.

 Speaking to Bloomberg, Loukas Tsoukalis, president of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, said of the first round, “Personalities won over political parties, as independent candidat 3ff0 es are ahead in three of the country’s largest cities. The results show the fragmentation of Greece’s political landscape.”

In the Attica region of Greece, where Athens is located, the New Democracy party suffered heavy losses and failed to secure a place in the second round of voting.

Adding to the threat of national and European instability was the outcome of voting for anti-bailout party Syriza, which managed to get a candidate through for the second round of Athens’ mayoral seat, and neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn. The party exceeded expectations by securing 16% of the popular vote in Athens, tripling their previous total in 2012 and raising the prospect of the party securing seats in the European parliamentary elections.

Such a move would likely prove problematic to the country’s recent tentative steps back into the bond market.

Just last month, Greece made its return to the international bond market after a four-year hiatus. While the initial launch was a success and was hailed as proof of the country’s economic recovery, yields have begun creeping up to nearly 7% after a pre-launch low of just below 6%, as the markets wait to see what happens next.

The country has already submitted to a 70% haircut for bond interest rates in the past, an economy that has shrunk some 23% since 2008, and a relentlessly growing unemployment rate.

It’s paramount for Greece to assure investors of its stability.

“Greece must show it has the stability it deserves through the sacrifices of the Greek people. And it is in the hands of the Greek people and their vote to decide whether we move ahead with stable steps or we let the country go backwards again.” said Samaras in live television comments the day after the first round of voting. No doubt this was an effort to steer voters away from the anti-EU and anti-austerity rhetoric that has lured voters away from his party. The country’s political uncertainty, combined with speculation that the government was poised to levy a retroactive tax on profits made through trading Greek government bonds in recent years, led to a Greek bond selloff. These claims have since been denied by the Greek government’s finance minister, Yiannis Stouranas, but not before a domino effect had been sparked with Italian bond yields following suit.

 Bond markets in the region remain jittery as investors wait to see how the local and European election results unfold in Greece and beyond.

  This article first appeared on TheStreet.com

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