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What the Heck is Happening in Greece!!!!????

Today I woke up for the third day with the flu which I thought I had beaten back. On top of that there is an oil leak that threatens to pollute the Gulf of Mexico, the east coast of the United States and if they can't turn it off all the oceans of the world, probably destroying all life on earth with the exception of petroleun eating microbes. And then there was the demonstration in Athens where the hooded anarchists set fire to a bank, perhaps assuming that because it was a general strike nobody would be working since in their delusion all of Greece agrees with them. Tragically three people died. In my mind this event is the excuse for the government to show some archidia and crack down on these guys since it gives them a golden opportunity to get them all off the streets for awhile. Since hooded anarchists, (known as the koukloforema because of the ghetto style hoods they wear to hide their identity), were seen breaking into the bank and setting fire to it, the police can now arrest any of them and hold them for questioning. These people are not political. They are just for the destruction of the state, private property, other people's livelihoods and now apparently the lives of their fellow citizens. (They also love to fight with the cops) Most likely the Greek courts will let them all go when it comes to trial but this is a good way to keep them off the streets until things cool down.

The Government was furious at the Greek communist party for breaking into the Acropolis and hanging a banner for all the world to see that read PEOPLES OF EUROPE RISE UP. The Greek communists are living in a dream world if they believe the rest of Europe sees Greece as the innocent victim of an internationalist plot. The Greek government used the EU as a source for easy money which they squandered and stole until there was none left to steal and they found themselves unable to pay the bills. But the Greek communists just see everything as an opportunity for them to lead the people to victory over the forces of capitalism, cheering on the violent demonstrations in December of 2008, believing that by bringing down the government they could rush into the vacuum as the saviors of the people. But the Greek communists, like all Greek political parties are ego-driven and not really for a just world, just a world they get to rule. So their silly banner on the Acropolis, with the kind of bad English you would find on a handheld sign in a pro-Taliban demonstration in Pakistan, did nothing but embarrass me and cause travelers to reconsider their holiday plans, thus endangering the only source of revenue for the country, tourism, which until today seemed to be in better shape than I expected.

The Greek people have a point and they should be heard. The austerity measures do come down hard on the working people in the same way that the crimes of the banks and Wall Street in the USA are being paid for by main street, my children and maybe my grandchildren. It is hard though for me to get behind the unions of the Greek civil servants who are disrupting life in Athens to defend their right to do nothing and be paid for it as they have for decades. Closing the Acropolis is inexcusable. These Greeks did not build it. They are the caretakers of something that belongs to all of us and they don't have the right to hold it hostage. If the Greek government has to put the army up there, selling tickets and keeping it open then they should do it, especially if they expect to get the Elgin Marbles back. The seamen who closed the port of Pireaus and prevented tourists from taking the ferries and even passengers from a cruise returning to their ship, all because they are against Greece allowing foreign companies to run routes to the islands, are the very reason Greece does need to bring in foreign companies.It was the lack of professionalism of some of the Greek ferry companies who run their ships and protect their routes the way warlords in Afghanistan protect their territory, that made it necessary to bring in foreign companies. But why make the tourists suffer? What did they do? They saved their money to come to Greece and expect to be treated like welcome guests, not as pawns in an effort to destabilize the government.

Greece has big problems. They owe more than they can pay. The IMF and European loans can only help Greece get through this period of change, and hopefully stall for time so that the Greeks will begin to work together to solve the problems, which is nothing short of a complete transformation of a corrupt government, including the civil service. Everyone needs to do his part. On Monday the Greek government slashed its military budget by 25%. Since Greece is not likely to be invaded by any country in or with aspirations of joining the Eurozone they could probably have reduced it by 75%. The government is using google-earth to find illegal swimming pools and measure the size of houses vs the size declared on tax returns (if declared at all). In a move that gave me some degree of pleasure the crooked town planning director on the island of Syros, who gave the people across the street from us permission to build an illegal extra story on their house, blocking our view, just got caught with a million and a half Euros in his Greek bank account, along with his assistant who had even more. Just imagine how much they have in their Swiss accounts. I agree 100% that the government has to go after all these guys, town planners, tax collectors, people who give licenses, because anyone in a position like this will steal, and will steal a lot, because to not steal makes you the enemy of everyone else who does steal. If everyone is stealing and you aren't that means you can't be trusted. And if you can't be trusted they will find a way to get rid of you, most likely by setting you up so it looks like you stole and then turning you in. So how does the government go after all these people when the government does the same thing?

I have no idea. But I know one thing. The answer is not to ruin the one part of Greek society that is doing its job and is somewhat successful; the tourism industry. Demonstrations are fine when they are non-violent, which they will be when the koukloforema are isolated and discredited. General strikes do nothing buy annoy people and in the end not only lose tourist business but turn people away from causes they might otherwise be for. Like me for instance.

In the meantime if you are a tourist looking for reassurance keep in mind that it is not difficult to avoid a demonstration. They are held in big squares like Syntagma, usually right in front of the Parliament, and they only last for a couple hours. If you are in Greece during a general strike remember that many people just treat it as a holiday and cafes and restaurants, parks, green areas and pedestrian streets will be full of people, and the usually busy streets of Athens will be far less dangerous than they are when choked with cars, taxis, buses and motorcycles. (Go hang out on Adrianou Street in Monastiraki next to the ancient Agora, drink coffee, eat, and spend the day looking at the Acropolis). If you are on an island you may not even know there is a strike. If you are working with a travel agent they will make any changes to your itinerary that need to be made and you won't be stuck somewhere with no way to get home. If you have a flight that arrives in Athens on the day of a general strike you will probably get to spend the night somewhere else. If you arrive the day after a general strike you won't even know there was one. You can even set up your trip so that you don't stay in Athens, either going right to the port from the airport or getting a connecting flight to an island, or staying on the coast outside of Athens for example in Fantasy Travel's Far from the Maddening Crowd. Strikes, demonstrations, slowdowns and other disruptive tools can be a nuisance and cause us to change our plans. But that does not have to be a bad thing and it may not be worth throwing out the baby with the bathwater and canceling a holiday.

I don't see a collapse of society in Greece. I could be wrong. I see it as growing pains and after the people vent their frustration and see that the government is going after some of the fat cats and the people who are responsible for the crisis, they will hopefully roll up their sleeves and start working together to rebuild their flawed but beautiful country.

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Hotel Attalos, Athens, Greece

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