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A disoriented nation out of character and a very dark dawn A disoriented nation out of character and a very dark dawn
by Thanos Kalamidas
2012-08-17 10:48:38
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Do you know what was the first question from friends, even neighbours on my return from Greece? What’s going on over there? And I could see from their faces that they thought that I had just been in some kind of a war or a disaster zone. Feeling a bit awkwardly I kept answering "things are difficult", without explaining that I had a fantastic two weeks holiday, enjoyed the sun and the food and most importantly I enjoyed the company of friends and family I don’t see often.

And it was natural; I had great time because I was there for nearly two weeks knowing that with the plane’s departure from Athens airport I was also leaving behind me the urge of the problems and the things I had seen. Or at least I thought so! You see the situation is a bit schizophrenic because I don’t have to live there, share the contemporary Greek reality and the problems these people face everyday but the same time my friends and my family live there and they are constantly strangled by all those problems facing a nightmarish often reality. And then it was that very dark cloud I had to deal with from the first day.

But first things first.  A couple of weeks ago and while in Greece I wrote an article trying to give a taste of how things are there and my first observations; and I titled that article “Greece in damage control mood” . Well, this is a big part of the reality. There are Greeks in denial, there are Greeks in anger, there are Greeks in bargaining, there are Greeks in depression and there are Greeks who profit from the whole thing. Acceptance is not in the horizon yet and I hope it will not come but this is a different issue.

I heard stories from family and friends and I heard stories from people I met in the little village I spent most of that time. All had one thing in common, what’s next; what’s coming and how can we deal with it. You see, despite to what a lot of populists abroad say, – including politicians and media – the Greek people understand that mistakes have happened, acknowledge that Greece is in danger and something has to change; they even know where, when and by who the mistakes happened but they also feel that the enforced solutions lead to new mistakes. And strangling the easy target, the people who cannot avoid the power of the state, cannot smuggle their money abroad, cannot create offshore companies or profiting form the situation in just too many ways, the only thing you succeed is leading a whole nation into depression and first economic and then moral recession. That kills any kind of growth and doesn’t matter if you use the whip or the carrot, the horse will never stand up.

Most of my friends’ kids despite age or education they have returned to their parents’ home unable to afford their individual life. And remember the age of friends’ kids varies from early twenties to early thirties. Some of them have started family and a couple have their own kids. Most of them unemployed or expecting to lose their jobs soon. A friend’s son with a master degree in architecture considers himself lucky working for a fast-food chain delivering boxes of food on an old motorbike twelve hours a day or better every evening, six times a week. And if they ask him to go the seventh he has not the luxury to refuse because he will lose his job; after all the next master degree is waiting around the corner. The best part is that there is no overtime, no extra, absolutely nothing; five hundred Euros a month! Let me help you a bit, we are talking about 618 US$ a month, or 393 GBP!

And you think this is bad? Wait because the “delivery architect” is the lucky one, another one gets 250 Euros a month to work as technician for an IT company with – that’s the hysterical part – French owners. 250 Euros a month – the same situation, no working hours – translates into 308 US$ a month or 196 GBP. And now let’s get to the worst part. Salaries, pensions everything has gone down. NO, not everything! A carton bottle of milk one litter 1.18 euro, toast-bread 500gr 1.85 euro, frozen pork mincemeat 4.50 euro per kilo. The best part and remember Greece is a country that due the climate grows literally everything; potatoes 0.62e per kilo, carrots 0.60e per kilo, tomatoes 1.90e per kilo, apples 1.90e per kilo, pears 2.52e per kilo. Please tell me how somebody with 250 Euros or even 500 Euros a month can survive?

The same time all the money the state saves go to the debt, the banks, the collateral deals (part of the European solidarity if anybody from Finland reads this article) and the education system crashes. There are no books for the kids, there are no classrooms, there are no money to heat the classrooms. The health system crashes, there are no money for the medicines of the cancer suffering, there are no medicines. Doctors work with what they have and it becomes very limited. And I can go on and on about various sectors of the public services, a European country, a member of the European union, Greece in the 21st century!

Here I must thank all the people from all around the world who can feel Greeks even for a minute and they help in many ways and especially I want to thank the two Finnish women – is so close to me - who so sensitively have create an organization in Finland starting with a Facebook page named ‘solidaari’ (http://www.facebook.com/groups/224458070957632/) who collect from clothes to food and money and help kids, orphanages, hospitals in Greece doing amazing work.

And in all this situation people still try to live in dignity, they try hard to embrace their families and give them some kind of security terrified from what’s coming next and how they are going to deal with it. And please don’t think that I’m trying to dramatise anything and that’s why I used the example of my friends because my friends having long careers behind them belong to the lucky ones who can still afford the situation. What’s going on with the rest of the people, the people who weren’t lucky is something I find difficult to think. According to the latest stats from NGOs the number of the neo-poor and homeless has increase dramatically and more than 75% of the Greek population lives under the limits of poverty.

The worst sign of the situation I saw it my last evening in Greece. Food and coffee is something important for the Greek social life and that’s why Greek dinners and evenings out for coffee last for hours. Usually the “square” is a place for coffee for every community even in a metropolis like Athens. Every neighbourhood has her own square with cafes around where especially weekend-evenings the whole community socializes. Especially during the summer after the long and really hot days the coffee in the square becomes a must. Usually you can see on the tables a variety of coffees and sweets or ice-cream, people walking from one table to another for a small chat and more drinks coming for the newcomers. That evening I felt a bit embarrassed because my daughter wanted ice-cream and milkshake. Every table had only coffees for the number of occupants. There was no moving around, just waving to each other and in some tables kids were sharing the ice-cream or the cake. For me as an insider – the outsider would probably just see a square full of people drinking and talking – was a heartbreaking sign for how things have change. A disoriented nation out of character.

Saying that I’m coming to my disorientation in Greece and the dark cloud I had to deal with and I mentioned in the beginning. I had seen the signs already from abroad reading the Greek media and the blogs but I have to admit I was taken by surprise when I actually faced it. Of course there is a conspiracy theory about everything but every nation has its own conspiracy theories and during difficult times these theories have their way to grow in people’s minds. So that everybody hates Greeks for their history and their discoveries was at least ridiculous and I could dismiss it easily even bother to explain how stupid the whole theory is and the only thing that it projects is their own insecurities and nothing more. But as I said similar theories I have heard in every single country I lived or visited for certain time. And yes it was everywhere on the news that the Greek neo-Nazi and racist party, the “Golden Dawn” (funny the pompous names all these parties have, the National Front, the True Finns) is now in the Greek parliament and nearly half a million people voted for them but you always try to find excuses. The situation, desperation, denial and all these. But then when you are there and you hear people you think you know, people you love and miss them all the time while living abroad blaming the immigrants for everything, when you hear people you think of them every day of your life telling you that all immigrants are murderous criminals and it is natural for them to act like that because it is genetic or having to do with their origins you really freak out. And I did!

There are no excuses for racism and prejudice and this whole thing totally disgusted me. For thirty years I have been hundreds of times victim of racism and prejudice because I was Greek. For my French bosses I was lazy, for my German disorganized for the WASPs … I was not WASP and all that because I was Greek. Was a cunning lazy gigolo or a thief. It didn’t matter that my education was from a prestigious internationally university, it was in doubt because I was Greek. I never had the right colour been an olive-skin with greasy hair and I never had the right nose. Even my blue eyes were always a reason for questioning and doubt because I was Greek. I had always to try double than others and every single time to prove myself because I was Greek and in the end I was always coming second because I was Greek. And even now in my mid fifties supposedly enjoying the fruits of a long and successful career I have to deal with every ignorant who can harass me because of the euro-situation and because I’m Greek. Two years ago dealing with a civil servant in Finland she couldn’t believe that I was not a cook and that I didn’t have or worked for a Greek restaurant. In her brain Greek equals moussaka. And to answer to my friend and her arguments, yes I was legal in every single country but do you think that counts?

Her words were one slap after the other in my face. Every single insult I had heard about me I was hearing it from a person I love towards another immigrant just like me. She was repeating exactly the same things Timo Soini and Le Pen have said about me. Yes about me! And that moment she couldn’t see that I was the Indian, the Pakistani, the Nigerian, the Albanian or the Romanian she hated, trashing and insulting. God knows how I kept myself calm especially when her final argument came, but you are European, member of the EU, Greek and everybody can see who you are! I felt that I was going to cry.

And I heard the same arguments again and again and again from others. From people I know and people I don’t. From people I love and strangers. And now I’m scared. Because there are no excuses for these people. Because there are no limits in prejudice and racism. Because today is the nationality and the colour tomorrow it will be the earring and then … arbeit macht frei. Dear compatriots, I’m sorry but there is no excuse. There is no a little racist and a little prejudice; there is no yes but, there is no I don’t get it or times like this. This is racism and you going to find me on the other side because you understand it or not you put me there!

Oh, and the media, the wonderful world of the Greek media. A Pakistani raped a fifteen year old and that became cover story in every single paper, magazine, blog and televised program. Photos of him with policemen around him, the “Pakistani monster” making headlines everywhere. Actually the neo-Nazi party this cancer of Greek life, the “Golden Dawn” send troops to the boat that was bringing him to Athens to lynch him! Brave Greeks! The same days another report hit bottom third page ion some papers without the rest of the circus. A 24 year-old beat, robbed and raped an 85 year-old grandmother. Just like that. No the Greek monster, no murderer, no lynch! Three years ago a group of boys gang raped a 16 year-old girl while the sister of one of them video taped it but the girl was Ukrainian and you know how Ukrainian women are and the boys were …good local boys from good families and the whole local community rebelled for them. The boys are free and the girl left the area. And there are more and more and more incidents like that. But for all these ….blame the immigrants, after all they are …illegal!

And talking about Greek immigrants the slaps seem that never stop lately because the army of the “Golden Dawn” and its followers has infiltrated all Greek communities even the ones abroad, in a page of Greek immigrants abroad came strong anti-immigrant screams however mad and schizophrenic this might sounds. History hasn’t judged Hitler yet too early …the latest trend I’ve read. The argument the same, we are Greeks and we are Europeans is not the same! God help us from the idiots because literally they are going to rule the world. But for this issue I will write another time.

Writing all these things and you can imagine how many more I have in mind, I heard or saw while I was there have overwhelmed me this moment. But fascism and racism is growing and is growing in the land of Aristotle, of Pericles, Plato and Socrates and this is unaccepted and we are oblige especially we Greek to do something now and stop it. Because this nation from disoriented will become lost!


The photograph in the cover is a sunset form the island Ikaria where I spent most of my holidays.

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Emanuel Paparella2012-08-17 13:14:58
This is quite a passionate report, in the real sense of the word “passion” and its most poignant part comes at the end when you Thanos remind us that the land you are describing is the birthplace of Western civilization as we know it and it may now become its tomb. That is to say, the bell tolls for us too, those who have made Greece a caricature of everything that ails the EU when they ought to remember that the bell tolls for us all too, even then there is a big ocean in between.

Recently the Republican pretender to the White House Mitt Romney has taken to criticize his opponent President Obama for having given some of his speeches in front of a building with Greek columns. This is a sure sign, so goes his convoluted rationalization, that President Obama is leading the US on the road to Greece. How pathetic!

I suspect that the same short-sighted argument is being offered in Europe by all right-wing reactionaries xenophobic, utranationalist groups. What all these people fail to see is that we are all Greeks now and that the bells toll for us too.

But one cannot give up on hope, the darkest part of the night always comes before dawn. As I contemplate your picture of Ikaria island which I assume is in the Aegean sea, I see a silver lining: the sun that is setting but we know that it will rise again and will remain there outside of Plato’s cave for any person of good will to break his chains and run out and contemplate it. I am brought back to Dante’s Commedia where the journey of our lives begins in the darkest part of the night in a perilous forest on the wrong road with dangerous animals prawling around and suddenly a ray of sun can be glimpsed behind a hill and hope is born anew.

I also see what cannot be seen in the picture but can well be imagined: I see a goddess called Europa riding the waves on top of a bull, the disguised Zeus, and I cannot refrain from asking “Quo Vadis Europa?” and cannot but wonder if she is aware that the journey is the destination. Indeed, we are all on a journey, and the journey is the destination and the bells we shall hear at the end of our journey shall toll for all, for the story of anyone of us is the story of all of us. It behooves us to have com passion (which in Latin means to suffer with) for Greece because her passion is ours too, whether we know it or not.

Leah Sellers2012-08-18 02:56:10
Dear Brother Thanos,
I grieve for your apparent and self and other realized pain for your People - for the global Cultural Oracle Stone, Greece.
Dear Sir, when I think of Greece, I do not smell moussaka. I envision iconic columns, like the monuments of Stone Henge, surrounding the everlasting Spirits and Ideas of Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Euripides, Euclid, etc... I hear the Greek myths and lessons inherent within those myths. I Envision the thngs that can be created by Golden Triangles, Squares, Rectangles and Circles.
I See and Hear Aphrodite springing forth in Poetic Song from the primordial Ocean riding upon the back of a white Sea Horse composed of nothing more than sea foam. I See and Hear the Voices of the gods and goddesses - the heroes and heroines of a courageoous, artistic, intellectually curious, ever Seeking and Questing People.
The Greeks - the Peoples of the World have always faced the Dark Energy and Chaos, Dear Sir. And have always found the Ways and Means to Make It Stop. If even for brief periods of Time.
Do not lose Hope and Faith, Dear Thanos. Humankind evolved from strong and resilient strands of Cosmic Energies, and molecular bursts (or strong puffs) of atomic actions and activities.
All is not lost, unless We Collectively deem it to be so. And at last count, there are still many of Us struggling against the Dark Energy wanting to consume our Planet.
We Will Arise - and Arise - and Arise.....

Thanos2012-08-18 13:21:14
Emanuel and Leah thank you very much for your touching comments. And I’m afraid the situation for the people is not much different in Italy or Spain actually the euro-crisis has become an excuse for the poor to become poorer and the rich richer all around Europe including the 3A states of central and north Europe. The sad part is that people blame the south for all that and this is where all prejudice arises.

Coming now to the neo-Nazis, having lived a dictatorship myself and knowing what it means and having lost even friends and family members during that very dark period I cannot understand how forty years after there are people especially young people who are inspired form those ideals (ideals because I had to use a word), furthermore I cannot understand and accept how a Greek (or Italian if you want Emanuel) can be prejudice and racist, every single one of us has a family member or a friend who one way or another has immigrate and all of us have heard the stories, there are books and novels to remind us. And then a Greek racist and prejudice? This is far beyond me.

And yes Leah, I will not let it go, I’m not young and strong as I used to be but here I am and I will battle this dark veil as I have done for most of my life.

Eu622012-08-22 16:46:24
It is so sad that the phenomenon of the scape-goat still works so admirably in a globalised world where everyone who has eyes to see should finally have understood that race and nationality per se don't make me a better or worse person. It is the living conditions that divide us. It may be that there is a higher crime-rate in country A than in country B, because law-enforcement is better in B or B is considerably better off than A - BUT if you take a sufficiently large group of A's babies to B and let them grow up there, you will see that they will have a crime-rate that is not different from the indigenous people.

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