Wow. Some of the rumors coming out of Greece are pretty amazing. Roads into Athens closed. Santorini out of water. Athens in peril. The whole country in flames. And fueled by the rumors American tourists are still asking me should they cancel their holiday? The answer is: Yes. If you want to sit at home feeling like an idiot. (More on this later)
Last night my best friend Leigh called me from Athens. He was having dinner with George from Fantasy at one of his favorite restaurants (not mine) in Monastiraki and in the background I could hear conversation, music, and Leigh was in good spirits despite the fact that he was leaving to come back to America the next day. In other words Athens was back to normal. Well not exactly normal. People are pissed off and wondering how a disaster like this could happen and taking
it out on the government and of course the government wants to show that they take it seriously so they declare three days of mourning. How about three days of not smoking? Or three days of replanting? Or three days of educating yourself on why forests are important and what you can do to save them?
What does three days of mourning mean in Greece? Not going to work. Being sad about the forests and the people who died trying to save their homes or escape the flames. Hanging out in the cafes all day drinking frappes and smoking cigarettes.
I have a better idea. How about three days of explaining. Let the politicians go to the town squares and meet directly with the people and give their plans on how they are going to personally make sure that Greece is brought up to the environmental standards of the rest of Europe and how they are going to devote the rest of their political lives doing what is best for the people of Greece and not what is best for themselves. Make them sign a contract that if they don't
fulfill their promises they will step down, and make it a legal document.
It seems very possible that the fires are going to bring down the New Democracy government. Whether that is good or bad I don't know. I do know there are some members of PASOK who are licking their lips at the spoils they will gather when their party takes power. These guys should be purged before the elections. In fact any politician in the pocket of big business, the Greek mafia, the ferry companies, the gamblers, the drug dealers, the real estate developers, the sex-trade,
or any of the other low-lifes who use their money to get what they want, should also be purged, from each party. But then there wouldn't be a party. Just one lonely guy. Probably the janitor.
Look at me. Using this catastrophe to vent against corruption in Greece. Well fires have to be good for something. They certainly are not good for forests, villages and humans. But if they cause the Greek people to say "I have had enough and I am not going to take it anymore" and get over their soccer-mentality support of the two political parties and find real leaders (yes they exist... even in ND and PASOK) who want to end corruption, fund education, clean up the
environment and work for the people rather than line their own pockets, then the fires will have served a higher purpose.
If it were my country... I mean if I was the king or PM or whatever, I would purge the parties of criminals and egomaniacs. Then I would find the best Greeks abroad; Those who have become academics, run large corporations, work in state and local governments, basically those who have not been poisoned by the Greek system and know how to bring out the best in the people who work for them and know how to recognize talent and intelligence, rather than award important jobs to family
members or as political favors. Then I would rebuild the government from top to bottom and bring Greece into Europe in action, instead of just by name.
Nobody will ever call Andreas Papandreau a saint and nobody will say he was uncorrupt. The man had his weaknesses. But besides Venizelos he was probably the most important leader in modern Greek history and it is not a coincidence that he was educated abroad and was a part of the US Academic Community, having taught in Minnesota and at Berkeley. Greece's greatest asset is not its islands, or its stones that can be ground into cement or admired because they are ancient, or even
souvlaki. Its greatest asset are the people who left Greece for America, the UK, France, Germany and other countries and made better lives for their families by working hard and getting educated. In Greece where most people want to become civil servants so they can make money without working or politicians so they can steal with impunity, the deck is stacked against those who want to make themselves better people so they can improve the lives of others. This philosophy is almost scorned and considered naive
in a society that is so corrupt that nearly everyone is drowning in cynicism. Greece needs new blood. Not the same hogs that have been feeding from the same trough just waiting for their turn to take their share. When the Junta fell in 1974 they didn't hand the country over to one of the subservient politicians. They sent to Paris for Karamanlis.
Greece has two leaders. George Papandreau who was educated in the USA and seems to have many of his father's strengths (and his mom's) and so far few of his weaknesses. Kosta Karamanlis, who I went to school with at Pierce American College, is also western educated and has matured with age and experience from the guy who used to hang out at Frouarchaeo Ouzerie in Psiri all night to a somewhat competent leader who can even sit at the table with George Bush and keep a straight
face. Both Papandreou and Karamanlis know who the bums are in their parties. They should work together (yeah right) to throw them out and bring in some professionals from abroad who know how to do their jobs, and remake the country. If they don't? Well it is no great shame being the most backward country in Europe but what about 10 years from now when Greece is the most backward country in the Balkans?
Anyway enough with politics. This is from Esther who has a small hotel in Kyparissi, Laconia one of the many areas untouched by forest fires:
You have seen the catastrophe in Greece of course. But I think the news are making people to see things worse than they are. Kyparissi is empty, every body has left. We need to tell people that Peloponess is very big and has many nice places to see.. Its very sad what is happening, so many families homeless without work and so many people die, its terrible. Are you in Greece? Hope you are all well.
I think what Esther is saying is that the media distorts events. Now why would they do that? Maybe to keep people watching and make more money? You may have noticed that the fires have dropped out of the US news without even a story about them being put out or contained. Before the Olympics there was article after article about the threat of terrorism. But when the Olympics came and went and there was no terrorist attack did you see an article that mentioned this? We are being
terrorized by the media. Greece is not a country of forests. There are few. Because of that the "whole country" can't be "in flames". Most people in Greece are just watching it on TV when they come home from the beach, or the taverna or a day of shopping. As big and as horrible as these fires were, look at a the NASA map from space and you will see a lot of smoke coming from a few little dots scattered around the country. People in remote areas, which is where the forests are, they are
the ones who are affected. The hysteria created by the media that has caused people to cancel their trips is the same as during the Olympics when entire sections of the stadiums were empty because Americans were led to believe they would not be safe from terrorists by article after article in the media. So some dumb American guy was watching the US Basketball team on TV in his living room while I was sitting in his seat which I got from a scalper for 10 euros.
Lets put the fires into perspective. If you were going for a holiday in New York City and you saw there were forest fires in the Catskills would you cancel your trip? If you were going to Jamaica and Western Cuba was in flames would you just stay home and play golf?
The fires are over. Its a political issue now. Here's the headline of the only article I could find in CNN after much searching:
GREEK FIRE VICTIMS QUEUE FOR CASH
If the villagers whose homes were destroyed can get to the bank you won't have any trouble getting to Mykonos. It also said 2000 people were demonstrating against the government's handling of the fires, in Athens. That proves things are back to normal.
Have fun. I sure wish I was back there.