From BMW salesmen to street children, Greeks are caught in whirlpool of … – Telegraph.co.uk
In a country where banks are kept alive by a drip feed of funds from Europe, Greeks are emptying their accounts and choosing to buy assets that might just retain their value. The number of new registrations for the luxury “D” class of vehicle rose by 80 per cent in April, compared with the same month last year, according to the Association of Motor Vehicle Importers.
Mr Basilopoulos has seen the difference: he sold between 20 and 30 cars every month between January and May, compared with a monthly average of 10 in 2014.
But he laughs at any suggestion that his worries are over. After 20 years in the motor trade, he can remember the pre-crisis days when his monthly sale was 50 cars.
“Yes, it’s a big rise, but we were starting from almost nothing. It’s like saying if you go from three cars to six, that’s doubling your sale, but it’s still nothing.”
The currents in the whirlpool took another twist last week when the government suddenly announced a review of the taxes on luxury cars. Mr Basilopoulos fears this statement alone will be enough to nip the nascent recovery of his business in the bud.
“Our government said that taxes would change – but up or down they didn’t say. So if you want to buy a car, you tell me what to do: buy or wait?” he said.
“These people are amateurs, they don’t know anything. It’s crazy.”
In another luxury dealership nearby, sales have also risen by between 10 and 20 per cent since last year. Zalmas Tasos, the manager of Angel Auto, put this down to the discounts now on offer for luxury brands.
“Many cars were above 100,000 euros and now we sell them for 20,000 or 30,000. There are still rich people who can afford to buy expensive cars – and this is a very big opportunity for them,” he said.
But Mr Tasos added that the crisis had wiped out the middle range customer.
“Now we have two categories of client – the people who can only buy cheap, up to 3,000 or 4,000 euros, and the other category who can afford to buy the very expensive cars. There isn’t a middle category any more,” he said.
“The middle category is totally lost.”
At every level of Greek society, the whirlpool is creating losers – and the occasional winner – with capricious abandon. The dark and gaping windows of abandoned shops are everywhere in the graffiti-stained streets of central Athens. One derelict cinema, sealed off behind barriers on Stadiou street, still displays a giant banner promoting the last film it showed: “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” – released in 2011. But the cheap second hand markets nearby are bustling with customers.
At the very bottom, the hierarchy of the capital’s underworld has also changed. Once, impoverished children would gather on street corners, washing the windscreens of cars waiting at traffic lights or selling trinkets.
Now, jobless young men have taken on these tasks – and the children have been thrust even further into the shadows.
George Nikolaidis, the head of mental health at the Institute of Child Health, has charted the impact of the crisis upon Greece’s children. Now that unemployed adults have been pushed downwards, into the world of street poverty, the “only jobs remaining for the children on the street are child prostitution and drug-dealing,” he said.
One indicator after another shows how the poorest children are bearing the brunt of the crisis. Between 30 and 40 per cent of all the children in residential care in Greece are there not because of physical or sexual abuse, but because their families are too poor to support them. The pre-crisis figure, by contrast, was below 20 per cent.
Yet the social safety net once provided by the government – always more threadbare in Greece than in other European countries – has been torn apart by spending cuts demanded by the country’s creditors.
The government budgets for child welfare and psychosocial care have fallen by anything from 33 to 50 per cent.
“The tremendous increase in needs coincided with a massive attack on the system’s ability to cope with those needs,” said Mr Nikolaidis. “We are witnessing the dismantling of our social welfare system.”
Mr Nikolaidis, a psychiatrist who also runs the Centre for the Study and Prevention of Child Abuse, offers one illustration of the consequences.
After a paedophilia scandal involving a sports coach on the island of Crete, his centre established a programme to counsel the victims and provide broader education on the problem of child abuse.
Last year, the scheme was shut down to save money.
“We had to announce that to the children and the families,” remembered Mr Nikolaidis. “You could see people cry out in desperation because they had no alternative.”