The HOME project

I find myself at a loss writing about the refugee crisis, which might be taking a backseat to the pandemic in the public eye at the moment, but is far from over. I know both of these emergencies are very difficult to deal with, but I feel that the authorities are not making a very good job of managing either. Everyone has become quite weary of the constant stream of bad news, so I was glad to come upon the work of a wonderful young woman whose dedication and positive attitude have resulted in the foundation of the HOME Project, a non-profit organization set up to address the needs of unaccompanied minors in Greece.

Sofia Kouvelaki is the CEO of the HOME Project, and she very kindly agreed to answer my questions:

Tell us a little about your story and your engagement with unaccompanied refugee children.

My engagement with lone refugee children began when I went to Lesvos for a documentary on unaccompanied children in detention for the Bodossaki Foundation just as the refugee crisis was beginning in November 2014. At the time, there were only a few, self-organized volunteers in addition to the coast guard who were helping people out of the water. The situation was unprecedented.

During this time at Lesvos, I was thinking about my path in life and the great inequalities this world contained. I witnessed first-hand a situation in which many of the children had been dressed by their parents as the opposite gender in order to protect them from various dangers during their journey. Having to negate one’s whole being in order to save one’s life was very shocking to me.

It was at this point when I began to recognize the need for a support channel to bring aid to the most vulnerable, especially children who were travelling alone and were exposed to all sorts of threats.

Could you give us some details on the issue of unaccompanied refugee children in Greece?

In Greece, there are more than 4,100 unaccompanied children, of whom more than 2,020 are outside a system of protection (according to the latest data of National Center of Social Solidarity). This means that at the moment there are children in the streets, in camps, and exposed to all kinds of exploitation such as abuse, violence, drugs, organ trafficking and more. If these children are not placed in a safe shelter, they cannot and will not receive any information on their rights or have access to any appropriate services. Furthermore, they are missing crucial aspects of their development as they grow; such as access to education, access to mental and physical health services, and social inclusion.

The HOME Project addresses this issue by receiving children from camps, police stations, and detention centers and welcoming them in the safety of our homes in Athens, where we provide a holistic network of child protection services through an individual development plan for each child that we care for. This plan addresses the general and particular needs of each child, including physical and mental health, educational, social, life skills, and legal support with the ultimate aim of social inclusion.

From a broader perspective, we would like to change the way people perceive the refugee crisis, especially regarding minors. Integrating these children and youths into society can only have a positive effect, as long as their marginalization is eliminated and replaced with social inclusion and equal access to opportunities.


So, what was the next step—and how was The HOME Project founded? What organizations do you have supporting you?

The HOME Project began as a targeted intervention of child protection for unaccompanied refugee children in Greece. It was founded in response to the call made by President Obama to the private sector to help in addressing the refugee crisis in 2016. Our partners are people and organizations who truly care about children and believe in our model of child protection.

We started with the opening of the first shelters in 2016. Soon after, the IKEA Foundation and the Shapiro Foundation supported us to scale up our operations, reaching 11 shelters. Recently, with the support of the Dutch Government we managed to open 3 more shelters in collaboration with a Dutch NGO Movement on the Ground.

Currently, we operate 14 shelters and we have offered child protection services to more than 570 children since 2016. One shelter is for young children, from 5 to 12 years old; three are for underage girls including underage mothers with their babies and nine are for teenage boys 13 to 17 years old. There is also one shelter for the children who turn 18 and are supported in their step toward autonomous life.

Equally important are several private partners and foundations that have supported smaller scale projects, especially during the lockdown in Athens. Due to these latest public health developments, other donors covered the emergency budget needed to cope with the challenges of Covid-19 pandemic.


What is the action plan for THP beyond the infrastructure?

The Home Project shelter model is based on three pillars:

1. Provision of holistic network of child protection covering food, shelter, material, medical provision, social, legal and mental health support with the ultimate goal of social inclusion.
2. Job creation. We have created 170 jobs for refugees as well as for Greeks. In order to integrate into any society, people need a HOME but they also need a job. Half of our shelter staff is comprised of refugees who become role models for the children, demonstrating a better future is achievable.
3. Adding value to the local economy. We create value for the local economy by renting unused buildings—victims of the financial crisis—and we empower the engagement of local communities via community building events. The development of healthy relationships in the shelter and with the local community, as well as enhancing participation and social inclusion, are equally important. Specifically, we actively seek to collaborate with the neighborhoods in which the shelters are located. For example, we supply our shelters with everything needed from local grocers, butchers, supermarkets, and pharmacies. Through this practice, we aim to create a support system around each home and fight xenophobia and stereotypes.

How are the HOMES organized?

At the core of our model is child protection. Our Child Protection Unit consists of professional social workers, psychologists, lawyers, psychiatrists, and an implementation model, which concludes in an Individual Development Plan for every child we care for. The Individual Development Plan represents a complete framework of child protection and is an ongoing process, aligned with the development of a child in five main areas: a) Mental Health, b) Education, c) Life Skills and Socialization, d) Social Support, e) Legal Support. The HOME Project recognizes and addresses the reality of the needs of each child, which go beyond just nourishment and housing.
The staff in the shelters attend weekly supervision by external mental health professionals and receive monthly training from our Child Protection Unit in child protection protocols, in order to be prepared to take on the responsibility of replicating the parental environment as well as providing a system of social welfare and support that is nonexistent for these children in society.

You insist a lot on education as well?

Education is vital to the development of children, and all children under our care attend school. In addition to public schools, we have partnerships with two of the biggest private schools in Athens.

43 children have received full time scholarships at ACS Athens with the support of Shapiro Foundation and over 210 children have participated in the innovative, educational “Youth to Youth” Program in collaboration with ACS Athens and supported by IKEA Foundation; Similarly, more than 70 children participated in the innovative program “School Project” in collaboration with Athens College. As part of these programs every Saturday, by physical presence and/or online children of The HOME Project “buddy up” with students from these schools and are taught Greek, English, art, math, music, and sports. This initiative aims to create a space of interaction where youths from the school have the opportunity to socialize with refugee children as a way to fight xenophobia, break stereotypes, and bring the two communities closer.

I heard you’ve had a big success story regarding educational achievements?

We have one case of a young adult who had been accepted to Science Po in Paris. Though he was initially denied asylum and wasn’t able to travel, we began a large public campaign to push the authorities to review his application. His asylum request was subsequently granted by the minister himself along with the asylum of two other children under our care. He is now living in Paris and receiving an exceptional education. We are very proud of his success.

How do children arrive at The HOME Project and how long do the children stay with you?

The children we accommodate are being referred to The HOME Project from all sites, camps, detention centers and homelessness, through national authorities. The authority of the referrals recently moved to the office of the Special Secretary for the Protection for unaccompanied Minors at the Ministry of Migration and Asylum with a Ministerial decision from the National Center of Social Solidarity (EKKA). The Public Prosecutor for Minors in Athens remains the legal guardian of all minors referred to our shelters.

The length of the stay for each child depends on the individual case. We have children who with our support apply for asylum and stay until their adulthood, while we have cases able to reunite with their families in other EU countries and who stay with us until our legal team completes their process.

Do the children eventually reunite with their families? How does this process work?

Since the beginning we have already managed to help 130 children reunite with their families. However, this process can take more than a year, as we need to prove they are indeed part of the same family. This length of time can take an immense toll on the children. In one case, a girl under our care suffered from eating disorders for a year because she couldn’t join her mother in Germany. After receiving multiple unlawful rejections, the decision was challenged at a court in Germany and she finally received a positive answer. Though this process is often arduous, family reunification is a necessity for each child if possible.


Are there children who arrive in Greece without having other family members with whom they can be reunited? What happens to these children in the future?

There are children who do not have families to reunite with. These children have left their homes for various reasons such as war, persecution, or poverty. Other times they have been separated during the journey or the parents have passed away.

With our support these children apply for asylum in Greece and stay in our shelter until they reach 18. However, no child leaves the shelter until they are ready for the next step. Some of the children who remain under our care after their 18th birthday stay in the 18+ shelter; others move into their own apartment and find their own job with the help of The HOME Project. Many go into technical fields; becoming plumbers, electricians, tailors, and chefs.

During the last four years, 45 of our children have been integrated into the labor market with permanent or seasonal jobs after turning 18 years old. Additionally, several of the children formerly under our care are hired as cooks, cleaners, and caretakers in the shelters upon reaching adulthood. Having been given these jobs in the shelters, the new staff members serve as role models for the children they are caring for. In this sense, they instill hope in the minds of the children.

How has THP dealt with issues presented by the pandemic?

The pandemic has made operations more difficult. The complications mostly stem from the lockdown: employees cannot move efficiently from shelter to shelter. Asylum service offices have suspended operations and affect our lawyers who are working on important issues regarding the children. Moreover, we hired more staff to temporarily take the place of those who have a higher health risk and to ensure that the needs of all children were being met.

Despite the recent COVID-19 pandemic, we have successfully managed to support the community building aspect of our model through projects such as the WWF Shelter-Greening project, which included the offering of plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables to the neighboring local community as well as a mask creation project in which the children of The Home Project in collaboration with WWF Hellas and WaterMasks designed and produced protective masks for the homeless people of Shedia Street Paper. The project aimed to raise children’s awareness on environmental and social issues, while giving them the opportunity to give back to the community and express their solidarity amidst these challenging times.

Recently, during the holiday season, children created greeting cards which they shared in the neighborhoods and send by post to our friends and supporters in order to thank them. In this way they can learn universal human values that will accompany them throughout their lives.

In terms of the risk directly posed by COVID-19, testing is the most effective way in which we can combat the virus. There has only been one positive, asymptomatic case in the shelters from a child who got it at school, and the entire shelter underwent a 2-week isolation period. While no more cases were recorded anywhere in The HOME Project network, the pandemic has taken an emotional and financial toll.

What can people do to help?

People can help in three ways
• Financial support: The HOME Project welcomes donations from individuals or organizations – either single gifts or regular contributions.
• Time: Join our team as a volunteer
• Resources: All forms of support (e.g. materials, food, clothing, services, internships, job opportunities, etc.) can make a big difference in our work

People could also spread the word about our work towards the most vulnerable children and help us raise awareness on our initiatives. Europe of 2021 has to ensure that no child can be allowed to remain invisible or alone.

Athens turns up another treasure

Aiolou Street is named after Aeolus, God of the Winds, and is the first street to have been paved in Athens in the 19th century. It it to this day a major shopping street in downtown Athens, and it is in its sewage system—which has been undergoing a maintenance overhaul—that workers discovered a bust of Hermes, herald of the gods.


The marble head is bearded and with his hair in strictly arranged curls. In good condition, it was found a mere 1.3 meters under the road surface.

The bust dates from around 300 BC, and is believed to have been part of a stone pillar serving as a street marker. These pillars were called Hermae, and were used as markers and also to impart good luck to travellers, and ward off harm or evil. They were placed at crossings, country borders, in front of temples or public buildings such as libraries, gymnasia, and palestrae, and also in front of houses. They were quadrangular and plain, with the head sitting on top; sometimes male genitalia were carved at the appropriate height. They were called Hermae because the head of Hermes was the most common, since he was the protector of merchants and travelers. However, the heads of other gods and heroes, and sometimes distinguished mortals, were also frequent.


Photos from Google

Minecraft: the Earth Project


Being unable to roam the world due to lockdown, some people, most of whom were probably nerdy loners in the first place—albeit geniuses—have decided to recreate the world indoors on a one to one scale, via Minecraft.
What the hell is Minecraft, I can hear some of you shriek (probably anyone over the age of 13). It is a video game, I answer, where players can build anything their imagination can come up with, using blocks of a variety of materials provided. If you want to find out more, or even learn how to do it, YouTube is full of (FREE!!) videos. There is a small drawback, in that the infant instructors have such boring voices and deliveries that they are guaranteed to send you to sleep in five minutes flat. Trust me, I know. But I have nevertheless seen with my very eyes children of 7 or 8 build the most amazing, if hideous, constructions of every sort: towers, castles, spaceships. Middle Earth. Dragons, and sheep. You get my drift. It is actually very clever and quite educational.


Back to the point: one of these gamers, known as PippenFTS, has started the Build The Earth Project, using data from Google Earth to generate the terrain on a 1:1 scale. He has called on other players to join him in constructing all man-made structures in every city, town and village across the world.
The response was astounding: more than 130,000 people have come together online to build a life-size recreation of the earth.

For his part, PippenFTS is kicking off by recreating his home city of Seattle, virtual brick by virtual brick, on the Minecraft map.

The idea is for each Minecraft player to start their own Planet Earth map, pick a city or territory, and work on creating it on a 1:1 scale as true to reality as possible. When the building of all the areas is completed, they will be patched together with map editors to combine everyone’s work into a single Earth.

“Literally a week into the quarantine and we’ve already replaced the outside world,” one supporter noted.

In order to build the Earth to scale, PippenFTS first had to overcome some limitations within the game – most significantly, the inability to build more than 256 blocks high. By using a mod called Cubic Chunks, he was able to bypass the game’s vertical height limit and recreate geological wonders like Mount Everest and the Grand Canyon at their full scale.
“All human made structures – all of our cities, our towers, cathedrals, railroads, museums, theatres, parks and skyscrapers – all of it is built and completed in one map that represents our innate human desire to create, to achieve, to persevere in a single visitable and explorable Minecraft world,” he said.
“This would be the world to end all worlds: the single most greatest collective achievement in Minecraft, and I want to see it done in my lifetime. So I’m starting the first brick.”

Builder evilpauwse, a New York college student who is a moderator in the project, said that people are constantly asking why? Why rebuild the Earth within Minecraft?
“To that I say, ‘why not,’” he said. “Something of this scale has never been done before, and is ready for anyone who wants to take on the challenge of doing it.”

The project’s biggest roadblock is organization: with so many volunteers, it’s hard to keep builders focused and working together. Therefore various committees and systems are being set up. But all the builders love the challenge of capturing the earth in this moment in time, in all its glory.


Here’s a short video for anyone interested. Maybe some of you would even like to join in? 


Still @home

‘Nuns fret not at their Convent’s narrow room;
And Hermits are contented with their Cells;
And Students with their pensive Citadels;
Maids at the Wheel, the Weaver at his Loom
Sit blithe and happy; Bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-Fells,
Will murmur by the hour in Foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, into which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.’

William Wordsworth

These days it’s a plus to be someone who likes being alone and takes pleasure in their own company. Sometimes it can even be easier than being cooped up with others, especially if you don’t get along particularly well… Be that as it may, we’re all in this together, as the press does not stop reminding us. And it’s true, globalisation has never been so pertinent. So we must all try to find ways to embellish our living conditions as much as possible.

Seeing  as the coronavirus has been unable to stop the coming of spring, I have been enjoying painting the daffs and tulips in my vases in various ways. In the drawing below, the ink marks were made using a stick I picked up outside. 


For a bit of news from Greece, every day at six o’clock people have been turning on the TV to listen to the health bulletin read by the new national guru, Professor Sotiris Tsiodras. Harvard and MIT educated, the self-effacing and mild-mannered Professor Tsiodras has been appointed by the government to manage the coronavirus crisis as well as communicating to the public about it. An austere, almost ascetic man (he is father to seven children, and a psalm singer in church), he seems unsuited for the role of television personality. However, he has managed to gain the trust of a people usually very suspicion of those in authority. This is just as well, because Greeks do not take kindly to obeying rules; and of course there is the inevitable faction of rebels who do not hesitate in accusing him of trying to instill fear in the population for political reasons, going so far as to troll him on social media. However, in general the Greek government has been following the French example of confinement and things seem to be reasonably calm.

Professor Sotiris Tsiodras

Nevertheless, there is great worry about the day after, since Greece has been trying to emerge from unprecedented crisis and the EU is now widely seen as not being up to par in its obligations. As for the refugee problem, it will not abate anytime soon, given the continuing wars in Syria and Libya.

In better news, the Ministry of Health is taking delivery of a large amount of protective material (masks etc) from China, the cost of which has mostly been covered by the Onassis Foundation.

Finally, Greece is mourning the death, at 97, of Manolis Glezos, left-wing politician and Anti-Nazi resistance hero.
He will always be remembered for his feat, as a young man, of ripping down the swastika from the Acropolis. On May 30, 1941, aged 18, he scaled the walls with a companion in the dead of night, to remove the occupyers’ flag. He was arrested and tortured, and subsequently sentenced to death multiple times; due to his political activism, he spent sixteen years of his life confined to a prison cell. Later he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize, and vociferously campaigned well into his 90s for German reparations as compensation for the atrocities Greeks suffered at the hands of the Nazis.
Glezos lived with his wife Georgia in a little house in Athens filled with books, and was a great believer in the afternoon nap – the legacy of a life of exile and imprisonment.

Going back to Wordsworth, and his ‘host of golden daffodils’, here a cartoon by the inimitable Matt, to make you smile: 

And to finish off, I’d like to share a little video I came upon, about musical twins in Italy. Who could be gloomy with these two in the house!

Staying home


It’s difficult to know how to describe the situation we find ourselves in. A mini-apocalypse? A plague? A warning for the future?
It’s been hard accepting how dangerous the virus is, and how contagious. Most of us, if in good health, kept up normal activities for a while, thinking it was just a bad kind of flu. Some are still not taking it seriously enough, obliging governments to impose confinement, curfews and fines.
In retrospect, it was a disaster waiting to happen, given the global amount of traveling that goes on, with no health checks whatsoever. The proof has been the rapidity with which the virus has spread worldwide.

However, this too shall pass, as have all previous epidemics: the object now being to limit the devastation it will leave in its wake, both in terms of deaths and financial.


I made this happy painting using natural powdered pigments, and loads of pink!

It’s interesting, and sometimes weird, to see how people are reacting. I still have friends who are on holiday, blithely ignoring the fact that they might be blocked from going home, maybe for months. Thousands of travelers, of all nationalities, are stuck abroad as we speak.

As with all extreme situations, this has brought out the best and the worst in people. Every day we witness incredible scenes—some of outrageous selfishness, some of great kindness.


Sketching what’s in front of me

Indisputably, we must come to terms with the new reality facing us for weeks, maybe for months to come.

I find myself back in confinement after the weeks when I could put no weight on my broken ankle—but this time without a cast! Bliss. I can now cook, and, as everyone knows, food is a great lifter of spirits. Improvising with what we have in the fridge, freezer and store cupboard. And I’ve been doing some foraging. There’s a little stream nearby, and its banks are full of wild garlic and nettles. Good for pesto, and soup, perhaps. There was a little yellow frog hopping about, and for a minute I thought ‘Frog legs!’, but then, Noo. No way 🙂


Another of my powdered pigment experiments

I feel so thankful and privileged to be able to go out in the garden. It’s such an escape from feeling like murdering the loved ones. I think of people stuck with small kids in tiny appartments. People worried about losing their jobs or going bankrupt. The refugees, piled in camps with no hygiene. People stuck in prison. The elderly who cannot see their families because they risk being contaminated. Africans who have no access to clean water with which to wash their hands. The list goes on.

I also have so much respect for the people with no choice but to continue working in very uncertain conditions. Nurses, doctors, policemen, firefighters, couriers, pharmacists, cashiers and many more.


Floral study


Apart from cooking, and reading, I’ve been drawing and painting, color being another spirit booster. Amazing how many ways there are of describing one cheerful vase of daffodils.

And let’s not forget that laughter is the best medicine. People’s sense of humor is flourishing, I’m pleased to report, with a spate of jokes, memes and caricatures flooding the web and my social media.



And I’m sure his mum was hovering just out of sight, in case he needed something else…

Greek cops can sing

Here’s a little news story that brought a smile to our faces today, amid all the depressing articles about the economy, the refugee situation, Brexit, the wars going on everywhere and the usual spate of crimes: A young policeman in uniform in the Monastiraki quarter of Athens joined a busker playing guitar in the street, taking the microphone and belting out ‘Stand by me,’ – in English – to the delight of passers by. The video of his performance has gone viral.

See below:


Disclaimer: I didn’t mean that ALL Greek cops can sing, nor was I suggesting they take music lessons in working hours!


Archaeological detective work

While some people’s job is to look for burglars or murderers, forensic archaeologists Christos Tsirogiannis spends his time searching for looted antiquities.
He has identified 1,100 such artefacts in 13 years, and accuses the major auction houses, such as Christie’s, Sotheby’s or Bonham’s, of failing to properly check the provenance of antiquities in their catalogues. He asserts that they don’t take the necessary steps in due diligence by contacting the authorities before buying or selling antiquities.
Of course, the auction houses deny this, and insist they do work with authorities in order to establish due diligence, but that they don’t have access to the databases of seized objects, something which Tsirogiannis contests.


Photo: Google


Be that as it may, Bonham’s has recently withdrawn an ancient Greek drinking vessel from sale amid accusations that it was illegally excavated. Tsirogiannis alerted Interpol after producing evidence linking the Bonhams antiquity to convicted traffickers in stolen artefacts. He recognised lot 95, an ­ancient Greek vessel from 375-350 BC, in Bonhams’ catalogue for its July 3 ­antiquities auction at its flagship London salesroom. The 8in-high Apulian red-figure kantharos or drinking cup was estimated to fetch ­between £20,000 and £30,000.
Dr Tsirogiannis has access to images confiscated in police raids and he found a picture of the vessel, still with soil on it, in ­archives seized from ­Gianfranco Becchina, convicted in Italy and Greece of illegally dealing in antiquities.


Example of kantharos vase. Photo:Google


Cambridge-based Tsirogiannis also works for the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow. He is determined to draw public attention to the irreparable damage done by looters of antiquities from archaeological sites.
Christos studied archaeology and history of art at the University of Athens, and received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, on the international illicit antiquities network.
He has worked for the Greek Ministries of Culture and Justice, excavating throughout Greece and recording antiquities in private hands, and has voluntarily cooperated with the Greek police Art Squad. He was also a member of the Greek Task Force Team that repatriated looted, smuggled and stolen antiquities from the Getty Museum, the Shelby White/Leon Levy collection, the Jean-David Cahn AG galleries, and others. In 2013, he won the annual Award for Art Protection and Security from the Association for Research into Crimes against Art.

Tsirogiannis believes that to loot and trade in stolen goods is a crime against humanity, because it is the cause of a major catastrophe: the irreparable loss of knowledge about our past. He has built a secret archive of tens of thousands of photos from the antiquities underground traffic, where illicitly dug artefacts pass from tomb raiders to smugglers to dealers and then on to museums, collectors, and auction houses. He has been given most of his images from prosecutors in Greece and Italy who have obtained them from police raids; he matches the photos with objects that surface at auctions or museums and then works to repatriate the pieces.



Tsirogiannis is somewhat of a thorn in the side of auction houses, but his work has forced them, and other dealers, take due diligence much more seriously. Nevertheless, the auction houses contend that the industry’s due diligence would benefit if the archives, which are technically owned by the Greek and Italian states, were to be made public, which so far they have declined to do. As for Tsirogiannis, he says that publishing the records could alert bad actors and push the market for illicit antiquities further underground.

Greek Storm

One of the best things about living in Greece has always been its climate. Mild, sunny and dry, with a short winter and an absence of violent weather. Unfortunately, this has been gradually changing over the last few years, with more rain in the spring months, warm winds and a muggy atmosphere. Sand storms blowing in from the Sahara have also multiplied (I wrote about it in my post, An Orange Sky  –, as have summer wildfires.



The latest manifestation of this phenomenon was a terrible storm that hit the northern province of Halkidiki a few days ago, killing six people and causing a lot of damage. At least 100 others were injured, with 23 people hospitalised. A state of emergency has been declared, with dozens of rescue workers dispatched to help.


A study conducted by the Crowther Lab at ETH Zurich university, anticipates that by 2050 global temperatures will have risen by 2C from pre-industrial levels. Under these conditions, three quarters of the world’s 500 largest cities will experience dramatic changes in climate (a lot of large cities are near water, who’s level keeps rising.) The worst hit, among them Singapore and Jakarta, will develop weather patterns so extreme that they don’t currently exist anywhere on earth.

Weather patterns have always been cyclical, and are not only affected by the  antics of mankind. However, this is getting rather scary…


Greeks have voted for the change in government that had been widely anticipated before the elections. A lot of the people who had voted for Alexis Tsipras, hoping he would get the country out of the mess previous governments had brought it to, turned their backs on him to punish him for broken promises.


The Greek Parliament (Photo:Kathimerini)

Tsipras’s detractors refer to him by the unflattering nickname ‘kolotoumbas’, which means backtracker. This started with the 2015 referendum, when he led the vote to leave Europe, having convinced  Greeks to reject another international bailout and the onerous austerity that came with it — then acquiesced and fell into line  with the demands of the Troika. (Thus Grexit never happened—reminds you of something?)
Twitter feeds have been going wild with lists of his broken promises. Along with the chronic financial grievances, mainly from Greece’s shrinking middle class, Tsipras’s government has also been criticized for mismanaging the response to a devastating fire near Athens last summer that killed 102 people, and for brokering a widely unpopular deal to resolve a never-ending dispute over the name of neighbouring North Macedonia. Also, he never came through with a pledge to allow Greeks living abroad to vote.
However, he cannot be held responsible for all the woes that have befallen the country, many of which were the fault of previous administrations.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis (Photo:Google)

The centre-right New Democracy party, led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Harvard-educated, 51-year-old scion of one the most powerful political families in Greece, has won nearly 40% of the vote, guaranteeing him a comfortable majority. Mitsotakis has been painting a bright(er) picture of the future, promising growth-oriented policies, including lower taxes to encourage investment. However, it remains to be seen how feasible these are, because fiscal restrains still remain.
Let’s hope at least some of these plans will come to pass.

New elections in store

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras suffered a severe defeat in the European Parliament elections last Sunday, his party Syriza trailing the opposition New Democracy party by about ten points.

Syriza stormed the Greek political scene on an anti-austerity platform six years ago, then suffered a backlash after imposing cut-backs as part of a third bailout in 2015. This month the government introduced more than one billion worth of handouts in the form of tax cuts and pension payouts, unwinding some of the austerity measures—but it proved to be too late in the day, although the handouts may have averted an even steeper defeat.
Let us not forget that Greece lost a quarter of its economic output during an eight-year depression, which economists record as the worst contraction of any developed economy since World War II. Unemployment peaked at 28 percent in 2013 and remains at 19 percent.


Prime minister Alexis Tsipras

Voters punished the ruling Syriza party for broken promises but also for a deeply unpopular agreement signed by Tsipras to resolve a long-running name dispute with North Macedonia.

Tsipras has now announced a snap election, to take place in the coming month or so. The government’s current term was due to expire in October.

The high score of 33.2 percent of the vote won by the opposition party New Democracy suggests it might manage to energise a greater voter base in the coming month. It would need about 40 percent to rule outright, without a coalition partner.

New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis has promised a restart of the economy. He says he will lower tax on businesses from 29 percent to 20 percent in two years and lower income tax on farmers from 22 percent to 10 percent.
He also says he will seek to create 700,000 new jobs in five years and has pledged to bring home at least half a million of the 860,000 skilled workers who, according to the Hellenic Statistical Service, have left the country since 2009.


New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis


Of course, such promises are founded on the assumption that the economy will achieve an annual growth rate of around four percent per year, a goal which might not be so easy to achieve. The economic plan mostly hinges on a key promise to negotiate a new deal with Greece’s creditors, which would allow the government to spend less on repaying external debt and keep more money in the economy for reinvestment.

In his talks, Mitsotakis sounds optimistic if not bullish—but we’ve heard it all before. We just have to keep our fingers crossed.