Thursday, June 14, 2012

Remembering Greece's multicultural heritage

My last post was a bit depressing I must admit. But as I have said before Greece is an addict and has to hit rock bottom so it can admit it has a problem. Once it has admitted its problem, then and only then can it begin to tackle the problems that brought it to this juncture.

Which is why, with everything I see around me I will not let things get me down, and most Greeks (except Unionists and Civil servants) are getting on their feet and are willing to work things over again to make things better... I think these lyrics best sum it up.

"If we have come to the world then we have to live
If our life is poison so we have to drink it
After falling again and again in our troubles we will keep doing it till we get it right"

These lyrics come from the movie Mother India.

My reason for selecting these lyrics of course lies in the fact that I am a sneaky bastard and I wanted to segue onto another subject - racism / nationalism in Greece.

A lot has been said about the Nazi party Golden Dawn which entered parliament in the last election and looks set to enter again. Many are pointing to this as evidence of a rise in racism in Greece. The sad fact is that they don't have a monopoly on this.

The communists (KKE party) in a recent argument said the only difference between Hitler's treatment of the Jews and Stalin's treatment of them is that Stalin was justified in his actions.

People are spreading a fear campaign against SYRIZA - which does have a platform of giving rights/shelter/protection/treating foreigners like human beings for migrants - saying that if they win all the Indian and Pakistani migrants will get Greek citizenship and Greece will change its colour.
At the same time people in SYRIZA blame the crisis on the Jews and its leader Tsipras openly discusses with former New Democracy MP and musician Mikis Theodorakis over the cause of the crisis. Theodorakis has not been shy to say that Jews "are at the root of evil." Or claim that American Jews are behind the crisis.

PASOK included Pirros Dimas - Olympic Athlete born in Albania - at the head of its election ticket. The smear campaign is that if they are elected they will make Albanians Greeks!
At the same time however former PM George Papandreau blames the crisis on those bankers who control the world (you know who they are). His speech writer, Yiannis Varoufakis has been cautioned in Australia for his anti-semitism and also blames the crisis and those people who control the world's economy.

New Democracy, well it just associates itself with former dictators, torturers (Just like the communist party funny enough) and shelters former LAOS parter members - LAOS used to be the acceptable face of the NAZI party. But since racism is on the rise - lets go with the original.

That said... that said I have to remember that it wasn't always like this. Greece, unlike other countries in Europe during WW2 openly opposed Nazi policy towards the Jews. I remember listening to Mark Mazower talk on the subject and reading from his book Inside Hitler's Greece and me finding out that Greeks helped so many Jews from the Nazis that the Allies actually put a quota on how many could leave. Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens along with the Police chief of Athens and the Mayor of Pireaus saved the lives of many Jews in Athens. The Bishop of Zakynthos apparently even sent a letter to his fellow art student, Adolf Hitler and asked him to spare the lives of the Jews on his island. Whatever the truth, no Germans were sent to round up anyone on the island.

Greece, soon after it gained its independence was also one of the first states to give Jewish people equality under the law.

And as for the current fear of Indians and the whole sub-continent in general (Papandreau said that if things continue we would become Indians - apparently he didn't mean it as a compliment. ie that Greece would become a major international player, a BRIC nation, largest democracy, fantastic cricket team, prolific movie studios, and the centre of so many industries I don't have the space to include), well there was a time when everyone in Greece waited eagerly for the next Bollywood film. Musicians would run out and make their own versions of the songs.
In fact so many of Greece's favourite songs have their roots in Bollywood cinema. Songs I thought of as quintessentially Greek are in fact Indian. My father's favourite movies were westerns and Bollywood, in fact they still are. They didn't fear India or Indians back then. It was a place of wealth and wonders, beautiful girls like Mandubhala - a place whose peoples shared the same experiences - throwing of the yoke of imperialism and creating a country from scratch, just like the Greeks from Ottoman rule. A place where, as in all stories, despite the poverty and all the bad things around them, the guy gets the girl - and of course the Bollywood twist is that the country is somehow left better off.

When I see the difference between now and then it confuses me, causes me shame and breaks my heart. But also gives me hope that returning to that state of being welcoming to foreign cultures and people is not that difficult - after all we did it before and we can do it again.

And so I will close on this heart wrenching song -Καρδια μου καημενη - My Poor Heart... sung by Stratos Dionysiou. The Greek version of Duniya Mein Hum Aaye Hain song - Mother India I showed earlier.

PS. The Madhubala song is also a copy of the song Aa Jao Tadapte Hain Armaan - from the movie Awara shown in the link earlier.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Watching Athens die

To be honest, its been hard living in Athens these past few years, and in the past few months a sense of hopelessness has set in.

Two years ago when i was unemployed i had more hope - because i thought that things would change - they had to if Greece was going to get back onto its feet. But no-one wanted that, no-one in power that is.

Going to the supermarket now is a depressing affair. Two years ago the shelves were still stocked with a wide variety of items, 50 cheeses, 17 cereals, and the different juices! Now, things have changed.

The shelves are still stocked. But if you look closer, they are just stocked with more of the same. 10 cheeses instead of 50, 8 cereals instead of 17. Looking inside the shopping trolleys you see more "homebrand" goods. You see a lot of trolleys, especially those of the elderly who still remember depression, and who remember that Feta was the only word for cheese, you see them stocking up on canned goods, rice and pasta, dry milk and even small gas canisters for use in camping stoves which were so popular when i first arrived here in Greece.

In the central square of Syntagma, where before a fountain would gush water all day and night, and lovers would playfully splash water on each other, it now lies green and stagnant, a petri dish for bacteria. The square has still not been repaired from the riots and is a dismal scene.

Where ever i look i see open sores and scabs on the surface of Athens.

But whats worse is that i know Greece still has not hit rock bottom. That there are those who still refuse to change and who are fighting tooth and nail to maintain the status quo and the privileged position of civil servants earning 30 000 euros a month who only got that position for because they voted the right way.

These people are still living in a dream world - while i watch my nightmare unfold before my waking eyes.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Man shoots himself in the head in public square: Athens, Greece

Greece is in a state of shock this morning when it heard the news that an elderly man walked into Athens' Syntagma square - the heart of Athens, sat down on a park bench and calmly drew a gun shooting himself in the head.

Syntagma square situated in front of Parliament House has also been the site of all the protests against the IMF and the Memorandum of Understanding that many see as the source of Greece's current problems. All this a mere hundered meters from the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Development, Competitiveness & Shipping. I can't help but remember that the employees of the Finance Ministry recently rejected the latest PSI agreement which the government insisted would help Greece (only because they couldn't be bothered to do something earlier) so that they can save their extraordinary exhorbitant pension scheme (which is guaranteed by the government anyway) - while low income (read non public sector) pensioners were the first to have their pensions slashed.

Stepping back from the tragedy i cannot say that i am shocked. Living in Athens for as long as i have and having seen what i have seen - this was to be expected. In fact Greece is lucky that it hasn't happened sooner.
At a recent Health Conference organised by Boussias, health care providers from all around Europe gave solutions to Greece's problems in healthcare as well as sounding a warning for potential problems that arise from a crisis. Worldwide, whenever their is a recession suicides have increased. Except in Greece (based on stats up till 2011). Suicides have remained fairly stable and have not shot up as they have done in other countries. Where Greece is similar is less traffic related deaths as the price of petrol increases (close to 2 euros now) and increases to the price of alcohol.

This tragic incident may be the warning bell that the crisis is only really now starting to hit Greeks. Up until now the family safety nets have saved many Greeks hitting rock bottom, but now their savings are nearly empty. Revised tax laws are taxing unemployed families, with no source of income, merely because they are able to pay the rent. Many unemployed are divulging themselves of their cars to save themselves being taxed an assumed income based on the worth of the car. (Your car is a 1.6 litre and valued at 6000 euros therefore to maintain that car you have a valued worth of x amount - pay more tax in addition to road tax, licence fees and insurance. But lets face it for every job that requires a car there are 800 people applying for it, better to give up and save the money for food.) So many are also choosing to live on the streets to avoid more tax.
What was also revealed at the conference was a rise in HIV rates amongst drug users. Health care volunteers who go out on the streets told me that many have purposely shared needles with a known carrier so that they could receive disability pension and receive healthcare. However in 2010 there were reports that as a result of lack of beds for HIV carriers, hospitals would re-categorise them to deny them care.

With politicians refusing to act and intent on looking to the past to lay the blame on someone, the situation in Greece will get worse. This suicide, in so public and so meaningful a place can be interpreted as a message to these politicians to wake up.

While politicians bicker - people and the very country is dying.

This article also appears here

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Can IT help clean Athens?

Here in Athens we are constantly faced with an uphill struggle to merely maintain what we have - to stop Athens from backsliding into a cesspit and maintain a standard of living other countries take for granted. 
Nikos Pitsianis has written an interesting idea on how to link grassroots demands with open-gov, making open government more than a window dressing but an effective reality that would have important positive impact on how we here in Athens live our day to day lives. 

In essence what he proposes is a linking of government tenders and responsibilities, say road maintenance tenders with IT applications that people can download and automatically know who is responsible, from the Minister down to the mayor and the body that is responsible be it public or private. 

Of course getting them to do something is another story altogether, but all to often we here in Athens whenever we complain we are told "I am not responsible" and we are led to on a merry chase - trying to find who is responsible. The lines of responsibility are kept blurry so that nothing gets done - and blame can be apportioned to whoever is the bad guy of the day.

His idea is one step in the right direction that can make our lives easier.

Unfortunately i lack the skills to do anything... Sigh

The interesting article can be read here

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Stiglitz - Still not good enough to work in Greece

Right now, Greece is going through some tumultuous events and the decisions being made now will have important ramifications for generations to come.

For now however I would like to talk about Stiglitz and his presentation. Actually I want to write on the irony of his talk. Over 200 people attended his poorly publicised talk. Only a couple of politicians turned up, one of whom Stefanos Manos is a former politician. So the front rows of around 50 seats were empty as the invited politicians didn’t show up, obviously scared to show their face in public or be seen listening to - what the communists and far left call - “That Jewish Economist”, in a tone that makes one fear for public safety. In the audience there were those who challenged him on a couple of his economic points – and rightly so, but on the whole everyone enjoyed his talk and it was not raided by a Student Union demonstration happening down the road.

The irony lay in the fact that it occurred in a country where he is technically not allowed to work as an economist or university lecturer or is even recognised as an English speaker.

Stiglitz cannot work as an economist because he never completed his 'guild' like training at a Greek University. Only those who graduated economics from a Greek University are recognised. To have his degree recognised as good enough, he has to prove his university exists which may include translating a university handbook into Greek at a price of 1.5 euros a page. Once proven - he can then proceed to get his Degree recognised. If he is lucky he can have it recognised in 2-5 years, and involve ancillary costs of up to 18 000 euros. Then he has to wait from the Economists guild to invite him as a member, once a member he can set up his shingle and head off to work.

Read the rest of the article here

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Up and running again...

Yes this blog is getting back on its feet.

Its been a hectic period - full of ups and downs... and more downs, both for the nation and personally.
So in order to sate your thirst for information, here is an insight from one of Greece's preeminant thinkers, Mr Papagiannidis.

Greek politicians, may they live long, are an especially short-sighted race. As remarkable as they are short-sighted. (Correction: maybe not 'Greeks' in general, but perhaps better defined as Greek residents.)And as a result of their shortsightedness - deeply self-destructive!

Look at how they cried out in response to the capital flight in personal deposits. Let's look at examples of the impact of wild enthusiasm on the one hand, and of pragmatism on the other.

The wild enthusiasm: In comes Theodoros Pangalos sounding alarm bells that the medium term financial plan would not pass into legislature, he describes a situation wherein Greece returns to the drachma, sending people running to the banks to withdraw their money, and the only thing that can stand in their way are the tanks and the armed forces.
Leaving aside the fact that Theo has most probably not seen a soldier, or any kind of military figure up close (hence his notion that they would be protecting beleaguered banks), lets also ignore the fact that the interview was given to Spanish newspaper (hence limited risk that it would be read by the natives), but given his statements, what is one to think, and what did he think would be the outcome of his statements.

The exuberant and quick tempered Theo invited the people to withdraw their deposits and send them abroad, hide them under the bed, buy gold sovereigns, throw them down a well, put them in a bag and head of to Albania or Turkey, do anything to save them.

The rest of the article can be read here.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

will be coming back soon

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Greece vs the Civil service - Let there be blood

For the first time in its modern history the Greek people have won its first fight against the Greek civil service.

Civil servants will see their 13th and 14th monthly pay check cut by 30%. No new civil servants will be hired and their pay will be frozen. (no mention of those civil servants who get 16 monthly paychecks a year, have to investigate more)

While a lot - a whole lot - a gajillion more, needs to be done, the significance of this event shouldn't be underestimated.

The evil selfish forces of the civil service have been a raging behemoth, crushing any who dare oppose it. The dreams of the young in Greece along with the economy have been sacrificed to it to slate its greed and hunger.

The last time anyone tried to limit its greed was during the previous Socialist government under Prime Minister Simitis. Back then the opposition parties - the Conservative party (think Republican Party) and their affiliated Unions (the unions that they directly control - or are controlled by) joined with their traditional allies the Communists (and their unions), used their connections in the media (or simply the media they owned or bribed) and brought over 100 000 people onto the streets to oppose those measures.

If the government back then had the guts to carry on, Greece wouldn't be in such a bad state - still bad, but nowhere near as bad. Sure it would have been a civil war but we wouldn't be where we are now.

Now, the Conservative party have once again joined with Communists - the only difference is that they are now in the midst of this crisis and are morally bankrupt (and more importantly are seen to be) and through force, lies and deception were only able to get a mere 15 000 people onto the streets. Many of those were immigrants - tricked into coming out by the Communist party by telling them that they were protesting in favour of making them Greek citizens. Others from the private sector were just told to come out and protest if they wanted to keep their jobs.

The poor show is a sign that their political power has weakened. So in a way Greece had its El Alamein against the civil service.

The battle of El Alamein did not change the course of the war, but it was the first battle the Allies won against the Germans.

The pay cuts against the civil servants is the first time the civil servants have been asked to do anything for Greece - and Greece won. In the great scheme of things it's a drop of water in what needs to be done. For a start, Civil servants need to begin to work 8 hour days 5 days a week to the public, maybe even get fired for taking a bribe (oh to dream). But a utopia like that cannot happen overnight. I have to be realistic.

The Communists have taken to the streets with their traditional allies the Conservatives and have promised that blood will be spilled by the end of the month. Together these two power bases have a strangle hold on the Education system in Greece as well as the Media. As a result many here in Greece do not truly understand what is going on and only repeat the catchy slogans they are taught in the classroom (university or high school) or the slogans the reporters for rent repeat.

That's where foreign media and pressure is important. Europe has to look over our shoulder - because while the fear of blood being spilled on the streets the temptation is always there to try and avert it. Europe has to ensure that the changes are taking place, and foreign media has to report on it. Greek media is too corrupt to act as any sort of watchdog - It never has and it itself is part of the problem. That's why Foreign media has to do the job that the Greek media is not doing. Already there is a sense by a handful of journalists that things are not as the slogans say they are, that Greece is in the midst of a crisis - a serious one and not like any it has faced before.
This is only because they can see how the foreign media is reporting it.

Foreign media can also help by offering constructive analysis instead of punching out their own jingo-istic analysis. For example when the EU's Barroso comes out and congratulates the leader of the Opposition for what he is doing (opposing the current changes on the table for example), the media can ask him 'Why are you against these changes and a solution to the crisis in Greece' or 'Do you regret the joint public statement you made with your fellow conservative, the PM of Greece, where you came out in favour of Greece using dodgy book keeping - a decision Eurostat and many in Greece were against.'

But i cant ask for a utopia overnight.

I can at least hope that Greece will get through this without bloodshed, unless the blood is that of the civil service.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Greece - the addict of Europe

For those of you who missed it, here is a post from my other blog

Greece - the addict of Europe

Greek statistics. Those two words are now synonymous with false bookkeeping, and in a way epitomises the state of affairs in the Balkans. The past year has seen the Greek economy and its reputation hit rock bottom.

But how did Greece in particular reach this state. In February of 2009 the then Karamanlis government and Economy and Finance Minister Yiannis Papathanassiou, announced that the budget deficit in 2010 would be 'reduced' to 3.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) from a targeted 3.7 percent in 2009. One change of government later the deficit was revealed to be the largest in the euro-zone and projections predict that the deficit will reach 13.7% in 2010.

Read on.

Greek economy - WTF - Its not my fault

Wow. i haven't written in over a year and i still got over 200 hits a month.
How bizzare. I guess its because the Greek economy is making global headlines at the moment.

Economics aside, this crisis is really taking its toll on Greek nationals abroad. The crisis has given rise - once again - to racial stereotypes. Unfortunately not the good ones. The Greeks in Germany have responded to this by writing a letter to the German press.

To be a Greek abroad it seems as though we always have to apologise for the behaviour of Greeks in Greece. Be it the state of the Parthenon, how we burn down our remaining forests to build illegal villas, to the corruption that seeps out of every pore of this country.

Its not our fault!

And as i have written previously - nor is it the average citizens fault.

But it doesn't make it hurt less.

For more on the crisis, and the schizoid economy, click here.