Congratulations

Friday, 01 July 2016 22:25

While writing the closing sentence in my last article, I hesitated. I felt I shouldn’t take it for granted that the result of the UK referendum would be respected, but then dismissed the thought as far-fetched and somewhat paranoid. It was probably my bad experience talking. Besides, I had decided to remain positive towards humanity for the day.

A few hours later, articles started to spring up all over the internet, stating that the referendum was provisional (which is technically true) and it would be perfectly sensible for the parliament to ignore it, that people shouldn’t be trusted with such important decisions, and that the referendum was a draw. Journalists and “progressive” individuals the world over supported plainly skipping the democratic principle, as if there will be no history to judge them. Along came petitions, and statistics supporting that the vote was uninformed and racist, and that old people sentenced future generations, as if old people should be thrown off the cliff, because they are, well, old. Then, of course, Boris Johnson withdrew, making Brexit seem even harder, if not impossible.

So, instead of adding more democratic elements to the world, more referendums and immediate involvement of the people in politics, we’re actually debating diminishing rights and muffling voices, with incompetence as the excuse, as if incompetence within our societies weren’t our own fault. The supporters of far-right policies, since such are the measures proposed to avoid the impending Brexit, will be equally devastated as they are now, wondering “how could this happen,” when in less than a decade extreme-right parties will start winning national elections all over Europe. Because this is what will happen, if no one else gives the poor, the old and the disadvantaged the sense that they are being respected. I’m afraid that by then it won’t really matter who’s in charge: It’s going to be authoritarianism one way or another.

Published in thoughts

Brexit for Dummies

Friday, 24 June 2016 23:30

There seems to be genuine surprise regarding the result of the referendum in the UK. But what surprises me is to hear people ask “how could this happen.” Obviously, they haven't been paying much attention to what has been happening in the European South for the past six years. Labeling the southerners lazy and corrupt was relatively painless, but justifying the British vote doesn't come as easy.

The prevailing tendency is to blame everything on immigration and the subsequent rise of the far right. It is strange to attribute such characteristics to the oldest modern democracy in the world. It is also strange to attribute them to the most consciously multicultural society in Europe. Besides, no official source makes the effort to tie the result to a euroscepticism that seems to have been there forever, with the UK traditionally feeling closer to the US than to the Continent.

Of course, the rise of the far right is a fact, and partly due to the discontent arising from immigration policies, but this is just about half the problem. Once more, an issue seemingly stemming outside Europe – that is immigration – becomes the scapegoat for Europe's troubles. The underlying cause for the rise of the far right and the Brexit  without the two being so closely related as some would like us to think is presented as the result of complications in an external crisis that the Union couldn’t handle sufficiently, due to lacking mechanisms, and not as the result of political decisions dictated by the very mechanisms of the Union.

I would love to tell you that anyone who has witnessed the devastation of the South in the past years would be able to give an easy answer about the other half of the problem. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as many prefer to hide their heads in the bubble created by their rapidly diminishing financial security. Because, the other half of the problem is the impoverishment of the people, an issue that most Europeans who today appear shocked have chosen to neglect.

Poverty was so striking at certain places in the UK back in 2008, as was the gap between the rich and the poor and the growing difficulty of the middle class to keep its head above water, that I returned to Athens feeling I was coming to a prosperous land. I can imagine that things have only got worse in the eight years between then and now, as they got worse for all peoples in the Union, who turned against each other with alarming ease. And perhaps the Union isn’t the one to blame for Britain’s circumstances – since, after all, Britain didn’t share the common currency and its flaws – as perhaps it isn’t fully to blame for the situation in Greece or elsewhere. However, the European Union, as the money-centered organization that it is, did fail at what the European People need the most in order to trust and support a system: It didn’t provide a social floor. Not only that, but it did try vehemently to monetize the existing social infrastructure.

The impoverished masses will do anything to escape their designated fate, but what the system didn’t predict – because such is the alienation of the governing core from the people –  is that desolation would be so widespread and deep that propaganda wouldn’t work – as it didn’t work in Greece either. Indeed, the British were ruthlessly bombarded by their media, spreading fear in case of Brexit and promoting Bremain as the learned choice, and the polls favored Bremain. The difference is that the EU leaders now seem genuinely stunned, as the UK isn’t at their beck and call, like Greece, and the result of the referendum will have to be respected.

Published in thoughts

The clash of the classes

Sunday, 12 July 2015 22:57

In my last article, just before the referendum, I wrote that a society can never be truly democratic unless it cultivates certain values in its people. I wrote that, until this happens, “democracy will be an illusion and a dummy word for essentially fascist regimes,” leaving an open-ended implication that Greece is under a fascist regime. During the past week, I’ve been wondering whether I’d been too harsh in my claims and whether this leftist government was a sign of progress. The latest Greek reform proposal submitted to the creditors – which was in essence the same as the last one, and was voted for by an 82% of the Greek parliament, which thus loudly ignored the 61% of the people who voted against it in the referendum – came as proof that my implications weren’t that harsh after all. This realization was quickly followed by a question mark, about why did the referendum take place in the first place.

There is the official viewpoint, saying that the government was indeed hoping to put pressure on the creditors by asking the support of the people, publicizing the matter and blowing it to heroic proportions and to the level of notions and ideals. On the other hand, some support that the government was counting on propaganda and the bank shutdown to force a “yes” outcome, since they didn’t want to take full responsibility for the new rough measures and their counterblast. And of course, there are many theories in between and beyond, which basically shows that few people know what is really going on.

However, regardless of the goals of those who called the referendum, I believe it brought an unexpected change: It made people conscious of their political and even social identity. The referendum, according to its results, was a clash of the classes. Simply, the richest areas voted for “yes,” while the poorer voted “no,” with extremes such as the upper class northern Athenian suburb of Ekali, where 85% voted “yes,” and the traditionally working class Ano Liosia, with 80% of its residents voting for “no.” Nevertheless, many people – notably, middle class people – told me that they would personally benefit more by voting “yes,” but they voted “no” because they thought of the others, the less privileged. So, although many now feel disappointed and angry at the government, arguing that their vote and hopes meant nothing, I, on the contrary, feel that having an opinion and voting for specific questions – and not for political parties – means in itself a lot. Realizing who you are and what you stand for is a very important step towards conscious living. My only wish is that the awakened social and psychological dynamics will eventually lead to more responsible choices and mindful citizens. And solidarity is the value we’ll be needing most in the ensuing years.

Published in thoughts

The side of power

Saturday, 04 July 2015 19:26

Since I became a mother, I’ve been hanging around improbable places, such as playgrounds, interacting with improbable people, such as other parents and caregivers. These new interactions have proven to be a rich sociological resource, as people at playgrounds are more bound to talking to strangers, than e.g. people on the bus. Also, as a mother and dog ‘owner’, when I walk the streets I am susceptible to the praise or deprecation of random people, either for raising my child with animals or for taking the dog with us to the playground. Most people are kind, accepting and even supportive, while some are rude and deeply encrusted in their convictions.

                Somehow, the parent that complained about the lack of fences at the playground – since he would prefer to have his daughter caged than explain to her why she shouldn’t run to the street and trust that she won’t do it –, the woman who exclaimed that dogs should be banned from playgrounds, unable to grasp that most people clean after their dogs and that excluding every dog owner from the park and playground is less of a healthy and just option than educating people and expecting them to act accordingly, or the woman who shouted to her seven-year old daughter so that I could hear “This is unbelievable! Couldn’t she take her dog someplace else?” while the baby was at the swing and the dog rested quietly next to us, help me understand facts of great implication regarding our society.

                These people are called to vote tomorrow, and thus support or disapprove the new measures imposed by the EU and the IMF on Greece. Most citizens who realize that “no” is the only sensible – and even obvious – option are amazed by the high percentage of people unable to distinguish between welfare and unfair. Unfortunately, the regular cultivation of idiocy in previous decades, along with the good old stupidity factor, have had crippling effects on the sense of (and right to) personal and social freedom, if, indeed, such a sense ever existed. This lack of principle is first and foremost conveniently applied to the “other” but, in a causative manner, eventually comes to include oneself. People have replaced common sense, empathy and tolerance with rigid rules serving sides, hoping to be on the right side: The side of power. Under such circumstances, no matter the outcome of any referendum, a society is doomed to be backward and democracy an illusion and a dummy word for essentially fascist regimes.

Published in thoughts

Self-Preservation

Sunday, 28 June 2015 21:21

It was the 27th of June, Friday, a little past one in the morning. The baby was fast asleep and my husband was about to go to bed, when he checked his cell phone one last time. A friend had just texted him: “Referendum??!!!” it read. We said “What? Is he tripping?” We decided to check, anyway. I sat on the PC and he told me “Go to a news site.” “Which one?” I asked, as I never read the news. He named one at random, and there it was: “The Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, announces a referendum for the 5th of July, calling the people to decide on whether to accept the measures proposed by the institutions or not.” In total, there had been seven referendums in Greece, the last being held in 1974, forty-one years ago and eight years before I was born.

                “Don’t get so excited” he said to me. “The IMF put pressure on the government towards this development. They want Greece out of the EU, so they can control the country and cause the collapse of the Union. If the IMF takes full control, we’re going to starve,” which of course seemed to be the case either way. We’ve decided to get as much information as we could and conclude later, but before that I urged him to go to the cash machine and get the remains of his salary, since the news were about to bring havoc – which they did, as by Saturday evening one billion euros had been withdrawn and on Monday the banks were closed. There was unusual traffic for this time of night in the suburban streets: The whole neighborhood was to its feet. I could hear elevators moving, doors locking, car engines starting. People were out to get their savings. As my husband left and I went to bed to comfort the baby, I kept thinking that I had forgotten to tell him to be careful. He had been attacked at a cash machine before and, although he couldn’t remember a thing, it was causing him nightmares that made him shout in the middle of the night.

                When he returned, he told me that the parking lot was full of Porsche Cayenne’s and C-Class’s and there were lines of people withdrawing packs of hundred euro bills, inserting one card after another. “Find a good hiding spot for our valuables,” he told me. “Robberies are about to go up in the next few days.” We couldn’t find a decent hiding place, so we decided to take our chances. “Where’s your father’s gun?” He asked. “In the baby’s bedroom. But we don’t have any bullets.” “That’s OK. I just need it to scare them off.” “I’ll take the rolling pin.” We laughed at our own absurdity, but that’s how we slept that night: Baby in the middle, weapons on the bedside tables.

Published in experience
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