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Athens on fire ...again!
by Thanos Kalamidas
2009-08-25 07:56:09
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This is not the first time, nor the second or the third; all my adult life I remember fires in the summer. The only thing that has changed is that we used to call them forest fires, and now we call them wildfires; there is no forest left! If people around the world think the newswire pictures are dramatic, for us Greeks they are devastating. And they become even worse for us who live abroad because from one side we get the obvious questions of why, while from the other side we get first hand reports from friends and relatives. And these reports are full of anger.

athens01_400_01The fires have reached the capital and there are houses burning in the suburbs; human lives are in danger, people are losing everything they have and are trying to save what they can, often without any help. The results of this catastrophe will be more obvious in the coming winter and in the years to come. The water in the Greek capital will be polluted for years, and the Athenians will have to live a reality they already experienced the last few winters, with the roads transforming into wild rivers, taking cars and humans with them. People often forget that Athens is surrounded by mountains, and now nothing will be there to stop the rain water in the winter. Athens will be like a gigantic pot full of water!

For years arsonists were blamed, then there were a few conspiracy theories athens02_400blaming enemies from the north and enemies from the east and then there was the …general wind. In the brainless head of a minister, the wind took human form and started the fires! All these and many more were fed from the governments to the people with a lot of help from the Greek media, the only one who was never blamed was the government herself.

But nobody ever stood up and said we did wrong, let’s see what we can do from now on. So the fires were there year after year, leaving nothing else left to burn but houses.

But these houses didn’t grow there accidentally. They came after the fires; you see villas and fancy cottages with swimming pools took the place of the forests. What did the government do? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Most of the ministers of the government today have their own villas exactly where the forest used to be, and where a new forest should be growing now.

Who are the arsonists? The government is, and the politicians who exchanged their votes for thousands of square miles of forest and who negotiated their political lives with contractors. For more than forty years they have destroyed the Greek land, they have raped it over and over again and now they are burning the last bits.

Who is guilty today? The Prime Minister, Kostas Karamanlis. He continues the work his uncle started forty years ago, by burning the last bits of land and turning it into concrete and three-bedroom villas.

athens03_400I live in Finland, a land where the forest is not just part of life, it is life. Over the last few days when people ask me what’s going on, I cannot answer, I keep quiet. I cannot answer when Finnish television shows pictures of people crying, watching their houses burning and I cannot answer when the newspapers have photos of a prime minister looking like he just woke up, posing for the reporters. How can I explain that the houses that are burning now should never have been there in the first place and that the fires started so they can build new houses? I cannot explain it because the guilt spreads too far and everybody has participated in this crime. Even the small people, who illegally built a house where there had been a forest, and then they made it legal by giving their vote to the government like the last one. When I grew up, Athens was surrounded by forests, pine tree forests. Now there are forests of fancy villas and groups of houses and apartment blocks. Most of the ministers have houses in these places; places where it used to be illegal to build in just a few decades ago. They made it legal! These are the very same people who now blame enemies from abroad or the …general wind! How the hell can I explain to my friends in Finland who the general wind is?

To explain this to people abroad I need to give a lecture in Modern Greek political and social history of the last forty athens04_400years. Still they won’t understand, because there are no excuses for what is happening now in Athens. The government knew it was going to happen and they did absolutely nothing to prevent it. They have done nothing about it for the last five years in power.

Being Greek, I watch the Greek news and I read the Greek media and blogs. The outcry of the people is dramatic; the anger unbelievable. And the worst is yet to come. Five years ago Athens was flooded, because there was nothing to stop the water coming from the mountains. People were killed, fortunes destroyed. Now things will get much worse, because there is nothing, absolutely nothing to stop the water. A joke Asa told me today is bitterer than he intended, I’m afraid, he said that the Acropolis marbles might be safer in London!

I hope that the Greek Prime Minister, Kostas Karamanlis, will soon accept that the best for the country is to resign and go to sleep without any other obligations. He should leave the governing of Greece to people who are more capable than he ever was.


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Thanos2009-08-25 11:18:20
When I wrote this I was really angry and frustrated from a series of telephone-calls from Greece, friends were calling me one after the other in a state of real anger and describing what's going on and the unbelievable inability of the government to do anything! So ...I hope what I wrote makes ...sense!

ap2009-08-25 17:21:45
I am afraid forest fires are a reality that all Mediterranean countries know well, so I am really sorry for what is happening in Greece and I know well the terror which these people have been going through - and of course an incompetent government makes things one hundred times worst.
And no, the Acropolis marbles are still not safer in London, but they surely are amazing and it would be even more moving to see them in Athens.

ReindeR Rustema2009-09-02 10:49:35
I read this through Newropeans Magazine.

Why can't the Greek living abroad vote? The Greek I know all have a similar story to this one. Yet they can't vote at their ambassy, by mail or something, like people from my country can. So formally it is pointless to call yourself Greek, you are Finnish, British, Dutch, American or whatever.

Meanwhile the most rational choice as an educated Greek who wants to survive and not be complicit is to emigrate and return only in summer to stay with family and enjoy the weather and the sea. Leaving the governance of the country to those who should be replaced... Perhaps I could suggest that the diaspora should get organised, get a right to vote (for the district 'abroad') and vote differently than those left behind. Perhaps the Newropeans will win in the district 'abroad'?

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