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

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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].

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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.

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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.