The Greeks have a name for us and it’s not Helen!

Let us first of all establish one irreducible fact: there never was a Helen of Troy, any more than there was a god named Zeus who got it on with a mortal woman named Leda. The legendary beauty who inspired the Trojan war lived only in the exceptional mind of the most revered of ancient Greek poets. But how ironic that a son of the soil should license himself to cook up his very own phony Homeric mythology of mixed metaphors and stillborn allegories and then decree that our accommodating governor general feed it to a nation starved of hope.
Consider the opening paragraph of the governor general’s most recent throne speech: “On this occasion
. . . I am reminded of the terrible tragedy that has befallen Greece and mindful, perhaps, of the connections between the Greek civilization and our tiny nation.” Our poet manqué neglected to say what precisely are the connections between our perhaps overly proud Afro-Caribbean people and Greek civilization.                 Perhaps he expects us somehow to discern them in his warning that “we cannot allow the Helen of the West, as we proclaim ourselves to be, to become a tragedy like Helen of Troy.”
I can find nothing in our history, alas nearly all of it written by notorious slave masters and other racist invaders, that might suggest an affinity with Greece. The best I’ve been able to uncover after much research is that centuries ago uninvited, unwelcome and unidentified European visitors to our region had been so moved by our natural environment as to declare Saint Lucia the most beautiful of her sister islands—“the Helen of the West Indies”—not, as our wannabe poet caused a doubtless embarrassed Dame Pearlette to read, “Helen of the West.” The reader might well wonder if perhaps the reference was to the untamed wild and wooly  frontier days of the United States!
But back to that earlier cited tragedy that had befallen Greece following “the triumph of the 28th Olympiad” eight years ago. The acknowledged tragedy of the country finding itself “mired in debt and austerity” has nothing to do with Greek civilization, although the cost of staging the 2004 Games may have contributed to the Hellenic Republic’s current economic situation. What it certainly has everything to do with is egregious fiscal mismanagement—which may be the real tragedy that finally connects us: not the fictive Helen of Troy!
For sure there is much we can learn from the recent troubles of Greece. But first, let us consider these World Bank statistics: the economy of Greece is the 32nd largest in the world and the 15th largest in the 27-member European Union. Its economy is classified as advanced and high-income. The country’s economy was devastated by the Second World War and the high levels of economic growth that followed throughout the 1950s to 1970s are dubbed the Greek economic miracle.
Since the turn of the millennium Greece saw high levels of GDP growth above the Eurozone average, peaking at 5.9% in 2003 and 5.5% in 2006. Due to the late-2000s financial crisis and the European sovereign debt crisis, the Greek economy saw growth rates of 6.9% in 2011, 3.4% in 2009 and 0.2% in 2008. The country’s current debt-to-GDP ratio currently stands at 165.3% of nominal gross domestic product. Its main industries are tourism, shipping, industrial products, food and tobacco processing, textiles, chemicals, metal products, mining and petroleum. It’s GDP growth average has also, on average since the early 1990s, been higher than the EU average.
However, the Greek economy also faces significant problems, including rapidly rising unemployment levels, an inefficient public sector bureaucracy, tax evasion, corruption and low global competitiveness. It has the EU’s second worst Corruptions Perception Index after Bulgaria. Corruption, together with the associated issue of poor standards of tax collection, is widely regarded as both a key cause of the current troubles in the economy and a key hurdle in terms of overcoming the country’s debt problem.
After 14 years of economic growth, Greece went into recession in 2008.     An indication of the trend of over-lending in recent years is the fact that the ratio of loans to savings exceeded 100% during the first half of the year. By the end of 2009 the Greek economy (based on data revised on 15 November 2010 in part due to reclassification of expenses) faced the highest budget deficit and government debt to GDP rations in the EU. The 2009 budget deficit stood at 15.4% of GDP. This, and rising debt levels (127% of GDP in 2009) led to rising borrowing costs, resulting in a severe economic crisis.
By the end of 2009, as a result of a combination of international and local factors (respectively, the world financial crisis and uncontrolled government spending), the Greek economy faced its most severe crisis since the restoration of democracy in 1974 as the Greek government revised its deficit from a prediction of 3.7% in early 2009 and 6% in September 2009, to 12.7% of gross domestic product.
In early 2010, it was revealed that successive Greek governments had been found to have consistently and deliberately misreported the country’s official economic statistics to keep within the monetary union guidelines. This had enabled Greek governments to spend beyond their means, while hiding the actual deficits from the EU overseers.
In May 2010, the Greek government deficit was again revised and estimated to be 13.6% for the year, which was one of the highest in the world relative to GDP. As a consequence there was a crisis in international confidence in Greece’s ability to repay its sovereign debt. In order to avert such a default, in May 2010 the other Eurozone countries and the IMF agreed to a rescue package that involved giving Greece an immediate 45 billion euros
in bail-out loans, with more funds to follow, totaling 110 billion euros. To secure the funding, Greece was required to adopt harsh austerity measures to bring its defit under control.
The financial crisis, particularly the austerity package put forth by the EU and the IMF, has been met with anger by the Greek public, leading to riots and social unrest. Despite the long range of austerity measures, the government deficit has not been reduced accordingly, mainly, according to many economists, due to the subsequent recession. Consequently, the country’s debt to GDP continues to rise rapidly.
Last week the London Telegraph reported that on May 6, 2012 Greece will hold a snap general election amid popular opposition to European Union imposed austerity measures and deep anger at how the Greek governing coalition has handled the country’s economic crisis. The national vote is the first since highly indebted Greece received a eurozone-IMF bailout two years ago and followed the appointment of a temporary “technocrat” government led by a former EU official last year.
Lucas Papademos, the Greek prime minister and former vice-president of the European Central Bank, took power in November 2011 after the previous socialist government collapsed and Greece was on the brink of bankruptcy and economic collapse. He told members of the current Greek cabinet, a power-sharing administration bringing together socialists, conservatives, liberals and right-wingers, that the election could now be held because emergency measures to ensure EU-IMF funding were in place. But Mr. Papademos warned cabinet ministers and MPs that the popular vote could not be used to undo agreements with the EU over austerity, privatization and economic reforms measures that are widely resented by voters.
Meanwhile, in our sweet “Helen of the West” it is Budget time again. Despite the governor general’s acknowledgement of the harsher realities of “a world that is in turmoil,” a “restless and uncertain” world, it remains for our heads-in-the-air politicians and their respective blinkered party supporters, business as usual. Which is to say, no business at all. The broke private sector is about to be further pummeled into the ground by a customs department programmed by the finance minister to squeeze blood out of stone. And then there is the VAT that when he was leader of the opposition he had described as “anti-poor, anti-worker and unwise.”
Despite that the government has admitted its intention to borrow millions each month to pay for its most basic operations, MP after delusional MP was this week lauding the prime minister for his demonstrated “generosity” in allocating millions to this and millions to that, millions that will benefit this or that constituency.
While other countries with every imaginable natural resource can barely stand up (indeed, some of the mightiest have fallen or are on their knees, even the almighty US) no-industry Saint Lucia is set to increase its over-bloated public service payroll with additional ministry personnel that are afforded huge entertainment allowances and opportunities to travel first class to meaningless conferences in broke former donor countries. We continue to stage tax-funded, non-profit, unaccountably costly fetes, on the flimsy premise that they will attract visitors from recession-ravaged zones who in turn will blab to their fellow–recession-ravaged friends back home about the one-of-a-kind flower Superman had discovered near the top of our marvelous heritage-site Pitons.
To return to this week’s fabulous throne speech: “For the time being, and sadly, for the foreseeable future,
we are largely on our own and as a nation must rely on ourselves and on each other if we are to prosper. This lesson we already know. This lesson we have already lived. This lesson we have already mastered and now must make the central pillar of our daily philosophy.”
There’s more: “The Saint Lucian people are no strangers to hardship. We do not run from adversity. We know the value of perseverance and the strength of unity. We understand the concept of community. Even if we sometimes temporarily lose sight of these fundamental tenets of our collective upbringing, we have demonstrated time and time again that in our darkest hour we are capable of great resolve, great acts of humanity, heroism, courage and kindness.”
At least one MP this week had quoted the “we have to rely on ourselves and on each other if we are to prosper”
line as justification for our totally debt-financed
billion-dollar Budget. Which reminds me of Naipaul’s famous admonition: the
people of the Caribbean are doomed, precisely because we refuse to recognize the difference between reality and BS!
Oh, yes, these are the days of miracle and wonder. Time to partay! Lots of eats and drinks. Rock de carnival!

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