Τετάρτη, 22 Αυγούστου 2012


marilena: Greece's pensioners face looming poverty By Chloe ...

marilena: Greece's pensioners face looming poverty By Chloe ...: Few in Greek society have escaped the effects of the country's austerity programme. But it is Greece's elderly who may be suffering th...

Greece's pensioners face looming poverty By Chloe Hadjimatheou BBC News, Athens

Greek pensioners marching through Athens

Few in Greek society have escaped the effects of the country's austerity programme. But it is Greece's elderly who may be suffering the most. Falling pensions, rising taxes and pressure on family support networks are causing stress for many.
Leo is a stout 64-year-old whose twinkly eyes are framed by a mane of long grey hair and a bushy beard.
Last year, unable to make ends meet, he joined the ever-growing numbers of homeless on the streets of Athens.
Although his son, who is in his 20s, supports Leo in every way he can, his own circumstances prevent him being able to house his father.
But Leo counts himself lucky because he has a bed in one of the few shelters in the capital.
'Stole my money'"Every day, more and more elderly people arrive at the door asking for help, there are too many to count," he says.
He sits and smokes in the yard of the Klimaka shelter while he waits for his escape plan - a pension which is due to start paying next March.
After paying all his National Insurance contributions throughout his working life, he was expecting a comfortable retirement.
But the austerity measures of the last few years mean his pension has been slashed by 60% and the government is considering still more cuts.
What is more, if the government goes through with its latest proposal to raise the retirement age, he could have to wait another year or two before he sees any benefits.
"I feel like they just stole my money," he says.
"If I had saved all those payments in a bank account I would be rich by now; where has it all gone?"
Earlier this year the former minister for social security, Antonis Roupakiotis, warned that with government finances in such a poor state they would probably run out of money for pensions by the end of summer.
"Based on the data we have, pensioners should be worried," he told reporters.
Although the situation has been exacerbated by the current crisis, the Greek state pension system has long been seen as unsustainable.
When representatives from the EU and the IMF began visiting Greece in early 2010 they were shocked to learn that the Greek government did not have a clear idea of how many pensioners it had on its books.
In the summer of 2011, after an initial census of pensions was carried out, around 32,000 claimants were found to be bogus.
The government is now in the process of carrying out a second census and hopes to save up to 800m euros (£626m) per year by clamping down on even more fraudulent pensions.
'Red line'
But for those, like Leo, who expected to see decent returns for their contributions to the scheme, the future looks bleak.
"Pensioners can't take any more, a red line has been crossed and things are now simply terrible," says the president of the Greek Federation of Bank Pensioners, Ignatios Pliakos.
His organisation counts many among its members who have ended up below the poverty line.
"I've lived through the military dictatorship when we didn't have freedom but people were not hungry then; this is the worst suffering we have seen in our lifetimes," he says.
Alongside shrinking pensions the elderly have been hard hit by rising income taxes, increases in VAT and a list of emergency and solidarity taxes.
While the coalition government has recently announced cuts will be gradual in an attempt to ease hardship, it is still expected to make at least 11.5bn euros of savings over the next two years, with 5.2bn euros shaved from pension and welfare budgets.
To make matters even worse, it is the oldest generations who are most seriously affected by the cuts in the national healthcare system.

One of the proposals currently under consideration by the Greek government is a cap of 1,500 euros (£1,175) per person each year for free health care provision; the elderly - who tend to use hospitals and doctors most frequently - would be hit hardest.
The charity Doctors of the World has started a new scheme focused entirely on older people in response to the growing numbers approaching them for assistance.
At the organisation's Perama clinic, people sit on plastic chairs and crowd the hall, quietly waiting for their turn to receive medicine and food parcels.
Artemis Lianou, who is in charge of the scheme, says many of those who come to the centre are trying to survive on as little as 200 or 300 euros a month.
"One 65-year-old we saw recently had diabetes and a heart condition but he could not afford any of the life-saving medicine he needs," she explained.
"His daughter was unemployed and struggling to look after her own children and so he was completely without support."
Rise in suicides
Traditionally close ties among Greek families have meant that the elderly were cared for by the next generation but with unemployment skyrocketing among the young that social order is fast breaking down, leaving the old to fend for themselves.
Research conducted by Professor Manos Matsaganis of the Athens University of Economics and Business shows that in 2010 and 2011 cuts in pension benefits were one of the primary contributors to a 50% rise in poverty rates.
He says the Greek government should have been looking for savings among those who were retiring too early or claiming extortionate sums.

"They should have done more to protect poorer pensioners, instead we have seen them hardest hit and the poverty rate among the elderly has increased."
One of the most shocking public manifestations of that poverty is the now common sight of old men and women rifling through rubbish bins in the street.
For some people the stress and indignity is too much to cope with.
In June, residents of the wealthy Athens suburb of Kifissia were woken up in the early hours of the morning by a loud noise. When they went out to investigate they found one of their neighbours, Sotiris Nikolopoulos, lying in a pool of blood in the street.
The 77-year-old pensioner had walked a few hundred metres from his house and shot himself with a hunting rifle; he died instantly.
In the suicide note the father-of-two left behind he blamed the government's austerity measures which he said left him unable to cope financially.

Cases like these still have the ability to shock the public but they are no longer unusual.
Until recently Greece had one of the lowest suicide rates in the European Union but in the last two years suicides have increased by 40% and more than 2,000 people have taken their lives, many of them from the older generations.
Earlier this year, the very public suicide of another pensioneropposite the Greek parliament led to mass protests on the streets.
Mr Pliakos, the pensioners' representative, predicts that if the government goes ahead with further cuts to the pension system the relatively small protests by the elderly in recent months will increase.
"There's going to be an explosion of desperate people, they are going to take to the streets and it is going to be chaos," he says.



marilena: GREECE AND TOURISM CRISIS: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/fast_track/9745758.stm Athens is facing a tourism crisis, with many visitors put off by the city...



Tourists in Athens

Athens is facing a tourism crisis, with many visitors put off by the city's economic problems. Rajan Datar meets the young Greeks who are taking matters into their own hands, in a bid to reverse the reputation.


marilena: Samaras Says Greece Needs More Time

marilena: Samaras Says Greece Needs More Time: Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has made the strongest indication yet that he plans to ask euro-zone leaders this week for more tim...

marilena: Samaras Says Greece Needs More Time

marilena: Samaras Says Greece Needs More Time: Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has made the strongest indication yet that he plans to ask euro-zone leaders this week for more tim...

Samaras Says Greece Needs More Time

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras told Germany's  Bild  newspaper that Athens needs more time.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has made the strongest indication yet that he plans to ask euro-zone leaders this week for more time in implementing further austerity measures. With patience wearing thin, however, the answer is likely to be "no".

As he was campaigning ahead of June elections, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras promised voters that he would request extra time to make an additional €11.5 billion ($14.3 billion) in cuts necessary to qualify for the next tranche of international aid. This week, he is taking steps to fulfil that promise.
Ahead of a Wednesday meeting with Euro Group President Jean-Claude Juncker and further talks later this week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande, Samaras told the German daily Bild that his country needed "breathing room" to get the economy back on track.
While he did not identify how much more time he would like, he has indicated previously that he would like an additional two years to implement the spending cuts. Greece's international creditors have made next month's crucial aid payment worth €31.5 billion dependent on concrete steps toward further austerity.
"We are not asking for additional money," Samaras said. "We stand by our commitments and to the fulfilment of the guidelines. But we have to stimulate the economy because that will shrink the deficit. All we want is a little breathing space to get the economy going and increase state revenues."
Not Much Sympathy in Europe
Samaras also told Bild that "more time does not automatically mean more money." But many in Europe fear that any slowdown in Athens' efforts to reduce its budget deficit would necessarily open up new financing holes. Indeed, the Greek government itself assumes that the delay would create a need for an additional €20 billion over the next two years, according to a government document reported on by the Financial Times last week. Greece, though, hopes to be able to raise the additional money from sources other than its European partners and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the paper reported.
Despite the dire state of the Greek economy and the deep sacrifices already made by the country, it seems unlikely that Samaras' request will find much sympathy in Europe, particularly not in Berlin. Chancellor Merkel is facing increasing skepticism within her coalition government when it comes to bailing out Greece. Several senior politicians from her conservatives and from the ranks of the Free Democrats, her junior coalition partner, have been increasingly open about their unwillingness to grant further concessions to Athens.
Furthermore, the troika of international lenders, made up of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF, is currently preparing its next report on the progress made by Athens in achieving its austerity benchmarks. According to a Monday report in SPIEGEL, that missive, the final version of which is due out at the beginning of September, will conclude that Greece needs to find €14 billion in cuts instead of the €11.5 billion previously assumed. The troika found that the country's privatization program is not proceeding as planned and tax revenues are lower than hoped.
'A Nightmare'
The slew of bad news from Athens has led many leaders, especially in Germany, to openly speculate about Greece's exit from the euro zone. Even German Economy Minister Philipp Rösler, who is also Merkel's vice chancellor, said that a Grexit had "lost its horrors" for him. Samaras, however, told Bild that "we have to get out of the negative psychology, which is akin to a deep black hole... . It isn't fair when some in Europe want to push us back into this hole."
He also warned against allowing his country to go bankrupt. "If Greece were allowed to fail now, the insecurity and vulnerability of other euro-zone member states would grow, not to mention the dramatic consequences on the financial markets," Samaras said.
When asked about a possible return to the drachma, the Greek prime minister was categoric: "For God's sake no. The consequences would be catastrophic for Greece... It would be a nightmare: economic collapse, social unrest and a never-before-seen democratic crisis."


marilena: Elderly woman destroys 19th-century Spanish fresco...

marilena: Elderly woman destroys 19th-century Spanish fresco...: Three separate photos show the extent of the damage done by the unnamed woman to Elias Garcia Martinez’s work ‘Ecce Homo’. \ An elder...

Elderly woman destroys 19th-century Spanish fresco by Elias Garcia Martinez in botched restoration

Three separate photos show the extent of the damage done by the unnamed woman to Elias Garcia Martinez’s work ‘Ecce Homo’.
Three separate photos show the extent of the damage done by the unnamed woman to Elias Garcia Martinez’s work ‘Ecce Homo’.\

An elderly woman has destroyed a 19th-century Spanish fresco in a botched restoration conducted without permission.
Three separate photos show the extent of the damage done by the unnamed woman to Elias Garcia Martinez’s work ‘Ecce Homo’.
The damage was discovered after Martinez’s granddaughter made a donation to the Centro de Estudios Borjanos which holds an archive of local religious artworks, a couple of weeks ago.
Staff then went to check on the work at the Santuario de Misericodia church in Borja, near Zaragoza in north eastern Spain, only to find it dramatically altered.
The three photographs show the changing face of the artwork over the last two years.
In the first photograph, taken in 2010, slight speckling is apparent. In the second photograph, taken just last month, large patches of white dominate the picture. One theory is that the elderly woman had already begun her work on the painting at this point, and the white marks are the result of her scraping away the paint.
The third photograph shows the image transformed beyond recognition, with a childlike reworking of Jesus’ face, broad brush strokes removing any subtlety from the clothing and thick layers of red and brown paint covering several key details, including the crown of thorns.
Despite the terrible results, the restoration, which was completed without permission, is not thought to have been malicious; rather the work of an enthusiastic, if somewhat misguided, amateur who lived near to the church and simply wanted to repair the ageing artwork.
Culture councillor Juan Maria de Ojeda wasquoted in the Spanish newspaper El Pais taking a somewhat sympathetic tone, saying the elderly perpetrator had undertaken the project “with good intentions” and had reported and admitted causing the damage when she realised it had “gotten out of hand”.
Despite being a work of little artistic importance, and not part of any painting or altarpiece, it did have some local sentimental value.
"The family used to come here to spend the holidays. One summer the artist made the portrait and bequeathed it to the people," Ojeda said.
The damage is currently being assessed in an attempt to work out exactly what materials the amateur restorer used. The long-term hope is that a professional may be able to remove the layers of paint and restore the work to some semblance of its former state.