Friday, June 29, 2007

Politicians point fingers while Greece burns

Picture from leading newspaper Ta Nea-
As Athens woke up this morning to the smell of burning fires and witnessed their cars covered in a fine sheet of ash, the reality of events began to settle.

While i was writing yesterdays blog, politicians came out and announced that recent upgrades will ensure no power outages or restrictions and no-one had to fear the fires as everything was ready. Hours later a major power station in the region of Macedonia, overburdened by electricy demand, blew its fuses sending a casquede effect down the lines, plunging the whole of northern Greece into a blackout.

Meanwhile the fires increased in intensity and numbers jumping to over 300 flare-up according to government news media. Of the 22 fire fighting planes, only nine were capable of flying and of those, two returned to base for maintence. Politicians who were previously telling everyone that everything was under control began to realise that we were now facing the most devastating fire in a decade. People whose houses were under threat from the fires appeared on tv to plead for firefighters to make an appearance to save their homes, firefighters in turn blamed understaffing (They claim that there are 4000 positions to be filled in their ranks). The government blamed the opposition for years of lax management. The opposition blamed the current government for not implementing any change, and the Communists... well they blamed the dominant two party system and the imperialist capitalist system and advocated a fundamental change to the political system.

Firefighters clock out - Volunteers clock in

Meanwhile the mayor of Parnitha, home to the last vestiges of green forest in the Attica basin, Athens lungs so to speak came out and pleaded for HELP and pointed out that finger pointing can be done later, but that he needed help NOW, before it was to late. Help did come. Apparently as the firefighters shift ended last night they abandoned two water tankers, these were commandeered by some 50 volunteers, some of them army, who went out by themselves to fight the fires.

Already at the sites of two fires evidence of foul play was found. At one a warning flare was found and at another a petrol jerry can with 30 shotgun shells. Some of the morning media have already pointed the finger at building companies who have been eyeing these green areas for building development for a number of years.

Right now Greece is asking for help from its neighbours in fighting these fires, unfortunately when the fires are quenched i fear that the same complacency that existed before will return. Sure much finger wagging will be had, voices raised on the television and a number of good plans raised, but if those who are at fault don't step up and admit fault nothing will change.

And to whom do i point and wag my finger - Well the fault is our own. Sure some can say that the government is corrupt and inneficient, or that many of the firefighters were only chosen according to whom they voted and only wanted a job where they were not expected to do anything. And those poor 'innocent' people who appeared on tv and cried for their houses to be saved, houses which were built not ten meters away from the forest (In Greece it is illegal for houses to be built any closer to 50 meters from the forest) - sure we could blame them, or even cheer at some sort of cosmic karma, but that's too easy.

We are to blame because we do not DEMAND from OUR government accountability, even NGO's such as WWF who have been pointing out the lack of fire breaks and proper forest management seem to be content to just point things out but do not follow up. No one does.
Partly its our own greed. "Atrocious that houses are being built where forests used to be, but if i save up, i too can own a house there..." Another part is our own complacency or lack of fight, the current system has been so ingrained in us that we don't believe we can fight it.

That being said action should be done by the government, they are the only people who can legislate after all. Do what Spain does, ban any building on burnt areas for 20 years, that is a first step. Do what Australia does - educate children on dealing with fires and the law. I never lived near a forest yet i know what i should look out for if i live near a forest.

The forest fires are still burning, while this is tragic i hope that this will be a catalyst for change.

Here are some pictures from local newspapers;

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Greece burns - Civil servants take the day off

Record Highs

This week has seen record tempratures all over Greece. Last Tuesday the temprature hit a whopping 47C degrees in the centre of Athens! In an effort to fight the heat all the air-conditioners were put on max which contributed to the high tempratures.

Living in a concrete city like Athens only excacerbates the high tempratures. Green gardens in front of apartments have been built over to increase the inside apartment space in many suburbs. A culture of car dependence (car showing off) means that many have bought the latest luxury/sporty car and drive it everywhere, even if its to the local shop for some milk, just so they don't have to walk and to show off. This too increases the temprature highs.

This has also caused a strain on energy supply, the government is informing everyone to shut off all non-essential appliances in an effort to reduce energy use. Greece imports a lot of its energy from near-by countries such as Bulgaria, Italy and Turkey. I should also mention that Greece is far behind in reaching its commitment to renewable energy, such as wind turbines etc.
A recent wind energy park proposal on an island is being faught by nearby residents citing concerns that it would impact tourism. Another dirty coal burning plant scheduled to be shut down is still operating, not because of the energy it produces, but the locals who are dying at the age of 50 because of the pollution the dinosaur of a plant produces, demanded it be kept operational for the jobs it supplied. And since they die earlier because of it, the least the government could do is give them government jobs.

The government has also ordered that public services cease at 12:00 midday. This is so that energy consumption can be reduced. Unfortunately many left and forgot to turn them off, meaning that nothing was achieved. That sort of sums up the public service actually.

Greece has also been struck by at least 75 seperate fires. The government is calling on other governments to help them combat the fires. While many of the fires may be accidental there is a lot of cynicism in the country regarding them. Many blame the excessive smoking which goes on and people just throwing their cigarette butts out the window. A greater majority however blame the citizens and builders. Previous fires have cleared large sections of wooded areas where it is illegal to build. After the fires, no wood/forests, building becomes no problem!
Penteli which still has some forest left was the site of major fires a few years ago. Now it is becoming heavily populated by houses and apartments.

Why haven't the media brought it up you ask and bring it to public attention?

I don't know. Of course what many Athenians cite is that many top rated journalists have bought houses there, so really they should know first hand about whats going on. But there are some very nice houses up there now, wouldn't have been possible without the fires...

...and so it goes.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Al Gore in Athens

While George Bush was getting his watch stolen in Albania, former Vice President Al Gore was touring giving a personal presentation of his award winning documentary of an Inconvenient Truth.

Now is it just me or am i always the last person to find out things that are happening in Athens. I moved to Athens because there are always a lot of things going on. Unfortunately, they happen so fast that they are usually over if you don't pay special attention. This is true for independent movies to lectures and presentations.

I had heard about the Al Gore lecture a week ago but could not find details on the where and the when, it was only when i picked up a free daily newspaper that i saw 'Tonights Happenings'. When i arrived at the Megaro Mousikis it was clear that many had heard. Admission was free and the hall he was presenting in was full within minutes (Granted many of these seats were reserved for dignitaries and journalists). A second hall was quickly filled to near capacity were we could see the presentation on the big screen via a live feed. A simultaneous interpretation into Greek made it easy for the Greek speakers to follow. Unfortunately when it became apparent that we would not be able to hear him in English, many left, i assume they were English speakers, American who wanted to hear him.

My impression on the night was varies, a lot of what he 'revealed' I was taught in High School back in Australia, and i went to a normal government school. So half of what he said was not new. The other half i suppose was just continuing on from where i had graduated school. In other words, Few shock revelations.
What was revealing was the power of Photographs, images were presented of what is happening to our earth and in this digital Youtube age it is easy to forget the power that a single frame image can have.

What was revealing was the statistics which a University study came up with.
Roughly - From over 900 academically refereed articles on Climate Change/Global Warming, none - 0- nada zilch presented it as though it was open for debate, in other words - it is happening and we are witnessing the early stages. In contrast
From over 600 news articles - 53% reported it as if it was still debatable. If that is the case - who are the Academics backing up these news articles - who do these journalists quote if it is debatable?

Why is it so I wonder?

On the whole however not being in the same room as Al Gore meant that i missed some of the enthusiasm and vigour he puts into his presentation and we only heard bits and pieces of it, from the vigorous applause he was receiving I assume he went down well.

Another thing I noticed is that cargo pants and satchel bags were the dress code of the day.

But too many questions for one day...

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Taxi driver apprehended, thousands still free

I should note that the Champions League final was marred when a taxi driver beat up a Liverpool fan. According to news reports the fan and his children took the taxi from the airport to their hotel in Nea Makri. Upon arriving the driver requested 95 euros as his fee, when asked by the fan "why is it more than the 25 euros indicated by the meter" the driver offered him a discount and asked for only 75 euros. Most probably having had enough the fan asked for a reciept where he was then beaten in front of his children, and the taxi driver drove off with his luggage and more importantly his match tickets.

Now we hear that the police have actually caught the taxi driver in question (when asked he apparently didn't realise he left with their luggage but when he did find out he left it on the pavement so that a "concerned citizen" could return it to the rightfull owner.


I have relatives who are taxi drivers, unfortunatly however it can be really painfull and stressfull should you have to deal with taxi drivers. You could wait half an hour shouting out your destination to 70 taxis in the hope that one of them will take you to where you want to go. When you get in, if you are female you will of course be chatted up (and if you're really lucky invited out to a night of Cretan dancing!). You will be driven through random suburbs, slowly so that the driver can pick up a second or third passenger. Another trick they do is flick the thumb up while changing gear and change the meter from zone 1 to zone 2. Zone 2 is double and is used only after midnight. So if you land in Athens at 11:30 and need a taxi, forget it. They all dissapear until midnight so that they can charge double.

Without Discrimination

Taxi drivers may be the least racist of all Greeks. If its female they will hit on her. Foreigner or local, no difference, they will cheat both without discrimination.
When tourists come here they feel pity for them "Oh my how can they survive on such a low wage". Since these are the only working greeks they meet they fail to realise that wages are low for the vast majority living here. Its a tough place to survive.
What this has done however is given taxi drivers a feeling that they are entitled to more and entitled to cheat others to supplement their low income. Regardless of the fact that they are amongst the biggest tax evaders out there (up there with doctors and lawyers). Every second or third passenger is money in the pocket as there is no evidence of them using their service. Whenever the meter is not running, that too is money in the pocket.

Know your rights

When catching a taxi you might want to know that they are legally required to indicate that their taxi is Vacant (using the Eleuthero - Vacant sign on the dash) this is almost always turned down.
When they stop they are required to take you where you want to go - You don't have to stand like a hooker on a corner soliciting taxis for an hour or a minute.
They must ask your permission if you want another person to share your taxi.
They must leave you at the destination you specified otherwise they forfeit the fare.
You are entitled to a reciept (Legally speaking i think you are legally required to ask for one)
If you suspect that they are driving you in circles you can ask to be driven to a police department.
You can also take down their details and present them to the tourist police if you believe that you have been wronged.

Another note, the income they recieve from the taxi meter is decided upon by government in association with the Taxi drivers association. What is indicated on the meter, even if its a trip from Athens to Thessaloniki has been deemed enough for the taxi driver.
If you think thats low, well welcome to Greece!

PS. I just walk or try to take the Metro, who has time dealing with these clowns