Monday, 21 September 2015

A storm in the Greek islands as the election result is announced

It’s breakfast time in Fiskardo, Kefalonia. There’s been a massive thunder storm in the night and now it’s pouring with rain.

And Alexis Tsipras has just been re-elected, with Syriza taking just over 35 per cent of the vote and its coalition partners, New Democracy, not far behind with 28 per cent.

Nikos the waiter doesn’t think much of the result. But, then, it was a poor turnout for what, looking through European eyes, seemed a pretty crucial election. Only 56.5 per cent bothered to vote, the highest abstention rate in the history of Greek parliamentary elections following the fall of the dictatorship in 1974.

According to greekreporter.com:
Voting in Greece is mandatory by law, however, it is rarely enforced. This year’s low turnout rate potentially reflects that Greeks did not believe that their vote would make a difference, since any government would have to enact the policies of the new Greek bailout agreement that was singed in late August. In addition, this is the third time Greeks have been called to the polls this year. The first time was in the January elections, that were followed by a second vote for the July 5 referendum.
In many instances Greek voters must travel to the district where they are registered to vote and that could involve expensive trips far from where they reside. Some Greek analysts also noted that many citizens distrust the country’s political system to the point that they don’t even want to vote.
Yesterday, I asked the proprietor of a gift shop what he thought about the election.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “They are all liars. It will be the day after the election which is important because of what happens next.”

Syriza is again forming a coalition with New Democracy, a marriage of convenience between left and centre right. In a country littered with corruption and red tape and years of financial mismanagement, the new Greek government has a huge job on its hands.

Nipping at its heels are the bad guys, Golden Dawn, who are Nazis, pure and simple, but still took seven per cent of the vote.

In the misty hills, scarecrows are strung up, ominously, next to a political flag. But which party it represents, I don’t know, it’s too tattered.
The sun shines as the rain falls, which is rather ominous or possibly hopeful, depending on how you interpret the signs, because, in Greece, a sunshower  means ‘the poor people are getting married’. It could be worse. If the sun was shining and the moon was out, it would mean the donkeys were getting married. Hee-haw.

Greece has so much going for it as a country. Sunshine, sea, snow, mountains, plains, culture, food, history (ancient and modern), hospitality, generosity. How did all go so wrong?

Meanwhile, on the islands, the storm clouds are receding and there are just weeks to go before the holiday season comes to an end.
And what then?

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Refugees and the view from Corfu

Living in Greece for the past couple of months, I've been asked what the refugee situation is like here.

Well, to be perfectly honest, apart from scenes of chaos I see on television and long threads of polemic discussion on social media sites, I'm probably as well informed or as ill informed as the next person.

Corfu, you see, is in the Ionian Sea, on the west coast of the mainland, a long way from the Aegean, the place to which many of the refugees make their way from their homeland via an already circuitous route.

The only thing I have heard about here is the work of a Corfu doctor who is taking donated supplies such as fleece blankets, nappies, wipes and baby food to the Macedonian border to give to the refugees gathered there.

This is an unprecedented situation as hundreds and thousands of people try to make their way to countries who want them and where they feel safe. It's complicated, things aren't black or white, good or bad. The solution probably lies somewhere in between the two. In the meantime, people will die, individuals and nations will argue about it while Rome burns.

Everyone here has a view, as in the UK, where there is currently a crop of social media posts calling for UK to support its ex-servicemen and women first before even contemplating opening 'the floodgates' [sic] to refugees from Syria and other countries, as if the two aims were mutually exclusive.

Questions are being asked why the wealthy gulf states are not accepting refugees. This article goes some way to explaining that.

There is fierce, polarised debate on the Europeans Standing By Greeks! Facebook page in particular. The page admins are making up the rules as they go along, partly to keep users on-topic and also to stop 'hate or fear-mongering posts'. Although the Greek election is imminent, over the last week or so posts have been dominated by conversations about the effect this influx of people is having on islands like Lesbos and Kos.

John Dymond, reporting for the BBC in Lesbos, where thousands have gathered in tents in the hope of travelling on to Athens and northern and western Europe, says there is no sanitation and healthcare, with one aid agency is warning that the situation spells 'a humanitarian disaster".

A friend of mine asked her backpacking son, who has been island hopping around Greece, whether he had seen many refugees. This is what he told her: "It's pervasive but totally f***ing ignored. Every ferry to Piraeus is packed with the wealthier Syrians who can afford the trip.

"From what I've gathered the Syrians are processed for free but have to pay their own way to Athens and from there are given a six month visa and a blind eye is turned on the northern border to filter them out.

"Met a big group of guys in the port who we hung out with for a while, very nice people who all seemed quite excited to talk to the only Europeans who'd sit with them. People really avoid them round here. I'm fairly sure every port in the Dodecanese has put up some out-of-the-way holding pen to stop them being seen by the tourists. At least that's how it seems.

"Anyway, they all made rings out of cigarette papers to half-jokingly propose to Ana. We traded cigarettes (they hadn't seen roll ups before) and spoke about where they were from and going. Many sad stories. There wasn't much we felt we could do but give them some tobacco and wish them luck."

Greece is a country knee-deep in its own humanitarian crisis and can't cope.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

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