Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
It's About The People
Much of the world has changed over the past few weeks; hundreds of thousands of lives have been irreparably damaged, families’ plans and hopes thrown into chaos and relationships between governments, business and the populations at large fractured by a deep distrust.
Of the many people I am privileged to know, I think of Ia, Sigfus and Caetano. All bright, capable, hard-working and successful, and now, they suddenly find themselves in a new and undefined world.Ia is the general manager of a fine travel company in Georgia. I had dinner with her one lovely evening in July overlooking the gorgeous old-town of Tbilisi. Life was good; the travel business building, the country’s infrastructure emerging strongly from the dark ages of the Soviet times and the democratic institutions that we take for granted in Canada taking root. Three weeks later, the Russians invaded and her life altered overnight. In an email yesterday she told of the school next to her office being home to hundreds of refugees, of business being almost non-existant and daily life in this wonderful country dancing on pins and needles.Sigfus lives in Reykjavik and along with as many as one third of Icelanders lost some or all of their savings and pensions overnight. They see their proud island nation now coming under the austere hand of the International Monetary Fund, and the death of their proud currency, the Icelandic Kronur, imminent. People who work in Iceland in conventional jobs, bank tellers, bus drivers, hotel staff find the value of their wages declining by the day; inflation will take its inevitable toll, and with an economy as small as Iceland’s it will be a very hard process for everyone. No cash, banks frozen, savings gone and prices of all imported goods (which in Iceland means everything but fish and geothermal energy) rising faster than one can imagine, forms a very distressing future.I have known Caetano for over forty years; he lives in a small town in Portugal and has sunk his savings, time and soul into his business, the Restaurant Mare in Sesimbra, some thirty miles from Lisbon. The Portuguese economy was fuelled for years by the intoxicating combination of the Euro and reconstruction funds from their European Union membership. For years external cash and the inevitable rivers of credit coursed through the country’s economic veins. And then it stopped; almost overnight credit ran out some two years ago as repayments became seriously overdue. The local market for evening diners waned, and only the foreigners remained; now this market is fading fast, and Caetano’s hopes and dreams lie dimming.While we look at the world’s economic woes and think of the opportunities now for "cheap" travel, we must remember that the drop in prices that so attract us are being paid for by many others whose lives have been so rudely interrupted by these global events. For every privilege in life there is a counter-balancing responsibility; there is a yin for every yang.In this case, it appears, our privilege is being paid for by many innocent victims of this economic and territorial tsunami.
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