Thursday, September 3, 2015

Your Greek-American legacy is at stake!


A nasty story came across the Internet on August 20th -- at once a cautionary tale and a call to action. Greek-Americans can no longer just sit back and wait to see how things turn out in Greece like one those wild TV mini-series with a wham-bam finale, that then comes back again and again with an ever-thickening plot that seems to have no end. It's Season 5 already of the Greek Financial Crisis...and now it's getting very personal!

(It's been VERY difficult to get people -- including some Greek-Americans! -- to understand not only the extent of the humanitarian crisis in Greece, but also that the Greek people are not directly responsible...especially at this point after 5 years of so-called "austerity measures" [with 26% unemployment and more than 40% living below the poverty level]. Borrowers and lenders must BOTH shoulder the blame for making and taking imprudent loans in a era of rampant deregulation that in the end undercut the Greek economy rather than grow it. Now already-slashed pensions -- some early, but NOT ill-got -- sustaining extended families will be cut back again in order to  keep Greece in the Eurozone. Is the price too steep?)

24/7 media stakes stalk Greece
Growing poverty everywhere in Greece is now a bleak reality whether making the front pages or not, and with no end in sight. But what really hurts the Greek people -- yes, these are actual human beings we are talking about! -- is the accusation that they are all dishonest and lazy...something I first heard from a neighbor in my grandmother's hometown of Koroni in 2012 and recently again when I spent 6 weeks in Greece. With all the publicity and misinformation, Greeks have found themselves personally condemned on top of everything else -- and now with a trickle down effect here in the U.S.A.

It was reported that a Philadelphia judge presiding over a child custody case asked the father whether he was of Greek descent, and when told yes, he said: "The Greeks never pay taxes..That's why the country is in bankruptcy." This brought the man's Greek mother to tears, prompting an apology from the judge. But it was obvious that many in the US have a very poor and unwarranted view of Greeks and Greece, like we have never been party to any financial fiascos.*

The posting on a HALC (Hellenic-American Leadership Council) blog went on to explain: "Tax evasion is a serious problem in Greece, one that been front and center during the debate on Greece’s bailout programs. What has been largely lost in the debate — and the reason why the 'none of them ever pay taxes' myth has taken hold so much — is that the bulk of Greece’s tax evasion is committed by a small percentage of people/companies... a mere 5 percent of tax dodgers owe 85 percent of the outstanding amount." Sound familiar? And while many individuals owe small amounts -- many because they simply can't afford to pay at this point  - many of those people who still have jobs are taxed at the source, meaning that they simply cannot avoid paying taxes.

The HALC posting goes on to say: "A broad brush has been used, however, since day one of this crisis, to paint all Greeks as the lazy, tax-evading leeches of Europe. It’s a cartoonish narrative, which is why it’s become so popular. The comments by Judge Coll are a reminder that it is our duty as members of the Hellenic diaspora to counter such stereotypes whenever we hear them, be it in a courthouse or a coffeehouse."  Or at the next church Greek Festival you attend.

Our legacies here and there are at stake!

* Let us remember that Stateside we acknowledged massive financial mistakes of our own in 2008, which included unpaid, fraudulent mortgages and massive credit card debt...plus malfeasance by leading financial institutions that had been deregulated.  We had a Depression, and my hometown Stockton, CA, was Ground Zero for people losing their homes...Fortunately, our economy was big enough to make things right eventually, but not without government intervention. Unfortunately, Greece's economy is tiny comparatively and tied to the Euro and all of its Germany-driven financial policies and rules/regulations. Fortunately the IMF has -- with pressure from the USA -- come to its senses with documentation that the Greek economy is not sustainable with without debt reduction/restructuring. Then again, who is Europe trying to save -- Greece or itself?


(Published in The Greek American Herald, October 2015)

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