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...