Saturday, January 20, 2018

From the Lips of Joseph Stalin via Jungle Red Writers


Last Sunday, at the invitation of the terrifically talented Ingrid Thoft, I was honored to contribute an essay to JUNGLE RED WRITERS on a subject once again front and center in the news (e.g., The Washington Post—posted the day after my essay).  Jungle Red is a sister blog Ingrid shares with another seven of the most talented authors out there, and it is with their gracious permission that I offer this essay.

Joseph Stalin (yes, that’s him in the photograph heading this post) is attributed to have ruthlessly said, “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.”  Whether or not he actually said that, or did so in quite that way, from his actions few would doubt he didn’t believe it.  And from the way our world continues to abide mass deaths and suffering, but is drawn to action by the image of a single lost life, we should not delude ourselves into thinking we have evolved far, if at all, from Stalin’s image of our world. 

Perhaps we’re not wired to consciously process so many deaths as anything more than a blur, yet in a single death we see the potential end of our own time on this earth. Or is it something else?

What prompts me to raise such an upbeat subject on this fine Saturday morning, is an ongoing catastrophe that many forward thinking minds on all sides of the issue consider the severest challenge confronting the West.  But for many it’s a hard one to get your head around because of the large numbers, and many strange names and distant places associated with it.

I began thinking seriously about it when Greece became its new ground zero, for I live on a Greek island half of each year, and write a mystery-thriller series exploring issues confronting contemporary Greece in a way that touches on its ancient roots.  The result is my new CI Andreas Kaldis thriller, An Aegean April, in which I seek to humanize the many aspects of that tragedy, one far too often summarily described and dismissed with the simple phrase, “the refugee crisis.”

The long simmering issue of refugee migration into Greece via Turkey came to a boil in 2015, when over a matter of months, more that 600,000 men, women, and children fleeing the terrors of their homelands (mainly Syria), flooded out of Turkey across the narrow Mytilini Strait onto the largely pastoral northeastern Aegean Greek island of Lesvos.  They came in the hope of making it from there to northern Europe.  Another 400,000 refugees found their way into Greece along other routes, bringing the total number of refugees descending upon Greece in less than a year to nearly ten percent of its eleven million population.

Are your eyes glazing over from the numbers yet?  Just wait, there’s more.

At 600,000 refugees, we’re talking about seven times the population of Lesvos.  That’s the equivalent of more than 60 million people landing by boat in New York City or 28 million in Los Angeles.

How could Greece, a country in the throes of its own Great Depression, deal with such massive numbers unaided, much less how could the inhabitants of Lesvos?  

Hello, EU.  If ever there were a crisis befalling one EU member that should be shared by all members, this would seem to be the one. But despite Germany’s promise to open its arms to a million refugees—a decision many argue triggered the flood into Greece—Greece found little more than platitudes coming from the EU.  Perhaps because the EU considered Greece, Italy, and Spain its refugee filter traps, and this was simply Greece’s turn for shielding the rest of the EU from unwanted immigration.

Whatever the reasoning, as often occurs when governments cannot get their acts together, there are those who will profit off government inaction. In this instance, it turned people-smuggling into a multi-billion-euro industry in Turkey.  The smugglers, their sex-and labor-trafficking colleagues, ancillary businesses, and, of course, those protecting them all became very rich.

But even as armadas of dangerously overloaded refugee boats made their way across treacherous seas toward a waiting frenzy of media, NGO and celebrity attention, for much of the world all remained business as usual.

That is, until the day when a single photograph of a lone child lying dead on an isolated stretch of beach galvanized world attention, and sent governments scurrying to act. 

(Not the photograph, because of copyright issues)
Cue the Stalin quote.

Years have past since then, but the refugee crisis continues in Greece with 50,000 still detained in relocation centers—as they’re officially called, though some refer to them as hotspots, and others as concentration camps.  Worldwide, more than 65 million refugees remain displaced and in dire need of protection and care.

It is a crisis that shall not go away, certainly not as long as there are leaders who regard Stalin’s words an action plan for dealing with their own populations. 

So, what is the civilized world to do?  How about looking at refugees as individual human beings, not statistics, and building an overall plan up from there.  That might just work.

At least that’s my take, and why I wrote An Aegean April.


Jeff’s Upcoming Events

My ninth Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novel, AN AEGEAN APRIL, published on January 2, 2018 and here is the first stage of my book tour:

Sunday, January 21 @ 7 PM
Book Passage
Corte Madera, CA

Thursday, January 25 @ 6:30 PM
Mysterious Bookshop
New York, NY

Friday, February 2 @ 7PM
Centuries & Sleuths (Forest Park)
Chicago, IL

Saturday, February 3 @ 12 PM
Once Upon A Crime

Minneapolis, MN


  1. Well, governments and the EU failed the refugees.
    But the people of Lesvos and Greece showed the world how to treat refugees -- help them, with food, clothing, counseling, etc. Even with few resources, they did the right thing.

    All of the governments and their agencies should have taken heed and done the same thing.

    We owe the Greek people gratitude and respect for doing the right thing. The European countries should follow their example.

    Refugees are fleeing war, bombings, fighting, poverty, not of their own making. They deserve global assistance.

  2. You're right, Kathy, as it's been a testing time on all fronts.

  3. I keep thanking the Greek people to some people from Corfu who run or work in a local pharmacy. They keep telling me that is the culture of the people in Greece, to take care of other people.

  4. It is, Kathy! Which is what distinguishes them so from their neighbors.

  5. And it should be emulated everywhere!