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Matt's Greece Travel Blog

November 17th

Today I posted on Facebook this photo of myself on Nov 17th 1973 when Greece was under martial law after the dictatorship had crushed the student rebellion. It looks dramatic but really it is just a group of armoured personal carriers crusing around the neighborhood because martial law gave them the right to and you never know when a little urban warfare experience might come in handy. But it set off a flurry of comments, some from people who remember that day and others who only read about it. Along with some personal reminiscences of that week (which if I get around to I will post for those who have not yet made Facebook their life), I wrote this comment which ties in that day with what is going on in Athens now. It was just a comment but after I read it I decided that since people were worrying because I had not written on my blog in so long, I would include it.

There is a popular mythology that the student uprising brought down the junta. Sadly what it did was give us another junta, worse than the colonels and these guys went on to overthrow the government of Cyprus which caused the Turkish invasion. Then they freaked out and snuck off into the night and Karamanlis got the call to come back to Athens because there was no government. So Greece got its democracy back but at the cost of a still divided Cyprus.

And what about this democracy that the Cypriots died for? We squandered it. Politicians and civil servants used it as an opportunity to steal. Unions used strikes to inconvenience their fellow citizens not to mention tourists in order to get the government to bow to their demands. Last election only 40% of the people bothered voting. Athens is a mess. The government is afraid of the wrath of the people and afraid to make the tough choices that will bring about change. The infrastructure is falling apart. The country is bankrupt and the crisis threatens to drag Europe down with it.

Some people who were against the junta now get wistful and nostalgic about it because things ran smoothly and everything seems to have gone to hell since then. They believe maybe the Greeks are ungovernable or the political parties are too beholden to special interests to be able to effectively govern. (sounds like the USA doesn't it?) Its kind of a recipe for fascism. But in my opinion people need to realize that this is the end of the road and that if Greece is going to survive they have to help each other because the government does not have the money to do so. It means people getting together and cleaning up their neighborhoods block by block like they did in Exarchia.

The unions and the communists have to realize that everyone is unhappy and their strikes and marches just make suffering Athenians suffer more. They make a mockery of democracy over-using their right to strike and march until people just get sick of them and their chants and start wishing the government would just make strikes and marches illegal.

The problem of illegal aliens is a big one and it ties in with the Muslim problem because so many of them are Muslims who have left places with even fewer opportunities than Athens has for them if you can imagine that. Not only are there thousands who entered illegally into Greece who can't get out but those that get out and make their way up into northern Europe and Scandinavia are returned to Greece because of an EU law that says they have to go back to the first European country they entered. They dump them in Greece, out of sight and out of mind where they join the army of people washing windshields and selling tissues at traffic lights. OK. Greece has absorbed refugees before and survived and even become culturally richer, but the EU should pay for them and make sure it is the immigrants that get the money and it does not disappear into the pockets of the politicians or anyone else in a position to steal before it gets into the hands of the people who need it.

It is going to take strong leadership and sacrifice to get out of this mess. Its a perfect storm of problems converging at a time when the government is least equipped to deal with them. It is going to take an heroic effort like Thermopylae, Marathon, Salamina, against the Italian invasion during WWII, or winning the European cup in 2004 and then actually pulling off the Olympics. If the left want to commemorate the 'Martyrs of the Polytechnic' with their annual march to the US embassy and keep it peaceful that is fine with me. But if Greeks spent less time blaming the USA and the EU and the IMF and the immigrants for their problems, and less time complaining about the government and how Athens is falling apart, and stop living in the past and start working in the present to build a future block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood then anything is possible.

Yes it is easy for me to say sitting in my cozy house in North Carolina but you don't need to spend much time in Greece to see what is wrong and what needs to be done. I know when I have lived there I had the tendency to see the situation as hopeless. But it is not. It just takes working together for a common goal. Most people who use my website have one thing in common. They love Greece. It may be a love/hate relationship, like an unfaithful lover who you just can't forget, but we all know that we have been deeply affected by the country whether we live there or we save all our money so we can visit for 2 weeks every summer. So look around and ask yourself how can I make Greece better? What can I do to improve whatever dire situation is close to me? How can I help?

When everyone starts thinking like this then things will improve in Greece.

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