It’s getting cold in Greece as winter approaches, not the bone-freezing deep frost of a January night wind that blows in off Boston Harbor, but cold enough so that politicians are keeping their hands in their own pockets and people who can’t afford oil because of big tax hikes on fuel are burning wood, plastic, construction debris, furniture, straw and whatever’s flammable so they can try to keep warm.
If they’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, there’s a chance they might even survive both the cold and the toxic fumes that burning some of this stuff sets off. If they don’t, and if they’re not aware of the dangers of burning indoors – some people really aren’t you know – then they take a chance they might not wake up by the morning and will be found dead.
But at least they went out warm which might offer some solace for the politicians who will shed crocodile tears and gnash their teeth and beat their breast and wonder why this had to happen.
It happens because they don’t care as long as where they live it’s warm and the champagne flows and the caviar dish is full, the steak’s in the oven and their money is tucked secretly and safely away in a Swiss bank, free from being taxed while they pass laws making other Greeks pay the cost.
Meanwhile, back on the streets, people are sleeping in cardboard boxes and under bridges where their worry is freezing to death in the dark, not carbon monoxide. That’s what killed a 13-year-old Serbian girl in Thessaloniki because her mother, out of ignorance or negligence, lit a fire in a makeshift brazier stove inside their home so they could keep warm because the electricity was turned off when she couldn’t pay a bill that had reached 1,000 euros.
It didn’t make much difference how much she owed because she – like 27 percent of the people in Greece, some 58 percent of those under 25 – didn’t have a job and there are literally no government safety nets for the most vulnerable in the country.
Already this year, a school in northern Greece has closed because there’s no money to buy oil, and an elderly couple died in a village near Thessaloniki from carbon monoxide trying to keep warm with a fireplace.
The government’s idea of beneficence is to let God take care of people who aren’t in the six-figure bracket, aren’t powerful or influential or don’t pass politicians fakelaki stuffed with purple 500-euro notes to do a favor that enriches them both.
The heat is always on in the Parliament where lawmakers who wait to be told how to vote by their party leaders can always sneak out into the hall during a debate and chow down on free food and booze.
That’s comforting, having a full belly and woozy mind when you vote for more pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions for workers, elderly and the poor while letting your tax cheat friends escape with impunity and didn’t get rid of the deadwood that politicians hired in the public non-service, sinking Greece.
Under orders from international lenders putting up $325 billion in two bailouts to keep the economy going the way of Zimbabwe, the Greek government diverted $67.4 billion of that to its banker friends who give political parties hundreds of millions of euros in free slush funds while a bone is thrown the way of the poor with oil subsidies that aren’t enough to pay for a couple of bottles of the single malt Scotch the rich and politicians prefer.
Some people think Greece’s politicians are heartless and out of touch and maybe it seemed that way when not a single one of them had a word of condolence or compassion for the mother of the girl who died in the night.
The police, however, showing their heart’s in the right place, arrested her because she was in the country unlawfully, so while she was trying to mourn the loss of a child she was being detained and ordered deported, charged with negligence in the death of her daughter.
You hope and pray this poor girl who laid down on the night of Dec. 1, perhaps dreaming that the next day would dawn better but never woke up, who will never go back to school or live a life that has some warm nights will be the last to die in Greece from government neglect but she won’t.
Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias, sensing the public mood was going the wrong way, stepped in and stopped the senselessness of charging a grieving mother who was guilty of something other than wanting her daughter dead. She said she awoke, barely conscious and called for help when she saw her daughter was more than asleep.
The 54-year-old woman was given a six-month residency permit and someone in the government of Thessaloniki decided it might be just for the city to pay to ship the girl’s body home to Serbia for the funeral.
She has been given the right to apply for a renewal of the permit when it expires but none of Greece’s rich has offered to buy her a stove or pay her electric bill, so she will have to live in a cold house with the reminder of death by government.