Πέμπτη, 13 Οκτωβρίου 2011

Idiots can fly!

As a child I was often called a "bookworm". And in a way I still am. A child or a bookworm? I'll let you decide... I used to read anything. I especially loved reading in that sanctuary of sanctuaries, the toilet... If I had no reading material, I would read the washing up powder boxes...
I was lucky in that our house was always full of books. The first novel I read was Jaws. I was 6 or 7 years old at the time. I haven't liked swimming over deep water or seaweed since...

One of the books that I found lying around the house was called "The story of Language"and was written by Mario Pei. Once I got over the, admittedly teenage, novelty of Mr Pei's surname (Pei means penises in Greek) I read the book. It was a revelation. I have since had a great fascination for language and words.

It was in this book where I first read about how words are alive. They live in our minds but also in our societies, they grow, they change, they sometimes even die... This happens in many different ways.

Being half Greek and living in Greece I have often had heated discussions with my full blooded Greek friends about the richness of the Greek language compared to others (especially English as that was my other half...) While I never doubted this, I could never fully concede that Greek was somehow above all other languages. A few years ago I started reading Bill Bryson and acquired many more insights into languages in general, but especially English (and American English...) English according to Mr. Bryson is one of the most bastardised languages in the world. It has begged, borrowed and stolen thousands of words from all over. And of course many of these borrowed words have come from Greek. A learned customer of mine and serious language buff, once told me over 250,000 english words are of Greek origin. This is something that happens. For example Greek has also borrowed many words from French. Many words to do with car parts are greek versions of French terms. Bougie (Μπουζί) for sparkplug, pare-brise (Παρμπριζ) for windscreen, embrayage (ντεμπραγιάζ) for clutch and many others.

Sometimes words are borrowed and their meanings are changed, usually over time. One of my favourites is the word "idiot". This word comes from the greek root ιδιώτ- as in the noun ιδιώτης or the verb ιδιωτεύω. In ancient Greece to be an ιδιώτης meant to be someone who only cares about himself and does not take part in social and political life. The Greeks could not imagine someone to be so lazy and not ot care less about being a part of the decision making processes that made up Greek Democracy, and the word came to imply that someone was stupid. And this is what idiot means in English.

Now back in Greece where the original word came form, Greeks have become idiots to such an extent that they have decided, over time, to take away this meaning of stupid from the word and to give it other meanings. So Ιδιώτης today can mean someone who has no professional skills but it's most common use is something like "private citizen". And the adjective ιδιωτικός, -ή, -ό means "private" (Funnily I have yet to find a word in greek that means privacy...)

I'll take this a step further. A major part of the Greek problem today is that we Greeks became such idiots that we allowed another bunch of better connected idiots to rule us and decide for us. Throughout our lives we have been sold the idea that we cannot change anything. That the system is as is and no action on our behalf can make a difference. And so the politicians partied. They threw some people some scraps like a government job position or some other political favour and kept us there, in the idiot phase...

The time has come though for Greeks to remember what being an idiot really means. And to denounce idiocy for what it really is. To refuse to allow others to decide for us.  To refuse to be idiots anymore.

PS The change in mindset required is big. Many of us, glued to our screens and stuck to our sofas have one hell of a steep learning curve ahead of us. But change is happening. It is starting from small groups who are rediscovering the joy of community, the happiness of sharing a day's work, the elation of a job well done in company and the friendly smiles on faces who have been angry and sad for too long. I am happy to be a part of just such a small group...

Papapete Corfu 14/10/2011

The Boutsouni Social Solidarity Network

Κυριακή, 18 Σεπτεμβρίου 2011

Greece, Greeks and the "Greek Problem"

I started this blog in an effort to provide another view, an inside view, let's say, of life in Greece etc. I have been rather relaxed in my postings, but as things seem to be coming to a head and the picture being painted of Greece and the Greeks by the foreign media, becomes increasingly darker and bleaker, I feel it is my duty to try and do something about it...

A few days ago I read a rather good article by a Swedish journalist, Kajsa Ekis Ekman. Here is the link to it for those who wish to read it: When the Euro-suit doesn't fit

The article is very good, (the translation is a bit off, though) and I agree with almost everything she writes. what I thought I would do is to take a few of the points she makes and expound upon them, thus adding some extra insights.

But first a look at the current situation. Greece is, to all intents and purposes, bankrupt. The government has announced that there is barely enough money to last until October and then they will be forced to stop paying wages and pensions. The 6th installment of the original, first, aid loan from the EU, is being stalled, due to the fact that Greece's austerity measures and financial plan are not going according to plan. At the beggining of September, the troika (whose inspections decide the fate of each loan installment) arrived for it's quarterly inspection, only to leave very quickly for unknown reasons. The troika officially announced that they had left in order to give Greece a little time to implement the measures, but the word on the grapevine is that they immediately saw the government had done almost nothing and left in disgust... The latest news is they don't know when they will return, and the decision on the 6th installment is postponed until sometime in October.
PM Papandreou has cancelled a trip to the US, to return to Greece and try and sort things out. Finance minister Mr. Venizelos, has announced a new tax on property, to be collected via the electricity bills. I personally think this tax will be their undoing... Just like the poll tax was the undoing of Mrs Thatcher's government... especially as the same man, Mr Venizelos stated in June that electricity is a basic need and not a means to leverage taxes on and out of the people...

In Ms Ekman's article she says "I don't think that I 've ever been to a country where everybody, everybody I meet, agrees"... Well I'm not sure that is exactly true. But certainly what I am hearing about this new tax is that probably most people agree it is unfair and shouldn't be paid. In an impressive show of solidarity the electricity company workers syndicate (GENOP-DEH) has announced that it will not allow the tax to be added to the bills, it will not allow any electricity cut-off orders to be issued and it will not allow anyone to go without electricity for not paying the tax. Finally Greeks seem to be getting the message that unless they do something all together there will be no change...

But are Greeks really waking up to reality? You could be mistaken to think not, if you took a nightly stroll along the Liston, where people continue to sit around drinking expensive coffee and the young sit around playing with their expensive smartphones...

In May 2011, the spanish Indignados, put up a sign in the Puerta del Sol square which read: "Be quiet, we might wake up the Greeks". This was taken up by a number of Greeks, initially in Athens and very quickly in other Greek towns and squares and became what is known as Aganaktismenoi . Amongst the other aganaktismenes towns of Greece  was also our very own Corfu. The Corfiot Aganaktismenoi have been there right from the start, and were responsible in part for the eruption in anti-politician and anti-MP behaviour and protests all over Greece. On the 1st of June, they protested a number of Greek and foreign MPs in the Old Fortress which resulted in them leaving via kaiki from the sailing club, in order to avoid confrontation! 

The protests in the squares continued and went from strength to strength. On one Sunday some calculated their numbers were over 300.000 and possibly even half a million! On the 15th of June they attempted to blockade the parliament. On that day PM Papandreou played yet another game on his people. He initially came out with an announcement that he was calling for a coalition governmet, an act which led everyone to think he was essentially resigning, and Greeks breathed a collective sigh of relief... Hours later he stated that the opposition was not being willing, so he would continue as is on his own... (Certainly without any consent from us anyway...) Many people now think this was a trick to allow the pressure to be relieved and people to go back to their sofas...

A trick to also buy them some time. But why? Why not just default and get it over and done with? Many people think ithe reason behind this is that this will allow European banks and institutions to lessen their exposure to Greek debt and cushion the fall. The problem is that the majority of Greek people are on the receiving end of all the measures, when it definitely was not the majority who took advantage of all the loans and grants sent Greece's way in the past years... VP Mr. Pangalos, famously came out and said "Ta fagame mazi" (we partied together loosely translated) but I can tell you many people were never invited to this party and they are now being asked to foot the bill...

At the end of June specifically the 28th and 29th the mid term austerity package was being voted in. It was decided that everyone who could, should go to Athens and be there to protest.. A small number of Corfiot Aganaktismenoi went too. I was among them. Our experience there shall be the material for another post. For now I 'll concentrate on the current timeline. During July and August the protester numbers waned. The heat, the summer holidays, but also the continuous threat of police violence and chemical attacks conspired to keep people away from the squares. Of course the groups continued, as they have from the beggining, to voice opinions and keep contact on the internet and social media,. and a small number of them continued to populate the squares... As the last days of August melted away in the heat, a call was made to bring people back to the square. Some, but not many, have answered it. Yet if you walk the streets and listen in on the kafeneio, you can hear the desperation. A friend of mine who works in a very specialised part of the IT industry, just told me that all of their future projects (mainly to do with banks etc) have just been put on hold indefinitely. The latest austerity measures, new taxes, a new law allowing the government to lay off 10% of its workers (within the next month), the news that potentially the greek deficit was made to look bigger (!) than it actually was to push the situation and the fact that the government somehow still managed to take on an extra 25000 workers in 2010, have pushed the greek population to the edge. The next few days could see some catalytic events...

To be cont'd...

Σάββατο, 17 Σεπτεμβρίου 2011

Yet another blog by Papapete!

Hello again,
I am starting this particular blog, because I felt a need to better communicate my views of the situation in Greece with all my non-Greek speaking friends. Talking with many of you in the past few months, I have realised that many, even though they live here, still do not realise the extent of craziness in the Greek system and situation, and often do not have access to the wealth of obscure, or not so obscure, information which would help to appreciate it. I'm not saying that i know better or more, but another view is another view...

So I am going to try and keep you up to date with what is going on. Or at least what I think is going on...!!

I've been wondering what to start with, and initially wanted to get into the suject of the wages of public servants in Greece, however I decided to leave that one for a coming entry.

(The above was written almost a year ago, and never posted. In an effort to restart my attempt to give some insight to the Greek situation, I'm posting as is...)

Τρίτη, 25 Ιανουαρίου 2011


As some of you may have seen in one of my previous posts, Unusual happenings in Corfu there have indeed been some, and now there have been some more! I'll dispense with the "mystikopatheia" (another wonderful greek word meaning something like a love of secrecy or secretive) and get down to the details.

On December the 19th some people who had had enough of the rubbish situation in Corfu, decided to try and do something about it. It was to be a symbolic gesture of cleaning up a small part of town. Facebook was used to invite volunteers. Interestingly, out of  2108(!) invitations, 1898 did not respond, 143 said they couldn't make it, 46 said they might, 21 said they would definitely come and 7 actually turned up. It could have been 8 but she had to babysit for 2 of the others...haha! I was one of them!

a great time was had by all and we went home feeling happy that we had actually tried to do something rather than sit and whine about the situation at the kafeneio or online...

A few days later we got back together again and decided to try and do more. The idea came from the Atenistas group in Athens. A group of non-party afilliated individuals with a set of common goals. To try and make everyday life in the city a little better by organising various dos, happenings and efforts to tidy up, neaten up, enliven, help the needy, point wrongdoers in the right direction, anything really that can put a smile on someone's face... and make life better! This is how the Kantounistas were born. Over the Xmas period we got together again and again, created a Kantounistas facebook group, a blog (kantounistas.blogspot.com) and started to plan our first official "action".

This happened last Sunday in Corfu town. The idea was to set up a small "roadblock" at the places were cars and motorbikes illegally enter the pedestrianised (20 years ago)  roads of Corfu. There were leaflets explaining the idea, traffic cones, a Kantounistas-at-work sign and two handmade pedestrian-footpath signs.

The first stop was by the Kofineta at the palace end of the Esplanade. Here there is a small square where there were at least 10 cars illegally parked while the municipal parking round the cricket pitch remained mostly empty... For just over an hour no cars entered from there except a couple of emergencies, like an old man getting a lift home from hospital. Most drivers looked on in amazement or despair, and moved on. There were no altercations... There was one funny reaction when a couple of workers in a truck, exiting the town informed us kantounistas, that the pedestrian roads are actually illegal! we pointed out the roadsigns. They said they were illegal too!

 We then moved on and set up our roadblock outside the National Bank of Greece, and finally at the Pentofanaro.
Three and a half hours after we started, we left, feeling satisfied that we got the message through to a fair number of people. Possibly we will be doing this kind of "action" again, in order to keep up the pressure on the average corfiot driver to do the right thing and use his legs sometimes as well! We all use the town both for work or recreation and we often do so with our kids. Why should we always have to keep our eyes open for cars or bikes where no cars or bikes should be?

This was our first action. Soon there will be more. The Facebook group membership numbers already over 150 people. Last Sunday 150 said they would attend, but only 15 did. We are happy , we were enough, but the more, the merrier.

Membership is free, voluntary, and there is only one obligation. Not to forget to bring your smile when you join us!

So if you get an invitation from a friend on Facebook to join a bunch of loonies who think they can change Corfu and the Corfiots and who are calling themselves Kantounistas (after the famous kantounia of the old town) don't worry! It's not a joke...

See you in the Kantounia!!

Last minute update. There are now similar groups in Crete (Minoistas), Ioannina (Paguristas) Patras (Patrinistas, PolisPatra) Thessalonika (Thessalonistas) Pireas (PireActive) The wind of change? We can only hope...

Δευτέρα, 3 Ιανουαρίου 2011

Wherever I travel, Greece hurts me...

George Seferis, one of the great Greek poets of the 20th century, wrote that line. It has grown in the Greek psyche and come to be used on many occasions. You see it in the papers, and it is often mentioned in everyday life...

Almost a month ago I met some of Corfu's recent flood victims (plimmiropathis in Greek). They are a small family of three. Mum was away in UK. Dad and son woke up at 4.30 in the morning from the sound of water. Their bed was almost afloat... They couldn't open the doors to get out, which may have been just as well as they probably would have been swept away. As it was they managed to climb into the attic and wait out the flood, hoping the water would go no higher. It topped out at 2 feet of water in the house.

Almost all of their belongings were destroyed. Modern furniture is not made to withstand the rigours of a river flowing through the house.Personal stuff, mementoes, photos and pieces of their lives, all gone. Not to mention a car and a cherished motorbike... However, the kitchen table and some chairs survived, so we sat down to a cup of coffee and a chat.

He is Greek, she is English. They lived in the UK for 16 years. Corfu was the summer retreat. They decided to come back for good, some years ago. The main reason was their wish to see their boy brought up in a "healthier" place. As I drank my coffee and he his tea (in 16 years you can pick up habits easily!) he told me that they left the UK to escape the problems of the 21st century and found themselves facing the problems of the 17th! That phrase stuck in my mind, because it so eloquently describes how many of us living here, feel.

Floods and fires, storms and earthquakes happen everywhere. In every country of the world. It would be wrong to say that Greece has more, or does not handle these situations as well as other countries. When nature decides to move, few can stand in her way...

According to another friend who suffered from the floods, the local Nomarchis, Mr Poulimenos, visited the area the next day after the floods. When asked what will be done about the blocked waterways and partially destroyed roads, he said that things were difficult, and it might be an idea if they all got together and chipped in for some cement and asphalt...

Is there a difference? Well, i may have not spent much time abroad, but I think there is. Back in 1989, on one of my rare visits to the UK, I saw some roadworks on the M25. They were in the morning, they were there at night when we came back, (working under floodlights) but they were gone the next morning and thejob was done. I am sure there are exceptions but here it seems to be the rule...

I don't know what you think but I get this sense that almost nobody cares. The government doesn't care, nd the people doing the work don't care. Most of them got the job through "meson" and are not really that keen on working. Just on getting paid...

The last months as most of you know, all hell has broken loose in Greece. Scandals are being discovered and then, often, are swept under the proverbial rug, almst on a daily basis.

About a month ago, there was a lot o talk about the various benefits and bonuses that many public workers get. most of them are being cut.As some of you may know wages n Greece have always been much lower than in Europe. The oversized Greek public sector, found a way round that though. Over the years many, job and situation specific, bonuses and benefits have been worked into the system. In fact it is not uncommon for the annual total of bonuses and benefits to exceed the actual annual wage, sometimes by much more than double!!

I've put together a list of the more interesting ones. They have all been crosschecked and referenced...

Standardization benefit.This is apparently some sort of levelling out of wages for certain categories.
Position of responsibility benefit. An extra for all those in managerial positions.
Timely arrival to work bonus! Apparently bus drivers used to get it.
Transport of envelope benefit!
Use of foreign language bonus!
Use of computer benefit
Graduate of Public management school benefit
Special empolyment benefit
Registrar's benefit
Presidential benefit (for those working for the president I presume...)
Special benefit for those working in "border" or "difficult" areas.
Special extra benefit for non-teaching work (given to teachers...)
Musical instrument replacement benefit
Special bonus for those working for MP or party offices
Teacher's preparation benefit
Technological research bonus
Having to abroad and use foreign languages benefit
Committee participation bonus
hospital and food benefit
Teachers working in Education ministry benefit
Translators and Interpreters benefit (actually interpreters are worth it, it is a very difficult job...)
Archaeiological digs bonus
Prison and rehabilitation personell benefit
Special bonus for those workingon the island of Delos
Special bonus for those working in Aliens Police dept.
Transportation benefit for municipal workers
Special incentive bonus
Abolition of special accounts benefit

Special benefit for those working in financial management
Bonus for faster and more effective transactions

Hand Washing bonus
Bus engine warm up bonus

Of course I don't mention fairly normal benefits such as marriage, child, study benefits.

I won't go on any more... I get frustrated just writing about it!!

However there is one last thing I want to point out. The main problem with the greek public sector is not the amounts that everyone was being paid, but rather the fact that the majority were getting too much for doing nothing. And what have they done to correct this? Cut everybody's wages. so now everyone is upset and even the conscientious ones are not too keen on working...

Aaaahhhhrrrggggg!!! Greece!!!!

Wherever I go, you  hurt me...

yet interestingly watch this video. it could be talking about Greece... and it's not!

check this out too.