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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 21 October 2017
GREECE 24 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 21 OCTOBER 2017 Mr Tsipras goes to Washington When a former anti-capitalism activist of the left meets the incarnation of US capitalism, and helps him make a deal to sell US war planes If anyone had predicted, a mere 10 years ago when Alexis Tsipras was rising to the leadership of a small leftist party barely making it to the Parliament, that not only would he become Prime Minister of Greece one day, but that he would also meet with two sitting US presidents, nobody would have believed him. In fact, part of the criticism addressed to the Greek PM, when he met with President Trump this week, was based on precisely this previous implausibility: that an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, anti-American politician, who had been protesting against neo-liberalism and in the Genova anti-globalisation riots, would one day sheepishly shake the hand of the US leader. The irony became much more biting, considering that the sitting POTUS is himself a living embodiment of American capitalism (yet he shares one thing with the Greek PM’s former protest-prone self: a dislike for globalisation, or at least for the binding international treaties that go with it). By now, nobody should be surprised: Alexis Tsipras rose to power with a fierce antiausterity message, only to become the most obedient prime minister of the Crisis, putting into force the harshest pack of austerity measures Greece has ever seen. So, why wouldn’t he also make a U-turn on the anti-NATO, anti-capitalist ideas of his youth and go to the White House as a PM of a country thirsty for foreign investment? Alexis Tsipras went to Washington bearing the same badge of honour that every single one of the Greek prime ministers who have met a US president (all ten of them, since WWII) bore: that of Greece being a strategic ally of the US in the southeast Mediterranean and the Balkans. The country’s geostrategic positioning has been the only leverage that Greek leaders have used in such meetings and Prime Minister Tsipras did not deviate, when he met the man who became president emphasising his ability to make deals. And Donald Trump did make a deal. He managed to get the Greek PM to pledge to upgrade Greece’s fleet of F-16 fighter planes, an investment estimated at $2.4 billion - although the Greek government was quick to emphasise that the actual cost would be around €1.1billion over 10 to 15 years. “We have great confidence in Greece as a nation”, said an evidently pleased Donald Trump, adding: “We have great confidence in what they’re doing relative to their military.” President Trump mentioned the deal no less than four times, during the Greek PM’s visit to Washington, each time adding to the furore that erupted in debt-ridden Greece, where government critics pointed out that the country is in no position to spend on 85 new war planes. But what did prime minister Tsipras get in return for this favour to the American war industry? Little more than words of sympathy and encouragement. President Trump was reserved about making any promises and kept expectations low, saying that Washington is helping Greece get back on its feet after the economic crisis. Speaking from the White House’s Rose Garden, with Tsipras at his side, President Trump said the American people “stand with the Greek people as they recover from the economic crisis ... I have encouraged the prime minister in his continued implementation of reform and reform programs and I have totally reaffirmed our support for a responsible debt-relief plan.” Despite being vague on its own, this suggestion was shot down by the German government, on Wednesday, which stated that there is nothing new to convey regarding Berlin’s stance vis-a-vis the issue of Greek debt relief: the German government spokesperson made it clear that this stance reflects the Eurogroup’s position. Rude wedding photo irates Rhodes Bishop Charges have been brought against a British couple The picturesque chapel of the St Paul monastery in Lindos, one of the most popular tourist sites in Rhodes, has been attracting couples from around the world wishing to have their wedding take place against what they deem genuinely romantic scenery. Now these dreams come to an abrupt end, as the local church leader, Bishop Kyrillos has decided to ban all "foreign weddings" from the monastery, after a couple of newlyweds from the UK posted a photo on Facebook which has scandalised the local community. The photo in question features the newlywed couple engaging in a simulation of oral sex, the bride kneeling in front of the groom, who has his pants around the ankles - all this in close proximity to the chapel. The photo went viral, scandalising the local community and causing the ire of Bishop Kyrillos who decided to ban all non-religious wedding ceremonies. The practice of the chapel being leased for civil marriages, which has been criticised for a long time by the diocese (as well as part of the council), which wanted it to stop; now they have got a reason to go forward with it. This decision is bound to have an effect on the town's economy, which relies on tourism. There have already been dozens of complaints made by couples - mostly from the UK - who have made arrangements to hold their weddings at the chapel and now see their plans ruined and costing them thousands. Some have already pressed charges against the rude couple. DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM OPINION My Big Fat Greek Week: for whom the bell tolls? NIKOS FOTAKIS The picturesque St Paul monastry in Lindos. PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS Greece’s growth undermined by lack of investment All indicators agree: the Greek economy is on the way to recovery, yet all optimism coming from this return to growth is undermined by a basic element which is still missing: investment. With the country's unemployment still perched at 21 per cent (despite having fallen from 24 per cent), the need for investments becomes more evident every passing day. According to a Bloomberg media analysis, investment is the only thing that would drive unemployment below 20 per cent and push down social costs. The report quotes economist Nicholas Magginas, a leading economist with the National Bank of Greece, who estimates that Greece will need investments to grow at an average rate of eight per cent for the next few years: "You can't have sustained growth without investment," he says. "So far the employment pick- up has been in labour-intensive, low-skilled sectors like tourism, which don't improve productivity. But that was the easy part and now it needs to be more capital-intensive." The Greek government has been trying to create confidence, advertising the country's return to stability and hoping that this would lead to investment, but this has yet to happen - and the public debate on high-profile investment projects being stalled due to environmental or archaeological reasons, is not helpful. Despite signs of life becoming evident in almost all industries, from manufacturing, which hit a nine-year high last month to retail, which has seen sales growing while crisis-stricken consumers slowly return to spending, gross fixed capital formation was stagnant in 2016, and grew just 2.7 per cent in the first half of this year. • “We have already eaten the camel and now there is the queue". • Truer words have never been spoken. • Alexis Tsipras made this remark, speaking at the Brookings Institute in Washington after his meeting with US President Donald Trump. • It was another awkward, cringeworthy moment in the long line of awkward, cringeworthy moments the Greek PM has given us, particularly when he tries to speak English. • The panel embraced the awkwardness, laughing politely at the remark, which was meant to emphasise the fact that Greece has concluded 80 per cent of its reforms, raising hopes for debt relief. "There is an expression in Greece", the PM said, educating journalists on the proverbial saying. • Of course, there are no camels in Greece; and by 'queue', Tsipras meant 'tail'. • His English teacher should be reeling in horror. • The actual proverb is: "we have eaten the donkey, and all that is left is its tail". • Which is also a bit nonsensical. Who eats donkeys, anyway? • The truth is though, that nothing can better describe what is going on in Greece than nonsensical quotes. • Take the upgrade of the transport system for instance. • Greece has just introduced a new electronic ticket to replace the paper tickets sold by machines. • But the process of issuing a month-long pass is daunting. In order to freely use transport, passengers need to provide all sorts of identification points, up to their social security number. • Yes, the system is fearful of ticket fraud and is making sure to eliminate it. • To be fair, in recent years, there has been a trend of passengers leaving their (paper) tickets behind, once used, for other passengers to use until expiration. • It is a kind of rebellion, or solidarity, among crisisstricken citizens who have had enough of paying for a state which treats them with hostility. • The Ministry of Transport lowered ticket prices, and duration, so that it would be harder for two people to use the same ticket. • Now you practically have to give away all sorts of private data in order to be able to commute. • So take that, you terrible ticket offenders! • Yes, Greece will go to great lengths to let you know that crime does not pay. • Of course, this is the same country in which a top criminal lawyer, Michalis Zafeiropoulos, was killed in his Athens office, in broad daylight, by two mobsters posing as clients, in what was probably a contract killing ordered from inside the prison, according to the police. • The horrific incident took place last week and was - predictably - used by the Opposition to attack the government for not being hard on crime. • This has been part of the Opposition’s rhetoric for a long time now, specifically stressing the ideological ties that bind some factions of the leftist government party with the extremist groups that have been engaging in acts of terrorism in Greece. • Now, the Opposition has bound everything together - terrorism, petty theft, organised crime, racist assaults on migrants, and kidnapping - into a neat package, claiming that crime is on the rise. • Which is not true. Official police data shows that crime rates have been declining for years. • And this has little to do with the crisis. • In fact, the police have had quite a few achievements to boast recently, not least among them, breaking up the kidnappers ring that held businessman Michalis Lebidakis. • And the ongoing trial of Golden Dawn raises hope that the Nazi party will be convicted for the criminal organisation that it is. • Speaking of Golden Dawn, one of the party's prominent supporters, Kalavryta Bishop Amvrosios also made news last week. • He ordered churches in his diocese to mournfully ring for a week, in condemnation of the new laws that allow for legal recognition of gender identity. • Once again, the church ran a crusade against a vulnerable minority, standing up against their rights of self-determination. • There's probably a joke about donkeys, camels and queues to be made there.
14 October 2017
28 October 2017