Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: March 2012

Who could explain to these children what the hell is going on in this country?

What does one call a national holiday without the attendance of the nation? An irrational holiday. It sounds like a bad joke and in many ways, it is.

On the 25th of March 1821 the Greek people, which had been subjugated by the Ottoman Empire for nearly 400 years, rose up against their oppressors and began the long fight which led to the liberation of Greece and the founding of the modern Greek state.

Every year this historical event is celebrated throughout the country with parades by pupils (on the 24th) and the army on the 25th. The streets are lined with proud parents and representatives of the civil, military and religious authorities attend the parades, make speeches and lay wreaths on monuments.

Last year on another national holiday, enraged citizens protested against the government’s corruption and destructive measures of austerity. In some cities, the parades stopped altogether and in others government officials and members of Parliament were forced to depart.

It was made clear many days ago that the government was not willing to let this happen again. The security measures taken to protect the celebrations were extreme. The police (7000 strong in Athens alone) was everywhere, 40 squads of riot police kept citizens (those without official invitations to attend) hundreds of meters away from the authorities.

The rooftops were manned by “armed observers” as the Minister of Citizen Protection called them, men of the antiterrorist squad were also deployed, and agents of the Greek Intelligence Service (EYP) were dispersed with surveillance equipment among the crowd.

All this in celebration of our independence.

Strive as I might to avoid comparing these two days with the 25th of March 1942, the first celebration of this national holiday during the Nazi occupation of Greece, I cannot deny the similarities.

Celebrating independence by invitation, under police surveillance, is much like a conqueror pretending to honour the independence of the conquered.

On the 25th of March 1942, the puppet government of Greece prohibited the citizenry from participating in the celebrations, decorated Athens with Greek flags, and made grand speeches about the “fascist and nazi revolutions” which Greek youth ought to follow, while mounted police patrolled the streets.

But the people ignored the orders and gathered to honour our heroes en masse. Despite the use of armed force, the protesters did not disperse. Eventually, the fascist authorities, Greek and non-Greek alike, were forced to retreat and let the people pay their respects.

Our current government, our non-elected puppet government of the international banks is pretending to honour independence and democracy, while blatantly ignoring the outrage of the Greek people.

Today there is no occupying army. There was no invasion, at least not with tanks and bombs. It was a covert invasion, with loans and bonds, facilitated by our own governments.

All for the good of our country.

They placed bars everywhere, distributed invitation lists to the families of policemen and the military to control the crowd surrounding the representatives of the authorities, so that they could all watch the parade in absolute peace and order.

All in honour of our national heroes of old.

I wonder, what would they do, simple, honest and unpretentious as most of them were? Would they laugh? Would they weep? I have no answer to this. Perhaps, if they saw the sorry state of “independent” Greece, they would take up arms again.

The sorry police state of Greece celebrating an irrational holiday.

Intermission #8

A group of young people chose a different way to celebrate this year’s national holiday and protest about our obvious lack of independence and democracy.

Advertisements

This is a world steeped in lies. Lies permeate every aspect of human life, from the moment they become self-aware (what a lovely child!) to the moment of their death. Even then, if they could, they would still hear lies uttered above their coffin (he was such a good man…).

There are lies and then there are lies. Some are spoken out of courtesy, some out of selfishness. And some, the worst kind, are used with malicious intent. These lies are like pests thriving on the soil prepared by the other, more “innocent” kinds.

Small, white lies are the ones that cannot be realistically avoided, at least if we care to live as harmoniously as possible in the company of others. Selfish lies stem out of our inability to admit the truth, especially to ourselves, and are very hard to avoid. Even though they harm us and everyone around us much more than we realize.

Those selfish lies are the ones which better condition us, so that we can accept the big lies, the ones that become an art and a profession in their own right.

The greatest liars of all, without doubt, are the politicians. They do not simply lie the most, but also speak the worst and most dangerous lies. Lies that start wars, that convince the people to vote for them, even against their own interests. Lies which grant them power.

The grandest liar of all time was the one whose most important contribution to modern civilization was the use of misinformation on a massive scale: propaganda. Adolf Hitler managed to lead an entire people, well-known for being level-headed and practical, into believing the most outrageous things.

He persuaded the Germans that they were racially superior to the rest of humanity, that the ones responsible for Germany’s inevitable deterioration after their defeat in WWI were in fact the Jews and that the destiny of the German people was to dominate the world.

All this with the help of the full resources of the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, at the head of which was the infamous Joseph Goebbels. Today, this role is played by the mass media.

The media achieve this goal not only by what is said by anchormen and written by journalists, but also what is implied and by what is never mentioned at all. Gradually, methodically they can convince people about almost anything. If it were not for the effect of the media, the masks of the politicians would crumble in an instant.

Let us take Greece in particular. I am often asked by foreign friends (and thinking Greeks wonder themselves) how it is possible for our politicians to lie so outrageously to our faces and yet manage to still be taken seriously? It is all a trick of the media. For years they’ve been going back and forth between the two major parties, gauging public opinion in order to strike at the most unpopular of the two at any given time.

The less unpopular party is given a reprieve, while the scandals of the other (usually the ruling one) were given plenty of air time, without ever leading to real investigations. Eventually the older scandals would be overshadowed by the new, and the previous party would slowly be promoted by denouncing the corruption of their opponents.

Even before the media reigned, however, the Greek people seemed eager to trust in a “saviour”. Thus, the “socialist” PASOK party won the 1981 elections by a great margin, using “EU and NATO are the same syndicate” as its central slogan. And also “out with the bases of death” referring to the US military bases in Greek territory.

31 years later, our politicians speak of the possibility of Greece outside of the EU as a terrible eventuality and leaving NATO was never even remotely considered. Any reduction of the number of US military bases in Greece came solely as a result of the need of the Pentagon to cut its costs.

Whether leaving these international organizations would actually benefit Greece is beside the point here. The point is that these claims were proven false, but this did not stop PASOK from being reelected in 1985. In other words, Greeks swallowed the lie without thinking. And that was not the end of it. Lies form a chain, one link at a time, with each lie supporting the next one in line. And we bound ourselves tightly with this chain until any hope of escape seemed impossible.

This chain of lies led us to the execution of one of the greatest international cons of all time. Greece, with the “kind” help of Goldman-Sachs, managed to fool the entire European Union into accepting us into the Euro zone in 2001.

This gargantuan lie could have been turned to the benefit of Greece; it could have become a white lie.  If our governments truly strove to restructure our economy gradually and put European funds and subsidies to good use by promoting growth. If they truly had the better interests of our country in mind.

Any such illusions had been dispelled two years earlier, when the Greek Stock Exchange bubble burst violently, marking the end of the false prosperity of the ‘80s and ‘90s. The total lack of state control as to the actual assets of companies entering the market, combined with the shameless advertizing of the Greek Stock Exchange by government officials, including the Prime Minister himself, led to a catastrophic free fall.

Market analysts looking at the big picture would tell you that the financial disaster was not so serious, however this event initiated a great redistribution of wealth in Greece, which continues to this day. Those Greeks who didn’t lose their life savings in the Stock Exchange certainly know someone who did.

The chain of lies continued with the Olympic Games of 2004 in Athens. Besides the obvious fact that the modern Games have become an impressive show for the benefit of multinational corporations and TV consumption, the Greek government used them as an excuse to indulge in an orgy of overspending. It is painfully obvious today that the billions of Euros which went into the Olympic Games of 2004 (and into various bank accounts) were money we could not afford to spend.

Most of the public infrastructure which was marketed as the legacy of the Olympic Games for the Greek people (such as freeways and the Athens Metro) was planned years before our bid for the Olympics was accepted. The lucrative delays were cut short so that everything would be ready in the nick of time and at several times the normal cost.

The two major parties alternated in the government, but their promises were never kept. Perhaps the low-point in these 30 years of history was the infamous slogan “Lefta iparhoun” (there are enough money) of our former Prime Minister, George Papandreou, together with his firm declaration that we did not need the help of the IMF.

By blindly accepting their lies at face value for an entire generation, we have nurtured our politicians’ arrogance to the point that some have openly admitted the obvious: that their promises before the elections should not be taken seriously. And despite everything, we keep on voting for them, ensuring that the chain of lies which binds us will eventually strangle us and keep our children bound for ever.

The shadow play has become so obvious that not even the pretenses are kept anymore. Lies which would be forgotten in the span of a full 4-year government term are now exposed within months, weeks or even days!

The new leader of PASOK, Evangelos Venizelos declared on June 2011 that the electric utility bills could not possibly be used as a means of tax collection, because electricity is a “social good”. A mere three months later, it ceased being so.

The leader of the “opposition” (now that’s a lie if I’ve ever heard one!) a few weeks before forcing all the members of Parliament of his party to approve the new memorandum agreement, had accused it of being “catastrophic”. One of his party’s newest acquisitions from the extreme right party of LAOS, Adonis Georgiadis, just one day before the CDS were triggered claimed that this would not happen “if the PSI was successful”. Which it was. Or so they tell us.

The lies of our politicians have now a minimal “half-life”, like unstable nuclear isotopes which vanish within minutes and are forgotten. But the damage that they cause remains. And there is very little time left to undo it. Perhaps none at all.

A Greek woman during an interview to BBC a few months ago described the Greek debt crisis using a very simple, yet extremely lucid metaphor. She likened our politicians to an abusive husband, who cheated on his wife and abandoned her with a huge debt to her name.

I partly agree. Our “husband” has not abandoned us, but keeps on lying to us incessantly, he abuses us and forces us on his creditors to pay his debts. And he keeps us “in line” by persuading us that only he can keep the banks from taking our house and that we are also to blame for not keeping our home’s finances in order.

Indeed, we are to blame because we kept believing him for 30 years and didn’t kick him out of our home, as we should have done. We are even more to blame now, because even though we’ve finally realized the truth, we are still too afraid and ashamed to kick him out. Much like an abused woman.

How can we blame women like that for being weak and not taking control of their lives, while we as a nation react in pretty much the same manner?

Isn’t it time to put an end to the lies?

Intermission #7

Cover versions which are equal to or even better than the original version of a song are rare. Especially so for translated songs. Greek composer and singer Dionysis Savvopoulos translated and covered Bob Dylan’s “Wicked Messenger” in his album “Vromiko psomi” (Dirty bread) in 1972 under the title “Angelos Exangelos”.  In my opinion, his translation added a lot to the original and the arrangement is also remarkable. This is an attempt at re-translation of his lyrics:

A messenger, a crier, he came from afar,

leaning on a crutch so battered,

he did not know how to speak at all,

for his tongue it could not speak, but only flatter.

 _

The news that he brought us, they were all a lie,

yet sounded pleasing to our ears,

for his every falsehood sounded like a truth

and so freed our souls from all our fears.

 _

He made his bed behind the agora,

and spent his time jesting in the tavern,

he wandered jovially in barbeshops and baths,

and idly gazed at fish inside the cistern.

 _

The winter passed, and summer came

and then again came another winter,

until one night, what came over him,

he started yelling in a wild temper.

 _

The soles of my feet, I feel their burns,

in this wilderness where night alternates with night,

the news I brought may have pleased your ears,

but are a far cry from being right.

 _

We knew at once what he was saying,

and numbly bid him go away.

If ye have no good news to give

then don’t give any.


A good friend of mine told me the other day about his intention to immigrate. He is not the first of my friends to consider a future abroad and I fear that he won’t be the last. He is thinking about going to New Zealand.

There are more sheep than people there, you know,” he told me excitedly. “Same as here,” I answered.

Sheep are afraid of the wolf and thus follow the shepherd blindly, under the watchful gaze of the herding dog. It does not matter that they have never seen a wolf with their own eyes. It is in their nature to follow without thought. The shepherd knows best. They cannot stand up to the herding dog. So, they go from pen to pasture and back, all their lives, until they are either butchered or just die.

There are no wolves any more. Our civilization has rendered them extinct long ago. However, since fear is necessary to keep the sheep in line, the system resorted to creating “wolves” of its own.

This is not something new. On the contrary, it has been tested throughout history. The most striking example is the “balance of terror” kept up between the two superpowers of the second half of the previous century. The nuclear arms race permitted them to effectively rule the world. The Americans protected the West from “evil communists” and the Soviets protected their own Eastern bloc from “corrupt capitalists”.

It is basically what Orwell described in “1984”. There is always a threat and the media propagate this idea until it becomes the commonly acceptable truth. When the threat disappears, then a former ally can turn into an enemy in the blink of an eye. There must always be an enemy. There must always be fear.

So it was that the Soviets after the end of WWII turned immediately from allies to enemies of the West. The system worked well for four decades. However, after the Soviet Union disbanded, the West was left without an opposing force.

Therefore, a new enemy had to appear, one which could strike anytime, anywhere, even at the heart of the USA. The new enemy is terrorism: invisible, unpredictable and omnipresent. The fear of the unknown is greater that the fear of a known enemy. A terrorist could hide anywhere, they could be anyone, their motives are obscure and undecipherable. In other words, terrorism is the perfect tool for the propagation of fear.

Fear is the best weapon in the arsenal of governments wishing to impose measures, which in every other case would push citizens to the brink of unrest. Such as limiting their freedom, all for the sake of their security, and of course sending troops thousands of miles away, in order to liberate oil fields, opium plantations, gold and uranium deposits, and so on.

Fear is the best weapon at the disposal of a state attempting to restrict the basic freedoms and fundamental rights of its citizens, in the example of any totalitarian regime, without actually being branded as one.

Freedom is not having the potential of taking consumer loans to buy SUVs and expensive vacations. It is having the right to protest when the state enforces taxes on you, yet fails consistently to provide basic social benefits.

When Justice turns a blind eye to an unending series of scandals and crimes by politicians and their sponsors/partners, while it punishes its citizens mercilessly for even the slightest oversight.

When Ministers profess ignorance about the laws they have approved, while citizens must be aware of any trap on the laws governing employment, social security, real estate and any other aspect of their lives.

Laws which mutate constantly like viruses, insidiously and without warning, instead of developing in accord with the requirements of a healthy state, whose purpose it to serve its citizens. Of course, if we trust the words of the great Noam Chomsky, such a state does not exist.

Many Greeks are well aware by now that our state dreams of passive citizens who stand as sheep while they are milked dry and left to die once their usefulness wears out. “Sheepizens” who, unlike other Europeans, have no right to a referendum about matters which will determine their future. Sheepizens who depend on a non-elected government to determine the proper date for the next elections!

All of the above cannot in any way fit under the definition of Democracy.

Democracy is the form of government which holds the freedom and opinion of its citizens as its most sacred ideals. If a state doubts the ability of its own citizens to decide on their own future, then it is no longer democratic. Especially so when it suppresses and subverts the peaceful protest of the people.

And this is achieved by using  so-called “anarchists”, which for some reason seem unwilling to burn ministries, the properties of politicians or the Parliament itself. Instead they torch banks, loot department stores and wreck cars. Not even cinemas are spared from their “righteous cause”.

I truly cannot fathom what kind of anarchist fails so consistently to strike  targets owned by their natural enemy, the state. As I cannot fathom what kind of anarchist terrorist would place an incendiary device, without warning, in a train car with the sole purpose of causing human casualties.

This might not strike someone who is not living in Greece as something out of the ordinary, however it is unheard of in our country. All terrorist groups in recent memory placed anonymous calls to warn before a strike in a public place. There is no instance of fundamentalist or nationalist terrorist activity in Greece, which would explain attacks on innocent civilians. On the contrary, terrorist groups in our country belonged to the radical left or the anarchists, targeting political figures, businessmen, state buildings or media outlets.

Another tragic first was the arson of a bank during working hours, which marked the last time Athens knew widespread riots, two years ago.

That incident resulted in the death by suffocation of three employees, one of them a pregnant woman. The perpetrators were never found. Testimonies which claimed that the bank management allegedly threatened to fire any employee who departed early to avoid the riots were never investigated.

Even more tellingly, the findings by government officials and the police concerning the almost complete lack of any kind of safety precaution in the bank building itself never led to any legal action. In short, the tragic event and the protests which were cut short by it were buried together with the four victims.

It is all but certain that any investigations about this last terrorist attempt will also prove fruitless.

Given the facts, the only way to reach any reasonable conclusion is to determine who is harmed and who benefits from these actions. Who felt guilty when innocent lives were lost because of their attempt to protest? Who felt responsible when several buildings in Athens burned during what was the most massive demonstration in recent memory?

Who is terrorized now that the Athens Metro is threatened? It is the most widely used means of public transportation in the capital and also happens to be the best way to reach the city centre during protests in front of the Parliament.

Do you think that this bomb would scare our politicians who never set foot in the Metro after the inauguration ceremonies of new stations?

Or is it us who are terrorized, scared little people who should be grateful for our jobs granting us less and less money, as we pray for the bad wolves to go away?

Sheep do not protest, nor do they vote. They do not have, nor claim any rights. They do not think, they just survive. If this is the future we want, then all we have to do is follow the same “shepherds” which we know and trust.

We should let them shear us to clothe themselves, milk us to eat, we should hand our children to them so that they can refresh the herd when we will no longer be here.

I just hope that the butcher’s knife won’t hurt too much.

Intermission #6

Constantine P. Cavafy, one of the most important Greek poets of the previous century, devoted one of his most famous poems to the seemingly paradoxical relationship between a state and its enemies, real or imagined. The very meaning of the “civilized” society is put in question and the barbarians are even thought of as a possible solution.

Waiting for the Barbarians

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

      The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?
Because the barbarians are coming today.
      What’s the point of senators making laws now?
      Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.
Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city’s main gate,
in state, wearing the crown?
Because the barbarians are coming today
      and the emperor’s waiting to receive their leader.
      He’s even got a scroll to give him,
      loaded 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,
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 turn up 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 bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?
Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven’t come.
      And some of our men just in from the border say
      there are no barbarians any longer.
Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems
Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard
Translation Copyright © 1975, 1992 by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard