Tuesday, July 31, 2007

How colour clouds perception in Greece

If you want to be able to survive in Athens and Greece in general, you have to understand the role colour plays in everyday society. When i say colour i don't mean how Greeks treat Chinese or Africans. While Greeks attitude to foreigners can certainly be improved, i must admit that foreigners are not treated with the same amount of viciousness that one would see in Australia.

I am talking about the colour of political parties. You might have heard it being said if you live here, 'I don't have a colour' or 'Are you Green?' 'What should i expect from you, you're Blue!'.
Each colour corresponds to a political party, and be extension to a set of political views.
Blue represents the New Democracy Party (don't ask me what happened to the Old democracy)
Green represents the PanHellenic Socialist Movement (No they are not Green because they are environmentalists) .
Red represents the myriad Communist parties that exist such as main KKE (Hellenic Communist Party) as well as the M-L KK (Marxist-Leninist Communist Party, not to be confused with the L-M KK the Leninist Marxist Communist Party).

So for example, the rally to save the forests was 'colourless'. The farmers who came out protesting low subsidies was a Blue-Red protest.

These colours permeate throughout Greek society and espousing one colour or another is seen as a ticket to success. For example, despite efforts to introduce some sort of merit to the hiring process, when New Democracy came to power a few years ago there were media reports that the party faithful had taken to wearing blue ties when attending government job interviews thus declaring their allegiance and securing a job despite their lack of qualifications.
This has led to a pityable culture where party faithfullness is more important than merit. And with one third of the workforce employed by the government, many see the only way of getting a job is by entering this culture, despite their initial reticence and disgust at such a system.

And such a disgust does exist and i see and hear it when i talk to people, especially the young and idealistic people. Some get bitter at being turned back and rejected that they enter it and a few others embrace it from the beginning.

You can survive without any colour in Greece, but it is a difficult road. So if you are living here and are trying to survive without a colour, i commend your efforts for not taking the easy road. But if you have succumbed after a struggle, there is no shame because, employment does have its rewards.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Public activism does not equal whining - A protesters response

Driving up to Volos on the weekend i passed a few of the burnt areas, coincidently to be found near the national highway, coincidently on the other side of other cafe's, just the perfect place if you want to start a Highway cafe.

Today i want to respond to a comment made/repeated by Greece's most well know blogger vrypan (Panagiotis Vryonis). His post written in Greek (click here) says "I would like to see at least half of the protesters who gathered days ago outside by the Parliament, to help the northern Greeks in their work efforts. And prove that we are not only for complaining and demonstrations!"

As one of the people who turned up to the demonstration i take offence at his depiction of the people who gathered as a bunch of whining demonstrators. Many politicians and their news lackeys in Greece have chosen to ignore the rally and denegrate it and the people who turned out. I dont know precisely what vrypan has against these people but i do know that it confused the Party Hacks, people who care more for their parties than than the country, because, as i commented before, I believe it was the largest non-politically organised rally since the fall of the dictatorship.

At least 90% of rallies in Greece are organised by the parties who bus people in, door knock and make sure that the bodies turn up. If you ask anyone at these rallies why they are there, most will spout slogans and others who are truthfull will say 'The party needs my support'.
PASOK, to its credit hasn't organised many rallies and instead has let New-Democracy poke their eyes out. When they were in opposition they organised rallies at the drop of a hat and now they have lost control of their faithfull who are still protesting in order to get the government jobs and subsidies which were promised them 'I protested for you, now its time to pay us back'

What exactly does vrypan want?
I guess i could become a fire-fighter- if the government was hiring that is. Instead the Government chose to re-instate Horo Filakes (something like country policy which operated like the Gestapo during the dictatorship, and disbanded by the centre left govt.) with that money.
If i was one of the handful of people hired (currently undermanned by at least 4000 people) i would have been inadequetly trained for 3 months (according to the fire services who have been begging and pleading for better training regimes)
I could have read the training books written in Katherevousa back in 1970 (which the fire services have been pleading to be updated)
I could have been sent with inadequate and outdated equipment to fight the fires and maybe have been killed.
Would that have proved that i am not a whiner?

Again: the rally was a reminder to the Government and every politician to uphold the laws, primeraly Reforestation! Because If one square meter of the burnt areas gets built on, gets sold from the church to private builders, gets turned into a casino, and most horribly gets pardoned by the government and brought into the city planning structure, if any of that happens, no matter what gets done now, they justify the actions of the arsonists and in effect legalise the murder and destruction that the fires have done. Because the ends will have justified the means, especially if there are no consequences for their actions.
Thats what the rally was about.

Don't forget what the protesters knew, the government belongs to the people and the politicians are our servants and have a duty to listen to us, uphold the laws and do what is right!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A bloggers dilema

When i started this blog, i thought it would be a nice medium to practice my writing through my observations about Greece and obviously more particularly what it is like to survive in Athens. Barely had i put my toe in the water when i suddenly get overtaken by current events. That's when i realised that most blogs out here in the blogosphere, the content is erratic as blogs regulary get swept up by current events, current likes and dislikes and sometime narcissm of their owners.

Erratic as my thoughts are at this moment. I wanted to write about food here in Athens today, but as the fires continue to burn their way through Greece, leaving behind them a swathe of burnt trees and dreams. A state of Emergency has been declared in the region of Kefalonia. The villages of Skala, St George, Kapitsa, Xenopoulo, Markopoulo, Kremmidi and Pastra have been evacuated. Fires are still raging in Old Sagiada, Thesprotia, Kotili in Kastoria, Velvento in Kozani, Nikiforo in Drama, Kanalia in Volos, Nigrita Serres, Livadi, Eidomeni in Kilkis, Amarando Konitsa, Psari Megalopolis, Metaxades Messinia, Lagada in Thessaloniki and the islands of Chios, Hydra. Over a hundered houses have been burnt down.

Another person died last night and the fires raging in Achaia in the Pelopennese are burning down irreplacable forests as well as destroying, murdering? wildlife found nowhere else in Europe. What can i do? I can't pretend that nothing is happening, i can't write about food.

I am angry!
Angry at every politician who talks big and does nothing!
Angry at my fellow citizens who will purchase land in these areas!
Angry at the Builders who will build there!
Angry at the ecological catastrophe which is taking place before my eyes!
Angry ... but oh so helpless

At the rally i was glad, so enheartened to realise that there were many others who felt the same way as i do. This blog has also made me realise that there are so many more who were not able to go, who felt just as strongly, if not a whole lot more strongly over what we are witnessing.
And right now that is what i will concentate on... I will keep in mind that there are many of us who wish to see the burnt areas reforested and back the way they were, not for us but for future generations of the whole world.

I will consider where i place my vote carefully these elections.
I will tell others what i think about this situation and convince those around me why it is important that these areas be reforested and the criminal, murderous arsonists be brought to justice.
I know i am not alone.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Greek Media Bored with fires

Fires are still raging all over Greece, but they have become so common, like waking up in the morning that it takes a tragedy to remind them of the fires.

Unfortunately thats what happened yesterday when a Canadair plane which drops water on the fires crashed, killing both pilots. That brings the death toll of firefighters to 5 by my count. People, politicians are looking for someone to blame for these fires...

Here's a radical idea... How about charging someone for these fires. Unfortunately Greece's track record in this is abyssmal. Fellow blogger over at http://grigsgr.blogspot.com/ quotes the newspaper Kathimerini and states...

According to the National Statistics Service, a total of 1,502 people were convicted on arson charges between 1997 and 2004. Two in three (947) of those convicted got suspended jail sentences while nearly a third (464) were given sentences they could buy off. Just 6 percent (90) served jail time.

The penal code provides for jail sentences of up to 10 years, and a fine ranging from 15,000 euros to 150,00 euros for convicted arsonists.

Again my frustration over current events is coming through... i promise to change subject soon

Monday, July 23, 2007

Turkish news live from Athens

If you happened to switch on the tv on the weekend to watch the news, you may be excused if you thought you had woken up in Turkey somehow. That's because the news was focusing on the Turkish elections, by my watch 26 minutes out of a 30 minute programme.

Relations between Greece and Turkey are in an ever constant state of flux. There has been a feeling of distrust dating from the 400 years occupation from the Ottoman empire, there have been periods of rapprochement, occupation again - this time of Cyprus, to one of assistance such as the time when Greece lent aid following the disastrous earthquake Turkey suffered.
This has meant that many Greeks distrust Turks while at the same time they will give a kidney and go there for shopping or a holiday.

As a result of these tumultous events, Greece takes a keen interest in developments in Turkey. There is obviously concern as to whether the far right extremists would get into power, basically Greece is hoping for nice and calm neighbours. It seems as though a far right group which was throwing around hangman noose's at public rallies has entered parliament as a relatively strong force. One Greek academic mentioned that no matter who gets elected into parliament - the accountability that comes with the seats may temper the more outrageous comments.

For an interesting update on the elections check out http://www.internations.blogspot.com/ written by a Netherlander in Turkey.

Oh and if you did turn on the news and you actually are in Turkey but live in Greece and have no recollection of how you got there, I know the island parties can get wild but maybe you should consider laying off the booze...

Friday, July 20, 2007

Summer time... Summer foods...

As another heat wave is set to fall across Athens, without the protection offered by the cooling forests, there is nothing more refreshing than eating out in Plaka, Glyfada by the sea... well actually anywhere outside, Athens has many places. Order an Ouzo or Tsipouro with ice, accompany that with some dishes like tomato-keftes, saganaki, fried zucchini, Baked peppers stuffed with rice, raisins and pine nuts, and of course a salad. How can you not order a greek salad?

Well maybe you should. Greek cuisine is actually very diverse and rich. Thessaly- central greece- cook with fruits, Islander cooking is influenced by other islands in the mediterranean and the Island of Astypalia make some delicious food flavoured with saffron which is picked locally from the cliff faces. And this is just a brief glimpse of the food offered, that could be another blog which could go on for ever! Unfortunately Greek food has been stereotyped to the Moussaka and the Greek Salad, so when tourists come here thats all they order, well for the most part if i can over-generalise.

Waiters will see locals as well as a few mainland Europeans who order two-three dishes including a salad. But many tourists will just order a Greek Salad, so its not uncommon to see in Plaka a table of tourists and in front of each of them is a Greek Salad. It is very healthy but it goes against the communal eating style that exists here in Greece where everyone picks of common plates. And as a result, restaraunts are becoming stingy when it comes to putting Feta in the salad, only putting in small pieces, or even worse - Feta which isn't Greek! (Sorry but having been raised on Feta from a small child, Feta from the Northern countries [you know who you are] which is made from cow milk and then coloured white just doesn't taste the same. The same way that Australian Rocquefort tastes different, and Tofu burgers taste different from beef.)

So next time, skip the Greek Salad, be adventourous, look what nearby tables are eating and point to what you want and have one of the many other salads which they serve at Taverna's, restaraunts etc... You will be pleasantly suprised, i assure you. This way you will also avoid the Salata X (the salad chi) which is served to tourists and tastes... well more on that later.

Greek newspaper Eleutheri Ora has as its headline today 'The only thing not burning is the sea'
This comes in light of recently released figures from the Fire Department which shows that from the period 1/07/2006 to 18/07/2006 there were 732 fires, this year for the same period that number has soared to 1567! More than double. The 11th of this month July saw 105 fires rage across Greece, compared to 32 from last year. Each election year see's a massive fire campaign which is deliberately set as builders quickly build on burnt land so that the government can legalise it to gain their support.

The Communist party is actually doing something, now after so many fires they have table 5 new laws. 5 new laws to waste everybodies time. 5 new laws which will never get passed. The problem isn't the laws, laws against arson, against illegal buildings, environment protection already exist here in Greece, and have existed for a long time now. The problem is enforcement, none of these laws are ever enforced. Instead of acting as a Public Watchdog and pointing out corruption and government ineptitude and doing something useful it instead resorts to empty meaningless gestures. My beef with them is that they should do something useful, if they are not part of the solution they are part of the problem.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Some shopping tips for Athens

Soldes, Sales, Εκπτοσεις!!!
Yes its that time of year again, sale time! And sales here in Athens are quite good, ok it may not be Milan sales, but things are so overpriced here anyway that sales are a good time to shop and buy things at a decent price. Yes you heard me right, things are very overpriced here in Athens, making it one of the most expensive places to live in the world.

In an effort to save money, many people travel to nearby Bulgaria or Turkey to do their shopping. There they can buy Greek olive oil a third cheaper than they can here, and thats not taking into account the exchange rate! In an effort to cut back on excessive price gauging the Ministry of Development i believe has set the price of certain goods.

Water is a public right here in Greece, when sitting down at cafe waiters will automatically bring you water. Tap water here in Athens is rated as amongst the cleanest in the world, but if you have to buy a water at a periptero - Do not pay more than 50 cents, if they charge more - they are ripping you off. And bottles sell even cheaper at supermarkets.
As a result many do not stock half a litre bottles and stock the 750ml bottles whose price is not capped and you can pay anything up to 2 euros!
Another scam is the humble ham and cheese toast. Don't ask me why this is so popular here but the price for this has been set at 1.50 euros. As a result ferries - where this is most popularly bought - only stock a small supply, and if you are hungry the only thing left is a ham, cheese AND tomato toasted sandwhich which can cost anything upwards of 3 euros!
A Tiropita - a cheese pie is also capped at 1.50 euros
Kaseropita - or any other cheese pie is not capped and they can charge any exhorbitant price they want!

My advice is buy a loaf of fresh bread from the bakers for 60 cents, some ham and cheese from any market and make your own sandwhich at home at pack it with you if you are REALLY desperate for something so basic, otherwise spend your money on some real food thats really worth the money. Oh and avoid the Greek salad, but more on that tommorow.

the forests of Vrylissia have also been set alight along with the forests of Corinth. I think the count was 30 fires in 24 hours. The Mayor of Vrilissia blamed the fires on arsonists and mentioned the illegal builders his municipality is fighting over land ownership, ownership which is muddled as a result of Ottoman land registry titles, something which has never been cleared up here in Greece, but more on that another time.
More incendiary fires were found at the sites of these forest fires. The latest media craze is looking at the fires in the rest of Europe and Turkey, trying to shift the focus from local events to 'See its not only Greece, it happens elsewhere'.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sales time in Athens, forests burn to make way for new developments

Yes its sales time in Athens, what everyone has been waiting for, and i had hoped to write a bit about that but as fires pop up i get so angry that i have to write about them. Maybe i should just just the name of this to FIRE WATCH ATHENS. Sure is catchy, but i wish it were not necessary.

First a little background...
For the past two months community groups have been organising in the suburb of Vyronas and Kaisarianni to protest the proposed land development of the forested area which borders these suburbs. The church 'claims' that these areas belong to them. I say 'claim' because this is disputed and there are court actions to clarify this situation. The church has proposed a series of property developments in this forested area, and also claim to offer cheap housing to those with three children or more.
The locals have been protesting on their own against these land developments for two months, no thanks to the local Communist party who have been covering up the community posters with their own. Whole sections of blank wall to deface and they chose to cover up the local community groups home made posters pleading to save the environment. Bunch of....

Anyway three fires started simultaneously yesterday at around three o'clock. The local fire watch patrol saw a car drive to and from the area where one of the fires started. At the other end of the forested area a moterbike without plates was seen leaving the area by firefighters as they approached and the third fire started at the bottom, close to the road.

In other words the fires were strategically placed to burn of a specific square section of forested land, land which coincidently coincides with the area the church and builders want to develop. Land which has most probably already been sold and earmarked for building.
Coincidently the land burnt included the two hills which offered the best views of Athens.
Coincidently the same land burnt was the land claimed by the church, which excercises certain exemptions when it comes to building codes in Greece.

Coincidently... there are too many coincidences...

Photos taken from http://www.e-tipos.gr/ whose front page headlines "Everything points to Arson"

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

And in the end what was achieved...

The big question now is What have we achieved by our protest?
I must admit, following the protest many people said Wow Great! Its good that people went, but when i ask if they went the common reply was "Nooo, why should i, nothing will change, all the politicians are corrupt/incompetent and nothing will ever change".

Well in part i agree with them and i truly understand where they are coming from. I am not naive (well maybe a little) and i know how things work here in Greece. But the 5000 at least who turned up - we knew the truth but we did not let that get us down. In my opinion if you do nothing then can you complain if you get ignored? Why should the politicians change their ways?
By at least making our voices heard, by protesting, by engaging in this Sysiphian task at least we are trying to change things. Lets not make things easy for them.

I also believe that the people who turned up were REAL Greeks, people who were really concerned about this land and country than a political party.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Athenians protest to protect the environment

Where will Red Riding Hood walk if there are no forests left?

July 8th saw Athens largest non-politically organised protest since the fall of the dictatorship.
This was truly an amazing occurance, people of all walks of life came, grannies with walking sticks, Death metal heads sporting Metallica shirts, Hippies, Cyclists and Bikers, families came pushing their children in prams, Goths came with piercings in various body parts.
It didn't matter who you were, rich or poor, thousands came to Syntagma square to voice their protest over the fires and to make sure that it would be re-forested. Police estimate that when the area in front of Parliament house fills up with people, that equals 5000 people. Some people like Tsipras who recently ran as a candidate for Athens mayor estimated that as many as 40000 people came.

This rally really opened my eyes. Other rallies are politically backed and feature rent-a-crowds. Political Parties organise buses to ensure that people turn up, speeches are held and people turn up to prove their faith to the political party, real issues that affect people are rarelt raised.

Instead what we saw in Athens on Sunday were real people, people who felt that this time things had gone too far. People who really felt passionately that something had to be done and wanted to let all politicians know how angry they were.
In a symbolic gesture some people placed a plant in front of the tomb of the Unknown soldier. Police quickly swept in to remove the offending plant. This action provoked boo's and contempt from the crowd which started to crowd in closer to the tomb. The police quickly retreated.
A child then stepped forward from the amassed crowd and laid a burnt branch from Parnitha at the foot of the tomb. This was soon followed by others.

WWF was also there, as were many other bloggers who were influential in making the protest a reality.
http://salata.wordpress.com/ organised a unique demonstration. Dressed as businessmen they chanted slogans such as "Trees take up parking spots" "Deers just shit in the woods and dont turn a profit" and "Burn and Build, construction companies elect governments".
Unfortunately their dark satirical humour rang true, too true.

But i cannot stress enough how impressive this protest truly was. Over 5000 Athenians got up off their couches to protest and make their voices heard. They also performed the 'Moutza' (an open palmed insult) towards parliament building. The crowd also cried out 'Eshos' - Shame, disgrace...

I should also point out that the government spin machine is in full force and orchestrated an almost complete media blackout. Government TV stations did not report on it and instead the media is following a four year old scandal which implicates the previous government as being incompetent (and the current one too if you ask me, over 4 years to find out the obvious, they have to be incompetent to miss that). They are also reporting on how well Pendeli is being reforested. Now thats a scandal that they can truly point towards the previous government, because it is not being reforested and the old forest now features villas and highways where once trees and goat tracks existed. The only reason they are not pointing the finger is if they themselves are also implicated. - ESHOS -

Most Newspapers are completly ignoring it too, except for Ta Nea and Eleutherotypia. How the media can be so corrupt and complicent to the government line still amazes me. This is why, in part i write this blog and why i write it in English, so that those who live outside can also realise what is happening here.

But as the people, by their mere turning up to the protest exhibited, this shame will not be tolerated for much longer and we will be watching.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


Well, while people may be turning to blogs for activism and the truth, we are fallible!

I must issue a correction. I said a couple of days ago that a law should be passed banning apartments being built where forests use to be. Well such a law exists, not only that, but apparently nothing is allowed to be built until it gets re-forested as it was before, in other words something like a 100 years have to pass first.

Which reminds me, Greece has passed some of the best laws and was well ahead of its time. Take for example the bill allowing the Athens Metro to be built which was passed in the 1890's. Well ahead of its time and foretelling the needs of the future. Trouble is it took over 100 years for the Metro to be built.

In effect this and other laws are never enforced, not a single builder has been brought to court, no fine given, nothing whatsoever. Do the police suffer from blindness? Are the local Mayors indifferent? Does the electricty company not realise where they are connecting electricty?

Well this is where corruption rears its ugly head, how else to explain it? A comedian, Lazopoulos, which i dont like, raised a similar point. He recounted how he overheard developers talkign about where they were going to build after the fire in Penteli, selling plots of land, and has justice been dealt? No.

However in a recent development, Home owners in Salamina have been receiving fines because their houses have been illegally built, maybe justice does act, but like the case with the Metro, 100 years has to pass first. This is a pitfall for many home buyers who are purchasing old houses/apartments, they often realise too late that the house they just bought is illegal and face huge fines. So if buying proprty in Greece, caveat emptor!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Greeks utilise new media to enact change

The traditional news media has turned to its usual tricks. Government media and right wing stations like Antenna are glossing over the fire and are presenting things in a manner where everything has returned to normal. Center-left media like Mega are trying to place blame on government inaction for the fires. Meanwhile STAR channel is back to showing bums on beaches and an expose on the daily fashion of morning tv presenters!
SKAI tv, though new on the scene and traditionaly politically right leaning, seems to have an enlightened production and editorial team and is actually reporting on the environmental consequences of the fire.

Experts interviewed predict a rise in the temprature in Athens of approx. 2 degrees which suggests that we will be facing a few more heat waves this summer. We should also expect major flooding of suburbs here in Athens as there is now nothing to retain the water as it comes flooding down Parnitha mountain. Air quality is also expected to decrease, with all this bad news maybe i should turn to bums on beaches to forget it all.

Faced with these outcomes Athenians have turned to blogs, emails and SMSs to rally people together to voice their protest over the fires and to demand that these areas are re-forested. While Greeks like to protest, most of them are orchestrated by the different parties. This one is unique as it appears to have come about from the people themselves.
Tired of being managed, lied to with empty promises, honestly scared by what they have seen and realistic of what will become of these burnt areas, they themselves have turned to the only media that they have a voice in, and have utilised it for action. It's amazing the way these emails and messages have spread out, they have spread out like a virus, from network to network, company to competitor, where they have been met with agreement. At the moment the only stumbling block may be laziness, oh, and those bums at the beaches.

Despite that, lets hope it works.

So if you are in Athens, July 8 come and see the protest at 7 o'clock Syntagma Square.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Don't worry - Its the forests fault

Parnitha before

Parnitha now

In a dramatic turn of events, the Minister of Public Order Byron Polydoros announced over the weekend that the fault of the forest fire was a direct result of the forest being there and that it was growing wild, too closely together and it was too green.

Well i for one am glad that its been solved - pesky forests - growing as they please!
Though perhaps, if we give him the benefit of the doubt, what he might have wanted to say is that there was no Forest Management system in place. Well at least i hope so.

The President of Greece said that it was a day of mourning, he asked the nation to consider what legacy will be left to our children if we continue to disregard nature. The Prime Minister in turn promised that Parnitha and all the areas struck by fires will be re-forested and he emphasised "I say it and i mean it" which makes me wonder about the other things he said...

Cynicism blooms as promises are made

A pro-government newspaper Eleutheri Ora had as its headline today 'Parnitha re-forested with
apartment blocks and maissonetes. ' The reason for this cynicism is because its an Election year.
What's this got to do with anything i hear you ask. Well unfortunately elections in Greece are a time when general amnesty's are given.
For example, to help pedestrians - cars parked on footpaths were fined in Athens. When Dora Bakoyianni became Mayor of Athens, the first thing she did was to give a reprieve to all those who had been fined - end result - everyone parks where they want, don't pay the fine and wait for the next reprieve.

The same goes for illegal houses/bars etc. A famous cartoonist (Kyr) showed a house being built on the Acropolis with the caption "No worries, some politician will come along and make it legal"

In another example of blatant transgression of the laws, Greek Media Magnate Kyriakou apparently extended the training ground of his team onto the grounds of a large park in Athens. Opposition media SKAI tv together with the local pensioners association and Boy Scout troup organised a re-planting on Public Property. Angered by this, Kyriakou called in the police who wielded their truncheons on kids and eldery who were planting trees on public property.

But enough cynicism, lets hope for the best.

Meanwhile concern has also been raised over the plight of the last remaining red deer of Greece. People's reaction to this was

"What, we still have deer in Greece!?!?"

Well apparently we do. Again we hope that something gets done.