In January 2010, I was sent by The EACA School to run a day’s course for the Greek advertising organisation, EDEE.
I first visited Athens in 1970. The city wasn’t in great shape. Most of the taxis were old and clapped out Mercedes-Benz saloons. There were horses and donkeys running in the streets. I’d caught The Hellas Express in Munich, and arrived at dawn in the Greek capital. The contrast between Munich and Athens was striking. Munich was wealthy. Athens was not. A much closer parallel to Athens at the time was Dublin, which also had horses and donkeys in the streets.
The course I was teaching was Digital Marketing.
I was told to expect no more than twenty attendees, but closer to forty actually turned up. Quite a few of the attendees were heads of advertising agencies, and others were owners. I was aware that the atmosphere was a bit tense, but put that down to the problems I was having with the AV system which had stripped all my video links from my Powerpoint file.
At about 11.00, we broke for coffee. I needed this break to reinstall the video links, but most people, at first, stayed in their seats.
A lady called Pandora stood up and asked me what I thought about Greece’s economic difficulties. When you’ve been flown in from a distant land and are then the man with the microphone, people assume that you either know more or are cleverer than them. Or both.
I said that, when Sweden got into financial difficulties some years ago, the solution was 80:20. Eighty percent of the solution was to cut Government spending, and the remaining twenty percent was delivered through taxation.
“What this means for you,” I said, “is that you’re going to have to pay your taxes.”
The attendees gasped, and, in silence, filed out of the room to have their coffee break.
Ten minutes later, they were back. Pandora remained standing and said, “We’re not going to pay our taxes.”
I said, “Fine. It’s up to you. I’m just here to talk about digital marketing.”
Pandora stayed standing.
“We want you to understand why we are not going to pay our taxes. If we pay our taxes it will be totally unfair. We will be the only people in Greece paying taxes. The politicians, the civil servants and everyone else don’t pay their taxes, so why should we? We are not going to do it.”
The previous evening, I had wandered round Syntagma Square. I’ve been there many times, but hadn’t been there for five or six years. I was powerfully struck by the large number of expensive new cars, including many upmarket Mercedes saloons. The terms of trade between Germany and Greece are strongly in Germany’s favour. The Greeks have to export a large quantity of olive oil, feta cheese and honey to buy just one saloon from Stuttgart.
So, the way the Greeks have been buying expensive cars has been both to borrow and not to pay taxes.
This morning, the Greek Prime Minister announced plans for a referendum on the latest bailout agreement, probably to be held in January next year.
Reuters reported: “Prime Minister George Papandreou‘s shock decision to call a referendum on Greece’s bailout drew veiled threats from Germany on Tuesday and hammered markets edgy over the euro zone crisis.”
I doubt the Greeks will have the time to run this referendum. Why should the markets wait?
Currently, 60% of Greek voters are thought to oppose this latest bailout plan.The attitude of the Greeks is clear to all, just as Pandora made clear to me last year. The people are not going to pay their taxes, and they have some understandable reasons, but I doubt I’ll be invited back for another session on digital marketing. Greek advertising and digital marketing budgets are in decline, and will dry up altogether when the Greeks vote no.