Category Archives: greece

Slums in Mykonos…

Greek Version:

English Version:

If you read the article, the folks who need low-cost employees for bars and hotels have come up with the ingenious plan to put their employees in containers.

If you know anything about Greece and the heat in the country, this sound horrible.

If you wonder what the consequences of long-term unemployment are just check out the article.

This is not good at all.

The Other Tsipras Agenda that Can Derail the Euro Agenda

Most of the press has focused on what is Mr. Tsipras going to do about the disaster known as the German plan for German well being at the expense of the periphery of Europe and more colloquially as Austerity …

And rightfully so, as this is the most important European policy issue.

At the same time, Mr. Tsipras has a broader agenda to re-organize Greek society. Mr. Tsipras isn’t just some dude who wants to stick a finger to the Germans, he also happens to be a radical left wing revolutionary or at the very least part of the radical left wing revolutionary sub-culture of Greek.

That culture is, to those of us who are not part of it, alien.

In a country where religion is deeply fused into the culture, Mr. Tsipras is an atheist. And not just an atheist but anti-clerical. It’s as if the Great State of Mississippi elected DeGrassi as governor…

My original hypothesis is that Tsipras would take it slow and push his social agenda to the side until after he secure the economic agenda.

But like the Repulicans in Congress, the temptation to force social change was … well … too much.

And so it begins with the decision to not have the Arch-bishop of Greece show up at the swearing in of the newly formed Greek government. In fact the priest that was invited for those Christians who wanted a priest, a junior priest was provided.

Outside of Greece this is just a small thing, whereas in Greece this is a big thing. In Greece, every new thing involves a priest blessing it. Birth, new businesses, I mean everything. It’s how we do things because it’s deeply rooted in our culture. Not because most of us believe it… Inside of Greece, where the whole darn revolutionary movement is bathed in religious imagery this is a pretty huge snub. Basically Tsipras told the Church – Fuck you, sirs.

This was the first government of the Modern Greek Era that was not blessed by the Archbishop. And I am not so sure that this is something I am okay with. This kind of radical change needs to be embraced by society not sprung on it.

Many folks who are anti-clerical in Greece are thrilled at Tsipra’s actions. Time to shove those priests into a deep dark hole that they can never escape they would say.

Except, Tsipras wasn’t elected to create a radical new society he was elected to solve a very specific problem. And if Mr. Tsipras antagonizes too many factions too quickly he might find himself in a bigger political mess than he wants.

To put it differently, Mr. Tsipras needs to wait on his social revolution or risk losing everything. And he needs a mandate for that social revolution. If he pursues a social revolution while simultaneously trying to renegotiate with the Germans, he might find those who object to the social revolution leading protests against his government. And his negotiating position will be weakened.

After all he has a very slender majority and that slender majority can collapse very quickly.

The Motives of the Thieves of the Elgin Marbles

Nearly a year ago I wrote that the debate about the Elgin Marbles is really a debate about race

The folks in charge of the British Museum – whom I am sure have Greek friends – have been arguing for several centuries that the Greeks in Greece are not deserving of the marbles.

Heck the Marbles are known as the Elgin Marbles instead of the Parthenon Marbles…


The arguments boil down to one of the following

  1. You, Greeks in Greece, are no more related to the Greeks of Pericles than we the English. Essentially the Trustees are making the claim that they are the aribiters of another people’s history.
  2. You, Greeks in Greece, are incapable of taking care of these antiquities. The claim here is that we’re just not as clever or capable of destroying the marbles in the same the Board of Trustees are (see scouring of marbles in 1930’s)
  3. You, Greeks in Greece, are not worthy of these marbles. Don’t get me started
  4. You, Greeks in Greece, should be proud that we English are showing off your stuff! That the Greek heritage is made worthy because of what the English have done and the Greeks so desperate for approval should be grateful for our admiration for your culture
  5. You, Greeks in Greece, were a conquered people who have no rights what-so-ever. And the fact that you are now independent is irrelevant. We bought it from your conquerors and that’s that.

As a Greek the rage we feel towards the Board of Trustees and their supporters is because this is about respect and about history and not about marbles. It’s about having something valuable stolen and then the thief arguing we had no rights to what was stolen.

Every day that they stay there is an insult. And there will be no rest until they are returned.



The Elgin Marbles and the Modern Greeks

P1030510-LArgh, I really hate this debate.

Greeks want the Marbles back, English say no, rinse repeat and recycle.

There is, however, an important subtext here that I find interesting that the author of the Guardian made:

Another reason is that the marbles belong to Greece. The temple itself was built in the 5th century BC by the city-state of Athens for Athena, its patron goddess, and it housed the tribute the Athenians received from the other city-states subject to them: hardly a symbol of Greek democracy or fellow-feeling. Athens ceased to exist as a Greek polis in the 6th century AD, well over a thousand years before the seventh Earl of Elgin removed them from the Ottoman empire. The nation of Greece dates back to 1830, 20 years after Elgin finished his dirty work, and 14 years after the British state turned them over to the British Museum, whose trustees are now the legal owners of the sculpture. It is hard to see what the modern nation states of Greece and the UK, or the issue of ownership, really have to do with the question of where the Parthenon sculptures are best displayed.

The debate here, really, is about who the Greeks are. The Greeks believe that their ancestors built the Parthenon. This isn’t some abstract concept in Greece. We speak a language that is trivially derived from what was spoken at the time of Pericles. Our national identity is wrapped in the following saying:

When our ancestors were building the Parthenon yours were painting themselves blue.

The Guardian is making the claim we’re not the same Greeks. That we’re just a bunch of dudes who happened to be in the same geographical area that the Marbles were and our claim to ownership is dubious at best.

And that to me is an interesting point of view. I’m not even sure it’s wrong. But it does reflect the underlying bias that has been behind the Elgin Marble debate. A subset of the advocates of keeping it in England are basically saying: This doesn’t belong to you because you’re not related to the ancient Greeks. And the Greeks are saying: You’re wrong.

I find it fascinating how in Europe we can have these kinds of debates, where one country’s journalists can so … bluntly … deny another country’s heritage.

So why is this denial so important? Because if you make this denial, then Greek history is not the history of a civilization that spans 2500 years, but one that spans 180.  And if you can do that about the Greeks, you can do that about anyone.

At some level, this is a racist point-of-view. You Greeks are not worthy of the Marbles, because you’re not those Greeks – you’re just a bunch of people who magically showed up in the same geographical location speaking the same language who preserved those monuments for no good reason. The racial argument is appalling. And it’s the kind of thing I expect from Europeans.

Elgin stole, what to Greeks is, our heritage. And then to have the Guardian deny our heritage, is well… odd.

This debate about the Marbles isn’t about placement, it’s about whether the Greeks are Greek, and what it means to be Greek, and the unwillingness of the UK establishment to acknowledge Greeks for being Greeks and that lack of recognition will continue to be the reason why this debate will never go away.

And the fact that journalists in the UK still don’t get it is, well, disappointing if not surprising.




Marathon Part I: The Freak Out

My family and I flew into Athens on Thursday November 8th. Miraculously the flight was without incident or calamity. Our departure, not so much. Our main sewer line was blocked, blocking all of our drainage. Thankfully it occurred just as we were leaving. All that meant was that we couldn’t take a shower on our return trip. This will become important in the last part of the Marathon. 

On November 15th we went to the Zappeion Megaro

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Here’s me and Nick standing in front of the building:

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The folks managing the Athens Classic Marathon (known by the cool kids in Greece as “To Klassiko”) did an excellent job managing the thousands of runners. There were 26000 registrants across the marathon, 10k and 5k and approximately 18000 folks who actually finished all races and at no point did you think that this was  country that couldn’t manage it’s finances.

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So we get there, within 10 minutes of our arrival collect our bib and information packet. The cool Klassiko marathon jersey was at the end of an Expo we had to schlep through. 

After picking everything up, we found a nice cafe right next to the Zappeion Megaro. There I opened the packet and saw the route for the first time.

Let me observe that I have spent many many years in Athens. Let me also observe that I had run at that point 20 miles in my training runs. So I wasn’t expecting to be surprised by anything.

But for the first time I realized the enormity of the challenge in front of me. 

As a pre-teen my grandfather Charalambos (my mom’s dad) would take me to Rafina to go swimming. Rafina in my mind was far far away. It was, in my mind, at the other end of the universe. And then I noticed that Marathon, the starting line was 15km away from Rafina. 

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Here’s my genuine reaction when I figured that out:


It was at that moment that the enormity of the task  dawned on me. 

Greeks leaving Greece, again

Το πιο εντυπωσιακό συμπέρασμα της έρευνας της Κάπα Research είναι ότι η μεγάλη πλειονότητα των νέων με πτυχίο στην Ελλάδα δηλώνει πρόθυμη να εγκαταλείψει τη χώρα για να βρει μια σταθερή και καλά αμειβόμενη εργασία. Από το σύνολο των ερωτηθέντων, το 73,6% δηλώνει ότι θα έφευγε από την Ελλάδα, ενώ το 42% δηλώνει ότι έχει ήδη προβεί σε συγκεκριμένες κινήσεις για να το επιτύχει, αναζητώντας εργασία στο εξωτερικό, κατοικία ή κάποιο ειδικό εκπαιδευτικό πρόγραμμα πρόσθετης επιμόρφωσης. Από εκείνους οι οποίοι δηλώνουν πρόθυμοι να εργαστούν στο εξωτερικό, το 66,4% δηλώνει ότι το κάνει για να έχει καλύτερη ποιότητα ζωής συνολικά, το 44,7% για να βρει μια καλή δουλειά και το 32,6% για να διασφαλίσει περισσότερη αξιοκρατία στην εξέλιξή του. Μάλιστα, το 60,7% δηλώνει ότι θα προτιμούσε μια θέση εργασίας με προοπτική καριέρας στο εξωτερικό παρά μια μόνιμη θέση εργασίας στον ιδιωτικό ή στον δημόσιο τομέα στην Ελλάδα. Ταυτοχρόνως, η συντριπτική πλειονότητα εκείνων που δηλώνουν πρόθυμοι να μεταναστεύσουν θέτει ως επιδιωκόμενο μισθό ένα ποσό της τάξεως των 1.500 ως 5.000 ευρώ. Ακόμη τονίζουν ότι «οι Ελληνες της ξενιτιάς είναι δύο φορές Ελληνες», προσθέτοντας ότι «μπορεί να γίνει πατρίδα και η χώρα που μπορεί να εργαστεί και να ζήσει κάποιος αξιοπρεπώς».
Διαβάστε περισσότερα:

In this article by Vima, an Athenian newspaper, 73.6% of Greeks between the ages of 22-35 want to leave Greece, and more depressingly 42% of them are in the process of making plans to leave.

Reasons are opportunities, and depressingly 32.6% say that because they don’t feel that Greece has opportunities for advanced based on merit. In my own life that was part of the reason I wanted to leave. The fact that you had this impression that who you knew was more important than how good you are…

What’s really depressing, is that in the mid-80’s to late 90’s a similar study would have revealed the same data. In the 90’s, with the economic boom, things changed. Greeks in that demographic wanted to stay in Greece.

But now we are back to where we started. And what’s depressing is that the best educated segment of the country will leave, again.

Spinalonga, Crete

My wife had a paper published in Eurographics 2008 which happened in Crete.

Her husband, being Greek and curiously dissatisfied with his last trip to Crete where he had not had the opportunity to visit the western part of Crete, tagged along.

Today we visited Spinalonga. An island that in the first 50 years of the 20th century was a leper colony.  Before turning into a leper colony, the island had been a Venetian fortress and a thriving Muslim community during the Ottoman period. 

To get to Spinalonga you first have to drive out to village of Plaka. The drive is scenic. My wife and I got out at some point near the village of Agios Nikolaos to take some pictures. Here’s my picture of the area past Agios Nikolaos

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And here’s my wife taking a picture

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Once you get to Plaka you have to buy a ticket for a boat ride to the island. Crete 14-04-08 032

The island itself clearly shows signs of having been lived on quite recently.

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The boat ride is a 10 minute affair costing 7 Euro’s roundtrip. When you arrive you are standing in front of the main entrance into the Leper colony.

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What was particularly amazing about our visit was the plethora of wild flowers in bloom that offset the ruins spectacularly.

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There is a small exhibit in a restored part of the old Ottoman village.

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The exhibit  explains the nature of the Ottoman village and the details surrounding the Leper colony. The exhibit also contains some rather more obscure information about the area. In the 1930’s the area around Spinalonga was used as a refueling stop for hydroplanes that served airmail between England and India. There was also a reference, in the exhibit, to the circumstances surrounding the people who lived in the castle at the time of the Turkish handover in 1718.

The view from the island of the mainland is quite pretty. You can see here some of the remnants of the Venetian fortress walls.

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There are some very interesting rock formations that play very nicely with the seas colors.

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For some folks who lived in Crete, the impact of the visit is considerable. It is a stark reminder of how for almost 50 years, Greeks mistreated Greeks out of fear and loathing.

As a foreigner to this part of the world, this was a visit to a pretty island with a sordid past, that somehow feels too distant to be relevant any more …

Movie review: 300

When I was growing up my aunt Helen, on my mother’s side of the family, felt it was her personal obligation to make me a proud Greek. I was brought up with tales of the glory of Athens and the heroism of Greeks. We, Greeks, I was told had withstood centuries of invaders and preserved our essential Greekness. Of the stories, four stood out. The first was the story of how General Metaxas told the Italian Ambassador: No, when asked if Greece would become a protectorate of Italy in 1940. The second was the Persian defeat at Salamis by the Athenians. The third was Leonidas’ response to Xerxes demand that he give up his weapons: Molon Lave (translation: come and take them). The fourth was during the Greek war of independence the phrase: Better one hour free than a hundred a slave. These are the cherished stories of my youth. And there was a time, in my life, that they inspired me.

So when I saw the film being previewed I was filled with dread. I am not so demanding that the film be a documentary. After all 300 is supposed to be entertainment and the true facts of what happened are unknowable. I was hoping for two things: to be entertained and the film be at list true to the spirit of the tale. After The further adventures of Hercules, Xena: The Warrior Princess, Troy and Alexander the Great that seemed a ridiculously high bar.

On both accounts, entertainment and veracity, the film exceeded my expectations.

The film is fun. It’s a good old fashioned over-the-top blood fest. There is the usual collection of ridiculously attired villians, scantily clad heroes, music, and slow-motion decapitations. There is the usual collection of witty heroic one-liners (including Molon Labe). There is some T and A, but I think the female and male gay population will enjoy more of the T and A than the straight male community.

The film is mostly true to the spirit of the tale and to the Spartans. The Spartans really did throw the disfigured and maimed children down wells. They really did take the children into camps at the age of seven. They really did fight as a phalanx. Their wives really did say: Come back carrying or on your shield when the men left for battle. The battle did really last three days. The Spartans did thwart the Immortals. A solitary Spartan did leave the battle to tell the tale.

As a Greek brought up on the stories of Leonidas the story rang true.

However, there was one fact that irritated me. Now remember, I am an Athenian. And in my version of the story, Leonidas’ heroic defeat was important because it bought the Athenian Navy enough time to trap the Persians at Salamis. And it was at Salamis that the Persian invasion was defeated. The battle of Platea was just some mopping up of the remnants of Xerxes army. Furthermore, from my perspective the victory of the Athenian fleet was what created democracy, Leonidas’ victory created militarism.

In this movie version of the story, Leonidas’ defeat is followed by a Greek victory in Platea. We are meant to believe that it was the Spartan war machine that defeated Xerxes. There is no mention of the Athenians and their defeat of Xerxes’ Navy.


In spite of the omission of Athenian role, I strongly recommend the film.