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ATHENS, GREECE — A few weeks ago, IMF chief Christine Lagarde got a torrent of criticism for suggesting that tax evasion in Greece was a major contributor to the crisis. She was accused of perpetuating stereotypes, and she had to walkback her statement.But there are Greeks who agree with Lagarde.
I sat next to one on my flight from Madrid to Athens, where I’ll be covering the election for the next several days.
Konstantin Varsos is a management consultant who lives in Boston, who was flying all the way back to Greece for the sole purpose of voting in this Sunday’s election.
He’s desperate to prevent the left-wing SYRIZA party from winning, and causing a chain of events that leads to Greece’s ejection from the Eurzone.
Said Varsos (who asked that his picture not be taken) to me: “I don’t want people to say: Where were you on that day.”
He plans to vote for the conservative New Democracy party. Because the reality is, although SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras has been making more pro-Eurozone noises in recent weeks, Varsos has concluded: “The reality is: If you follow their Agenda… out of NATO… out of Euro.” A Eurozone departure, he predicts, would cause another 50% of Greece’s wealth to vanish.
That’s not to sy the current, status quo is working. “Germany, France need to understand there needs to be growth… (or) it’s going to disintegrate.”You have to renegotiate (the bailout)… the fact is that it’s not working.”
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According to Varsos, what failed, was the misunderstanding of Greek culture, and it’s here that we get into the issue of tax evasion. “Tax evasion: it’s a real thing.” Taxes are not that high, and there’s no punishment, and the tax collectors won’t enforce any of the laws. So it’s not that people are cheaters, it’s that there’s no incentive to compliance, and therefore it doesn’t matter how high you raise them, as part of a revenue-boosting scheme, they’re not going to go up by enough.He said he’d even favour having German tax-collectors come to Greece to enforce the law, an idea which has been quietly floated in the past, and has made people furious.
“We’re good at other stuff… when it comes to government, I prefer Europe.”
And beyond that, he was absolutely in favour of reforms. Cutting government salaries needed to be done.
As for Germany, his stance was mixed. On Merkel, he said she’s “fine.” “What did we expect her to say.”
But he thinks Germans must now share in the sacrifice, and remember that as Greece was building up its huge debts during the Athens Olympics, it was German contractors making all the money on the construction.
If Greece leaves the euro, nothing will be fixed, he says, and that’s why he’s holding out hope that the establishment can hold off the radical Alexis Tsipras and SYRIZA.
If the mainstream parties win, and can get more sacrifice from the rest of Europe, althewhile implementing necessary reforms to trim government, then there’s hope according to Varsos.
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