Published on 17 Jun 2012

Dreams and nightmares in Athens

Joy was it to be alive in Omonia Square in downtown Athens last night. The roar from a thousand bars, the honking of horns, revving of motorbikes, screaming of sirens, bomb-like banging and flaring of fireworks, and above all the unalloyed ecstasy of ordinary Greeks was awesome to behold. They clambered onto any available conveyance to steam through the city and congregate in this Square that has seen more politics than any self respecting human can hope to bear. 

It should have been a knife-edge night when in footballing defeat to mighty Russia, Greeks settled back to the ghastly practical uncertainties that beset them.

Instead their team beat Putin’s boys. Uncertainty turned very fast to celebration and then soured to name calling as it dawned upon them that the Euro Championships in Ukraine could contort in such a way that Greece would play who but even mightier Germany. Germany, God of the other Euro – the cash, the curse, the undoing of Greece’s traditional modes of wayward governance and corruption.

The chanting was amongst the most obscene I’ve ever heard. In short, Angela Merkel was being invited to put the entire Euro crisis up her posterior.

Greece's soccer fans celebrate victory against Russia after their Group A Euro 2012 soccer match at the National stadium in Warsaw
Greece's soccer fans celebrate victory against Russia after their Group A Euro 2012 soccer match at the National stadium in Warsaw

Warm dawn announced this day of voting, this day of decision which every one of us here senses will render no decision whose ramifications anyone will be fully able to understand.

This is the petard upon which Europe and that includes us, is hoist. In so many ways Athens is calm and normal despite the unexpected football win and today’s voting.

Scratch the surface and you meet Professor Vassilis Theodoropoulos of the Agia Sophia Children’s’ Hospital who tells me how the vast €58 billion health insurance fund that somehow found its way into the Central bank and quite simply disappeared.  His young cancer patients are desperately short of cancer drugs.

Scratch the surface and you meet the unemployed, the hungry and the fearful. This is a catastrophe. This is not what Plato had in mind. The ruins of the Acropolis tower above every vantage point in the city, whilst below the people sweat through a labyrinth of streets where democracy has so far failed.

Plato must be holding his elderly breath against what on earth emerges from today’s busy ballot boxes.

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18 reader comments

  1. jimmythefish says:

    God save us all from the pathetic football fan mentality..

  2. Robert Taggart says:

    How much better would they do with the ‘Bosch’ in charge ?!
    The choice be theirs – Merkel or Rehagel !!

    1. Moonbeach says:

      What’s wrong with Greeks being in charge? The lunacy that is the undemocratic EC has allowed politicians to run riot and we must pay for allowing them to do so.

      But trade was OK before Mitterand and Kohl screwed things up and it will be OK after.

      Many of our fathers fought to stop German domination of Europe and, having lived in Germany for many years, I certainly do not want German laws and policing in UK.

    2. BillyFootballopoulos says:

      Rehaggel. He brought us Glory.

  3. Paul Bradley says:

    What a terrible time for the Greeks and no better for them who ever is elected into power today. Thank goodness they at least had the happiness of seeing their team beat the Russians at the Euro football championships. BTW it’s obvious that poor Jon Snow is not too well up on the sport with his frequent references here and on twitter to ‘soccer’ aka as football in most of the world.

  4. adrian clarke says:

    When is a country no longer a sovereign entity? When it is colonised,when it is a republic or when it is part of the EU.The EU a non democratic grouping of Nation States , subservient to a foreign Parliament and Commission over which each individual State has no control,but which the stronger States exert an equalled power.This is exacerbated by those states that pooled their currency within the Euro, quite clearly for some whose leaders, probably with no mandate saw an economic Utopia.
    The banking crisis has changed all that and the realisation in some quarters that there is no Utopia,no control and the only real hope is the totally unacceptable Federation ruled inevitably by Germany.
    The only answer for Greece,and probablyly the rest of the Euro, is a quick early exit and for the remainder an orderly one. Myself i would sooner it bought the break up of the Euro and ourself the democratic choice(referendum)on staying or leaving the whole doomed experiment

    1. Moonbeach says:

      Well said Adrian. What amazes me is that Politicians including our own lightweights seem to think that a European superstate is possible.

      Have they learned nothing from the Scots, Welsh, Cornish, Basques, Catalans, Belgians and peoples of the old Russian Empire?

      The message surely is more local accountability and less central control. No wonder the ‘charismatic’ Rumpy Pumpy and Co don’t want democracy whereby the majority of a nations people would be required for rule changes!

      Perhaps Nintendo could produce a computer game around dismantling the EU.

      The challenge would be to dismantle the pension fund, find useful jobs for the bureaucrats and flog off the infrastructure in France and Belgium. Then the winner could distribute the profits to the poor states that have paid for this over the years.

      But, anyway, after a minority of more than 29% of frightened Greeks voted in favour of German Citizenship, I heed the words of Virgil: “Do not trust the horse, Trojans. Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts.”

  5. Anthony Martin says:

    The Greeks have a lot riding on their shoulders. I don’t mean making the choice in this hideous vote, I mean to defend their reputation and respect against the barrage of prejudice attacks that have taken place across Europe, esp England.
    The Greeks have become the victims of a system that is ensnaring most EU citizens. That system is like a Pyramid scam where everyone plays part of it, believing it ‘rewards’ those who ‘work hard’. That system is predatory capitalism and it, like a Pyramid scam, inexorably leads to a minority of ‘winners’ while the majority ‘lose’. The minority hold the reigns of power and media, while the ‘losers’ only look on and complain in vein.
    The problem here is, in a Darwinian ‘Survival Of The Fittest’ sense, the losers would perish. But, in this economic sense, they are left to commit ‘crimes’ and seek a rebalance in equality thru desparation.
    What we see in Greece is the result of Capitalist Pyramid scam that’ll spread across the world and cause misery & hate like never before, unless the system is changes, which I doubt.
    The world’s on a course that’ll lead to conflict witnessed less than a century ago &, it’s the corrupt wealthy governance to blame.

  6. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    Tomorrow will be a blog day ,when we have the results. On holidays, there are thousands available in Greece. One would think that more would take advantage of the cheaper hoiday in beautiful Greece.

    1. alison graham says:

      Having worked and lived in Athens for a decade, I know that the first thought in any Greek mind will be ‘here comes a tourist – quadruple the prices’ – I have been apologised to, in Greek, by waiters who said ‘sorry I thought you were a tourist….’

      THis is not to say that I don’t feel deeply for ordinary Greeks who (Like us in the UK) never started this but who are the ones paying an inordinate price for a very few years of living the so’called high life.

  7. Michael Coldbeck says:

    It’s a pedantic point in the face of so much human suffering but on tonight’s report Jon Snow implied that Plato was an advocate of democracy. He wasn’t. He despised democracy, it being the democracy which had condemned his beloved teacher Socrates to death. Plato felt that democracies too easily fell under the sway of demagogues. He advocated a form of technocracy – rule by ‘philosopher kings’ trained in the arts and ethics of government.

  8. Barbara says:

    Is it possible for the eurozone to survive in its present form?

    Are Greece , Ireland , Spain , Portugal and possibly Italy going to be able to realistically meet their debt liabilities?

    Will austerity enable survival and continuation and debt repayment whilst enabling the country to grow?

    Are the stronger members of the Eurozone going to tolerate this endless need to bail out the weaker members?

    Can the Eurozone take action to recover the money filched by the corrupt politicians etc.

    If the Eurozone is goingto survive then it would seem necessary to me for the weaker countries to have a lower value euro. Then the European ideals could remain intact and the diverse membership of Europe would be stable.[in membership]at least.Instead of more bailout perhaps the stronger countries could promote growth without using Greek banking. Possibly investment from outside to get the Greeks back to work.

    Did the 85 year old man invest for his retirement?

    Banking must be reformed . Greeks could start to use their gardens for growing food[ I think of the war effort in Britain in the 40’s.

    The politician who stated in your interview that the choice is between a hard road and chaos is right

  9. PROF.BASIL THEODOROPOULOS says:

    THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR YOUR COOPERATIUON Mr.SNOW.
    AFTER OUR ELECTION DAY WE WILL DO OUR BEST TO SUPPORT OUR PATIENTS ON. WE WILL REMAIN CALM AND WE WILL FIGHT AGAIN AND AGAIN TO THE PEOPLE` S VICTORY. HAVE A NICE CAREER I `LL FOLLOW YOU, FRIENDLY YOURS PROF. BASIL THEODOROPOULOS VICE PRESIDENT OF THE Federation of Hospital Doctors of Greece

  10. Barbara says:

    I recall the development of Israel following the war. Many worked in communes to survive and build the country.

    Of course there were problems but the overall movement was successful as a means of nation building.Everyone worked . They had to.

    It was an ethos and a philosophy that created a prosperous country out of very little. And of course Jews in Amserica aided them.

    Where are the wealthy Greeks and how are they helping ? Many of them contributed to this disastrous situation.

    I do not know if any part of this situation is comparable. However I do remember allotments created in public parks to enable people here to grow food during and after the wars. Many still do grow their own food. Excellent for health, motivation and of course personal economics.

  11. Dimitris Kioussis says:

    It is a shame that with the exception of one BBC presenter, no other journalist places the accent on the word SYRIZA in the right place, even after their Greek interlocutors have pronounced it correctly for them. The accent goes on the first syllable : SY’RIZA, NOT the second : SYRI’ZA
    Dimitris Kioussis

    1. Robert Taggart says:

      Sounds uncomfortably like Syria.
      We all know what that leads to !

  12. Mudplugger says:

    As the predictable non-result of the Greek Election #2 emerges, followed by the enthusiastic inaction of those in the EU responsible for the origins of the whole situation, one question remains outstanding….

    How long is this road, the one down which the ‘can’ is so frequently kicked by them and, when this ever-mobile ‘can’ finally reaches the T-junction of destiny, who is going to have the courage to do what should have been done more than two years ago and also to accept responsibility for the additional damage their addictive can-kicking habit has caused ?

    1. Kes says:

      The road is as long as its paving of taxpayers Euros etc will allow. The idiots in Brussels will spend until ruin to save their daft commingled-fiat money experiment. The Euro will eventually prove very costly indeed both in money terms but also in a huge step away from democracy and individual liberty.

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