From my balcony I can see the looming mass of land that is the Greek Island of Kos. The many asylum seekers that are camped out on the grassy spaces in the city centre can also see it; it is their ultimate destination. To call them asylum seekers is actually is misnomer for they are no more seeking asylum from political and social persecution than I am. Rather they should be called what they are: economic migrants seeking to leave their impoverished countries and make their way to those European countries that are ready to hand them free houses, money and hope. Instead of stay in their own developing economies, they have made the canny realisation that the golden goose will be a long time coming to their places of birth and it would be better to follow its trail to the strong, established more equitable countries in Europe. Turkey is a gateway for these seekers as is North Africa and Greece and Italy are the unfortunate, reluctant hosts for their first step on their long journeys. If you understand this then you will understand that the ‘No’ vote that occurred yesterday in Greece was not only based on austerity but also on other factors including what the EU deems the is the necessary treatment of these economic migrants.
First however we must look at recent history to understand the Greek position. Imagine that you are living on an island in a small village. It is a close knit community that has lived together for generations, sharing their lives as one big extended family. Imagine that there is a war on and your island is a strategically important place for the two warring sides. When the side that your village, country and allies is opposing enters your village, collects all the men of age (and disgustingly many young men who could be termed boys), takes them out to the countryside and puts bullets in their heads your heart breaks, your blood boils and your mind never forgets. Fast forward less than 60 years later and your country is now being dictated to by the government of the long dead murderers. Would you endeavor to be ruled by that government? Was it therefore ever realistic to try to create a united Europe where the memories of its citizens were dismissed for supposed unity? Obviously a united Europe means a peaceful Europe, one that would never again go to war, but how can you ignore a history that still lives in the psyche of individuals? The Greeks could not ignore what was in their collective memories but allow their country’s inclusion in the EU they did and it cost them not only their pride but also their standard of living, autonomy, economy and until yesterday it might have cost them their democracy. Their ‘No’ has restored their pride and even some would say has now put them in a position of power of over their past enemies.
Of course, if we are talking about history then we must include the history of how the Greeks are responsible for some of the mess in which they find themselves. Yes, they cooked their books upon entry to the EU. Yes, they didn’t pay their taxes. Yes, they borrowed more than they could ever pay back. However, I would argue that in trying to buy into the EU politically, economically, and socially they lost what made them who they were, just as Italy, Spain, Portugal and all other countries did. China should shake Brussels hand for it is the march of the Euro that put paid to many cottage industries and local businesses and moved their productions to the cheaper, faster producing nation in the East. The EU is partially responsible for every ‘Made In China’ label that I set my eyes on daily. So what was Greece and these other nations to do but borrow to keep their economies afloat? If you are not producing anything on a grand scale then you are not creating jobs and you are not supporting your people, so where is the money going to come from? The banks in the stronger economies such as France, Germany and the UK were happy to extend credit to these weaker economies until they realised that they were very bad creditors. If I was as in debt as the Greeks, I too would just give up and declare bankruptcy but the Eurocrats couldn’t allow them to do that and so kept propping them up. It just doesn’t make sense. The IMF issued a report recently that concluded that Greece could never replay the over 300 billion Euros it owes. If you put it on a personal scale it is like saying that my husband makes 40,000 TL a year and owes his bank 40 million TL. Enough said.
So why keep propping up Greece? Because if Greece leaves the EU then Italy, Portugal, Spain and whoever else is not happy with their current conditions could also leave and it is not just about economics. Brussels has become a rule-making cash-cow that everyone is tired of paying to order them around. This brings us back to the migrant situation because if a country isn’t part of the EU then it is a gateway only to that country and who wants to migrate to a country that is poor and stalling? I am not going to lie and say that although, upon hearing that the Greeks had voted ‘No’, I was ecstatic for what that meant to their sovereignty and democracy, I was also thrilled that their precarious position might stop people wanting to get to Kos from Bodrum from living rough on our town’s streets. It is not that I am a cold-hearted, ignorant person who would wish anyone to be in dire straits, but we here will soon be in dire straits if these migrants do not stop affecting the tourism upon which our economy rests. People in Europe are overstretched at the moment. Many people are living hand to mouth. They are only making ends meet. They go to work every day and work many hours just to house and feed their families and if they are lucky they can afford a cheap all-inclusive vacation in a beautiful place like Southern Turkey. Not only do they physically need to get away, they also need to mentally get away and seeing families living on the street and sleeping in the park is not helping to sustain their yearly vacation bubble. Rest assured these tourist will go back to their countries and tell all of their friends and family that far from finding a scenic, peaceful, vacation spot they found a third world country. Sorry, but the majority of people coming here who do not want to vacation in a third world country will not be returning. So call me cruel but does misery have to love company?
That is the point. The EU has not made things better, it has made them miserable and countries such as Greece are waking up to this. I am not pushing aside economic theory that says there is boom and bust at least along the lines on which modern economies are structured but I am saying that enough is enough. The only thing that is going to stop this deepening economic crisis. The only thing that is going to stop this widening divide between the rich and the poor and essentially the eradication of the middle class is a return to local economies. Living in an emerging economy, I can still experience that. I can go to the market on Friday and pay 2 TL per kilo for a watermelon, or pay 1 TL per kilo for a watermelon. When the vendor puts the watermelon on the scale and tells me that it is 7.5 kilos I can give him 7 TL and a wink and be done with it. If I need to rent a car then I can go to a guy in town who does not have a car rental company but has a car to rent out. We negotiate the price and a time of return and off I go. When I decide that I am going to be late for our return rendezvous, I just call him up and tell him that I will see him a couple of hours later and no, I do not pay extra. This way of doing things does not involve the pedantic rules and measures of the EU. It involves an agreement between two people. Supply and demand at its most raw.
Ironically, things are so tough in Greece and other Southern European countries that they have already gone back to these practices, and lo and behold, they work. They strip out the middleman and keep the service and money where it should be: between the buyer and the provider. The EU is the middleman and any savvy business person will tell you that he does nothing but eat into your profits. It is time to get rid of the EU. It is time to say ‘Yes’ to what makes us different and ‘No’ to trying to make us all the same. The Eurocrats tried to homogenise cultures and it didn’t work. Instead it has most likely cost them 300 billion Euros that could have been used for much better purposes. That the Greek people chose uncertainty and hardship as a fair trade for their freedom speaks volumes. The Greeks didn’t say ‘No’ to Europe, they said ‘Yes’ to Greece. Now if only other countries would do the same then we can get back to business without the middleman.