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Maria Paravantes

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A Tax for Your Thoughts...

Posted: 04/19/2012 2:09 pm

At first it was just a word: trouble. Financial trouble. Troubled nation. Troublesome situation. Troublemaking Greeks. And then it grew and grew, and grew... obsessively taking over my every day thoughts and ultimately my life. New parasitic words with unidentified meanings flocked into my brain and made their heavy nest there. Everywhere I turned, ominous words reared their ugly heads, like a hysterical Hydra on blaring TV sets, rumbling radios, in the whispers from the corner coffee shop and the high-pitched remarks amid the blow-dryers at the hairdresser's....

And then the lexical bombardment had finally hit the target: I was now dreaming of CDS spreads and PSI participation, hedge funds and debt swaps that led to trade at distressed levels... I could see my hair being cut by default while the index shed percentages... but when I saw myself being downgraded to "junk" status... I woke up in a cold sweat knowing the real nightmare had just begun.

No, I don't need pills or psychiatric support (at least not yet). I simply live in Greece, yes, that tiny Mediterranean country of 11 million or so that has for the past two years hogged the headlines across the globe, offering incentive to economists and number-obsessed freaks to finally use fabricated words that until now have only inhabited the faded pages of sci-fi books and simulation games.

Yes, I am Greek. I have lived here for the past 20 years and worked hard in my life for very meager pay. I am now a freelancer, have no health insurance and am finding it terribly hard to find a steady job because I'm overqualified (or is it because I'm outspoken?). I pay every cent of my taxes and am a law-abiding albeit sun-loving citizen. Or so I thought....

In a little over two years, I and many of my fun-loving, sun-obsessed, coffee-drinking compatriots have gone from being overall healthy human beings to nerve-wracked relics of ourselves. You see, we've passed the audition and are now holding starring roles in Animal Farm Takes Greece -- a remake of George Orwell's foretelling allegorical tale penned 67 years ago!

So gifted and insightful was Orwell that his story has it all: the power-hungry villains, the diligent good guys, the innocent victims and the dark politics. Of course, our very own leaders and their buddies the Big B(ailout) 3 (i.e. European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund and the EU) got the lead roles. But who cares, it's always the downtrodden that win over the audience in the end.

At first, it was rehearsal after rehearsal. We had to learn our lines, but new words and new acts kept popping in. Then, we had to a get a real "feel" for our characters... so we worked, worked even more, were told our salaries had to be cut for the good of the whole (we were never told which whole exactly: Greece? the EU? the world?), we saw our pensions slashed, our benefits disappear and our incomes shrink, we even saw our country's assets being sold off dirt cheap.

Right when we thought we got the role down, the phlegmatic director, Napoleon, told us we had to "get the role under our skin," so he suggested we suffer some more and to be just a bit more convincing we had to abide by the latest motto: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." New taxes were introduced on everything and anything possible: our homes, our cars, our food and drink, our coffee, our pets (they proposed this sometime back). Taxes on taxes already paid. Taxes on our future. And maybe one day taxes on our thoughts....

Fatigue had finally taken hold. We could go on no longer. Our bodies were tired from the unending rehearsals and our minds were finding it impossible to make sense of all the ludicrousness.

I mustered up my courage and timidly asked the director: "When is the show?" He looked at me with his beady eyes, the stare of the insolent, and laughed out loud, a thunderous laugh. "This IS the show," he retorted and continued to snicker as he babbled something to his producer on his iPhone.

I lost the ground under my feet... I wanted to wake up now. But I couldn't, I didn't because it was real. It is real.

The deeper Greece drowns in the quicksand called "bankruptcy," the more bankrupt as a people and as individuals we become, not only here but also in every country, as our predicament can soon be yours.

In one of his prefaces to the book, Orwell said he was inspired to write the story when he saw a young boy sadistically whipping an old and tired horse every time it tried to move away from the path: "It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength...".

And yet so many years have gone by, so many wars, so many deaths and people still can't find their strength.

I looked at the director as he headed toward the door... "Hey," I called out; he froze in his footsteps unable to believe his ears. He turned around: "How dare you..."

"Go home," I managed to utter. "You don't live here anymore, this is my house. And in my house, virtue, humility, wisdom, courage and justice make sure 'All animals are equal.' There are not 'buts.'"

 
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