Tag Archives: BBC

Why we need the foreign media

Back in the days of the 1967-1974 colonels’ dictatorship, the free-thinking Greeks were depended on news coming from abroad. The BBC Greek service, the Deutsche Welle radio as well as media from France, were manned with Greek journalists who had escaped from Greece and were transmitting what could not be told by the censored Greek media. It’s sad to admit that we have started to return into a similar dependence when it comes to human rights violations in Greece.

Photo by Kostas Kallergis.

Especially in the past couple of years, there has not been a lack of proofs for a series of stories, yet the mainstream media in Greece have repeatedly and stubbornly denied to report on important stories. With Greece being in the international spotlight, the usual pattern was that a foreign medium would publish a story which would then be translated by some Greek portals back into Greek in a sort of what-the-foreigners-say-about-us kind of story. Nevertheless the Greek public, even through this pattern, has the chance to get informed about what is happening in our country.

I’ll give you two recent examples. Two weeks ago an anti-fascist motorcade protesting against the rise of neo-nazism met a group of far-rightists in a downtown Athens neighbourhood. The police was there too. Several leftists were arrested after the scuffle and spend a horrible night at the Greek Police HQ in Athens. When they were taken to court, some more leftists were arrested among the crowd who went  outside the courts in order to show support. Only a handful of leftist blogs reported the ordeal, despite the witness accounts and the visual proofs of their allegations for torture. Last week, the Guardian published this embarrassing report and suddenly all the mainstream portals and some tv stations have reported it. They were obliged to report it because it couldn’t be hidden any more.

In a similar fashion, some months earlier, the Reuters have published a report on questionable practices within Piraeus bank. There were two reports, one in April and one in July, the latter can be found here. These are stories for which journalists in other countries would kill to break but not a single media over here pursued the story (which would criticise the practices of a bank that has one of the biggest budgets for advertising). Ironically, the April report was based in already published documents by the anonymous blog WikiGreeks.org (which has in the meantime taken off the net for an unknown reason). So the information was there, lying freely on the net and no-one broke the story.

This is why I have been strongly convinced lately that the free-thinking democratic part of our society depends more and more on media like the BBC, Reuters and the Guardian.

The elections’ aftermath and SYRIZA’s ghost

So the (first) elections are over, the situation is kind of normalized and we’re preparing for the next ones on June 17. Greece is a weird country when it comes to elections. Some years ago New Democracy had won an election but the talk-of-the-town was what was happening in PASOK’s leadership. Two weeks ago, New Democracy did it again. They’ve won the elections but everybody is talking about SYRIZA and its leader, sexy Alexis. So who are they? If you want to get informed, read this by BBC’s Paul Mason, whose reports on Greece are probably the most accurate accounts of foreign journalists on what’s happening here.

Well, Greeks did not become radical leftists within a night, as they haven’t been transformed to fascists either. What most Greeks were looking for in the past election was a way to express their opposition to the bailout measures and the Memoranda, an economic policy and seems more and more inefficient and unfeasible. Traditional right wing voters turned themselves to either the Independent Greeks party (centre-right voters) or the Golden Dawn party (far right party but mainly voted by traditional right wing people who are against immigrants). Though the Left had far more choices, the majority went to SYRIZA, a coalition of leftist fractions with a platform of uniting the Left (a rare motto in Greece and an perennial longing of all Greek leftists) to form a leftist government that will undo the Memorandum and cancel the loan agreements. Very appealing for a suffering Greek, isn’t it?

I personally think that these two goals are not feasible and Alexis Tsipras rather meant that he would try to renegotiate the loan agreements and the relevant measures that must be taken. Which is what he had actually caused with his 2nd position in the elections. Suddenly officials from the EU and politicians from several European countries are discussing the dead end of the current plan and are pointing out the need for a slight change or easing of the measures. There is simply no foreseeable solution and exit from the crisis with the current plan. And this fact is the only victory of Greece on a European level, not just since the last elections but during the past 2,5 years.

A cartoon of Angela Merkel and Alexis Tsirpas by German caricaturist Reiner Hachfeld.

You see, Greeks had seen the Papandreou and Papademos governments passing measures that were dictated by the EU, the ECB and the IMF without any attempt of negotiation. They’ve seen Papandreou going abroad and having new measures in his suitcase upon his return without any complaint. Samaras participated in this theatre not because he believed in the rationale of these measures but because he succumbed to another PASOK’s blackmail (either you’re on Greece side a step before bankruptcy or you’ll be responsible for its suicide) back in late 2011. So now there is a feeling that only SYRIZA and Tsipras can a) unite the Left in Greece to form its first leftist government and b) renegotiate the Memoranda. And Europe? Europe is scared of him. Europe is scared the shit out of him simply because they can’t control him and because he might mean what he says.

It’s true that SYRIZA has been a bit confusing as to what exactly they are going to do if they were to form a government. The party, an until recently small leftist party composed of different fractions that tolerated different opinions within the Left, has seen several of its members announcing contradicting promises. Its ennemies, PASOK and New Democracy basically, have used this to their favor. They started a huge campaign to discredit SYRIZA by reminding us on a daily basis of what would happen if SYRIZA comes to power. The EU has followed suit and here we are now, having daily predictions of a post-apocalyptic, Armageddon-style Greece if SYRIZA wins the elections. The whole joke, apart from a daily news item, has now gone viral, it has its own hashtag on Twitter (#ftaei_o_syriza) and is slowly entering the internet meme sphere.

I decided to create a special category of posts in this blog that would contain only these threats – I called it “The Daily Threat Show“. Come back and visit this page (or simply RSS it), I guarantee a lot of fun and also a glimpse of how Greek people’s brains are bombarded with such absurd prophecies and will then be called to vote as reasonable people. Ask any Greek in the street if he knows what will happen after June 17 and you will understand by the confusion in his answers.

But a confused Greek in the street is probably not an originality. Greeks have been confused since 2010 when they were suddenly called to have mature opinions on issues of high Economics. Europeans have always seen the Greeks as a confused people. They were asking themselves: so what do these Greeks want anyway? Why do they protest? Will they solve their problem by breaking one more bank? A foreign journalist (from a eurozone country) came last year to Athens and asked me: So, explain to me, why don’t you want our money?

Alexis Tsipras in a photoshoot by high school students’ magazine “Schooligans”

If Greeks are confused, Europeans are almost schizophrenic. The narrative they’ve adopted is “Greece is given money, they should shut up and do what we say”. They’ve no time to examine the measures asked from Greece to take. They are not in a position to know whether it’s a feasible plan. They are not here to see the misery caused together with the lack of hope for an exit from the crisis. And as they are confused too, they are also afraid of the uncertainty. Here’s a short story to illustrate this.

A foreign journalist came to Greece and we were discussing the situation. This is the dialogue we had.

Foreign journalist: Greece has falsified its statistics in order to enter the eurozone. I’m sorry to say this but Greece was corrupt, it has cheated and now it’s time to pay.
Me: Yes but people in Europe knew that Greece was cheating. And Greece was not the only country which altered its stats in order to achieve the eurozone criteria.
Foreign journalist: Who knew?
Me: A lot of people knew and certainly several EU officials.
Foreign journalist: Really? Who knew?
Me: Certainly the Germans knew about Greece and Italy. And part of the corruption was carried out with German money, through the scandals with Siemens and the German submarines.
Foreign journalist: Why the hell would Greece want a leader like Tsipras? He is going to get you out of the eurozone. His proposals are not realistic, are not feasible.
Me: I partly agree but you’re contradicting a bit now. I know, you know, the Greeks know that their previous governments, as you said, were corrupt. This crisis is happening because of them, of how they handled the situation for at least the past 10 years.
Foreign journalist: Right.
Me: So Greeks finally realize that these politicians are corrupt and they decided to take them down from power. That should please the EU, if it had a problem with their corrupt mentality.
Foreign journalist:…
Me: Tsipras is a young politician, inexperienced yes, but certainly not the like of the previous ones. So Greeks are choosing a new guy to govern them and the EU gets scared. You know why?
Foreign journalist: Why?
Me: Because they can’t, or don’t know yet if they can, control him. Because he is unknown. 
 

Alexis Tsipras is neither Ernesto Che Guevara nor a European Hugo Chavez. Tsipras is simply Greece’s only bargaining chip.

Exercising the Power of Nightmares

Greek Prime Minister Papademos gave a long introductory speech to his cabinet meeting last Friday (10/02/12). Considering his previous speeches and announcements, he devoted a big part of his speech by describing what would happen to Greece and Greeks should we end up in a disorderly bankruptcy.

Lucas Papademos, Greek PM

Here’s a hasty translation of that part:

A disorderly bankruptcy would throw our country into a disastrous adventure. Circumstances would create economic chaos and uncontrollable social explosion.The adverse consequences of a disorderly bankruptcy would be multiple and extremely painful for the Greek economy and society.

The state will be unable to pay salaries, pensions, to cover basic functions, such as hospitals and schools, while we will still have a primary deficit of 5.2 billion euros. Which means that the state revenues would be insufficient to cover our expenses, even if we would stop serving our debt.

Direct spending cuts which would have to go in case of a disorderly bankruptcy would result in real wages and pensions collapse, especially since it would be even more difficult to collect taxes.

The import of basic goods such as medicines, oil, machinery, etc., would be particularly problematic, as the country, both public and private sectors, will lose all access to borrowing and liquidity will shrink. Businesses would close en masse, unable to raise finance.

The living conditions of Greeks in the case of a disorderly bankruptcy would collapse and the country would drift into a long spiral of recession, instability, unemployment and destitution.

These developments will lead, sooner or later, at the exit from the euro. From the core country of the Eurozone, Greece would become a weak country on the fringes of Europe.

The full speech (in Greek) can be found here.

Never before has he spent so many words to describe what his vision of Greece is. Never before has he used more words to inform us how the situation can improve. Never before, during his duty, has he told us where exactly we are led with this new round of measures. For the first time he chose to describe the worst case scenario, a psychological blackmail trick that has been abused repeatedly during George Papandreou’s two years in power.

It’s not a new or unique phenomenon in politics. British film maker Adam Curtis described it in his 3-part documentary called “The Power of Nightmares”.

In the past, says Curtis, politicians were competing each other by offering a better future. Citizens were choosing the best and more feasible future and would vote it in elections. In the past decade or so this has changed. Politicians are now competing by offering the least worse future for the citizens, who live in a state of fear of what could happen to them.

Lucas Papademos just joined the group.

To watch all three hour-long parts of Adam Curtis’ Power of Nightmares, click here. Adam Curtis’ blog at BBC is available here.

Waiting for the barbarians

The events of these days reminded me of a poem by celebrated Greek poet Constantine Cavafy. It’s called “Waiting for the barbarians” and was written in December 1898. With this poem Cavafy actually describes the politicians of modern times and holds them responsible for the political, social and spiritual decay of modern Hellenism.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1863-1933)

The poem begins with a scene in the city market. All the inhabitants are concentrated there and waiting with great impatience the coming of the barbarians, who will save their dying city. The feeling of inaction is pervasive when political life is described and all evidence leads us to understand that this is a city decayed, corroded and ready to collapse. That’s why the people are longing for the coming of the barbarians as if they are the only solution for their salvation. However the barbarians are not appearing and a rumour spreads that the barbarians do not exist.

The news has causes great distress to the citizens who had placed all their hopes to the barbarians. The dying town waited for the barbarians as if they were a certain solution  in order to escape the degeneration, decadence and general resignation. People have absolutely no idea what happens in politics, which is deciding the future of their lives, and are kept in the dark. But with the cancellation of the barbarians’ arrival the last hope is lost. There remains now nothing but death.

Lena Platonos, a 60 year old woman who was among the Greek pioneers of electronic music in the 80s, wrote the music for several poems of Cavafy last year. Here’s the music for Waiting for the barbarians and below the poem itself with a couple of comments.

Waiting for the barbarians

-What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

-Why isn’t anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What’s the point of senators making laws now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

-Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city’s main gate,
in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor’s waiting to receive their leader.
He’s even got a scroll to give him,
loaded with titles, with imposing names.

-Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

-Why don’t our distinguished orators turn up as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

-Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven’t come.
And some of our men who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

Constantine P. Cavafy

For more about Cavafy, visit the official website of his archive. What I find very interesting about this poem is that it has many interpretations and it has fitted different kinds of situations. Cavafy speaks of the decadence of his times but it suits the current times perfectly. When Tony Blair tried to explain to the British people the necessity of taking part to the war in Iraq, in 2003, BBC’s Radio 4 devoted a whole program on this poem.

On Loukanikos, the riot dog

A couple of days ago I’ve read that Loukanikos, Athens’ riot dog, was included among TIME’s Person of the Year feature story. Its central subject was “The Protester”.

Loukanikos posing for TIME Magazine

Loukanikos posing for TIME Magazine

Loukanikos with Patrick Witty and Peter Hapak after his portrait session for the TIME magazine.

Greece has a history in so-called “riot dogs“. There was Kanellos, now we have Loukanikos, who became internationaly known from a BBC video about the Greek protester’s front line dog. TIME Magazine’s website also hosts a collection of photos with Loukanikos’ appearances. Click here to see the gallery.

Thanks to modern technology, Loukanikos manages to become a sort of a pop idol. Videos in YouTube praising his braveness, blogs, facebook groups that want Loukanikos for Prime Minister, etc. Here’s an animation by Norwegian Flash-animator Bjørn-Magne Stuestøl (www.shagrat.net) in collaboration with David Rovics (from his “Big Red Sessions”-album -free for download at www.davidrovics.com– the song “Riot Dog” is David’s salute to this brave dog’s fight for justice in the economic turmoil that has hit Greece).

A high quality Flash edition of the animation can be seen here:
www.shagrat.net/riot.html

One of my favourite photos of Loukanikos had featured in a contest for Nikon.

Loukanikos “I am the Resistance”

The photo was taken by Aris Messinis (AFP/Getty Images) and can be seen in full here.

And here are some pop graphics of the canine resistance idol.

Loukanikos Che Guevara-style

Loukanikos Obama-style

If you’re interested in following Loukanikos’ activity, follow the Rebel Dog blog which posts photos sent from various people who have met the four-feet rebel.

Greek_riot_dog_by_Latuff2

Loukanikos drawn by Brazilian cartoonist Latuff in 2010.

Isn’t he adorable?

Don’t mention the R word

Here’s a very interesting article from BBC on the possibilities of a bank run. I suggest to anyone interested in the Greek and European financial crisis to read it. The article was written by Laurence Knight, BBC Business editor.

R is for run. As in bank run.

If you’re wondering what a bank run is, think of Northern Rock. It is a sensitive topic, not least here at the BBC.

But it is a subject that is being increasingly discussed by investors and economists in the eurozone. One can assume it is also being discussed in private by European policymakers too.

Because the fact is that Europe’s banks already face what amounts to a slow-motion run by big institutional investors.

They’re not queuing up at branches. Instead they are withholding their money at the click of a mouse.

Major US money managers and lenders are pulling out of the eurozone, as is clear from the cost to eurozone banks of borrowing in dollars right now, which has returned to extreme levels last seen during the global financial crisis.

Moreover, data from the European Central Bank (ECB) suggest that Europe’s banks themselves are losing confidence in each other – though not yet quite as badly as in 2008.

They have increasingly been putting their cash in the safe hands of the central bank, rather than lending it to each other, despite the punitively low interest rate the ECB pays them.

The rest of the article is here.

Paul Mason’s tweets for today’s situation

Paul Mason (BBC, Newsnight) just tweeted several tweets on where we stand today concerning the Greek (and EU) crisis. I decided to copy them over here as they do tell a truth and I respect his insight in these matters. By the way, he has written some of the most accurate articles about the situation in Greece last June, before the so-called Second Memorandum.

A quick Twittersplurge on the Euro situation: 1) With G-Pap gone Greece is not “sorted”. 1a) Both Pasok and ND have deep roots in GR society

1b)…Hence Pasok tried to avoid inflicting pain on state, ND must avoid infliciting pain on urban poor, super-rich, middle classes…

1c) Not clear what, if anything, Samaras has signed up to from 26 Oct deal, since he does not believe further austerity can work.

2) An unelected Greek technocratic govt cannot do what an elected Pasok govt failed to do. Anybody busy in EU/IMF diplo understand this?

3) I go back to “anomic breakdown” – only Pasok machine stood in way of this, and as we saw KKE security squads. Also ND hope of election…

4) So now Italy: here there is a clear #Berluscomparsi dividend. He has added instability to sit, so technocratic govt might work. Howevr…

4a) “The restaurants are full” was most telling comment. Whole S Europe living dolce vita on unsustainable debt. Above all upper middleclass

5) There are 3 potential ways to save situation: EFSF, IMF, ECB. Of which… EFSF is most doable.

6) Of EFSF/ECB/IMF routes, each has a democratic impediment. USA/UK won’t do enough IMF, Germany won’t do ECB, Germany stymied EFSF v1.0

7) The Anglo-Saxon insistence on ECB route is both logical and impossible: Germany easier to persuade to redesign EFSF + go fiscal union

8) So logically, since we are in mode of overtrhowing governments who get in way of Eurocrisis resolution… the one to overthrow wd be?

9) Work it out: SPD and Greens stand for fiscal union. That’s why I asked Sarko where does it stop.

10) Meanwhile EU better hope Greeks not listening to G-Pap when he said an election would cause a bank run. The day is young.