Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Remembering the Fires and Environment

So while Greece remembers the events that occurred over 50 years ago, short term memory loss means that we are forgetting what has happened only a few months ago. Of course short term memory loss can be fought if people try to remind each other of these events. AmericaninAthens has provided an excellent environmental wrap up of last month.

Also doing the rounds is an email alerting people to a recent EU vote in parliament. Parliament voted that the forested areas in the Mediterranean which suffered from the fires should be protected and allowed to regrow. All countries in the Med voted in favour, all except one party from Greece. New Democracy members voted according to their party line, not their conscience and stated that they voted against the regrowth bill because, according to the email, Rousopoulos said 'it is a violation of Greek constitution, particularly article 24. i have mentioned before article 24 which is a toothless article meant to protect the environment, though never enforced. So if the EU bill says protect the environment, and article 24 the same, how can they be in conflict?

The answer is simple. They are not. The government is playing the Nationalism card. It is trying to hide its disgusting actions behind the Greek flag. "What are you in favour of, an EU bill or the Greek constitution?"

Also mentioned is the fact that over 2000 stremmata (Greek unit of measurement) of the Zaharo village, where people died from the fires have been signed over to tourism development. Apparently the plans were already signed off during New Democracy's initial term according to some people. Of course these people may only be saying that to cast doubt and suspicion on the PM Karamanlis who supposedly signed it when he was also acting as minister of culture. If its a lie then that would be atrocious, if true however...

There is an online petition to support the reforestation at www.petitiononline.com/forestgr/
and there is also a website which shows where the parties vote in the EU with regard to the environment at http://www.foeeurope.org/euvotewatch/. Which is also interesting as it shows that New Democracy has consistently voted against the environment. The Communists largely abstain or are in favour, while SYRIZA and PASOK vote in favour of the environment. Interesting tool as it also includes emails of the parliamentarians so you can have your say. Which is one way to act if you want to see change.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Remembering 28th October

Last Sunday was 28th of October, and it is a national holiday here in Greece. For those who don't know, on that day Greece commemorates the famous declaration by Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas who said Ochi (No) to Italian demands to let Italian forces pass through and occupy certain sites in Greece.

This event marked Greece's entry into WW2. From being a neutral observer, Greece joined the side of the Allies and provided them with the first victory against the Axis powers. This is remembered through military style parades. In fact it appears, through a rough search, that Greece is one of the few 'western' countries to have student military parades.
It appears that student parades were very popular in totalitarian countries before the war. Nowadays military-style parades are still held here in Greece, China, North Korea, Iran and Turkmenistan. Of course, upon noticing the company, debate has begun here in Greece over whether we should still have these parades. What gets me is that we are missing the point, and the debate should not be focusing on the parade as such. What should be debated is 'How well are we remembering the sacrifices made during WW2'.

TV made a point of questioning the children on the significance of the day. Some knew, some didn't. Of course you will always find children who don't know but there is a greater lack of understanding on the Italian role in WW2. Everyone knows about the atrocities of the Germans. Its undeniable. In fact the first who recognise it are the Germans themselves.
Japanese atrocities are known to a lesser extent. Some people may have heard about the massacre at Nanking. Or about Unit 731, a covert biological research unit which experimented on 10,000 people in the most brutal and grotesque ways imaginable. Japanese people are mostly unaware of these facts.

The Italians on the other hand seem to have gotten off scott free from their shady history. Before their invasion of Greece, they were guilty of equally disturbing atrocities in Abyssinia. In fact they were also guilty of deliberately targeting the Red Cross with mustard gas, such was their flagrant disregard for humanity.

Instead our image of Italian involvement in WW2 involved peaceful, mandolin strumming soldiers who want to make love not war. We do not hear about the internment camps in Yugoslavia where tens of thousands of Yugoslavs were starved to death. The torture and rape of Greek civilians. We are not informed about civilians who were killed with boiling oil, or that Italy refused to pay reparations after the war if charges were laid against the people responsible for such heinous acts.

So what, i hear you say. Well memorial days are there to remind us what our forefathers fought for. They fought for liberty, and for the freedoms we now take for granted. They fought against a fascist regime that wanted to put an end to such freedoms. And if we forget this, then it becomes all the more easier for modern parties to start taking away these freedoms.
Italy has never had to come to terms with its fascist past. Which is why we had Silvio Berloscuni insult a German MEP saying "Mr Schulz, I know a movie-producer in Italy who is making a movie about Nazi concentration camps. I will suggest you to play the role of a Kapo. You are perfect!" Despite the fact that he was leading a party which included the successor of the Italian Fascist party. Now in Italy, the Socialist government wants to pull the reins on the Internet and blogging. The law, as i am told will seriously restrict what and which people can talk about on the Internet.

These things of course are easier to do when a culture forgets its history. And that is what memorial days should really be about, remembering these warning from history.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Constructive criticism of Greece: Members Only!

So there you are, sitting around with your friends at a cafe and the conversation turns to the state of a) Greek roads, b) Hospitals, c) Politics, d) Insert Other, and everyone in the group starts to add their horror story... "20 minutes in traffic... thats nothing, i ran over five potholes in a row and was stuck in traffic for 50 minutes" And if you're a foreigner or a Greek from abroad, poor naive you, not wanting to be left out of the conversation you add your story to everybody else's. Big Mistake!

All of a sudden you find yourself in the middle of a maelstrom of accusations. "But things are worse in (insert your country of origin here) I know. (insert problem area here) are worse there" Or some third country gets dragged in and accused of being worse. Which is why I want to travel to Uganda one day, and find out if things are really bad as they claim. But i suppose that would be unfair seeing as one is a third world country and Greece is first world with all the benefits of EU funding.

In the meantime, while you are listening to all this, somewhere in the back of your head you're saying to yourself "but all i did was agree with them, they started it". But of course who started it has nothing to do with it. Nor do the facts, because while everyone in Greece recognises, for example, the roads are in desperate need of maintenance or that things need to change in (insert problem area), its not for you, the outsider to say.

The average Greek raised here seems to operate on the assumption that Greece is just an extension of their family, and therefore, we don't mention the family's faults and shortcomings to outsiders. And they also assume that if they don't mention it, well, no one will find out how bad the roads are. So its fine to talk about our problems amongst ourselves, but no problems exist when talking to outsiders.

Of course i have to note that some 'outsiders', as well as some Greeks, base their criticism simply from a position of elitism. You know the kind of people, the ones who compare Greek taxi's to limo services. With those guys, yeah i too want them to be quiet, because they don't offer constructive criticism, all they want to do is show off.

But of course i am not talking about those few. I am talking about the average person, who decided that they wanted to live in Greece, and they too want to see Greece enjoy the same luxuries that other countries have, such as good roads. And when it comes to these people i would like to see them being able to share in these conversations like equals, and not being brow beaten because they spent their youth in another country. Till that happens however, if you are an 'outsider' all i can say is, be prepared. No it doesn't always make sense, but as they say here, Min to psahneis (dont look for it).

Monday, October 22, 2007

On Clean beaches and the future of Greece

Ok, my penultimate post has of course caused some confusion. And i find myself coming under fire for a) Trying to ruin the tourism market of Greece, or b) Exaggerating the situation in Greece when it comes to the clean beaches. So i will try to clear things up.

The fact is that the the natural coastal environment from Spain, France to Italy has to a large extent been destroyed by rapid urbanisation and especially a policy of attracting tourists through the building of houses and resorts on the beach. In the face of this limited competition, Greece does have some of the best beaches in the Med and the world.

However. And this is the point i wanted to make, if we do what the other countries did, and follow this governments policy of building on beaches, we will destroy them just like the other countries have with their beaches. Its not rocket science. Sure, now, the beaches are nice, but if we continue along our current path... And the problem is i dont see any measures in place to protect the environment. And the government is furiously promoting property tourism, while i don't see any other economic development policies such as an IT policy for example.

Anyway here are some links for you
Mediterranean Basin on brink of ruin
Mediterranean faces ruin

Friday, October 19, 2007

Become a famous blogger

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.



From:
http://www.weblogcartoons.com/

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Joni Mitchell is back!

For those of you who don't know, Joni Mitchell is a Canadian singer/songwriter. Perhaps her best known song is Big Yellow Taxi, you know it, it goes "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot". If you don't know it, well go out and find it, its worth listening to. Well Joni Mitchell is back with a new album, can't wait to hear it, and I hope its good.

A while ago Bubbles left a comment on how one comes to Greece and expects to see sunshine all the time, but work conditions are such that you hardly step out of the buildings. Another paradox is that you come to Greece expecting clean beaches but according to the latest surveys, these are fast becoming extinct. A recent report by Reuters reveals that Greece's coastline is increasingly being clogged with pollution, mainly as a result from the tourism industry. (another paradox, tourists come for the clean beaches, causing its destruction - but thats ok, they can go back and leave the pollution for us who live here to enjoy). Just 5 km from the city center, the once prestigious beaches of Faliron where all the 'in' crowd would go, is now off limits as a result of the pollution.

Lacking any real economic development plan, the current government is desperately encouraging the holiday home market. Giving jobs to the construction companies and underpaid construction workers (some claim that most are migrants whose situation is exploited and they get paid peanuts). This puts further pressure on the last surviving coastal areas of Greece. In other words, they are paving paradise and putting up holiday homes/apartments.

Last year the Spanish government for the first time demolished an area on its coastline to re-introduce 'Green' areas. If you don't know, from the straights of Gibraltar up to and including Italy, all concrete, completely lacking any natural environment. While Spain has learnt from its mistake and is desperately trying to reverse the situation, Greece now is intent on repeating this mistake. Why, for the cheap and lazy dollar, no plan or thought required, just destroy what nature we have.

So if you want to see the Beaches of Greece, better hurry before they disappear and "they pave paradise and put up a tourist complex..."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Action day: In review

So Blog action day for the environment has been and passed, and was deemed a success in raising the issues facing the planet and the environment. I switched over to watch the special coverage on SKAI, for the most part it was good, but was tinged with traditional Greek sensitivities, namely a fear of self inspection.

I didn't watch it all i admit, but the few blogs it showed, of the local Greek blogs, they showed the state of the environment around the world. Which evoked the question from one of the hosts "Looking at these pictures, Athens isn't doing too badly isn't it?" Another question asked at the guest bloggers on the night was "Can and should everyone in India drive a car" given that the majority of the population there earns less than one US dollar a day, no matter how cheap cars get, its gonna be a hell of a long time before everyone drives a car.

But the problem with those questions is that Greece needs to be asking itself some serious and hard questions of itself! Such as, "can and should everyone in Athens own and drive a car" after all, that's the direction Athens is heading in, how is it going to cope? And instead of looking at the worst around the world, why don't Athenians try to compare themselves to the Best places around the world.

Are We scared? Are we still swept up in nationalism? Are politicians to blame? Our education system... I dont know, but it is about time that we grew up and asked ourselves these tough questions and faced the future. Sure its scary, but ignoring it wont make it go away.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Environmental protection to be stripped away

Currently on the governments hit list is Article 24 of the constitution which sets out the basis for environmental and forest protection in Greece.

The governing party of New Democracy has proposed that Article 24 (together with art. 117.3) be revised, but instead of strengthening it, they want it watered down so much to make it meaningless. In its argument it has stated that the highest court of the land, the Council of State (Sumvoulio tis Epikrateias) and in general the courts often issue restricting decisions with respect to forest areas.

In other words, the courts have ruled against a new project or in favor of the demolition of illegal constructions (afthaireta) in forest areas in favor of forest protection, and this they say jeopardizes the public interest.

It seems that the constitutional reform is aimed at the promotion of projects and interventions in sensitive areas, particularly forested areas, that would go against the established constitutional protection status of these areas.

It has been said that here in Greece there has been a conscious choice of past governments and administrations to deprive administrations the tools, policies and measures that would lead to rational development that would also protect the environment. Currently Greece is devoid of a National Spatial Plan, a National Cadastre (Land Registry) and Forest registry, which would clarify the status of many disputed areas.

To change the constitution and Article 24, 180 of the 300 MPs need to vote on it. Thanks to the governments poor showing it falls well before this number. This of course does not stop it from gathering support from the minor parties, including its old allies the Communists. We wait and see and hope that the correct action is taken.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Industrialists guarding the Forest

Dora Bakoyianni made an interesting speech when she appeared at the UN. Despite what was going on in Greece regarding international relations, she spoke on the environment and its importance and on how something should be done.
Here's a thought for her, how about listening to the people and creating a separate ministry for the Environment.

Greece has lumped the Environment together with Physical planning (read town/city planning) and Public works (read construction - from roads to dams)
. So in effect what we have is a ministry with two different objectives, one is conserving the environment , the other its destruction. The Wolf is guarding the sheep. OK i know that it might make sense, especially if the ministry has a philosophy of Sustainable development, but it doesn't. Tools such as environmental planning and environmental impact statements are not all that common. When they do exist they just pay lip service without doing a thorough job. Golf is considered an environmental achievement because green is created.

The question is, how can a ministry defend both the environment and construction? Its staff must be torn in two. But of course it isn't. One side is sacrificed, and that side is the environment. Case in point is the Ministers illegal house (built outside town planning, so in theory it is a farm - Who said farmers couldn't have two story villas and undercover parking).

Both major parties have advocated for a change in the constitution article which protects the environment. In fact they want to change it to make it illegal to quote protection of the environment as a reason to stop building and construction.
What the Greek government is trying to say with this action is that it is in the greater common good that the environment make way for building projects. Bourdes (rubbish) (Read Arundhati Roy's - The Greater Common Good for an eloquent rebuttal of this attitude).

Since Dora's party is in power, and she is rumoured to be its next leader, i believe she should act on her statements and join in advocating the creation of a separate ministry for the environment, one whose charter is its protection, not its destruction. Or else be labelled a hypocrite like the rest.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Blog Action Day for the Environment

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

Well ok since i have been writing on the environment, i have decided to add my voice (or word) in support of the environment and a better future.

Blog Action Day which is this Saturday October 15th, aims to unite bloggers from around the web and riase the profile of environmental issues. It hopes that every blogger who signs on will post about the environment in their own way and relating to their own topic. So you can be an IT blogger and blog about how IT relates to the environment.

For my part i hope to shed some light on environmental issues here in Greece. Maybe i should start by saying that I am not a Greenie. Environmental concerns took second place behind employment. For me it was far more important that people be employed than looking after the environment. It was only when i came to Greece years ago that i changed.

My parents described to me the Greece they left behind. Fresh water springs in the village and on the road to the next village. Forests full of game where my Grandfather would hunt Minks, foxes, wild boar and wolves. Tree lined streets full of birds chirping.
But when i got here, there were water shortages, wild animals virtually extinct. Forests no more. And the work people were employed in. Electricity from brown coal fired furnaces. Brown coal which is the cheapest and nastiest coal available, guaranteed to give locals breathing disorders and cancer.

So thats when i started thinking about the environment. An environment which has been stolen from me and future generations. Why should a select few, an elite enjoy it where it still exists. Why should these miserable fuddy duddys (elderly) be the only ones to remember the good old days. Why shouldn't I have those memories. Thats when i discovered Sustainable development. Where it isnt an either / or dilemma. As human beings we are smart enough to make decisions where we dont have to sacrifice the environment for a cheap buck.

Anyway, enough said for now, stay tuned, and any questions you have, i will try my best to answer.

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

Monday, October 8, 2007

Greek Fires Revisted

Its worth remembering the past every now and again. So cast your mind back to the fires that raged all across Greece. Remember the Foreign Affairs minister who vaguely blamed 'foreign interests'. Or the Public Order minister who blamed it on 'Asymmetrical threats' (whatever that means. Or what about the minister of the Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works who said... well he didn't say anything, what a smart cookie! And lets not forget the people who took to the streets to say NO to Building on Burnt land. People who were branded as left wing reactionaries and accused of working for the opposition, and therefore to be ignored.

Building has Begun
I wanted to remind you of this because, yes, building has begun!
Here are photo's taken in Parnitha (sent to me by a friend), well whats left of it after the fires. Parnitha is a forest reserve in Greece, and building there is prohibited. I mentioned before that it is illegal to build even within 50 meters of a forest. Following the forest fires, now we know why. Well we do, these builders obviously dont care. And why should they if they are building there in the first place.

Meanwhile the minister of the Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works, Mr Souflias has allegedly been cought building a luxury villa on the hill Anavyssos without a building permit. But since it was outside the town planning zone, does he need one? And by sheer coincidence a new road will be built that way, built coincidently by his ministry.

Meanwhile the brother of the minister of Agriculture has been cought allegedly re-zoning forest land as land intended for building, for an annual fee of course.

And as for me, I am looking for a new place, either to buy or rent. But housing prices are really expensive, hmm, the houses in the pictures look nice. I wonder...

Thursday, October 4, 2007

On Communists and Olympic airlines

People regularly call me a communist here in Greece. Maybe it's because of my liberal views, because I don't do my cross whenever I pass a church or because I abhor the military dictatorship which is coming back into fashion, whatever the reason that's the reputation I have. And maybe I would be, if only the communist party would stand up for the little guy instead of the entrenched elite.

This article is a case in point. Both the KKE and SYRIZA have given their support to the employees and Unions of Olympic Airways, and once again stated that they would oppose the privatisation of the airline. Olympic Airlines is THE entrenched elite of Greece, an employee there lives like a King (or Queen as the case may be). Both parties stacked the airline with their people, (and some would say employed them through the back door) as well as with people belonging to the small parties to keep them on side. The benefits received by these employees are an anchor on the Greek economy. Every day it operates is a loss making day for Greece as the state run company has not turned a profit in decades. A former minister Theodore Pangalos said "If you love Greece, don't fly Olympic" such is the wound that this company has made.

In a country where the average income is 700 euros a month, retirees of Olympic receive pensions of up to 4000 euros a month. These pensions are available after only 14 years employment and half pensions after 7 years. So a person employed at age 18 can live off a pension from age 32 till they die. And since they don't work, they will live to a ripe old age. Both parties claim that the airline forms a bond with Greeks living abroad. A lie, because all employees receive 15 free tickets a year for them and their relatives. This means that it is hard to pay for a seat because it is quite feasible for the whole plane to be booked with free loaders. (Happened to a colleague who tried flying to Istanbul, the return trip was full of Olympic staff that had flown over to their grocery shopping). All employees receive free medical treatment anywhere in the world and only do eight hour shifts (now you know why they change crew in Thailand if you have ever flown it to Australia). Such is their arrogance that one time a pilot landed in Thessaloniki instead of Athens to make it to wedding, enraging passengers who stormed the cockpit and wouldn't let the pilot leave till he flew them to their scheduled destination.

Unfortunately because both major parties stacked it with superfluous staff, it is one of the largest employers in Greece, and therefore a major voting block in elections. Anyone who dares change the situation could very well lose the election. But because of Olympic, University graduates, cleaners, builders and entrepreneurs find it hard to earn more than the basic 700 euro a month wage. That's because they see over a third of their wage held back in tax, how else to pay for the exorbitant pension plan these guys are on. So in the end, the little guy, who has no political backing that would ensure him a seat in the public service, ends up paying the cost.

And unfortunately, no party is looking out for the little guy, especially not those so called left wing parties who supposedly stand up for the little guy, both of them have turned their back on the people.

I should close by mentioning that the new minister of Transport Kostis Hatzidakis in his maiden speech said that he will enter a dialogue to solve the problem that is Olympic. I, and the rest of Greece hope this is followed up by action and soon.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Will the Minister of Education please stand up

Here in Greece, and especially Athens, i look at the mess around me and i wonder if any of it will ever change. What is needed is strong leadership, someone who is willing to make a stand and do what is right. But all too often leaders are missing and too gutless. An ideal example is what is happening now with the 6th grade school book, and satirised the other night by a popular Greek comedy show called Ellinofrenia.

For well over a year the government fully supported the book and the change in the education system. Even though the party won the election- it decided to change its position yet again (from being against changes when PASOK was in power, to being pro change and then anti change again) and withdraw the book from circulation and stop its distribution to schools, now leaving 6th grade primary school students without books. The reason being - it was too gutless to stand by its decision and instead cave in to what the extreme right wing / racist elements in its party wanted.

Ellinofrenia showed clips sarcastically titled 'The Real minister of Education' which showed the Bishop of Thessaloniki Anthimos declare before the election (coincidentally) "The book will not be distributed" followed then by known extremist Nomarch of Thessaloniki, Mr Psomiades reiterating the comment. And, what he said, happened.

All through the election and its run up, the minister of Education was supporting the book (with the rest of the party too gutless to speak, only to comment, "I am not the minister") the fact is that such decisions are not made in a vacuum, the party had decided to modernise the countries education system and bring it in-line with the EU, and the result was the said school book which has been reviewed and applauded by educators from around the world.
So in private they supported the book, but publicly, well publicly that's another matter.

So even in its moment of glory, having won re-election, the party immediately acceded to demands of the church, extremist elements in its party and extreme right wing party LA.O.S and scrap the book completely.

So who really runs Greece? Do all politicians really deserve the bad name we give them, or are they instead trapped and servile to other elements in the community? I don't know, but i am desperately trying to untangle this mess to make sense of it.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Greek Paradox

Greece is full of paradoxes (is that the correct plural?) so many in fact that in Germany economics students learn about it. How is it they learn that Greece has the lowest wages but import the most Mercedes Benz per capita in Europe, or the most whisky.
How is it that Greeks enjoy the most holidays but work the most hours. Its a paradox, and i witnessed another one on the boat over.

The boat we had taken was scheduled to dock at Rafina, and from there Blue Star Ferries had organised one bus route to Pireaus and another to Pedion tou Ares, anf they can stop and let people off anywhere along the route. Great i thought, but how to find out? Hearing my predicament a friend of the bride took it upon himself to find out for me what the bus route would be and if it would pass by someplace close to home.

So off we went to ask the concierge. "Excuse me" he asked politely "but can you tell me the bus routes will take?" To which the concierge replied "what, do i look like a bus driver to you"
what follwed was a back and forth, polite questioning answered with the utmost rudeness.
Seeing that there was no way he was going to help us find out, he called his mum who went to the bus station to find out for us.

How is it that Greece has some of the MOST kindest people who will go out of their way to help a stranger and a service provider, who's job it is to provide a service to the customer and not treat them with rudeness and threats, doesn't help?
This is just another example of the Greek paradox. Many thanks friend, and as for Blue Star Ferries, i won't forget!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Pirates of Paros

Brief lesson on English usage.
Arghh!!! Here be pirates matey! Arghh! I am so tired! See how flexible the word Arghh can be.

Well my brothers wedding went off without a hitch, well except for the fact that the photographer cancelled last minute and almost every relative and close friends were dragooned into being Photographer for a day (many thanks to Paul! who went above and beyond the call of duty with his excellent photography skills)

The only hitch occurred when it came time to leave the island of Paros, which is gorgeous and well worth the visit, especially if you love beaches and wind surfing. High winds throughout the Aegean meant that scheduled boat trips had to be cancelled for safety reasons. My brother became central control for all the guests as he was trying to get hourly updates as to when the boats would leave. Chaos quickly ensued as travel agencies started giving out their own advice.
Some were told that they could travel with the same ticket "after all" they said "Your boat (for which you have tickets) is trapped in Santorini, when it leaves it will pick you up as normal, but no new tickets can be issued"
Others however were told that they would have to purchase new tickets "after all you missed the boat, you need a new ticket with the new time"

All for naught however as when the boat did arrive the next day, All tickets were cancelled and new ones issued and sold within a couple of hours. To ensure a seat people were encouraged to upgrade to first class. The bride and groom were lucky, thanks to the sacrifice of the brides brother, and got tickets for the first boat out so that they could continue on their way to their shortened honeymoon.

Once on board, the situation in first class resembled "sardines in a can" as three tickets were sold for every seat. Stools were brought out for people to sit in the walkway. Meanwhile in Economy class, the situation resembled Cirque du Soleil, without the glamour as people were performing amazing feats of contortion to fit everyone in and ooze their way past if they wanted to make their way to the toilets or outside deck. Of course this was done to facilitate as many people as possible who had been stranded. I am sure it wasnt done for financial reasons.

Those left behind booked passage on the romantically named Roumilda which was to leave at 16:00. Little before 15:00 however, the brides brother discovered that an extra boat had been sent from Rafina to pick up the stranded. I informed my friends and quickly made my way to the nearest travel agents were i sought to purchase tickets. At first they denied that a boat was coming, once they realised that i knew and wasn't moving, they asked me various questions, "how did you know, Who are you? etc" Then when they saw i had tickets for the Roumilda they said that they couldn't issue me tickets as i already had tickets... I was too tired to move so when they saw that i would just sit there, they decided to sell me the tickets - at a small markup of course (28 euros is a bit off, 30 euros a ticket is a nice round number) , he leaned back, picked up 4 tickets which were lying their and handed them to me.

I shuffled my lifeless feet back to where my parents were eating, and as i sat down i received a call from the friends i had informed about the extra boat. They had been told that the extra boat would arrive in Rafina well after midnight as it would make many stops. Seeing as the Roumilda was scheduled to arrive at 22:00-23:00 they decided to stay with the Roumilda and advised me not to change the tickets.

At that moment, my parents asked me where the blood had gone from my face. I calmly hanged up the phone and told my parents that all was well. What was done was done, i would not go back to the travel agents again. As we got on the boat i noticed how few people were getting on, obviously everyone else had found out how late it would arrive, and i was with the luckless few who hadn't found out. I secretly asked the concierge what time the boat would arrive at Rafina and was shocked and relieved to find out that it would arrive at 22:00! Not the next day as my friends had been told! As the boat made its way through the rough waves, my heaving stomach was consoled by the fact the journey would be over soon.

Meanwhile the Roumilda was late in arriving. This elderly timepiece had obviously seen better days as it limped its way into Paros to pick up the hordes of stranded passages who couldn't find passage on any of the other boats. Survival of the fittest meant that the healthy and strong got seats, which is fine as it meant that old grannies got the seats over all the chain smoking, sun burnt people aged 20-50 (beware their pinches and elbows!) Its passengers suffered immensely from the sea as if Poseidon were re-enacting the trials of Odysseus. The Roumilda, after only a couple of break-downs limped into port well after 2:00 in the morning where it disgorged its dazed and bedraggled passengers.

But as my friend Paul told me, only in Greece, out of all the disorganisation, was a beacon of light as they sent an extra boat to pick up the stranded passengers to help them out. Anywhere else they would have just been told to wait in line for the next available boat once scheduled trips resumed.

Ahhh, isn't it great to be in lovely Athens again! As for me i am quite enraptured with the thought of a wedding in the mountains...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Trapped on Paros

Some times in order to survive Athens it is good to escape the Chaos of Athens every now and again. This time i have escaped to the island of Paros to enjoy the sun, fresh air, the natural beauty and leave my worries, troubles, pollution and traffic behind, all in the company of friends and relatives who have arrived here for the wedding of my brother.

Since i have come here to escape from Athens, why is it now that the boats cant leave for Athens i am all tense? High winds have meant that boats cannot leave the Islands on the return leg for Athens. I suppose there is something else about Athens that makes me want to return to it.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Frappe man strikes back!

Ok i have been a bit tardy updating my blog but at long last i am on holiday in Paros where my brother is getting married, so i have been taking a break from the LCD screen. But geek that i am, i have to update my blog, i think its taking over my brain, need a check up, can i get a prescription from the Dr for this?

Let’s start with a brief round-up of the election here in Greece, as you all know by now, New Democracy won and is continuing its term as government. Despite the cabinet reshuffle however and the news that LAOS is in parliament, the doubling of KKE's representation in parliament etc, the biggest news here is PASOK's poor showing in the election and the repercussions this has had in the party.

I suppose this is because PASOK is like a monolith in Greek politics, and has a pervasive presence. Its leader George Papandreou called for new elections for party president. And within a heartbeat, before you could say goodnight, Evangelos Venizelos announced that he would run. The party is currently dividing itself between the two camps and is debating how and when the new elections should take place.
As a result, no one seems to care who the new cabinet is, who is out and who is in. The way things look, Prime Minister Karamanlis could do anything he likes and no one would take notice. Who cares about the government of Greece, PASOK is tearing itself apart!

And of course, amidst this time of confusion, Frappe man has a struck again!

Frappe man is a bit of a character in Greek life. He has made it a point to pour Frappe (a Greek invention – instant coffee, whipped up to a thick concoction and drunk cold) on politicians he believes are doing a below than average job. His colourful career started when he poured frappe on the then Education Minister Arsenis (PASOK) as an act of protest at the state of the education system (an opinion shared by many). He continued by targeting other ministers, changing his MO a couple of times to water or eggs, depending on what his feeling was towards the minister/victim/incompetent fool.

This time his target is the party challenger, Venizelos. Catching the police, and security detail by surprise, he poured the frappe on Venizelos’ jacket, before being subdued. Rightly or wrongly, there is always a nice feeling when a politician gets dirtied by an average citizen. Politics is after all a dirty game, and who said that it was a game just for politicians. Venizelos immediately blamed the dark Papandreou forces for this attack, and is pressing charges for this outrageous attack against his self and life. Instead of shrugging it off, he has blown this out of all proportion.
Its politicians like this who take themselves a bit too seriously that make the average citizen want to take them down a notch, or worse, that led to the low voter turn out, which was something like 30%, a percentage greater that what KKE got. Their pomposity and self importance has distanced themselves from the voter, perhaps any party wishing to win should listen to frappe man, a person who is just expressing his angst and desperation in the only way he could. Politicians need to get closer to their roots, the people they are supposed to represent.

I think frappe man spoke for many Greeks.
Hmm Ten thousand people take to the streets over the environment and get a front page here and there, one man and a frappe get hours on TV, and is in almost every paper… hmmm
I am off to order another frappe now…

Monday, September 17, 2007

Small parties sweep

Yesterdays election results is set to change the way politics are done, we hope. While New Democracy is set to govern, the small parties of Greece took a sizable chunk of the votes.
SYRIZA which barely scraped in last election came in well above the 3% minimum, as did LAOS and of course the KKE which increased its size in parliament.

Of course the biggest loser is PASOK which saw its worst result since 1977. That is currently taking the headlines at the moment. But all parties shoulld take note from this result as it showed a huge retreat from the large parties and a huge number of people who did not vote at all.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

SYRIZA - Because we got tired spelling it out

Election Day is fast approaching so i am trying to wrap up the party brief. And SYRIZA, next up is one of the hardest i have had to describe, basically because i am still trying to figure out what they stand for. Lets just give them the benefit of the doubt and just say i am lazy. But lets go with what we know.

SYRIZA stands for the 'Synaspismos tis Rizospastikis Aristeras' or the Coalition of the Radical Left, which was born in 2004. It is actually the rebirth of the Synaspismos tes Aristerás ion Kineáton kai tes Oikologías or Synaspismos for short. In short throughout its various phases it is a coalition of the various left wing parties of Greece, and at one stage included the KKE, before it split off taking a huge chunk of the voters with it. At previous elections it just managed to muster over the 3% cut off point needed to get into parliament, this elections thanks to the fires it may do better.

As part of its rebirth (with a snazzy name SYRIZA - bit like Kentucky Fried Chicken becoming KFC) it has proceeded with the largest reshuffle of its candidates. It now features 80% new candidates - people who not only have never run for re-election but who are young. In the last mayoral election its young candidate Tsipras recieved a suprise percentage of the vote. What was suprising is that he only recieved little media coverage. From what i understand they are concerned with the environment (one of the parties in the coalition is the Ecological Intervention party) as well as of course, Student issues. During the student protests they automatically sent lawyers out to defend their rights. Now, while abuses occured on the side of the police, abuses were also made by students, who i believe violated the spirit of University immunity. (by throwing petrol bombs at police and then running into University where police cannot enter)

Now people are telling me that a vote for them is a vote for PASOK, and thats why they wont be voting for them. Which is strange since i do believe that in its previous reincarnation it formed a coalition with New Democracy, so why isn't it a vote for New Democracy?

Unfortunately the media is not helping me understand what these people are about, by not giving them equal air time with the other parties. So i am confused, should i be happy that young fresh faces are running or concerned that i am not 100% sure what their policies are. For many, it doesn't matter as long as its not one of the big two.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Racism - Guest Post

I have been invited to write every now and again on fellow bloggers site Internations.blogspot
not quite sure what to write i have written a post on two experiences of Racism. The Rise of Australian Racist, Pauline Hanson and the current rise of LAOS in Greece.
Check it out and tell me what you think.

Greece: Here be Communists

That's right, those bogeymen of the cold war still exist here in Greece. Founded in 1918, the KKE (Communist part of Greece) is perhaps the oldest surviving political party in Greece. During WW2 they offered fierce resistance to the invading Germans, following which they were hounded by the successive right wing governments and the military junta. In fact it was only with the election of the PASOK government that communists were able to receive pensions. The party was part of a joint government with New Democracy in 1989 which governed for a few years. Their current slogan is "You might not agree with everything we say, but vote for us anyway to show your displeasure with the top two parties" As a result they dont have a comprehensive political platform.

I am not going to go into what communism is etc, that would just take too long, instead i am going to focus on what it is now. From my unscientific observations of who turns up to their rallies, the party is currently made up of students and those over 60. Those over 60 follow the party so that the sacrifices of their comrades are never forgotten. I also notice that they hand out pamphlets to 15 year olds, and not to me. So they obviously single out students, which is why they seem to primarily focus on education.

They are against any reform to the education system, no private education should exist as education should be free for all. At the same time they complain that the system is a mess. So they don't want the system as it is, nor do they want any changes.

Their Leader Ms Papariga was asked during the debate 'Since you are against private education why did you send your daughter to private schooling (she did not mention that the daughter was sent to private American schooling - Not that there is anything wrong with it, its just that the KKE is so against anything American - whats that word - Hypocrite) to which she replied that the hours didn't suit her, what was she to do, freeze her daughter until the education system got better. All well and good until i remembered my relatives who are entering University. They chose to go to Universities which did not strike. That way they finish school on time and are able to work and help their families all the sooner. Otherwise if they went to an 'elite' school in Athens or Thessaloniki where the Communist student unions are strong, they would have been subjected to strikes which may have delayed their graduation by at least one year, if not three.
Ms Papariga gets to incite the students to strike against changes, to the detriment of their education while at the same time, her daughter studies problem free. (Some pigs are more equal that others).

I should also mention that the party harbours former (what the party calls fascists) trouble makers of the other parties. In Larissa they have on their ticket a major rabble rouser who would start riots in support of the Metropoliti (bishop) who was installed by the Military dictatorship and refused to leave even at the behest of the Holy Synod.

It also offers refuge to Ms Kaneli - another one of those trouble makers who have done the rounds with every political party. Before the last election her magazine almost went bankrupt, but was saved by a mysterious donor. In that magazine she published how George Papandreou was a mummy's boy ruled by the evil dowager (his AMERICAN mum - we all know how evil americans are). She also went on a rampage against his policy to hire Greek-Australians/Norwegians etc to the foreign office "They dont speak Greek in the foreign service" which i thought would be a good thing that the foreign service know a second language, but according to KKE's Kaneli - Thats Evil! She would also go on rampages against the EU (The KKE is against the EU, against admiting Cyprus, Turkey into the EU, had they the power they would have been against Greece entering) and commented that the only reason why Greece is in the Euro is so that the Germans can steal our money. She also commented that Eurovision song winner Paparizou is a bastard mongrel of mixed descent (seeing as she born in Sweden of Greek parents).

If the KKE can have such an evil person in its ranks, it obviously agree's with their policies. Before the fires i would have said that this party harms Greece more than any other party. It surely however insults our intelligence as human beings.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Greek Political Debate without the debate

Thursday, a little past 9pm the Great Political Debate was shown on almost every channel in Greece. It featured the leaders of 6 parties answering the questions of 6 journalists. Missing from the event was the leader of the Filleleutheri party (Liberal party) which does not have an elected official in either the Greek parliament or EU parliament.
No debate was had between the leaders, instead what we saw was a series of parallel questions and answers taking place between the politicians and journalists. All in all it was a major dissapointment. Nothing new was said, no one was pressured on a particular issue, especially since no hard questions were asked.

I am torn between deciding who was the biggest waste of space on the side of the journalists, was it Evangellatos or Liatsou who asked the softest of questions "What would you say to the little girl who asks, what makes a good PM"
What kinda question is that?!!!!! Who said he was a good PM anyway! Why doesn't he ask the little girl! I am sure an average schoolchild could govern more effectually and with more Concern and Justice for the average person than most of the clowns in parliament!

One thing that struck me was that the journalists were represented by 2 women (3 if you include the moderator) and 4 men. On the political side, only one woman! The best questions were asked by Papahelas and Tremi i thought.

I was very impressed with the confidence of the PM Karamanlis when he answered the questions directed at him. Especially when he admitted his own incompetence when he said it took him three years to figure out that checks and balances were needed when dealing with complicated bond investments to make sure that public money slated for pensions wouldn't continue to be lost. Eh... Three years!!! Three YEARS??? But he said it with such a confidence that i felt as though, yeah... he actually accomplished something, then i remember THREE YEARS!!!!

Papandreou was a bit of a dissapointment. Ok, in the previous post I mentioned how he was calm and that the average Greek doesn't want calm. Well you can put me in that camp too. He reminds me of the Australian Labour Leader Kevin Rudd who is also a former diplomat. They have been so indoctrinated to curb their language that they can be a bit too calm. So we saw a calm Papandreou state how New democracy implemented a policy of Blue Windows (hiring and appointing as civil servants only those who voted New Democracy), how ND sacked fire-fighting officials and replaced them with ND voters, leading to the incompetent fire response we saw, how ND is hiding evidence of their corrupt handling of the retirement bonds. All of this delivered in a calm manner. Stick a Pin in this man!! Doesn't he get angry? Shake him someone. Why is he trying to present himself as a serious candidate? He has the CV after all. Come on fight, show us you really want to be PM. (maybe i am too bloodthirsty, is it meant to be a bloodsport?)

The Communist party was represented by Ms Papariga, who was the only lady in the politician camp. Which was a bit unfortunate because she was perhaps the weakest link on the night. She couldn't answer the questions and instead resorted to stock standard replies. When asked if she was living in a sort of Utopia where health care, education etc could be free for all, she replied with "just because it doesnt exist elsewhere doesn't mean we can't do it here" well she does have a point. And how will she do it? Oooh sorry only two questions allowed, gotta move on to the next person.

Alavanos of SYRIZA was a very good speaker, he took the PM to task when he called protesting students as rabble rousing thugs. Unfortunatley the structure of the debate was such that the PM couldn't respond or explain himself as to why he slandered the students in such a way. But i am trying to remember a particular policy they raised... I don't remember, but i do know he spoke passionately. 9 points to him.

Karatzaferis of LAOS, the christian orthodox right party was also a good speaker and it was interesting to note how he hooked his seemingly racist policy of anti-immigration onto statements of ND, particularly those where they alluded to foreigners setting fires in Greece. And he delivered the best line of the night when he answered the question directed at the PM - "What would you say to the little girl who asks, what makes a good PM" He responded with "Be born a Karamanlis or a Papandreou" And with that one line i can see a whole lot votes going his way, irrelevant of what his policies are.

Last on the list was Papathemilis of the Christian Rennaisance party. A former PASOK member and affiliate of ND. The only real reason of his existence in this election is to stop the bleeding of votes from ND to LAOS. He ignored the time limit continously and just droned on and on and on. His biggest achievement was proclaiming that he has been in parliament since 1974 and is therefore the most successfull politician. Someone should tell the person that politics isn't a marathon race, its about doing something for the people... but maybe he does know that and thats why he refers to it as a marathon.

All in all, despite the many and obvious flaws of the so called 'debate' it did give the viewer some insight into the candidates, their policies or their lack of. It would be interesting to find out how many people watched, seeing as it was on every channel. When i stepped onto the balcony there weren't any cars on the road and i could hear the 'debate' coming out of neighbours windows. Which shows that people are interested in politics and debate, which is always a healthy thing.

PASOK: Third way for third leader

Earlier on i started a brief explanation of the political parties, but what with the fires i got sidetracked. So back to the flow.
PASOK is the leading opposition party. Founded in 1974 by the economist Andreas Papandreou who led it to victory in 1981, making it the first socialist government ever to do so since 1924. He led a series of reforms including de-nazifying the military, building schools and hospitals. The only branches he admitted that he couldn't reform was education, police and the judiciary.

The party is now lead by his son George Papandreou. He is trying to continue the reforms implemented by his predecessor and former PM, Mr Simitis. In this way PASOK is similar to the Labour Party of UK and Australia, both of which advocate a Third way in politics, one that realises that global economic integration is a fact but combines it with social responsibility. PASOK differs from ND in that it has a comprehensive policy platform that includes increasing recycling by 100% in 5 years, building drug rehabilitation centres (How DARE he insinuate that some Greeks have drug problems), care for the environment and regional economic regeneration programs. I have not seen such a comprehensive platform in the other parties.

However this shift in thinking has alienated him from traditional voters, those who still expect the role of PASOK is to hire 'their boys' to government postings. Many of those who are vocal against George Papandreou are those in the Greek foreign service. When he was minister he hired many Greek - Somethings (Greek - Canadians / Australians etc) on fixed year contracts based on their knowledge as opposed to making/hiring Permanent staff from within the ranks of PASOK.

And its this shift away from political patronage that has politically harmed George Papandreou and the party. I say harmed him personally because while PASOK was in power, not everyone followed his example and many charges of corruption were levelled at fellow politicians, and was one of the reasons they lost power. But those who were criticised as being corrupt are the ones who remain popular to this day, and should he win their is no guarantee that they will change. It should be mentioned that during the Prime Ministership of Simitis, corruption as measured by Transperency International fell, something that New Democracy has reversed.

The other problem with George Papandreou is the time he spent in exile growing up and being educated in Scandanavia. His policies, the way he talks calmly without hyperbole might be good for Scandanavia and the rest of Europe, but apparently that's not what the people in Greece want to hear, or at least what the media says isn't what people want to hear.
As a result PASOK remains behind in the polls.
However, and many may disagree i do think he has a Vision for Greece that is more in line with some of our more progressed neighbours.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Government bribes its way out of responsibility

Fires are still burning in parts of Greece, but thankfully the government has a plan to stop the fires, its called the Ionian sea. The fires have made their way across the Peloponnese and now only the coast is in its way.

A while ago i mentioned that the New Democracy party is not about fiscal responsibility. Well last week we saw it again in action. The ruling party implemented a financial bail out of those affected by the fires. 3000 euros for those who lost their house, x amount for livestock etc. All well and good but so they can wash their hands of the guilt of not dealing with the fires, no proof was requested when handing out the money. After one day, 24 million euros were handed out, by day two 72 million euros was handed out. By then many local residents were heard complaining because they were seeing non locals receiving money. Since no proof was requested people had come down from all over Greece to receive the money. False Identity cards were being sold for 500 euros and for those who were illiterate, they could purchase the services of someone to write out their application for 250 euros.
New democracy politicians had also set up their own booths and were handing out the money, cementing in the mind of the locals that ND hands out money for nothing.

Of course they could have followed the lead of Germany and allowed the local councils to distrubute the aid, as was done when Germany suffered from the flooding. But they didnt because of two reasons.

  1. They wanted to be associated as the guys who hand out money (like a doting grandmother who hands out cash to her grandchildren).
  2. And they are against the local councils because it was implemented by the PASOK government, and everything they did cant be allowed to succeed.
And that in a nutshell is what the government and party is about. We are the ones who can give you money. Sure its corrupt and many people are benefiting illegally. But its by implicating as many people in this corrupt system that they hope to win, if everyones hands are dirty and is able to benefit somehow, its in their interests to keep these guys in power.
Unfortunately the EU is giving financial aid to Greece, i say unfortunately because without fiscal responsibility this money will be wasted. Maybe tough love would be better, let Greece struggle through this so it can learn from its mistakes. Maybe that way these mistakes won't be repeated.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Hope for Greece

Well a big thanks to everyone who answered the poll and especially to those who wrote in.
Why i did it. Well i wanted to find out what other people thought, as simple as that. As i grow older most of my friends are fixed as are my thoughts and ideas. Therefore, its really easy to just fall into the trap that everyone thinks the same, or sometimes the reverse, that I am the ONLY person thinking like this.

Last Wednesday i went to the public rally in Syntagma square and when i saw the other 10 000 people (twice as many as turned out last time) all dressed in black, i was reassured. No i am not alone. Unfortunately it didn't get much press coverage. Most of the media chose to ignore it again. But i won't let that let me down.

And thanks to the people who wrote in, because i made me realise something even more important (see qualitative data IS useful) I realised that no matter what people voted, that everyone voted because they possessed a love of Greece. A love obviously much greater than those who set fire to Greece. And yes we can be disapproving and still love Greece. Maybe its like the love of parents who discipline their children. They only do it because they love them and want them to reach their full potential. And that is what i saw in the comments, people want Greece to be all that she can be. Yes it is a shame some people out there disagree and want to turn Greece into a miserable place all concrete. But if the will of the people of those who turned out to the rally is anything to go by, that won't happen soon.

Hmm and that ethics tourism is something to look into...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

New Poll

I have decided to change tact today. I really want to find out what impact these fires have hade on the Greece's image. I would love to do a detailed and comprehensive survey, but that is just not practical. So instead i am asking a simple question

"Do you believe the recent fires have harmed the image of Greece."

However a close friend would hassle me if i did not cover the qualitative aspect as well. So i would also appreciate it if you could leave a comment here and tell me "how and in what way your perception of Greece has changed" basically explaining why you voted the way you did.
It would also be great if you could include where you are from. Basically i just think its really great finding out where my readers are from :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Protecting the environment - A government Responsibility

This man is the Prime Minister of Greece, Kostas Karamanlis, nephew of former PM and President Costas Karamanlis. In one of his speeches soon after coming to power three years ago he proclaimed
"We have inherited a government in ashes"
I wonder what he is feeling now, now that he has turned Greece into ashes.

During his three year term this man has been actively trying to change article 24 of the Greek constitution which states that the government has a responsibility to protect the environment and bans the re-zoning of the environment except under certain conditions (click here for article in Greek) He and his government wants to make it easier for construction companies to build in environmentaly protected areas. Just last month in the middle of those fires the government legalised illegal houses built on burnt land. A property developers dream. The BBC interviewed the president of the Hellenic Property Federation, Stratos Paradias who is trying to counter public wisdom that property developers are behind the fires "That's absolutely nonsense, this allegation, because if there is a company which wants to get its hands on some piece of land, to burn this land is the worst way to do it. Once a forest is burnt, according to our constitution, within three months the Forestry Service is obliged to pass a decree according to which this land is reforested."

Yeah right. This government, as proven by the fires, have been absent in the enforcement of these laws, which is not only lax, but non-existent in Greece! The trouble with Karamanlis and Paradias is that they think that they are so smart, everyone else is stupid and no one will know. They are the stupid ones, a WHOLE WORLD is watching this and is expecting Greece to clean up its act.

Nikos Charalambides, director of Greenpeace in Greece placed the blame at the feet of those responsible "the biggest arsonist is the state, which has not clarified the use of land, leaving suburban forests vulnerable to rogue developers. The lack of a national land registry and national zoning laws leave room for doubt about the characterization of land, whether it is forest or not" more elequently than i could ever have, basically because i am angry at these people.

These reports are also repeated on SKY News UK and CNN. For some reason this isn't getting airplay on Greek Media. Do they want to build on this land too? Are their interests at stake? I dont care anymore, the truth however needs to be said.
“The first job of a true patriot is to question the Government”
~Thomas Jefferson


Monday, August 27, 2007

Protests to be organised



















Protests have been organised for today and Wednesday. Todays protest is organised by the United Anti-Capatilist Left, at 19:00 at the ProPylaia - which is in front of the Old university (Panepistimiou) opposite Korai Square... actually the Panepistimou exit of the Metro. Their chant 'To stop the Murderous Arsonists' No to the removal of protection of forests.
Wednesdays protest i believe is organised by bloggers. (can someone help me verify this) at 19:00 at Syntagma square.

Meanwhile Greenpeace Greece has estimated 500,000 acres (200,000 hectares) of the country's forests and vegetation have been wiped out in this summer's fires.
Nikos Haralambidis, director of the environmental campaign group, has been quoted as saying...

``The government shouldn't take arsonists as an excuse,'' Haralambidis said. ``There was no proper coordination to extinguish the flames.''

Here are some links to see what other blogs are saying on the fires...

http://americaninathens.wordpress.com/

http://kassandrapoised.blogspot.com/

http://ellasdevil.blogspot.com/

Why fight fires when you can shift the blame


Today's edition of Eleutheri Ora has as its headlines "Olympic champions of incompetence and irresponsibility" in reference to the Government ineptitude we have been watching these past few days.

Don't worry if your village is on fire, if you're loved one has been burnt to death, after three days of inaction the government has finally leapt into action with a fervor. After hours of brainstorming they have compiled an impressive list of who is to blame for the fires. Instead of organising a comprehensive response to the fires, they are busy trying to cover their own backsides to wash their bloody hands of the guilt they have.

The government has not named any groups but are heavily hinting at the opposition parties. Here is a list of the groups they are trying to blame through proxies and innuendo:

Anarchists - Urban firebugs who historically only burn government buildings, surrounding areas, Exarhia and politicians homes
Left Wingers - Since no one believed the Anarchists did it, lets broaden the net
PASOK - These bastards might gain from the governments loss, lets throw mud at them and hope it sticks
Americans - If all else fails, Americans are a popular standby to cast blame on, apparently so the conspiracy theory goes, they started it with a new Laser they are testing, in revenge for Greece signing the oil treaty with Russia. Oops... hang on, they are also tourists here, bugger, quickly on to someone else
Freemasons - Seriously, you want us to believe that an old mens club did this! Electric wheelchairs don't go up goat paths!
Jews - can't forget these guys, since we named everybody else, lets see if this will catch, Whats that? They left after WW2? Bugger... who's next we can think of...
Turkey - Yeah these guys, What's that... you want evidence? umm... and lastly
The Shepards are to blame!

Yes thats right, police are investigating the role of shepards in all these fires. They seriously want us to believe that the Shepards of Greece coordinated themselves into lighting these fires? Shepards of Greece Unite, Long live the sheep!

I am in fact heartened by this list, i am heartened because it shows that no one is believing this rubbish, this pack of lies. They are making up names hoping that one will stick. But none of them are sticking because the average person can see through these lies.

And lets say it is true, that the villanous shepards DID do it, WHY did the government DO NOTHING! Why did the assist with the destruction of Greece by DOING NOTHING!
Notice the pattern here... the government DID NOTHING! and that more than anything has gotten the people angry and made them wary of their lies.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

MEDIA BLACKOUT FOR OPPOSITION PARTIES

For some reason a live press conference by PASOK was only shown by 1 out of the 5 channels showing the news. Other small parties, whenever their candidates have appeared have been talked over, that is when they have appeared. Is this how the government and their media lackeys are going to convince the people that they are doing a good job, by silencing debate?

Meanwhile on Alpha the wife of the minister of Communication, a 'journalist' Mara Zacharaia (ethics? conflict of) has gone from happy at the change of subject away from talk about government corruption surrounding the Bonds scandal to despair again. Why is it i cant take her seriously whenever she asks "Why hasn't local government acted to stop the fires" Oh that's right, she's a bottle blonde, that's why i can't take her seriously.

Oh my, she just tried to compair what happened here to Australia. Yet another Idiot! Australia faces fires the size of Greece, and yet has in place an organised structure to deal with it, and when it fails it tries to learn from its mistakes. People are charged with long jail terms for arson and do not reward illegal construction. If Mara doesn't know, she shouldn't talk!

Minister flees as he tries to fool the people

THIS MAN IS A VLAKA (an IDIOT)
The minister of Culture, Mr Voulgarakis proudly called a press conference to announce that the buildings at Ancient Olympia have been saved. Things would have been fine if he ended it there, instead he added "eh and a few little trees were burnt" referring to the ancient trees surrounding the buildings.
He fled the scene chased by a group of enraged citizens.
What is even more tragic is that the local mayor warned the government that the site was in the fire path from Friday 24 August.

Ancient Olympia in Flames




Ancient Olympia is now in flames and are now 200 meters away from the museums and ancient Olympic Stadium, Archaeologists and museum personnel are fighting the fires with buckets and garden hoses. Villages are encircled by flames, police services are still missing and are no where to be seen, leaving villagers in confusion as to which way to escape.





Pictures taken from SKAI TV. A Nation waits with bated breath to see if its culture will be added to the death toll

Greece: Fire Sale, everything must burn!

Greece is in a state of mourning and shock. For the past two days now fires have raged all across Greece, murdering over 50 people and destroying numerous homes and villages. All of the Peloponnese is on fire, threatening ancient Olympia, mystical Arcadia and brave Laconia. Gone are the beautiful beaches of Euboea. Amidst all this death and destruction, the media is trying to put their own rules on place and the government, a positive spin.

That self righteous journalist Terence Kuik on Alter demanded that no politician speak, and shame on any member of the opposition party who uses this tragedy to blame the government, how dare anybody profit from this tragedy, then without skipping a beat, he added We will tell you now which villages are threatened by the fires, but first a commercial, stay tuned. Obviously benefiting on the pain and suffering of others is a monopoly only for journalists like himself.

Another Idiot journalist stated 'A tragedy of this magnitude could not have been foreseen so lets not blame the government' Why did he LIE so blatantly? The media and government are desperately trying not to blame the government.
I am SICK AND TIRED of incompetent journalists refusing to tell the truth for fear of being critical of the government. They are so incompetent, they believe that being balanced means blaming the previous government as well. So you hear on TV the inevitable response to the charge that the response to the fires were uncoordinated 'And the previous government was just as bad'. That is NO answer! That is NO justification for what happened. We need to be mature, not kindergarten children, and Deal with the here and NOW.
FACT: We had a CHANGE of government because the people wanted a CHANGE, if they wanted the same, they would have kept the same.
FACT: A response to just such a tragedy had been planned for in the run up to the 2004 Olympics. Therefore the government and response teams knew EXACTLY what they should be doing!
FACT: The government removed professional emergency response leaders who were familiar with this plan,
Their replacements are OBVIOUSLY INCOMPETENT. (Are they also just political appointees?)
FACT: Professional emergency response leaders who were waiting to be called were ignored by the government, exacerbating the tragedy.
FACT: THIS is EXACTLY what the people were protesting against months ago. They knew that if the government did not charge anybody with arson and banned all building on burnt ground that this would continue.
FACT: The Government ENCOURAGED the continued arson attacks by bringing illegal building into the city planning.
FACT: The Government is removing the protection on forests, further encouraging the arsonists
FACT: PEOPLE HAVE DIED because of somebody's incompetence.
FACT: The minister of the Interior was more concerned with hiring 'Agrofilakes' a do nothing job (see previous postings) than hire fire-fighters.

It should be noted that it took the personal appearance of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Works to the devastated areas, and personally kick start an organised response, before them everyone was running around like headless chickens. But it was a response too late.

While journalists are warning opposition parties away from commenting on the death and destruction around us, they are allowing the government to say how well they are dealing with the crisis, apparently the Foreign Minister appeared on BBC to say how everything is under control.
yeah right... great Tourism slogan, oh hang on, what was this years big tourism push, come and purchase land in Greece, what a coincidence...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Out with the old, in with New Democracy

Who/What is New Democracy? Ι start with these guys because they are the governing party and it seems fair that they go first.

New Democracy is the leading conservative party of Greece formed in 1974 by Constantine Karamanlis. He ran on a platform of 'Its either me or Dictatorship', needless to say, he won. It would be a more modern and progressive party than the previous right-wing parties that had gone before. This task was made difficult in that many right-wing politicians from other parties, joined him. As a result the current New Democracy party is formed of an amalgam of right wing ideas and people. You can find former Nazi-Military Dictatorship types as members, people who support the power of the Church in policy making, Pro-King and Anti-King, Free-marketeers, and those who believe that large enterprises should only be run by the government.

The party is now led by the founders Nephew, Constantine Karamanlis. (Greek politics are a family affair, more on that later) As far as policies are concerned, ND is not similar to the Tories of the UK, the Republicans of the USA or the Liberals of Australia, but more akin to the Christian Democrats of Italy prior to Berlusconi. It believes in a Paternalistic government which has a role to play in the economy. This is why it has not liberalised the market or made business any easier for entrepreneurs. It does have a platform of small government but since being elected it has gone on a recruitment binge increasing the size of the civil service, most of whom are 'administrative'. In other words only a few of those do 'actual' work like nurses, doctors, police or ditch diggers.

Despite their slogan 'Power in change' (if i translate correct) more than anything they represent the status quo. 'We will provide jobs to everybody' and 'continue farming the way you always have and we will subsidise you' is what they are saying. They represent a comfortable Greece. No fundamental restructuring of Greece's economy has been implemented by this party even though, one would imagine that being its domain.
That said it has made some courageous decisions. It has appointed a reformer to the head of OTE, one who is actually implementing reforms much to the chagrin of ALL employees, unfortunately change is not happening fast enough to please reformers, nor is it happening across the board in ALL public sectors (eg Olympic airways, other public utilities etc.) It has also tried reforming (more like tweaking) the education system and curriculum.

So which is true you ask how can it be a reformer and for the staus quo? Well its reforms are limited and on the edges, they are not bold and drastic. And bold and drastic changes ARE needed especially if the pension funds are to be saved. These changes have not been forthcoming. I also get the impression that the government is itself embarrassed by these reforms they have made and are distancing themselves from them instead of hoisting them up as an example.

As of this post ND has a lead on the leading opopsition party PASOK of at least 3 percentage points making this party the likely winner. If it does win, there is not much hope that they will make the reforms needed in agriculture, environment, public spending, health, education etc etc, and why should they if the public do not realise the need for change and we can get by the way we always have?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Election distraction

I think this is blog is just turning into a blog on Greece rather than specifically 'How to survive in Athens' which is how i started. After all i haven't written any helpful advice on what to do to survive the summer heat have i?

But recently i noticed a lot of misconceptions surrounding the parties, not only among foreigners living here but also among Greeks, so those from abroad shouldn't feel confused as they witness the election process. And it is easy to get confused, i mean why is the Socialist party always talking about fiscal responsibility? Why are the conservatives talking about increasing the size of the civil service? Surely these talking points are anethema to the respective parties. Well you would be right because they usually are, but to paraphrase the movie 300, this is Greece, and the opposite of what you would expect often occurs.

And this is why Communists hardly mention the average workers, why the Church dabble's in politics in contrast to what happens in other western countries, and so on and so forth. This is why i will attempt to shed some light in the following days on the parties and the elections here in Greece. The benefit to this is that i also have something more to write about, oh joy :)
Of course what i will write will be based purely on viewing their actions and their policies and should not be taken as a definitive guide.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Elections in Greece, the burning question

Schadenfreude - watching illegal villas going up flames.

This sums up my feelings when i saw the villas going up in flames last week in Pendeli. 13 years ago the suburb was the victim of arson, burning huge swaths of forest. Replanting did occur, as did illegal housing. Some of the land was also divvied up to the journalist pension fund, which explains why it was a huge news item when it went up in flames, and why illegal housing is a non news item. Distraught faces wept on TV as they saw their property burn. They also had the audacity to ask for government funds to rebuild. Thats what insurance is for... whats that? Can't get insurance on illegal villa's? You never tried getting insurance... well excuse me for mentioning the obvious, why should elite lawbreakers get my sympathy?

While Pendeli burned the government finally announced the election date, September 16. So from now until then the TV chanels are going to be full of yelling politicians - Woohoo!
Journalists are also waiting expectantly for the official announcement of the campaign slogans.
Who cares about party platform, policy statements or vision statements on the future of Greece, all we care about are the party slogans so we can chant them on the streets like soccer hooligans, which is what Greek elections are like actually.

But they are also fun and many things, such as the true character of Greece and its citizens are revealed in these days, which is why i will be watching expectantly this whole election process.
Already the dirty politics have begun with the governing New Democracy party blaming the PASOK government for setting the fires to divert attention from the election announcement. Oh yes this is going to be a good clean fight!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Election Fever spawns feverish humour

You might have heard the saying "Fact is stranger than fiction", well it appears that this is one of those situations. The Minister of Transport and Communication has released an official press release regarding the timing of the imminent elections - precise date unknown.

Roughly translated it reads;
"You're asking me? Can't you see? Can't you hear? Aren't you listening?
Why are you asking me?"

Fantastic! Thats what i say.
The man is obviously a clown, the question is, "Why is he still there?"

This follows on from a recent law which 'legalises' over 3000 stremmata of land and brings them into the city plan. By legalising these illegal houses and property the government has effectively green lighted continued illegal housing and as a consequence, the burning of forests (and the death and destruction it causes) upon which more illegal houses can be built and eventually legalised. If there are no ramifications for these actions, why shouldn't they continue to burn and build? It's cheaper than being legal.

One point you may have noticed is that they bring these newly legalised property into the city plan. But surely you ask yourself, first comes the plan, then the building. Unfortunately this is not how things generaly work. Buildings go up first and then public services and utilities are taken to the buildings. That's why Athens sometimes appears to be jumbled up. Roads that suddenly narrow from 2 lanes to one half, plots of land that are 40 square meters next to another which is 100. Some roads with footpaths, others with telephone poles. That's all because city planning has not had a chance to be implemented, with the exception of a few suburbs (such as the Olympic village and land set aside for civil servents [judges, military/police officers] etc). All this haphazard building of course raises the cost of public utilities as these haven't been budgeted for, nor planned in the most efficient manner which takes this issues into account.

We may not have the most organised of cities, but at least we have a funny government we can laugh at - thats something to wipe away our tears.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Amorous Athens in August - An attempt at alliteration

August has arrived and Athens is truly lovely at this time of year. For the most part of the year Athens is very hectic, and on average you should estimate at least 50 minutes driving time to go anywhere and expect to be stuck in traffic and not find a seat at your destination. In August however, Athens really changes.

I still remember my first August in Athens. I was walking down Kolonaki and there was this strange noise, i looked around, nothing. I continued walking and there it was again, then i realised, it was the sound of my footsteps! I could even hear birds chirping in the trees and antennas. I could actually smell the trees and believe it or not, the air was without pollution!
I walked up Lycabettus hill and looked across a sprawling Athens and the sky was so clear i could see for miles. The other day i went to visit a friend in Glyfada and a trip that usually takes 45 minutes, i did in 15 minutes! Oh joy of joys.

In the month of August when at least half the population has left, you truly realise how beautiful this city is, and, how small it is. The distances are not so great to go from one part to another, its just the traffic that makes everything so long and seem distant. With most people gone, parking is so easy. Heck you can even walk on the footpath without having to dodge parked cars and motorbikes zooming by! If you find yourself still in Athens in this month, make the most of it, go to the Acropolis and look over this pollution free city - before the crowds return again.
And as you walk down the streets and see the beautiful sites, maybe like me, you can once again fall in love with this city as you remember why it is we stay in this hectic city and try to survive in Athens.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Being in the Spotlight: The Greek Paradox

I found a couple of interesting sites the other day all thanks to an article in e-tipos featuring blogs in and about Greece. You can find the English transcript of the article here. Many thanks to California Kat who informed me about the article and who runs the informative 'American in Athens' blog, by far the best site i have ever seen that answers the questions that civil servants won't answer.

As a result of this publicity I have had to clean up this site, make it nice and neat... adding tabs, cleaning up the links (thanks Hans) etc... because now all of a sudden i have visitors :)
If i was true Greek housewife of the old school, this would never have happened.

If you ever step inside any Greek home you will be immediately hit by the smell of chlorine and detergent. Greek homes are always kept in a constant state of cleanliness ever ready to greet guests, be they friends or strangers. When a relative, in-law or friend visits, the house will automatically be graded and the results communicated through a mysterious mothers info hotline 'And would you believe it' a mother would say ' i found dust behind the cabinet, apa pa pa!'. This was annoying as kid as it felt as though i was constantly living in a guest home, oh how i envied the other kids who could do as they liked in their own home.

Despite Greek mothers obsession with chlorine and cleanliness however, the sad truth is that it usually ends where the property ends. Once you step out of the disinfectant zone that is their residence, you find yourself on the public streets of Athens, where cigarette butts, dog/cat food and rubbish bags abound. This reflects a strange dichotomy among Athenians. Ever proud of their personal cleanliness (i am serious, bugs are scared of entering these places) public property is unfortunately treated in some cases as a public dump. No, not all of Athens is like that. Go to the expensive suburbs and you risk being swept up by the cleaning machines.

Its just that there are so many historic and beautiful buildings and even a few parks in Athens that i just wish that they were all taken care of the same way as the inside of private houses were. Now that would be something to brag about.
Maybe we should just privatise these places, give them to Greek mothers and say that the In-laws are coming, now there's an idea...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

How colour clouds perception in Greece

If you want to be able to survive in Athens and Greece in general, you have to understand the role colour plays in everyday society. When i say colour i don't mean how Greeks treat Chinese or Africans. While Greeks attitude to foreigners can certainly be improved, i must admit that foreigners are not treated with the same amount of viciousness that one would see in Australia.

I am talking about the colour of political parties. You might have heard it being said if you live here, 'I don't have a colour' or 'Are you Green?' 'What should i expect from you, you're Blue!'.
Each colour corresponds to a political party, and be extension to a set of political views.
Blue represents the New Democracy Party (don't ask me what happened to the Old democracy)
Green represents the PanHellenic Socialist Movement (No they are not Green because they are environmentalists) .
Red represents the myriad Communist parties that exist such as main KKE (Hellenic Communist Party) as well as the M-L KK (Marxist-Leninist Communist Party, not to be confused with the L-M KK the Leninist Marxist Communist Party).

So for example, the rally to save the forests was 'colourless'. The farmers who came out protesting low subsidies was a Blue-Red protest.

These colours permeate throughout Greek society and espousing one colour or another is seen as a ticket to success. For example, despite efforts to introduce some sort of merit to the hiring process, when New Democracy came to power a few years ago there were media reports that the party faithful had taken to wearing blue ties when attending government job interviews thus declaring their allegiance and securing a job despite their lack of qualifications.
This has led to a pityable culture where party faithfullness is more important than merit. And with one third of the workforce employed by the government, many see the only way of getting a job is by entering this culture, despite their initial reticence and disgust at such a system.

And such a disgust does exist and i see and hear it when i talk to people, especially the young and idealistic people. Some get bitter at being turned back and rejected that they enter it and a few others embrace it from the beginning.

You can survive without any colour in Greece, but it is a difficult road. So if you are living here and are trying to survive without a colour, i commend your efforts for not taking the easy road. But if you have succumbed after a struggle, there is no shame because, employment does have its rewards.