Vapour, smoke and mirrors

polakis1

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 kathimerini.gr

Vapour, smoke and mirrors

“Comrade Tsipras, say something left-wing…”

CarracciHercules

What follows is a translation of an op-ed article published in Ephemerida ton Syntakton, a left-leaning independent newspaper, on the 21st August 2016. The author is Dr Stelios Stylianidis, Professor of Social Psychiatry at the Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences in Athens. Stylianidis is a campaigner for mental health reform in Greece, and commented extensively in the media on the spike in suicide rates during the economic crisis, which became a rallying point of the anti-austerity movement that ultimately brought Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza to power (twice) in 2015*. The article presents a critical perspective on Greece from within Greece that is not often given an airing outside the country,  where much of the commentary, particularly from the left, falls back on the overly simplistic and ultimately unhelpful story of an unequal contest between externally-imposed austerity policies and internal suffering, resistance and capitulation. 

I only know the author from his published writings. I have taken the liberty of inserting clarifications [in square brackets] where I felt they were helpful, and adding hyperlinks to previous posts and external sources where they illustrate the arguments put forward. My interjections do not necessarily express the the views of the author, and vice versa.

“On the 29th June 2013, on a well-known political programme on Italian TV, the left-wing film director Nanni Moretti [of Caro Diario fame] addressed the then secretary of the Partito Democratico [the Italian centre-left party whose current incarnation is governing Italy under PM Matteo Renzi] with a phrase that became etched on the thwarted world of the Italian Left: “Comrade d’Alema, say something left-wing, or at least say something[in fact, the iconic outburst in which Moretti shouts at his TV screen where d’Alema is being steamrollered by a bloviating Silvio Berlusconi, first appeared in Moretti’s 1998 film Aprile, as recounted here].

After eighteen months of government by the “first time Left” [as Syriza refer to themselves, despite being preceded by several years of Socialist government under PASOK, and governing with the support of the right-wing nationalist party ANEL], and coming from the ranks of the Reformist Left, I would like to put forward three basic questions regarding this brief but historic experience for our country.

My questions do not claim to evaluate the totality of government, but set out in outline certain matters that are connected with historical culture of the Left.

1. Does the Left really have the moral advantage over its historical rivals?

A basic distinction between the anomie, corruption and clientelism of the old political system and the new one should be one of values, what [the influential Italian Communist Party secretary] Enrico Berlinguer termed in 1981 the “moral superiority of the Left”, with reference to the capture of the state.

I often hear friends and members of the governing Left put forward the fundamental argument that if we do not replace the old cadres and mechanisms that resist all progressive reform with our own people, then the imperative for change that the Left represents will remain unfulfilled.

However, to the extent that the age-old means of clientelism are being reproduced toward another end, that end itself is cancelled out. Some illustrative examples:

  • The “war on oligarchy” is being fought selectively and piecemeal, through a replacement of the old entangled establishment with a new generation of market players, who are not themselves distinguished for the transparency of their business dealings nor for their independence from government.
  • The replacement of many high-ranking civil servants of proven technocratic experience and a track record of effective delivery with officials whose CVs are limited to party titles is a strong indicator of a corruption of conscience through the voluntaristic capture of the state. The traditional cultural affinity of the Left with meritocracy and progress is replaced by a vulgar contest of party cliques.
  • The imperative of social justice, of redistribution of wealth and the protection of the impoverished victims of the neoliberal onslaught is not well served by the uncritical over-taxation of the middle class (the salaried and the pensioners, the self employed and the small businesses), which leaves intact the shadow economy, black marketeering and parasitic practices which are still entrenched in the state.

2. Why is the Left afraid of knowledge and innovation?

With the advent of the third Memorandum [the creditor agreement signed by the Syriza-ANEL government in July 2015], we see the continued absence of a national plan for the productive reorganisation of Greece, the encouragement of islands of innovation, the creation of a benign environment for new investments, the creation of research institutions connected to the development needs of the country.

What is it that prevents the Ministers responsible and their teams from creating a broader circle of collaboration and knowledge-sharing that would enable them to set targets and assessment mechanisms, and develop an alternative national development plan?

How can one explain the institutionalised distrust towards a multitude of innovative proposals that are being put forward (for example with regards to the use of EU structural funds) to every relevant government department, and which could transform the recessionary climate as well as our country’s credibility in the eyes of foreign partners? From what possible credible working hypothesis on the improvement of education can we draw the sly argument for the abolition of university entry standards that would boost acceptance rates into low-demand university departments?

Is it possible that the wariness towards any form of public-private partnership that might benefit state universities and support our collapsing educational infrastructure is based purely on an ideological dichotomy of public = good, private = bad?

Can tackling of the humanitarian crisis (a central campaign slogan of Syriza) possibly be limited to the support of food banks and social clinics in local authorities, without the existence of a national plan to improve healthcare, mental health policy and welfare?

The international knowledge-sharing on offer, and our own accumulated experience in higher education establishments from participating in international research networks, cannot possibly be leading us to reinvent the wheel in the year 2016.

Islands of innovation and good practice do exist in our own country, and are recognised by our international partners, but are obscured domestically by the guardians of party-political correctness.

3. Can left-wing populism truly offer a rational means of analysis of our reality and its pathologies?

The proclamations of a return to the pre-memorandum state of being, the excitation of collective sentiment, the rewarding of simplifying and primitive thinking, the manifold divisions, the shallow courting of the crowd by the leader, are these really left-wing imperatives?

By accepting that the international balance of power was weighted against the Left, trumping their original self-deception, they nevertheless let it be implied that the maturity and wisdom of the people will eventually triumph through some muscular guidance from the Left.

This narrative of the Left obscures the basic observation of many scholars that the country not only faces an enormous accumulation of problems, but is itself a begetter of its problems.

A devastated society, inundated in self-delusions, denials, ignorance, self-centredness, depression, despair and passivity must once again be educated through new types of populist delusions.

Is it really possible that we can continue to protect special interest groups, party politics, and clientelism, and promise growth without radical change, without deeper self-awareness of our collective failures, and without acknowledgment of individual responsibility?

I am deeply convinced that there can be an agenda of progressive, left-wing reforms, even in the midst of economic hardship, that would signify the new exemplar of government that this country so badly needs.

Sadly, Massimo d’Alema never did respond to Nanni Moretti’s entreaty.”


* More recent evidence thankfully shows the prevalence of suicidal thoughts among the Greek population to have retreated to pre-crisis levels as early 2013, however the broader crisis in mental health provision continues.

IMAGE: “The Choice of Hercules” by Annibale Caracci.

 

“Comrade Tsipras, say something left-wing…”

Monumental evidence of wealth-destroying “tournaments of value” in the Middle Anthropocene

Abstract

This paper puts forward a new interpretation for the monumental earthworks recorded across the continental masses of the planet Earth, dating to the Middle Anthropocene period. This study seeks to refute previous interpretations in favour of a new theory, namely that these monumental structures represent the material remains of symbolically charged ritual events which can be seen as an expression of societal stress in a period of rapid transitions and environmental decline.

canoekayak
A well-preserved earthwork of the early 3rd millennium AD, with elaborate ditch-and-bank features, usage unknown (Athens).

Introduction

Monumental constructions and earthworks have been documented on the outskirts of a number of large conurbations dating to the Middle Anthropocene period (late 2nd/early 3rd millennium AD) in widely separated parts of continental Earth. The mystery surrounding these structures has been enhanced by the paucity of the contemporary documentary record due to the Great Solar Storms of the mid-3rd millennium AD, which erased most of the predominantly digital records of the period, leaving only fragmentary texts from which to reconstruct the contemporary literary, political and economic milieu.

The monuments have in common a massive scale but show a variety of shapes and functional forms. Some are simply banks of spectator seating arranged amphitheatrically around flat areas and circuits of varying shapes and dimensions; others contain trenches and water-filled lustral basins of unknown purpose; the most puzzling ones include elaborate curvilinear ditch-and-bank earthworks, combined with mysterious mounds (see above). They were often located on the margins of existing habitations, after the land was extensively cleared, perhaps in a ritual purging, removing all traces of previous activity.

swimmingpool
Abandoned lustral basin, usage unknown. It is believed that the chair is a later intrusion. (Athens).

Stylistically, the structures are defined by a collection of common traits which has come to be known as the “International Startchitect Koiné”: exaggerated monumentality, the use of rare materials and elaborate construction techniques, the labour-intensity of the construction, the dominance of form over function are all features of this universal style, which becomes more elaborate as the period progresses. The structures could accommodate several thousand people and are believed to have taken years to construct using imported labour that may have been drawn from lower castes, forced or indentured, and there is some evidence to suggest that the grizzly custom of human foundation sacrifice was practiced to secure the buildings’ foundations. Mysteriously, most of the structures appear to have been put to very limited use, as attested by the unusually light wear patterns in their furnishings.

aquaticcentre
Artist’s impression of a ritual structure in the “International Starchitect Style”, housing several lustral basins of unknown usage (London).

The function of the monuments has puzzled archaeologists and the fascinated the general public for generations. Earlier scholars posited that such structures were the remnants of extra-terrestrial civilisations, so alien did they appear within the human landscape. However, through recently published cross-cultural studies with our extra-terrestrial colleagues we are now able to discount these rather fanciful theories. The argument that the monuments are “visible from outer space” is in our view an ex post fact rationalisation reflecting an Earth-centric bias in the scholarship of the time. We use the fragmentary documentary evidence in conjunction with the archaeological remains to propose a radically different interpretation that does not require the presence of alien visitors, but rather explains the extraordinary structures in the context of complex ideations and value systems of contemporary societies, as they sought to respond to increased global interaction, social pressures and rapid climatic change.

Towards an alternative interpretation

Previous scholarly attempts to explain the purpose of these structures have tended to focus on functionalist interpretations, for example that they were defensive in nature, or that they were initiated with the aim of mobilising labour for productive purposes, on the model of Amish barn-raisings. We have found very little evidence to support such theories. Instead, we would argue that the immense mobilisation of labour and resources for ephemeral or even single-use purposes have more in common with the types of practices that anthropologists refer to as “total prestations” or “tournaments of value”, systems of gift-giving with political, religious, kinship and economic implications. These are are marked by the competitive exchange of gifts, in which gift-givers seek to out-give their competitors so as to capture important political, kinship and religious roles. Examples of this include the “potlatches” of the Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada, during which chieftains competed to distribute gifts such as blankets, animal skins and ritual instruments, and enhanced their social standing by ritually destroying them in large bonfires. In contrast with western industrial economies, status in these societies was achieved in such events not by accumulating wealth, but by giving it away or destroying it in a conspicuous manner.

image
Artist’s impression of Middle Anthropocene ritual. The female priestess (?) is thought to be lighting a torch to be used for the conspicuous destruction of wealth through incineration (a ritual known as “The Burning of the the Money”).

It may be seen as a paradox that such “primitive” practices could be found in “advanced” human societies. It is useful to bring to bear here the documentary record, which, though fragmentary, offers glimpses into a sophisticated ideational construct surrounding these mysterious material remains. Studies have shown that the official religion of the Middle Anthropocene centred on the dogma of “economic rationality”, which at the height of the construction of these buildings had entered the phase known as “late capitalism”. Within this value system, the driving force was the individual’s (or group’s) maximisation of material wealth by the most efficient means. This appears to be borne out by meticulous administrative documentation relating to the preparation and building of the structures. In these documents, the priestly castes frequently invoke religious terms such as “cost/benefit” and “economic impact analysis” in order to present the projects in an “economically sound” light.

At the same time, a seemingly contradictory body of evidence associates the very same projects with metaphysical concepts such as “regeneration”, “sustainability” and “legacy” – a clear nod to the mystical Dionysiac concept of death and rebirth. It is clear from the literature that this belief system viewed the structures as part of a cosmogonic ritual aimed at summoning up “world peace”. An apocryphal text known as the “Olympic Spirit” exhorts participants “to build a peaceful and better world […] to promote tolerance and understanding in these increasingly troubled times in which we live, to make our world a more peaceful place”.

Despite being mutually contradictory and internally inconsistent, these belief systems seem to have coexisted in tandem for over a century, and were surprisingly resilient to critique. We have, for example, ample contemporary evidence of criticism that the structures and the rituals associated with them did not in fact deliver the promised economic salvation but instead guaranteed balance sheet damnation, while others pointed out that there was no correlation between the rituals and world peace, or that the events resulted in debt, displacement, and militarisation of public space” and some accused the elders entrusted with organising them of corruption. It is thought that such criticism was regarded as heretical and its exponents punished severely, but the fate of the critics is not recorded.

wenlockmandeville
Wenlock and Mandeville, the Cyclopean guardians of London.

 

Little is known about what actually took place within the monumental structures. From the associated waste dumps it is clear that ritual feasting played a great part in the activities. With time, the paraphernalia associated with consumption became increasingly formalised, and ritual vessels more often than not bear the mysterious “Golden Arches of Consecration”. It is also known that those attending the rituals partook of a beverage served in a distinctive steatopygous glass vessel, whose recipe was closely guarded in a temple vault – perhaps an aphrodisiac or a fertility elixir. Each ritual site seems to have been presided over by a distinct monstrous deity or anthropomorphic animal spirit (above), clearly intended to induce a holy terror in the participants. Some claim to have found evidence of athletic contests, however we believe that such evidence is too scant to merit consideration here.

A car driven by a student of a driving school slowly moves around the carpark in front of the deserted 2008 Beijing Olympics venue for the cycling competition in central Beijing
A “sacred ruin”, venerated by later generations; note the preservation of empty space around the monument (Beijing).

The resilience of the belief system that fuelled these “tournaments of value” is further evidenced by the respect with which the monuments were often treated after their initial construction. Although subsequent generations appear to have forgotten the original purpose of the structures, they often venerated them as sacred ruins by preserving them intact and allowing the land around them to lie fallow. It is likely that only the more prosperous hosts that were able to do this, while others were forced to adapt and reuse the structures as their circumstances dictated. Occasionally, the structures were put to temporary use, as is evidenced in Phase VIIb of the Hellenikon Rhomboid Structure which appears to have been repurposed as a temporary habitation site during the “great migration” of the early 21st century AD (below).

 

baseball
Artist’s rendering of Phase VIIb of the Hellenikon Rhomboid Structure, showing densely packed temporary habitation structures.

An ancient precedent?

Recently, scholars have suggested that the structures and and the rituals associated with them find a direct antecedent in religious festivals dating two and a half millennia earlier, and have adopted the term “Olympic” to describe them, alluding to the largest of these earlier festivals. However, despite sharing many features with these earlier practices, the long hiatus between the two sets of events leads us to posit that we are in fact dealing with a Hobsbawmian “invented tradition”: by adopting self-consciously archaising practices, emergent elites seek to legitimise their status by demonstrating their continuity with a quasi-mythical past.

It is suggested here that such practices arose as a way of bolstering a fragile global hierarchy and establishing social cohesion in an era when a rise in the overall living standards on the planet was accompanied by increased competition for resources and the looming threat of catastrophic climate change. Testing this hypothesis, however, is beyond the scope of the current paper.

Further documentation of the mysterious structures and their history of re-use here, as artillery defences and as a prison.

Further reading on the future archaeology of the Middle Anthropocene: “Our Piece of Paradise: Patterns of Coastal Habitation…”


IMAGES: Athens 2004 canoe/kayak venue by Milos Bicanski; Athens 2004 training pool by Associated Press; London 2012 Aquatics Centre by Zaha Hadid Architects; Wenlock and Mandeville, the London 2012 Olympic Mascots via Rainbow Productions; Beijing 2008 velodrome by REUTERS/David Gray; Athens 2004 baseball stadium by Jai Mexis & Partners via This American Life.

Monumental evidence of wealth-destroying “tournaments of value” in the Middle Anthropocene

SPOILER ALERT: CIA behind anti-austerity riots in Greece, or worse?

Video footage has emerged on the internet which appears to show covert operations carried out by the CIA in Greece during an anti-austerity protest, thought to have taken place around 2011. Its release has caused uproar in Greece, where it is seen as confirming long-held suspicions that interference by the US has been behind key events in the country not only in recent years, but throughout the postwar era.

The video shows a man who appears to be covert operative inciting riots during a peaceful demonstration outside the Greek parliament. In one scene, the man is seen to take a petrol bomb from a masked rioter and smash it on the ground in front of police. He is later seen wielding a gun in the midst of the protest, before stealing a police motorbike to make his getaway with a female accomplice. In separate scenes which appear to be unfolding simultaneously, the footage appears to show evidence of an extensive CIA surveillance operation using facial recognition technology to identify individuals in the crowd from a darkened “situation room” in an unidentified location, thought to be CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Finally, a separate video has emerged which appears to show the same alleged operative entering a Metro station in Athens for unknown purposes.

Screenshot_1Screenshot_3Screenshot_4

Still_1
Still frames from recently released video footage appearing to show an armed CIA operative infiltrating an anti-austerity protest in Athens which turned violent.

“This is classic CIA provokátsia,” nodded taxi driver and self-described “independent thinker” Sophocles as he reviewed the footage on his smartphone. “Their agents infiltrate our legitimate homegrown protesters who are marching peacefully with just a few petrol bombs for self-defence, and manufacture chaos to destabilise the government and scare away the tourists.” He also pointed to the video as evidence of blanket surveillance by US agencies. “I always knew that white box on the top of the US Embassy is a listening device. And I’ll tell you something else, they are not just watching us, they are reading our minds and giving us cancer,” he nodded emphatically as he flicked his filterless Camel out of the cab window.

More sceptical observers have dismissed this interpretation as hopelessly naïve, arguing that there is clear evidence the video is fake. “C’mon, man, these guys faked the whole moon landing, do you think they would stop at this?” chuckled Nondas, a retired long-distance lorry driver. Skeptics like Nondas point to apparent discrepancies in the footage. “OK, so he’s riding a bike without a helmet. That looks convincing enough for downtown Athens. But look at this photo where the guy is supposedly getting on the Metro – that totally screams fake.” “First of all there are no strikes, and secondly (he points to the foreground of the photo) there are ticket barriers. Ticket barriers. These are rookie errors, my friend, this is clearly NOT Athens. Only a total idiot would fall for this. Wake up, sheeple!”

Screenshot_5
Still frame from a video which appears to show a CIA operative entering the Athens Metro. In the foreground, the ticket barriers which give it away as a fake.

In recent years, the US and its secret services appeared to have ceded their position as #1 coup orchestrators in the Greek imagination to the Troika of the country’s creditors. As one prominent Greek left-wing critic described it in the midst of the heated bailout negotiations last summer, “The situation is reminiscent of Chile in the early 1970s when U.S. President Richard Nixon decided to overthrow Salvador Allende to prevent spillover effects elsewhere in America’s backyard. ‘Make the economy scream,’ was the order the U.S. President gave the CIA and other intelligence services, before the tanks of general Augusto Pinochet entered into action.” This latest revival shows that, like a first adolescent love, the Cold War-era CIA is never too far from the Greek conspiracy theorist’s fertile mind.

A more prosaic explanation circulated in the mainstream media, namely that this latest “evidence” is in fact a trailer for a summer blockbuster, set in Athens but filmed in Tenerife and Woolwich, left experts undeterred: “Why would they not film in our beautiful country but instead chose a pale facsimile? How else can it be explained?” asked Orestes, a political science student, pausing to polish his iPhone screen on his rakishly draped keffyieh-style scarf before answering his own question. “This is clearly a conspiracy of the Hollywood establishment, which everyone knows is nothing but the propaganda factory of the CIA and a cover for spying, just like in that film with Ben Affleck in Iran. Also, they resent us because we refuse to debase ourselves with tax incentives and filming permits so that they can make their filthy commercial disinformation. Greece will not become a sweatshop of the Zionist-capitalist-imperialist running dogs of…” he stopped himself, seemingly unnerved by something on his screen. “Sh*t, man, did you see that Pokémon? Over there, by McDonalds! Got it!”

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama has explicitly denied any US involvement in attempted coups in the region, and the world breathed a sigh of relief as democracy triumphed. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump stated that, “I think it’s very hard for us to get involved in other countries when we don’t know what we are doing and we can’t see straight in our own country”.

In Moscow, the presumptive puppetmaster watched the latest developments on the US presidential elections and congratulated himself on ushering in the new era of “democratic” tradecraft. “Good boy, Julian,” he murmured as he stroked his newest acquisition, an Australian white-haired cat curled up in his lap, and dropped a Garry Kasparov lookalike into the foaming tank of cyber-trolls. Democracy, it would appear, is safe.

[The full 123 minutes of US-sponsored disinformation will be on general release in most of the world in the last week of July 2016. Orestes and and his posse will have the added thrill of sticking it to The Man by viewing pirated copies in advance of its Greek release date on 1 September].

Images: Universal Pictures, Woolwich (Community Page).

SPOILER ALERT: CIA behind anti-austerity riots in Greece, or worse?

A late education

APDK

What follows is a translated transcript of a segment from Parole, a late night variety show on E (Epsilon) TV, a private free-to-air channel, first broadcast on 11th May 2016 (transcript starts around 34´30᾽᾽). The segment was randomly obtained through the methodology known as late-night channel-surfing (or “zapping”, to use the Greek terminology). We have previously noted the potential usefulness of this methodology for forecasting Greek political trends.

The main presenter is Annita Pania (AP), a veteran of the variety TV genre (slightly out of date Wikipedia entry here). Her shows combine teleshopping, matchmaking, Jerry Springer-style couples counselling, talent show, gameshow and old-school variety entertainment. Although the format often walks a fine line with exploitation and is no respecter of political correctness, it is worth noting that the name Parole is used in the Italian sense of “talk” (in tribute perhaps to the enduring influence of Silvio Berlusconi on Greek light entertainment TV), rather than the more familiar US sense of “prisoner release”. Annita’s trademark cheeky blonde persona owes much to stylings of the Greek “national star” of the 1960s Aliki Vougiouklaki and thus resonates deeply with the modern Greek soul, but in true postmodern style, Annita builds rapport with her audience through asides, innuendo and knowing looks to camera. The extract presented here is on the mild end of the scale, and relatively light on Annita’s own peculiar argot, making it possible to translate almost verbatim. As the format has evolved and the advertising budget has shrunk, much of the time on air is spent promoting dubious cosmetics and inviting entries to prize draws via premium phone lines. Annita’s co-presenters in this segment are Nikos Samoïlis (NS), a financial journalist best known as a personal finance guru, and Dimitris Korgiolas (DK), a pop singer who affects the look of a middle aged raver.

The first exchange takes place in front of a flipchart on which NS has outlined the latest tax measures due to come into force.

Flipchart

NS: “Now let me tell you about an amendment that has just come through about the pricing of toll roads.”

AP: “Niko, can you please explain to me what an ‘amendment’ is, we keep hearing about amendments and amendments, what is this damn amendment?”

NS: “It is a document that essentially becomes a law of the land, it gets incorporated into a bill and gets turned into law.”

AP: “So its, like, a con?”

NS: “No (chuckles) it’s an actual law.”

AP: “Yes, it’s like a con that becomes a law.”

NS: “It’s a special text that’s separate from the law, and gets attached to a law so that it also becomes law.”

AP: “So it’s like a prologue?”

NS: “No, listen, normally what happens with amendments, let’s say for example they tack on to a bill that has to do with the Ministry of Health fifty amendments that are all about different issues.”

AP: “Do they supplement the existing law then?”

NS: “No, they are just incorporated, but they may have nothing to do with Health.”

AP: “And when will these get voted on?”

NS: “By the 24th…”

AP: “And are there amendments that don’t get voted in?”

NS: “Of course there are amendments that get retracted, that don’t reach the voting stage because MPs have reacted, or because they are totally unrelated to the bill being voted on, so it could be, I don’t know, an amendment to do with gambling and casinos that gets attached to a bill on…”

DK: “… the Health Ministry”

NS: “Tourism, or Health, something unrelated.”

AP: “Now these amendments, who do they come from?”

NS: “From the government. The government brings amendments and attaches them to bills.”

AP: “But why do they do it this way? Why bring an amendment, and attach it to the bill etc., why not do it once and for all?”

NS: “Because a lot of these appear in the middle of the night, on irrelevant bills, for reasons you can well understand.”

AP: “So now we know what ‘amendment’ means, we have added to our vocabulary, it’s a new-fangled thing. Listen, now I have an amendment for you…”

AP: “There is a person, who will be joining us, who understandably didn’t want anything to do with the kind of things we are talking about, and so he decided, as a young man, to dedicate his life to God, to remove himself from temptation and sin, and whatever might be going down on the scene, as they say, and go to Mount Athos and find a perch for himself. So, this person is Father Nikitas, and he has come here to tell us, and I would really like us to hear about his decision to dedicate himself to God at an early age, because he has been doing this now for twenty-six years, and he has removed himself from our daily life, our secular life that is full and temptation and sin and lovely things like that, and difficult things. So at the early age of twenty-something, he decided to remove himself, to stand back. Can Father Nikitas join us please.”

Groupshot

Father Nikitas (FN): (enters to the theme tune) “Good evening.”

AP: “How are you? Welcome.”

FN: “I am very happy to be among you.”

AP: “And I am happy that you are with us, and we are honoured to have you in our company.”

FN: “It’s a great pleasure.”

(NS and DK snigger)

AP: “Now this ‘Father’ business… because you’re…”

FN: “… young.”

AP: “Yes, how old are you, Father Nikitas?”

FN: “Forty-two.”

AP: “So you’re a young person, like, and you look even younger than your forty-two years, but that is now your appellation. Should I address you somehow?”

FN: “Father Nikitas is the correct way.”

AP: “Father. (Pauses flirtatiously, flicks hair). But you’re not my father.”

FN: (laughs nervously) “Call me whatever you want, Father, Pater, Elder…”

AP: “Ah… so the Father comes from Pater, it’s because you’re a priest…”

FN: “A monk.”

AP: “Do you want to tell us, Father Nikitas, about your decision to leave the secular life.”

FN: “I had the great blessing, after doing my army service, to meet Father PaÏsios.”

AP: “At what age?”

FN: “Nineteen going on twenty.”

AP: “At nineteen, eh? And you met Father PaÏsios, Saint PaÏsios? Isn’t he our most modern saint?”

FN: “So when I was discharged from the army, my life changed thanks to this simple, illiterate, enlightened man. Because the first time I visited, I went there with a friend whose mother had cancer in her bones and they were expecting her to die any minute.”

AP: “So you had gone with your friend to help him pray?”

FN: “Yes.”

AP: “But your friend was the one who was most insistent.”

FN: “Yes. But when you go to the hermitage of PaÏsios there are a lot of people there.”

Annita

AP: “Nikita… just so I don’t have to call you Father Nikitas, Pater etc., (flicks back her hair, sits back to expose her cleavage) can I just call you Nikitas? Would that be OK?”

FN: (shifts in his seat) “Look, from the point that I wear the cassock, it’s correct to use Father Nikitas, Pater, Monk etc.”

AP: “I just need to find something that I find comfortable with.”

FN: “Look, don’t worry, we’ll find it in the course of things.”

AP: “OK, so Father Nikitas, you’ve gone there with your friend who has a sick mother, so he influenced you to go there.”

FN: “I would have gone anyway.”

AP: “Were you a child brought up in the church or were you, like, a worldy child?”

FN: “I would say I was a normal child.”

AP: “So you didn’t have any tendency towards…”

FN: “Look, when you grow up on an island like Kos, I have done many jobs, jobs related to tourism…”

DK: “… in bars and the like…”

FN: “… in restaurants, beaches, I have done all sorts of jobs.”

AP: “So, a young man who was normal, enjoying a modern way of life…”

FN: “I served in the special forces… I was in the midst of everything.”

AP: “Right.”

FN: “My parents were religious, but it wasn’t like we were fanatical. Simple folk, my family were fishermen and the like. So I went to Father PaÏsios’s hermitage and there were a lot of people there, and I asked my friend, ‘how are we going to go and talk to him and get his blessing when it’s so crowded?’”

AP: “Did you know at that point that this old man…”

FN: “We were aware, we had heard…”

AP: “… that he was a special case, that he was on track for a sainthood, did you know that?”

FN: “Yes, that’s why we went.”

AP: “So the word was already out there…”

FN: “Yes, the word was out. So then the old man stands up and calls us by our names.”

AP: “…without knowing who you were?”

FN: “Without knowing us, it was our first visit, so he told me, and at that point I thought I’d just served in the special forces, I thought I was hot shit, I’d reached the moon with my youthful arrogance, he said ‘this is where we’ll see what kind of commando you were’. At that point I didn’t understand what he was talking about. In the meantime, he said to my friend, ‘Don’t worry, your mother has a whole decade ahead of her.’”

AP: “Without knowing the reason for your visit, without having discussed it with him.”

FN: “Not at all. And then my friend’s mother, who at that point was a mass of bones…”

AP: “A mass of what?”

FN: “A mass of bones, she had cancer in her bones, they were expecting her to die any minute. She revived and she lived exactly ten years.”

AP: “Po po po…”

FN: “So after that I went to Athos many times and met many monks, little old men, living in shacks, living on nothing but they had the whole world inside them.”

AP: “So Saint PaÏsios, he saw things, he had a gift…”

FN: “He saw things. And I’ll tell you one more thing, an event I lived as I was returning. There was a father who was holding his little child in his arms, and it had a problem walking. Coming back from seeing Father PaÏsios, the kid was walking, right as rain. Of course, what happens now, when various people come out and talk about prophesies and that sort of thing, that is extreme. When we do that we are taking advantage of the name of Father PaÏsios. He really did make some prophesies, some came true, others not yet, God only knows if they will. It’s best not to use his name unless he has actually said something, because this regurgitation doesn’t honour anyone.”

AP: “Are there other Fathers like him, with a gift?”

FN: “Yes, there are. In there there is a family of 2,500 people from different backgrounds, rich families, poor families. You can’t just be there because you had a moment one day. It is a great sacrifice to dedicate yourself. Personally, what I felt was, in the vernacular, like I had a big crush on God. I lived such great joy that I could not express it.”

AP: “Did you experience that the first time you visited?”

FN: “The very first time, and then I kept going back.”

AP: “So when you went with your friend to pray for his mother and you first met Father PaÏsios? And you were so taken, so charmed by this person who seemed to know you and know why you were there before you met… and that is why you decided to dedicate yourself to God.”

FN: “Yes, I experienced a joy I couldn’t express. God has made it possible for us to experience such a blessing that I wish I could take my heart out and give it to the world so they can understand what I am experiencing at this moment. It sounds nice, it sounds like a fairytale but I’ve lived it, and that won’t change. And right now there are men in their that are of the stature of Saint PaÏsios…”

AP: “Aha!”

FN: “… and that for us is a blessing, because there are many young people in there and we draw our strength from those guys.”

AP: “OK, I suggest that we take a little ad break, and when we come back I will ask Father Nikitas to explain what exactly it was that make him ‘click’, because there is something specific that made you leave the secular world at the age of twenty-something…”

FN: “Yes, there is.”

AP: “OK, let’s go and we’ll be right back.”

[There follows an advertising break featuring ads for household products, psychics, processed dairy and condoms. The conversation resumes, in which FN reveals, somewhat underwhelmingly, that he became a monk for “many personal reasons which we won’t discuss here.”]

AP: “The fact that this is an all-male situation has at times generated some weird chit-chat. So we have heard for example that it is a gay hangout. Like, there have been various embarrassments coming out of there at times…”

FN: “Listen, Athos is a hangout of people, right? There are 2,500 people there. In the years I have been there I have never seen anything crooked. At the end of the day what someone does in his bed is his business, I can’t know that, no one can know that, right?”

AP: “The issue is, when you go there, you don’t go there to do things in your bed, you go there to do other things. If you want to do something in bed you don’t go to Athos, you go anywhere else in the country.”

FN: “Look, if someone comes who really wants to repent and wants help, we can do that but no more.”

AP: “No, I’m not talking about the people who come and visit, I’m referring to the possibility that there are some monks who have gone astray, there have been a lot of scandals…”

FN: “When someone sets off to do something in their life, to do a job or to dedicate themselves, like me in a monastery, and you know what you want, you set solid foundations and you get down to it. But if you start off to wear the cassock to ensconce yourself, then the game is lost.”

AP: “Have you, yourself, seen anything like that?”

FN: “In my years there, no. There have been times for example when I have seen visitors who look like they are after something else or look like something, but nothing beyond that. From then on, whatever one choses to do… because where I am, right, I’m secluded, I’m in the forest, the people I see are those who come specifically to see me, from then on I don’t…”

NS: “What is your view on the prohibition on women visiting?”

FN: “Look, in the old days, all the monasteries were not visited by women, like the convents were not visited by men, because we are fighting temptation, we are fighting our flesh. On Athos, there have been many incidents, many miracles of the Virgin Mary that have prevented (women). Every time they tried to enter something befell them. This has been proven.”

DK: “They made trouble, right, just say it. They make trouble generally (laughs).”

AP: “Next, Father Nikitas is going to demonstrate some recipes from his book of Mount Athos cooking…”

 

 

 

A late education

Yesterday’s news today: a parrot’s digest of Greek headlines we’ve seen before

With an eventful few weeks at the opposite corner of the continent (and now closer to home), there has been a certain comfort in returning to slow news days in Greece. So much so, that Aunt Cassandra thought for a moment that she had mistakenly picked up a newspaper from several years ago, before remembering that her magnificent Amazonian Parrot, Orfeas, unfailingly gets a fresh cage lining of yesterday’s news before it has time to linger. In fact, even Orfeas has noticed that over the years certain headlines in the paper reappear with unfailing regularity. Orfeas thinks his own species’ reputation for repetition is grossly overstated. His own nuanced rendition of the “Vissi d’arte” aria from Tosca has been deemed “better than Callas” by the most demanding members of AC’s opera circle, while his deft impression of an angry Rottweiler is the envy of AC’s security-obsessed friends. But, ever the good sport, he was able with a ruffle of his feathers and a few theatrical hops around his cage to help us compile a whole newspaper out of the repeat clippings. And here it is, yesterday’s news today, for tomorrow’s prescient reader.

PERSONAL FINANCE

Minister warns: “Absolutely no extensions to tax filing deadline.” By now even the most isolated tribes in the depths of the Orfeas’s ancestral rainforest know that the Greek state faces enormous challenges collecting tax – though not quite as enormous as is sometimes portrayed. Filing deadline extensions are a regular summer sport, and hard pronouncements such as this are only made to be broken. With the cosmic cyclicality of druids gathering for the summer solstice, tardy taxpayers watch the news to see how far they can push it against the deadline (or indeed, whether they need to bother at all if it happens to be an election year). This year’s deadline has already been extended once. Last summer Orfeas counted three extensions without even trying, taking the original deadline of the end of June to the end of August. Because capital controls, you might protest? No. Because. Every. Year. And if it isn’t planned, it is virtually guaranteed that the state-of-the-art-circa-1995 electronic filing system Taxis will collapse under the weight of last-minute submissions, requiring (you guessed it) a filing extension.

CULTURE

Temporary_Elgin_Room_at_the_Museum_in_1819

“New initiative sparks hopes of return of Parthenon Marbles to Greece.” Ever since the Ambassador Lord Elgin returned to Blighty with a particularly ostentatious collection of souvenirs in his luggage, the campaign to repatriate “the marbles” has been ongoing, simultaneously delivering a steady supply of mental illness-related gags in the Anglophone media, even among those who should know better (Stephen Fry: “It’s time we lost our marbles”). This time, a group of backbench MPs in the British Parliament is supporting an initiative to return the sculptures on the 200th anniversary of the Act of Parliament which granted them to the British Museum. Less than two years ago, it was the photogenic and recently wed Amal Clooney to the rescue, channeling Jackie O and figureheading a legal team invited by then PM Antonis Samaras to advise the Greek government on the matter. Every so often a new initiative arises, taking patriotic Greeks and philhellenes on an emotional rollercoaster, only to have their hopes dashed once again against the intransigence of the British government. In this case, one senses the initiative is particularly poorly timed. Unless, that is, the sculptures can be worked into some kind of Machiavellian EU hostage exchange deal.

JUSTICE

xeiropedes

“Corruption trial postponed indefinitely.” Oh, how we punch the air whenever an arrest is made in an anti-corruption investigation! Finally, someone will be brought to justice for the mess the country is in! We look forward with barely concealed schadenfreude to seeing the erstwhile politician/businessman/big lawyer lamogio do the “perp walk” to the police van with only a limp overcoat to cover their handcuffs. And if that counted as justice, we would be sitting pretty. However in Greece actual justice in the formal sense is closely synonymous with “the tall grass”, as we have had cause to relate previously. This week, two trials relating to the Siemens scandal have been (yes) postponed indefinitely: one, because foreign defendants were not provided with timely translations of the charges; the other, because the presiding judge passed away and there is no provision to replace him. High profile cases like the Golden Dawn trial are not immune to this affliction either. Another measure of the speed of Greek justice is provided by the recently reported final ruling by Greece’s Supreme Administrative Court, ordering the Greek state to pay € 700,000 compensation for two city buses burned by rioters. The events in question took place in 1996-7.

SOCIETY

Muslims living in Greece perform Eid al-Fitr morning prayers in Athens

“Greece one step closer to its first licensed mosque.” Take a classic NIMBY issue and add the involvement of the Orthodox Church, and you have a formula for legal appeals to infinity. The building of the first modern mosque was first planned in 1880. In more recent times it was approved by Parliament in 2000, and again in 2006 and 2011, and close to €1 million in funds have been earmarked for it for some time. A variant of this headline can be generated simply by replacing “mosque” with crematorium. We won’t hold our breath.

POLITICS

vote

“Governing party proposes change to electoral system.” Greece’s electoral system is not spelled out in the country’s Constitution. As a result, it is rare for two consecutive elections to be held under the exact same system, as governing parties with enough parliamentary support have the ability to bring legislation that tailors the system for the next round of elections in their favour. The current system awards the first party a generous 50-seat bonus in the 300-seat parliament. The new proposal put forward by Syriza aims to change this to proportional representation, which is presented as a long-standing commitment of the Left. Last time a similar system was proposed in 1989 it was rejected by, er, the parties of the Left. Passing it this time would depend on the support of Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn.

ENTERTAINMENT

Scorpions

“Scorpions live in Athens!” The nation’s favourite superannuated German hair band, this time back as part of their 50th anniversary tour (has it really been ONLY 50 years?). Crisis or no crisis, and no matter how many Hitler moustaches are painted on Angela Merkel, or Nazi armbands photoshopped on Wolfgang Schäuble, there is a certain portion of the Greek public who will not fail to pack out a venue to hold a cigarette lighter aloft to “Wind of Change”. Rock on, ja!

TRAVEL

nauagio

“Greek beach ranked among top 25 in the world.” Rankings on Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor are great for our national morale, because we can all take credit for a natural wonder that foreigners acknowledge as superior. Though I suppose some credit is due for not allowing an unlicensed construction of some description to be slapped on it.

BONUS GIFT

Amazon-Parrot

… and of course, just like the old days, the paper comes with a free CD courtesy of Orfeas himself: “Viiisiii d’ar-te, viiisiii d’amooo-re…”

 

Yesterday’s news today: a parrot’s digest of Greek headlines we’ve seen before

Greeks “smug” on referendum anniversary

“Look at how we celebrated our result,” urges Toula, a political science student, “beautiful proud Greek women dancing traditional dances in the squares, not tattooed hooligans with prison haircuts telling their neighbours to ‘go home'”.

On the streets of Athens this week, Greeks are forgetting their financial woes for a moment to bask in the unmistakable glow of smugness, as the surprise result of the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum throws the country into turmoil. Commentators have noted the parallels between the Brexit referendum, and the “Greferendum” of exactly one year ago, but the result appears to have confounded everyone, including the Greeks. Sick of being maligned as the lazy, disorganised and politically immature teenagers of Europe, they are now revelling in the spectacle of the notoriously phlegmatic northern European nation coming spectacularly off the rails in a slow motion train wreck after voting to leave the European Union.

The Greek Prime Minister quickly seized the national mood with a series of tweets celebrating last summer’s NO (OXI) vote (“Our people’s NO, paramount act of resistance to the Euro-priesthood of austerity”), with which Greece similarly rejected the sinister embrace of the Brussels elite.

Greeks have been watching the fallout from the UK’s Brexit vote with the kind of shocked bemusement normally reserved for viral videos of an anaconda swallowing an elephant, or a small child falling head-first into a piranha tank after being hit by a frisbee. For generations the “Egglezos” (the Englishman) has stood as a byword for gentlemanly good manners, common sense and punctuality. Now they watch the nation they associate with the Queen, Winston Churchill and James Bond descend into the more familiar territory of Benny Hill and Mr Bean, but with a distinct flavour of the Weimar Republic.

Greeks by and large maintain a grudging admiration for the British, whom they regard as cultivated people with a sophisticated political culture, marred only by their colonial snobbishness, their propensity to steal antiquities and the fact that they have a “rod up their arses”. Except for the ones who holiday in Faliraki, who have exactly the opposite problem. While most would consider them a curious race and demonstrably inferior to the Greeks, many expressed surprise at their inability to read a simple ballot paper. “Where on the voting chit does it say ‘immigration’?” asked Makis, a bright thirteen-year-old kicking a football against a palimpsest of faded election posters reading “Hope is on the Way”, “OXI” and “Antifa – no bosses”. “Do they think that was a tough question? They should see what my grandad had to deal with last year, it had a 30-page bibliography. Plus, they had months to prepare and revise. We had to cram overnight. Mind you, that’s how my cousin says you pass exams. Although he did flunk his, but he blamed Merkel and the Euro-priesthood of austerity.”

And what of the fallout from the result? “Here we were told that if we voted OXI there would be no toilet paper, that there would be riots in the streets. It would appear that our British friends’ planning for the day after was, as they say, ‘wholly inadequate’. Now where have I heard that before?” asks Mr Thrasyboulos, a retired lawyer with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. “Maybe after their success in Iraq they should reorganise their own country ‘along sectarian lines’? That has always worked out well for them, hasn’t it?” his friend, Mr Babis, added, leaning over the backgammon board. “Say what you will about our lot, but it sounds like they had contingency plans coming out of their ears: plan B, plan X, the mint heist, you name it. We are a creative race. Odysseus was a Greek, you know.”

Greeks have even less respect for the UK’s political leadership. “What kind of jokers are these? Running for the hills and leaving the women in charge? I remember that Mrs Thatcher and her handbag. Mark my words, this will end in tears.” The trope of Odysseus, the Homeric hero described in the epics as “much suffering” and “man of twists and turns”, resurfaces in their comparisons as they recount how Prime Minister Tsipras was able overnight to convert the proud NO into a YES and secure a further bailout from the country’s creditors.

Meanwhile, some are starting to ponder how Brexit might affect Greece. The “systemic” media here have been quick to promote doom and gloom scenarios, however Greeks are defiant. With the same proud classical illiteracy that their leadership has displayed on many occasions, they insist that “the Cassandras will be proved wrong”, referring to the mythical soothsayer whose curse was that her (generally pessimistic but accurate) predictions were never heeded.

As we ended the interview, Mr Thrasyboulos had a more constructive suggestion. “We hear that the UK will need to hire foreign trade negotiators to help extricate them from the EU. We have plenty of internationally acclaimed expertise in this department, and would be happy to lend a hand to our British brothers in the proud negotiations that lie ahead.”

Greeks “smug” on referendum anniversary