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Tag Archives: PASOK

I was meaning to write about something else, yet again I ended up elsewhere. But that is no wonder. No matter what our plans may be, whatever we might set our minds on for the future, everything depends on things that we cannot control. On forces that seem above us.

The key is to understand when these forces are real and when we just think that they are, and by this belief we actually make them so.

We need to know when we are really being pulled by the current, which no human-made dam can stop, and when others want us to think that the wake of their luxury boats is an unstoppable tsunami.

Luxuries which some acquired unlawfully with “borrowed” money, stolen from us. Taken from ‘lazy’ pensioners who work illegally past their 70s because their pensions are simply not enough to sustain them. From university graduates, with honours and distinction, now unemployed. From workers who go unpaid for months and could find themselves jobless at any moment.

From small children in a country with no future, from which we somehow still expect to be well-behaved and obedient like half-dead goldfish in a fishbowl.

Kids these days have no values, some say. Who would teach them values? Proud Greek citizens who curse the same politicians which they keep voting for? Underpaid teachers in understaffed and underequipped schools? Politicians who, in order to gain their precious office, have sold their souls three times already?

There are no values in our time, beyond the instinct of survival. We turn the other way so that we do not see the homeless. We nod our heads in sympathy before the unemployed (while we secretly feel fortunate to have a job, those of us who still do). We shut our eyes to avoid reading about suicides.

And when even this instinct fails in the face of despair, there is nothing left. Who would teach values to children? Those who take their own lives?

Not that I blame them. The shame and despair of having nothing to offer to those who depend on us are enemies beyond understanding.

Amidst all the general confusion of these days I read the most absurd thing. According to an online article, news of suicides should not be published on the Internet since in encourages people  to commit suicide for the sake of… publicity. It’s remarkable how obsessed Greeks have become with their post mortem reputation in the span of just two years, isn’t it?

This outrageous view is apparently shared by Mrs. Aphrodite Al Saleh, a spokeswoman of the “socialist” PASOK party, who also dismissed suicide as a “stupid thing”. It seems that apart from vain, Greeks are now also becoming increasingly stupid. The ruling parties in Greece still deny that there is any relation between the shocking increase of suicides and the fact that millions of people have nothing to support themselves with anymore.

We now live in a state of absolute absurdity. Life has ceased to seem real. It looks more like a Fellini movie clip, cut during editing.

These thoughts were spurred by the following short piece that I came across on the Internet. Concerning tax authorities in Greece, which have now become graveyards for bankrupt businesses.

Green eyes on a red background and the “Code” …

I passed by an office on the floor of the IRS. Dozens of people were furiously tearing up papers. I went to have a look and asked a strange girl with green eyes on a red background if I could help. She nodded “yes”. I started tearing. “What are we tearing?” I asked. “Invoices” she said. “Why tear them?” I asked, tearing all the while. “Because we are closing,” she said. When we had torn everything up she went to an employee who was watching people tearing up papers. She took the torn papers, checked them, put a seal on them and gave the girl a piece of paper.

“Are you done?” I asked the green eyes, now on an even redder background. “No. Now I need more papers, then I have to unregister from the Technical Chamber and after that from TEVE (Self-Employed Workers’ Insurance Organisation). ”

I did not know what to do. After we had torn her papers away I felt like I was her friend. We sat on a bench. She had started her business twelve years ago. Two years ago she began going under.  Yet she loved it, and would not give it up. She worked all day long, but there was no end in sight. Then she had to admit that it was over. “It is sort of like losing a child. I made it, I nurtured it, I watched it grow and set it on its way, but it was going nowhere”. She cried. “I owe money to TEVE too, but now they are not going to get a dime,” she said. Then she stood up, wiped her eyes and went on to finish off the rest of the paperwork.

I climbed the stairs back to the tax office. I went to the office where everyone was tearing up papers. I found out that it was called the “Code”. Now even more people were tearing up papers. I approached a gentleman, about fifty years old, with brown eyes on a red background. “Want me to tear up toof?” I asked him. He said “yes” with a nod. And then I went to another and to another. I was tearing up papers until they sent us away at 3 o’ clock. With every paper torn I threw a curse. Some of them will work. They have to… ~ by HARA

And you, oh so serious and credible politicians, you seek taxes from the dead, from torn papers and closed up shops and people who can no longer make a living. Not from those who have something to give.

And you put those uncollected taxes in your calculations. And you plan your policies based on non-existing numbers. And when your calculations inevitably fail, you will increase the death toll. You will destroy  even more shops, families, people. Even more plans for the future. A future that no longer exists anywhere. Only on torn papers.

Do not tear up just papers. Tear them up. Write them off. Delete them.

We’ve been trying in vain for years to write our future on lies, on misery, on indifference, and the crumbs and beads of their empty promises. Like a palimpsest that will one day be discovered by an incredulous archaeologist. How did this happen? Why didn’t anyone speak up?

If we do not tear them up once and for all we will never be able to turn the page. We will end up writing on the margins and nothing will make any sense. And we will be lost in time and archaeologists in the future will wonder who these slaves were who never stood for their rights?

Intermission #14

They say silence is gold. Sometimes, though, it is just compliance.

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Sadly, it seems that Greece is making front page news again for the wrong reasons. This time it was about the spokesman of the extreme right-wing party of “Chryssi Avgi”, Ilias Kassidiaris, who  threw a glass of water at a left-wing party representative and physically assaulted another during a live TV talkshow.

I’m sorry to say that this is not much of a surprise. That is who the members of “Chryssi Avgi” are, even if a large part of their 400.000 voters had not realized this until now. And that is because they received minimal TV coverage before the last elections of May 6th. The error of that exclusion is now plain for all to see.

“Chryssi Avgi” is, in essence, a paramilitary, neo-Nazi group posing as a political party. A small army of thugs and common criminals who have hidden their swastikas in their closets, but are clear about their views on white male superiority.

According to them, the role of a woman is to “produce” children for the benefit of the nation, not argue with men. So, Mrs. Liana Kanelli, a veteran journalist who is possibly the most widely respected member of Parliament of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and is also known to express her informed views strongly, often to the point of rudeness, was too much for Mr. Kassidiaris to stomach.

So was Mrs. Dourou, representative of the now prominent left-wing party of SYRIZA, who was openly sarcastic and contemptuous before the chauvinist Kassidiaris. In the end, Mr. Kassidiaris emptied a glass of water towards Mrs. Dourou and when Mrs. Kanelli stood up in outrage and swatted Kassidiaris with a newspaper, he proceeded to strike her repeatedly on the face.

I might sound “old-fashioned” to some, but in my mind it is unacceptable for any real man to strike a woman. Violence in general is a sign of weakness, even more so when it is applied against someone who is clearly weaker, such as a child, an elderly person or a woman.

Even more so in the case of a 60-year old woman. There were some who claimed that Kassidiaris was provoked. No matter what either of the two women said to him, his actions were simply unacceptable. Mrs. Dourou’s loud comment that “Chryssi Avgi will take Greece 500 years back in the past”, which caused the attack,  was soundly confirmed by the reaction of their spokesperson.

If he was “verbally assaulted” as others argued then he should have countered in the same manner. Unfortunately, verbal communication is clearly not the strong suit of Mr. Kassidiaris or of almost everyone belonging to his party.

For anyone not familiar with TV debates in Greece, the volume of the confrontation might seem extreme. In truth, along with the boom of Greek commercial television at the end of the 1980s came a new culture of televised debates between politicians, which most of the time erupts into loud, heated arguments. But until now, violent outbursts were almost unheard of.

Even worse than the incident itself, there were many who think that Kassidiaris’ reaction was not only justified, but that Mrs. Kanelli actually deserved this attack. How can such a thing be justified within a democracy is simply beyond me. This man is not an “outraged citizen” as some said, but a former and future member of Parliament and his role is not to physically attack his peers, but to represent his voters. With words, actions falling within the boundary of the law, and dignity.

But even if he was indeed an outraged citizen, even if we think that violence will solve our problems, how can the primary target of the patriotic, anti-memorandum Mr. Kassidiaris be two representatives of anti-memorandum parties? How come he did not argue or attack Mr. Pavlopoulos belonging to the “traitorous”, according to the leader of Chryssi Avgi, New Democracy party?

Strange, isn’t it?

But I will admit for the sake of argument that Mr. Kassidiaris made a mistake, that his patriotic fervor got the best of him and his alpha male sensitivies were insulted. However, his subsequent escape, after the crew of the TV studio tried to contain him in a room, in order to avoid arrest proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that he is a coward who shirks responsibilty for his actions. Just like the rotten politicians which he claims that he aims to replace.

All this from the man who said that journalists must learn discipline and politicians must obey the law.

However, despite all these disappointing events and statements there is a genuinely farsical side to this:

– Kassidiaris pleaded self defense (via a statement to the radio). The poster-boy of Chryssi Avgi who prominently poses with bad-ass attitude before Nazi paraphernalia, and in demonstrations of martial arts techniques claimed self defense because he was struck by a 60 year-old woman. With a newspaper.

– The leader of the extreme right, Christian Orthodox LA.O.S. party, Giorgos Katatzaferis, boldy stated “Fascism has no place in Greece”. Perhaps his party’s most prominent member is a former mentor of the leader of Chryssi Avgi.

– Mr. Datseris, a representative of PASOK also blamed this incident on SYRIZA, claiming that they have cultivated this culture of violence. Funny that when 90-year old Manolis Glezos, WW2 Resistance hero and member of SYRIZA was gassed by riot police there was not a shred of a statement of condemnation from the ruling coalition.

– But the statement that really topped them all was the one by Mr. Prokopis Pavlopoulos, who was present during the incident but never even moved. “I did not rise from my chair when Kassidiaris punched Liana Kanelli, because I can’t control my strength and I was afraid that if I rose I would kill him”. This seriously made my day. An otherwise disappointing day.

Intermission #13

We’re sick and tired of your ism and skism game
Die and go to heaven in Jesus’ name, Lord
We know when we understand
Almighty God is a living man
You can fool some people sometimes
But you can’t fool all the people all the time
So now we see the light
We gonna stand up for our right

As you may already know, May 6th was an election day in both Greece and France. In France it was a second round victory for François Hollande, while in Greece it was a first round defeat of the formerly bipolar, now bipartisan political system.

While May 7th left Greece without a government, something which has happened only once in the past 38 years, two things became abundantly clear:

Firstly, changing the entire political establishment which has ruled Greece for nearly four decades is not something than can be accomplished in a month’s time. Unless, of course, this is achieved through violent means, something which any reasonable person would consider only as an absolute last resort.

Secondly, when a society comes under such tremendous stress, especially one as complacent as the Greek society of the past generation, then inevitably it will turn to political extremes. And by that, I do not mean the parliamentary Left or the traditional Christian/nationalist LAOS party, but the neo-nazis.

The two major parties in Greece, PASOK and Nea Dimokratia (New Democracy) had been accustomed to pass the government between them for 40 years, without fail. Now, they realise that this is no longer going to be their private two player game, with lesser parties standing as spectators by the sidelines. They are going to the bench, and they will do everything in their power to prevent that. This resistance, predictably so, is causing political instability and uncertainty.

Democracy, however, will not stand for lifelong “protectors” or foreign overlords. Those who blackmail the people of Greece (or any other people for that matter) into voting anything should be automatically considered enemies of Democracy and be treated as such: with contempt in the interior and with a firm diplomatic stance abroad.

The two formerly major parties have suffered their first ever serious shock. It is now up to the Greek voters to deliver the “coup de grâce”. Not because we desire chaos and a lack of government, but because in all their history these two parties were acting arbitrarily, serving their own petty interests, armed with the certainty that they would rule again in the next term or the one after that.

No one can expect these two parties to save Greece. They are so deeply entangled with the outdated, dysfunctional and corrupt state system that they would be unable to implement any effective reforms, even if they wanted to.

As for the rise of the extreme right neo-nazi party called “Chryssi Avgi” (Golden Dawn), it was a predictable consequence of the rampant crisis. The pre-election “campaign” of the group included civilian patrols of poor districts with illegal immigrant and criminal activity problems. But that would never be enough to catapult an obscure party from 0.2% to 7%.

“Chryssi Avgi” was voted in every corner of Greece by more than 400.000 people, including the villages of Kalavryta and Distomo, where the occupying Nazi army commited unspeakable attrocities during World War II.  My initial reaction to that paradox, as a typical, sentimental Greek, was horror and disgust. But in the end the exact location matters little.

Do the residents of Distomo have a greater obligation to honour our history and our dead than other Greeks? Hundreds of thousands died from starvation in Athens alone. My grandfather fought against the fascists in the mountains of Albania and my mother was losing her nails as a child due to malnutrition.

Most of us have heard tales about the war and the Nazi occupation and have seen the scars they left behind. World War II did not take place in another reality, nor 500 years ago. How ironic then, that while we are accusing the German government of attempting to enforce a financial 4th Reich in Europe, we are witnessing in Greece the rise of an actual neo-Nazi party.

Despite their efforts to hide the swastikas and their clearly fascist ideals as documented in their official publications of the past, even their current “sanitized” views, including the role of women as breeding machines for the nation, the perceived superiority of the white male and the open admiration of their leader for Adolf Hitler as a “remarkable personality” is enough to make any sane person cringe.

Their inability to grasp the meaning of democracy became apparent when they demanded that  journalists should stand as a token of “respect” when their leader entered the room to deliver his post election speech. The Greek journalists refused and were consequently asked to leave.

Which they did, much to their credit. However, during the pre-election period most of them never devoted a single line or television minute to the presentation of this party and its views. One of those who did write about them was faced with thinly veiled threats and even advised by the police to stop writing about the neo-Nazis. Is that what we should do? Remain silent before the rise of racist, neo-Nazi terror?

I don’t think so.

If the demise of the Weimar Republic has taught the world anything it’s that silence never stops evil.

“Chryssi Avgi” plays the role of  the bogeyman perfectly, since the Left, even the die-hard Communist Party (KKE), is beginning to seem ever more appealing to the Greek voters, who are living in constant fear of losing their jobs, their homes and their dignity, and joining the swelling ranks of the newly poor.

Some might balk at the ideas of the Communist Party as backward and even dangerous, but at least their vision does not include obscene theories about white male supremacy and immigrant pogroms.

This new pre-election period will be dominated by the attempts of the faltering establishment and their controlled media to spread the fear of the exit from the Eurozone and the rise of the neo-Nazis, to stress the image of the “irresponsible” Left, to sow doubt using the eventuality of another fruitless election and play the role of the “repentant criminal”. They have already promised that, following the mandate of the people, they will attempt to ease the terms of the memorandums.

Something that two months ago was completely out of the question. The game is already on at full force. A few days ago, a statement of a member of the left-wing SYRIZA party, concerning the need for “tight public regulation” of Greek banks so that deposits are used to fund the economy and not just increase the share value of the banks was “translated” by the media as an intent to appropriate bank deposits. This has very nearly caused a bank run in the past few days and has demonstrated clearly who the truly irresponsible parties are.

The promises for renegotiation of the memorandum from those parties are null and void, as were all of their promises of the past four decades. The troika has made their intent to demand additional austerity measures abundantly clear, while there is still absolutely nothing on the table pointing towards restructuring the Greek economy apart from widespread cuts which will stall growth indefinitely.

The coming elections have to send a clear message to the corrupt political establishment, and our European partners who are all too keen to support banks and financial institutions at our expense: you cannot liquidate an entire country for the benefit of multinational companies and banks. It is a risk we have to take for Greece and for all the citizens of Europe.

Intermission #11

Greeks, like a surreal housewife with a moustache, woke up one day and decided to demand a divorce from the past. Our abusive husband will say anything to bring us back, but we know that those promises are empty. Should we go back, the old habits will return, worse than ever. We have to break free.

Let us imagine for a moment that there is another Greece, where everything works as it should. Or that chaos, corruption and lack of planning are limited to reasonable levels instead of where they are now. These days, with mounting police violence, starving people and the economy collapsing everyday, I can’t help thinking that the average African dictator would feel right at home in Greece.

But let us suppose that it is not so.

Suddenly, while everyday life is progressing more or less normally and the elections are coming up, police vans appear in the streets to pick up illegal immigrants, corrupt politicians are arrested, the German war reparations issue is put forward officially, potholes in the streets are covered up, legislation for families in serious debt is being drafted in the Parliament…

Former ministers are making candid speeches on TV about the hard decisions they were forced to take and about the price they paid for them…

Even if everything was well and fine, even if Greece was not a country (like many others today, I have to admit) where our intelligence and our dignity are being tried each and every day, even then there would be a certain feeling of annoyance.

We would realize this charade for what it is. Or this show, that is being put on for luring in the votes, one more time. But this is NOT Greece in the happy haze of 2004. People are not annoyed. They are a pot simmering with anger, which has been building up for the past two years.

And the police vans release suspects not two blocks away from where they were picked up. Politicians and those who owe millions to the Greek state are being arrested solely for the benefit of big headlines. The files containing the very valid and just case of Greece against Nazi war crimes, including a forced “loan” which was never repaid, were lost and left to gather dust for at least 20 years. Favourable legislation for households in great debt is being planned only because our prisons are filled to the brim and there is little room for poor sods who owe a few thousand to the banks. Either because they could not deal with their expenses or because they were simply too careless with their credit card.

And one of the so-called saviours of our country, our former Minister of Finance, even though he is being mauled (for a change) by a reporter about his actions leading to the troika memorandum, still has the gall to protest about not being able to have a cup of coffee with his wife in public.

Instead of being ashamed to show his face among people who can no longer afford to have a coffee, or even to eat, because of his destructive austerity measures. Instead of sitting before a court in order to explain what was the reasoning behind accepting loans at exorbitant interest rates which will be impossible to pay off.

The proof to that can be plainly seen in the breakdown of our latest loan instalment.  The entire total of 3.3 billion Euros which the Greek state received was deposited into accounts to the benefit of our creditors. Not only did we not keep one cent from this “aid”, but we actually had to pay 46 million Euros as… commission to the banks.

Total: -46.000.000 Euros. The state bleeds money, our creditors profit and the show goes on.

The repayment of our new loan commences next year. Supposing that our economy has not collapsed by then, we will simply be unable to cover our loan payments, even if we somehow manage to reach a primary surplus within a year.

At that point, total bankruptcy, which our governments are supposedly doing everything they can to avoid, will be inevitable. Greece will be forced to hand over its assets to its creditors for a fraction of their real value and it will be doomed to perpetual national and financial servitude. The first colony on European soil in modern history.

We have had just about enough of this act. We can no longer tolerate a state where nothing ever moves towards the right direction, except during pre-election times. And even then, just for show.

We have watched this play before. Many times. The ending is always bad and progressively getting worse. But now we are prepared. Behind their hastily assembled stage scenery their plans for the immediate future are obvious.

We know why taxation bills were delayed this year. Because when Greek taxpayers (those that cannot evade taxes by depositing money abroad or in off-shore companies) will be asked to pay taxes which they cannot possibly afford, the government will claim that it has a “fresh mandate”, that “there is no alternative” and that “they are sorry, but…”

We know about the taxes that will be imposed right after the elections. We know about the new measures that are being prepared for June. We know that you are raising steel walls around the Parliament, which no longer represents the Greek people. We know that the troika aims to lower our wages to levels on par with Bulgaria. While we pay EU level prices for all basic goods.

What we also also aware of is that this “solution” which you are trying to sell for the past two years will lead nowhere. That is not just our opinion, it’s not just common sense, it has also been verified by distinguished economists from all around the world, including Nobel prize winner, Joseph Stiglitz.

For two years, our government has been engaged in a misinformation campaign, armed with fake dilemmas, such as: “Euro or drachma” and “Memorandum or bankruptcy”. In truth, they are attempting to hide the real problem, which is simply that the two-party system continues to rule even after bringing Greece to the very edge of ruin. Euro, drachma, dollar or ruble be damned. With this kind of leadership Greece is going nowhere.

The true dilemma is “mindset change or ruin”. For all of us, Greek or not.

Intermission #10

It’s the disease of the age
It’s the disease that we crave
Alone at the end of the rave
We catch the last bus home

Corporate America wakes
Coffee republic and cakes
We open the latch on the gate
Of the hole that we call our home

Protect me from what I want…
Protect me protect me

The following is a suicide note written by a 77-year old retired pharmacist. He left this then went to stand beneath a tree in Syntagma Square, Athens and shot himself in the head with a gun.

Suicide note

It reads: “The collaborationist Tsolakoglou government has literally annihilated my ability to survive, which was dependent on a decent pension for which I alone (without aid from the state) have been paying, for 35 years.

Since I am at an age which does not allow me to resist forcefully (without, of course, ruling out the possibility that I might follow the first Greek who took up arms), I can find no solution other than a dignified end before I start looking in the trash for my food.

I believe that young people with no future will some day take up arms and will hang the traitors of the Nation upside down in Syntagma square, like the Italians did to Mussolini in 1945 (Piazzale Loreto in Milan).

A well-known Greek journalist commented in a tweet that journalists and citizens should calm down, since committing a suicide in Syntagma Square does not make it more tragic than others.

Agreed. It does, however, make it symbolic. And there is no one, I think, who can doubt the importance of symbolism in politics. Because there is no question that the suicide of the 77-year old pensioner was a political act.

Perhaps you may have forgotten or may be unaware of the fact that the “Arab Spring” events were triggered by the self-immolation of a protester in Tunisia. It is, however, certain that those who fear a similar uprising in Greece are well aware of this.

And that is the reason why a former Minister and a deputy Minister, both belonging to one of the ruling parties (PASOK), reacted in the only way they know how: by slandering their adversaries and shirking any shred of responsibility, no matter how indirect.

 Mr. Beglitis in an outrageously disrespectful comment, attempted to disassociate the suicide with the economic crisis, and implied that perhaps it was the pensioner himself who wasted all his money, or perhaps his children did!

The possibility that this man might have been unfortunate or that the pension he received (which has been severely cut back, like almost all other pensions in Greece) was simply not enough to support him any longer was never mentioned, not even for appearances’ sake. It is as if we suddenly live in another country, where we don’t hear about suicides on a daily basis.

But what can one expect from Greek politicians, particularly those of the two parties who have been trading power between them for the past three decades? In their minds the words “money” and “waste” are inextricably connected. Always “waste”, never “earn”, “struggle”, “strive” or “sacrifice”. Just “waste”. Which member of our Parliament has ever paid dues for 35 years in order to earn their pension?

Beglitis and his kind choose to ignore the fact that working people have paid for their pensions with THEIR OWN money. And our politicians cut those pensions back without even blinking. In effect they are guilty of mismanagement and theft. At the same time the wages and pensions of the members of Parliament are paid for with OUR money. And those have barely been reduced, still remaining amongst the highest in Europe.

But let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that those accusations were right and that this man indeed wasted all his money. Was he so obsessed with his posthumous fame, that he decided to take his own life in order to become a hero? Let us suppose that it was his children who wasted his money. How callous can one be to level such accusations against them even before their father’s corpse grows cold?

Even if they were right, the only thing that they achieved was to demonstrate the magnitude of their pettiness and obsession.  In order to serve their political agendas those politicians respected neither the deceased nor his family.

When someone reaches the point where they decide to take their own lives, either because of psychological problems or because of  strong feelings of guilt or despair, they usually do it alone, at home, at work or at a secluded spot. Away from loved ones or people that might stop them or pity them.

Suicide as a form of political protest is completely different. A protest takes place in public, in plain view, where no one can ignore you. You do it in front of everyone because you are not ashamed of your act, because your aim is to give it meaning, to shock people into realizing the truth.

To become a symbol for your cause, even after death.

It’s no wonder then, that people were moved. When someone commits suicide in the privacy of their home it is easier for us to pretend we didn’t hear or read about it, to bury it in the back yards of our minds, where we hide everything that saddens or troubles us. It is a clearly personal choice.

When one commits suicide in public, particularly in a square with political meaning, right across the Parliament, you cannot ignore it. You know that the act aimed to deliver a message. Besides, the note that the pensioner left behind him leaves no room for misunderstanding.

It is no wonder, then, that people left flowers, notes and candles at the tree. It is not because they cared less about the other 1700-3000 people who committed suicide because of the financial crisis. It is because they felt the need to do something, as human beings. A need which politicians are incapable of comprehending. It is because by paying homage to that pensioner they also paid homage to all the others, something that would be impossible to do otherwise.

Where would people leave flowers? At homes, offices or cliffs?

This suicide which Mr. Beglitis had the audacity to mention in the mechanical way which most politicians deliver their hollow speeches, without ever realizing the meaning of their words, is the ultimate form of protest. No one can lie in the face of death.

Mr. Beglitis said that he stands “respectfully” in view of this tragic event. He said that we have to “keep silent” in order to demonstrate our grief. He was neither respectful nor silent about it. Therefore, he has lost both our respect and our silence.

Intermission #9

April 5 marked the 18th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s suicide. It seems fitting that I should dedicate “Heart Shaped Box” to the wonderful, warm-hearted people which govern us and “stand respectfully” over our corpses, just like a killer admiring his handiwork.

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 recent comment made by a (real) friend in Facebook got me thinking. She said that this situation we’re living in reminded her of a well-crafted videogame. I partly agree with that. It so happens that videogames are my favourite means of escapism. However, in most of them, the hero acts, strives, fights for a cause. It might be something silly, but it’s still a cause and, in most cases, it’s a noble one such as saving the world.

It does not matter if the action is split in levels, as in more classic-style videogames or is spread out in a vast, realistic looking world, such as in more modern iterations. Enemies are obvious. Goals are clear. The hero is (usually) rewarded in the end. The player, if he is fast, skillful or has an analytic enough mind (depending on the game genre) will eventually triumph. Evil will be vanquished.

This well-crafted videogame in which we live is completely backward. Our worst enemies are the ones professing to represent law and order. Goals are everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Players are punished for being capable, honest and conscientious. Evil is triumphant.

This virtual reality, steadily forming around us day by day, is starting to resemble the dystopian scenarios of Orwell’s “1984” and Moore’s “V for Vendetta”.

The greatest paradox is that, while technology advances and the actual virtual “worlds” of the Internet and videogames are becoming increasingly familiar and realistic, at the same time the real world becomes increasingly false and irrational.

Experts are expressing their concerns every day regarding the terrible dangers hiding in virtual worlds, while the subtle erosion of everything that is real seems to escape everyone’s notice.

People always talk about the (very real) dangers lurking in Internet use and abuse, particularly for children. Yet, no one talks earnestly about how the moral values and ideals which we are supposed to be teaching to our children are systematically being destroyed.

Yesterday, riot police used tear gas against a gathering of pupils. Last Sunday they used all their tear gas reserves on the living history of Greece, as well as citizens of all ages who gathered for what was supposed to be a peaceful protest. No one addresses this violence, nor the psychological violence to which every one of us is submitted on a daily basis.

Our virtual reality does not acknowledge that what took place on February 12th in Athens might very well be the most massive protest of our generation. The only thing it registered is that a handful of agent provocateurs, mindless hooligans, opportunists or plain angry people torched several buildings in Athens.

In our virtual reality world, TV and the mainstream media bring to public attention only those stories which are convenient for media moguls and their current allies of necessity or opportunity. And this is called “news”.

Now, the riots are being used as an excuse to form legislation putting serious limitations to public protests. Legislation which is dangerously close to dictatorial.

Meanwhile the police, according to the dean of the Law School of Athens, ignored his reports of the occupation of the University’s grounds and the mass production of Molotov cocktails taking place there.

Those reports were submitted in writing from Thursday, February 9th, to Saturday, February 11th. There was absolutely no response.

In our virtual reality, the police do not protect citizens practicing their constitutional right of peaceful protest. They spray us with tear gas and let rioters burn the city unhindered. Thus they uphold neither the law, nor protect public order.

And all this happens just so our Parliament would vote a new batch of measures which will only serve to plunge our country deeper into recession, as set in a document which was so hastily drafted as to be full of mistakes and inaccuracies.

At the same time, one of the MPs of the formerly ruling PASOK party, who had voted on the first memorandum, presented documents proving that our economy currently boasts a primary surplus (if we stopped paying loan interests). That means, Greece could very well survive bankruptcy.

Of course, as is customary in the recent parliamentary history of Greece, the MPs of the ruling parties were ordered to vote “aye”. Those who declined were ousted from their parties. The irony is that in Greek, the Parliament is called “Vouli” which means literally “will, decision”. A member of Parliament is called “vouleftis” deriving from the ancient Greek verb “voulevo”, meaning “to think, to decide”.

In our virtual Democracy, our “vouleutes” do not think or decide for themselves, but it is acceptable for them to follow the party leader’s orders. In other words, they are followers.

The second party of the government coalition, according to the election polls, is now also the dominant party. Its leader, Antonis Samaras, has stated that they are not actually governing the country, but merely supporting the government in its task to approve the new memorandum.

A memorandum which up to a few weeks earlier had been denounced by him.

He also took in two acting ministers and former members of the third ruling party, an extreme right nationalist party called LAOS, one of whom had vehemently denied rumours of his defection to Samaras’ “New Democracy” just two years ago.

He reasoned then that if he left LAOS he would be bowing to the “immigrants and the Turks”. Apparently, he would wait two years to become a deputy minister and bow down to the IMF/ECB/EC troika instead.

This ridiculous mockery of a government has succeeded the government of PASOK, which won the elections by promising not to tax the middle to low incomes any further and to secure the money which the state needed to support itself without going to the IMF for help. By combating corruption and tax evasion, among other things.

A mere two months after the elections, our former Prime Minister, George Papandreou, secretly commenced negotiations with the IMF, a fact which Dominique Strauss-Kahn himself revealed much later during an interview.

The same government proceeded to do the exact opposite of everything it had promised in order to win the elections, with the culmination of signing the first memorandum agreement. An agreement which, as former Ministers and economists from the EU admitted, was both ineffectual and unfair.

Even so, none of the measures agreed upon were actually realized, putting Greece in the international spotlight as a lazy and corrupt country that does not honour its commitments. The only thing that Papandreou’s government did was enforce even more taxes and public sector wage reductions, without doing anything to reduce wasteful spending or to increase foreign investor interest in Greece.

When summarizing these “accomplishments”, a couple of weeks ago, George Papandreou stated that “mistakes were made, but much was achieved”. The current coalition government continued pretty much the same policy of inaction where crucial changes are concerned, and signing whatever outrageous measures the troika sees fit to demand.

None of these two governments were empowered by the Greek people to take such decisions on their behalf. Unless we have come to believe that Democracy in the 21st century means lying through your teeth about everything to the voters, getting elected and do exactly the opposite of what you promised.

Is this the only hope of Greece? Is this circus of clowns, spineless and corrupt to the very core really going to save the same country which they’ve been systematically dismantling for decades?

Is there anyone out there who still believes that this is a democratic country where the Constitution is nothing but an empty book?

Is there anyone who doubts that we are living in a virtual reality nightmare?

Intermission #4

Life is not a videogame, nor should it become one. However, there are surprising truths about life to be found in many of them. One of my favourite quotes from the unforgettable John Marston (Red Dead Redemption) is the following: “As long as there are guns and money, there will never be freedom”. I leave you with this sad and beautiful song by Lana del Ray. She is something of a mystery to me. While her looks are obviously made up and she appears overly stylized, her voice is unique and her songs have hidden layers. She could fool you into thinking that she’s a mass-market product (and maybe she is), yet there is something more than that. Just like a videogame.