Feeding the invisible refugees

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Over a million refugees and migrants passed through Greece since 2015 using the sea route from western Turkey; around 62,000 remain stranded in the country at the time of writing. We are all familiar with the portrayal of the humanitarian crisis in the international media, but certain aspects of the story have been overshadowed by the deluge of arresting images.

Now that the dust is settling, some high-quality investigative reporting is beginning shine a light on some of the grubbier corners of the refugee crisis in Greece. A picture is gradually emerging of how institutional inadequacy and lack of accountability combined with a toxic mix of political opportunism and petty corruption to exacerbate the suffering of the refugees, while allowing those responsible (international agencies and NGOs, Greek politicians and government agencies, private contractors and the worst elements in the European and global leadership) to shun their responsibilities and in some cases even benefit from the situation. Clues to this story have been reported as they emerge – mainly by small, independent media sources, freelancers and bloggers on the ground in Greece, primarily in Greek, but occasionally also in English or German (in this respect I would single out the blogs of Apostolis Fotiadis and Fotini Rantsiou for providing well-informed and even-handed coverage). In the first major departure from the human interest-focussed reporting, a meticulously researched long read, The Refugee Archipelago, was recently published by News Deeply – a relatively young, independent media organisation. The article presented a long catalogue of well-substantiated failings underlying what the authors called “the most expensive humanitarian response in history”. It is well worth reading in full.

But the devil is often in the detail. More recently, an investigative report was published by the Greek online magazine insidestory.gr, focussing in forensic detail on just one of the areas plagued by mismanagement: the procurement of catering services for government-run refugee camps. Hidden in plain sight, in the virtual forest of public service contracts and ministry statistics, they uncover some suspicious discrepancies. I have translated the article here in full, with the permission of the publishers (the original is in Greek and requires a subscription).

“Feeding the Invisible Refugees”

by Stavros Malichoudis (first published 20 March 2017).

“I thank the Greeks, because every day the bring us something to eat. We eat from them, not from the company.”

Farez is a refugee from Syria. In the hosting facility of LM Village in Myrsini in the district of Ilia in the Peloponnese, where was when staying he said these words, he was known as “the Wise Man.” Food for the camp was provided, as it still is, by a company called Korinthian Palace. According to Farez, his large family cost the Greek state over €60 a day. “When we get the food, I am sure that it is not worth more than €15. They cook once a week for the whole week, it is unacceptable. The first four months they never gave us vegetables once. I imagine that Greek families do eat vegetables, as they are cheap,” he said, adding that the food ended up in the rubbish.

Many like Farez have complained periodically to the local authority, to volunteers and to NGOs about the quality of the food. Direct responsibility for catering lies with the Greek Armed Forces. This is where the problems begin, and they are not limited to the flavour of the food. Let’s take things from the beginning.

Prices and conditions

With refugee camps across the country under the responsibility of the Greek authorities, the responsibility for procuring catering services has been assigned to the Armed Forces, as set out in laws 4368/2016 and 4412/2016. The budget for daily catering per head comes to €4.78, which translates to €5.78 after the addition of 24% VAT. 19% of the budget is allocated to breakfast, 39% to lunch and dinner, and 3% to water. The criterion by with the contracts are awarded, after meeting the specified conditions, is the percentage discount on the budgeted price.

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Refugees queue for food at Idomeni in March 2016. Since refugees were moved to organised camps photos have been harder to come by because of restrictions on press access [Daniel Mihailesku/AFP]. 
Following the outcry which broke out when the specifications were seen to favour large catering companies, the minimum turnover threshold for bidding companies has been reduced, and only the following conditions apply: “The winning bidder can cater to up to 4 camps, totalling 4,300 people in total,” and “interested parties must provide certain quality certificates (ISO, HACCP) with their bid, which are assumed to fulfil the criteria of the tender.”

The case Myrsini camp

“All of Greek society is watching the humanitarian tragedy with the tens of thousands of refugees…,” begins the official document titled “Information dissemination – decision relating to LM Myrsini” issued by the Minicpality of Andravida-Kyllini on the 28th March 2016, which records the decision of the Council of the Municipality of Andravida-Kyllini to support the effort to manage the refugee crisis. As 99% owners with 50% rights of usage of the resort of Myrsini LM Village, the Municipality decided to make available 19 houses for hosting families from Syria. The resort, which is shared with the Municipality of Fyli, is located in a picturesque seafront spot, but had fallen into disuse in recent years and had been subjected to extensive looting. Very soon, the remaining 14 bungalows were also secured, and by the time the refugees arrived by bus a few days later the necessary repairs were already underway.

The unit given the responsibility for managing the facility was 117 Combat Wing of the Greek Air Force, which in turn assigned the catering to a company named Korinthian Palace. This is a particularly active company, not only in Corinth, but across the whole of Greece. Its services include catering for the police force, schools and universities, as well as organising events, receptions and carnival concerts featuring popular artists.

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Korinthian Palace’s 20,000 square metre headquarters and catering venue in Corinth. The company has been active in catering since 2004 [korinthianpalace.gr].

Towards the end of August 2016, a scandal broke out in Serres in the north of Greece, when a Syriza MP revealed that the catering for the local camp had been awarded to a local Syriza party official. Korinthian stepped in to manage the Serres camp on a temporary basis. At the time of writing, it has also been active in two more camps in Attica, to which we will return below.

When the numbers don’t add up

Reading through the catering contracts for LM Village over its one year of operation, one feature stands out: the contracts almost always appear to cover the provision of food for roughly 60 people more than are actually housed in the facility.

Giorgos Angelopoulos, a volunteer coordinator at the Myrsini centre over a period of 12 months, told inside story that the maximum number of individuals hosted in the facility at any one time was 338 people. However, the contact for April 2016 is for 400 people. Even if we were to exclude April from our calculations on the basis that relates to initial period of the camp’s establishment, we should note that the award of the contract published on the 5th July 2016 also relates to 400 people. The price per head, €4.72 before VAT, and €5.85 with VAT, is only a few cents less than the maximum allowance, a fact that can be readily explained, in light of the fact that Korinthian Palace was the sole bidder in this particular tender. Even if we accept that on the 5th July the headcount was 338, the maximum number of people ever hosted at the camp, we have to conclude that the catering company received €292.64 more per day than was necessary, with the Greek armed forces paying €362.70 more a day once VAT is included.

According to our calculations for the month of July, the additional expense for the Greek armed forces runs to €10,881, while the catering company made an additional profit of €8,779. The same number of recipients (400) and the same price (€4.72, or €5.85 including VAT) appear again in the award of the contract on the 31st October 2016.

However, it is the most recent contract which is of special interest to this discussion.

The contract dated 24th February 2017

This time, there were two more bidders in the tender, and Korinthian Palace offers a discount of 28.27%, compared to the 17% discount offered by the runner-up. Korinthian was awarded the contract again, this time for 220 people. On the same day, however, in the press release issued by the National Defence General Staff, only 164 food recipients were recorded (these had been down to 154, and at the time of writing reached 161). In response to our question about how many portions the company must deliver on a daily basis, Korinthian Palace claimed that any information pertaining to their cooperation with the Ministry of Defence was classified, and referred us to the Ministry. However, Giorgos Angelopoulos told us that the number of portions delivered matched the actual number of camp residents, something that is confirmed by the Ministry’s figures.

One could speculate that the additional food portions are provided as a buffer, in case more refugees arrive at the camp. However, those responsible for the camp have assured us that coordination is pretty much seamless, and that although it is possible for more refugees to arrive, this will have been preceded by an equal number of departures. The very small fluctuations in the number of food recipients reported by the National Defence General Staff appear to confirm this.

Another interpretation we might consider is that the number of food portions in the contract is indicative, and that the actual number on any given day is smaller. Again, though, there is no clause in the contract, as there is in other instances (for example the catering contract for the Philippiada camp), to the effect that portions may fluctuate daily at the discretion of the contracting party.

In any event, Korinthian Palace’s response to our enquiry about the discrepancy between the number of actual refugees and the number of food portions paid for was that “we are obliged to follow the terms of each contract to the letter,” while stressing that they were not responsible for the issue raised.

The two camps in Attica

Here, we will limit ourselves to the most recent contracts. On 7 March 2017, a contract was awarded to Korinthian Palace to provide “catering for 150 asylum seekers and vulnerable third country nationals” at the camp in Rafina. The National Defence General Staff press releases for the 3rd March and the 10th March respectively count 120 people. No big deal, someone might say; counting 30 people extra, at €4.80 each per day, represents a loss of only €144 a day.

However, in an official Air Force document dated the 3rd March 2017, we find the award of a catering contract for the camp of Aghios Andreas in Nea Makri. This contract is for feeding 200 refugees, and it was won by Korinthian Palace, who offered the greatest discount. On the same day, the National Defence General Staff press release records 109 food recipients, as it does again the following week on the 10th March.

We would be concerned with the loss of public funds from feeding 100-odd «invisible» people at a cost of €3.73 per head daily. However, Korinthian Palace’s response to our enquiry is even more intriguing. It states that “for some months now, our company is not responsible for the catering at the Aghios Andreas camp in Nea Makri, Attica.” As a reminder, the last contract was awarded on 3 March, just a few days earlier.

So now that we have “warmed up”, let us consider a case where the sums are much larger.

A(nother) Corinthian catering firm goes north

The situation with refugee catering in Ioannina has several parallels with the examples we have already covered, not least because the refugees there have complained vocally about (among other things) the quality of the catering.

Five refugee hosting facilities have functioned up to the present time in the Ioannina district, located at Doliana, Katsika, Filippiada, Tsepelovo and Konitsa. One of the companies that has been active in this area is Pietris Estiasi AE. Like Korinthian Palace, this company is also based in Corinth and, like its neighbour, it boasts an impressive client list including public institutions and large corporations. There is also a local catering company covering the Ioannina region, called Anostro.

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The Pietris group headquarters in Corinth [pietris.gr].
In June 2016, Pietris lodged an appeal against the 8th Mechanised Infantry Brigade, which is handling the procurement of catering services for a total of 1,700 at Doliana, Katsika and Tsepelovo camps. It succeeded in extending the bidding deadline by two days, allowing the company to participate in the tender. Petris eventually secured the contract for feeding the refugees at a price of €4.68 per person, including VAT.

Exactly one month later, on the 6th July, another appeal by Pietris was rejected as lacking merit. The catering for the refugees at Doliana and Katsikas, now counting 1,450, was awarded to Anostro. Their price per head is €4.51. At the beginning of September, Pietris was again awarded a contract for feeding 1,700 refugees for 30 days at a price of €4.86 including VAT.

However, when the weather turned cold, the two companies came closer.

When competitors collude

In the contract award dated 4th November 2016, Pietris and Anostro appear to have submitted a joint bid as a consortium. They were awarded a contract to cater for 1,300 people in Doliana, Katsikas and Tsepelovo at €4.72 before VAT (i.e. just 6 cents below the maximum).

On the 9th December, and again on the 28th December, the same consortium was once again awarded the contract to feed 600 refugees at Doliana and Katsikas for €4.73 per head before VAT – a discount of 5 cents.

The most interesting aspect of the December contracts is that during this time, one of the two camps, the one at Katsikas, had been closed. As confirmed to inside story by Stella Nanou, a spokesperson for the UNHCR, the last 166 refugees left Katsikas at the end of December. Ms Nanou added that the refugees had been relocated to hotels in Konitsa, Patra and Grevena, and, as is common practice in such instances, the responsibility for catering was assigned to the hotels. The hotels have the option of providing their own catering, where the facilities exist, or sub-contracting it.

From the 5th January until the time of writing, according to the press releases from the National Defence General Staff, the number of food recipients at Katsikas was zero, while the portions at Doliana numbered 138 at the start of the period and 118 today. However, catering contracts continued to be awarded for 600 or 550 portions, as we shall see below.

The refugees move on, the contracts continue

Specifically, on the 27th January, a contract was awarded for feeding 600 refugees at the camps of Doliana and Katsika to the Pietris-Anostro consortium at a minimal discount (€4.73 before VAT, compared to €4.78) for 29 days. The same day, the press release from the National Defence General Staff reported 138 food recipients at Doliana and none at Katsikas.

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Volunteers and NGO members prepare food at Katsikas camp in May 2016 [Violeta Palazon/CITIZENSIDE].

On the 24th February, with Katsikas remaining closed, and Doliana feeding just 118 refugees according to the National Defence General Staff, the two companies were awarded a contract to cater for 550 refugees at the same price and for 30 days in March. We contacted the 8th Mechanised Infantry Brigade officer responsible for catering at the two camps for comment, but were no further explanation, other than a statement that “there may be more arrivals.” The number of portions in the last few weeks has remained steadily at 118. We contacted several departments National Defence General Staff for comment, each of which referred us to another department.

If 432 “invisible” refugees were fed daily, then the additional revenue for the Pietris-Anostro consortium would amount to €2,043 on a daily basis, which translates into €61,201 for March alone, for which the army paid €76,013 extra in total, including VAT. We did not receive a response to our enquiries regarding the number of food portions from Anostro. On re-contacting the 8th Mechanised Infantry Brigade, we were informed that our questions had been referred to Pietris, however we never received a response from the company.

Meanwhile, back in Myrsini…

A senior aid official recently stated in an interview that “$70 out of every $100 that have been spent [on the humanitarian effort in Greece] have been wasted.” LM Village, which has been described as an exemplar of hospitality, operates without any financial assistance to the local authority and without the benefit of any of the thousands hired through the civil service.

It is able to function thanks to “filotimo”: the human decency of the unpaid coordinator, Giorgos Angelopoulos, the mayor and his wife who assist as doctors, the local Medical Association, the Red Cross, Médecins du Monde, the local community, local and foreign volunteers, grass roots organisations such as Pyrna, who donated equipment so that Farez and his fellow refugees can cook their own food.

At the end of October, an 18-month-old toddler lost its life in the village, having escaped war only to drown in a swimming pool full of rainwater. Then, as now, there is no security, which may have been able to prevent this, as there is no interpreter or permanent medical unit.

We can only draw one conclusion: when it comes to the invisible refugees, the money exists; but there is none to cover the real and persistent needs of the rest. It goes without saying that the camps which we focused on are not the only ones where money is wasted with nothing to show for it in return. It also goes without saying that it would not exactly require a Sisyphean effort to improve the management of funds, so many months down the line. Sometimes, administrative “errors” have a cost, which can even be measured in human lives.

 

MAIN IMAGE: A volunteer prepares food for 157 refugees in April 2016 [Louise Gouliamaki/AFP].


This blog has no connection to inside story other than a friendly rapport.

If you found this story interesting and would like more English-language investigative reporting on Greece from insidestory.gr, let them know directly at @insidestory_gr on Twitter, via their Facebook page or email hello@insidestory.gr.

Feeding the invisible refugees

The Zea Conspiracy

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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?

crop_duster_in_the_imperial_valley_-_nara_-_549072

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.”

texas-ready-the-treasury

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 patheos.com; crop duster by Charles O’Rear via Wikipedia.org; emergency seed bank via texasready.net.

 

The Zea Conspiracy

“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…”

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 Anita 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”. Anita’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, Anita 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 Anita’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. Anita’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…”

If you want to know more about Greek TV, you can start here.

 

 

 

A late education

Black December, red pen

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ATHENS TECHNICAL SCHOOL (TEI): COURSEWORK COVER SHEET *

Department: Business Administration

Module: Introduction to Marketing

Grading period: Winter Semester 2015

Submitted by: Nikos Romanos, Panayiotis Argyros

Project: Write the copy for a marketing campaign to introduce “Black Friday” into the Greek retail calendar. “Black Friday” is a 24-hour period of sales held the day after Thanksgiving in the United States, but now extended to online retailers and traditional retail venues outside the U.S. where Thanksgiving is not celebrated. It has become common for shoppers to camp overnight outside the retail venues to queue for cheap consumer goods. Violence, injuries and even deaths have occasionally resulted from poor crowd control.

Grade: B-

Detailed Comments: Some sparky stuff in here, but 2,571 words is really excessive. You need to work to a 250 word limit – maximum! In my markup, I have suggested ways to improve and shorten your copy. Detailed comments follow.

Concept: I LOVE your idea of a month day of revolution, and I also love how you are able blend it with an anapologetically nostalgic appeal (“let us remember”): you’re saying “it’s new and radical but also familiar and comforting”. I can immediately see the cross-platform potential of spontaneous street actions: “direct action groups”, “public interventions” (flashmobs in downtown Athens and in the shopping malls, a social media campaign, we can Astro-turf the hell out of this one). Paint the town red, explosions of colour against the grey concrete! Very “Apple Mackintosh 1984”, classic!

Style: You have got the authentic touches here, you really seem to have studied your Bakunin, and absorbed that rich yet stilted language. You have a kind of vintage, steampunk thing going on. But we need to remember our audience. I think here we need to focus on the dynamic elements: “Youth!” “Spontaneity!” “Impetuous!” “Revolution!” “Explosive!” Short sentences! Punchy!

Content: I have picked out some of my favourite quotes which I think really capture the spirit:

“We are living the beginning of the end of the world as we know it” – I love this, it really highlights to momentousness of the occasion (and it would be momentous, in a country where “never on Sunday” is still a slogan in the retail space).

“Black December Friday is more than just a date” – I paraphrase slightly, but again, MOMENTOUS!

“The only possible alliance is with the world of probabilities” – a world of probabilities: how optimistic, how ASPIRATIONAL!

You really have a gift for evoking the joy of shopping: “the consumption of bliss”, “the windows of abundance” – really had me reaching for my credit card there.

I suggest you avoid describing violence and oppression directly. The tyranny of the current retail calendar can be implied quite powerfully using visual cues. Study how that Apple ad does it: they reference George Orwell and show riot police on American TV, during the Super Bowl. No-one bats an eyelid, no-one ends up in jail! That’s cojones!

Also: you quote several “alternative” poets to illustrate your points. In a multi-media context we can do this with musical cues. Nirvana would be my go-to music for this type of message: grungy yet “safe” for consumers; instant appeal for Generation X demographic, rebels with a healthy disposable income.

Logistics: I suspect a month of steep discounts would be too much even for a healthy retail client, hence I suggest we stick to the original “Black Friday”, but I give you points for thinking big.

Conclusion: Please don’t be discouraged by the red ink or the grade, this is one of the most promising pieces of work I have seen this semester. When you become available for work, I will be delighted to introduce you to my good friends at ¡Revolución! Communications, who are always on the lookout for talent – they have an interesting client list and your experience will be relevant.

 


* All external links are 100% genuine, everything in between in a fabrication.

The original text used in this exercise is a proclamation issued on the 11th November 2015 by Nikos Romanos and Panayiotis Argyros from prison, calling for a “Black December” of mayhem, vandalism and bomb attacks. The original Greek text can be found here, and translation was done for expediency by Google Translate – the surreal mash-up of nihilism, exuberance and half-digested jargon is mostly preserved. A time-bomb which detonated in the early hours of Tuesday 24th November outside the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises in central Athens, causing significant material damage, may or may not have been linked to this proclamation. The Christmas lights were lit 50 metres away in Syntagma Square that same evening by the Mayor of Athens.

Nikos Romanos is serving a 16-year prison term for armed robbery. He was a key witness when his teenage friend, Alexis Grigoropoulos was shot dead by a policeman in the Athens neighbourhood of Exarcheia in December 2008, an incident which resulted in extensive rioting in the centre of Athens. After the incident, Romanos went underground, believed to be hiding with various anti-authoritarian groups, until he was arrested in the course of an armed bank robbery in northern Greece in February 2013. He is also suspected of involvement in a number of non-fatal terror attacks. While in prison, he sat his university entry exams and gained a place to study Business Administration at the Technical School (TEI) of Athens. In 2014 he went on hunger strike to demand permission to attend classes on day release rather than by remote study.  His demand was not met. Sympathetic views hold that Romanos is torn between a genuine desire to learn and his ties to anarcho-terrorist groups in prison. This latest proclamation suggests that any rehabilitation effort is losing ground. This post imagines a more optimistic scenario in which the text has been misinterpreted, and where it is in fact a testament to the redemptive power of Business Studies.

Panayiotis Argyros is a member of the anarcho-terrorist group Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire (Συνωμοσία των Πυρήνων της Φωτιάς, or SPF), one of the latest generation of domestic urban guerilla groups which have been active in Greece since the 1970s. SPF have been responsible for a number of terror attacks and attempted attacks involving time-bombs and parcel-bombs against political and business targets since 2008. Argyros was arrested in November 2010 after a parcel bomb addressed to then French President Nicolas Sarkozy detonated in the hands of a courier company employee causing his injury. He is serving a 25-year term for his involvement in the organisation and a number of bombing attacks on political and business targets. Recently, a former Citizen Protection Minister in the previous Syriza/ANEL government initiated a judicial investigation by alleging that senior Syriza officials were being lobbied by imprisoned members of the SPF group, and that his life was under threat as a result of his non-cooperation.

Images: Daniel Acker: Bloomberg; seleo.gr via stoxos.gr

 

 

 

Black December, red pen

Kir-Yiannis advises…

boutaris_adore

Today’s Kathimerini on Sunday published an open letter to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras from the Mayor of Thessaloniki, Yiannis Boutaris. I think this is worth translating it in full for a non-Greek speaking audience, because it captures the concerns of a lot of people in Greece, people who insist on looking for a silver lining in the current impasse. Much like Aunt Cassandra in her advice to young “Che”, Boutaris wants Tsipras to stop pussy-footing around and rise to the occasion because there are no real alternatives. While most of the international media have been heaving a sigh of relief that an agreement preventing Grexit was reached last week, in Greece the focus is on the next drama: the discord within Syriza, the possibility of a vote of confidence or snap elections, and the lack of focus on day-to-day government, including the poor handling of the refugee crisis. The fear is that while the crew on the bridge bicker, Greece is drifting toward the next iceberg.

Boutaris himself is an interesting character and a potentially influential voice (a recent profile in The Guardian makes entertaining reading). The heir of a winemaking family from Northern Greece, he has built a reputation for being unconventional. To the extent that he ever had a political affiliation, he was involved with the Greek Communist Party (KKE) in his youth. Since then, he has broken from his family to form his own successful wine company, battled alcoholism, and come into public service as an independent, at a time in life when most are settling into retirement, “as a businessman taking on a new project”. As mayor of Thessaloniki he has not been universally popular – he was elected at a time when blatant corruption created a political vacuum, and has made enemies right and left for poking at notorious political wasps’ nests like public sanitation. He has also controversially forged close links with Turkey in the name of culture and tourism, backed the Gay Pride parade in Thessaloniki in defiance of the conservative local bishop, and spoken openly about the tens of thousands of Jews from the city sent to concentration camps during the Holocaust. Usually a man of few words, his droll but erudite pronouncements guarantee him a hearing. When Syriza forced a vote for a new President at the end of 2014, he responded to press enquiries as to his possible candidacy, saying “Whoever heard of a Head of State with tattoos?” (he has several). Call him what you will, he can’t be accused of being part of the old political elite, and that is why his voice carries weight at the present time.

“It is clearer than daylight that the situation in the country is critical. But how critical is it, and what choices do we have left? Since 2009 and the outbreak of this unprecedented crisis we have already been governed, or attempted to be governed, by most of the parties who have elected representatives in the Greek Parliament (from the nationalist right to the radical left). But the situation in the country does not seem idyllic… People continue to feel hopelessness and despair. As long as the current “system” continues to fail – because everyone who governs eventually becomes “the system” – people will continue to look for anti-systemic alternative choices. However, not many of these remain.  In reality, there are only two: Fascism, or Soviet-style totalitarianism. History has shown that the country must avoid such paths at all costs. But to be able to enter a safe path, the current government must succeed in its main goal: a basic agreement with our partners, which will continue to give us the ability to belong to what we call the civilized world, with all that entails. For a country like Greece, without well-functioning public administration, with weak institutions and a powerless judicial system, lacking a consensual political culture, it is absolutely necessary to continue holding a European compass in as many fields as possible. And the Eurozone is perhaps the most important of these. Because our continued presence in it is perhaps the only condition which can force us to one day build a healthy and productive economy.

It is important to understand that at this moment what matters is not whether the government is good or bad, adequate or inadequate. I am not alone in having found serious weaknesses and dysfunctions in this, as in the previous governments. Lack of coordination and a rounded vision has been a perennial problem of Greek governments. In addition, a reactionary and old-party, but well-organized minority in the present government is attempting to nullify any initiative for reconciliation and cooperation with healthy political forces. In the final analysis, they are undermining the people’s wish for a united internal front.

Whether Greece belongs in the EU, or the BRICS, or alliances like the old Comecon or the “Non-Aligned movement”, is not a matter for ideological or philosophical rumination but of vital importance. It is important that we understand that, despite our current mess, we must do everything to continue to be part of the civilized world, and not an imaginary utopia which only we invoke but no one else has discovered. This does not mean that we mustn’t have the right to hope and dream. Far from it! Not only the Greek people, but all people deserve the best possible future. The issue is how they approach it, with what means, what policies and what alliances. The be sure, the best solutions don’t come from theoretical arguments and paper exercises, but from confronting actual facts. Which countries have the highest standard of living, the EU members or Cuba? Where do we find the biggest wealth inequality, Spain or Brazil? Sadly, these questions that most of us until recently considered rhetorical, at the present moment seem to require a real substantive answer.

What is being signed off by the Greek Prime Minister in order to achieve an agreement with the EU will not all be pleasant. And of course he will not escape criticism – within and outside his party – for breaking his campaign promises on several counts. However, what he would have to put his signature to in the case of non-agreement and subsequent exit from the Euro, would be three times worse. The issue for a Prime Minister is to have the strength to decide for the best (or the least worst), and then have the strength to defend his decision. When the hour zero comes – and we are already there – you have to decide whether to take this path or that one. Neither is strewn with rose petals. At least, though, we avoided the thorns, because we would not have been able to bear them, being already barefoot.

The Greek Prime Minister has already shown himself smart and flexible. On top of this, he is the only politician who embodies hope for a better future. I believe that he must accompany his signature on the third memorandum with something more, if he wants to be judged by history as a leader worthy of Eleftherios Venizelos. He must persuade and inspire the Greek people to believe that their time has come, that the time has arrived for us to work systematically and with passion and real goals. He must convince the Greek people that there is not a conspiracy against us, that we are not being sprayed, or blackmailed by villainous foes, that we are not smarter than everyone else. As long as the Prime Minister says that he was forced to sign an agreement he does not want, he is working against this. The time has come for him to propose his own plan for national reconstruction, being truthful: “Yes, we are the Left, and we have come to power to make the great change. Let’s all come together to be a role model for all the beleaguered peoples of the world.” The priority for the country is to be built on powerful institutions, which will form the pillars of a credible edifice of state. A state that Ioannis Capodistrias envisioned, but was hindered by a system of clientelism, populism and corruption, which inoculated entire generations with these sorts of practices. Tsipras is the only one today who can inspire and change this climate that has established itself in the country over the years and is dragging us down. People are disgusted by the old party system and the current Prime Minister is the only one who has the popular mandate to get us out of this hole.

Now is Tsipras’s time. We should have started reforms ourselves back in 1981 when we entered the European Community. We have a unique opportunity now to believe in our values and our abilities, with you, Alexis Tsipras, as Prime Minister. This is now in your hands, and it is your job to succeed. It is your responsibility to cement this belief, and make it a flag for us all to march behind. And I believe what you yourself have said. That you are not the kind of person who shirks his responsibility.”

Hyperlinks have been added.

Photo from Adore magazine republished in Greekreporter.com

Kir-Yiannis advises…