On the drizzly evening of 7 November, I joined a demonstration in front of the Parliament in Athens. Like the estimated 100,000 other people in the vast square and surrounding streets to protest against the imposition of yet another – the fifth – round of austerity measures being debated inside the building, I wasn’t in a good mood. My pension had already been cut by 40 per cent, the tax rate on the remainder nearly doubled, and a further cut was planned. We were kept away from the building by multiple rows of police, a terrifying sight with their bulky black uniforms, white helmets and visors, assorted weapons and communications gear, tear-gas canisters and water cannons. The scene that wet evening made for a peculiar image of democracy in practice; the people’s elected representatives cowering inside the temple of democracy, protected from the people’s wrath by a praetorian guard. That was bad enough. Inside the building, parliamentary democracy was getting short shrift.
Like most Greeks, I have had my medical needs covered by a comprehensive state health insurance programme to which I’ve contributed all my working life. It is supposed to mean that I don’t pay for services and only a token amount for medicines. But at the doctor’s last month, the examination over and the prescription written, I was handed a receipt for €50. ‘What’s this?’ I asked. ‘My fee.’ ‘I’m insured, as you know.’ ‘I know. That’s why I’ve given you a receipt.’ ‘To do what with it?’ ‘So you can be reimbursed.’ ‘When?’ ‘If and when the crisis ends, and you’re still alive.’