With banks shut and coffers running dry, Greece is rushing to organise a hastily called vote the country can ill afford.
It’s not just that Sunday’s vote could threaten the country’s place in the euro. It also may put more strain on the government’s and the population’s shaky finances.
The government says the cost will be about ^20 million ($22 million) for distributing ballots and paying election monitors. Opposition lawmakers say it may be as much as 120 million euros, citing a Finance Ministry study from 2011. The cost for Greeks will be yet another trip to their home region, five months after they did so to vote in the election that brought Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (pictured) to power.
Even the most modest form of transport home gets harder now that cash withdrawals are capped at ^60 a day and credit cards aren’t always accepted. The government is urging gas stations to accept credit cards and all public transport in Athens and the surrounding suburbs will be free.
“I don’t want to spend the money and I don’t want to vote,” said Dimitra Bakratsa, 34, who works in the tourism industry. She said she can’t afford to spend the ^60 on a return train ticket to Larissa, some 220 miles north of Athens, where she is registered. “To travel all that way and to spend the money, for what? It’s not going to change anything. There is no good option for Greece.”
Greek voters won’t be able to cast absentee ballots or vote by mail. And they can only vote at the polling stations where they are registered, usually the town of their birth, unless they’ve signed up as out-of-constituency ahead of time. The trip back home to vote is typical and turnout is usually high in a public that’s deeply engaged with politics. King’s return The country hasn’t held a referendum since 1974, when 69 per cent voted against the return of the former king after the fall of a military dictatorship. Greece’s fragmented politics have led to three general elections since it accepted a bailout in 2010 to avoid default.
Coming just five months after the January 25 election that brought Tsipras to power, Sunday’s referendum will be held under the same monitors, easing preparations. But ballots to the country 19,000 polling stations only started being dispatched on Wednesday.
Constitutional experts and lawyers have already raised concerns about the validity and fairness of the vote, arguing that time is too short for all the ballots and monitors to reach the polling stations.
The ancient Greeks are widely seen as having been the founders of Western medicine more than 2,000 years ago. But since then our understanding of the human body and how to treat it has changed beyond recognition. So what would be the point of studying ancient Greek medicine today?
It’s part of a more general question: why bother studying medicine from times before people knew about germs, antibiotics, the circulation of the blood, or anaesthetics? Although we now have a far more detailed and accurate picture of medicine, I think the ancient Greeks can help us think through a number of topics that are still relevant today.
1. New (old) treatments
The idea that we might uncover an unknown treatment in a forgotten treatise looks like a promising reason to study the ancient Greeks. But it’s not that simple. Yes, it’s possible that a forgotten plant used in the ancient world will prove to be the basis for a new drug today but that hasn’t happened yet. It would have to get through the various stages of testing that we now regard as essential, and that’s not always straightforward. And ancient Greece was not some golden age of simple, safe medicine. Some treatments such as womb fumigation were unpleasantly invasive. Others used very dangerous materials such as hellebore.
However, drugs weren’t the starting point of ancient medicine. First came diet, in the broad sense of your whole way of life, including food, drink, exercise, excrement and sleep. Health was seen as the balance of different fluids in the body. The focus on diet was never a call to eat raw foods, whatever the claims of modern charlatans who use the name of the ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates to sell their diet regimes.
A patient’s condition was thought to result not just from the balance of their body, but from how that body relates to the environment. With diseases related to obesity and mental health today taking an increasing amount of doctors’ time, it’s not unsurprising medicine is turning more and more to a Greek-style holistic approach.
2. Medicine requires trust
While using ancient Greek medicine as a source of remedies is problematic, drawing on it to understand the doctor/patient relationship is more straightforward. We still say, “Trust me, I’m a doctor”. But there was clearly a lot of unease about doctors in the ancient world. They weren’t family members so it felt risky to let them near your body, especially when you weren’t feeling very strong. Being ill was seen as a loss of self-control and therefore damaging to a man’s masculinity.
To gain a patient’s trust, a doctor had to make sure his image was right. Today it’s the white coat. In ancient Greece it was all about wearing plain, simple clothing, avoiding strong perfumes and never quoting the poets at the patient’s bedside. If you’ve read any Greek tragedy, you’ll see why not. When you are feeling ill, it isn’t cheering to hear “Death is the only water to wash away this dirt” or “alone in my misery I would crawl, dragging my wretched foot”. As a doctor, you needed to understand what your patients were thinking, and help them to trust you. And if they trusted you, then they’d take the remedies.
3. Treatments go in and out of fashion
Medicine isn’t some linear process in which we move steadily towards “The Truth”. It has its ups and downs, and new discoveries don’t always catch on. Human dissection as a way of finding out how the body works was carried out in the third century BC but was then abandoned for hundreds of years. With this in mind, we can study why particular methods of treatment are adopted or resisted.
Roman medicine seems to have been a simple, home-based approach with the head of the family collecting and applying remedies. When Greek medicine began to take over in Rome, it was not an instant success: a story about an early Greek doctor in Rome labels him “The Butcher”.
Greek medicine’s eventual triumph was not because it was “better”. It may have been the appeal of a fashionable practice. Or because it was based outside the family. Or it may have been due to the fact it had explanations attached rather than relying entirely on trust in authority.
4. We all want to know “why?”
Why me? Why now? Ancient religion blamed the gods, or your failings in not honouring the right one in the right way. Ancient medicine also explained illness in terms of what you had done wrong, but it pointed less to moral failings and instead to eating the wrong foods, or taking too much or too little exercise. The time of year, the location of your home, or the prevailing wind could all play a part in diagnosis.
Once we know “why”, we can find out what to do to get better. Ancient medicine suggests that putting the blame only on the patient won’t help, something modern medicine is just starting to realise. People are more likely to have a positive attitude if they can look to a “why?” that’s outside themselves.
5. We don’t know everything
Perhaps I’m biased on this point: my pregnant mother turned down the offer of a prescription of thalidomide, a drug that used to be prescribed for morning sickness but was eventually discovered to severely damage unborn children. Medicine gets it wrong. We’d be naive to think that everything we do now is right.
The ancient Greeks thought they had the answers. So do we. Looking at a medical system so different from our own, but one which lasted for many centuries, teaches us that we should never accept anything without challenging it and without being prepared to rethink if new evidence comes along.
But the Greeks also teach us that medicine needs to make sense to its audience. It was not like our quest for “a pill for every ill”, the same treatment for a disease regardless of the patient. It was holistic, preventative, and tailored to the individual. Similarly, in the wake of modern genetic studies, customising medicine to each person has become a focus of medicine once more. We can learn a lot from the ancient Greeks.
Half a world away from the crisis unfolding in Greece, Nelly Skoufatoglou is shopping online for toilet paper, detergents, rice and olive oil to be delivered to her mother’s home near Athens.
Skoufatoglou is one of tens of thousands of Greek Australians who have fled to Australia to escape the economic woes of her birthplace, making Melbourne her new home just under a year ago.
She’s now finding inventive ways to support the family she left behind and to dodge the restrictions on money transfers and cash withdrawals by locals in Greece.
One way is buying groceries online via the Carrefour Greece website from her desk in Melbourne for delivery to her mother.
“I called my mum and asked her what she needed,”. Skoufatoglou told Reuters by phone from Melbourne. “I bought olive oil, rice, cheese, groceries, detergent, toilet paper, just basic goods.”
Skoufatoglou, a journalist with Greek language publication NeosCosmos in Melbourne, had been sending money to her Australian-born mother via the banks until they restricted withdrawals. She then turned to Western Union, which this week blocked transfers to Greece.
“Shopping online means that she (her mother) doesn’t have to queue up at ATMs running out of money to get basic supplies,” she said.
Carrefour in Greece, which is owned by the Marinopoulos Group after the French supermarket chain sold its stake in its Greek operations in 2012, said it did not collect data on overseas sales but said general demand for its goods had increased over the past three days.
In Baltimore in the United States, Nely Kostopoulou is also shopping online for family in Greece. Kostopoulou said her mother’s pension had been cut by almost 30 percent to 700 euros per month, while her sister is long-term unemployed.
“A lot of relatives have to split their skinny pension with their kids and their families because none has enough to go through the month,” she told Reuters via email.
“Buying the groceries every month is another way to help.”
The Carrefour Greece website, which is operated by an external company, Caremarket, accepts credit cards from several other nationalities as payment, although it has barred bank transfers.
Caremarket did not immediately return calls for comment.
Marinopoulos spokesman said that while demand has risen, it was not experiencing any problems with its supplies.
“So far when it comes to suppliers we are not having any issue,” the Marinopoulos spokesman told Reuters. “What we cannot predict in the future is what happens if the consumers’ behavior changes.”
Bill Papastergiadis, president of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne, said avoiding money transfers and using private business channels to support relatives makes sense.
“The private sector system works very effectively in Greece and there are delivery networks around the country,” he said.
Skoufatoglou’s only concern is that this most recent avenue of support will also slam shut.
“Then what we do, I don’t know,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Lefteris Karagiannopoulos in Athens; Editing by Rachel Armstrong)
As uncertainty worsens in Greece, doctors, lawyers and academics flood inboxes of compatriots worldwide with CVs and pleas for help getting work
A Greek flag flies outside the Athens Stock Exchange. The exodus of its highly educated professionals has been described as ‘squandering the intellectual and social capital’ of Greece.
Greek professionals are scrambling to leave the country as the economic situation deteriorates, flooding the inboxes of diaspora Greeks across the world with resumés and requests for jobs.
In the past 10 days, the Greek Medical Association UK (GMA UK) has seen a 30% increase in the number of emails and phone calls from Greek doctors enquiring about leaving Greece to work in the UK.
“Over the last few years there has been a steady increase in the number of doctors who want to find a job abroad. But in the last month there has been a peak, there has been a sudden increase in the number of emails and phone calls we’ve received with all these rumours about Greece going out of the euro,” said Dr Gregory Makris, president of the association.
He said that if Greece voted no in the referendum on Sunday, the number of doctors leaving the country would increase even further. “A lot of people are waiting to see what happens on Sunday, we could see a sharp increase on that 30%,” he said.
Over the past five years, an estimated 200,000 Greeks, or 2% of the nation’s population, have left the country to search for work. But as the uncertainty in Greece worsens, people are sending out pleas for help to Greeks living abroad.
One Greek-Australian academic has been receiving about 10 emails a day, every day, for the past month, from Greek professionals asking for help getting work in Australia. On Wednesday alone, he received 56 such emails.
“In the beginning I thought it was spam,” said Vrasidas Karalis, professor of modern Greek and chair of department at the University of Sydney. “Some of them send letters with complete CVs, or with ideas for projects they’ve planned. Or they just say: ‘Can you help me to come there? Whom should I approach? What should I do?’
“It’s heartbreaking. There is a tone of despair, of hopelessness or total resignation and abandonment,” he said.
Of the hundreds of Greek people who have approached Karalis, some of whom he knows, most of whom he has never met, he said all but one – a taxi driver – had university degrees.
“Most have master’s degrees and a substantial percentage have PhDs. All of them are really educated and accomplished professionals. Mostly they are in their 20s and 30s, at the most creative and most productive period of life.”
Among those who have approached Karalis, who is a prominent member of the Sydney Greek community, are teachers, doctors, lawyers, dentists or, like him, academics seeking work in an Australian university. While speaking to the Guardian, Karalis received two messages on Facebook from Greek university lecturers, pleading for his help in finding employment in Australia.
“One of them is very successful as well. They must be very desperate. Poor things. What can I do?” he said.
Nelly Skoufatoglou, 32, is among the young, accomplished Greeks pushed out of the country by the economic conditions. A journalist with dual Australian-Greek citizenship, she was previously the editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine, Ozon Raw, in Athens. But after months of receiving pay cheques that bounced and salary payments being delayed, she moved to Australia – where her mother was born – and took up a job in Melbourne as online editor of Neos Kosmos, a bilingual Greek newspaper distributed throughout Australia, New Zealand and Greece.
Now she is on the receiving end of requests from other well-educated Greek professionals looking for employment. On Thursday, through Neos Kosmos’s social media and email accounts, she received 22 unsolicited messages asking for work; in the past week, she has received more than 100.
“I get a lot of emails and messages from people in Greece, or newly arrived Greeks in Australia looking for employment, sponsorship or even asking for financial aid,” said Skoufatoglou.
Of the hundreds of people who have contacted Skoufatoglou for help since October last year, she says more than 80% hold university degrees, 60% have master’s degrees and more than 10% hold PhDs.
“They’re asking to do anything, even asking to be connected to restaurants to wash dishes. We’re talking about doctors, lawyers, they don’t care what they do as long as they can work and support families back home,” said Skoufatoglou.
Karalis calls this exodus of professionals from his homeland “squandering the intellectual and social capital” of Greece, a brain drain from which the country will struggle to recover.
“It means that in five or 10 years Greece could be left with no educated elite who could take over and modernise the country. These people have been educated in the country, the Greek state paid for their education, and now they’ll leave and the benefit will be harvested by another state. Not to mention in all these cases the human cost, most of these people have left families behind,” he said.
Professor Richard Hunter, regius professor of Greek at Cambridge and president of the council of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece’s largest university, said the exodus of university lecturers from Greece would be particularly devastating for the country.
“Every bit of Greece is suffering at the moment, but the universities are in serious peril,” he said.
Hunter said that for several years young Greek academics had been forced to leave the country to find work – a blow for the nation’s universities, which for the last decade have produced world-leading research in software engineering, nanotechnology, archaeology and classical antiquity.
“Obviously Greece has been suffering for some years from the fact that its young academics are leaving. Most countries prosper on research, and it is hard to overestimate the value which universities bring to national prosperity and social progress,” said Hunter.
Greek Newlyweds Valasia Limnioti and Konstantinos Patronis’ long-planned “dream trip” to the U.S. ended in New York City, where their three-week honeymoon quickly turned into a nightmare when their Greek-issued credit and debit cards were suddenly declined when the Greek government issued capital controls, limiting bank transactions and the flow of money abroad in any way.
“We were hungry, and I cried for two days,” Limnioti said. “I felt homeless in New York.”
The couple skipped a few meals before spending their last dollars on dinner at McDonald’s. Strangers from two Greek Orthodox churches in Astoria came to the rescue, giving them survival cash until their flight home to Greece.
The couple’s U.S. adventure started after their June 6 wedding in Volos, Greece.
Their coast-to-coast U.S. trip that took in Los Angeles and a Caribbean cruise “was the dream trip of our lives,” Limnioti said.
They had saved for a whole year to pre-pay for flights and hotels, with enough cash left for both necessities and pleasures. Neither of their two Greek-bank issued credit cards worked.
“Everything was all right – then ‘boom!’ in New York,” Limnioti told NBC News in an interview.
Within days, the couple ran out of cash and “we couldn’t withdraw any money – zero,” Limnioti said.
On Tuesday, in despair, they reached out to the New York-based Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which connected them with two churches in Astoria, which offered about $350 from the St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox church and another nearby one, St. Irene Chrysovalantou.
“I said to them, ‘Don’t worry, that’s why we’re here,’” said the Rev. Vasilios Louros of St. Demetrios. “This is the church of Christ and we always help people.”
The money was withdrawn from the church’s bank account, “and that was it,” he said.
In addition, an undisclosed amount came from a New York-based Greek journalist who hails from Volos.
The couple insisted they’d pay back the money but were told it was a gift, said Limnioti.
Numerous Greeks are stranded abroad, including some patients in U.S. hospitals who cannot pay for medical care or daily living expenses.
THE dire financial crisis in Greece became a reality for celebrity chef George Calombaris last week when he was stopped by immigration officials who questioned how much cash he was taking out of the country.
The Greek/Australian MasterChef judge was stopped at the airport and forced to reveal the amount of money he was taking from Greece to Australia.
Greek government officials imposed controls to prevent money from flooding out of the country.
“When you’re wondering through customs and get a tap on the shoulder to ask how much cash you’re taking out of the country, you sort of go ‘geez, this isn’t good’,” Calombaris said.
‘‘ You can’t get money at the ATM. It’s never happened to me before … it is so sad … you have the best country in the world in terms of climate, islands, the beauty, the culture … unfortunately it has been given to the wrong people in the wrong hands and mismanaged.
“What I feel sorry for most are the elderly people who are sick or need hospitals … and the young kids.”
Calombaris, who travels to Europe once or twice a year, said what’s happening in Greece should prompt Australians to be grateful to live where they do.
“We are very blessed and very lucky here, so we need to take note,” the 36-year-old said.
“I think the moral of the story is this, as Australians we need to look at this and when we whinge about the dumb stuff, like being booked for your metre running out after 10 minutes … there is a reason why,
“There has to be a law and a rule and the problem with Greece is they’ve never had rules.”
A exit from the euro currency and a return to a form of the old Greek drachma is now being openly canvassed in the event of a no vote at the weekend. But Dr Helmut Schmeiding, chief economist at the Berenberg Bank in London, says a decision by Greece to print its own money would spark more economic and social chaos.
FORGIVING debt, if done right, can get an economy back on its feet.
The International Monetary Fund certainly thinks so, according to a new report in which it argues Greece should get help.
But Germany, another major creditor to Greece, is resisting — even though it knows better than most what debt relief can achieve.
After the hell of World War II, the Federal Republic of Germany — commonly known as West Germany — got a massive helping hand with its debt from former enemies.
And who was among its creditors then? Greece.
The 1953 agreement, in which Greece and about 20 other countries effectively wrote off a large chunk of Germany’s loans and restructured the rest, is a landmark case that shows how effective debt relief can be. It helped spark what became known as the German economic miracle.
So it’s perhaps ironic that Germany is now among the countries resisting Greece’s requests for debt relief.
Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis claims debt relief is the key issue that held up a deal with creditors last week and says he’d rather cut off his arm than sign anything that doesn’t tackle the country’s borrowings.
The IMF backed the call to make Greece’s debt manageable with a wideranging report on Thursday that also blames the Greek government for being slow with reforms.
Despite years of budget cuts, Greece’s debt burden is higher than when its bailout began in 2010 — over AU$479 billion, or 180 per cent of annual GDP — because the economy has shrunk by a quarter.
Here’s a look at when Germany got debt relief, and if such action might help Greece.
FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS
1953’s London Agreement, hammered out over months, was generous to West Germany. It cut the amount owed, extended the repayment schedule and granted low interest rates.
And crucially, it linked West Germany’s debt repayment schedule to its ability to pay — tying repayments to the trade surplus it was running and expected to run. That created an incentive for trading partners to buy German goods.
The deal effectively blocked claims for reparations for the destruction the Nazis inflicted on others.
But it wasn’t a one-way street.
“The London Agreement gave Germany sweeping debt forgiveness and protection from creditors, in exchange for pro-market reforms,” said Professor Albrecht Ritschl of the London School of Economics.
West Germany was able to borrow on international markets again, and, free of onerous debt payments, saw its economy grow strongly.
Development activists cite that case when arguing for easier terms for troubled countries today.
“The same opportunity should be given to Greece that was given to Germany in 1953,” said Eric LeCompte, executive director of debt relief organisation Jubilee USA.
Greece has had some relief. Private sector bondholders lost 53 per cent of face value in a 2012 restructuring, and remaining debts have been stretched out.
Now most of Greece’s debt is owed to bailout creditors. While they, notably the IMF, have indicated that the debt load should be made more manageable, little has been done of late.
The German debt forgiveness was driven by the United States, which pressed others to get a deal — British creditors gave up two-thirds of what they were owed.
It wasn’t charity. The U.S. needed a strong West Germany as an ally against the perceived threat of the Soviet Union.
Yale University Professor Timothy Guinnane warns against making too many comparisons, partly because Germany was so much more important geopolitically than Greece today.
And Germany had economic pedigree, being a big exporter. Greece, on the other hand, hasn’t, and isn’t. That’s partly why Germany in particular is insisting on reforms to make Greece more competitive — if they are enacted, then it’s indicated it would be open to help out on the debt front.
“The U.S. was basically the last man standing after the war and essentially decided to cut Germany’s debt in half,” Guinnane said. “It was a hard-nosed decision ….. it’s wrong to say it was an act of generosity.”
Still, there are echoes from the German case that are relevant to Greece today.
The deal to help Germany was based on a realistic way for the country to pay its debts — Greece’s Varoufakis has suggested debt repayments be linked to growth. Over the bailout years, Greece has had to meet debt commitments even though its economy was in a depression.
Germany’s deal also acknowledged that mistakes after World War I in imposing punitive conditions helped boost extremists. In its misery, Greece has seen votes go to radical parties of left and right, including Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn.
“It’s deeply ironic that it’s forcing Greece into a position that’s prompting the rise of extremist parties,” said Guinnane.
One of the reasons why relations between Greece and European creditors deteriorated is the disagreement over what to do about the country’s debts. It’s difficult for anyone, especially those that have endured austerity too, to accept a lower return.
But there are signs of movement as Sunday’s referendum nears in Greece on recent reform proposals from the country’s creditors.
Cyprus has said it could consider writing off 330 million euros ($370 million) in rescue loans to Greece. The U.S., while not directly involved, has consistently advocated debt relief.
The IMF came out most forcefully on Thursday, arguing in a report that Greece needs large-scale debt relief alongside more than 60 billion euros ($67 billion) in financing between June 2015 and the end of 2018. Given the recent economic shock related to the capital controls and the referendum uncertainty, Greece’s needs will likely be significantly higher, the IMF said.
It blamed the current government for being slow on reforms and privatisation, but said it was clear the debt needed to be made more manageable.
“A significant haircut could possibly do it,” an IMF official said, on condition of anonymity in line with department rules. “So could an extension, so Greece would not have to go back to the markets for a very long time.”
One option the IMF mentioned was doubling the grace period on Greece’s loans from EU countries to 20 years and the subsequent repayment period to 40.
“Greece needs a sort of breathing space,” the IMF official said.