Monthly Archives: December 2013

And the butchery begins!

More and more, as the crisis deepens, I get the feeling that this country is showing two extreme faces. On one hand I see solidarity, people reconsidering their exaggerated lifestyles, reason substituting madness. On the other hand I see an extreme version of individualism, desparate people having lost hope for change, trying to save their own asses.

People simply want to have a job, everything else can be fixed. They’ll do anything for a job. The employers know this and they’ll offer almost nothing in exchange for labour. Karl Marx at his best.

I was having a drink a couple of nights ago with a friend and she was telling me about this woman who was desperate for work. She was living in Agrinio, a city in Western Greece where unemployment is high and young people are escaping elsewhere in Greece or abroad. The woman ended up accepting to work for a butcher’s shop but only during the holidays. The salary was 20 euros for 17 hrs of work. An insider told my friend that the butcher’s turnover was 25.000 euros.

butchery02

Some months ago there was an uproar when a hotelier in the island of Aegina posted an ad asking for an employee to work at his hotel voluntarily (!!!). In exchange he was offering accomodation and food. That’s how far (and low) we have gone as a country.

People are so desperate that there are some who indeed accept (or could even beg for) such working conditions. “It’s better than nothing” they’ll say and I can’t really blame them, it’s not their fault. But I can’t either turn a blind eye to a country becoming more and more like a cannibalist society somewhere deep in the virgin rainforests of Papua New Guinea. It now seems that the need of work is driven more and more by our instict of self-preservation.

I’m going to get that job. It’s either me or you. Like the guy in The Axe of Costa Gavras. I’m going to eat you, as wild animals do in the jungle.

Writing these things, a weird quote comes to my mind. I was watching the trailer of the upcoming 2nd season of the “House of Cards”. At the end of it, a cynical Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) says:

For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy… and the butchery begins.

butcher

Oh yes… and Happy New Year!

Signs of the times

Today is the last weekend before Christmas. One last little hope for the shop owners to make up for the losses of another year of depression. Shops are going to be open on Sunday too. The city centre must be clean to cater for the shoppers, the army of consumers who are actually more like starving animals looking for offers, discounts, credit, installments, anything.

The centre must be clean, the image of the city is what counts. We’re in such a bad situation that we can’t be bothered with what’s behind the curtain. At least we can look well. I was talking with a hotel owner at the neglected areas below Omonia square. About two years ago, despite the crisis that was already there, he had spent more than 2 million euros to turn an old building to a boutique hotel. Last year when I first interviewed him complaining about the area being neglected, about immigrants, crime, few tourists would dare to go the demo-stricken Athens and even fewer would choose his hotel for their stay. This year he sounded much happier, the immigrants were gone, the police is doing a good job patrolling the streets, none of his clients reported any thefts and, above all, tourists increased. I guess he didn’t care about the immigrants’ detention camps or the police abuse, as long as the centre is good for his business, as long as Greece’s image abroad is polished. “Tourists returned to Athens. It’s simple. We had a riot-free year as far as the Athens centre is concerned” he explained while some blocks away, in Exarchia, this very riot-free year has been certain people’s biggest disappointment. Not that they indeed hoped for a real socialist, communist or anarchist revolution but at least there should be some show of resistance, they shouldn’t look as defeated as they do now. Above all it’s the image.

So they city must be clean. The Mayor of Athens, who only a couple of days ago called one of the city’s most vibrant, creative, young and colourful areas [Exarchia] a hub of organised crime, sent out the municipal workers on their eternal crusade against graffiti. The wall of the Bank of Greece HQ should be clean by now. This is how it looked when I passed by this morning.

bank of greece

A municipal worker is cleaning a wall from a graffiti. A bitter orange tree next to the Bank of Greece HQ has flourished. (photo Kostas Kallergis)

The graffiti was saying “Solidarity to all the immigrants”.

It’s winter. The bitter orange trees that decorate the Athenian streets have showed us their fruits. A sweet orange colour on the outside but extremely bitter inside. The naive tourists often mistake them for tangerine and occasionally try to eat them. Nature is teaching us, not everything is as good as it looks. The bitter oranges, the centre of Athens, the Greek economy…

Athens, 21 December 2013. These are the signs of these times.

Law and morality on discounts

Racism and ethnic discrimination is not something new in Greek society. The emergence of Golden Dawn as a player in the Greek political scene gave a sense that everything racist in Greece is somehow connected with these thugs. But racism is everywhere, from the governing New Democracy party that frequently lashes out against immigrants in hope of not losing more votes to Golden Dawn to everyday matters. Like working at a super market.

According to the newspaper Avgi, an employee from the former Soviet Union was working at a promotion company advertising cosmetics. She was sent to promote the products at a branch of Galaxias super market chain. After two hours the manager of the branch told the woman that she can’t work there anymore because of her origin, since the super market chain was Greek and is only for Greeks. She replied that she has been living in Greece for more than 20 years and that she has recently even got the Greek citizenship. The manager insisted and later the promotion company  fired her since they only cooperate with Galaxias super markets.

When I first read this article I thought that it’s probably the manager who took the initiative to apply such labour practices in 2013. However, with a quick visit at the company’s website, I found out that the vision of Galaxias is:

Galaxias was founded and continues to operate as a purely Greek Super Market with Greek funds and Greek employees.

What the fuck? How can a company advertise such racist policies on its website? Since when did the Greek legal system start to tolerate ethnic discrimination at work on such a high level?

Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) - the signature of Theodoros Pangalos, then Foreign Affairs Minister of Greece.

Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) – the signature of Theodoros Pangalos, then Foreign Affairs Minister of Greece.

Greece has signed the Treaty of Amsterdam and the Racial Equality Directive, both within its EU integration, that were supposed to be incorporated (and effectively applied) since more than ten years ago. Not to mention the Universal Declaration of Human Rights half a century ago.

Toilet paper on offer this week - on the top of the leaflet it says "100% Greek Super Market"

Toilet paper on offer this week – on the top of the leaflet it says “100% Greek Super Market”

But no. These treaties are rubbish. Stains of ink on diplomatic toilet paper. The countries that abide with these law and principles are stupid suckers. And yes, a mediocre super market chain like Galaxias, living on its own fascist galaxy, can make all the discounts that it wants. On the prices of the toilet paper. On Greek and European legislation. On morality. On humanism itself.

Greece is on fire or the altar of austerity

A new austerity-related epidemic of deaths has appeared in Greece.

First we had the epidemic of suicides. Now the fires at houses has been added. Meteorologists have reckoned that last November was one of the warmest in recent years. But we’re now in mid-December, the weather turned cold and the fireplaces have been filled with firewood to keep this nation warm.

Last night a middle-aged woman (possibly coz they can’t tell until now from the state she was found in) was found dead from a fire in an apartment near my neighbourhood. Two days ago another middle-aged man was found dead from a fire in his apartment in Kato Patisia area of Athens. Almost every second day someone is dying from a fire at his/her house. They’re all people who have no heating and are trying to burn wood in order to get a bit of warmth. A couple of weeks ago Greece was shocked to wake up to the news that a 13-year old girl died from carbon monoxide poisoning from the fumes of a make-shift brazier. The girl from Serbia was living together with her mother in an apartment without even electricity in  Thessaloniki. Last year two students died in the same way in Larisa, Central Greece. The list is endless.

The high-tax on heating oil, combined with the absence of income, has driven thousands of residential buildings to turn off their central heating systems. I live 10 mins from the Parliament in the centre of Athens and, at night, I smell the burned wood from the fireplaces. The laundry have the same smell when they are left at the balcony to dry. A usual part of the daily weather chit-chat is “Do you still have heating at your building? No, most of the residents can’t pay so we turned it off this year”.

fire

Greece 2013. In the land where Prometheus gave fire to humanity,  an act that was supposed to enable progress and civilisation, people are suffocated or burned to death on a daily basis, in their attempt to keep warm.

Statistics are a bit blurry and this is more worrying, adding to the general suspicion that the government is trying to play down these ugly numbers, same like the deaths from labour “accidents” during the 2004 Olympics’ construction craze. But one day, at some point in the future, we ought to count the martyrs who were sacrificed on the altar of austerity.