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

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


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.