A MATTER OF HOLIDAY CONSCIENCE

As they troop off emergency flights, some bronzed, some still  palefaces, you feel for the Brits whose annual slice of sun and fun has been abruptly cut short courtesy of a foreign office missive about new dangers in Tunisia. But feel so much more for the employees left behind in resorts and hotels who watch their livelihood and economic future departing with them. One of the most devastating aspects of this new age of terrorism is its random nature; no longer targeted on all too familiar victims, but taking vicarious revenge on any citizens of countries deemed to have offended this ruthless breed of fundamentalists.

When the first appalling loss of life was registered in a Tunisian resort, a remarkable number of vacationing families stayed on, somehow able to continue to sunbathe and swim on the very stretches of beach the lone gunman had traversed just days before en route to creating wholesale panic and carnage. Were they just unable to face the prospect of losing their annual holiday or were they strangers to sensitivity? Who knows? ( I was reminded of pictures of people surfing beaches in the Far East in the wake of the horrendous Boxing Day Tsunami.)

But two weeks later the option of keeping calm and carrying on was swiftly removed by apparently well sourced fears of a repeat attack. You can't really blame the FCO. If they had solid information and didn't act on it they could have been accessories before a second grotesque massacre of the innocents.

I've just returned from holidaying in Greece, another destination visited by an ongoing crisis. and throughout felt a strange sense of ambivalence.  On one level continued support of their essential tourist trade seems a no brainer.  Already 40 per cent down on normal July figures, the last thing this damaged economy needs is visitors discouraged from spending much needed currency. And yet there is a basic discomfort in going about your normal holiday business throughout a referendum period where the locals can't disguise their anxiety about their future and that of their families.

The supermarket where we did our daily shopping was a typical family run business run by a  husband and wife team with granny doing her shift on one of the tills. Unlike the shortage reported in urban centres Nico's shelves still groaned with supplies and more were daily unloaded and stacked.  But he he reports that 80 per cent of these goods, including some of the perishables, came from north Europe, Germany in particular. With limited credit available from banks already closed for a week, he wondered when if ever he could buy replacement stocks after the referendum.  Now that his government has signed up for the austerity package he and virtually all of his village voted against, I can't imagine he's feeling any more sanguine. One son is due to go to University this Autumn to study animation - maybe he should switch to economics.

The week before the Referendum was replete with ironies for those of us who had worked for the Yes campaign in Scotland last year.   Here the people who urged voters to rail against austerity and vote for self determination and national dignity were of course the NO camp, whilst the YES campaign attracted richer and older voters.  Replete too with deja vu.  The mainstream media dutifully repeated stories of wholesale doom if the electorate failed to toe the Brussels/Berlin line, a hyped up version of Project Fear. NO campaigners harboured deep suspicions about these stories being not just planted but funded by media magnates. I have no means of verifying that, but it's worth noting that despite most TV channels and national newspapers lining up behind YES, the latter were outvoted two to one. Would that  that brand of conviction and courage been more evident on the home front last September.

The voters were under no  illusions that voting No would solve their crushing debt dilemma. They did think it might give them better bargaining chips and a greater degree of self respect.  The images on the NO posters showed a bureaucrat with Euros looking down on the prone figure of a  supplicant.  It is not a good look if you're Greek. In the event they voted against more austerity and got it anyway; whether biting that bullet will push bailout repayments further down the road we will find out later this weekend.

But whatever their tax avoiding sins in the past, whatever the extent of jobs for the boys and girls courtesy of corrupt ministries, it's difficult not to feel sorry for a nation whose democratic traditions long pre-date those of a European Union big  on self righteousness and low on compassion. 

I am, and remain, a Europhile. But in its treatment of Greece, and more urgently, of drowning migrants in the Mediterranean, the European Union is not enjoying its finest hour.