The Lower Depths

by Andrew Stuttaford

Via the Guardian, two stories that highlight the state to which Greece has now sunk.

The first:

According to the head of Médecins sans Frontières Greece…malaria is becoming endemic in the south for the first time since the rule of the colonels, which ended in the 1970s.

Reveka Papadopoulos said that following health service cuts, including heavy job losses and a 40% reduction in funding for hospitals, Greek social services were “under very severe strain, if not in a state of breakdown. What we are seeing are very clear indicators of a system that cannot cope”. The heavy, horizontal and “blind” budget cuts coincided last year with a 24% increase in demand for hospital services, she said, “largely because people could simply no longer afford private healthcare. The entire system is deteriorating”.

And the second:

In recent weeks, Theodoros Mavridis has bought fresh eggs, tsipourou (the local brandy: beware), fruit, olives, olive oil, jam, and soap. He has also had some legal advice, and enjoyed the services of an accountant to help fill in his tax return. None of it has cost him a euro, because he had previously done a spot of electrical work – repairing a TV, sorting out a dodgy light – for some of the 800-odd members of a fast-growing exchange network in the port town of Volos, midway between Athens and Thessaloniki. In return for his expert labour, Mavridis received a number of Local Alternative Units (known as tems in Greek) in his online network account. In return for the eggs, olive oil, tax advice and the rest, he transferred tems into other people’s accounts.

“It’s an easier, more direct way of exchanging goods and services,” said Bernhardt Koppold, a German-born homeopathist and acupuncturist in Volos who is an active member of the network. “It’s also a way of showing practical solidarity – of building relationships.”

He had just treated Maria McCarthy, an English teacher who has lived and worked in the town for 20 years. The consultation was her first tem transaction, and she used one of the vouchers available for people who haven’t yet, or can’t, set up an online account.

The second at least is a story of resilience, but the development of parallel monies (in this case, the Local Alternative Units/tems) is yet another sign of a society where the cash is quite literally draining away.