Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Writer
Living in Greece

June 2012

It is a difficult time in Greece, and that’s an understatement. But then Hellenic Hyperbole was never really my thing.

Two days ago I noticed, rather fancifully, that clouds had cast a huge shadow on a nearby mountain. This shadow looked exactly like an angel, be-robed and with wings outstretched. But Greeks, an outwardly religious people, must feel that the angels have deserted them. There’s not much protective action on Mt. Olympus, either. Instead, the Furies, wreathed with serpents, eyes dripping blood, are abroad in the land. Three goddesses of vengeance, they come from beneath the earth to punish whosoever has sworn a false oath. Well, there’s plenty of that about: the former Minister of Defence was imprisoned in mid-April after being found guilty of embezzlement and money laundering; judging by the number of scandals that have occurred over the past ten years, he ought to have a lot of company.

 

But the great and far from good most often somehow escape the Furies, unlike the ordinary ‘little’ people: homelessness is increasing, soup kitchens in the big cities are feeding twice as many people as they were a year ago, and even in provincial Kalamata, people are to be seen going through garbage skips. Greek culture has always stigmatised suicide, yet the pressure on society is so extreme that the suicide rate has increased 22% in three years: in two recent and dramatic instances, a pensioner shot himself in Syntagma Square, and a young man jumped into the Corinth Canal.

Every so often my cousin emails from Melbourne.

‘Are you following Australian politics? Not good.’

Well, everything’s relative; from where I sit political wrangles Down Under are just a walk in the park. But whatever their nationality politicians as a race do not impress. A village friend of mine expressed the view held by many Greeks: ‘They think only of themselves.’ Most Greeks would also agree that the situation here is halia: a complete mess.

It was bad enough before the election of May 6, which in the opinion of many analysts, should never have taken place. One has gone so far to describe it as an act of sheer folly, and it seems that the leaders of the major parties were so lacking in insight that they had not gauged the depth of the population’s disgust with the austerity measures imposed by the EU. Nor, apparently, had they foreseen the rise of the neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn, which won 21 seats in the now non-existent Parliament. It has, for which much thanks, been excluded from the various attempts to form a government.

In the absence of a clear majority, the Greek Constitution provides for the leaders of the most successful parties to take turns at the aforementioned tricky task. The leaders of New Democracy, PASOK, and SYRIZA all failed to reach a compromise. President Papoulias, aged 83, also failed to persuade the various parties to form a government of national unity. It has been claimed that Alexis Tsipras, firebrand leader of SYRIZA, is responsible for the stalemate, and in an interview with the New York Times, he confirmed the fact that he likes to play poker.

And so the anti-austerity, anti-bailout atmosphere that prevailed a mere three weeks ago has the world rattled.  Nobody cares about Greece, really, but here it is, an economy that makes up a mere 2% of the EU’s total, threatening an exit from the EU, and heightening the danger of what economists and bankers refer to as contagion, a development that could cause a global free fall. While Australian anti-nuclear campaigner Helen Caldicott is incredulous at the way in which we seem intent on murdering the planet, so many experts are incredulous at the way in which Greece is apparently holding Europe, if not the world, to ransom, mainly because of party leaders’ refusal to relinquish power. Even Greek analysts are exasperated: first form a government, demanded one. Most people would heave a sigh of relief if this could be managed, and with a minimum of fuss.

But no. Another election will take place on June 17th, with no guarantee of a beleaguered public being able, as it were, to exhale. The turn-out is likely to be smaller, and it is also likely that SYRIZA will move up from third to first place. Although Alexis Tsipras says he does not want an exit from Europe, he wants the austerity measures renegotiated. Europe insists that Greece continues with the austerity programme. And so a game of bluff and blame continues. Whatever the result, great pain is bound to follow, with those against an exit from the EU predicting nothing short of Armageddon.

A fable common to many cultures concerns a scorpion and a frog. A scorpion tries to persuade a frog to take him across a river. The frog demurs.

‘I know what will happen: you will sting me.’

‘Why would I do that? We would both drown.’

So the frog allows himself to be persuaded, and they set off.

But as the frog had feared, when they are half-way across, the scorpion stings him. As they are both sinking to their deaths, the frog asks the scorpion, ‘Why?’

‘I cannot help it,’ replies the scorpion. ‘It is my nature.’

The fable seems to make two observations about human behaviour. One is that character does not change, and that therefore the frog was foolish to expect this. The other is that a certain kind of personality believes that ‘it is better that we both perish than my enemy should live.’

The caretaker Prime Minister, in office for the month until the next election, is veteran judge Pangiotis Pikrammenos. His name is amazingly appropriate, and even he makes rueful jokes about it. It means embittered.

 

 

Gillian Bouras

 

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