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.

I.M.Pei dies

The most widely known of architect I. M. Pei’s designs has to be the metal-and glass pyramid dominating the main courtyard of the Louvre Museum in Paris. When completed in 1989 it was widely criticized, but today it is as much a symbol and an icon as the Eiffel Tower.

 

 

I. M. Pei has died, aged 102. He is widely considered to be one of the most influential architects of all times, and during his career won nearly every major award in his field.

 

(Photo by Michael N. Todaro/FilmMagic)

 

I.M. Pei was born in Guangzhou, China, in 1917 to a banker father and artistic mother. He grew up in Hong Kong and Shanghai before moving to the United States at age 17 to enroll in architecture school. After graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Pei attended Harvard’s famed Graduate School of Design, where he studied with Bauhaus master Walter Gropius.

Pei loved to research his projects thoroughly, and to allow himself the freedom to experiment with different ideas and materials. He did not like his work to be stylistically ‘stamped’, although he did focus on simplicity, transparency, geometry and light.

 

The Bank of China Tower in Central Hong Kong.. (Photo by Gerhard Joren/LightRocket via Getty Images)

 

Even after retiring from his full-time architectural practice, Pei continued to work into his 80s, creating some of his most memorable projects in that time, such as the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, below, which was completed in 2008.

 

Via his spectacular buildings, he leaves behind a rich legacy in modern design.

 

A Greek director at the BAFTAS

I must confess I have seen none of Yorgos Lanthimos’s films so far,
because they are dark and bleak and I never seem to be in the right mood for them. However, he has been going from strength to strength, and I am now rather tempted by his latest offering, which was a huge success at the BAFTAS.

Lanthimos was born in Athens in 1973, and went to film school in Greece, hoping to make commercials—the prospect of making films in Greece in the 80s and 90s was dim, to say the least.

 

 

Through the 1990s he directed a series of videos for Greek dance-theater companies, moving on to TV commercials, music videos, short films and experimental theater plays. He was also a member of the creative team which designed the opening and closingceremonies of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

Lanthimos, realizing his youthful ambitions, then went on to make feature films—and, just under a decade ago, released Dogtooth, a grim tale of a father keeping his family in total isolation.  It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, but was booed and hissed by voters during a committee screening, and lost to Susanne Bier’s In a Better World. After that, Lanthimos became notorious for his wild imagination and bleak inscrutability.

However, his first English-language film, The Lobster (2015), proved a significant art-house hit, being set in a world where single people must find partners or be transformed into animals. Its follow-up, The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), is a bloody revenge drama infused with classical mythology—while his characters keep having absurdly mundane conversations.

He became a leading member of the ‘weird wave’, Greek film makers who were anti-commercial and aimed to provoke, if not to shock. Nevertheless, over the course of his six films, he managed to escape his image as a European oddity, acquire global recognition and achieve significant box-office success, attracting top actors such as Nicole Kidman.

 

 

His latest film, The Favourite, is an opulent period drama set in the court of Queen Anne and featuring stellar performances by Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz.

Based on fact, it is the story of two women vying for the attention of Queen Anne, who, plagued by gout and haunted by the 17 children she’s lost over the years, has basically given up governing her country.

 

 

According to reviews, it is supposed to be less disturbing than his other films, although still dark, and features a witty script spiked with anachronisms, and lavish costumes and scenery.

The film won seven awards at the BAFTAs (British Academy of Film and Television Arts), including outstanding British film, original screenplay, leading actress for Olivia Colman and best supporting actress for Rachel Weisz.

 

 

Next stop, the Oscars? Not bad for a Greek boy who wanted to make commercials.

Perhaps it’s time to reconsider and give The Favourite a chance.

 

All photos from Google

Snow day in Athens

Kids preparing to return to class after the holidays were delighted to find out that schools would remain closed today, due to a rare snowstorm descending upon Greece.

 

Photo credit: greekreporter

The Parthenon was dusted with white

Credit Anna Koenig

As were city streets and cars

Credit Anna Koenig

Tomorrow it is likely there will be bright sunshine (although at the moment the forecast is for rain).

But for a few hours, children along with plenty of adults are enjoying a rare change in their routine.

 

Sad news

Some of you might remember an older post entitled “4.1 miles”, (read it here),  about ‘The hero of the Aegean’, captain Kyriakos Papadopoulos, who risked his life nightly in Lesvos rescuing refugees arriving on the island in unseaworthy boats. I am sad to report that he has suddenly passed away of a heart attack, at the age of 44, leaving behind a wife and two children. 

A man who worked tirelessly for months on end to save thousands of lives was stuck down in the prime of life. I do not know his medical history, but I have no doubt the stress of those long nights, his despair when he failed to save everyone, the awfulness of dragging out bodies, many of whom were children, had something to do with his demise. 

 

Papadopoulos was of refugee stock himself, his family  having come from Nikomedia, Turkey, in 1922. His father was an ironmonger and he grew up in a working class neighborhood, joining the merchant marine for a few years before moving to the coastguard. Due to his work, he became the face of the Greek Coastguard, was awarded medals for his exploits, and starred in the multi-garlanded documentary 4.1 miles. However, he remained a simple man, never forgetting that lives were constantly in danger on his watch. 

Papadopoulos did not like to talk about his experiences, but others on his boat have described the unbearable scenes of saving people who were severely handicapped, having lost all their limbs to bombs, along with heavily pregnant women, and others who were very ill. 

It is so unfair and cruel that his family was robbed too soon of someone who had saved so many other lives. And worst of all, it appears his efforts were but a drop in the ocean of misery that is the refugee crisis.

 

 

Greece made the New York Times front page (October 12, 2018) with a photo entitled Epidemic of misery. It shows Afghan refugees at Camp Moria, on the island of Lesvos. I quote from the caption: ‘Trauma, psychosis and suicide attempts have become common at Moria, which has around 9,000 people living in a space designed for 3,100. There are 80 people for each shower, 70 per toilet.’

It beggars belief that our presumably civilized western society can tolerate this. Refugee camps have existed since ever, for example in Sudan, but there it was possible to turn a blind eye. This is at our feet. Most Europeans dream of a vacation in the Greek islands, and many go there each year. 

I have no doubt the Greek authorities are not managing the situation or the funds available in the best possible way. But this cannot be only the fault of the Greeks, nor can it be their sole responsibility. Everyone should be pulling together. I know individual people, from many different countries, are doing whatever they can—donating money and time, taking in people, some even upending their whole lives to go and help. I find, however, that the authorities, people in power, governments, call it what you will, have woefully mismanaged the whole issue. 

And that is just one camp. 

 

(Photos from Google).

 

Stormy days

The Carlos Acosta interlude proved to be short. We were lucky the performance was not cancelled, since the next day Xenophon, our local cyclone, struck in earnest, with gale-force winds and intermittent showers. Schools were shut for a day, and the fire brigade has been busy cutting branches that threatened to crush all beneath them. Plus Xenophon is now scheduled to meet with a buddy, Zorba, and they will no doubt be dancing a syrtaki in the skies.

 

The port of Rafina (source: Google )

 

Meanwhile, in a report published in the daily KATHIMERINI, it appears that the Greek state is holding back tax returns of 1.83 billion euros which it owes to taxpayers and businesses. This tactic is aggravating  the cash flow problems in the market and in households. To add insult to injury, taxpayers are not allowed to offset what they are owed with what they owe, but are still required to pay their own taxes on time or incur hefty fines. The law requires the state to return sums owed together with interest if the delay is over 90 days but, according to accounting firms, this has in fact never happened.

By the end of this year, Greeks will have been working for the government for a total of 198 days. Greek taxation is equal to that of Germans, but higher than in Sweden or Finland. However, Greeks feel they are getting a lot less bang for their buck, as the saying goes. At least, in the aforementioned countries, the roads are not full of potholes, nor are the pavement slabs cracked, and the streets often strewn with rubbish. Greek pensions are tiny and threatened by further cuts, and hospitals and schools in dire need of improvement.

From Sepolia to the NBA

After yesterday’s post about a boy who went from being a refugee to playing basketball in the Greek A1 league, I could not avoid mentioning our ‘Greek Freak,’ Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Giannis is not an immigrant himself, but his parents were. They are Nigerian, and came to Greece from Lagos via Turkey, in 1991.

 

 

Three years later, on December 6, 1994, Giannis was born in Athens. Even though he and three of his four brothers were born in Greece, they did not automatically qualify to receive full Greek citizenship. For the first 18 years of his life, Giannis had no papers from Nigeria or Greece, and only officially became a Greek citizen in 2013.

Antetokounmpo grew up poor, in the Athens neighborhood of Sepolia. Like many other immigrants, his parents struggled to find work, so Giannis and his older brother, Thanasis, helped out by hawking items such as watches, bags and sunglasses. But Antetokounmpo’s father, Charles, was a former Nigerian association football player, while his mother, Veronica, is a former high jumper. Giannis was tall and athletic, and loved basketball, and by 2009 he was playing competitively for the youth squad of the Greek team Filathlitikos. 

 

With his family, in Sepolia

In 2012, Antetokounmpo joined the senior squad of Filathlitikos and played for them in Greece’s second-tier basketball league, the Greek A2 League, during the 2012–13 season.

In December 2012, just days after turning 18, Antetokounmpo signed a four-year deal with Spanish club CAI Zaragoza. However, he never ended up playing in Spain, nor with the Greek A1 league.

He made himself eligible for the 2013 NBA draft and was selected 15th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks.

Since then, he’s set many personal career heights.

 

 

At 22 years and 74 days old, he became the youngest player in franchise history to start in an All-Star Game. He also became the first Greek NBA All-Star,  and his special talents earned him the nickname ‘Greek freak.’ The awards he has collected are too numerous to mention and he has legions of fans.

Giannis is very family-oriented, and his brothers are all athletic. Despite the problems he encountered in his childhood, he lauds his adopted country wherever he goes, and has represented Greece multiple times. He served a reduced military service, as all Greek men who permanently live abroad are allowed to do.

Here’s a peek at what Giannis can do:

 

Is there a moral to this? Only that a lot of us have ancestors who had to move, due to different circumstances, such as poverty or war, to another country, leaving behind all they knew. Most countries owe a lot to immigration, and totally closed societies die off eventually. At the moment we are facing an unprecedented crisis, and, in my opinion, it is up to us to deal with it in a way that will enrich our communities.