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...

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


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

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...