Over the last decade, Greece has taken centre stage in the news when it comes to bailouts from the EU, increasingly gaining a reputation worldwide as having a ‘weakened economy’, rising debts, lower pensions, continued high unemployment among young people and the rife polarisation in politics and leadership, leaving many Greeks frustrated with the current systems in place. Greece is now also under attack from Turkey, with constant threats from its neighbor over the continued altercations within the areas of gas-rich waters in the Eastern Mediterranean. To top it all off, now there’s COVID-19 to deal with. This has hit Greece where it hurts most, its tourism industry.
Greece had over 360,000 tourists enter the country last year alone, with numbers drastically down this year due to COVID-19. For a country which is heavily reliant on its glistening tourism industry, future Greece cannot just rely on tourism to financially sustain itself moving forward. It needs another mean of currency, especially with the euro continually falling to new lows. In late 2019, the Greek government irrevocably announced that it would ‘require digital tax receipts from all of its citizens’, in an effort to combat otherwise untraceable cash transactions. It’s not a secret that Greeks love to use cash for everything.
CoinDesk reported that ‘These extra banking measures will largely affect the lower and middle classes who rely on Greek banks” for their everyday business, not the wealthy, who store the majority of their collective wealth in foreign banks. Many economists and analysts have condemned Greece’s increasing reliance on higher tax rates. Inadvertently, many financial experts believe this will result in catastrophic cash flow issues for Greece’s shrinking middle class, who as mentioned above, rely on cash; driving a larger wedge between the ultra-rich and the underprivileged. In a nutshell, the new banking rules which aim to carve out cash use, only end up hurting the poverty-stricken population of Greece.
So, with the new rules came problems. And problems need a solution. With a frappe in one hand and a smartphone in the other, the prudent Greek had to find a way around these new rules. And so, began the interest in cryptocurrency. But in an increasingly volatile economy, can cryptocurrency really help Greece? Ask the average Greek citizen what Bitcoin is, and chances are they’ll look a little confused. The average Greek citizen won’t even know what cryptocurrency is. Greece is lagging in technological enhancement, ranking 3rd from the bottom of the list, according to the European Commission. Many Greeks don’t know how to invest their money, let alone save their money. The ongoing financial crisis has brought this issue to a new light. So, what drove the Greek people to begin incorporating cryptocurrency into their lives? You’ve already read the main clue why, but let’s delve deeper.
Greek tech entrepreneur Andreas M. Antonopoulos explains it like this. In a highly publicised interview with Garden of Crypto, he stated that ‘when the Greek banks shut down in the middle of the financial crisis in 2015, the public sought a safe alternative on the internet, starting Greece’s cryptocurrency frenzy. Crypto thus became a haven for assets as the banks became more volatile and less safe to store assets’. Similar to many other struggling economies in the modern-day arena of finance, countries such as Venezuela and Zimbabwe have begun ‘utilising cryptocurrency as a form of resistance to an economy mired in controversy, corruption, and debt’, Mr Antonopoulos stated. In May this year, Bitcoin.com reported that ‘the interest in cryptocurrency from Greek women had grown 163.67 per cent.’! This was the highest percentage in all of Europe in this particular study. The number of Bitcoin ATMs in Greece also increased to at least five around the country.
With Greece’s unemployment rate sitting at 17 per cent and the current pandemic not looking like it’ll magically disappear anytime soon, many Greeks are beginning to look for alternatives to the current financial system. They are continuing to seek solace in digital currencies. There are Facebook groups, such as the Bitcoin Community Greece and Cryptocurrency Greece, who’s aim is to educate the Greek population on the ‘investment opportunities within cryptocurrency’. These groups have gained much popularity, with Bitcoin Community Greece attaining nearly 5000 members to date. In conclusion, this displays that Greeks are taking cryptocurrency much more seriously since it first started gaining popularity in the height of the financial crisis in 2014. Could this lead to a potential cure from Greece’s ailment with debt? The ongoing the bailouts from the EU, incorporated with cryptocurrency, could potentially see Greece improving financially and economically over time.