Thursday, 28 June 2012

Letter from Athens: 28 June 2012

This week should have been when those the Greek public reluctantly elected to run the country finally got down to business. 

It should have been. But it wasn’t.

It seemed like just moments after Antonis Samaras was sworn in as Prime  Minister when an announcement came that he was being admitted to hospital for emergency surgery for a detached retina.

Looking at it charitably, you might say “Tough break, Ant” and put his optical problems down to the huge strain of the daunting task ahead of him. Greeks, however, are not over-inclined to being charitable towards their politicians – especially these days. The moment the news broke, the cyber waves were swimming with cartoons and heavy satire about the one-eyed ruling the country of the blind.

If that were not enough, the Finance Minister was rushed to hospital after collapsing before he could be sworn in. Details were hazy – some say he fainted, others that he had a gastric problems, others yet that he was not happy with the make-up of the cabinet. But the result was the same - he resigned from his post and was replaced by (surprise, surprise) a banker.

So, the governance of the country was left to limp aimlessly along as Europe’s Big Wigs met again to try to sort out how to tackle the continent’s growing crisis, and the 83-year-old President of Democracy (a largely symbolic role) Carolos Papoulias flew Economy Class to Brussels to face the music.

Beyond the hallowed halls of Government, schools have now closed. The morning commute has become easier, now that hundreds of school buses and doting parents are not delivering the kids to class. Families around the country are coming to terms with exam results of varying quality and kids have their mind on their next trip to the beach. Many have been shipped off to relatives or summer camps in the countryside.

No such luck for elected MPs, due to be sworn in today, who are among the few to benefit from a cash injection. The same state that is figuratively pulling out the sofa cushions to look for spare change to keep the country’s health system creaking along has come up with 50 million Euros for its beloved political parties. 

The lion’s share goes to election winner Nea Dimocratia (15.4 million, down from the 17 million it received in 2009), followed by the leftist SYRIZA coalition which gets 14.1 million and former political heavyweights and now 'Yianni-no-mates' PASOK getting a mere 7.5 million. Smaller parties - the Independent Greek, the ultra nationalist Chryssi Avgi (Golden Dawn), the Democratic Left and KKE (the Communist Party of Greece) - each get between 3.4 and 4 million. And perhaps as a consolation prize, 750,000 Euros went to two more parties that failed to muster enough votes to enter Parliament.

Meanwhile, the mercury has been steadily rising to 'hotter than a handbag in Hades' levels. In temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsius, you're sweating before you stepped out of the shower, cats and dogs lie panting spread-eagled on the coolest spot they can find and ice cream melts before it reaches your mouth. In the city centre, tarmac on the roads sticks to the heels of your shoes and pigeons in Syntagma Square dive-bomb the fountains in search of a little relief. In shops, offices and homes that can afford it, air conditioning offers some artificial relief but the burden on the power grid has already bought the first (albeit thankfully brief) black-outs in some areas.

Things have started to hot up elsewhere too. 

Strong winds combined with soaring temperatures have put much of the country on high alert for forest fires, and the first of the summer’s blazes have already claimed swathes of green countryside and country homes.

Back in the capital, presumably in a misguided attempt to make a political point by targeting a big name multinational, armed arsonists set fire to the Athens headquarters of Miscrosoft. Apparently, however, they didn’t know that Microsoft Hellas is one of the few organisations offering practical assistance to small Greek start-up companies trying to make a new start in these trying times, by offering them office space and access to equipment. And it was the offices used by those Greek start-ups that were damaged by this week’s fire. 

Proof positive that the word 'irony' is Greek in origin. But then again, so is 'drama'.

1 comment:

  1. Well, we don't have heat in Ireland and we haven't had riots (yet) but a lot of what you have said about the crisis resonates. I think there are a lot of angry people across Europe who see social services and supports being cut while politicians pay themselves huge salaries and force austerity onto the people. It's a very volatile situation. I wonder if the likes of Angela Merkel realise just how dangerous their policies are.