Thursday, June 14, 2012

Remembering Greece's multicultural heritage

My last post was a bit depressing I must admit. But as I have said before Greece is an addict and has to hit rock bottom so it can admit it has a problem. Once it has admitted its problem, then and only then can it begin to tackle the problems that brought it to this juncture.

Which is why, with everything I see around me I will not let things get me down, and most Greeks (except Unionists and Civil servants) are getting on their feet and are willing to work things over again to make things better... I think these lyrics best sum it up.

"If we have come to the world then we have to live
If our life is poison so we have to drink it
After falling again and again in our troubles we will keep doing it till we get it right"

These lyrics come from the movie Mother India.

My reason for selecting these lyrics of course lies in the fact that I am a sneaky bastard and I wanted to segue onto another subject - racism / nationalism in Greece.

A lot has been said about the Nazi party Golden Dawn which entered parliament in the last election and looks set to enter again. Many are pointing to this as evidence of a rise in racism in Greece. The sad fact is that they don't have a monopoly on this.

The communists (KKE party) in a recent argument said the only difference between Hitler's treatment of the Jews and Stalin's treatment of them is that Stalin was justified in his actions.

People are spreading a fear campaign against SYRIZA - which does have a platform of giving rights/shelter/protection/treating foreigners like human beings for migrants - saying that if they win all the Indian and Pakistani migrants will get Greek citizenship and Greece will change its colour.
At the same time people in SYRIZA blame the crisis on the Jews and its leader Tsipras openly discusses with former New Democracy MP and musician Mikis Theodorakis over the cause of the crisis. Theodorakis has not been shy to say that Jews "are at the root of evil." Or claim that American Jews are behind the crisis.

PASOK included Pirros Dimas - Olympic Athlete born in Albania - at the head of its election ticket. The smear campaign is that if they are elected they will make Albanians Greeks!
At the same time however former PM George Papandreau blames the crisis on those bankers who control the world (you know who they are). His speech writer, Yiannis Varoufakis has been cautioned in Australia for his anti-semitism and also blames the crisis and those people who control the world's economy.

New Democracy, well it just associates itself with former dictators, torturers (Just like the communist party funny enough) and shelters former LAOS parter members - LAOS used to be the acceptable face of the NAZI party. But since racism is on the rise - lets go with the original.

That said... that said I have to remember that it wasn't always like this. Greece, unlike other countries in Europe during WW2 openly opposed Nazi policy towards the Jews. I remember listening to Mark Mazower talk on the subject and reading from his book Inside Hitler's Greece and me finding out that Greeks helped so many Jews from the Nazis that the Allies actually put a quota on how many could leave. Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens along with the Police chief of Athens and the Mayor of Pireaus saved the lives of many Jews in Athens. The Bishop of Zakynthos apparently even sent a letter to his fellow art student, Adolf Hitler and asked him to spare the lives of the Jews on his island. Whatever the truth, no Germans were sent to round up anyone on the island.

Greece, soon after it gained its independence was also one of the first states to give Jewish people equality under the law.

And as for the current fear of Indians and the whole sub-continent in general (Papandreau said that if things continue we would become Indians - apparently he didn't mean it as a compliment. ie that Greece would become a major international player, a BRIC nation, largest democracy, fantastic cricket team, prolific movie studios, and the centre of so many industries I don't have the space to include), well there was a time when everyone in Greece waited eagerly for the next Bollywood film. Musicians would run out and make their own versions of the songs.
In fact so many of Greece's favourite songs have their roots in Bollywood cinema. Songs I thought of as quintessentially Greek are in fact Indian. My father's favourite movies were westerns and Bollywood, in fact they still are. They didn't fear India or Indians back then. It was a place of wealth and wonders, beautiful girls like Mandubhala - a place whose peoples shared the same experiences - throwing of the yoke of imperialism and creating a country from scratch, just like the Greeks from Ottoman rule. A place where, as in all stories, despite the poverty and all the bad things around them, the guy gets the girl - and of course the Bollywood twist is that the country is somehow left better off.

When I see the difference between now and then it confuses me, causes me shame and breaks my heart. But also gives me hope that returning to that state of being welcoming to foreign cultures and people is not that difficult - after all we did it before and we can do it again.

And so I will close on this heart wrenching song -Καρδια μου καημενη - My Poor Heart... sung by Stratos Dionysiou. The Greek version of Duniya Mein Hum Aaye Hain song - Mother India I showed earlier.

PS. The Madhubala song is also a copy of the song Aa Jao Tadapte Hain Armaan - from the movie Awara shown in the link earlier.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Watching Athens die

To be honest, its been hard living in Athens these past few years, and in the past few months a sense of hopelessness has set in.

Two years ago when i was unemployed i had more hope - because i thought that things would change - they had to if Greece was going to get back onto its feet. But no-one wanted that, no-one in power that is.

Going to the supermarket now is a depressing affair. Two years ago the shelves were still stocked with a wide variety of items, 50 cheeses, 17 cereals, and the different juices! Now, things have changed.

The shelves are still stocked. But if you look closer, they are just stocked with more of the same. 10 cheeses instead of 50, 8 cereals instead of 17. Looking inside the shopping trolleys you see more "homebrand" goods. You see a lot of trolleys, especially those of the elderly who still remember depression, and who remember that Feta was the only word for cheese, you see them stocking up on canned goods, rice and pasta, dry milk and even small gas canisters for use in camping stoves which were so popular when i first arrived here in Greece.

In the central square of Syntagma, where before a fountain would gush water all day and night, and lovers would playfully splash water on each other, it now lies green and stagnant, a petri dish for bacteria. The square has still not been repaired from the riots and is a dismal scene.

Where ever i look i see open sores and scabs on the surface of Athens.

But whats worse is that i know Greece still has not hit rock bottom. That there are those who still refuse to change and who are fighting tooth and nail to maintain the status quo and the privileged position of civil servants earning 30 000 euros a month who only got that position for because they voted the right way.

These people are still living in a dream world - while i watch my nightmare unfold before my waking eyes.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Man shoots himself in the head in public square: Athens, Greece

Greece is in a state of shock this morning when it heard the news that an elderly man walked into Athens' Syntagma square - the heart of Athens, sat down on a park bench and calmly drew a gun shooting himself in the head.

Syntagma square situated in front of Parliament House has also been the site of all the protests against the IMF and the Memorandum of Understanding that many see as the source of Greece's current problems. All this a mere hundered meters from the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Development, Competitiveness & Shipping. I can't help but remember that the employees of the Finance Ministry recently rejected the latest PSI agreement which the government insisted would help Greece (only because they couldn't be bothered to do something earlier) so that they can save their extraordinary exhorbitant pension scheme (which is guaranteed by the government anyway) - while low income (read non public sector) pensioners were the first to have their pensions slashed.

Stepping back from the tragedy i cannot say that i am shocked. Living in Athens for as long as i have and having seen what i have seen - this was to be expected. In fact Greece is lucky that it hasn't happened sooner.
At a recent Health Conference organised by Boussias, health care providers from all around Europe gave solutions to Greece's problems in healthcare as well as sounding a warning for potential problems that arise from a crisis. Worldwide, whenever their is a recession suicides have increased. Except in Greece (based on stats up till 2011). Suicides have remained fairly stable and have not shot up as they have done in other countries. Where Greece is similar is less traffic related deaths as the price of petrol increases (close to 2 euros now) and increases to the price of alcohol.

This tragic incident may be the warning bell that the crisis is only really now starting to hit Greeks. Up until now the family safety nets have saved many Greeks hitting rock bottom, but now their savings are nearly empty. Revised tax laws are taxing unemployed families, with no source of income, merely because they are able to pay the rent. Many unemployed are divulging themselves of their cars to save themselves being taxed an assumed income based on the worth of the car. (Your car is a 1.6 litre and valued at 6000 euros therefore to maintain that car you have a valued worth of x amount - pay more tax in addition to road tax, licence fees and insurance. But lets face it for every job that requires a car there are 800 people applying for it, better to give up and save the money for food.) So many are also choosing to live on the streets to avoid more tax.
What was also revealed at the conference was a rise in HIV rates amongst drug users. Health care volunteers who go out on the streets told me that many have purposely shared needles with a known carrier so that they could receive disability pension and receive healthcare. However in 2010 there were reports that as a result of lack of beds for HIV carriers, hospitals would re-categorise them to deny them care.

With politicians refusing to act and intent on looking to the past to lay the blame on someone, the situation in Greece will get worse. This suicide, in so public and so meaningful a place can be interpreted as a message to these politicians to wake up.

While politicians bicker - people and the very country is dying.

This article also appears here