Saturday, May 12, 2012

What's Going On In Greece?

I’m getting this question a lot these days from outside of Greece.  It shows understandable concern.  The place seems in meltdown.  Conventional political wisdom has bitten the predominant political parties on far more vital parts than their collective asses.  Fringe parties are now mainstream members of Parliament, and if no cohesive coalition is formed by Sunday, new elections by mid-June seem inevitable.

It’s hard to imagine how the once dominant New Democratic and PASOK parties can better their positions through new elections without offering the electorate fresh leadership and new ideas.  Then again, there’s always the chance that before new elections leaders of the emergent parties will demonstrate to voters that they are no better (or potentially worse) than the heads of the parties they seek to replace in power.  

On the other hand, new elections could very well make things worse. 

Greek political parties in order of number of newly elected members of Parliament:
New Democratic

Independent Greeks
Communist Party of Greece
Golden Dawn
Democratic Left
 I’m not offering my opinion on the subject.  I’ll leave that to others, notably two distinguished Greek journalists who expressed their views this week in commentaries for Greece’s most prominent daily newspaper, Kathimerini: Nick Makloutzis wrote “One swing of the wrecking ball,” in which he reviews the decline and likely ruin of the two main Greek political parties, and Nikos Konstandaras, in “Yesterday strikes back,” discusses a potential “cycle of conflict that will only end in catastrophe.”   They are well worth reading.

Nick Malkoutzis

Nikos Konstandaras
There is another bit of writing out there that is pertinent to the sudden rise of extreme fringe groups who’ve successfully exploited anger against Greece’s sizable immigrant population into parliamentary seats for themselves, and raised articulated E.U. concern at the development. 

This observation, though, was written two years ago as part of a new mystery due out in a little more than three weeks:

“Every country in Europe has its own sort of immigrant issues.  Ethnic stereotypes are a convenient, irresistible scapegoat for political failings, especially in hard times, and no one wants to be the first to point a serious finger at another country’s shortcomings in dealing with its immigrants.

“But [Greece’s] adversaries would love to switch the focus of the debate from our country’s financial problems to our national character.  Paint us as indifferent to the plight of non-Greeks, an intolerant place where only Greeks are treated as deserving of protection, and all others be damned.  It’s a volatile, irrational, and emotional argument but one that could turn world opinion against us if it found traction in the press.  And then it would no longer be just a question of denying us further bailout funds, but whether or not to drum us out of the E.U.”


There had always been refugees fleeing despots and turmoil in Greece’s region of the world, but when Greece joined the E.U. in 1981 it was essentially a homogeneous land of less than ten million.  With financial prosperity came Filipinos to serve in domestic jobs no longer done by Greeks and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 brought a wave of Eastern European immigrants seeking better lives, but it was after 2002 and the confluence of the euro currency launch, America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Greece’s all-out building boom for the 2004 Athens Olympics, that the floodgates opened. 

Romanians, Bulgarians, Albanians, and Poles came to put their much needed construction skills to work for pay far greater than any they could dream of back home, and Greece’s porous island and mainland borders became an irresistible magnet for those fleeing Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and what at times seemed all of struggling Africa.  They were the metanastes—the foreigners who came to work or simply escape a life in chaos elsewhere.

Greece’s population was now almost eleven and a half million of which ten percent were estimated to be immigrants.   No one knew exactly how many more were living hidden lives within the country, but with the abrupt change in Greece’s financial fortunes virtually every lost job or criminal act now seemed somehow blamed on the [foreigners].  No one had to tell Andreas how ugly the anger was brewing—on all sides.

Yes, that’s my own Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis amid ruminations on what’s behind the horrific murders of immigrants and gypsies in TARGET: TINOS.

As a postscript, I’m happy to say that all of the parties charged with trying to form a new government have refused to include the most vitriolic element of the fringe that’s made it into Parliament as any part of a coalition government; journalists have aggressively challenged that party’s efforts to intimidate the press; and the mayor of Greece’s second largest city has publically called for Greece to copy Germany’s law and ban any “Nazi parties.”

We shall see... 



  1. I'm so glad to see that all of the parties have refused to include the neo-fascists in a coalition government. That is a welcome sign.

    We're all holding our breath to see what happens next in Greece. It's always in these tough economic times that the ultra-right starts blaming immigrants or other minorities. (See the National Front in France; how unfortunate that Sarkozy played to their audience with anti-immigrant rhetoric. What a downward slide for him. Glad that he is out of office.)

    Glad to see that Greek mayor call for banning the ultra-right parties. Greece has such a great anti-fascist history.

    Also, am very glad to see a new Andreas Kaldis book out, one which is for thinking readers. Sounds very timely and good, and one in which I, for one, will learn something -- my favorite means of education, crime fiction.

    I will have to harass my library to get this in stock, as budget cuts are on the horizon: $43 million to come out of the libraries, affecting programs for children and the elderly, acquisitions, etc. I'm doing what I can to drum up support for the library.

  2. Kathy, you couldn't have paid me a better compliment. When I write, it's for precisely the reader you describe: "thinking readers." Thank you again.

    On the subject of libraries, please harass away. Libraries are the most unappreciated and misunderstood of society's institutions. Every day they're up there on the front lines doing their communities' battles, yet to most they're just book warehouses. The latchkey child who would otherwise be on the streets or at the mall goes there after school, the out of work parent in need of Internet access to find a job goes there, and yes, those otherwise forced to chose between bread and books go there. God bless libraries.

    As for anti-immigrant rhetoric (and worse), despite the good showing by some I fear the situation will deteriorate along with the economy and heightened political instability. "Foreigners" have always been convenient whipping boys for those looking to blame anyone but themselves for failure. That's true everywhere, not just in Greece.

  3. There have to be people who have the courage to stand up and do what's right. Greek history is filled with those. so are other countries' history. How rare that is today. We have lost a moral compass; hopefully that will change. As to libraries. For me, they are a home away from home.

  4. Lil, all I can say is one would certainly hope so. But that Edmund Burke quote keeps haunting me: "All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing."

  5. Amen, Jeff. That quote haunts me.

  6. In the US, good men and women will have the right to do something when they vote to keep Obama in office. I know his base is disenchanted but too few people understand the separation of powers as outlined in the Constitution. All things that involve money have to start in the House or must be approved by the House in order to be enacted. The House is controlled by the Republican party which required of its members in Congress to take an oath that they would not approve anything that included new taxes. The Limbaugh idiots took that to mean that there would be no new taxes on the average citizen. It actually meant no increased taxes on the wealthiest and on businesses. Obama can't move anything without the support of the House.

    So a majority of good citizens can vote in a Democratic majority and they can re-elect Obama. Romney is a disaster for the poor and middle class. He is also a man without compassion or empathy or the character to grow beyond his teenage self.

    When Romney was in boarding school, he was the leader of a pack who attacked a boy who had bleached his hair and wore it long in front. Mitt assumed the school mate was homosexual. While his friends pinned the boy to the ground, Mitt cut his hair. That would be assault and battery if it happened in a public high school; in Mitt's world it became a good story to tell over the past 50 years.

    Last week, Mitt was asked about the incident in a radio interview. He laughed at the memory. No remorse, no regret, no suggestion that he realizes he was pond scum. It was just a prank. Other pranks have been revealed. There are two versions of another story. Mitt and friends were walking to class with a teacher who was visually handicapped. When they got to the classroom, there were two sets of doors with frosted glass. Mitt opened one set, indicating another room. Then he directed the man to the second set. In one version, the doors led to a closet and Mitt shoved the man in; the other version says Mitt shifted the man's position slightly toward the set of doors that were locked and let the man make a fool of himself and risk injury. His wife says Mitt loves playing tricks on people.

    The Republicans don't like Mitt but they believe he can beat Obama. Is this a person we want as leader of the free world? What heads of state might Mitt want to prank?

    As much as I love and depend on libraries, they would be among the least of the things Mitt would destroy. If it doesn't make Mitt richer, he gets rid of it. Read about his success with Bain Capitol.

    The race is predicted to be tight. If good people don't vote for what is best for the country, the prank is on all of us.

  7. Well, as Marine LePen, leader of the ultra-right National Front in France, said in a New York Times interview I read last year, we're not focusing on the Jews any more; it's the immigrants.

    Anyway, my library actually has "Target: Tinos" on order, so I put it on reserve.

  8. It's after 4 in the morning in Mykonos and I know I shouldn't be typing in this condition, but what the heck, we're among friends. Nit...sorry Mitt...Romney was the kid we all wanted to beat up after school. So now he's trying to take his revenge. Good luck.

    Marine LePen is, well, simply put, an asshole. The fact she's unattractive in every way is secondary. But she is articulate. And that seems to count. So let's just pray she looses her tongue, perhaps to a Jewish Deli.

    Will I regret this post in the morning? Who cares.

  9. I echo the prior comment. Regret what? Why not give your frank opinion?

    I worry about how dangerous is the National Front in France, and that Le Pen is articulate and preying upon people's economic fears, unemployment, rising prices, etc.

    Reading about the hundreds of thousands of homeless people living in campgrounds or parking lots across Europe (New York Times) -- unemployed, underemployed, paid low wages, including lots of youth -- is scary and Le Pen and her ilk know how to whip of bigotry amidst this crisis.

    About your books, is Target: Tinos the one that deals the most with the economic situation? As you have figured out, I like strong political themes and issues in mysteries especially if they're anti-right wing, and educate in the process. And I know these books fit my reading taste.

    I'll pass along the book, too, to like-minded friends.

  10. I knew it. I knew I should have waited until this morning to express my opinion. I'm always too reserved when I write late at night. Sorry about that B & K.

    And, Kathy, thank you for giving me the opportunity to present a commercial:) All of my books deal to some degree with issues confronting contemporary Greece, it's why I write them.

    MURDER IN MYKONOS examines the degree to which Greece (and all tourist countries for that matter) will go to protect the images of their tourist paradises.

    ASSASSINS OF ATHENS explores the relationship between Greeks and their government, and is the first of my books to be labeled "prophetic" by the Greek press--in that case for predicting the deepening resentment of Greeks toward their politicians...and today's decided rise of third parties, I should add.

    PREY ON PATMOS delves into the relationship between Greeks and their Church and was recently cited in the Greek press as the only "place" that anticipated Russian involvement in a scandal plaguing one of the Church's most hallowed monasteries.

    TARGET TINOS hits on what I think is Greece's--and the entire western world's--single most challenging problem: immigration.

    But the short answer to your question is that I must have unconsciously written ASSASSINS OF ATHENS with your specific taste for a "strong political theme" in mind. It also received a starred review from BOOKLIST calling it "international police procedural writing at its best."

    End of commercial.

  11. You've intrigued me, Jeffrey. I'll have to pick up a copy of your latest book.

    My own story about Greek attitudes: some years ago, during the Bosnian War, I made the mistake of asking my Greek barber about the events -- while he was cutting my hair.

    "Al-BAN-ians!" he shouted. "All the fault of Al-BAN-ians! Bad people, Al-BAN-ians! Very, very bad people!"

    He remained upset throughout the rest of the haircut, while ranting about Albanians. And it was the worst haircut he ever gave me.

  12. Thank you, Tony.

    As for your barbering experience,just be thankful you weren't getting a shave.

    Albanians seem blamed by generally everyone in Europe for bad things. Just watch the film "Taken."

    But in Greece, well, it's complicated. Many Greeks can trace their roots back to Albania and the Christian Albanians share the same Eastern Orthodox roots as Greeks. In fact, some of the most successful "Greeks" were of Albanian extraction.

    Albanians have also done much of the hard manual labor in Greece for decades. And yes, some are involved in criminal activities on a level that regrettably tarnishes the image of all. And there's also memories of the war.

    Bottom line: "Blame it on the Albanians" has become a quick and easy out for many.

  13. Thanks a lot, Jeff, for your "commercial." Always good to read more about interesting books.

    I just raced through Camilleri's latest Montalbano adventure in The Potter's Field. Fun, hilarious and well-done.

    Now, am reading about the lives of the Roma community in Britain in Stef Penney's The Invisible Ones, a quite compelling book. I think it's forgotten that the Roma have been so abused and discriminated against in Europe and in WWII by the fascists. And I'm reminded that Sarkozy deported some Romas not that long ago.

    I'll add Assassins of Athens to my TBR mountain, which the library has, so soon I'll pick it up. Knowing more about Greece is on my agenda.

  14. Aha, you're ahead of me on Camilleri by one, though I think he and his co-author have a new one coming out any day.

    On the Roma, yes, their story is compelling ... complex ... and unique. I tried to tell it as the Greeks see it in "Target: Tinos," for we Americans have an entirely different view of what we call gypsies that do the Greeks or, for that matter, the rest of Europe. Sarkozy, to his shame--and an inevitable fine from the EU--did indeed illegally eject roma a few years back.

    And thank you on adding "Assassins of Athens" to Mount Kathy. I sincerely believe you'll like it.

  15. Late to this one, but I think everyone is watching Greece with a great deal of interest. We have an awful situation where the same unelected bankers and politicians who caused this almighty mess are now foisting their 'austerity' measures on people, asking them to soak up all the pain, while they continue as before, sharing none of the hardship. It simply cannot hold. Either in Greece, or in Spain, Italy and elsewhere.

    I'll probably blog more on this later this week, but here in the UK we are being plunged back into recession by ideological nitwits who, rather than taking the simple means of spending some money, investing in schools, manufacturing and public works, are against all logic cutting benefits and other state spending. 84% of spending cuts are still to happen, and yet people - ordinary people not those taking the decisions who continue to live the life of Riley - are already starting to struggle. Grim times lie ahead. At the least, though it's small comfort for those affected, it will nail to the sinister lie of 'small government' being a panacea for all ills. We need more government right now.

  16. I think I will like it. I'm just torn about which of the two books to read first, but I think the library decided that for me, as Target: Tinos is not yet in the system.

    I am interested in seeing how the Greeks see the Roma, who have had an awful history. I just read in Stef Penney's book about their enslavement in Rumania. I did know about the Nazis' targeting them.

    As many others, I am watching the situation in Greece following the elections. How interesting. It appears that the people have spoken. But what will the next steps be?

  17. Right on, Dan! Good comments.

    Over here, as is shown with JPMorgan's loss of $2 billion, and with them circumventing bank regulations (whatever is left of them!), the banks are doing the same things that got the U.S. into this financial mess.

    Meanwhile, Wall Street profits and huge salaries and bonuses continue. A jobless recovery continues. Unemployment is high. The latest news is that college student debt is $1 trillion, larger than credit card debt. And half of college graduates can't find jobs.

  18. Kathy, I don't think it's so much that the Greek people have "spoken" as reacted. All they know for sure is that they HATE their current political leadership and are reaching out for anyone but those who've been in power. These are fertile times for demagoguery and that I fear is what Greeks must be wary of more than anything else if things are not to surely get much worse.

    Dan, whatever time you arrive on the scene is the right time. Yes, the have-nots of Europe are suffering for the haves' mistakes. And in the United States more demagogues are massed to snatch the chance of economic recovery from the jaws of the same austerity beast that brought on the Great Depression. Wall Street and Big Health Care do not want to change their form of welfare state. They like things as they are and are prepared to spend whatever it takes to convince the electorate that others are to blame and that what's best for the top 0.1% is best for the remaining 99.9%. And their damn good at marketing the concept.

    So please tee-off on the subject to your heart's content. The western world needs your voice.

  19. I say let the Greek people oppose austerity, layoffs, wage, pension and health care cuts. They're the ones who have to live with the awful situation. It's what the leaders propose and what they do and then what the people do in response.

    Yes, yes and yes to what's happening in the U.S. Big Health Care, Big Pharma, Wall Street, Big Oil don't want any changes if they affect their profits; in fact, they want more.

    This, while students have enormous debt and can't find jobs, 50 million still don't have health coverage, millions don't have jobs, etc.

    Right, and they are prepared to spend the money it takes to win the electorate. It is so disheartening to see people being won to supporting policies that counter their own interests, i.e., endangering Medicare and Social Security, to name two programs.

    So much is at stake that I'm burying myself in mysteries, while supporting anyone and everyone who's out there telling the truth.

    It's hard to find that in the mass media that millions of people watch or read.