Category Archives: Personal views

Politicized antidepressants

A friend was diagnosed with depression. His doctor gave him a prescription with some pills. One of them is called Cipralex (some read this as Tsipralex which sounds a lot like the name of SYRIZA’s leader, Alexis Tsipras).

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The irony is that the pharmaceutical company that produces these pills [Lundbeck, Denmark] has a starfish for its logo. Looks like a red star to me.

I think the Greek PM Antonis Samaras has been taking too many of these pills and kind of lost it with his pre-election rhetoric. His last scaremongering bit: “The Greeks want to remain in Europe and do not want to move to North Korea because Syriza wants to”. ROFL

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Photo courtesy of The Press Project

 

There is life after austerity

samargouria

The guy in the photo (right) is Angel Gurría, general secretary of OECD. When he last met Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (left) last November he congratulated him for managing to bring Greece in the top position, internationally, of the list with the countries carrying out structural reforms.

These reforms were supposed to improve the way the Greek economy functions but also to rationalise the Greek public sector. Last summer, the Greek government had decided to suddenly close down ERT, the Greek Radio & TV Broadcasting company. The idea of firing all of a sudden around 2,500 employees was that ERT was a corrupt and expensive public organisation. At the beginning there was absolutely no plan – after the huge public pressure and uproar that ERT closure’s caused, the government announced that there would be a new state broadcaster created soon. It would more efficient than ERT, cheaper and more transparent.

Almost a year later, a few days ago, Eleftherotypia newspaper published the cost of a show that is now being broadcasted by NERIT, ERT’s kitsch and unpopular successor. It’s a new version of a show about tourism (that used to exist during ERT), trying to convince Greeks to spend their summer (money) in Greece rather than abroad. As if there is enough income distributed in the society for international plane tickets. Anyway, back to the show, here’s its budget.

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On the left column you can see the people hired for the show (by specialty) and on the right you can see their payment (for the 2-month period which this contract is valid for). In the country where the minimum wage is down to around 500 euros per month, there is a journalist who will be paid 5.208 euros for reading the text messages that viewers send to the show. Out of the 11 people that will compose the journalistic part of the team, two will be handling the social media, each also paid 5.208 euros for these two months. The same will be the payment for the person who will be responsible to call and book the guests of the show while the editor-in-chief of the show will receive 8.060 euros. For two fucking months! That’s efficiency and rationalisation of ERT’s costs.

And if you want to compare with ERT’s already high wages [compared to the rest of the media market] the guest-booker in the old version of the show (at ERT) was earning about 30% less than the current NERIT’s payment.

As for increased transparency, these people have been hired without a some kind of competition, no job vacancy announcement, no evaluation of applicants.

A vicious circle, creating worst monsters than the ones we had in a supposed attempt to modernise, to get improved, to restructure [sic].

venizelos gurria

Back in his December 2013 visit, Angel Gurría had also met Evangelos Venizelos, the Frank Underwood of the Greek political scene. After the many congrats for Greece’s obediency, the OECD general secretary told him a sibyllic ‘There’s life after debt” which kept me wondering what the hell he was trying to say.

I get it now. There is indeed going to be life after the austerity. Those who get paid 5.000 euros for reading text messages will survive. The rest will have to emigrate abroad. Those who can afford their basic medication will survive. Unlike the woman in Lesvos who died last week [inside the local hospital!!!] simply because she couldn’t afford her medicines for hypertension.

There will be more international congratulations for this government and for these policies that cause such collateral damage. The elections are approaching and Samaras has invited everybody to congratulate him so that Greeks can be convinced that we’re on the right track, that we are exiting the crisis. Angela Merkel will be the next one with her visit planned in the coming days. Others will surely follow. They should all feel responsible if this vicious circle continues.

One Sunday morning

Good morning!

One of my girlfriend’s Facebook friends posted this photo at 6.30 this morning.

patras fire

Patras, Greece. 19/1/2014 Photo by Dimitris Gkioulos

Dimitris Gkioulos wrote next to the photo: Two hours ago, a woman living across the street from where I live was burnt from a fire created by a heating device. I woke up to her desperate cries “Fire! Fire!”. Now let’s calmly continue our day…

Due to the continuing austerity and the ridiculous tax on heating oil, people in Greece are forced to use cheap and often dangerous ways to heat themselves during the winter. Burning wood in fireplaces or even braziers has been the solution for many of them. As a result, the extensive use of firewood has caused tens of deadly accidents so far and, in the case of areas surrounded by mountains like the Athens basin, it is also responsible for the phenomenon of smog. See my post here (“Greece is on fire or the alter of austerity“) for more on this topic.

Meanwhile in Athens, the smog keeps haunting the city. I’ve even noticed that the traditionally minimalist weather reports are now enriched by a new qualitative index. Smog risk. In the UK you have the windchill factor, in Greece we have the smog risk. A number working in the subconscious, telling you whether you can exercise in the open air, dry your washed clothes outside or simply take a stroll in the local park for some fresh air.

Some days ago, early one morning, I took these photos. This is how smog looks like on a bright sunny day in Athens.

Update: I just noticed that there was also a relevant blog post about the fire accident in Patras. Here’s the link and here’s the translation:

4am in the morning and you jump out of your bed to a desperate cry “Fire! Fire!”. You go out to the balcony and you see this [see photo above]. And then the neighbours tell you about yet another brazier next to you, yes another victim, a woman. I didn’t ask what was her name, how old she was, if she had friends, children, grandchildren, dreams or just pills and stress about her pension. I was ashamed. That’s what it was. And when I returned home the air was smelling burnt flesh. Your fucking culture…

ps. She was 62 years old. Yet another victim (the count is lost) of the undeclared war. The war is always a class war but, right now, we must just shut up.

Apple buys Greek island of iOS?

A hilarious thing happened to me yesterday. A foreign photojournalist asked me whether Greece has sold any of its islands in its effort to reduce its debt. Before I answer he said “Oh yes, it has sold one indeed. I’ve read a year ago that Apple bought a Greek island. And they then renamed it after its operating system for iPhones!” [ie iOS]. I started laughing and told him that this is not a true story but he didn’t believe me. I told him that this was definitely some kind of internet hoax, that the government can sell only small, tiny, uninhabited islands and that the Greek island of Ios, which exists indeed, has inhabitants who have been owning properties on the island for generations and that they wouldn’t sell them collectively to Apple. He understood the logical argument but he still didn’t seem eager to believe me. “But I’ve read it somewhere, I’m sure about it!” he insisted.

For the history of it, Ios is an island of 2.000 inhabitants in Cyclades island complex. It has always been called like that – according to Herodotus Ios is the burial place of Homer.

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A map of Cyclades islands (detail from a 1785 map by English map maker William Faden). Ios was called Nios at that time.

I posted this incident on my Facebook profile and kept laughing all night with the comments of my friends. We noticed that near Ios there is also the island of Milos (Milo in Greek is the word for Apple). We imagined some smartphone competition with another Cycladic island, called Andros (for Android users). And that IKEA might soon buy the island of Kea. All real, inhabited islands bearing huge marketing possibilities for the global brands. One of my friends spotted that the Ios hoax comes from an April fools’ day joke of a Swedish website (of Dagens Industri financial newspaper), published in April 2012. They were even joking about Magganari, one of the islands most famous beaches, being renamed to iBeach.

During our work with the photojournalist we interviewed a Greek woman who was saying that the crisis is in South Europe only for the moment. That the northern countries will soon have their own financial crisis and all the goodies that come with it. And then I imagined Finland in crisis. Desperate for cash to repay its debt and having its already high suicide rate quadrupled by the economic turmoil. And then, the Finnish state will decide to sell its province of Karelia to a Greek tobacco industry who will liberalise smoking laws, allowing a fag even during open heart surgeries.

Ultra Low

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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”.

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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.

A new type of civil war

I’m getting fed up of these numb mornings. I usually wake up in the morning, I prepare my coffee and sit on my computer to read the news and check the newspaper headlines. This morning my entire electronic universe was filled with the story 34-year old rapper Killah P (known as Pavlos Fyssas) who was killed by a fascist in Amfiali, Keratsini district, near Piraeus.

The victim, a singer known in the area for his anti-fascist lyrics and activism, was watching last night’s Champions League match with his friends at a coffee shop. During one of their discussions they said something (bad) about Golden Dawn. Someone from the crowd, obviously a Golden Dawn member (not just a voter), has called his fellow neonazi thugs and, after the match, the singer was ambushed, attacked and stabbed to death in front of his girlfriend and another couple.

Here’s one of his songs (you can activate English captions for the lyrics).

Can you be something less than immensely furious about this? I can’t.

Some days ago, another group of about 50 neonazi thugs have attacked a team of 30 communists who were wheatpasting on walls posters for the coming Communist Youth Festival. Eight communists were injured in the event that also took place near Piraeus, at Perama district. It was, once more, one of those mornings.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t expect a serious escalation of anti-leftist violence from Golden Dawn, despite the stated hatred from both sides. There was a very popular quote that was often appearing in my facebook timeline:

First they came for the immigrants, but I wasn’t an immigrant and I didn’t speak. Then they came for the communists, but I wasn’t a communist…

I was quickly scrolling down when I’d see this. But I am now afraid that the violence between Golden Dawn and anything Leftist is not an accidental confrontation in a battle to claim the streets but a rise in planned incidents.

One year ago, Golden Dawn MP Ilias Panayotaros has given an interview to BBC’s Paul Mason. Sitting comfortably, he said that Greece is in a state of civil war. Paul Mason, a connoisseur of modern Greek History, insisted on the phrase “civil war” and Panayotaros explained:

Greek society is ready, even though no one likes it, to have a fight, a new type of civil war. One the one side there will be nationalists, like us and Greeks who want our country to be as it used to be and on the other side there will be illegal immigrants and anarchists…

Watch the video here (go to 01:55 for the Panayotaros segment)

Last week Golden Dawn was involved in tension during two events that commemorated some ugly moments of the Greek Civil War. One was at Meligalas and the other was at Giannitsa. There were no immigrants involved, just leftists and nationalists.

There have been hundreds of attacks against immigrants, leftists, homosexuals and others and the Golden Dawn party has always denied involvement. There was never a denouncing of the event itself because there were seldom enough proofs (for Justice) to incriminate them. This morning, the killer of Pavlos Fyssas has been arrested and, unofficial police sources say that, he was a supporter of Golden Dawn. Was he an official member? Does it make a difference? Of course not. He was definitely a member of a circle of thugs who have answered the phone call at the coffee shop before the end of the football match.

Not only the killer himself has now blood in his hands. The person who made the phone call also has blood in hands. Golden Dawn MPs, like Panayotaros, who have used hate speech against all non-nationalists, who have made anything they could to polarize the Greek society, they all have blood in their hands. And all those who have voted for Golden Dawn should now feel the thick red liquid in their hands too.

The Golden Dawn ballot is now wet and it’s not black anymore. It’s bloody red.

Update: I just found this great poster made back in 2012 by b-positive

“You’ve armed their hands with your vote”

You can’t be serious!

Two opinion polls were published yesterday (one by Public Issue and one by Pulse). Both had two notable changes.

1. SYRIZA was around 1% ahead of New Democracy

2. Golden Dawn was the other party with an increase, it scored some 13%-13,5% (NB it got 7 % in the 2012 elections)

The neo Nazi party is now stabilised in the third position and many people wonder… What the fuck?

I was speaking with a foreign correspondent here in Athens about these polls and she was telling me that most polling companies (which are not the most trustworthy institutions in this country) tend to play down the actual ratings of Golden Dawn in order to avoid the furore. She also told me that the actual ratings of Golden Dawn were rather closer to 16%. But still, one could say, they are too small and no one would cooperate with them in government.

No one? Well, just the other day, Babis Papadimitriou, a presenter of SKAI TV and a longtime supporter of all austerity measures since the beginning of the Greek economic crisis (with whatever this may mean about his political affiliation), threw the idea. “If SYRIZA can discuss the possibility of a coalition with the Communist Party, why couldn’t New Democracy discuss the possibility of a Conservative cooperation with a more serious (sic) Golden Dawn?”

I am not sure what exactly he meant by “more serious” but it seems that he at least recognises the fact the neo nazi party has had a pretty indecent behaviour so far, linked to all sorts of abuses, racist violence, populist rhetoric and foul language inside the parliament. He indeed admitted it in a later TV show. But can they become serious, Mpampis? Are you serious?

In any case, speaking of seriousness, there has been a more serious aspect in the afore mentioned opinion polls that few media have highlighted, or even discussed. It’s the qualitative analysis of the party ratings in specific age groups. According to the Pulse poll, Golden Dawn was the second party in the age groups of 18-29 and of 30-44. It makes you think that Greece is lucky to have an ageing population with more old people than young ones, that births have dropped by 10% this year according to some reports yesterday, that younger people are less inclined to be bothered to vote and that older people still tend to vote the same party that once hired them or gave them a good pension. All these, otherwise negative characteristics, are saving this country from becoming officially fascist.

I got a very dark feeling in my guts when I saw this table. Check for yourself and tell me how you feel.

Pulse Age Groups

The colours (from left to right) represent New Democracy, SYRIZA, PASOK, Independent Greeks, Golden Dawn, Democratic Left, Communist Party, Other party. Blank vote/Invalid vote/abstention, Undecided voters.

And when you try to describe to people, in and outside Greece, about what is to come in the near future, they read your blog posts or look at you, with a puzzled face, and say: You can’t be serious!

Insignificant men and significant things

I met Rochus Misch in March 2007. He was an energetic old man, living at a quiet, insignificant Berlin suburb. For his neighbours he was just Rochus. For the rest of the world he was Hitler’s bodyguard and the last survivor from Hitler’s Bunker below the German Chancellery building. I read a couple of hours ago that he died today and spent some time thinking about my acquaintance with him.

With Rochus Misch at the site of Hitler’s Bunker (Berlin, March 2007) © Kostas Kallergis

I interviewed Rochus for more than 4 hours, it was my first “serious” interview and I wanted to get all the facts straight. Rochus narrated tons of details from his life and his service under Hitler’s direct commands. The inevitable questions were posed. Rochus kept telling me that he didn’t know about the Final Solution. He was Hitler’s shadow, but old Adolf never went to concentration camps, hence Rochus never saw anything. I asked him to conduct a part of the interview at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin; he had no problem at all, sitting on one of those eerie concrete blocks talking to me about his duties, his service.

Rochus Misch at the Jewish Holocaust Memorial (Berlin, March 2007) © Kostas Kallergis

Rochus Misch at the Jewish Holocaust Memorial (Berlin, March 2007) © Kostas Kallergis

Rochus was orphaned at an early age and, after trying his skills as a painter, he  joined the army. He was a very simple boy who was discovering the world and the offer to serve in Hitler’s bodyguards came completely out of the blue. Suddenly, from a village boy in uniform that he was, Rochus was transformed into the bodyguard one of the world’s most powerful men. Even when I met him, six decades later, I could feel his awe when he was talking about the “boss”. But still, I’d ask the same question again, in other words every time, and he would deny that he knew, he’d try to avoid denouncing the killings, “there is no war without crimes and there will never be one” he kept saying. Why wouldn’t he just denounce the Holocaust? I kept wondering during the week I was in Berlin.

At his home, with his photo albums (Berlin, March 2007) © Kostas Kallergis

At his home, with his photo albums (Berlin, March 2007) © Kostas Kallergis

Was he a fascist? No he wasn’t. He was an insignificant boy who suddenly became significant. His life got meaning under Hitler. He could easily deny everything else apart from the importance of those few years he lived next to Adolf. I remember him being extremely reluctant of talking about his family. I later found out that he had little or no contact with his own daughter. She had found out from her maternal grandmother that her mother (Rochus’ wife) had Jewish origin, something that he never accepted.

Pointing the "boss", as if one could miss him. (Berlin, March 2007) © Kostas Kallergis

Pointing the “boss”, as if one could miss him. (Berlin, March 2007) © Kostas Kallergis

After the war Rochus spent nine years in Soviet camps as a prisoner. He returned to Berlin and had a quiet life after that, much like his younger years. When I met him in his 80s, Nazi Germany was the most vivid, most important part of his life. He wouldn’t get tired of giving interviews to journalists from all around the world, asking him the same things. How was it in the bunker? Did you hear the gunshot when Hitler and Eva committed suicide? Did you see Magda Goebbels poisoning her own children? How did you feel?

Rochus Misch (Berlin, March 2007) © Kostas Kallergis

Rochus Misch (Berlin, March 2007) © Kostas Kallergis

Several years later he published his memoirs. At the website for the book there was this quote of his:

My name is Rochus Misch. I am an insignificant man, but I have experienced significant things.

I am now thinking about Greece. And the rise of the extreme far-right over here. I think of the countless Golden Dawn voters that I have interviewed. Most of them are marginalised. They feel important when they participate in Golden Dawn rallies. They belong somewhere. Much like Rochus. They deny any connection between Golden Dawn and the rise in racist attacks in Greece. We didn’t see, we didn’t hear, if this is true it’s bad but we are not sure yet. Much like Rochus. And they keep supporting them. They turn a blind eye to violence, to populism, to hatred, to intolerance, to social division. And, most importantly, they vote for them.

Insignificant men doing significant (but wrong) things.

PS: I had travelled to Berlin for the production of a documentary about Rochus Misch for WarZone Documentaries where I was working back then. The documentary is available online here (unfortunately only in Greek).