Sunday, February 28, 2016

Greece at Tipping Point?

Here I am in Thessaloniki trying to mind my own business, but how can I?  Just when it seems that things can't get worse, they do -- bringing Greece to a veritable "tipping point." 

Greek farmers have called off the 68 highway blockades that have pretty much paralyzed this country for over a month, having accepted Prime Minister Tsipras' offer of legislation that does not come down so hard on the agricultural sector (assuming that "The Creditors" don't squawk). Said farmers were asked to share the multiple burdens facing their beleaguered country and are now in wait-and-see mode...That's the good news.

TV coverage is now focused on a refugee problem which has suddenly exploded way out-of-control. Today alone about 1500 more people arrived in Piraeus. Austria --an EU member! -- independently called a meeting with the Balkan countries but without Greece, resulting in border closures. Meanwhile, refugees continue to walk 550 kilometers (330 miles) from Athens to the Greek border, creating emergency conditions and stress all along the way.  Thousands who have reached the border are living in tents or on  the street, begging to cross over.

Forecasts for solving this double-edged humanitarian crisis are beyond gloomy: "In all likelihood,..Greece will be converted into a huge 'open-air' refugee camp with unforeseen political and social consequences." 50-70,000 people will soon be stranded in Greece if Europe doesn't get it's act together. "Hotspots" are indeed popping up like crazy -- and the Greek people are beginning to be torn between continuing to help their fellow human beings and resisting a situation that seriously threatens their survival.

How can anyone blame them? To add insult to injury, waves of hotel cancellations are hitting the super-important tourist trade. Chios (-60%), Kos (-36%) and Samos (-40%) are already feeling the pain. The tiny island of Kastelorizo -- 250 permanent inhabitants and one mile from Turkey -- last week absorbed 1000 people in 72 hours, adding to tensions with a neighbor whose provocations by land and by sea have brought NATO boats into the picture. Greeks are now actually asking the question: Could there be a war with Turkey?

It should be noted that the 3 top political factions (Siriza-Anel, Nea Democratia, and PASOK) seem to actually agree on refugee issues -- but a certain opposition leader keeps talking about how his party would win new elections. Who needs that right now?

"Tipping point" just might be putting it mildly.

(Published in The Greek American Herald, March 2016)

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