Ignorance? Want? Ugly, mean and greedy little creatures? That was in mid-Victorian England and in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In the novel that has touched millions people ever since it was first published in 1843, ‘the two emaciated children” grow up to be adults, Ignorance as adult man in a prison cell and Want to a young woman in a straitjacket and up to the workhouse.
Ignorance and Want
In Greece of economic crisis and austerity, Ignorance and Want, the privileges of the well-fed are not “two emaciated children, subhuman in appearance and loathsome to behold”…
but modern times technocrats hiding behind spreed sheets, numbers, deficits and surpluses.
Should one beg them for mercy and compassion, they would probably reply with the same heartlessness, with the same with unkind comments of Ebenezer Scrooge to charitable solicitors: the poor and sick should better die “and decrease the surplus population”, “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”
No, they are not. The prisons for debtors, the “tax prisons” planned in 2013 were never materialized. Even for cocky neo-liberal governments, such a plan was apparently too brutal. No, in modern austerity Greece, there are no prisons for the shake of a free meal and a bed to sleep, there are no workhouses for the fragile, the poor and the vulnerable.
In modern austerity Greece, the less privileged sit around an empty table, in the darkness, in the cold. Like this family of four on the island of Crete, to whom the Greek Public Power Corporation cut the electricity three days ago. For outstanding debts, for illegally tapping power from a PPC column.
“I don’t want something for me, but for my children,” the 47-year-old mother of four tells a local media with trembling voice.
“We’ll have Christmas without electricity, without heating, without the possibility to take a shower like human beings,” she says.
The family on the island of Crete is not the only one that will spend the Christmas days in the darkness and the cold. 24,500 Greek households share the same fate. Last week, the PPC announced to proceed with 2,000 power cuts per day until the end of 2017. It is the outstanding debts, the deficits and the surpluses.
“My two boys are coming home over Christmas, what shall I tell them?” the mother in Crete wonders.
Two of her children, a girl at 15 and a boy at 17, live with her, two older boys aged 18 and 20 study in far away Thessaloniki. They live at the students’ dormitory and eat at school’s restaurant. Once a month the Municipality of Iraklio sends them food packages.
The mother says, she spoke with the staff of two local MPs and asked for help, she spoke with the PPC for a settlement of the debts.
“For a settlement I have to pay 30% of the debts in advance and I cannot,” the woman says and adds “I need a steady job to support my family, pay the debts.”
The power was first cut last year, but the family illegally reconnected it tapping a PPC column. “We live up on the mountain and it is cold,” the mother says.
“We do not need food, as we receive by local church charity,” the woman says adding that this month she received also the social dividend from the state – apparently not enough to pay the debts to PPC, to pay for the down-payment of the settlement, the monthly installments and then running bills.
“I want to pay the debts, I need money to pay for the settlement and I need a work in order to do so,” the mother says and looks into the icy-cold Christmas days on the mountains of Crete.
You do not ask the needy how they came into this situation. I grew up reading Charles Dickens stories, I was deeply touched by the “poor man’s children” and later also shocked by the complacency and hypocrisy of the wealthy elites and the comfortable middle classes blaming the poor for their fate and destiny. I grew up in a family where helping the needy was as obvious as bread and water. I grew up to believe that it is truly cynical to ask a poor why he is poor.
No, you don’t ask the poor why they are poor. You just help them – in the name of the Christmas Spirit that is much more than a family gathering around the table filled with the horn of plenty, the dozens of big and small one may do not even need at all.
As the Ghost of Christmas Present warned Scrooge “forebear that wicked tongue until you have discovered for yourself what the surplus is, and where it is.”
Trust me. The real surplus is not in the spreed sheets and numbers. It is in your heart.