Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas wishes

What is Christmas?
It is tenderness for the past,
Courage for the present,
Hope for the future.
It is a fervent wish that every cup
May overflow with blessings rich and eternal,
And that every path may lead to peace.

Agnes M. Pharo

Athens upheavel - part 2

This morning we heard that people are taking pot-shots at the police. Why is this happening, well the second part of the Why all this is happening lies with the government.

Many on the left disagree with the violence and have come out strongly against it. However many have also created a theory that the government is allowing this violence to occur, to let things get out of hand so that when they do call in the police, or even the army, they can start cracking heads and the people will cheer them on. Yes many people are saying what we need is another dictatorship, and the left is saying this is exactly what the government wants people to think.

However, the simplest reason is the best. And that reason is incompetence. We now know that when the violence started, the Minister of the Interior was at the Bouzoukia, throwing rose petals at the singers. Day Two when Athens was going to hell in a handbasket, he went to see a soccer match. Meanwhile the police where left rudderless and without instruction, except do nothing. Inaction is not an action.

We witnessed exactly the same happen when half of Greece was burning down with the fires. Action only happened when the Minister of Public Works stepped in and started giving orders to the firefighters, police and army. Despite what many think, these services need coordination and the authority to do things, the army cant just decide to come in and bring order, be it riots or fires, orders need to be given.

Just remember, the first act of this Prime Minister in 2004, was to sleep in and miss the Davos Conference. He just forgot to go. While many Greeks make fun of the fact that George Bush managed a failed baseball team etc, Kostas Karamanlis our PM has never worked a day in his life. His first job was being Prime Minister. (oh during his military service his role was to light a candle every day to protect the navy). Other countries usually train their politicians, they get junior ministerial roles, then slowly get more responsibility, a small ministery, then something bigger and then - depending on how good they are a big Ministery, Health, Treasury, Defense, Foreign Affairs, before being chosen for the top job.

Karamanlis went through nothing of the sort. He was chosen because of his name, did nothing to educate himself and then parachuted to the top job. His knowledge of governance and management is zero. And much the same can be said for most of his cabinet, with the exception of Souflias (minister of Public Works and environment - a man who does not want to protect the environment, yet the only one who showed leadership during the fires) Dora Bakoyianni, daughter of Mitsotakis and a couple of others.

Dont get me wrong, No prior experience is not a bad thing in and of itself. What is bad is that Karamanlis has shown no drive to better himself and is more concerned of keeping his work schedule from 10:00-16:00. So the reason why the government acted the way it did, pure and simple - because of incompetence.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Athens upheavel continues

So the civil unrest continues across Greece. Yesterday soccer hooligans attacked the police at the stadium, protesters in my suburb who gathered to show their support to other protesters chased off police and the situation doesnt give any indication that it will end before christmas.
People are just waiting for the holidays which will mean that all protests stop.

And of course your all asking WHY is this all happening. The answer can be summed up by a group of 11 year olds who set fire to their school bus while it was taking them to school.

Why not?

For all you ideologues out their who are trying to pin point a reason, a justification, its easy to attribute what we want to these riots. Since their is no standard bearer behind the riots, this is all the more easier. Sure manifestos were sent out, but in Greece, every high school student has written a manifesto. This is Greece, its part of the norm - 15 years olds talk about the injustices done to them during WW2 and the Dicatorship. They just repeat and speak in the same tones of their elders. And yes, we all want things to have meaning, some deep meaning, we all want to fight injustice and a little bit of us always cheers when we see the little guy fight back and win. But according to the principle of Ockhams Razor, the simplest solution is often the best.

This was brought home to me in a number of ways, one was the burning of the school bus, i mean, everyone else had gotten away with burning things down, why not burn the school bus. (PS. School bus also implies private school so these are not the underprivileged)
Walking past the broken bank stores, i did think, Yeah, serves the bastards right. After all they used to charge me 2 euros for every transaction i did be it depositing money or paying of a credit card, and they continued even after the High Court ruled it illegal. Did i get my money back.. NO!
But as i continued past the looted electronic shops, Why did they target them? Well, the revolution needs laptops to blog the revolution. Ok
The looted Mobile phone shops, well they need to spread the word about the revolution, and the I Phone is cool.
The looted optomitrists, well every revolution needs vision...
The looted 24 hour internet shop, which they came in - kicked out everyone and stole the pc's, they did that because...
The g-store gadget shop next door which sells gadgets, well obviously the rioters were geeks,
How about the newspaper shops which were burnt to the ground? Why were they targetted?
Why were sports stores across Athens looted? They were inspired the Nike logo perhaps?

You see its easy to focus on the fact that banks were smashed 'indicating a dissatisfaction / dissiliusionment with the capitalist system' but a whole lot more were smashed and looted. We saw old grannies picking through stores looking for things to take, youth walking with modded up pc cases underneath their arms, and of course the christmas tree burnt down etc etc etc.

And the easiest and most logical answer as to why this happened is simply, because they could.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Athens riots - A country in fear

As all of Greece is once again in flames and upheaval. It has become quite apparent that this is a a country living in fear. Not fear of the violence, of which that does exist, but that the violence is a result of the fear that exists in Greece.

In many ways, Greece is like a patient suffering from cancer, it knows it has to undergo chemotherapy to survive, but the date for chemotherapy keeps getting postponed. It knows that in the run up it has to avoid certain foods, but they are too good to miss out on, and besides the chemo keeps getting postponed, so one more meal wont hurt. And on and on it goes, and now things are building up to a huge climax.

Case in point, the students who are out on the streets with the support of their teachers are protesting against recognising degrees from other EU countries - something which it has to do, and against allowing foreign universities to come in and review Greece's curriculum and standards of teaching. (This is why you don't see a Greek University in the top 100 Universities to study at). The education system here is a joke, and relies in a large part on party membership to school unions, and not on merit. This is why we have Professors of Theology in University teaching Graphic Design. And because students find themselves being taught inadequate skills, they have to turn to the party system to ensure their future survival. Too much has been invested by so many for them to turn their backs on it.

So yes they do hate the situation, but so many have been abandoned by the education system and so many have found ways to overcome this situation - through corruption - that they cannot afford to leave it.
And so the riots continue, and so the government appeases them and the schizophrenia continues. This is why the Greek government is continuing to hire more people to work at Olympic airlines while simultaneously arranging for its sell-off and ultimate closure before its rebirth. Its stuck in this futile and vicious circle, and the riots allow them to vent off steam.
In the end what will change, have any demands been made? Have any discussions been had?

No, and this is what allows me, you and everyone else to attribute our own beliefs as to the 'why' this is all happening. And in the end, we can all say we were right and move on, i got an illegal house to build now.

Waiting for the Barbarians

Constantine P. Cavafy (1904)

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn't anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city's main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don't our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they're bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people's faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

Constantine Petrou Cavafy
was born in Alexandria on 29 April 1863.

Why this poem, because i believe that there are few things new under the sun and i think this poem really sums up the current goings on here in Greece. But I will allow other more literate than me give their view on the underlying theme of the poem.

"In this cunning, amusing poem, with its punch line that never wears out, the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy penetrates deep into the nature of political life. The atmosphere of civic pride and civic hypocrisy, the mingled air of awe and contempt toward governmental institutions, rings not the bell of cliché but many eerie tintinnabulations: the gongs and chimes of public life, the distinct sounds of what we say, what we know we mean and what we don't know we mean."

--Robert Pinsky

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Christmas tree - Singed not burnt

Ok, apparently they did try to set fire to the Christmas tree once again. But it was put out before the whole thing burnt down.

Clearly this has now become a game lets see who can burn the tree.
What does burning it down serve? Can anyone please explain?

Athens protests - schools out

Yup, week two and the student unions have agreed to continue their strike and not go to school for the second week in a row. This absence from education will continue until the holidays. After which who knows. The only people getting an education are those enrolled in private schools, of course these include the children of politicians. Most famous case was the daughter of the head of the Communist party of Greece who went to American schools for her education.

At the end of which, exams will be changed to reflect the fact that they did not learn all they had to. And look at what they did learn. The protesters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails like girls. Actually that's a bit sexist, i know quite a few girls who can throw a whole lot better than those protesters on the streets. But seriously what do they learn in physical education, they couldnt throw a rock further than ten meters, and some of them threw their projectiles sideways!!! That's worse than atrocious, worse than a girly throw. Sorry, being sexist again.

The education system here isn't the best, and yes they are protesting against the condition, they trash the schools on a regular basis, steal the school pc's, burn tables and there is hardly a public school without graffiti. The teachers dont care, they dont teach, they prefer to clean potatos in class so that they can teach the same children in private tutorials after class. Thats where the money is.

Unfortunately while they both want something to change, they dont want it to change. Becuase as it stands, stupid kids can graduate without having to go to school and follow lessons, and teachers can get a safe wage and good pension for doing nothing free of stress.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Government blood money again the solution

There is much talk about the government pushing ahead with reforms etc. Proof of this lie is the governments response to businesses. Being a so-called 'conservative' party one would assume that their base is the small and medium business owner. But their response in light of the financial crisis and riots puts paid the lie that they support these businesses.

They are throwing money at businesses that have suffered damage from the rioters and are paying unemployment benefits to those left unemployed till February. This is what they did after the fires, which directly lead to the death of many people.
The structural problems however still remain. People are not going to the centre to shop, they are still too afraid. Experts say that consumption in the centre of Athens is down 60%. So now we have the case of those businesses that escaped the rioters are suffering.

And the 'conservative' government is also still holding tightly onto the reins of the market economy.
In the USA, shops have already started sales of up to 70% so that they can increase their cash flow and help them survive this current period where cash flow is restricted. Here in Greece small business owners wanted to do something similar and asked the government to allow them to start sales early. In Greece shops can only have Christmas sales when the government decrees they can, which is scheduled for late January.
The minister for development firmly stated that sales will not be brought forward. Now if i were prone to hyperbole, I would say "what sort of communist state are we living in, is Karamanlis emulating Stalin? But i wont say that. but I will ask "Since when do businesses have to ask the government when they can have sales?"
If my business is going to go bankrupt and i need cash now, why should some government employee, who gets paid through my taxes tell me when i can have a sale. It's my business, heck, it's my livelihood at stake. If I don't get the cash when I need it to pay, oooh lets say government utility bills, no one is going to feel sorry for me, nor will the bank when they come in to sell my business because I can't pay back the loan.

So why does the Economist and the Socialist worker both believe that this is a 'conservative' government that is pushing forward economic reforms?
I don't know. What i do know is that many small and medium businesses will be suffering this Christmas, and as a result, the rest of the Greek economy. But what do the Elites care? They are well insulated in their government jobs, won through party favouritism and affiliation and not on merit. Its easy to strike as a government employee, when the government will guarantee your wages for the duration of the strike. The problem is, as always, that the little guy suffers and structural problems persist.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Athens riots - Foreign Minister insults Police

I happened to be reading the on-line version of Spiegel and i came across an interview with the Greek foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis. Her husband was killed by the terrorist group 17 November, her brother is currently a member of parliament and facing questions regarding the SIEMENS scandal and her father is Kostas Mitsotakis, former prime minister of Greece, and nephew of Eleutherios Venizelos, another Prime Minister of Greece and a prime example of the Elites i keep ranting about. Her father also gets three seperate pensions from the state, so much for 'conservative' ideals of the right - they love state hand-outs as much as the next guy.

Anyway Spiegel asked her why the police acted passively and her response is "The police have not reacted passively, rather they have sought to de-escalate the situation. The government decided that it would rather accept material damage than new casualties and victims."

Ok, now i find that answer hugely insulting to the Greek police force. She is implying that the only way the police know how to respond is by killing and beating up more people? huh?
Come on! No! I refuse to believe that. Yes i know the police are under-trained and under-paid, but i do know that they do get some training, i saw the riot police march on the protesters banging their shields with their clubs and yelling 'move move move'. Now here in Greece not everyone speaks english. Their actions were exactly similar to those of the English police when they move on soccer hooligans, suggesting that they had some external training. Speaking to people within the police force i KNOW that they have had some training, and they do come back hugely dissillusioned, because they realise that there is a whole lot more they can learn and that they have been doing things on their own for so long.

I also know that there were police in the force who did have a plan how to react to the violence.
It has also been reported that the previous chief of police was sacked and replaced with a policeman who voted 'correctly and appropriately'.

But i absolutely refuse to believe Bakoyanni and condemn her for insulting to the whole police force. Just because the government was paralysed and could not make a decision as to how to act, do not blame your governments incompetence on the police force.

And then the biggest lie of all, 'the government is going ahead with its economic reforms'.
WHAT REFORMS! the government came in lowered the tax rate to lawyers and doctors and are now raising it to where it was before. They also increased the tax on the middle class - the only people who pay tax. Corruption has increased, they have loaded more of 'their people' in the public service, and have sat by and watched as the black economy grows, and they even tried to include the black economy in its GDP figures. These are not reforms!!!

But many people only read labels, they see the label Unions and Anarchists and believe that they are connected with the unions of South America which fight for minimum wage and a toilet break, and its leaders frequently 'dissapear' and turn up dead four months later. Or they see 'Conservative' party and believe that they are connected with Neo-liberals, or the Tory party of England or the Republicans of the USA.

No, this is Greece. our conservative party actually has a larger say in the unions than the Communist party. In fact getting into a union as an average worker with no political affiliation is harder to get into than Greece's golf club.
This is our reality. Its our own schizophrenic world where public servants are the Elite and union dockworkers are on a six figure salary in a country where most are on a four figure salary.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Athens riots - I dont agree but...

Commentators all over the news (some call them news anchors or journalists - but they are neither, since instead of reporting facts they just opine) are talking about the riots (not reporting) saying "This is outrageous, but the students have are right when they...".

I am all for understanding the other point of view, through understanding we can stop these events from re-occurring and treat the root cause. But by idolising the vandals and demonising all police do nothing but incite further anger and violence. Worst offender of all was comedian Lazopoulos who hosts a comedy/satire show (in which he portrays a gypsy - so much for his socialist feelings of equality) who, on day 4 urged all students 'Protest - stand against the facsist, stand up for your rights, continue the struggle'.
In Australia he would find himself sanctioned and off the airwaves for inciting violence. I am sure there is law against it, but a law that never applies to the elite. So when my walk through the smashed shops in Kolonaki took me by Jackons Hall, a nightclub/bar owned by Lazopoulos that remained untouched, i had mixed feelings, where is the Karma when you most need it. As i continued on, i passed by another nightclub/bar named after a fruit which was the only bar to be burnt down, according to many, it was also relatively new and had not arranged for 'protection' yet. Small things like this, along with many others reveal the myth behind the protesters and the ensuing violence.

Did you know that Ghandi organised a boycott of English goods so that India could gain independence? Of course he realised that many innocent people would be hurt so he arranged a fund that would help subsidise business that lost income as a result of the boycott. He did this because he did not want innocents to starve to death or be punished as a result of the boycott.

All these instigators of violence, with their high and mighty ideals, with their teenage angst, with all their pent up frustration, all these politicians that jumped on the bandwagon to justify the violence, all these members of the Elite - did they give a thought to all the innocent people that now suffer?
Yes a boy was shot, yes Greece is corrupt, BUT, does that justify kicking people out of their homes because they cant pay the rent? Because that is the reality in which we live. People that are now out of work because their place of employment got burnt down, because their customers wont visit, all these people that now face a future which is unsure, why should they suffer? And don't tell me that the girl who delivers morning coffee to these shops, and is now out of work is part of the elite. And don't try to fool me and tell me that they kicked her out on the street, now jobless, so as to protect her or to 'wake her up' to the capitalist system.

Considering that many students only got into university through corruption i also find it quite hypocritical. But that's the elite in Greece for you.

Athens Riots - Day 10

Day 10 and Athens and the rest of Greece is still a state of flux. While it started in Athens, the rest of Greece is also rioting and shops have been broken and destroyed in Thessaloniki, Patra, Volos and on and on and on.

Walking the main shopping street Ermou on Saturday was a surreal experience. Kudos to the Mayor of Athens, who despite his general incompetence came out on day 4 or 5 and walked the streets of Athens and encouraged citizens to come to the centre. Some did and found themselves trapped in Syntagma Metro station in between Riot police and Rock throwing protesters. So i wasnt too suprised by the fact that there was only a handful of people on the streets shopping. Of course those buildings that had been gutted by fire were not open, but i was suprised by how many other shops were open. The theatre on Alexandras is also open. Bravo i thought to the shop keepers.

Then i passed the traffic lights, but in actual fact its just a pole, lights smashed, colours missing, hanging down useless connected by a wire. Police zooming by on bikes every 5 minutes. Later on i passed by Exarhia, the suburb at the centre of the violence. Its still a no go area. The burning smell of tear gas still hangs in the air, the blockade of rubbish bins on its main streets are still in place, and glass shards still crunch underfoot. About a block away tired firemen take a break at an empty bus station, the trolleys have stopped running through the centre. They make their final stop behind Zappeion park. And the police are on edge, eyeing everybody that goes passed.
Its not healthy, they dont like the impossible position that they have been thrust into. Officially sanctioned to maintain law and order, but ordered to sit by and watch as firemen get beat up as they go to put out fires.

Also missing on the streets are the Council police. On the council payroll these officers are hired to.... er ... write a parking ticket every now and again (but if you know someone, dont worry, they can write it off) and... basically keep unemployement down. Another example of the corruption that is in every pore of this countries government.

Gone is the christmas cheer - the rioters burned the christmas tree on day two of the riots. And now it turns out that at the same time as the the riots were flaring up, the Minister of the Interior and the Education Minister were out at the Bouzoukia and could not respond to the riots. I am not going to make an analogy to Nero, because he didnt play the pipe while Rome burnt, he actually helped and made sure the people were looked after both during and after the fire. All this shows is that, as will all "revolutions" (as many commentators want to call the rioters) its aways the little guy who foots the bill and suffers.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Transparency International HELLAS blames corruption as cause of riots

Transparency International Hellas has laid the blame for the riots at the feet of the level of corruption that exist in Greece. When it comes to corruption, Greece comes in at the Top 5 in Europe. (not on the good end). In 2008 Greece ranked 57, worse of than South Africa (54) or Botswana (36). I mention these two countries because many in Greece constantly put down African countries.

In its press release Transparency International claims that the youth especially have a belief that laws are not being enforced, that no one takes any responsibility, that the education system is sick. It also states that not only is corruption instilled as an everyday fact of life but that it has also become part of the tradition of life.

I am not trying to justify the rioters, but Governments and those with power have to take responsibility for their actions.
When the lawyer of the policeman who fired the shot, comes out before the coroners inquest and declares that the death was a result of a ricochet,
When the lawyer continues and says that in time we will see if the youth should or should not have been shot,
When the policeman were not placed in immediate custody,
When the lawyer for the policeman says that he had to take on the case pro-bono because the previous lawyer asked for a certain 'sum' to be placed in her bank account to get a favourable hearing,

Well you can see why the family of the deceased youth hired their own doctor to witness the autopsy,
You can also understand why people think that corruption is so widespread, and these inflamatory remarks came out recently, after the bulk of the rioting had been done.

Corruption has become so commonplace that no one is ashamed of asking for a bribe, doctors ask it outright, people ask each other, how much did you pay for your degree. And of course this state of affairs would eventually spill out one way or another.

But of course its the little guy who gets hurt, the villas and the shops of the elite are still fine, the poor shop owners took the brunt, the police took a beating as they were ordered by the government to stand by and watch. And in the end, me and a few other guys in greece - the only taxpayers are left to foot the bill for all this.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Athens Burns - In pictures

Here are a few pictures doing the rounds
View of Athens from a balcony

Streets in Exarhia
Firefighters trying to put out the flames

Alexandras in flames as protesters march to Police Station

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Athens cancels Christmas

By now the pictures of the street riots and lootings have gone around the world, back to Greece where journalists are focussing on 'What the rest of the world is saying of us'....
Blame is being thrown around and looting children are being turned into revolutionary heroes.

But would you believe me if i said that this was inevitable? In history class we are taught that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand started WW1. Not that people were distraught and started killing each other because they liked the guy, but that things had been building up to war and all that was needed was a starters pistol to let everyone know that the war had begun.

In Athens the shot fired by the policeman that took the life of the 15 year old was that starters pistol. The government continued its policy of 'wait and see', and 'do nothing unless we have to'. We saw this policy in effect during the fires that burnt half of Greece, during the corruption scandals that continue rock the government and during the current financial crisis. So as the concrete in Athens burnt, the government continued to do nothing. Ordering its police to 'Do nothing, Do not make matters worse, DO NOT arrest anyone and retreat when threatened'.

Meanwhile the Elite in the Teachers Union, went on Strike monday to make their demands against the changes needed to modernise the education system, and threatened their lazy lifestyle. They had won before so they used to death as an excuse to go on strike. Seeing tensions rise, The government gave students till thursday a pass not to go to school, at the same time ordering the police to do nothing but run and let small businesses burn.

Students, children, who have been brought up, looking at their elders and seeing-
A corrupt government system (By that i mean not just one political party that is in power, but including ALL - yes thats right, ALL political parties who have representatives in parliament).
Seeing University Students Stike at the drop of a hat and even medical students who went on strike (and won) to be allowed to pass their first term (because they had missed all of first term because they were on strike.)
Seeing Elite public servants go on strike for better work conditions and winning (work conditions that those in the private sector on dream about.)
Seeing Doctors, Lawyers claim poverty and being taxed as if they only earn 800 euros a month.
Seeing Taxi-drivers and Petrol station owners striking and winning for the right NOT to give reciepts. (they also claim poverty).

Seeing all this, why not do as everyone else? When police are ordered by the Government NOT TO RESTORE ORDER and to IGNORE calls to protect citizens and private property and retreat from the mob. Why should they stop? Why shouldnt they continue?

Meanwhile the government is following a tried and true method, Let the fires burn as they did with the forest fires and evenutally they will burn themselves out, untill then, lets get a good nights sleep.