Welcome, 77 artists, 40 different points of Attica welcomes you by singing Erotokritos an epic romance written at 1713 by Vitsentzos Kornaros

Friday, March 22, 2013

10 perfect Greek island holidays

The Guardian

10 perfect Greek island holidays
The Guardian
This is not the Greek island of travel posters. Instead of barren hillsides and sugar-cube villages, you get fertile slopes, dense pine forests and stone-roofed cottages. Alonissos is much the quietest of the Sporades group, in the northern Aegean ...


Good news from Greece! Local holiday ventures are on the up

The Guardian

Good news from Greece! Local holiday ventures are on the up
The Guardian
Recession is regarded as the worst time to start a business, but austerity is actually inspiring some Greeks to launch tourism initiatives – going against accepted business wisdom. Residents of the islands have a reputation for being adept multi ...


Cyprus needs to tax Russian deposit holders | Katinka Barysch

It's the best solution to banking crisis in Cyprus. It would alienate Moscow, but bring greater EU support

The Cypriot parliament has rejected the initial bailout proposed by the eurozone countries and the IMF. MPs were outraged that small savers would be asked to contribute. Now Cyprus might have to choose between its close ties with Russia and its membership of the euro.

Cyprus has built its economic success on offshore banking and tourism. Its banks paid mouthwatering interest rates to attract money from abroad. No wonder the banking sector became bloated and is now eight times bigger than the economy. In this respect, the island is similar to Iceland – which went bust spectacularly in 2008. Cypriot banks are insolvent and Cyprus can't afford to prop them up. Hence an international bailout is needed.

The Germans and the IMF refused to put up the full €17bn Cyprus asked for. The Greek bailout showed that lending a country too much can make it buckle under the weight of debt. Cyprus was asked to come up with a third of the money itself. This is where the Russians come in.

Officially, 30%-40% of the money in Cypriot banks comes from non-residents, mostly Russians. That would imply that 250,000 Cypriot households have saved up the remaining €40bn. Unlikely. Russians use Cyprus not only to park their cash but also to register their businesses – often in a way that disguises the real owners. They then channel money back home: tiny Cyprus is the biggest foreign investor in the continent-sized Russian economy.

The Russia connection matters for two reasons. First, in its attempt to cobble together a contribution to the bailout, Cyprus decided to put a levy on local bank deposits. Most media accounts of the talks report that it was the president, Nicos Anastasiades, who insisted on imposing a levy not just on big deposits but also on those under €100,000 – although these are supposed to be protected by a deposit guarantee, like everywhere else in the EU. The other eurozone countries and the IMF should never have allowed this to happen. Breaking the deposit guarantee undermines confidence not only in Cypriot banking but also in other eurozone countries. Anastasiades faced the unpalatable choice between angering small Cypriot savers or big Russian ones.

The Russian connection also matters for German politics. Usually, Chancellor Angela Merkel can rely on the opposition Social Democrats to help pass bailouts in parliament(a bunch of her own MPs tend to abstain or vote no in protest). But with only months to go before a general election in Germany, the opposition does not want to be seen voting alongside the government any more. Although the Social Democrats preach pro-European solidarity, they argue that Cyprus is a special case: why would German Social Democrats support what they see as a Russian-owned, floating tax haven? Merkel's hands are tied more tightly than usual.

On Friday afternoon, the Cypriot government was working on an alternative plan: instead of taxing deposits, it wants to nationalise pensions and borrow money against Cypriot gas reserves, gold and church property. This would mean taxing future generations to spare deposit holders who have benefited handsomely from high interest rates and low taxes.

Would it not be fairer to tax foreign deposit holders? They could then be compensated by the Russian government, which sits on over half a billion dollars of foreign exchange reserves. When Iceland went bust, the British taxpayer compensated British customers of Icelandic banks.

Such a course of action would spell the end of Cyprus as an offshore centre for Russian finance. But with a more manageable and well-managed banking sector, Cyprus could demand European solidarity in the future. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


The post-mortem on the Cyprus crisis will be ugly | Nils Pratley

The handling of the crisis has been farcical, and has undermined confidence in Berlin's and Brussels' firefighting skills

Assume the crisis in Cyprus is patched up this weekend or on Monday – it is still the way to bet because both sides have too much to lose. After its struggles in Athens and elsewhere, the eurogroup surely won't let a member of the single currency fall out for the sake of a few billion euros.

Equally, the Cypriot government must know what a hole it is in. There is no salvation from Russia; and, by threatening to cut off liquidity from the country's stricken banks, the European Central Bank has put its credibility on the line. The main ingredients are all there for another serving of euro fudge.

But what would come next? For Cyprus, the immediate future is bleak. In effect, Germany is telling the country to find a new occupation. Bloated offshore banking, with a speciality in Russian deposits, doesn't fit the shiny new euro model of banking union. Try tourism, perhaps. Cypriots might complain these rules were not made clear when they joined the euro only five years ago. They'd be right. But their best strategy today is to stay within the club and, like Greece, try to negotiate better terms another day.

It's the reaction outside Cyprus that matters for the future of the euro. Investors' postmortem on the mess could be dangerous. Two points will stand out:

First, the handling of the crisis has been farcical, and has undermined confidence in Berlin's and Brussels' firefighting skills. Woe in Nicosia was inevitable once the last Greek restructuring whacked bondholders, including Cypriot banks. Yet, with ample time for all sides to prepare, the banks have been closed for a week and the negotiations are going down to the wire. True, Cypriot politics aren't easy. But next time it might be Italian politics.

Second, confidence has been shattered in the notion that eurozone depositors with less than €100,000 are sacrosanct. Under plan A the eurogroup was prepared to trample on the one principle that was understood across the continent. There's no knowing the damage that will do. And how will bigger depositors in Spanish and Italian banks react? If their instinct is to seek safety elsewhere, a lot more trouble is in store.

• It is now government policy that house prices must not be allowed to fall. That is the main lesson to be drawn from George Osborne's Help to Buy scheme, which is really an adventure into sub-prime lending. If you can't meet a bank's demands for a deposit the government will help to bridge the gap by giving a guarantee for up to 20% of the mortgage on homes worth up to £600,000.

Pitched as an appeal to an "aspiration nation," this policy is partly born of the terror of offending the constituency called current homeowners. The most logical way to cure Britain's housing shortage would be to order the construction of more homes, let's say a million. But an increase in supply of that order would, in the absence of meaningful growth in wages and affordability, cause the value of the current houses to fall. Great for first-time buyers; not so good for attracting the votes of established owners.

A serious fall in house prices would also risk creating a fresh round of provisions at major banks and mortgage providers. have escaped big residential-related losses because house prices have not collapsed. Since the peak the fall has been about 15% in real terms; the banks' big UK losses on property lending have mostly been on the commercial side. But another fall of 15% would cause heavy provisions.

Thus Help to Buy is deemed the best policy in the locker if something must be done to make homes affordable for those without sufficient savings. In the short-term the dangers are probably not severe, especially if the government really is determined to liberalise planning laws (though believe that when you see it) and if it can exclude remortgaging and second homes from the subsidies (technically tricky, to judge by ministers' wishy-washy statements).

In the long term though, creating government-backed mortgages to encourage high loan-to-value lending is plainly irresponsible. It risks an almighty crash on the day, admittedly far off, when interest rates rise.

"Had we been asked to design a policy that would guarantee maximum damage to the UK's long-term growth prospects and its fragile credit rating, this would be it," concluded thinktank Fathom Consulting. Fair comment.

• Last July Peter Marks, chief executive of the Co-op, pledged to mount "a real challenge to the status quo" in the banking world. He had just secured an agreement to buy 632 branches from Lloyds at what appeared to be the knock-down price of £350m; Lloyds even agreed to underwrite the debt to fund the deal.

Eight months on, Marks' real challenge is getting the deal out of the starting gate. "We're trying to conclude this transaction in very difficult economic times," said Marks. "That's what makes it more difficult. We're trying to establish what the risks are and to mitigate those risks."

Put like that, it sounds as if Co-op is not remotely close to being able to sign on the dotted line. Instead, it seems to be struggling to raise the capital – perhaps as much as £1bn is needed – to support a bigger banking operation. The life and savings business was sold this week, freeing up £200m, and general insurance is now on the block.

Is this prize really worth the hassle? The Co-op is still digesting the Britannia Building Society, which was blamed for £370m of bad loan losses this week. Then there was £150m for PPI misselling and the same again for a writedown of the value of the IT systems. Add up that little collection, plus the decline in profits from the "core" banking operation, and the unit recorded a loss of £662m. The capital position is healthy but this does not look like a business capable of integrating those branches very soon.

Marks is retiring in May, to be succeeded by ex-B&Q man Euan Sutherland. The handover gives Co-op members the ideal opportunity to demand a review of the Lloyds plan. Ambition is a fine thing; over-ambition is not.

• As Warren East announced his departure after 12 years as chief executive, there was a reminder of ARM Holdings' stunning achievement: 95% of the world's smartphones contain microchips designed by ARM and the company is now worth £13bn. Great stuff, and a phenomenal investment for anyone who bought the shares at almost any point in the last decade.

But, as the chart shows, left, the highest point for the shares was actually in 2000 when the price, albeit briefly, topped £10. Don't blame ARM, which has done nothing wrong: pre-tax profits have risen from £35m to £276m since the turn of the century. It was the madness of the dotcom era stock market, pricing ARM as if global domination had already been achieved. What were investors smoking back then? © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Cyprus eyes bailout deal, U-turn on levy

National Post

Cyprus eyes bailout deal, U-turn on levy
By Michele Kambas and Costas Pitas. NICOSIA | Fri Mar 22, 2013 4:49pm EDT. NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cyprus was poised for a dramatic U-turn on taxing big savers in its stricken banks on Friday as it raced to clinch a bailout from the European Union to avert ...
Treasuries Rise Second Week as Cyprus Crisis Fuels Haven DemandBloomberg
US Stocks Rise on Earnings Amid Cyprus Bailout DebateBusinessweek
Treasury Bonds Gain Ground Over Cyprus UncertaintyWall Street Journal -CBS News -The Guardian
all 1,549 news articles »


Savings tax for Cyprus looms again after Russia turns its back

Finance minister returns empty-handed from Moscow as Cyprus battles to save banks from collapse

Greek Cypriot MPs are battling to prevent their island state from crashing out of the euro as the country's banks remained closed and demonstrators rallied outside parliament.

The hopes of politicians on the island had been pinned on a rescue package from Russia, but with the Cypriot finance minister Michalis Sarris returning empty-handed after two days of talks in Moscow, the race to secure a bailout from the EU and IMF has now intensified.

Cyprus needs €17bn (£14.5bn), and is in negotiations to get €10bn from the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank. The remainder must come from the country's own resources. The original bailout plan, announced last Saturday, would have raised €5.8bn by skimming nearly 7% off all bank deposits of less than €100,000, and 9.9% of bigger bank accounts. A package of austerity measures was also planned to take the total to €17bn.

Sarris returned with the news no one wanted: the controversial bank tax must now be put back on the agenda.

"I think that it is clearly on the table, that it is something that needs to be discussed to see whether a levy on deposits of some sort … would make a contribution to finalising the package," he said.

It was expected that the levy will focus only on accounts with more than €100,000 – but that threatens to stoke tensions with Moscow. Russian investors have €17bn deposited in Cyprus accounts – the island is a tax haven – and the initial plan provoked anger at the highest levels of government in Russia.

President Nicos Anastasiades had proposed that small savers be included for fear of driving away the Russians, whose deposits are vital to keep the Cyprus banking system afloat. The Russian government has also already extended a €2.5bn loan to Nicosia, which the Cyprus government needs to retain.

The volte-face on the bank levy followed mounting criticism of MPs for rejecting the first bailout accord in the first place. Prominent former MPs accused the island's political elite of pandering to populist sentiment in the maelstrom of outrage that the proposal triggered. Critics said that, had the levy been passed, the government would not have been forced to draw up alternative plans. They now include the restructuring of the island's second biggest bank, Laiki, a move that its CEO, Takis Phidias, described as a "disaster not just for the bank but for the economy of Cyprus". The basic plan is to split the bank in two.

The reappearance of the levy came after Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, also rejected an alternative scheme of a solidarity fund proposed by Anastasiades's government. Another alternative considered is to combine hypothetical returns from offshore gas and oil reserves; to nationalise Cypriot workers' pension funds; and to skim revenue from Cypriot Orthodox church assets to raise the cash that Nicosia needs to qualify for €10bn in aid.

George Vassiliou, the former president of Cyprus, told the Guardian it was imperative that the banking system was not allowed to collapse.

"Cyprus is not just an island in the sun," he said. "We have developed a unique service sector based on confidence in the banking system. If that confidence is lost then you have nothing left. Everything that has been created will be destroyed with formidable repercussions."

The 82-year-old added: "The most pressing priority is to ensure that Cyprus gets help but also, more importantly, that the confidence of foreigners and depositors is restored in its banking system."

He said there was "no doubt" that ordinary people should contribute to the island's financial rescue. But he criticised the lack of foresight the euro group ministers had shown in announcing the levy.

MPs on Friday spent frantic hours tweaking legislation that would satisfy Berlin, the ECB and the IMF, and the Nicosia parliament was sitting on Friday night, although a key vote on part of the new bailout plan could be delayed until this morning.

Merkel has adopted a tough stance. She told German MPs that the Mediterranean island's business model was obsolete and that the bailout would need to be structured in such a way that it could be repaid. Cyprus, she said, could no longer depend on its reputation as an offshore tax haven.

Greece also weighed in, announcing that its local lender, Pireaus Bank, would buy branches of Laiki and the Bank of Cyprus in Greece. The move came as officials in Athens expressed consternation over Germany's apparent determination to cut Cyprus loose if need be.

MPs were expected to vote on a package that included winding up Laiki and creating a good and bad bank out of the two biggest banks, with deposits up to €100,000 insured and those higher than that being hit for much bigger sums.

There would also be emergency bills on capital controls to try to avoid a bank run and capital flight from the island if the banks reopen on Tuesday after being closed for 10 days.

European commission officials said that the legislation on restructuring Laiki and imposing capital controls had to be endorsed by the troika and then implemented virtually immediately to have a chance of meeting Monday's deadline.

Officials said that eurozone finance ministers could stage another emergency session on Sunday, either in Brussels or by teleconference. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


UPDATE 3-Piraeus in deal to buy Greek units of Cypriot banks

CBS News

UPDATE 3-Piraeus in deal to buy Greek units of Cypriot banks
Bailout proposal spared Greek units from levy if sold. * Piraeus wins race to buy Cypriot bank units. * Athens determined to reopen banks Tuesday - sources. * European shares pare losses, Piraeus shares up 20 pct. By George Georgiopoulos, Lefteris ...
Greek bank to buy local units of Cypriot lendersCBS News
Greece's Piraeus to take over Cypriot banks' Greek units: sourcesChicago Tribune
Cyprus agrees to spin off Greek units of Cypriot banksFox Business
Economic Times -Kathimerini -Wall Street Journal
all 1,430 news articles »


Cyprus and Lenders at Odds on Bailout as Deadline Nears

New York Times

Cyprus and Lenders at Odds on Bailout as Deadline Nears
New York Times
NICOSIA — Even as the Cypriot Parliament was gathering to consider a revised formula for a financial bailout Friday night, there were strong signals that the plan would not pass muster with international lenders.
Cyprus crisis: Wealthy depositors back in firing line as bailout talks continue - liveThe Guardian
Piraeus in deal to buy Greek units of Cypriot banksReuters
Cyprus Reconsiders Bank Deposit Tax to Solve Debt CrisisVoice of America
Bloomberg -Financial Times -BBC News
all 1,560 news articles »


Greek neo-Nazi party protests Cyprus bailout proposal

Greek neo-Nazi party protests Cyprus bailout proposal
Nearly a thousand supporters of the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn protested at the German embassy in central Athens Friday over proposed EU-IMF bailout terms to rescue debt-hit Cyprus. Demonstrators dressed in black and with shaven heads ...

and more »


Piraeus in deal to buy Greek units of Cypriot banks

Economic Times

Piraeus in deal to buy Greek units of Cypriot banks
ATHENS/NICOSIA (Reuters) - Greece's Piraeus Bank struck a deal on Friday to take over the Greek branches of Cyprus's troubled banks in what a source close to the matter said involved the transfer of 17 billion euros of loans and 14 billion euros of ...
Greece's Piraeus to take over Cypriot banks' Greek units: sourcesChicago Tribune
Piraeus to take on Cypriot banks' Greek units: sourceGlobalPost
Piraeus to buy Greek units of Cypriot banks: SourcesEconomic Times
Fox Business -Kathimerini -Wall Street Journal
all 1,555 news articles »


Eurozone's mistakes could destroy Cyprus, warns former president

Widely respected ex-leader George Vassiliou says whole European system may suffer if corrective measures not taken

When George Vassiliou is worried that is a worrying thing. Widely seen as Cyprus's most effective president in modern times, the 82-year-old is now viewed, even by his enemies, as the voice of common sense.

Today, Vassiliou is so anxious about the state of the country he governed between 1988 and 1993 that he is worried saying anything at all will only make matters worse.

It's not just the partitioned island's membership of the European Union, which Vasilliou deftly negotiated back in 2004, that is now at stake, or the imminent threat of national bankruptcy. It's what happens next if Cyprus is to have a scintilla of a hope of restoring confidence in the financial services sector that, alongside tourism, underpins the tiny nation's economy.

"Cyprus is not just an island in the sun. We have developed a unique service sector which was based on confidence in the banking system," he told the Guardian.

"If that confidence is lost then you have nothing left. Everything that has been created will be destroyed, with formidable repercussions."

As such, he warned, it was wrong to brush Cyprus off as an insignificant outpost whose economic meltdown would not be felt elsewhere.

"They [world leaders] shouldn't think Cyprus is a small island and it doesn't matter if it banks collapse as they are nothing like Lehman Brothers. The difference is its two major banks are the banks of Cyprus as they hold more than 50% of deposits."

Vassiliou, an ardent supporter of the euro project, is the first to say the island's exit from the single currency would be disastrous. But, he avers, the decision to slap levies on depositors in the quest to save the Mediterranean island from economic armageddon had also been "a bomb to the foundations of the banking system".

And because of that it was now imperative that the EU and IMF, the architects of that decision, sent out the right message.

"The most pressing priority is to ensure that Cyprus gets help but also, more importantly, that the confidence of foreigners and depositors is restored in its banking system," he insisted. "If you take a decision that undermines that confidence you have to correct it."

While, he allowed, there was "no doubt" ordinary people should contribute to the island's financial rescue, the lack of foresight the euro group ministers had shown in announcing the measure had also been astonishing.

"Often when [officials] meet in closed rooms and under pressure with their calculating machines there is no cool thinking about what the repercussions of a decision will be," he said. "In this case the decision to impose an unprecedented tax or haircut on ordinary people and businesses. If, tomorrow, the services sector collapses, as a result there will be unemployment over 50% and total lack of prospect."

Barely two weeks into the job, the island's leader, Nicos Antasasiades, had been put in an almost impossible position when he attended last Friday's now notorious meeting in Brussels, said Vassiliou, the former British colony's third president.

"There was almost no time to look or study [the options]," he said. "They were placed under tremendous pressure and faced huge dilemmas, and it all happened between 2 and 4am before the decision was taken at the last moment."

With Cyprus's fate dangling by a thread, whatever the government now did would not be enough, said Vassilou.

"It can do nothing by itself. Without the support of the EU and IMF whatever it does won't be enough. "The issue was never to look to Russia."

Vassilou has always maintained that if Moscow were to step in, aid should be given solely within the framework of an EU-IMF financial assistance programme.

"We are not in the cold war days where you are either here or there."

Vassiliou, who governed as an independent with the backing of the communist Akel party, does not differ from many on the island who vehemently believe Cyprus has been unfairly treated. After all, he says, it would never have found itself in this predicament if its banking system had not suffered almost €5bn in losses overnight when Greece restructured its own debt load last year.

"They gave all this [bailout] money to Greece, Spain, Ireland and Portugal in the hope that it will help those countries start recovering but in the case of Cyprus they say there is a limit and they take a measure that undermines confidence in the banking and services sector" he said, shaking his head.

"With that the decision they are ensuring the destruction of Cyprus … an event, that if it happens, will have huge effects on the whole European system." © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Freed from bankruptcy, Greek Peak ski resort cuts price of season passes

Freed from bankruptcy, Greek Peak ski resort cuts price of season passes
Virgil, NY -- The new owners of Greek Peak Mountain Resort in Cortland County are wasting no time appealing to the resort's core customers -- skiers and snowboarders. Elmira businessmen John Meier and Marc Stemerman, the winning bidders in this ...


Greek Restaurant Planned for Rite Aid Shopping Center

Greek Restaurant Planned for Rite Aid Shopping Center
Owner Shawn Shakhmalian is Armenian but lived with Greeks and loves Greek food, so for him it was only natural to add a Greek restaurant to the bakery. “This community needs something unique like that,” Shakhmalian told Patch, adding that there is not ...


Gold drops on news Greece may bolster Cypriot banking sector

Gold drops on news Greece may bolster Cypriot banking sector - Gold prices fell in U.S. trading on Friday as news Greece may raise the stakes it owns in Cypriot banks to ease the financial crisis there enticed investors out of gold and into the euro. Gold prices have risen in recent sessions via ...
Gold Loses Safe Haven Appeal on Cypress-Greece DealGold Investing News

all 210 news articles »


Greece's ELPE sees credit conditions improve

Greece's ELPE sees credit conditions improve
Greece's largest refiner is finding it easier to secure crude as improving credit conditions allow suppliers to cautiously return, although it still must pay a premium. Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE), was dealt a double body blow when it was forced to ...

and more »


What we need is an economic revolution, but what would it look like? | Zoe Williams

I've been going on protests since I was young but I've never chanted about interest rates or debt restructuring deals

"Social change is not mechanical," Ha-Joon Chang, Cambridge economist and iconoclast, tells me. "You don't put in x tons of discontent to get three revolutions." Before we work out what the ingredients for change really are, I'm wondering what an economic revolution would actually look like. Would it start the same way as a regular revolution, with placards and water canon? What would the placards say?

The right always knows what to do with economic turmoil – it blames foreigners, and from there, the trajectory is pretty straightforward (attack foreigners, etc). The left does not know what to do. I've been going on demonstrations since I was very young; I've never chanted a slogan about an interest rate, or a debt restructuring deal, or even about inequality.

I ask for two reasons: the first is Cyprus, in which it looks as though the average citizen has no power at all. The country's dilemma – either be Europe's whipping boy or a "gimp state for Russian gangsta finance" (as Paul Murphy described it in the Financial Times) – was not the result of, nor was it soluble by, any democratic process.

Meanwhile, in this paper, a letter signed by 63 economists, most of them professors, greeted the budget with the conclusion that this government was simply wrong. "We are calling a people's assembly against austerity to bring together campaigns against cuts and privatisation with trade unionists in a movement for social justice." But how would such an assembly come about and, critically, what would we (assuming we're all invited) be demanding?

Chang was not the originator of the letter (that was the economist Michael Burke), but as the author of the magnificent 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism, was the headline name. Ridiculously, I was surprised by how cramped his office was, in the economics faculty at Cambridge University. Once you'd sold nearly 1m copies of a popular economics book, my subconscious had reasoned, surely they'd give you more space? Apparently not.

His position is a Keynesian one in the short term: "Anyone who is reasonable, which actually excludes most people in the current government, would agree that it makes sense to run more debt in the short run to recover faster. You just cannot get out of this kind of massive debt crisis without growing."

The main challenge from this perspective is to get an understanding of the purpose of debt into mainstream political debate, to which end, Chang uses the analogy of education: "People don't say, he shouldn't borrow money to go to university because he's running a massive deficit. He's earning zero." In the medium term, the question is what to spend that money on – nuclear submarines? Windfarms? Research? In the long term, we need to ask what we want to export, if not financial services.

Ann Pettifor, another signatory, director of Prime (Policy Research in Macroeconomics) shares this position – "What Keynes understood and what very few people give him credit for is the way to deal with a very depressed economy is to revive it" – but calls for something else: an international law on bankruptcy. Like the emphasis on employment, it's radical but obvious. "I think that bankruptcy is one of the most extraordinary advances in civilisation. Because people used to be destroyed by debt, they went to Marshalsea prison and died. Capitalists finally realised, 'we've lost him as a consumer and a producer. Let's put him back on the street'." In individual bankruptcy, the creditor takes a hit as well as the debtor, and everybody moves on. We need to be able to do the same for nations, so that when Argentina, or for that matter, Cyprus or Greece or (as Osborne keeps threatening) the UK go bust, they are not simply penniless, on their knees before the people who still have money. It's unjust, but more to the point, it's crippling its own system.

But if Pettifor counsels a balance in interests between debtors and creditors, Molly Scott Cato, a green economist at the University of Roehampton, puts something else on the table, for which the international law already exists. The notion of "odious debt" was invented in the 19th century (formalised in 1927): it stipulates that when a regime incurs debt that is not in the national interest, the successor to that regime can treat the debt as a personal burden of the outgoing despot, and write it off. If it sounds archaic and unreasonable even to bring it up, bear in mind that America used this when it invaded Iraq, as a justification for taking over the oil rights and not honouring the debts left by Saddam Hussein.

So there are groups across Europe – Who Owes Whom? in Spain, and Not Our Debt in Ireland – making the case that state debt incurred by actions that nobody voted for, rescuing banks, for instance, whose policies nobody even knew about, should be written off, not (only) for moral reasons, but in accordance with international law. "That's the radical answer," Scott Cato says, "to challenge where the debt comes from. Have a citizen's audit." (How do you like the sound of that, demonstrators? "What do we want?" "A citizen's audit!" "When do we want it?" "To cover the tax period 31 March 2003 to 5 April 2007.")

Chang smiles about the clean-slate talk: "Debt cancellation is sometimes necessary when the economy is tangled up and getting suffocated. The issue is which debts to cancel and under what terms. When people hear those words in black and white terms, they think, oh my God, those people are communists … I'm not in favour of revolution; I'm in favour of gradual changes. But that doesn't mean that my goal isn't radical. I want this system to be completely rewired, but to get there, you may have to deploy rhetoric that may not look strong enough to you but will appeal more to more people." © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


In Greece, Public Health Declines As Unemployment Rate Rises

International Business Times

In Greece, Public Health Declines As Unemployment Rate Rises
International Business Times
This is particularly evident in Greece, where the global economic crisis left the country unable to pay its debts. Other European countries and the International Monetary Fund have helped keep the country afloat with new loans, in exchange for massive ...


Piraeus to buy Greek units of Cypriot banks: Sources

Economic Times

Piraeus to buy Greek units of Cypriot banks: Sources
Economic Times
Euro zone finance ministers excluded the Greek branches of Cypriot banks from the deposit levy they intended to impose on Cyprus, on condition that those units would be transferred to Greek banks, which themselves are being recapitalized by bailout ...

and more »


Poor Infrastructure Undercuts Greek Tourism

Greek Reporter

Poor Infrastructure Undercuts Greek Tourism
Greek Reporter
UP_GREEK_tourism_billboard_times_square After three years of negative foreign media reports and commentary about Greece, directly affecting the tourism industry of the country, “restoring” the image of the country this year is the first priority for ...


Rachida Lamrabet: 'Literature helps when you are trying to form an identity'

What can a national literature mean for a writer who came to Belgium from Morocco? Rachida Lamrabet reflects on the legacy of Hendrik Conscience

A few months ago, I was invited to give a lecture for the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the great 19th-century Dutch writer Hendrik Conscience, the man who taught his people, the Flemish, to read. This writer played an important role in defining the identity of Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium.

Conscience wrote an epic novel about the brave Flemish resistance in the Battle of the Golden Spurs of 1302 against the French dominancy, called the Lion of Flanders. He wrote in Dutch, which was quite revolutionary. Flemish writers of his time, and those who came far behind him, were only taken seriously if they wrote in French.

The Flemish writer Maurice Maeterlinck, our only Nobel prize winner for literature, said for instance that the Dutch language was "un coassement de grenouilles, mis en grammaire". Or in plain English: "the croaking of frogs put into grammar". Maeterlinck wrote in French.

Conscience defended the importance of the Dutch language through his literature and played a major role in promoting the idea of a Flemish people. He adhered to the idea "that language is the whole of the people". And those who read him began imagining a nation for these Dutch-speaking people. Unfortunately, it is this very idea that divides our country today.

Conscience's legacy became an important symbol of the Flemish movement, a movement that at its worst was not afraid to ally itself with Nazism and racism. Naturally, I felt unenthusiastic towards the kind of national literature that Conscience represented. It was too often used to define a rigid notion of people and of citizens, to justify a politics of exclusion, and it caused an obsession with identity. Referring to a national literature was in my eyes referring to something archaic and closed, a monolith that would not change even if the world was changing.

I felt more comfortable with Ben Okri when he said: "I was born in the world and I'm at home in the world's myths."

So when I was asked to say something about what Conscience meant to me as a writer who came in the 70s with my parents from the north of Morocco to this brave new country, it was that idea of an almost hostile national literature that dominated my thoughts. It was a literature that I could not touch or add something to; it left no room for other stories because these other stories were simply not considered part of the national patrimony, or part of the collective narrative.

Sure, these other stories could be very interesting and informative, but they remained the stories of the others, stories from the periphery, that could never affect or alter what was considered the centre or the norm. As Marc Cloostermans, a book reviewer for one of the two important Flemish newspapers, puts it: "Sure, we like to read allochthonous writers, but only if they meet our criteria and if they make bold statements we secretly enjoy."

Here you have it, there is even a word to describe writers such as me. I'm considered to be a special kind of writer; I am an "allochtoon". Let me explain to you what that word means, because there is no equivalent for it in English. It sounds unfriendly. I can assure you, it is unfriendly.

The word allochtoon is from Greek origin and means "someone who came from elsewhere", in opposite to the word autochtoon, which is used to indicate the Flemish people and means "pure, came from the land". In this society, there is a semantic division on the grounds of ethnic origin: you either are an allochtoon, from the outside, or an autochtoon, from the land.

The only chance to get rid of the allochtoon label in this part of the world is to be a brilliant football player who leads the national team to victory and fame. I guess it's too late for me to make a career in soccer; so for writers like me, it is not obvious to just be part of that great guild of writers.

Regardless of the fact that I write in Dutch, my writing is not considered to meet the norm that has been set out by the centre. I write about identity, migration and a changing, diverse world. That is the kind of world we live in today in this country, and yet some readers and critics are convinced that my literature has nothing to do with them; that it's the literature of the others, as opposed to national literature. I write about Antwerp and readers would talk to me about my work as if I had described a world far away from them. My characters are strange exotic individuals for the mere fact that their names are Younes, Mariam and Marwan and not Isabel, Jan or Peter.

I'm not so very young any more, but I'm still very naive – and I thank God for that; that's why I decided to challenge myself for my lecture about Conscience: I wanted to emphasise the things we had in common. I wanted to draw a line between Conscience's writing then (at his time and in his troubled society, where his language was not recognised) and me writing today in my society, which has been transformed into a place where you can see the world. In Antwerp, Brussels and Ghent alone you have more than 170 different nationalities living together, and these people have brought their languages, stories and convictions with them. For me, the main question was how the dominant society reacts upon claims of recognition of one's own cultural identity. I think the way that society responds to those claims can tell us a lot about how that society defines itself and how self-confident it is in a changing world.

I had the brilliant idea, so I thought, to make a comparison between Consciences's striving for recognition and the aspirations to cultural emancipation of the new minorities in Belgium. I wanted to show how literature could be of help when you are trying to form an identity and define your place in the world.

I tried to connect the search for identity of young citizens with non-European roots and Conscience's cultural and linguistic struggle. I was convinced that in his time Conscience asked himself the same questions as the young men and women who live in the big cities in this country today. Questions like; "Who am I? Where do I belong? What is home and what does language mean to me?'"

And then of course, I went too far, I crossed the line, I came too close, and asked my audience what Conscience would think of Dyab Abou Jahjah, the former leader of the demonised organization, the Arab European League (AEL), which pushed for the emancipation of the Arabs in Europe and Belgium. Jahjah launched the provocative idea to make Arabic one of the national languages of this country. My audience, mainly white and middle class, was not amused.

That idea encountered resistance because there was the fear among the audience that their constructed national identity, a Flemish identity which had been obtained after a hard battle, would be transformed by multicultural, non-Flemish compatriots into something else. I could see the horror in their eyes. And it is also that fear that makes it difficult to really open up to other stories, to let those stories change ideas, opinions, and the way we look at things. As long as they don't get too close and risk changing the norm, then these stories are OK. But for how long can a society shut out its own reality? Not for very long, because it bangs at the door.

In fact, this evening I declined an invitation to a funeral in the city of Ghent, 31 miles from Brussels. The funeral of a word.

The city of Ghent decided, on the instigation of a few organisations and artists, not to use the word allochtoon anymore. And at this very moment, on the international day against racism, a funeral ceremony is taking place in the town hall of Ghent. After the word has been buried, there will be an enormous feast. Perhaps we could all take the train and join the people of Ghent for this celebration of the semantic birth of citizens, after all. History is made by people who have a lot of imagination.

• This is an edited version of a speech given by Rachida Lamrabet for the Edinburgh World Writers' Conference in Brussels on 21 March 2013, presented by the British Council. Full versions of all the speeches are available on the Edinburgh World Writers' Conference website.

• Next: Trinidad, with speeches from the Bocas Lit Fest © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Is spending your last years in the sun avoiding British taxation really worth it? | Ian Jack

Images of British retirees in Cyprus worried about losing their savings – while having enjoyed low taxation and the UK fuel allowance during 17C winters – raised conflicted feelings in me

Expatriates have come in all shapes and sizes. Gérard Depardieu in his Belgian village, Robert Louis Stevenson on his South Sea island, Karl Marx in London, Ronnie Biggs in Brazil: all left their homeland for the great elsewhere, but a common motive is hard to find. Somehow they can't be described as migrants; "expatriate" suggests that to some degree they stand apart from the host country and may eventually return to their own. Well into the second half of the last century, at least to this young reader of Somerset Maugham, the word conveyed a picture of an elegant English novelist in his villa on the Cote d'Azur, or a lonely rubber planter going crazy in his Malayan bungalow.

But that was then. The word got brisker when shortened to "expat" – I first heard that applied to British oil workers in the Gulf – and brisker still when the adjective "Brit" was stuck in front of it. "Brit expat" isn't a phrase that easily fits the leisured world of the parasol, the day-old London newspaper and the creased linen suit.

This week the Daily Mail photographed 13 of them grouped outside a coffee shop in the Cypriot village of Pyrgos. "They arrived in Cyprus dreaming of a carefree life in the Mediterranean sunshine," the copy began, "but last night these expats were left in a state of anxiety after their Cypriot current and savings accounts were frozen in the EU raid." Not a linen suit in sight: jeans, T-shirts and tracksuit tops predominated in a pink-faced, grey-haired crowd who had resettled there from London, Lancashire, Kent and Sussex, and retired from jobs in nursing, accounting and engineering. The sums they stood to lose under the proposed levy ranged from €100 to a few €1,000, with the exception of the €15,000 calculated by a Wembley émigré who ran an alcohol import business. You might have met them at any British garden centre or bus stop. They spoke of ordinary pensions and meagre savings grubbed from hard work. Nobody mentioned the tax rate, though this rather than sunshine alone is the main reason that 60,000 British expats, including 12,000 pensioners and many more approaching pensionable age, have chosen as their final home a politically divided island with a flight time from Heathrow of at least four-and-a-half hours.

In the words of a puff-piece about island property for sale, Cyprus's "deep respect for senior citizens is especially appealing to retirees". The respect has a fiscal dimension; the Cyprus economy needs to attract elderly Britons as well as Russian oligarchs. A taxation treaty with the UK means that British pensioners can elect to pay a fixed 5% rate on state or private pensions above a threshold of €3,417 a year, or they can opt into Cyprus's tiered system, which has a top rate of 30%, and get their first €19,500 tax-free. When pensioners are registered as tax residents after a stay of 183 days, bank interest and share dividends become tax-free too, while the only asset liable to capital gains tax is property. UK inheritance tax is harder to avoid, but not impossible. And all this time, because Cyprus is a member of the EU, your British state pensions will rise every year in line with British inflation and your winter fuel allowance will come rolling in, even though Cyprus has the warmest winter climate of any country in the EU and the December temperature in the coastal zone, where your house is almost certainly located, is rarely colder than 17C (62F) by day and 8C by night. Finally – a great comfort – three quarters of the population speaks English and traffic drives on the left.

So, looking at these faces in the Mail again, I feel rather conflicted. They look straightforward and pleasant folk who, as they say of themselves, have worked and saved hard to afford their years in the sun, and when people begin to count up the summers that may lie ahead of them, the sun does assume an unprecedented importance. On the other hand, did it occur to nobody that a country prepared to lure them with tiny or zero tax rates might have a shaky financial foundation? That a risk was involved? Caveat emptor seems to have occurred to few. In the Daily Telegraph only six months ago, a property correspondent was writing that it would be "a mistake to see Cyprus as a mirror image of Greece" because its GDP was higher and its unemployment lower, and it had cut a few taxes that would benefit the foreign house buyer. If you read the Telegraph, as many expats do (as a target market, they have a special section online), then you might have been reassured. No matter how patriotic the newspaper, Robert Browning is not the moving spirit of these pages. Not so much "Oh to be in England … " as: "Oh to be in Cyprus with an English winter fuel allowance."

The striking thing is how retirement in the sun has become such an ordinary ambition, achievable for less than the average price of a British house (£234,000), assuming you have one to sell, and a £20,000 pension between two, assuming you don't want to fly back to Britain too often. According to a study in 2006 by the Institute of Public Policy Research, about 5.5 million British people live permanently abroad – the largest number in Australia and the next largest in Spain – which means that the UK has the largest expatriate population of any country in Europe. In Spain, more than a fifth of around 760,000 British expats are aged over 64. A lifestyle that was once confined to the ailing British rich in Victorian resorts such as Menton, Biarritz and Pau has spread down the social scale. Milk-white Englishwomen may no longer take to their beds for their jours de repos and the internet makes the English language and some form of companionship constantly available, but the same sense of separateness from the native population surely persists.

Here, for example, is some advice on "how to succeed as an expat" posted on the website created for them by HSBC, which has interest in their money. "Try to read local news – at least the headlines. It makes you live less in a bubble." "Eat like a local." "Learn the basics of Hungarian. It may seem impossible but it can be done."

Is a few final years spent avoiding British taxation and cloud cover worth this price? Neighbours abandoned, friends and family left behind, the intricacies of belonging severed: and in exchange the company of yet-to-be-met people of roughly the same age, marching under brilliant skies in lockstep to what Larkin called the inevitable. At the end of Paul Scott's Staying On, which is a fine novel of expatriate life, an English widow berates her dead husband for leaving her alone in India: "Why did you leave me here … now, until the end, I shall be alone, whatever I am doing, here as I feared, amid the alien corn, waking, sleeping, alone for ever and I cannot bear it … Oh, how can you make me stay here by myself while you yourself go home?"

Cyprus in 2013 isn't as cut-off as an Indian hill station in 1970. Even so, taking the clouds and the tax on the chin seems to me the better deal. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


ComiXology All Over The World – Greek Love For Dredd

ComiXology All Over The World – Greek Love For Dredd
Bleeding Cool News
While AMC's adaptation of Robert Kirkman's series plods along sluggishly on our television screens, The Walking Dead comic book suffers no lead-footed problems; issue #108 continues the trend of dominating the sales charts around the globe. It's nice ...