Imitation ‘Greek’ statues flooding the market, consumer organisations warn

Consumer organisations are warning buyers against an influx of counterfeit goods from the Far East. Customs police, acting on a tip-off from Interpol, recently cracked down on a massive fake goods operation, which specialised in trafficking ornamental sculptures into Europe and marketing them as ‘Greek’.

The life-size terracotta statues were originally described by their Chinese promoters as “[potentially] inspired by Greek sculptures and art”, however ruthless European middlemen have taken it one step further, claiming to “imagine that a Greek sculptor may have been at the site to train the locals.” Experts warn consumers to beware of false advertising, and to be sceptical of the hype in the popular media. “These products claiming to be ‘Greek’ are not only smaller and of lesser artistic merit, they are also made of inferior materials,” cautions Pheidias, who owns a garden centre specialising in architectural ornaments on the Marathon road. “For example, a genuine caryatid is 100% solid Pentelic marble, guaranteed to hold up a temple pediment for centuries. These copies are terracotta, they will crumble instantly and injure someone. They would never pass European safety tests.”

The counterfeiters appear to be exploiting on the sky-rocketing demand for so-called caryatids in Greece, where state-sponsored British looting has resulted in a scarcity of the monumental female statues. “They think that if they slap the word ‘Greek’ on them we’ll be fooled,” said Mrs Toula, a bargain-hunter rifling through a stall of ‘Superbry’ and ‘Abidas’ sportswear at the local outdoor market. Recently, a campaign by German supermarket chain Lidl to promote Greek products backfired, when nationalists complained about the alleged desecration of the Greek flag on the marketing logo.

The terracotta statues are believed to have been mass-produced in a giant manufacturing plant in China’s Shaanxi province, while traffickers working for the operation are recently thought to have been identified from their skeletal remains as far afield as London.

The alleged “Chinese caryatid factory”, Xi’an, China.

Others, however, argue that the Chinese statues should be appreciated on their own merits, regardless of whether the Greeks had a hand in making them.”I have a deep respect for the cultures of the East, mused Isodoros, a 25-year-old DJ/mixologist, as he polished the battery-operated ‘lucky cat’ on the reclaimed zinc bar of his Monastiraki speakeasy. “I think it is because I have always been a spiritual person. At the end of the day, we are all one big cosmic civilisation.”

Asked to comment on the controversy, Professor Killjoy, holder of the Nitpicker chair of Archaeology at the University of Pedantry told us: “It is the job of professional archaeologists to determine whether this is a case of cultural diffusion or independent invention. More study is required to shed light on this question, which will necessitate extensive international travel, many media appearances and a small army of postdocs to cover one’s teaching duties. Now if you’ll excuse me I have a research grant to apply for.”

Imitation ‘Greek’ statues flooding the market, consumer organisations warn

I wasn’t there when…


It was a beautiful autumn evening as I walked to Athens’s Tae Kwon Do arena where the 2nd Syriza party conference is being held this week. The air was warm but the shadows long, and the light had the golden hazy quality that is peculiarly Attic. I had only decided to check out the conference the day before, when I saw the posters announcing it, plastered – illegally – along the median strip of most major roads in town.

To get to the Tae Kwon Do, one of the least unsuccessful pieces of Athens’s Olympic legacy now functioning as an expo centre and occasional refugee shelter, I had to pick my way along the seafront strip aspirationally rebranded as the “Athens Riviera”, along the gulf of Faliro. This involved traversing a maze of underpasses, flyovers and empty stranded car parks reminiscent J.G. Ballard’s dystopian Concrete Island, walking the narrow pavement along the coastal highway past the last holdouts of the nightclubs that once lined that stretch of road, and finally crossing the freshly planted park surrounding the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre which resembles a Mediterranean zen garden, and over a pedestrian bridge towards the setting sun.

The conference piqued my interest in part because I have never attended a Greek political gathering of any sort, and I happened to be in the neighbourhood. I have attended political conferences in the UK for different parties as a non-member in a professional capacity and found them to be fascinating experiences, but I am simply not a party animal in any sense (except perhaps ironically when Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet belted out “Gold” at one of the otherwise stolid Tory events). Anyway, I digress. I probably wouldn’t cross the road to attend a routine political event by most other political parties, as I haven’t done in all my years in Greece. The closest I came was the run-up to the July 2015 referendum, which was adrenaline-inducing, both in the exciting and the downright scary sense. I thought it would be interesting to see how Syriza measured up, after inspiring such passion in both the positive and the negative sense, at its second ever conference after a year and a half in power, having climbed a rapid learning curve, and with the honeymoon period decidedly behind them.

I also figured that being a relatively new political formation and making a big deal of inclusiveness it would be easy to blag my way in. In the UK, party conference attendees have to register weeks in advance, get a conference pass in the post and queue to get through tight security barriers.

As I approached the venue I was struck by the calm. I had expected something along the lines of the KNE (Communist Party Youth) festivals that used to take place down the road from us when I was growing up, and where Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras cut his teeth in the not too distant past: tannoys blaring Theodorakis songs and slogans, leafletting, honking horns and music late into the night. Here, only a few flags fluttering in the autumn breeze gave away a party event rather than an Ideal Home expo. Thin crowds milled outside, little groups of friends greeting one another, craning their necks to find more people they recognised, smoking. There were a few recognisable faces, including senior cabinet minsters, mingling outside. Three times I thought I spotted the rotund mustachioed Parliamentary speaker Nikos Voutsis, only to realise that the paunch and braces were something of a common look among male attendees of a certain age.

I only had to walk through an airport-style scanner and put my bag through an x-ray machine. No photo ID badges, and only a couple of discreet police buses for security. Inside the hall, I had an hour to kill before the programme was due to start. The PA system played an eclectic mix, “Bella Ciao” alternating with “Rock the Casbah” and Greek dad-rock. Looking around me, I estimated the average age of the gathering audience to be mid to late 50s, perhaps a bit older. Some had brought children who were already fidgeting. One small section towards the back of the arena was taken up by the Syriza youth, who were the only ones showing a sense of occasion. As I leant over the bannister the gentleman next to me smoked a candyfloss-scented electronic cigarette. Around 10 minutes before the scheduled starting time, a disembodied male voice came on the PA system: “Comrades, comrades, please take your seats so that the conference can begin”. There was a slight show of purpose in the crowd. At the third attempt, the announcer started to betray some impatience, adopting the deliberate phrasing of a kindergarten teacher: “Comrades, please. We are taking our seats and settling down so that the conference can begin”.

There was a rustle and random sections of the audience stood up and applauded. “Who is it?” whispered the group of women next to me. “It’s Alexis, it’s him!” (this is the first genuine excitement of the evening). On the big screens we could see Tsipras and a group of senior party figures making their way from the back of the hall through the crowd to the stage. The hall was still not full. There was the odd empty seat in the stands, and the floor was only crowded near the front. To the sound of some kind of instrumental folk-rock which I didn’t recognise, Tsipras shook hands along the front rows, while the rest of the audience chatted.

Once the meet and greet had concluded, the voice proceeded to introduce the honorary conference committee as they rose to take their places on the stage. I only recognised a few names of the presiding team. After them came a colourful, diverse group, which I would have trouble picturing onstage with a more established party: a Muslim MP from Thrace, a Paralympian, the president of the Philippino domestic workers’ association, and eventually a long list of resistance fighters, dissidents and Communist party members with histories of imprisonment and exile. After the applause subsided, the Syriza youth section erupted into a chant of “On barren islands and in prisons, the Communists never bowed”. This was greeted by stony silence from audience.

The party secretary stood up to give the welcome address. He was not an inspiring speaker, and I have to admit that I have a short attention span when it comes to political speeches in general. My mind starts to wander within the first couple of sentences and I revert to people-watching. What I did notice was that I was not alone. At a UK party conference of the governing party, even as a registered attendee I would not even be in the main hall, I would probably be watching a screen in an overflow room, but there would still be a palpable atmosphere that carried you along. I recently watched in amazement a snippet of the fractious Republic convention in the US, where the floor delegates dutifully applauded Ted Cruz on cue for several minutes before it slowly dawned on them that he was not in fact going to endorse Donald Trump as expected. Based on these precedents, I was concerned that I would stand out if I failed to applaud. There was in fact very little applause on cue, and when it came, several people around me didn’t join in. Only the Syriza youth chanted occasionally.

The tone was particularly flat when the speaker tried to whip the audience up by stating repeatedly that this was the first conference of its kind in Greece, “held by a leftist party while in government”. I had read more experienced and knowledgeable commentators note that this conference would be very different from the first, partly because the centre of gravity of the senior Syriza team had shifted from the more radical personalities of their opposition days and their first term toward the more conservative figures drawn from the ranks of the Socialist PASOK party, which had governed Greece on and off since the early 80s. This was clearly borne out in the audience by the frosty reception that greeted the “first time left” claims.

I can’t remember much more of his speech. As my eye wandered I fixed on two incongruous figures seated in the youth section: two twenty-something guys in sharp suits and carefully trimmed beards, smoking cigars like the wannabe Gordon Gekkos used to do while the ordered sushi around the old Athens Stock Exchange. Had they stumbled in from a Nea Demokratia event, or were they perhaps a Cuban youth delegation? One of them ostentatiously brushed down his jacket sleeve after one of his more casually-attired comrades in the stand bumped into him.


Eventually, the secretary ceded his place to Alexis Tsipras. This also struck me as odd compared to the Anglo-American experience, where the party leader’s speech typically forms the crescendo of the conference programme, after all the aspirants and the grandees have had a chance to warm up the audience and iron out the message. Maybe this is how it’s done in Greece, but I found it interesting that Syriza wouldn’t have challenged such a tradition, given their emphasis on bottom-up process and consultative deliberation, to have the leader set the tone up front in such an obvious way. But, oddly, I was looking forward to this. I had never found Tsipras to be an engaging speaker when I had watched him on TV. He declaims in a loud nasal monotone that some people compare to the late Andreas Papandreou, who was generally counted as an inspirational orator, but I find soporific. He peppers (or should I say crams) his sentences with political clichés of the type described in Greece as “wooden language”, which hark back to the cold war days of the 1970s. In the comfort of my own home I tend to drift off to make a coffee or get a drink and read about it later, but having heard Tsipras described as a “firebrand” and “charismatic” I expected that the live experience would be more engaging. The principle had worked when I was dragged to Neil Young and Springsteen concerts only to be dragged away a reluctant convert.

On this occasion I was wrong. I stayed engaged long enough to sense the audience freeze again when the “first time left” message was repeated. They did the same when Tsipras claimed the July 2015 referendum will remain etched on our memories as the greatest moment in modern history. There was stony silence when he said that leaving the Euro was never part of the Syriza plan – earlier in the day, a leaked book excerpt quoted French President Hollande to the effect that Tsipras had approached Russian President Putin to print drachmas in Russia in the event of a Grexit. Talk of changing Europe from within barely caused a ripple in the audience; ditto the mention of the pantomime villains, the media and the old political parties.

The floor was still only two thirds full. A busty blonde woman in a tight black dress strode up and down the back of the audience wiggling her hips and blowing kisses to her friends (?) in the stands. You will have to resort to more expert commentary for what followed. Rumours have it that the party conference is the prelude to a ruthless cabinet reshuffle, but I didn’t stay to pick up any hints of this. My curiosity satisfied I left, probably a third of the way through Tsipras’s speech. Maybe it was different in the “old days”, a mere couple of years ago. Maybe this is just what happens when a party grows up, or maybe it has burned out already.

If it was exciting, I wasn’t there.

PHOTOS by Atlantis Host, October 2016.

I wasn’t there when…

Welcome to the entanglement show


Hello Greece-watchers and welcome to another thrilling parliamentary debate on political entanglement (or diaploki to give it its proper Greek name)!

You join us as Greece endures its seventh year of austerity, with no end in sight. Long time spectators may have switched channels now that there are fewer telegenic riots in the streets and a dearth of “maverick” media-friendly politicians to grab the headlines, but that doesn’t mean the drama is over. There is still plenty of austerity in the pipeline, bargains to be driven and hard decisions to be made, but there is always time for some good old fashioned showmanship.

The country’s elected representatives across the political spectrum have kindly agreed to devote an afternoon of parliamentary debating time to the ever-popular subject of… (drum roll please)… “phenomena of entanglement and corruption and their influence on the institutional and political system of the country and ways to confront them”. There are those who might say that treating such a serious matter as show is frivolous – we would ask whether it is even good use of parliamentary time. After all, there is at least one parliamentary committee still taking evidence on precisely the topics we expect to hear discussed. But hey, why not book in another session of mid-afternoon mud-slinging to prospect even further down the depths of the political barrel that must at some point be revealed to have a false bottom?!

This debate offers a great opportunity to brush up on your Greek political vocabulary. So without further ado, here is a preview of what to expect:

Alexis Tsipras (Syriza).
  • Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will give a whistle-stop tour of the “triangle of entanglement” (the Hellenised version of a Reuters coinage referring to the links between banks, media and political parties in Greece). Tsipras has promised to name “addresses and names” (διευθύνσεις και ονόματα) but don’t hold your breath for any revelations – last time he used this “teaser” for a debate on the judicial system we had to make do with a stack of document folders being brandished suggestively and standard allegations against “some” (κάποιοι), presumably shadowy forces, delivered in a theatrical whisper. If cornered (trigger word: elections) he will question the accuracy/integrity of the latest opinion polls that show Syriza trailing the opposition with disapproval ratings of 90%.
Nikos Pappas (Syriza).
  • Minister of State Nikos Pappas “owns” the broadcast licensing agenda, the most visible plank of Syriza’s anti-corruption drive. He will elaborate on Tsipras’s speech, but in a more high-pitched voice. He will accuse private TV channels owners of conducting an αεροπειρατεία (aeropiratía, lit. air piracy, hijacking) – his latest slightly-off-the-mark bon mot to describe the (still) present anarchic broadcasting regime. He will brush off any of the numerous questions still hanging over the tender process. If cornered (trigger word: Kalogritsas, the name of a successful license bidder, who withdrew after he was revealed to virtually embody the aforesaid triangle) he will commit to using the €250 million raised in the auction to hire hospital staff/create nursery places/support young scientists/buy milky bars for everyone (clue: he has only promised three of these so far).
Kyriakos Mitsotakis, ND.
  • Nea Dimokratia leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis will stand up looking like a smug prefect and give a slightly awkward, over-rehearsed speech with stage-managed hand-gestures and carefully focus-grouped jokes which will fail to amuse anyone but his most loyal groupies. If cornered (trigger word: Siemens), he will reminisce about his early life as a six-month old political prisoner during the junta, while his big sis casts back on changing his nappies and kicks herself for not trying harder for the party leadership. He will demand snap elections, but will fail to mention a single credible policy. He will accuse the government of setting up a “new left-wing diaploki”, hoping instead to catch disillusioned Syriza voters on the rebound (he will probably be disappointed). He will then post a mawkish photo op with his dad, Mitsotakis Sr., the 98-year-old honorary party chairman, looking like a confused and/or mummified Don Corleone.
  • One of ND’s right-wingers, perhaps Adonis Georgiadis or fellow ex-LAOS MP Makis Voridis, will then stand up to do the dirty work of ad hominem attacks and loose allegations, then tweet out the video of his performance with a comment like “I love the smell of burning lefties in the morning!”. He may let slip an admiring comment about a former dictator.
Panos Kammenos (ANEL).


  • Junior coalition partner Panos Kammenos (ANEL) will give us a live reading from his private correspondence with an oligarch, which may or may not be a hoax, so as to present himself as an incorruptible free agent. As his senior partners in the coalition are tarnishing rapidly, he sees the ghosts of junior coalition partners past beckoning from the dustbin of history and paddles furiously to disassociate himself where he can. Kammenos rarely misses a debate which affords a cost-free opportunity to bloviate, but invariably votes “yes” in absentia on crucial austerity bills, to avoid heckling chants of “sta tessera” from the opposition benches.
Thanassis Papachristopoulos (ANEL).
  • In the event that Kammenos decides to give it a miss, his ANEL understudy will show up promptly, pompadour quiff askew and shirt unbuttoned like a taxi driver who has slept off his shift in the cab because the wife has thrown him out. He will work himself into a lather and choke on his outrage. Over whatever.
  • Fofi’n’Stavros (PASOK leader Fofi Gennimata and Potami leader Stavros Theodorakis), presiding over what remains of Greece’s decimated centre-left, will avoid eye contact. That one night stand they had over the summer holidays failed to blossom into a party merger and is now a source of embarrassment to them both.
  • Someone with a shaved head and/or elaborate facial hair from Golden Dawn will use the word βοθροκάναλα (vothrokanala, sewage channels) to refer to private TV channels – but most other MPs will be taking a tactical coffee/cigarette break at the time.
  • Centrists Union leader Vassilis Leventis will once again express his revulsion for the corrupt political system he has finally succeeded in joining after decades of trying. He probably won’t reiterate the curses against the establishment political families that older viewers may remember, as he bides his time to become the next kingmaker.
Policy in the making (1).
Policy in the making (2).
  • There will be no South-Korean/Ukrainian-style punch-up, because the Greek parliament is still (still!) too cosy for that.

BONUS FEATURE: Why not boost your live viewing experience by playing a drinking game? Down a shot each time you hear any of the words in italics. Or any entries from our Glossary of Parliamentary Language, or our Greek Glossary of Informal Exchange Systems. [WARNING: Consume responsibly. Dateline: Atlantis accepts no liability for damage caused through excessive consumption.]

IMAGE: “Alexander the Great slaying the snake”, from the traditional Greek shadow puppet theatre. In the play, the wily Greek anti-hero Karagiozis tries to claim the reward for killing a man-eating snake, but is unmasked by the actual slayer, Alexander the Great. Via

Welcome to the entanglement show

The Zea Conspiracy


I recently tried to take a break from the snark, cynicism and political intrigue that normally fuel this blog by sketching out a proposal for an essay combining two of my other interests: ancient stuff and food. A whimsical yet informative look at the revival of ancient foods, I thought, a good news story about rediscovering the past in the crisis, peppered with incidental historical detail and toothsome gastronomic tips.

But would “they” let me? The hell they would!

When I say “they” I am referring not to the voices in my head, but to my tirelessly inventive friends, the conspiracy theorists. I had forgotten Rule Number One: no topic, no matter how benign or obscure, is conspiracy-proof. Especially in Greece.

If you have visited a Greek health food shop recently, or any of the new generation of “traditional” delis, you will have been struck by the incredible array of dried pasta, a lot of it made in Greece from various obscure rustic grains. And if you happen to have read any literature on the origins of agriculture, some of these grains will sound familiar: δίκοκκο σιτάρι (Triticum dicoccum); spelt (Triticum spelta) often labelled by its German name, dinkel; and the more classical-sounding “Zea”. A veritable cornucopia of archaeobotanical samples seems to have taken over the shelves overnight, despite the hefty price tag that many of them command.

I was curious as to what had spurred this new market, particularly given that it coincides with a dramatic contraction in the average household’s spending power. So, naively I typed “ζέα καλλιέργεια” (“zea cultivation”) into Google. I was expecting to find official web pages from the Ministry of Agriculture about subsidy schemes, perhaps some farming publications discussing yield and soil types, and maybe a few food blogs of the “knit your own yoghurt” variety.

Instead I was confronted by a whole slew of articles with titles like “Zea, a well-made fairytale”, “What is zea and why it was banned in Greece”, “Bread from ZEA flour – READ the WHOLE TRUTH”. The random capitalisation signals it loud and clear: there is a TRUTH about zea that THEY don’t want you to know. The comments sections played host to some fairly disturbing flame wars, too – easily a match for an anti-vaccine bulletin board or a bitcoin forum.  So much passion and anger for a humble little grain!

Without much effort, I traced the source of the conspiracy stories. “The Historic Swindle” (Ο ΙΣΤΟΡΙΚΟΣ ΕΜΠΑΙΓΜΟΣ) by one General George G. Aïfantes, published in 2010 in archaïzing katharevousa Greek (the linguistic affectation of choice of the reactionary), now sadly out of print, is a classic of its genre. To cut a long and meandering story short, the book is an explication of how the great world powers conspired to destroy Greece over a century ago, with clearly telegraphed topical parallels to more recent events.

I will let the author explain in his words, translated verbatim below for the extensive passages quoted on various websites like this one (epilepsy warning!), with the original punctuation:

«Οί αρχαίοι δέν έτρωγαν ψωμί άπό σιτάρι. Τό σιτάρι τό είχαν ώς τροφή τών ζώων καί τό (ονόμαζαν πυρρό. Έτρωγαν μόνον ψωμί άπό Ζειά ή Κριθάρι καί έν ανάγκη μόνον από κριθάρι ανάμεικτο με Σιτάρι. Ό Μέγας Αλέξανδρος έτρεφε την στρατιάν του μόνο μέ Ζειά, διά νά είναι οι άνδρες του υγιείς και πνευματικά ανεπτυγμένοι. Αν οι αρχαίοι Έλληνες έτρωγαν ψωμί άπό σιτάρι δέν θά είχαν τόσο ύψηλήν πνευματικήν άνάπτυξιν.»

“The ancients did not eat bread from wheat. Wheat they used as animal feed and they named it πυρρό. They ate only bread from Zeia or barley, and only in emergencies from barley mixed with Wheat. Alexander the Great fed his army only on Zeia, in order that his men be healthy and mentally developed. Had the ancient Greeks eaten bread from wheat they would not have such a high level of intellectual development.”

«Μόλις οι κοσμοκράτορες έδιάβασαν αυτήν τήν έκθεσιν τής επιτροπής, δίδουν εντολή το 1928 νά αναιρεθή αμέσως ή καλλιέργεια Ζειά στην Ελλάδα, και μόνον στην Ελλάδα. Διά νά μειώσουν μέ το σιτάρι τήν πνευματικήν άνάπτυξιν των Ελλήνων, μειώνοντας τήν άντίληψίν τους και οργανώνοντας ταπεινήν έκπαίδευσιν των παιδιών τους καί διδάσκοντας τις πολιτικές τους εις τά σχολεία και πολιτικοποιούντες τα εις τά κόμματα που αυτοί ελέγχουν απόλυτα, για νά ποδηγετήσουν πλήρως εις πρώτον χρόνον τους Έλληνας. Ενώ τώρα αναμειγνύοντας τους μέ αλλοδαπούς, θέλουν νά τους εξαφανίσουν τελείως.»

“As soon as the world rulers read this report of the committee, they issued an order in 1928 to cease immediately the cultivation of Zeia in Greece, and in Greece only. So as to reduce with wheat the intellectual development of the Greeks, reducing their understanding and organising debased education for their children and teaching them their politics in the schools and organising them into political parties that they controlled absolutely, so as to control the Greeks in the shortest time. Whereas now mixing them with foreigners, they want to eradicate them completely.”

«Ναι άλλα πώς θά τό επιτύχουν αυτό;Αμέσως δίδουν έντολήν είς τόν τέκνον των τον Βενιζέλο νά έπιστρέψη στην Ελλάδα καί νά εξαφάνιση τήν Ζειά. Οπότε βλέπουμε τόν Βενιζέλο νά έπιστρέφη στην Ελλάδα μετά άπό 8 χρόνια αυτοε­ξορίας του, νά άνασκουμπώνεται και νά ορμά σάν λέων κατά τής Ζειάς. Μέσα σέ 60 χρόνια μόνον ήλλοίωσαν τήν πνευματικήν ύπεροχήν του σκέπτεσθαι τών Ελλήνων, τους έκαναν αδιάφορους, άβουλους, μέ μετρίαν αντίληψιν και φιλάσθενους καί τώρα μέ τους αλλοδαπούς επιδιώκουν τόν πλήρη εξαφανισμό τής φυλής των, ένώ συγχρόνως ξοδεύουν δισεκατομμύρια δολλάρια οι φιλεύσπλαχνοι διά νά μην εξαφανισθούν οί οχιές, κόμπρες, πάντα καί άλλα ζώα καί ερπετά.»

“Yes but how will they achieve this? Immediately they issue an order to their child Venizelos to return to Greece and eradicate Zeia. So we see Venizelos returning to Greece after 8 years’ self-exile, rolling up his sleeves and setting upon Zeia like a lion. Within a mere 60 years they corrupted the intellectual superiority of Greek thought, they made Greeks indifferent, timid, with mediocre understanding and sickly and now with the foreigners they are intending the complete eradication of their race, while simultaneously the benevolent are spending billions of dollars to prevent the disappearance of vipers, cobras and all other animals and reptiles.”

«Προς το τέλος του 1928 ο “Εθνάρχης” μας Βενιζέλος, προφανώς μετά από κάποια εντολή, με της Αμύνης τα Παιδιά, τυφλά εις τον νουν και την κρίσιν και διψασμένα το πώς να ευχαριστήσουν καλλίτερα τον αρχηγόν των εκήρυξαν τον πόλεμον κατά της Ζειάς και εφορμήσαντες ακαταμάχητοι, ενίκησαν νίκην λαμπράν και εις βραχύτατον χρόνον 4 ετών δεν υπήρχε εις την Ελλάδα ούτε ένα σπυρί Ζειάς για σπόρο. Είπαν εις τον λαό ότι η Ζειά είναι ζωοτροφή, δι αυτό τα λεξικά την γράφουν έκτοτε ζωοτροφή και ότι είναι βλαβερή στην υγεία. Αυτό το πρόβαλαν έντονα τα Μ.Μ.Ε. και σε 4 χρόνια εξηφανίσθη η Ζειά.»

Towards the end of 1928 our “Ethnarch” [sic] Venizelos, clearly acting on instruction, with his “boys in Defence” [an ironic reference to a pro-Venizelos anti-royalist song of the time], blind of mind and judgement and thirsting for how to best please their leader declared war on Zeia and charging forth invincible, won a glorious battle and in a brief 4 years there was not left in Greece a single grain of Zeia for planting. They told the people that Zeia is animal feed, and for this reasons since that time the dictionaries have it as animal feed and write that it is harmful to health. This was promoted strenuously in the Mass Media, and within 4 years Zeia had disappeared.”

The General goes on to say that Venizelos also expunged any reference of Zea from Greek dictionaries, and that his friends made a killing importing wheat into Greece on the back of the Zea ban. But that is not all. He also gives a vivid description of how gluten is used by “the establishment” to breed compliant slaves to the system. “Here comes the science!” as Jennifer Aniston used to say in the those shampoo ads – look away now if you know anything about molecular biology:

«Η γλουτένη του σιταριού καταστρέφει την υγείαν, το πνεύμα, την μεγαλοφυίαν, τον πολιτισμόν της ανθρωπότητος, διότι ως ισχυρή κόλλα επικολλάται εις τα τοιχώματα όλων των αγγείων πού διέρχεται, πεπτικούς σωλήνες, έντερα, φλέβες, αρτηρίες κ.λπ. Ένεκα τούτου παρακωλύει την σωστήν πέψιν, τις κενώσεις και την κυκλοφορίαν του αίματος, με τις αντίστοιχες επιβαρύνσεις εις την υγείαν.» 

“Wheat gluten destroys the health, the spirit, the genius and civilisation of mankind, because as a strong glue it fixes itself to the walls of all vessels that it passes through, digestive tracts, guts, veins, arteries etc. Because of this it prevents proper digestion, excretion, blood circulation, with the corresponding detriments to health.”

«Εις τον εγκέφαλον ως πρωτεΐνη στηρίξεως κολλά ισχυρά τις πρωτεΐνες της μνήμης με αποτέλεσμα, ότι παραστάσεις και ιδέες εβίωσεν το παιδί εις την ηλικίαν 3-7 ετών, οσο λανθασμένες και αν είναι, οσο πιο δυνατές και ξεκάθαρες αποδείξεις περί πλάνης του και αν του παρουσιάσεις αργότερα, δεν πρόκειται ως ενήλικας να απορρίψη τις αποθηκευμένες μνήμες και δοξασίες του, περί θεού, πολιτικής, κ.λπ.»

“In the brain as a structural protein it fixes solidly the proteins of memory with the result that, whatever attestations and ideas the child experienced at the age of 3-7 years, however mistaken they may be, however powerful and clear proof of their fallacy you present later, it will not as an adult reject its stored memories and beliefs about god, politics, etc.”

«Δι’ αυτό ακριβώς οι θρησκείες, οι Δικτάτορες, οι έξουσιασταί μας με διάφορα τεχνάσματα και ωραία λόγια προσπαθούν να ποδηγετήσουν τα παιδιά απο μικρή ηλικία και εσοφίστηκαν τα κατηχητικά και τις πολιτικές νεολαίες. Οι Δικτάτορες και οι τραπεζίτες εισήγαγον την πολιτικήν εις τα σχολεία με πρόφασιν, δήθεν, την προπαρασκευήν ενήμερων πολιτών, ενώ στην ουσία εκπαιδεύουν τυφλούς δούλους του τραπεζικού συστήματος.»

“This is exactly why religions, Dictators, our masters with various ploys and beautiful words attempt to manipulate our children from a young age, and devised Sunday schools and political youth movements. The Dictators and banker introduced politics into schools with the pretext of, ostensibly, producing informed citizens, but in reality they are training blind slaves of the banking system.”

«Όποιος απο εσάς πιστεύει εις την ανεξάρτητον σκέψιν των ανθρώπων, ας αγωνισθή δια την κατάργησιν του συνδικαλισμού εις ολα τα σχολεία, πλην των πανεπιστημίων. Επομένως η γλουτένη του σιταριού είναι και η τροχοπέδη της εξελίξεως και του πολιτισμού. Ταυτοχρόνως, τροχοπεδεί και την ελευθέραν σκέψιν και πνευματικήν άνοδον του άνθρωπου και τον καθιστά δούλον του ιερατείου, του κατεστημένου, διότι αγωνίζεται και θυσιάζεται δια αξίας που του ενέπνευσαν τα οργανωμένα συμφέροντα και όχι η φύσις. Είναι όλοι οι αγώνες του εναντίον των φυσικών νόμων. Αντίθετα η πρωτεΐνη στηρίξεως της Ζειάς (πληθυντικός Ζειαΐ) διασπάται απο τα ένζυμα και αφομοιώνεται σαν καλή τροφή απο τον οργανισμό.»

“Whoever among you believes in the independent thought of people, must struggle for the abolition of unionisation in all schools, with the exception of universities. Therefore wheat gluten is a brake on development and civilisation. Simultaneously it acts as a brake on the free thought and spiritual elevation of man and makes him a slave to the priesthood, to the establishment, because he fights and sacrifices himself for values that were inspired in him by organised interests and not by nature. All of his struggles are against the laws of nature. In contrast, the structural protein of Zeia (plural Zeiai) is broken up by the enzymes and absorbed as a good food by the body.”

No doubt the General found an eager readership in the intersection between those the 75 percent of our countrymen who apparently believe that the financial crisis was engineered by conspiracy against Greece by outside forces, the one in three who are convinced that “we are being sprayed”, and the uncounted hypochondriacs who buy water purification kits off TV informercials while speed-dialling the astrology hotline. The Zea conspiracy certainly found traction on the Greek fringe nationalist internet and its affiliated TV stations, where the General appeared regularly as a pundit. For what could be more patriotic than reviving the (alleged) food of Alexander’s troops that was (allegedly) banned by the Great Powers, and that (supposedly) boosts not just your bodily functions but also your IQ so that you can make Greece great again?


The critics are equally vehement: Zea is a scam invented by profiteering farmers. It isn’t certified, and much of it is probably imported from Germany, fraudulently “Hellenised”, and inflated in price. It is nothing but the latest snake-oil put on the market to rip off gullible Greeks. It is bringing in GMOs by the back door. All references to zea attributed to ancient texts are invented or distorted. We are being sold grain that our ancestors barely saw fit for animal feed.

After consuming this rich fare, going back to writing about how “comeback grains” do offer some modest health benefits “as part of a balanced diet”, and how they may give farmers a new income stream, feels like swapping a big juicy double gyro wrap “with everything” for a virtuous bowl of all-organic, 100% vegan, gluten-free gruel. It’s a tough call. But at the end of the day, there is no sinister Zea abolition act in the parliamentary record, just the first modern food testing and standardisation regime, introduced in Greece 1928 (no matter how you choose to label it when you upload it to the internet). Nor does the accumulated knowledge of classical literature and archaeology support the General’s assertions that a crop called “Zea” was a staple of the ancient Greek diet and that wheat was not. As for the “science”, it belongs firmly in inverted commas along with Grain Brain, Wheat Belly and whatever other tome your orthorexic friend is is beating you about the head with this week. Eating whole grains will give you a healthier gut, and you may actually like the taste, but it won’t transform you into Pythagoras or Alexander the Great overnight. It certainly won’t restore Smyrna to Greece, or bring back the monarchy. “Buying Greek” may help local farmers, but it won’t make anyone rich, and it won’t end the financial crisis. All of the grains labelled “Zea” are ancestral wheat varieties that contain some gluten. But gluten isn’t poison for most people, nor is it part of a sinister government plot to keep us fat’n’stupid – and if it is, it is doomed. Your honour, I present as evidence millennia of bread-eating western progress, improved well-being and increasing lifespans.

To give credit where credit’s due, neither the obsession with food purity nor the anxiety over government control are uniquely Greek. “Survival seed banks” guaranteeing non-GMO, non-hybrid, “open pollinated”, “patriot” seeds untouched by government, the WTO and big agribusiness, packed in bomb-proof containers, are now a cottage industry in the US, competing for the custom of “preppers” making their plans for the end of days. To the question “Are governments attempting to stop citizens from growing their own food?” the answer for some is always “yes, the U.S. government now claims the power to simply march onto your farm with guns drawn and demand all your crops, seeds, livestock and farm equipment.”


Thankfully we’re not there (yet)!

IMAGES: The Goddess Demeter with her Eleusinian attributes, wheat, serpents and poppies (go on, ask me about the poppies!) via; crop duster by Charles O’Rear via; emergency seed bank via


The Zea Conspiracy

The best cure?

No 732874

Greece is a country rich in coastline and mountains, with a Mediterranean climate and an incredible variety of vegetation. In the coastal and more low-lying areas olives and citrus fruits are cultivated, and vines extend to higher elevations, especially on the sunny slopes. The roadside stalls and the street markets attest to the wide range of seasonal fruit and vegetables produced in different regions, but the most striking feature of the countryside are the wooded areas and the scrub-covered grazing lands. Some of the mountains boast oak or beech woods and black pine, and in the higher ranges, below the barer alpine zone, there are forests of fir, but the tree that epitomises the Greek coastal landscape is the Aleppo pine, Pinus halepensis. The brilliant green of the Aleppo pine and its contrast with the blue of the Greek summer sky and the turquoise of the sea linger in the memory and the photographs of the traveller as “Greece”.

The forests of Aleppo pine provide protection from erosion on the slopes. The wood of the Aleppo pine is not highly valued, but the mature trees in some areas continue to be a source of resin, of which the island of Evia produces up to 90% of the Greek crop. The “retsinades” (resin-men) patrol their allotted trees throughout the summer, slashing the bark to open a strip that bleeds the resin into plastic bags skillfully stapled to the trunk to catch every drop, and replacing the full bags which are emptied into the nearest resin tank. The technology may have changed a bit – 50 years ago the resin was collected in little tin cups – but the process remains labour-intensive, hot and sticky, and mules are still the best way of reaching some of the stands of pine. Beekeepers also erect their hives in the clearings.

Every summer there are hundreds of forest fires in Greece. It is estimated that about 50,000 hectares of forest are burned each year. The Aleppo pines, with their high resin content, burn particularly well, and the explosion of the burning cones spreads sparks far and wide, igniting other trees in a wide circle, often giving rise to elaborate conspiracy theories of multiple arson. The pattern is as often as not a natural one, even if the first spark is ignited by human action.

When a major forest fire gets under way, a predictable series of events is put into motion. The fire service responds to the call and the appropriate dousing measures are activated. The media appear soon after, eager to fill their airtime in the quiet summer months (I mean, inform the public). The videos accompanying the first breathless TV descriptions usually have a faint “archive footage” watermark in one corner, as one shot of an ageing yellow Canadair dropping water on flaming Aleppo pines is much like another. A Government Minister cuts short his vacation and is rushed to the scene to “coordinate the operation” (I say “his” because it always seems to be a male minister on such occasions, and he makes sure that the TV cameras are rolling to capture his arrival). The same, or another, minister and the local MP are subsequently filmed looking serious, meeting with the representatives of local groups whose property or livelihood have been affected, and making concerned statements. Soon after this, an opposition leader and/or local MP visits to be filmed expressing outrage at the tardiness and incompetence of the government efforts and the lack of sensitivity to the interests of the local population. Occasionally, things turn ugly.

“Quick, look concerned!”: Environment Minister Yiannis Tsironis on the site of the Limni forest fire.

Meanwhile the TV, radio and newspaper coverage consists of a recombination of stock phrases: “πύρινη λαίλαπα” (pyrini lailapa, fiery whirlwind), “δύσβατη περιοχή” (dysvati periochi, difficult-to-reach spot), “θυελλώδεις άνεμοι” (thyellodeis anemoi, gusty winds) the last two used as explanations for why the fire engines and planes/helicopters, respectively, have not yet extinguished the fire. The firefighters are making “υπεράνθρωπες προσπάθειες” (yperanthropes prospatheies, superhuman efforts) and the pilots are all heroes. There is the inevitable “vox pop” with a distraught homeowner clad in baggy shorts and flip-flops wielding a small hose or broom. “Where is the State?” they cry, as they try to protect the house they was happy for the State to ignore when they erected it illegally on forest land (a common land-use pattern already noted by the archaeologist of the future).

When the wind drops and the flames are replaced by charred stumps, comes the announcement of the vast area of forest and scrub that was burnt, along with the beehives and sometimes olive and fruit trees or flocks of sheep or goats “but fortunately there was no loss of life, and no homes were damaged”. There are promises of compensation for the local communities, and an opportunity for a demonstration of largesse by those in control of the funds or enforcement mechanisms, with the implied expectation of deferred political reciprocity somewhere down the line. The next event, sometimes avoided, takes place when the first torrential rains arrive and wash down the hillsides unimpeded, denuding them of soil, and carrying rocks, rubble and mud down to block the roads and flood the fields and villages, and the drama resumes.

This series of events was re-enacted this summer, when fire broke out on 30 July near a village in central Evia and in high winds spread rapidly through the magnificent Aleppo pine forests that the area is famed for. There had been a similar fire in the same area in 1977, and the forest was just regaining its former splendour; Aleppo pine regenerates naturally when protected from humans and goats. Within hours the flames had crested the hills to the west and were threatening the attractive coastal town of Limni and a well-known neighbouring seaside monastery. The nuns were evacuated along with holiday-makers camping by the sea. The town was saved and the politicians duly arrived, in this case the local MP and (coincidentally) Minster for Agricultural Development, Vangelis Apostolou, who wrote an account praising the efforts of the responders and promising special easements to those affected. The Environment Minister Yiannis Tsironis, also paid a visit, during which he promised the retsinades compensation and gave the rights for retrieving firewood from the burnt areas to a local cooperative. The Forestry Service was charged with organising anti-flooding measures on the burned hillsides. Opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis put in the obligatory appearance and inspected the area in a freshly pressed smart-casual shirt and suspiciously clean tennis shoes.

“What’s the damage?”: opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis visiting the scene of the Limni forest fire.

The fire at Limni was by no means exceptional; large fires in Greece this summer destroyed large parts of the islands of Chios and Thasos, including extensive cultivated areas. An article about forest protection entitled “Bitter Lessons” written by the then head of the firefighting department of the Forestry Department was republished to mark the occasion – as relevant today as it had been at its original publication in 2008, and a reminder that the lessons haven’t in fact been learned.

It is no exaggeration to say that the elaborate ritual of fire response described above actively discourages the learning of any lessons. The clamour of the fire engines and the human drama of evacuations serve as a noisy distraction from a series of crucial policy failures around forest management that have unfolded in Greece over recent decades. The formulaic language used gives us some clues. The lens through which the media and political culture present forest fires almost seems designed to sensationalise the event itself, and invoke an emotional reflex rather than a reasoned response – to render the audience helpless so as to capture its eyeballs and votes. The fire is a “natural disaster” and the appropriate response is first heroism, followed by sympathy, and eventually a handout. This tweet by a governing party MEP in the aftermath of this summer’s fires exemplifies the genre:

We know what he is getting at, of course; this is a clearly styled and branded political message to the EU. But the clichés in which it is cloaked, and which are routinely trotted out on such occasions across the political spectrum, are not merely tokens of sloppy thinking but are actively harmful. At best, they encourage unquestioning passivity and the shrugging off of responsibility; at worst they fuel destruction in exchange for financial compensation and political patronage. Indeed, recent research has shown a link between the severity of forest fires and election cycles (areas burned in election years have been 2.5 times the area burned in non-election years) that suggests anything but a natural cycle. We would be well advised to heed the well-publicised verdict on a major disaster in another part of the world, Hurricane Katrina, that “there’s no such thing as a natural disaster”, and ask the tough questions about the human factor in such events, the extent to which our individual and collective choices, economic, social and political, have shaped the catastrophic outcome:

If a tree falls in a forest – to make illegal firewood or build a holiday home – and no one is around to hear it – for their own reasons, perhaps a backhander, a vote, or simply the desire for “a quiet life” – does it still make a sound? We should really be considering the impact it has on everyone’s pocket and quality of life. When an individual choses to put themselves and their property in harm’s way by illegally encroaching on a high risk zone – where they also consequently increase the risk of fire – can they truly be considered victims of a “natural disaster”? Or are they in fact passing on the risk and cost of their actions to the rest of society? When a local official or national politician turns a blind eye to encroachment or tacitly rewards its outcomes, is that just a cheap inconsequential favour, or is it in fact a very costly one for those not directly involved in the transaction? And what do we prioritise through our democratic processes? Are we allocating our dwindling national resources in the wisest way? It should quickly become apparent that you don’t have to be a card-carrying tree-hugger to care.

The overwhelming emphasis on safeguarding life and property, which is also made to seem “natural” in the context of fire reporting (because what kind of misanthrope wouldn’t be concerned about casualties?), has its own policy and political hinterland. Before 1998 the responsibility for extinguishing forest fires in Greece was shared by three independent agencies: the bulk of the responsibility lay with the Forestry Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, which complemented this activity with extensive prevention and protection measures; the aerial means, which came under the authority of the Air Force (Ministry of Defence), but was coordinated by the forestry service; and the Fire Department (Ministry of Public Order) which was responsible for residential areas, and whose vehicles were restricted to paved roads, and which being a uniformed service did not take orders from others outside their hierarchy. The army could also be called in to help on the ground.

Legislation passed in 1998 by the Simitis government under the direction of the EU separated the responsibility for the extinguishing of forest fires from that of prevention, and allocated it exclusively to the Fire Department, ostensibly in the interests of conforming with the practice in most of the other member states (N.2612/1998). The Fire Department was also allocated generous funding for equipment and training of staff. The accumulated experience of several generations of foresters in controlling fires in the forests and their knowledge of the local terrain and network of forest roads, were lost overnight. The younger foresters were probably relieved to be spared the extra firefighting duties, which typically involved shift work over the holiday period. The Fire Department, accustomed to easy access to flaming buildings took a long time to adjust to the very different circumstances of wildfire in the forest, and have never really appeared to relinquish their original priorities – hence their much repeated statement that “there has been no loss of lives or property”, and their apparent reluctance to leave the paved roads. The efforts to control fires in the forest now rely heavily on the aerial means and become concerted on the ground only when a village becomes threatened. The division of funding – 35% for protection and 65% for fighting fires – has curtailed the Forestry Service’s ability to apply effective protection measures.

Almost 20 years later there has been no systematic effort to make a proper assessment of the results of the transfer, but the conclusions of the one published attempt are negative, based on numbers of fires, hectares destroyed, means deployed and cost. Every year, an average of €357 million is spent on forest protection, of which €230 million goes purely to extinguishing fires. In addition, the study highlights that the annual cost of fighting forest fires in Greece dwarfs the equivalent expenditure in the US and Canada, countries with a much higher incidence of wildfires per head of population.

It was probably unfortunate that in the first years in which the Fire Department took charge the summers were particularly conducive to forest fires, and some particularly rapidly-spreading fires occurred, including some with loss of life to fire-fighters. Following these events, there seems to be a tacit agreement that the appropriate terms to describe their efforts are heroism and tragedy, rather than inexperience or, dare we say it, lack of competence. And in the apparent gaps left by the official response, some of the volunteers keen to take on the hero’s mantle have less than pure motives – witness the recent appearance of Golden Dawn groups in insignia among the first responders, and their eagerness to publicly mourn those fallen in the line of duty.

But there is an even more fundamental misplacement of priorities behind the vicious cycle of forest fires. Yiayia happened to visit Limni a few weeks after the fire in the company of a friendly expert, who had this to say:

“In the last 30-40 years there have been extensive forest fires, which have destroyed large areas of coniferous trees and shrubs in the Eastern and Western Mediterranean. These fires have sometimes been caused by lightning in summer storms, but are usually anthropogenic. Forest fires are not 100% avoidable, but their incidence can be managed. The opening up of road systems in mountainous areas has allowed easy access of more people to the forest areas (though also facilitating the approach of firefighters). In the critical dry windy summer months when the low vegetation is dry, the danger of fire is greatest and the conditions are ideal for rapid spread and unfavourable for easy control, despite the deployment of large numbers of firefighters and their variety of equipment (fire engines, aeroplanes, helicopters, etc.).

Forest fires of this extent and intensity cause incalculable damage, economic and ecological, to a region. All the resources and the beneficial effects for the people and for the stability of the environment (enrichment of the atmosphere with oxygen, provision of forest products, regulation of the flow of rainwater, protection from erosion, natural conservation of biodiversity, not to mention human enjoyment and recreation) are obliterated in the course of a few hours. It is estimated that the reestablishment of these forests takes 30 to 50 years, depending on the type of trees and their capacity for regeneration, and the soil and climatic conditions in the area. Especially where the area is characterized by steep slopes, when there are heavy rainstorms soon after a fire, there is danger of even greater damage through soil erosion and landslides, and flooding in the land below.

In the management of forests as a national natural resource, we seem to have our priorities wrong, focussing on the emergency response measures of extinguishing forest fires rather than investing in preventive measures. This would be a less expensive approach, resulting in less damage to the environment.

Preventive measures would include: a good network of firebreaks; maintenance of the forest road network for easy access; annual clearing of the dry roadside vegetation; defence measures in the summer months such as forest outlook posts and patrols; enforcement of restrictions of hazardous activities in the summer months (burning of rubbish, campfires, welding, etc.); better public education on the importance of the forest for our health, physical and psychological, and how to avoid hazardous activities; and, long-term, cultivation in schools of love and respect for the forest and the environment in general, by people who themselves know and love the forest. None of this is new of course, but it has never been consistently applied.”

This all agrees nicely with the Yiayia philosophy on preventive medicine, which also takes a back seat in our national allocation of priorities to rampant antibiotic use. Here, too, we need a change in the prevailing wind. For now, let us hope that the anti-flooding measures are in place by the time the autumn rains come to Limni, bringing the first wild cyclamen from the corms that will miraculously have survived the fire.

With contribution from Atlantis Host and a forestry expert who wished to remain anonymous.

Photos from,,

The best cure?

Earth-like planet “already discovered” by Greek explorers



The discovery of an Earth-like planet orbiting the solar system’s closest star, 4.22 light years away, has caused great excitement among the scientific community and excited the imagination of ordinary people across the globe. Proxima Centauri b, as it has been dubbed by scientists, has characteristics that suggest that it may offer suitable conditions for hosting life, and as such may, in time, offer an escape destination for humans once they have depleted the usable resources of their home planet and/or are driven to escape by intra-planetary strife.

Much of the initial reporting has focussed on the practicalities of establishing the physical characteristics of the newly discovered “exoplanet”, with the viability of human colonisation being seen as a very distant prospect by serious researchers. However, new evidence has emerged to suggest that even this seemingly distant haven has already been “discovered” by enterprising Greek explorers.


Images retrieved from the European Extremely Large Telescope and subjected to detailed analysis in the laboratory have revealed hut-like structures closely resembling the Aegean “Type 1” buildings of the Middle Anthropocene, including evidence of Greek script. Although scientists were initially excited by the prospect of discovering life on another planet, epigraphers were able to confirm that the etchings were in fact modern Greek writing. One translated as “Freddo €4.50”, apparently refers to a cold beverage popular in the early 21st century AD, whose distribution is confined to the southern tip of the Balkan penninsula. Archaeo-economists note that the price, quoted in the currency of the time, is vastly inflated compared to that prevailing in surviving records from the mother-planet.

Although scientists were initially hopeful that Proxima b offers a water-rich environment, finds in the area of the makeshift structure suggest that bottled water was imported to the site in small plastic bottles, labelled €1.50 each (approximately three times the regulated Earth price of the time).

Other features appear to confirm the Greek origins of the early colonists of Proxima b. There is a hastily constructed track on the approach to the structure that appears to have been cleared by a bulldozer under cover of darkness (incidentally confirming that the planet did indeed rotate about its axis, another condition for supporting life). Concrete bollards made from used 5-litre olive oil tins and rebar demarcated a flat area, clearly destined for “reserved” space vessel parking. The rusting remains of after-market modified beach buggy (circa 2003 AD), with decals advertising surfing gear and Camel cigarettes were also identified at the site.

Scientists are torn as to the significance of this latest find, and some clearly feel that they have been robbed of the joy of discovery: “Just when you think you’ve found a quiet unspoiled spot in a friendly galaxy where you can really get away from it all, you find some wide boy has got there first and ruined it,” said one bitter boffin, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of jeopardising his research grant for three months’s prime telescope time in Hawaii or Mallorca (“depending on the weather and the availability of female co-researchers, but definitely NOT the Atacama desert. No beaches, you see”).

IMAGES: Artist’s impression of the surface of Proxima Centauri b (ESO); artists’s impression of the hut-like structure on Proxima Centauri b (@atlantis_host).


Earth-like planet “already discovered” by Greek explorers

Vapour, smoke and mirrors


It is now one year since Yiayia first voiced her concerns on the alarming dimensions of the tobacco epidemic in Greece, and the Sunday edition of Kathimerini thoughtfully reported on the latest figures on smoking and “vaping” (“άτμισμα”, “atmisma”, i.e., electronic smoking) in Greece. This report was also well-timed, because the present Minister of Health, Andreas Xanthou has recently announced the planned introduction of legislation to forbid the use of electronic cigarettes in public places. Meanwhile, his Deputy Minister, Pavlos Polakis, a surgeon by profession, openly flouts the smoking ban in work places by lighting up in the canteen in Parliament and at press conferences in the Ministry – part of a lovingly cultivated “Cretan mountain man” persona which also includes composing threatening verse in the traditional mantináda style directed at his adversaries, and Berlusconi-style rants alleging corruption in the judiciary.

The debate over electronic cigarettes continues, with evidence to show that their use as a source of nicotine helps smokers to quit, and other evidence to suggest that new users will get addicted to nicotine and then graduate to smoking “the real thing”. Nicotine itself is harmful to the blood vessels and other elastic tissues, so “vapes” themselves are not entirely harmless to the user. Regardless of the debate, “vaping” has caught on in Greece, and the sales of electronic cigarette products is one of the few domains that has flourished during the crisis, with 300 registered specialty stores and over 1,000 sales points now operating throughout Greece. Kathemerini quotes current estimates of 200,000 systematic “vapers” among the Greek population.

Yiayia, being suspicious of what she reads in the newspapers (ever since being misquoted by the local rag at the tender age of 10), resorted to the primary source, in this case the Hellenic Statistical Authority ELSTAT, which publishes information on all aspects of life and death in Greece (no wisecracks about “Greek statistics” please; no doubt there is the inevitable conspiracy angle here too if you go looking for it, but in my professional experience I always found them reliable, professional and cooperative where population and health data were concerned). Every 5 years a Health Interview Survey (HIS) is conducted, and the findings of the most recent survey in 2014 were published this year (in English). The report shows that the percentage of regular smokers in Greece has fallen from 32% in 2009 to 27.3% in 2014, continuing a welcome trend that we noted in an earlier post. Is it possible that the Ministry of Health warnings on cigarette packets, the health education activities, the anti-smoking campaigns and the restriction on smoking in public places are actually producing results? Perhaps it is also the decreased spending power of smokers in the crisis. Although these findings are encouraging, the idea that more than one quarter of the population are still putting themselves, and the rest of us, at risk, is still alarming and is rightfully described as one of the biggest public health problems facing Greece today.

The rationale for restricting vaping is not clear. Second hand vape may be annoying to those at the next table, in the way that taking selfies or dowsing oneself in Poison are, but at least it is not loaded with the carcinogens of exhaled cigarette smoke. And arguably the government’s efforts would be better directed at enforcing existing laws, starting in their own back yard, rather than issuing new edicts. Although the existing smoking ban is largely observed in public offices and banks, it is acknowledged that its enforcement in bars, coffee shops and eating places has met with spectacular failure. This failure is confirmed by the report cited above, whose figures show that of the people who chose to eat or drink out, nine in ten had recently experienced passive smoking in coffee shops/bars, and eight in ten in restaurants/tavernas. If these numbers are anything to go by, the “vapers” have no more to fear than the traditional Greek smokers from the introduction of legislation to restrict their habit…

Image via

Vapour, smoke and mirrors