It’s not about prostitutes, it’s about a healthy society – sign this petition

Just a few days before Greece’s snap parliamentary elections in April, Greek police published the names and photos of over 12 prostitutes arrested for being HIV positive, in a disgraceful violation of their human dignity and a terrible example for society.

Sign the change.org petition below to tell the Greek Ministry of Justice and other authorities involved or complacent in these actions – including the Greek police, the Ministry of Health and the Citizens Protection Ministry – that it is not acceptable to disregard basic human rights and promote negative and harmful mentalities and behaviors in society.

A 22-year old Russian prostitute was arrested in an unlicensed brothel, and a health examination determined that she was HIV positive. Many more women, some Greek, were arrested in continuing raids ahead of the election. Some of them are still in prison.

Prostitution is legal in Greece, and some brothels are licensed, but there are many unlicensed ones operating in Athens and throughout the country. There is no evidence that these women knew they were infected, and some of them may be drug addicts that worked on the streets, not in brothels.

The police, the prosecutor and the health ministry claim that the identities and photos were published to alert the clients of these women, urge them to get tested, and protect their “wives and families”.

This is not about prostitutes. It is about a healthy and fair society. Greek authorities are working against both in this case.

The message that authorities are sending society is this: it is ok if you are reckless and engage in paid, unprotected sex with prostitutes or other vulnerable women (some sources suggest that clients at brothels actually pay extra to go unprotected), the state will trample the human rights of some people (namely vulnerable people) so that you know it is time to get tested.

If the Health Ministry wants to address the spread of HIV in Greece, it seems to me that the message to the public should be: any one of you out there that pays for sex, despite all the awareness campaigns that many of these women are trafficked, should now get tested. It could be any one of you. And also, stop it.

The Health Ministry claims to be concerned with the wives of Greek men that visit brothels. Has the ministry asked these wives which of these message they are more comfortable with? “Keep visiting prostitutes, we’ll arrest and humiliate the HIV positive ones” or “Prostitution is a symptom of crime, trafficking and social suffering. Now everybody is at risk and should get tested and change their behavior.”

The public safety excuses of Greek authorities for their actions do not hold up – not through their own logic, and not through any examination of best practices around the world for engaging in effective prevention and education.

From the Irish Times:

“I find it very strange that the government has only now recognised this public health danger, days before the elections. I can’t be but suspicious at the motives,” said George Tzogopoulos, of the Eliamep think tank. “We need continuity in disease prevention, not fireworks.”

International and Greek rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the local office of humanitarian medical aid group Médecins Sans Frontières, denounced the breach of medical confidentiality and the endangerment of the women’s safety as a violation of human rights. Police even published the addresses of some of the women, though a few are homeless, so I guess the police can’t direct any crazy people to their doorstep.

  • Press release by the European Aids Treatment Center, signed by several organizations: here.
  • The Greek Ombudsman, in a May 10, 2012 press release (in Greek), declared that publishing the photos and identities of the HIV+ women is a violation of human dignity.
  • The General Secretariat for Gender Equality also denounced these actions.

Please sign this change.org petition to make your voice heard that this is not acceptable: Greek Ministry of Justice: DEMAND THE RELEASE AND MEDICAL TREATMENT OF HIV POSITIVE WOMEN

The petition is directed to the Greek Ministry of Justice and demands the release and medical treatment of these women.

To the Greek authorities:
These are not solutions.
You should know better. You have reputable local and international organizations to consult and examples around the world to look at. You have no excuses.

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Greek elections and governance: Debating the rules, selecting the players, but no referee in sight

Greek elections are scheduled for May 6, after former Prime Minister Lucas Papademos resigned in early April, after former Prime Minister George Papandreou resigned in early November 2011.  Papademos was appointed as part of an interim coalition New Democracy and PASOK government.

Early elections are most directly a result of the decision to accept the bailout loan agreements and implement severe austerity measures with no strategy to promote economic growth. Two women are trying to take the Greek government to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for implementing austerity that deprives people of their freedoms. The accusations may not lead to a trial in this court, but it is a sign of the frustrations and absence of accountability that exists within the country.

For anyone laughing at this effort, perhaps this will be less amusing: the Athens Bar Association went to the Council of State, Greece’s Supreme Administrative Court, over the bailout loan agreements, which it views as “anti-constitutional since they were not voted upon with a high parliamentary majority vote, but also because they violate the constitutionally reserved rights of the citizens.” The Council judged the government’s decision to enter into the loan contract as constitutional in June 2011, in time for the parliament to approve the second bailout loan agreement. The Council may have ruled in favor of the government, but there was enough doubt in the legality of the decision-making process for an association of lawyers to move on it.

As elections approach, Greek voters must reflect, think clearly, take new action. This is not easy, given that the political system makes it different for new people to enter the system, some of the new political parties that have emerged – for a total of 32 parties on the upcoming ballot – were started by former members of the two main parties, and some are extremist and racist.

The main parties do not appear to have spent much time reflecting, thinking clearly or taking new action. The platforms (using this term loosely) are stale, unclear, contradictory, full of inflammatory and dangerous rhetoric (particularly in mongering fear against migrants and immigrants) and empty of true vision or real plan of action.

Voters have shown signs that they want to change their behavior to change the country.  There are a growing number of citizen groups dedicated to community action, volunteerism and social causes. A new political movement, Koinonikos Syndesmos (Civil Association), also launched in October 2011 with the release of a founding declaration expressing the goals of goals of engaging civil society, furthering political dialogue and facilitating political action in an effort to reform the country and to maintain its European identity.

Voters in the country may want to change their behavior in order to change the country, but are there enough substantive choices to allow for a change in behavior in a snap election?

To the world outside of Greece: pay attention.

If you think what is happening in Greece is unique to Greece, a simple matter of financial mismanagement of one country’s government now facing the consequences, or a result of ‘culture’, you are mistaken.

This European crisis is one of economic issues, an immigration and border policy that leaves responsibility distributed unevenly among member states, and, most frighteningly, of democratic governance issues:

From my earlier post: After the Greek prime minister announced a referendum on whether to accept the debt agreement, EU leaders insisted on the referendum question being ‘stay in EU or leave EU’ when there has been NO serious dialogue in Greece on this issue and polls show that 70 percent of Greeks do NOT want to leave the EU. And they set the date for December 4, leaving no time for a real debate. This is not a minor point. This is absolutely critical. A referendum alone is not democracy. A referendum is one part of a process. If you spring a referendum on people without facilitating an informed debate process, you are simply manipulating and insulting those people, and they would be right to believe that you are hiding something. Whether EU leaders were sincere or also calling Papandreou’s bluff, it is a destructive message to send throughout a union of democracies and to the rest of the world.

Undemocratic proposals are also coming from Europe regarding the level of control EU officials should have in a country’s domestic economic policies: see Myth #2 in this Forbes piece.

All of these proposals, in addition to the very real austerity measures, stand in the way of democratic reforms that remain unresolved in Greece. The system needs referees – institutions to ensure oversight, transparency and accountability. Such reforms would have helped Greek institutions combat or limit government financial mismanagement if the EU had pushed for them long ago.

Former Prime Minister George Papandreou recently told TIME magazine “We were a lab rat, an experiment,” in reference to Greece being forced to accept the bailout loans and austerity measures. There was no experiment. Do we really want to pretend that there is no example in history that shows that straight austerity does intense damage to the implementing country and its people? Do we want to pretend that decision-makers in Europe, the IMF and even Greece thought this path was the wisest for Greece because they had no precedent to look back upon? The public should believe that Europe and the IMF are amateurs, rather than ask what motives these actors have besides the welfare of the Greek population or sustainable reform in the country? Seems  a little insulting.

If you believe that Greece’s crisis is purely its own, look at Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Romania, Czech Republic and then keep looking.

If Greece was an experiment, where’s the lesson that is supposed to be applied to subsequent cases?

Additional info on 2012 elections in Greece:

Profiles of the parties running in the election:
Kathimerini English Edition: http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_wsite3_1_03/05/2012_440466
Al Jazeera: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/05/20125120322955327.html

Policy paper on the Greek elections, written by Nick Malkoutzis for the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung: http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/id/09061.pdf

A voter’s guide to the elections (Athens News): http://www.athensnews.gr/issue/13494/55209

Greek Elections: A Practical Guide (Greek Reporter): http://greece.greekreporter.com/2012/04/30/greek-elections-a-practical-guide/

IFES Election Guide: http://www.electionguide.org/country.php?ID=85

Greece Elections – Graphic of the Day: http://blog.thomsonreuters.com/index.php/greece-elections-graphic-of-the-day/

A global public art project allows local communities to be a part of their local art

This GOOD article describes how artist JR took his project to a global level, thanks to his vision and the 2011 TED prize. His InsideOut Project allows whole communities to be a part of local art.

Check out the Inside Out Project trailer, Episode 1, and other videos on the project’s YouTube channel.

In Greece, MELD | Athens invited six Greek photographers to lead a Group Action as part of this global art initiative. They created portraits of children from privileged and underprivileged backgrounds in Athens and posted them in side-by-side pairs in the city’s public spaces on October 15, 2011. This Eyes of Truth Group Action was a parallel event with the October 10, 2011 TEDxAcademy.

TEDxAcademy Talk by Corinne Weber, Creative Director & Producer of MELD and Yvonne Senouf, Creative Concepts Producer of MELD:

Greek Health Ministry announces to public: “Do not get sick around holidays, it is not convenient for us.”

If you are thinking, that headline cannot be true, you are correct. It is a parody. It is based on encounters with the Greek health care system this summer, which were almost exactly the same as encounters with the Greek health care system fifteen years ago. Some of the inadequacies or failures of this system are so absurd that parody becomes inevitable.

I normally highlight positive examples on this site, but I want to write about the health care system in Greece, and right now, I do not have many positive health care initiatives to highlight, so even bringing up the discussion is something that is a positive step. If you have examples of a program, a technology, a hospital that is helping deliver accessible, effective healthcare to people in Greece, please share them here.

A report published this month in the British medical journal The Lancet set off a small flurry of articles in international media on the looming health crisis in Greece  This, however, is a discussion that should have been a priority long go, both within Greece and among Greek diaspora, who travel to Greece and are continually called upon by the Greek government to help promote tourism to Greece.

Funding for national health programs is being drastically cut just as the number of people coming to public hospitals rose 30 percent since the start of the crisis, according to the Health Ministry. At a December 5 news conference, the president of the Athens-Piraeus Doctors’ Union (EINAP) warned that the health care system risks collapse due to a lack of resources and rapidly increasing out-of-pocket costs for patients.

Image by New Diaspora. New Dialogue. illustration contributor.

 

Non-profits witness the growing crisis among Greeks dropped by government services

One small positive action I can point to at this time comes from outside the state system.  Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is conducting an assessment of the situation in Athens, though this only highlights the fact that an assessment of the situation across the country is desperately needed.

Non-profit organizations in Greece are increasingly called upon to fill in where the government cannot provide basic services, and the most troubling news on the state of health care in Greece comes from this sector.

MSF Greece and Medecins du Monde have been serving migrants and refugees, who are excluded from national healthcare, but recently began receiving increasing numbers Greek patients.  MSF set up clinics to serve migrants and refugees in Greece’s overflowing detention centers as early as 1995. Now, Greeks without insurance – pensioners, unemployed or homeless people, HIV and tuberculosis (TB) patients, and even some middle-class shopkeepers – are visiting MSF clinics, according to MSF Greece director, Apostolos Veizis.

“We are seeing the budgets of some health service areas such as social support and the treatment of certain diseases being hit by cuts of up to 80 percent,” he continues.

Medecins du Monde saw an increase in the number of Greek patients since 2010:

Of the 30,000 patients the group has attended to in the last year, some 35 percent are Greek citizens, up from 10 percent in 2010. Some nine percent of this figure are children. Source.

Despite all the romanticized headlines of people ‘turning back to the land in response to the economic crisis’ in Greece, the head of Medecins du Monde, Nikitis Kanakis, reports to the EU Observer that the group is beginning to see signs of mild malnutrition in some Greek patients, spurring the group to launch a campaign for food donations.

Health reform

In early September, doctors responded to the Health Ministry’s proposed reforms with a 48 hour strike, with the head of the Panhellenic Physicians Association warning that more militant action was to come. The reforms would include recruitment of more nurses, no new hiring of doctors, and permitting private doctors to work in state hospitals once a week (which is odd, given that this already takes place). The management of emergency departments is also set to change under the new legislation, which was scheduled to be ready after October 15.

Let’s check in on how the democratic dialogue process is playing out in this reform process:

Replying to the minister’s claim that doctors refused dialogue, the head of the national medical association said that the government had at no time sent any outline of its plans for the National Organisation for the Provision of Healthcare Services (EOPYY), adding that doctors had participated in dialogue for months but were never given specific details of the government’s intentions. Source.

In a press conference on October 11, Health Minister Andreas Loverdos highlighted how many spending cuts have been made.  I’m pretty sure the public already sees and feels that there is less spending. Mr. Loverdos does not discuss what health care is actually being provided with the little spending that apparently remains, if that even remains for much longer.

The health minister underlined that more spending cuts are possible and used as an example cosmetic plastic surgery operations made in public hospitals that cost 2,000 euros with the surgeons using the hospital facilities and supplies. “Such illegal behaviors continue,” he said, adding that public health inspectors are investigating similar cases and that he has personally notified the first-instance court head public prosecutor Eleni Raikou.

This is the example you would like to highlight, Minister Loverdos? Why not highlight these spending cuts, reported in the EU Observer:

The government is slashing the number of hospitals from 133 down to 83, cutting the number of clinical units from 2000 down to 1700, limiting to 30,000 the number of functional beds – or 80 percent of estimated needs. Source.

Or highlight that funding to the Hellenic Red Cross was cut.

Perhaps these were superfluous; perhaps the health care sector was bloated, like the rest of the public sector?  Perhaps not: based on the report published in The Lancet, people were less likely to visit a doctor in 2009 than in 2007 due to long wait times and long travel distances.  The study suggests that much of this is the result of significant budget cuts to health care. In addition, suicides and HIV infection rates rose, and appear to be results of increasing financial hardships and intravenous drug use.

The situation is also hitting mental healthcare facilities hard. In August, the Finance Ministry cut funding for state mental healthcare facilities by 45 percent. This comes at a time when suicides are on the rise, and many appear linked to financial difficulties.

..recent data published in July found that the number of suicides in Greece had increased by 40 percent between 2007 and 2009, while the report cited by Stylianidis also suggested that 12 percent of people facing financial difficulties or ruin had expressed a “death wish.” Source.

In August, the Guardian described the Greek health care system as “on the brink of catastrophe,” though sadly, these issues, and even this brink of catastrophe, are nothing new. Drug companies have halted shipments to some state hospitals due to government debt that goes back to 2007.  As early as 2001, the Greek state was spending the lowest percentage of all the then-15 EU member states on healthcare costs, leaving Greek citizens to pay the most out-of-pocket share in the EU.

This large out-of-pocket expense is for state hospitals.  My experience visiting friends and family in one state hospital in northern Greece was that the hospital had no toilet paper in the patient bathrooms 15 years ago and again this year, had no screens on windows in some rooms to keep mosquitoes away from sick or healing patients, and had nurses smoking inside the hospital or conversing and laughing loudly at reception desks in cancer wards. I visited a friend in a military hospital a few years ago, and a man who appeared to be a migrant street vendor walked into the room asking for one euro from patients that wanted a remote for the television. He indeed had possession of the television remotes, so he was not a first time visitor to patient rooms. I wondered what collection methods he used when time was up on the one-euro rental.

Patient tip: Bring your own entertainment, or sew a pocket into your backless paper hospital gown to hold spare change for the TV remotes.

Over a decade ago and again this year I saw basic, basic aspects of health, sanitation and respect for patients and families go unaddressed in state hospitals.  (Read just how far this can go in a Greek hospital these days in this recent post by blogger KeepTalkingGreece.)

Patient tip:  Bring your own toilet paper.

What does the EU say about this?  From the 2001 Kathimerini article cited above:

On Wednesday, the European Commission adopted the proposal tabled by Diamantopoulou and proposed that EU governments institute an annual exchange of data and policies from member countries, in an effort to upgrade healthcare services for the elderly. Furthermore, the European Commission proposed three common objectives for member states: The achievement of universal access to healthcare and care for senior citizens; the highest possible quality care; and the financial viability of healthcare systems in the long run. These proposed common objectives are the result of an analysis by the Commission which found that national healthcare systems, while very different in design, delivery and funding, are confronted with similar core challenges both today and in the future.

Contrast the tone and underlying foundation of those European Commission proposals with statements from Commission officials this year in response to drug companies halting shipments of cancer drugs to hospitals in Greece due to hospital debts:

“It’s a commercial decision from a company,” [European] commission health spokesman Frederic Vincent told reporters in Brussels. “We would have to see if the countries make any specific request if this problem is conferred to Spain, Italy, Portugal,” he added, noting that the EU has little-to-no powers over national healthcare plans. Source.

2001 principles: knowledge exchange and common challenges.

2011 principles: no EU power over national healthcare.

My experience.

In case you have not been privileged with hearing about or experiencing any personal encounters with the disappointing condition of the healthcare system in Greece, particularly outside the largest cities, I’ll share mine:

My niece raised a fever on the Friday evening before the big August 15 holiday, after the antibiotics prescribed by a doctor in a nearby clinic did not help her. A doctor from our village stopped by on her time off to see her, and said it was a virus, so she never needed the antibiotics – not too surprising, as it turns out this clinic is known for inattentive diagnoses. She recommended taking the girl to a hospital for some extra tests, to rule out meningitis, based on her symptoms.

This is where it became complicated. The two nearest hospitals (one in a small city 15 minutes away, and the other in a small city 30 minutes away) rotated pediatrician duty.  A pediatrician was on duty 15 days in one hospital, and 15 days in the other.   So we had to find a ride, and late on Friday night drive over half an hour to find a hospital with a pediatrician that could run the tests to rule out meningitis.

You can live in a city of approximately 100,000 people, the capital of a prefecture, and you will only find a pediatrician at a hospital for your child 50% of the time.

Don’t get sick on a holiday.

We cannot complain however.  In late August, a man from our village suffered an aneurism and had to be taken to the third nearest hospital to find an open emergency unit.  Sadly, he did not recover.  Maybe the outcome would have been the same even if the emergency unit in the nearest hospital, 15 minutes away, was staffed and functioning. We cannot know.

The Greek Crisis: Tents on a Square

  • The “gypsy tents in Syntagma [Square, in front of the parliament] make for an unacceptable sight.”
  • “…what we have now is an image of lawlessness.”
  • “…find a solution to restore the image of the square”
  • “A peaceful demonstration is one [thing] and the camp on Syntagma that is killing the city is quite different.”

Following those quotes, you may be expecting to read something like: these are the statements I am hearing from people in the city. In fact, these are statements from Greeks in public leadership positions. Read again, with their names indicated:

  • The “gypsy tents in Syntagma make for an unacceptable sight.”
    – Justice Minister Miltiadis Papaioannou. According to Kathimerini, the same term, ‘gypsy tents,’ was used by Costas Aivaliotis, spokesman for the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS). Source.
  • “…what we have now is an image of lawlessness.”
    – Dora Bakoyannis, leader of the Democratic Alliance party and former Minister of Foreign Affairs. Mayor of Athens from 2003 – 2006. Source.
  • “…find a solution to restore the image of the square”
    – The mayor’s office. Source.
  • “A peaceful demonstration is one and the camp on Syntagma that is killing the city is quite different.”
    – Justice Minister Papaioannou. Source.

There was quite a push to clear the tents off Syntagma Square in Athens in the last two weeks, and today, city authorities and the police finally removed them. This past Thursday, a prosecutor began an investigation to determine whether the demonstrators maintaining the tents and activities on Syntagma Square were breaking any laws.

I support a respectful use of public space and a concerted effort to promote tourism. However, the situation on the main public square in Athens and the remarks of political leaders at the local and national level raise different issues in my mind, and do not bring me to the conclusion that the priority in Athens is to clear the tents away.

Who determines the use of public space?

There is a great and historical significance to the public square.  We tend to think of public squares as a starting point for tourists: lovely areas with cafes, beautiful restored historic buildings, and monuments of historical and influential figures. Perhaps we sometimes forget that, around the world, they have been the settings for significant social and political developments, and not always positive ones. Some of our most inspiring but also our darkest moments as human beings have played out in public squares around the world, from revolutions to public executions. Yet some people are uncomfortable with having the country’s social, economic or political problems reflected on the main public square in the capital. What exactly is the reason why the demonstrators in tents on Syntagma should have a shorter timeline than the economic crisis that brought them to the square?

If other citizens want the protestors to move out because their use of the square is being prevented, this is an important matter to address. But this is not what is being said. Based on discussions with people here in Athens, and my own experience passing through the square nearly every day for the past three weeks, there is plenty of space to pass, the area is tidy, organized and peaceful, and no one walking through seems disturbed or obstructed. Every time I passed through the square in the evenings or at night, there were people of different ages there, engaged in discussions near the tents.

Syntagma the first week of July.

People cleaning the square. Mid-July.

This is extremely contrary to every sidewalk I have walked on in the city, where mopeds and motorcycles park and drive freely, and cars often park half or entirely on the sidewalk. Yet this is not the obstruction and lawlessness leaders are commenting on right now.

Further, the demonstrators have not thrown unwilling citizens and tourists into their effort to make their voices heard by political leaders, which cannot be said of, for example, taxi owners.  Taxi owners have been on strike for nearly two weeks, and part of their strike has included blocking access to roads, ports and airports.  They also went so far as to throw oil on a road to prevent vehicles from leaving the port of Piraeus. Rather than make a case for their position and invite supporters to join them, they simply interrupt services for citizens and tourists and hope this will somehow aid their cause.

To what extent can image divert attention from or completely hide reality?

It seems to me that clearing off every marble tile on the square is less of a concern in addressing the image of the city and the country than the issue of how the media is covering events in Greece and the absence of a strong, clear and consistent message from the mayor’s office or national leaders on what is happening and what they are doing to move forward. Who would we fool by removing the tents from Syntagma?  No one will see the closed, empty shops on every street? No one will encounter young people around the city during the day, who have no job to go to?  Tourists will not notice the increased amount of graffiti and visitors will not see that neighborhoods in central Athens are crumbling further from the condition they were in just a couple years ago? Or will no one see the children, often victims of criminal and trafficking rings, approaching them one after the other to beg while selling flowers or tissues or while playing the accordion?

Whose vision of tourism are we concerned with?

Let’s assume a clean Syntagma will shine so bright as to hide all of the above in a lovely hazy glow.  What is the comprehensive plan for tourism? Is a clean, quiet Syntagma Square the center of the plan?  I would think that making transportation efficient and clean, and developing the network of museums, archaeological sites and cultural activities would be some of the main concerns, particularly in the short-term. There are some disappointing blind spots in these areas.  Here are just a couple examples:

a)     I had to pass through one of the Athens bus terminals several times this summer to catch buses for other parts of Greece.  To get to the terminal, you need either a car/taxi or to switch from the metro to a city bus.  Once you are there, use the restrooms at your own risk (ladies, there are still squat toilets in use) and bring change to give to the woman at the door so that she hands you some toilet paper. There is also one giant chaos of people, buses and cars going wherever they please throughout the terminal, and a non-stop procession of people selling trinkets, tissues or directly begging for change. The train would be a nice alternative, given that the station is accessible by metro, but it still does not connect Athens to all the larger cities of northern Greece.

This is an issue of far greater concern to me than a peaceful walk across Syntagma Square.

b)    There is an issue relating to archaeological sites in Athens of which not many people are aware. In February, archaeologists discovered the Altar of the Twelve Gods during renovation work for the electric rail near Thiseio and Monastiraki.  The altar was an area of religious and political significance, and at one time was the central point from which distances were measured.

This week, the Council of State, the Supreme Administrative Court of Greece, ruled to allow the burying of the Altar so that the electric rail continues to run over it, despite a petition by a citizens’ initiative requesting that this action be suspended and that the government consider an alternative solution, such as constructing an underground line for the train.

It is disappointing that there has been no significant discussion on the part of the relevant authorities (Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Regional Authority of Athens, City of Athens) to consider a solution that would allow the site to be excavated and integrated into a network of sites highlighting ancient Athens, including the Acropolis, the Agora, Kerameikos and other ruins, or even a plan to revamp and better utilize the existing sites.

Public Speaking 101

Ultimately, this situation reveals that Greece’s leaders appear to have forgotten the importance of public speech.  Hard to believe, given Greece’s history, but painfully clear in the statements above.  It is something I have heard this summer from people of different ages, in different sectors and of different political views:  leaders are not speaking to the people in a way that acknowledges their struggles or gives them reason to believe that anyone in power is truly making an effort to make things better.

The People’s Assembly of Syntagma Square has continued to maintain its online forum (real-democracy.gr) and its system of selecting topics of discussion, and it says that the peaceful protests will pick up again in September. Leaders can ignore all of this, call them drug users and loose women, and suggest that the tents on Syntagma are one of the city’s biggest problems if they choose, but this approach only dismisses the real frustrations of the broader public, many of whom are really struggling.  There are European Union statistics that indicate this, if the message is not coming through from the Greek people themselves:

“Based on the most recent statistics available, Brussels calculates that 116 million people in the EU are at risk of poverty (they live in a household with a disposable income below 60 percent of the national median) or social exclusion. The 2008 figures show that more than 2.1 million Greeks fall within the “at risk of poverty” bracket.”
Source.

August is a quiet month in Greece.  The weather is hot; most people go on vacation.  Hopefully Greek leaders will take this time to think about the message they are sending to international and domestic audiences, and lay out a respectful and constructive communication strategy. And some would do well to consider the racism they express when using the word ‘gypsie’ as a derogatory adjective.

Grumpy in Greece?

At the beginning of this summer, I thought I might become the best decision-maker in the world.  Going back to school, taking a special training course, you ask?  No.

Apparently – I have research backing me up on this – being grumpy makes you a good decision-maker.  And at the beginning of this summer, I was preparing to spend the whole summer in Greece, an excellent place for being grumpy.

Now that I am here:  not as grumpy as I thought I’d be.

I certainly had my moment.  After spending a couple days on an island, I took a ferry boat and two buses to reach my family’s hometown in the north. I was welcomed by a two-hour blackout on a Friday night, the result of the power company’s labor union strike, in opposition to the planned privatization of the power company. It seems that the only reason we didn’t have a complete blackout is because the power company’s management was regulating and timing the power cuts. All I heard from people around me was that the power company union workers already have some of the highest pay and benefits around. With the weather at over 80 degrees and a very young niece with a fever, I was not at all amused.  You could say I was grumpy. After the union realized the Greek public was also not amused, and the power company took the union to court and had the strike declared illegal, and small business owners threatened to suit, the union I believe has backed off the strike. Basically, while many people are struggling, some are still pushing the line.

However, overall, I have not found sufficient reason to be grumpy and thereby strengthen my decision-making skills.

I spent one night in Thessaloniki and two and half beautiful days on the island of Skiathos with two lovely American ladies. Everyone we encountered was open and friendly. Every discussion here includes attention to the economic challenges the country and many of its people are facing, but the hospitality of the table next to you buying a round because you shared a laugh, or the restaurant bringing out dessert on the house is still here.

This hospitality brightened all the more for the Special Olympics.


Skiathos hosted the team from the UK while we were there, and I ended up on the same departing ferry as the athletes. While waiting in a crowd at the port at high noon in intense heat, everyone held back, and clapped for several minutes straight as the athletes boarded the ferry, beaming and waving back at the support. The ferry departed 30 minutes late. Not a single person anywhere around me grumbled or complained.  The volunteers stood in the sun and waved at the team until the ferry was well on its way. There were as many smiles in the general crowd as there were among the athletes who were on their way to the games in Athens. Not a grumpy time at all.

Peaceful organizing in cities across Greece

Yesterday, May 25, thousands in Greece gathered at public squares in cities across the country to protest peacefully and demand solutions.  The rallies were organized through social media sites under the banner ‘Aganaktismenoi sto Syntagma’ (“Indignant or Exasperated at Syntagma”) and ‘Aganaktismenoi’ at other cities. The effort was modeled on Spain’s Los Indignados movement.

There were no molotov cocktails and no signs or evidence of allegiances to the political parties, unions or associations. Just organized, peaceful people that are struggling and expect better solutions.

Source: Enet.gr - Ελευθεροτυπία

Some news outlets are reporting that as many as 10,000 (ekathimerini.com) to 30,000 (ANA-MPA) people showed up at Syntagma Square in Athens alone. Individuals reported through social media (#greekrevolution, #25mgr, also follow Asteris Masouras @asteris for updates) and Greek blogs that the crowds included many youth but people of all ages. The protesters in Athens also reportedly blocked a group of anarchists that attempted to filter their ranks, keeping them at a distance and away from the parliament. The rallies served as a sort of public assembly, with participants of different ages and backgrounds discussing their thoughts and opinions.

The rallies did not become a sit-in (though there were some tents in Athens), but this may serve as the long overdue, concrete example that peaceful organizing and mobilization is possible in Greece. Even if an organized, long-term movement with clear goals and proposals does not immediately follow, this is a message that people in Greece and in Greek diaspora communities have been waiting to receive, and that the international media and financial institutions should heed.

Some great photos from the Thessaloniki rally: Spanish style protests reach Greece