A look back at 2013

It’s time for a quick round up of the some news of 2013 in Crete and Greece.

The main item making the rounds at the moment is the large increase in the number of tourists (and receipts from tourism) that Greece saw in 2013. These went up by 15% compared to 2012.  It’s always nice to hear good news and a little bit of optimism is really welcome in a country battered by 6 years of recession but you still have to qualify these figures: the large increase is in comparison to a year that saw a big decrease (mostly due to the troubles in Athens and the negative protrayal of Greece in the foreign press). Additionally the troubles in Egypt and to a lesser extent Turkey and Tunisia most probably made a lot of people decide to skip these countries in favour of Greece (and Spain too,  that country had an excellent 2013 tourist season) so Greece is benefiting from the problems of others.
But 2013 is still a year that might (just) beat the 2008 record season so there is plenty of cause for celebration and hope.

On a less positive note all-inclusive packages are showing big increases so you can safely say that part of the good looking numbers above are made up with tourists who come to Greece/Crete only to stay in their tourist ghettos, leaving very few benefits to the local economy. That’s not a good trend but unfortunately it looks unlikely to stop in the near future.

Still to do with tourism: it looks like the Cavo Sidero project has been revived because of a new law which aims at diminishing bureaucracy and proceed to implementation phase through a flexible and quicker process.
To me it also looks like the Fast Track Mechanism is used to allow a massive (2000 rooms, 18 holes golf course) tourist project to get built on a Natura 2000 protected area despite a Greek Supreme Court rulings that the project should not go ahead.  Not good at all. Sure it might create jobs but at what long term cost?

Another ongoing theme of 2013 is the rise in extreme poverty. A study conducted by Athens University of Economics and Business along with the Associate Professor of the University, Manos Matsaganis, showed that the percentage of Greeks that live in poverty has increased significantly. Some 14 percent of the Greek population lives in poverty for the year 2013, whereas in 2009 the percentage of those who lived in poverty was 2 percent of the country’s population.
On the whole Crete is much better off than the Greek average because it has a good amount of tourism as well as a strong agricultural sector but many people are having a hard time surviving the recession.

One piece of really good news is that the current right wing government of Samaras finally ended its flirtation with the neo-nazi Golden Dawn and cracked down hard on its leaders, several of whom are currently in jail awaiting trial for a number of offences. It took the murder of a Greek for the government to finally act.
I was very surprised by the speed and the breadth of the crackdown. It makes me think that preparations had already been made prior to the murder of  Pavlos Fyssas, most probably because other European states had quietly been pushing for some action against a party that would have long been declared illegal in most other European states. With the Greek presidency of the EU fast approaching I guess that the government had to get rid of them.
Seeing some of these thugs dragged to jail (as well as a number of top policemen sacked for being part of that network) was like a fresh breath of air sweeping through Greece but let us not forget that although the support for the party dropped after the crackdown it is still around 8% and that’s scary.

And finally, the biggest news might be that Greece is still in the Euro! A little over a year ago many (most?) thought that Greece would be out of it and back to the Drachma by 2014.

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