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When Finland was Greece
by Thanos Kalamidas
2012-02-15 08:20:10
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Last week one of my articles about the situation in Greece attracted one not so attractive comment, “Boo-hoo. No more dancing Zorbas on my tax money.” This was not the first similar comment and I’m not sure about the writer’s intentions; most likely he wanted to provoke a reaction, perhaps an angry reaction. But what he got was a smile from me and somehow this comment worked like a purgatory after a long defensive and apologetic period. What helped more was that the sender was a Finn!

In the end of 80s beginning of 90s Finland lived an economic nightmare that changed a lot, first of all in the economic system of the country and then in people’s behaviour and awareness in front of the banking system and the financial reality. Then and at least for me the worst part was that the economic situation changed the social structure rusticating fear in front the state, the banks and in extent in any private initiative. Two things happened that period, first of all the banks – domestic and from abroad - uncontrollably started giving loans based on fragile guarantees looking only for their accounting profit, the term casino economy was invaded that period representing the phenomenon of getting rich with the loan and with the placing. Secondly when the whole thing turned into a boomerang with the people and the companies unable to pay back their loans the state that was the main holder of the banks was forced to interfere trying to stabilize the situation and save the banking system. The whole situation was leading to a dead lock, an economic catastrophe and Finland started thinking about IMF – yes the very same IMF that is in Greece now.

The Finnish leadership decided to avoid the third world policies of the IMF and turned to the private banking system led by the Swedish banks but what followed was disastrous. Unemployment reached 19% and tens of hundreds of companies bankrupt in one night. Following the economic boom of 80s a lot of people had turned into small private – often family – companies and these companies were the first victims of the recession. Tragically this is the period Finland becomes the world’s champion in suicides. With the help of the state the banks demanded their money back and they were using any legal way to succeed often leading whole families into an economic recession for years just to pay back one member’s loans. In the beginning of the 21st century there were still families paying back or trying to somehow recover from that period not forgetting that a lot of them had lost members in the most tragic way.

In my twelve years in this country I have often heard stories; tragic stories about this period and you know what is worst is the feeling of unfair most of these people felt. Somebody did a mistake expanding more or miscalculating the market and then the whole family had to pay back. For tax reasons most of these family companies included in their shares other family members or family members had given guarantees for loans. When the banks came for the money didn’t care who’s going to pay as long they could have their money back. And the same time unemployment kept rising, more companies closing and the main companies including banks were sold to stronger trusts. Municipalities and social services including schools and hospitals had to do drastic budget cuts weakening a model welfare state.

The effect on the society was dramatic. Even now – thirty years after - if you decide to open a company the first reaction from everybody is that you are going to be bankrupt in less than five years and the best advice they can give you is find a job to make sure “that the bread is coming to the table” as Finns say. The memories have marked a whole generation and everybody knows that if the Nokia miracle hadn’t happened in 90s and draw with it other companies Finland might still be on her knees.

Still things are not easy. Nokia seems to announce every so often more and more lay outs while the paper industry – the biggest Finnish industry – seems to follow with thousands of lay outs every year. Big national and private companies seem to be following and the cuts in the services – libraries, hospitals, schools - are daily news in the media. The same time politicians’ mistakes, economic miscalculations and falling profits become a collective issue. It is not the mistake of the thousand people who lost their jobs in Nokia lately that Nokia shares fell and the shareholders will get smaller profits but unfortunately they are the ones who have to live with it. It was not the mistake of whole families that one member miscalculated the general economic situation and invested more that he or she could afford but they lived with it for decades. Unfair and they have every reason to react. No more Suomi pop dancing.

But where five million Finns dancing Suomi pop back in 80s, participating actively in the casino economy with all the stock market bubbles that laundered billions to the Swiss and Swedish banks? No! Most of the people were hard working family people who tried to live a life in dignity and make sure that there is some kind of an economic safe future for their kids. But these people paid the bill and some of them paid the bill with their own lives. Well it was not exactly “Boo-hoo. No more dancing Suomi pop on Swedish tax money”, was it?

And I’m sorry, really sorry for what I’m going to say but since I have heard a lot of similar comments the last year not only from anonymous commentators but from statesmen and stateswomen even ministers and you know what happens to nations that forget!

Coming to Greece now, nobody said or should defend the politicians and the ones responsible for what happens now, there are no excuses but you can not doom a nation for the mistakes of the few. Nobody said that the people do not recognizing what has happened or that they are avoiding their responsibilities but by strangling them you are not going to get anything more than a dead body and dead bodies can not return anything.

The Greek people are demonstrating and calling the politicians not to support the new measures because these measures only kill them and they don’t give any answer to the problem on the contrary they create new problems. The prime minister said in the parliament that If Greece bankrupts the shelves of the supermarkets will be empty but does it matter if they are empty or full when people don’t have money to buy anything? How do they expect a family with only one member – if they are lucky – working and 700 Euros income to survive? Is not only that the measures are unbelievably hard but that they cannot offer any solution to the problem on the contrary the way they have been applied – under the orders of Merkel and Sarkozy – it seems that they are part of more to come.

So my “Boo-hoo” friend, where you where I am and where I am you might come instead of enjoying each others misfortune why don’t we join to stop them of stilling the most valuable good we have and it is beyond tax and economic measures; it is our dignity!

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Eva 2012-02-15 09:02:16
I hate how people seem to gloat over Greece's problems. They actually seem to ENJOY watching Greece sink?
Especially here in Finland this is true - hating Greece seems to be the new national sport. "They're getting what they deserved!"
What the hell is wrong with these people? Their attitude is sad and P A T H E T I C!!!

Emanuel Paparella2012-02-15 13:30:20
To answer the perplexity in the first comment above by Eva, this revealing passage from Wikipedia may be helpful:
A New York Times article in 2002 cited a number of scientific studies of schadenfreude, which it defined as "delighting in others' misfortune." Many such studies are based on social comparison theory, the idea that when people around us have bad luck, we look better to ourselves. Other researchers have found that people with low self-esteem are more likely to feel schadenfreude than are people who have high self-esteem.

Alexandros2012-02-15 14:22:55
I cannot fathom they are all so pathetically disposed to the problems of the ancestral land of Democracy. There must be some good people there.

But for those despicable creaures who express themselves with such negative inhumane views, here is a message to those inhabitants of that icy place, Finland:

Kindly take your pride and shove it where the sun doesn't shine Finns! I would personally be hiding in the basements of shame knowing that my country, my own acsestors collaborated with the Nazis in WW2. As for the land of Democracy, be sure they will survive triumphantly out of this. Ohm by the way, I...so prefer to enjoy un coldehate beeren in one of your brilliant ice bars filled with ice and dressed as an eskimo, than enjoy my summer in the place where the 12 Gods have been ALIVE, ARE AND WILL ALWAYS BE ALIVE.

Happy icecubes!

Christos Mouzeviris2012-02-16 00:20:33
It is not their fault..Since the propaganda they have been exposed to by their media and Governments all those years to make their countries look better and more glamorous, has been taking place for decades now..

The bubble gum that the north-western rich European nations are giving more and receive nothing back out of EU and the common market, while according to Eurostat, Germany, Austria and Finland gained more out of the euro, and all rich countries gain more out of the single market.. The poorer countries produce and provide them with raw materials while they have to import industrial goods.. How do you balance the trade between olives tomatoes and oranges, with aircrafts, cars lap-tops and buses..?? when we in Greece provide the rich states with our cotton and grains for nothing, tax free as the common market requires, and we get them back in the form of baby food from multinational food European companies like Nestle, or clothing from fashion and clothing chain stores like Marks and Spencers and Zara..?? think about it.....

Hannes2012-02-16 11:58:38
Everyone knew what they were getting into (or should have known) when Greece joined the Euro. Blind optimism that EU integration will continue and solve all problems. Well, the limit has been reached. I don't feel sorry for anyone basically (apart from people in abject poverty) Europe has the resources to resolve this, but not the political will, and so goes to IMF, China etc. Keep on limping from weekly crisis to the next..

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