Saturday, April 14, 2007

A human error...

"They chewed his savings at the Stock Exchange. He doubts he’s ever gonna get a pension. They keep asking for more and more, he enjoys less and less. He keeps falling into despair when watching TV. Shitty faces pose around him, telling him what to do, threatening him on what he shouldn’t do; they rob him and carp him for not making more so that they can steal more. Long ago, an old pal of his, a leftwing, took a stroll down the after-world along with Derida. He’s got no money to go out. He boils in his sweat. Bitter, like Mithridates’ own poison, he’s faintly dying within his own formalin…

He wakes up early in the morning to go to work. When having coffee he thinks that he works more than any other European, gets paid almost half while his cost of life is almost double.

He spits blood to go to work in the traffic jams, overlooked by the mischievous façade of a faceless city, adorned only with bulimic ad banners.

He feels the rage and disgust of other people around, as they all chase their own tail to win the day. Some unemployed, others in half-jobs or employees in companies that rent them to other companies, but all out of breath as they’re trying to make ends meet.

Most of them are drawn in bank loans from head to toes. Salary men in a dead-end by the 20th or the 25th of each month since all their money are gone in super-markets (more and more expensive every day), tuition-fees for their children’s private schooling (getting higher each day as kids have more needs –English, music, books, CDs) –“fuck free state education for all,” growls our guy as he spits on his university degrees. When he took the streets to demand better living conditions, anchormen and anchorwomen dressed in suits and ties –the political party’s- said he was “privileged.” It was not the first time, he felt like a jerk. The same speaking suits and ties had treated him with disrespect, when the other party was in power. He cursed his bad fortune and remembered to also spit on his children’s’ diplomas –poor things with their PhDs for a thousand euro at the very best …

He shouldn’t have allowed himself to be in debt. Now he was imprisoned. For life! He was fucked if he ever lost his job. He plays the idiot. But playing the role too much makes you be one with it. And when you become an idiot you transmit it. Maybe this is why they treat him like shit at the tax office. And not just there but wherever he goes for transactions. He hasn’t felt descent since he was a little child.

He clenches his teeth, as nothing works around. The other day he read that the Health System (?) fuels private medical centers with tons of money. At his kids’ school they no longer research for nothing, at least most of them. They show no love for nothing. Only, some few teachers (or maybe more than a few, who knows?) are different, the rest are a disaster. But they too have been humiliated by the state more than often. Only scams make it clean: the pimps, the big shots, the racketeers, the yuppies. Whatever their dirt, they’re never punished! They eat up the MediCare money, tap the PM’s phone, sink boats, make cartels from milk to gas, and nothing happens. An independent authority might deal with them some time but with the years the case fades out and drops in oblivion.

The same old story for thirty years. They steal from the farmer at the field and the citizen at the market. They just changed his name; now they call him “consumer” as if something’s different! In the last years in general, all the lies he’s taken made him feel he lives someone else’s life. Someone in an advertisement. He doesn’t talk much with his wife; nailed in front of the TV he watches the other jerks and forgets his own worries until he goes to bed. May be he is the jerk and not them, he thinks. With his friends he talks about interest rates, credit cards and cell phones, the new Holy Trinity that took over the other bankrupted triptychs. He misses poets, warm conversations, even the luxury of being preoccupied about the common problems. He softly shuts his eyes, just as he does when watching the telly; then he jumps, wakes up, the day is just starting and the traffic camera right across the street zooms on him, as if it is looking through his eyes, sarcastically. When he thinks that they charged him all that money to install it as a bug inside his head, he gets angry spits in fury but then he comes back in line –it is not politically correct to spit here and there.

The day has hardly started and he already feels bad. He feels he lives inside a sardine can. Just like that, with no reason. Just to be squeezed with the other sardines. Fuck it –woops! Watch your language (not to mention your thoughts), the judges might not like it. Lately, they have developed the inclination to write the newspapers by themselves. But what newspapers? He doesn’t even read newspapers any more. They all write the same, they are all the same –bullshit!- he knows it’s not like this, but who cares if it’s not like this?"

Written by Stathis (Stavropoulos), April 11, 2007, in his “Nautilus” column in Eleftherotypia daily
unauthorized translation by sistigrev

Sunday, April 08, 2007

When being a lawful citizen ain’t always safe…

For more than a year now, I live in a very central residential area of Athens. A pedestrian-way and a backyard sandwich my house so I don’t experience the automobile noise most of the downtown Athenians do. This was a factor that played a decisive role when I chose to buy this place. A beautiful pedestrian-way full of trees in front of my doorstep was a guarantee that I would be relieved of most of downtown noise and allowed to sleep in relative quietness.

The problem arose a few months after I moved in, when right across the street from where I live a nightclub opened. Its music was mainly Greek laika songs of the lowest quality and therefore its clientele was obviously not the ordinary young happy crowds you see in clubs of that size. The place was attracting a mainly 40-50 year-old male crowd dressed conventionally in dark suit-white shirt-no tie outfit. Most of the -- few -- women frequenting there were blond and over made-up in shinny tight skirts, who were speaking Slavic languages. Soon, every Friday and Saturday night, the pedestrian-way was turning into a huge parking lot for expensive dark-blue or black cars. Their drivers were standing in groups of five or six smoking while they were presumably waiting for their bosses, who were in the club.

There was hardly any place to walk through and arriving home late at night was at times adventurous, as I had to zigzag my way to my doorstep, watched closely by suspicious pairs of eyes. I was preoccupied and some of my neighbors I talked with felt the same. The worst part was the noise. That terrible music was so loud you thought it was coming right from inside the house. And it wouldn’t stop before 4 or 5 am. The owners’ indifference of the residents’ peace and quite was so preposterous that could make you jump. Weekends and weekends went by and my patience was really hitting red alert. I turned to my neighbors once again. They all agreed that the situation was unbearable but they were reluctant to do something about it.

All this until two weeks ago when I decided to call the police and report the terrible noise at 3am. The police came 15 minutes after I called. I was watching behind the shades of my bedroom with my lights off. They were two young guys. They stood right outside the club’s door and talked to the doorman. Soon after that, the owner came out with some papers in hand. I guess they were licenses and stuff… The policemen looked at the papers and took some notes. Right after that, they all lit cigarettes and chatted for a while. They even laughed together with the owner, then shook hands and went their way. The noise continued for another 2 good hours. I couldn’t sleep.

Next day was Saturday. After midnight the same nightmare started. At 2am I call the police again. Fifteen minutes later the same two young policemen arrive and the same scene repeats. This time, the owner was a little nervous. He gave his papers, they took their notes and went off without chatting or shaking hands. The music went on as loud as it could for 3 more hours.

On Good Friday night, when the Orthodox religion commemorates the death of Jesus just before Easter Sunday (today), I wasn’t expecting the same scene. Tradition has it that people do not go out on that night, therefore most of bars and clubs in the city are closed. Most, but not this one… Not only the skyladiko music was too loud but people standing outside the club were talking and laughing as if they were in the middle of the desert at 2am. As a good citizen, once again I called the police. They came 20 minutes later. I was again watching in the dark. Only this time, it was different. The owner was obviously angry and was very aggressive to the policemen! They all chatted for a few moments and then cops left and the fat owner stayed outside smoking nervously and talking to a friend of his. His body language was saying “pissed off.” I though my tactic is working. This is war!

Last night, right after the Resurrection mass in the churches, my neighboring club received a much bigger crowd than usual. I knew I was going to stay awake once again but I thought this is what you’d traditionally expect on a night like this. But this time they took it way too far. At 5am the music was still on loud as ever and I could sense no sign of signing it off. I was already exhausted from my sleepless Friday night, so I called the police once again. The lady on the phone seemed she recognized me and said “Oh, it’s that club again across the street?” “Yes,” I said, “it seems that your visits at night don’t bring any results, cause they go on and on.” “Well, sir,” she said, “we’ll send someone over right away.” Twenty minutes later, at 5.30am two cops arrived. They asked for the owner. He came out furious. With his papers in hand. He talked to the policemen. And then… as I was watching again in the dark I saw something that gave me the shivers. One of the cops turns to my side and shows the club owner my window. I was frozen. A while later, the cops go away and this terrible man stays outside the club’s door with two other men who looked like body-guards. All three were nervously smoking and looking straight at my window. They seemed really mad. And I got really scared. They now know who I am, thanks to the Greek police.

What am I supposed to think after this? Why did the police treat this guy like a gentleman? Why didn’t they apply the law? Why did they reveal a lawful citizen’s identity to someone who can potentially threaten or hurt me? What’s wrong in this country?

Am I getting paranoid? Am I imagining things? Maybe I’m misinterpreting the facts. I don’t know. May be… But the thing is that I got the message. I won’t exercise my rights as a citizen next time. It’s too dangerous.

Why Greeks are...Greeks

This is a comment that I got today from Konstantinos on my previous post "A tale of two cities or why Greeks are Europe's biggest suckers" of March 25. I copied and pasted it without changing a bit. I believe it is by far the best comment I ever got since I started this blog. I hope it will stir up a new dialogue over Greek identity in the 21st century. Enjoy...

"Konstantinos said...

Sitting in front of my pc drinking slowly my frappe coffee, smoking my cigarette and reading your comments about this post which to tell you the truth is a bit offensive and inaccurate is stimulating. Some took the chance to prove that we are rude and primitive like the first guy while others are trying to explain why Greeks are...Greeks and all the others are not!! Well here is my opinion for whatever its worth.

Being a Greek is something very...weird. You feel proud and embarrassed, humiliated and divine at the same time. You have so many things to support and so many that you d rather never knew about. You feel blessed and cursed. You have so many things to show to the world but you don’t want to just because you think you might lose it. It s in our DNA i guess to be loud and rude and selfish, not organized not good team mates and always looking how to get away with it. I know that s the way it is and even though i consider my self to be educated, i think that the day that Greeks start to think differently they will no longer be Greeks.

I don’t know if that’s sad but i don’t know if its not either. Most probably we are talking about a miracle here surviving for so many years. Of course there s no relationship with the ancient Greeks whatsoever but this legacy is our burden and pride.If you are trying to find excuses for not being as advanced as other countries in Europe you ll find plenty but instead try to look at the facts that left us behind. The only way to understand is to read and educate yourself. And most important read things that you might not like or agree with. I guess that’s what being open minded is all about.

There are really so many things to write about history of Greece which (lets be honest) affects today the mentality of the modern Greeks. There is not a single event that created all these but the whole package from the 5th century onwards. And it s not only the events that took place in Greece but throughout Europe that affected this small country that used to be the greatest of the world. I suppose we had our time and our chance. And we can be proud of what these guys that were speaking the language that I do (more or less), left to the world even if the modern Greeks are no match to them whatsoever.

Politics, wars, disasters you name it. Still that’s a common thing all over the world. What s in our DNA cant change. And i mean people all over the world. If you see someone dancing in a night club all night long drinking and smoking singing as loud as he can and return home early in the morning you ll never believe that his a German or a Dutch. Not because they don’t know how to have fun but because they have the reputation of being very strict concentrated and serious. You ll probably think his Italian Greek or even Irish. Why? Is it our reputation that defines our DNA or vice versa?

Living away from Greece and in one of the most beautiful cities in the world according to some sort of statistics is really something that can improve your way of living. Still this madness of Athens amazes me. You can find everything you want anytime you want wherever you want. They wont tell you at 17:45 that they re closed for lunch and will reopen at 6 for dinner so you cant eat yet. You wont go round and round trying to find something open after 22:00.You wont see speed limit signs where cameras are near and ‘run as fast as you can and kill yourself’ signs where there are no cameras around.

Bottom line...From my experience you cant win. Whether you live in Athens or Lisbon or i don’t now where you will always want the things you can’t have. Things that you can have in some other places on this small planet. And that s certainly in our DNA... Greeks and non Greeks."

Friday, April 06, 2007

To be or not to be (corrupted)? When tolerance is part of the problem…

I am delighted to see that there is an open dialogue over the corruption issue even if it is not as public as it should have been. I would love to listen to people talking about the Greek corruption problem on television, or read in depth articles in the press. It is my belief that this is the country’s number one problem in the long run and the sooner people realize it the better for the generations to come.

You all have a point. Corruption is everywhere. It is eating up the foundations of many societies around the world. Unfortunately, should we wish to get a clear picture, we must rely on statistics, inasmuch as boring as they are. Statistics are tricky, I know… It is the art of proving that two people ate half a chicken each when one’s eaten one and the other half. But… nevertheless… it’s all we have to run into some concrete conclusions.

It is also true that you cannot measure the exact levels of corruption in a society because the fact that you rely on should be always available and easy to access. And this is not the case. Corruption is bad, therefore the corrupted ones always hide it. BUT…

What you can do is to be based on the perception some more or less reliable sources have over corruption. This is something that you cannot ignore and certainly not dismiss as a conspiracy against the nation. By doing so, you just refuse to contribute into resolving the problem and become part of it.

Enough with the theory then. Each year, the Berlin-based organization Transparency International releases an index that makes headlines all over the western world. Why the western only? Because we like it or not this is where people care more about such things. Greek media rarely bother to make a mention on this index, while politicians who know about it turn their heads the other way.

The 2006 annual survey for the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index was released earlier this year to once again define corruption as the abuse of public office for private gain and to measure the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among a country's public officials and politicians.

“It is a composite index, drawing on 12 polls and surveys from 9 independent institutions, which gathered the opinions of businesspeople and country analysts. Only 163 of the world's 193 countries are included in the survey, due to an absence of reliable data from the remaining countries. The scores range from ten (squeaky clean) to zero (highly corrupt). A score of 5.0 is the number Transparency International considers the borderline figure distinguishing countries that do and do not have a serious corruption problem”.

Here you can see the complete 2006 list to observe exactly how Greece scored for the past year. It doesn’t make you proud I assure you. It is not just the disappointment you get when you see the name of the country proudly sitting on position 54 amongst the 164, not even the fact that the Greek index says 4.4 (much below the line that distinguishes the clean and the dirty). Proud Greeks can live with this. But how can you digest the fact that perceived much cleaner than Greece are countries like Botswana (Africa), Barbados, Uruguay, Dominica (Americas), Bhutan, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan or Malaysia (Asia)?

Well, forget about these countries and take a look at Greece’s neighborhood, the European family of nations in which she belongs. Thank God there were two enlargements since 2003, otherwise Greece would appear last in the list of shame. Now, among the 27 member states, she is number 24, followed only by Bulgaria, Poland and Romania. You wanna see who’s ahead of Greece? Seven of the ten former communist countries that joined recently should be given credit for their positioning above the craddle of western civilization (Estonia, Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Lithuania. Latvia and Slovakia). How proud does this make you? I know it gives me a punch in the stomach.

So, you think that things are improving? Well, take a look at the 2005 index, study it carefully and compare the scores. Then tell me about it. In 2005 Greece had scored almost exactly the same (4.3) BUT she was in position 47, meaning that the situation got actually worst, since she gave room to seven countries, which climbed over (countries that have significantly improved their rating since the 2005 index were Algeria, Czech Rep., India, Japan, Latvia, Lebanon, Mauritius, Paraguay, Slovenia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uruguay). This means that the country’s pace of improvement is considerably slower than it should. My nightmare is that the 2007 index will show Greece below the 54th position and you know what? No one will give a damn in this country. It won’t make headlines, it won’t hit the TV news, it won’t be discussed in the Parliament…

This is how others see us. Who are these others? Well, they are those who matter, the big guys, not me and you… The international organizations that neither love Greece nor loathe her but are indeed shaping the international investment climate, based on facts (Economist Intelligence, Institute for Management Development, Merchant International Group, World Economic Forum, World Markets Research Centre). The CPI stands for “Corruption Perceptions Index” and it takes time and effort to change a perception. It is the reaction you get when you listen to the words “Finland” (clean, honest, reliable) and “Azerbaijan” (corrupted, unreliable, a mess). This is called stereotyping, I know but it is there and you should get rid of it.

You won’t manage to do it unless you face the problem right in the eye. I am afraid that by saying “others do it too but know how to hide it better than us, who brag about it” you refuse to see the problem and what’s worse you mislead others who are trying. It’s always nice to know that we’re not the only bad students in the classroom, isn’t it?

Well, I say look ahead. See the ugly truth. Spread the news, speak out, react! I love this country and I cannot lie to make others feel happy. I’m not an anti-hellene as some have called me in their very negative emails. I dare say that I’m more of a philhellene than many of the Greeks I see around me. I feel pain when I see what’s happening in this country and what I say does not amuse me. This is why I believe it is vital to speak out, through my writing and my everyday conducts. I think that everyone should speak out for the sake of our community and the whole.