The March of Shame

They are people, like us.

They are young, they are old, they are men, women and children, they are lawyers or masons or doctors or barbers or plumbers or computer engineers. They are people, and they are coming.

Their countries fell apart, their houses were destroyed, their neighbours died. They lost friends and relatives, they lost their loved ones, they lost a limb. They fled. They took trucks or buses or cars or bicycles. They walked. They were smuggled, assaulted, abused, kidnapped on the way. They crossed a border, or two, or three. They were detained, arrested, beaten. They were parked in camps. They were told to live a life without a future, they were told to wait until their country is fixed, they were told to wait with no end in sight.

And then they came.

Of course they came.

They got on those rickety boats to cross the sea. Some of them were pushed back. Some of them sank and had to return to the coast. Some of them drowned. But they kept coming, and instead of greeting them with open arms, our governments screamed, “we’re being overrun!”

Yes, we’re being overrun. It was about time it happened.

Because as much as you expect people to stay put and die out of sight, out of mind, they have other plans for their life. As a matter of fact, they want a life worth living. And they are coming to get it.

They are coming. Get over it, Europe, they are coming. And if we still want to call ourselves people, if we still want to call ourselves human beings, we will not turn our backs on them, we will not tell them to go away, we will not let them sleep in the streets of our harbours, we will not brutalise them, we will not force them to crawl under our fences, we will not write numbers on their skin and we will not ship them off on trains to nowhere.

There’s a limit to how long you can stay behind the safety of your television screen with pictures of dead children and destroyed cities, and your only reaction is, “how sad”.

For them it’s beyond sad. They lost everything. Then they risked what little they had left to come, and they lost even more. ‘Sad’ doesn’t begin to describe that.

They are not swarms, they are not invaders, they are not quotas. They are people. They want a life, a life in safety, with a job, a home and a future for their children.  They are people, just like us.

They are people, and there’s no stopping that.

Today they are walking from Budapest to Vienna. Hundreds, maybe thousands of them, decided that they had enough of Viktor Orban’s nonsense, and when he wouldn’t re-establish the trains, they decided to walk. But these people are only the tip of the iceberg. Europe’s march of shame started thousands of kilometers away.

They are coming because of war, destruction, poverty, hopelessness. But this is a march of shame because we the people, we the European people, elected year after year leaders who don’t care about people but only about votes. And for years, despite our aging population, despite our immense wealth, despite all the good reasons for which we could open our borders, our leaders thought that pandering to the xenophobes was more important than helping people who have lost everything and that we could easily accommodate.

But they won’t wait anymore. They are coming, they are marching on Europe, and they are putting us to shame. For the young man in the picture below, the march of shame started when he pushed his grandmother’s wheelchair out of their family home and onto some road in Afghanistan. He has come thus far. Can anything stop him? Can he be made to go back?

They are coming. And now it is for us to greet them, to care for them, to give them safe passage, to help them build the home they have lost. Not because we are Europeans, not because we have values, not even because we are filthy rich. But because we must be people. Like them.

The title of this post was inspired from this tweet by @sesikar.


To hell with it – or why I will vote no in the #Greferendum

These last few days must be the worst I have had the misfortune to live through since I came into this world forty-one years ago, and that’s not because Greece is heading towards total economic collapse. It’s because the small modicum of democracy we had in this country since six months after I was born has collapsed, with no hope of revival in the immediate future.

There’s a tragic irony to the fact that the nail in the coffin of democracy came from what should have been the ultimate democratic act: a call for a referendum. Of course, a referendum announced at nine days’ notice about an offer that doesn’t stand is a farce in and of itself, and when the deputy prime minister states on public television that the announcement was merely a negotiating tool, it only adds insult to injury. But in the wider context, this is only one aspect of the political tragedy Greece is living through. Every pretence at respecting the role of institutions in this country has flown out of the window since Friday night, both on the ‘yes’ and the ‘no’ side of the argument. The best example of this is obviously Greece’s oligarch-owned media, that have unleashed an unprecedented campaign of fear and hammer their audience with images of angry citizens forming lines at ATMs while ‘yes’ politicians are given a tribune to repeat ad nauseam how the government is seeking to take us out of the Euro and back to the Middle Ages. Meanwhile, in a feeble attempt at countering what can only be described as shameless propaganda from Greece’s socio-economic elites, the government have set up a website to inform the people about the referendum, and that website conveniently ignores any argument in favour of voting ‘yes’. What makes it particularly bitter for me is that I voted for SYRIZA in the belief that they would seek to restore a functioning democracy. Clearly, I was wrong.

And as if this weren’t bad enough, it seems that everyone, inside Greece and abroad, cares solely about who is to blame for all this, and not one little bit about what will actually happen to Greece and its people. And I am not talking about what will happen when the economy collapses – for all practical purposes, it had already collapsed way before the capital controls were put in place. I’m talking about what will happen now that the question put to the Greeks has become, very simply, do you want a quick and violent death, or a slow and painful one. These are the choices the referendum has to offer, these are the choices democracy in Greece in 2015 has to offer. How does a country, a people, a society recover from that? How do you recover, not from the answer, but from the question itself?

To those who are seeking to apportion blame, I have one thing to say: you’re either too early or too late.

You’re too early because, let’s be frank, no one can claim to know with certainty what the real consequences of a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ vote will be. Whatever the result, the least that can be said is that the relationship between Greece and the European Union has been reshaped in ways that will take years to understand. Maybe ‘no’ means a Greek exit from the Eurozone, or maybe it doesn’t; maybe a return to the drachma is a bad thing, or maybe it’s not. At the same time, maybe ‘yes’ means more austerity of the kind we were subjected to for the past five years already, or maybe it means a new brand of austerity; maybe this new brand will be harsher, or maybe it will be more lenient – one can always hope. But if you claim to have straight answers to these questions, one thing is certain: you’re lying. This is uncharted territory, so please show a little humility. You don’t know, and neither do I.

Alternatively, if you’re apportioning blame with regard to the process that led us too this mess, you’re late, far too late. You’re late because this process has been going on for years, and a ten-year-old with half a brain could have told you that it’s a process gone wrong. A ten-year-old with half a brain could have told you that the Greek economy and the political system propping it up were rotten, a ten-year-old with half a brain could have told you that the bailout programmes were a failure, a ten-year-old with half a brain could have told you that the current, SYRIZA-led government was not speaking the same language as its negotiation counterparts, and, most importantly, a ten-year-old with half a brain could have told you that the shit would hit the fan at some point. Since 2010 we’ve been witnessing a slow-motion train wreck. You’re terribly, terribly late if you start apportioning blame the moment the locomotive gathers full speed.

So where does this leave us? What should we vote? Are there good reasons to vote ‘yes’? Are there good reasons to vote ‘no’? Are there even good reasons to vote at all? Here’s the thing: there are no good or bad reasons when you can only choose between bad options. What there is are real reasons, and here’s mine.

There’s a Greek expression I’ve used a lot these past few months: “είναι κακοί, στραβοί, ανάποδοι, αλλά…” which means “they’re evil, crooked, irksome, but…” This is what I have to say about the current Greek government. They may be evil, crooked and irksome, they may have failed spectacularly on the financial/economic as well as the political front, they may be the worst government we ever had, for all it matters – but they’re our government, and in the end they will be accountable to us.

For the past several years, far too many decisions that have affected our lives in dramatic ways were taken by people who are sitting in Brussels, in Frankfurt, in Berlin and in Washington – far too many, because this robs us of our sense of agency as people and as citizens. These people will never be accountable to us because they are so far out of our reach. Well, let someone else deal with them. We can deal with those who are here.

So I want out. I want out of the Eurozone and I want out of the European Union. I’ll be voting ‘no’ because anything that can possibly, maybe, hopefully take us one step closer to Euro-exit is good enough for me under the current circumstances. I’ve had enough of these unnamed high-ranking European officials who tell the Financial Times how they’re taking decisions for me and how they want ‘regime change’ in Greece. At least, if all I have to deal with is my own government, I can take decisions for them too.

If you ever met me, or if you even only read other bits and pieces I’ve posted on this blog or on Twitter, you’ll know that by my standards, this is an intellectual short-circuit. It is. It’s not a good reason to vote no, but I don’t care. To hell with it. That’s my reason. What’s yours?

#rbnews weekly bulletin 01-07 June 2013

Prepared by the #rbnews international team, translated by @IrateGreek The text companion to this week’s #rbnews international show is now online. You can read it after the jump.

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Alex the lazy Greek

By @galaxyarchis, translated by @IrateGreek

The Omikron Project team, who seek to break, through video spots and ads, the various European stereotypes about Greeks and Greece in the context of the financial crisis, completed their second cartoon. The video’s protagonist is Alex, a Greek worker whom many international media describe as lazy, and who therefore is perceived as deserving the punishment of austerity imposed upon him by the European Union.

You can activate subtitles in multiple languages in the video above. 

This second episode uses official Eurostat data to compare the working hours, annual leave and age of retirement of Greeks and other Europeans, as well as their average salary in relation to the actual price of goods and services. The cartoon brings down yet another series of myths about Greeks, most of which seem to be due to the stereotypical image of Greece as a sunny holiday destination.

You can watch the first episode of “Alex the lazy Greek” here (it had more than 180,000 views on YouTube since it was released) and, since you’ll be on Omikron’s website, you can also check out their ad gallery.

Greece: a new, tougher law against racism?

Greek media hailed on 07 May 2013 a proposed new bill against racism that was reportedly prepared by the Ministry of Justice and will be submitted to parliament after the Easter holiday. According to news reports (see e.g. here, here, here and here), the new bill proposes much harsher penalties for all forms of hate speech, with prison sentences ranging from 3 to 6 years and fines up to €20,000, while deprivation of political rights would be considered in certain cases. Discussion of this bill began in the public debate as it was announced that parliament would discuss lifting the immunity of Golden Dawn MP Germenis following his assault on Mayor of Athens Kaminis last week during a food distribution “for Greeks only” organized by Golden Dawn.

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#rbnews international show 23 March 2013: Greece and Cyprus, a tale of two crises

On 23 March 2013 on #rbnews international, we discussed how Greeks and Cypriot perceive each other and their countries in the context of the sudden, acute financial crisis that engulfed Cyprus since last week. Our guests (via Skype) were George Markides (@georgiemark) and George Iordanou (@iordanou) from Cyprus, Nick Malkoutzis (@NickMalkoutzis) from Greece, and Yiannis Mouzakis (@YiannisMouzakis), who is a little bit from both.

Special thanks to @pitsirikos, @CorinaVasilopoulou, @adiasistos, @madamitsa@giwrgoslouvaris@MariaCuchicheo@ZenonZindilis, @Kartesios, @atreyiou and @SovJohn whose tweets gave us food for thought for this show.

You can listen to the podcast, as usual, after the jump.

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#rbnews international show – 20 October 2012

On the #rbnews international weekly show on 20 October 2012, @IrateGreek and @tsimitakis discussed the news of the week with SYRIZA’s chief economist Yiannis Milios. Topics include the Israeli boarding of the Estelle, which was sailing to Gaza, the 18 October general strike and EU summit, and the links between Golden Dawn and the police,which were exposed in international media. You can listen to the podcast after the jump.