Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Blue Oyster Cult, Thessaloniki 13 December 2009

Formed in 1967 this band, the Blue Oyster Cult is still going strong today and as part of there European tour they are appearing at the principal club in Thessaloniki on 13 December 2009. The band is a hard rock, psychedelic rock and heavy metal one. Earlier they were known as the soft white underbelly and were acclaimed to be the Black Sabbath of th e USA. Worldwide they have sold over 14 million re cords, half of these in the US alone.
Their current lineup consists of:

Eric Bloom and Buck Dharma performing in 2008

Frederico Aubele in Thessaloniki on 11 December 2009

Frederico Aubele is appearing for one night only at the Principal Club just outside Thessaloniki on 11 December as part of a European tour. On Saturday evening 12th December he is also in Athens - again for one night only.

Born in Buenos Aires, he started studying music at the age of twelve. His debut album Gran Hotel Buenos Aires was the result of him being signed up by Thievery Corporation's Eighteenth Street Lounge Music. he has continued in Europe and now lives in Barcelona having spent some time previously in Berlin. His music is described as Latin, tango, lounge - a mix of the Americas.

You can find many of his tracks on youtube including some of the more famous such as Esta Noche and Postales.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Goodbye Olympic Airlines - Hallo Olympic Air !

Wednesday 30 September is the last day of existence of Olympic Airlines, formerly Olympic Airways, the former national carrier of Greece which has brought in crippling losses over the years. The airline has been privatised after years of trying to find a buyer. As of 1 October 2009, "Olympic Air", under the ownership of the Marfin Investment Group, will take to the skies. One of the major problems of the former national airlines, set up and originally owner by Aristotle Onassis, was the age of the fleet. The core of the airline and the European and national networks were served by Boeing 737's, many of them over 20 years old.
The new fleet will consist initially of 13 Airbuses (320's and 319's) as well as 10 Bombardier Dash 8-Q400 aircraft , five Bombardier Dash 8-100 and one ATR-42. I imagine the Airbuses will serve the international routes and the Dash fleet will be allocated to the 20 domestic locations. In fact the fleet in considerably downsized although an additional number of Dash and Airbuses will also come into service by March 2010.  Total investment in new aircraft is well over $1.1 billion.
One major difference is that the new Olympic Air will no longer fly to intercontinental destinations. Until today Olympic Airlines was flying to Johannesburg, New York and to Toronto via Montreal. These routes never made profit and seemingly now have been abandoned. Additionally I imagine cuts in certain Euroepan routes, the new website of the airline gives few details but does state that it will serve London, Paris, Vienna, Brussels, Amsterdam, Milan, Rome, Bucharest, Larnaca, and Sofia. I assume several German routes (Berlin, Stuttgart, Dusseldorf and perhaps Munich) will get the chop mainly on account of the fierce competition Olympic Air will face from Aegean Airlines which in recent years has been taking on a increasing number of European routes to compete with Olympic.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

What a surprise - 5000 homeless in Athens

Last month I wrote a short article about Greek authorities clearing illegal immigrants out of ruined buildings in Athens. I complained about the short-sightedness of such actions asking where are these people supposed to go. I was therefore nto astonished to open today's newspaper and read about the increase in the number of homeless in Athens this winter.
Official figures show that 5,000 people are homeless in the city. They even admit that the number is probably much higher - something they would be less eager to admit with unemployment figures but that is not a surprise either. 
Deputy Mayor Eleftherios Skiadas had to admit that the clean up operations in the summer had had its consequences. “The evacuation roughly doubled the number of people at our meal centers.” They simply could not cope. This is what I mean by short-sighted actions on the part of the authorities. Instead of taking a more pro-active stance and arranging for these homeless to find alternative accommodation, they were left on the street. Something, I fear symbolic of Greek politics, solve the immediate problems and worry about the consequences later. The social unrest kindled by such off-the-cuff decisions is exemplied by the following: 
"Over the last three months, Koumoundourou Square has turned into an open-air hotel for immigrants, homeless people and drug addicts,” said the Panathinaia residents’ group in a letter to Alternate Interior Minister Christos Markoyiannakis." Fabulous eh?

Monday, 14 September 2009

PASOK's election strategy - will Greece swallow it?

Now after the week-end speech of Papandreou, PASOK oppostion leader, we have a clearer view of how the party plans ot get the majority. As I stated in my previous post he seems to be placing importance on emphasising what PASOK will push through byu way of legislation in the first 100 days if the party wins the election. One measure which will inevitably be popular - if the electorate fall for it - is the promise to raise wages and pensions in the public sector - the exact opposite of Karamanlis who stated his intention to freeze wages in the public sector. Papandreou plans to make savings by cutting public waste in the sector.
Secondly PASOK  has vowed they will introduce legislation to protect people with bank loans and to take measure to combat the rising cost of living. One such measure is to break any cartel or price fixing in Greece, issues we have seen in the past on account of the relatively small number of big players in the market. This will be combined with stronger efforts to combat tax evasion and to tax church properties. A third measure Papandreou mentions is help for small and medium-sized enterprises in the form of low-cost loans and an additional measure which makes sense is working on cutting bureaucracy for those wishing to set themselves up in business. Although not specific in his speech, Papandreou also foresees incetnives on the job market to increase employment in the face of the economic crisis.
New Democracy has responded that this is an unrealistic set of measures which does not entail one unpopular measure. So now the question remains if PASOK has the credibility among the electorate to get their vote of confidence in the form of an election victory.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Election in Greece - the fight is on!

If someone were to asked me today, based on the statements of the ruling party led by PM, Kostas Karamanlis, and by G. Papandreaou, opposition leader of PASOK, who is going to wine the elections on 4th October, I think my answer would be, I do not know. The Greek media treat the campaign now as a politcal Olympic 100 meters race, happy that they can now fill endless hours of television time with the senseless rantings and speculations of six people talking at the same time. 
Opposition leader, Papandreou, outlined PASOK's strategy today and yesterday at the end of the Thessaloniki Trade Fair. I am surprised that he has made the mistake of foregoing the support of previous PASOK Prime Minister, Kostas Simitis, who has announced that he will not stand in the upcoming elections - a clear expression of the divide within the party. It is a mistake Papandreou may well  regret not reaching a compromise with Simitis.
PASOK's election manifesto held few surprises and in some senses is an imitation of the Obama campaign in view of what PASOK would do in the first 100 days if the party wins the elections.
However, there is one fact no one can hide - not even Papandreou. The citizens will have to undergo hard times in terms of taxation and other measures if Greece is to get out of the financial and economic mess it now finds itself.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Greece in recession - tough times ahead

Although no one is saying it out loud, there is a general consensus that the Greek economy has entered recession. This has been partly staved off up to now due to the fact that the banking sector had not been contaminated with the toxic assets which took their toll in the USA and other EU economies. But the pillars of the Greek economy are shipping and tourism and here Greece is now feeling the pinch. With any global economic slump the shipping industry suffers as goods are not being produced or exported in the quantities they are during an economic upswing. Added to this the country so far this year has seen a 17% downturn in revenue from the tourist sector.
Prime Minster Karamanlis's speech at the Thessaloniki trade fair on Saturday launching the national election campaign is having a mixed reception. Some say why give him a third chance when he has been unable to launch the economic reforms desperately needed. he has admitted acting wrongly in connection with the high ranking New Democracy government officials involved in the Vatopedi land scandal.
PASOK of course is trying its very best to capitalise on the situation, claiming even that Karamanlis has been unrepentent for getting the country into the situation - economic and financial - that it is now facing. The far left spent the weekend in an Athens hotel trying to decide who would steer the party int he election period. They could nto come up with an answer which shows the deep rifts appearing in  the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA)which the press this Monday is calling headless. What a view of the current political scenery in Greece, wha can one expect - not a great deal.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Greece and Ireland weakening the Euro?

Greece can be currently summed up as a coutnry in economic, financial and political turmoil. The markets have reacted strongly to Karamanlis's decision to  go for October elections rather than a protracted campaigning struggle from now until March 2010. But the majority of economists would now admit that Greece is now sliding into recession. National debt is well over 103% of GDP and the European Union is casting a careful eye on what Greece is going to do in terms of fiscal readjustment. Indeed many now expect the two weakest EU countries, Greece and Ireland, to receive support from the EU coffers raather than default but this could well be at the expense of Germany and ultimately the strength of the Euro.
It is commonly accepted now in economic circles that the reforms carried out by New Democracy did not go far enough both in regard to the social insurance system and the education system. Ultimately New Democracy was forced to bow down when confronted with smouldering large- scale social unrest in the country which was fanned by high youth unemployment and general social  and political discontent and mistrust of the government. Coupled with this, leftist groups and anarchists in the country have resorted to terrorist violence to exploit the situation, the bombing outside the Athens Stock Exchange on Thursday of last week being the most recent example. Greece has hard times ahead.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Tomorrow we should know more about where Greece is going

Tomorrow we should know more about where Greece is going - that is if the current Prime Minister, Kostas Karamanlis, is re-elected. To avoid a six-month pre-election period which PASOK threatened through not agreeing to the re-election fo the Greek President in March, Karamanlis has called for a general election in Greece on 4th October.
. Tomorrow is an important day because the Prime Minister makes his traditional speech at the opening of the Thessaloniki Trade Fair, when he outlines the government's priorities for the coming period. The mood in New Democracy currently could be described as somber in that many of his party colleagues feel that it is a disaster to bow to elections so soon and that it may mean the end of power for New Democracy. Of course now that the decision is taken they will toe the party line. The trail of government involvement in land scandals (Vatopedi), the Siemens scandal involving high-ranking government officials and the recent fires near Athens and the  incompetent way in which they were handled, do not beckon well for the ruling party and PASOK has been careful not to miss making the easy political capital from New Democracy's mistakes. Karamanlis will also come under tough questionning from the media as to why many of the reform measures promised by him in the past were never implemented. To add to the difficult situation for New Democracy, any political strategy now will have to involve unpopular tax reforms among other things to get Greece out of the economic mess it is confronted with. Not the best political agenda to sell to an already disillusioned public.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Elections in Greece in October

So the waiting is over. The prime minister announced yesterday that he will call snap national elections in the coming month. Critics see this as the opposition party deciding political developments as they had threatened to oppose the re-election of the Greek President in March 2010 thus forcing elections on the country. The call for elections by ruling New Democracy is the culmination of a catastrophic chain of events for the party. It started with scandals over high level government officials being involved in bribe taking for public contracts, a minister who employed uninsured foreigners building his house, the disastrous handling of the fires around Athens two weeks ago and an overall unclear strategy of the government in the economic crisis the country is going through. Promised reforms have not been implemented and now Karamanlis will have to come up with some convincing arguments as to why
However, there seems to be a general feeling within the country of overall political stagnation. Many believe it will make no difference to them if New Democracy or PASOK wins the elections in any case. Neither party can come up with a charismatic person as a leader and there is little confidence that either of them have clear ideas on measures to counter the current economic crisis.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Greece - now recrutiing - scapegoats wanted!

How dare Giorgos Papandreaou tell the press that the country is no longer being governed. I have been doing very well - inspite of those awful forest fires, the odd political scandal and the usual spate of general corruption in the administration. What's so strange about that. Anyway we found a scapegoat for the forest fires, the second in command did not act fast enough - he delayed for two minutes so we'll let him take the blame for  not getting the helicopters off the ground fast enough. Then we found this farmer in Grammatiko who had been protesting earlier about the local landfill - I don't care if he was in Bulgaria that week-end, arrest him for starting the fires. Another problem solved.
Swine flu - no sweat here (excuse the pun) we'll arange that the Italians flew it in to distract from Berlusconi's digressions. The scandals - Siemens? - know nothing about it. I pay my telephone bills, even when I am being bugged. This is all getting too much for me. Let's have an election. Maybe not just yet. Or should I? I used to be so indecisive - now I just don't know.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Detaining immigrants - Greece forced to get its act together - about time!

I reported on Sunday that Greece had been strongly criticsed by the relevant United Nations agency (UNCHR) for the conditions under which illegal immigrants were being housed on the island of Lesbos. Today the government has reported that most of the immigrants are seing sent by ferry yo Athens and to better housing conditions. As I mentioned 100 women adn 50 children were being housed in one room.
Perhaps the vision of oncoming elections and Greek protesters on the roof of the detention centre on Lesbos have moved the government to try and save face in the unacceptable way that illegal immigrants are detained throughout the country. It is just sad that it is the prospect  early elections in October which is moving New Demcoracy to clean up its act.
  Last month many of the underage detainees , i.e. children on their own without parents, staged a hunger strike to protest against the disgusting conditons. Sadly Greece has to let it come to this before taking action. Elections roll on!

Monday, 31 August 2009

Human trafficking in Greece - big money.

The whole problem of human trafficking in Greece is a difficult one. Just yesterday I reported on the criticism of the UNCHR about the conditions in which illegal immgrants were being housed on the island of Lesbos. But Greece is in no easy position when you discover that it is often immigrants themselves who are organising the human trafficking. Over the weekend two groups were arrested in Athens, three Iranians who were extorting over Euro 10 000 from 19 immigrants for the promise of getting them illegal papers to enter Germany. In another instance two Pakastanis were arrested for holding illegal immigrants against their will and demanding a total of 19 000 Euro from each.
In my opinion all that the Greek authorities can do is come down very hard upon such traffickers be they Greek or foreign. I would advocate immediate extradition to their native countries with no hope of ever applying for legal entry to this country. Only such draconian means are going to put these people off the idea of making money from their fellow countrymen's misfortune.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Greece again criticised for the treatment of illegal immigrants

Sorry to harp on but Greece is part of Europe and is signatory to all UN treaties and is such is a member of UNHCR - the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. As I mentionedt in earlier posts, Greece has a difficult geographical situation when it comes to stopping illegal immigration on account of the long sea border which skirts the Turkish coast. The  island of Lesbos, also close to the coast, receives many hundreds of illegal immigrants from mainly the Middle East each year.
Now after an inspection of the reception centre for illegal immigrants pn the island, a UNHCR spokesman, Andrej Mahecic , has strongly condemned the conditions under which these immigrants are being held, calling them "unacceptable".
The UNHCR spokesman points out that up to 100 woman and 50 babies are being housed in one room in the Centre and many of them have become ill on account of the cramped conditions.
Is Greece and its politicans too busy worrying about winning the next elections than to care about being constantly in international headlines on account of not being able to provide even the most modest of living conditions for those who come here with nothing?

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Greek political tensions - a rock and a hard place

Prime Minister Karamanlis has no easy task at present. Apparently the opinion polls show that should he call an early election it woud be the death of New Democracy. PASOKhas threatened to force an election in march by opposing the re-election of the Greek President. Now the ruling party could be facing a split. High levels ministers are giving contradictory advise oon whether to go for elections now or wait.
Obviously the handling of the outbreak of forest fires around Athens last week-end has not helped New Democracy's chances. There are many questions arising on how the fires managed to spread to the outskirts of Athens so quickly and today it is being reported that incendiary devices have been found in the forest near Grammatiko north of Athens where th fires started. Talks of a cabinet reshuffle still remain rumour as Karamanlis may try and sit it out until the annual PM's speech at the opening of the Thessaloniki trade fair when the ruling party outlines the government strategy for the coming year. But the dire economic situation of Greece may dictate action in the end. We will see what happens in the ocming two weeks.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Turning up the political heat in Greece

More and more questions are arising as to how long the country is going to continue without elections in the wake of the disastrous fires around Athens last week-end. Why,  for example, does Greece spend Euro 5 million/year of tax payers money renting water-dumping helicopters from a company in the US and a company in Russia when it has the largest fleet of water-dumping aircraft in Europe? Equally, why were the Greek Air Force helicopters not in a position to help in such a serious situation. Kostas Karamanlis now seems to be keeping his head low but rumours are the heads of a number of ministers may roll - including the interior minister and the New Democracy spokesman for his handling on the media last week-end.
Earlier in the week it looked as if Karamanlis was digging in his heels and would make no announcement of a cabinet reshuffle before his speech at the opening of the Thesslaloniki Trade Fair at the beginning of September. Now, though, it seems that the political damage of the handling of the fires  - amidst growing rumours that it was all well organised by greedy property developers in need of land to expand upon. - may force the Prime Minister to be seen to take some constructive action as soon as possible to minimize the damage to the party  - otherwise it could be his head on the block.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Where now Greece?

The political Greek air is full of predictions as the summer ends. New Democracy is not in a strong position with a one seat majority in parliament ahead of PASOK and a row of scandals - the latest being that high ranking officials took bribes form Siemens in return for awarding contracts to the company. Now the recent fires of last week-end would also seem t show that nothing was learned from the dreadul fires of 2007 when 70 people died.
Every year the government uses the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair to outline its policies for the coming year. This takes place at the beginning of September and here there are questions if after this New Democracy will call for snap elections, will reshuffle to give a cosmetic improvement to its track record or wait until next March for new elections.
The country is also feeling the brunt of the economic crisis, tourism has done badly in 2009 with revenue down by some 17% over 2008. All these facts seem to create feeling that it is timte for a political change in the country.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Athens - fire situation improves

Monday has seen an overall improvement in the situation due mainly to a lessening of what were on Sunday near gale force winds. Fire authorities and government officials now claim that they are getting on top of the situation. On Sunday over 10 000 residents were evacuated from the Athens suburb of Agios Stefanos as the fires approached residential areas.
Although there has as yet been no loss of human life the impact to the environment is a disaster of immense proportions. Over 30 000 acres, mainly forest, have been destroyed. The air in the city is filled with smoke and in coming years the city will certainly suffer the consequences of this destruction, which comes on top of the terrible fires of 2007.

This time, as in the past, there have been recriminations that the fires were started by those eager to develop land for residential purposes close to the already crowded Athens. The communist party has described the events of the week-end has a well-organised plan to make new building land available.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

S.O.S. Greece is in flames

Forest fires which started to the north and east of Athens on Friday are now out of control. Winds of up to 8 Beaufort, tinder dry forests and high summer temperatures have left the fire services unable to cope with the number and strength of the fires. At present some 83 different fires are blazing in the country and in the northern suburns of Athens, Pendeli, some 10 thousand residents have been evacuated from there homes.
The media are already talking of the worst environmental disaster ever, surpassing even the horrendous fires of summer 2007 when 70 people died and some 6% of the nation's woodlands were devasted. The situation currently looks like it will deteriorate as winds of 6-7 Beaufort are expected on Monday. The smoke and high winds are making the situation extremely difficult for the fire services and when darkness comes this evening the aircraft and helicopters will be forced to stop ditching water on the blazing forests. The areas around Athens in immediate danger are Varnavas, Grammatiko, Marathon, Peneli, Drafi, Pikermion and Pallini. A state of emergency has been declared in the area.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Loans - nope just take the money!

Quite an expensive week for Greek banks and municipal authorities. Times are hard with the economic crisis and all that so why not just take the money where you find it. Loans are such a pain - first of all all that paper work and then having to pay it back again. So troublesome. Banks, for example, are a good bet as they seem to have a lot of money. This week I counted in the press no less than 5 bank robberies in Greece. Just walk in with a mask and a gun and ask them to hand over the loot. Seems to work a treat and not a bad wage if you can net Euro 100k a day.
OK, if you are not into banks then you can also try local petrol service stations. Firstly they take quite a lot of money so go in the evening. Secondly, they also have the added advantage that security is not what it is in the banks so choose one in an isolated area. Must be worth a few thousand.
Last and not least - and this really takes the biscuit! - try your local town hall. They are never short of a bob or two when you consider the amount of taxes we pay. Just yesterday robbers broke into the municipal buildings in Pygetos near larissa in Central Greece. They couldn't open the half ton safe containing Euro 85 000 so they took it with them. Transport wasn't a problem. They just borrowed one of the municipal trucks standing behind the building.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Living cheaply in Greece

One aspect of Greek life which never seems to change is the weekly "Laiki" or street market. In every town and city they take place once a week, in larger cities such as Athens and Thessaloniki each district has its street market on a different day of the week. Where I live Friday is market day. From early morning the street is closed to traffic and the farmers and vendors pour in from the country to sell mainly fruit and vegetables. The atmosphere is terrific and the vendors compete among themselves for customers. The earlier you go the better and fresher the choice of goods, the later you go - they stop by 3 p.m. at the latest - the better the chances you have of them lowering their prices.
The street market has a long tradition and today you will see the black clad grandmothers with their little trolleys buying massive amounts of fruit and vegetables. This is because they are shopping not just for themselves but for the whole extended family. So 5 kilos of tomatoes and 10 kilos of potatoes is understandble. Of course, the sensible thing to do is to buy what is in season - now in August it is grapes, peaches, tomatoes, peppers. This is not the time of year to buy broccoli or Brussels sprouts and you would not find them anyway at the street market. You can really live cleaply and pay a minimum for foodstuffs if you shop this way. In summer the tomatoes and peaches, for example, cost next to nothing. And in true Greek fashion you can sample everything before you buy it.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Greek - Turkish relations will they ever improve?

It is hard to believe that anything will ever change in the state of relations between Greece and its neighbour Turkey. Not hard either to see why. Do not forget Greece was under Turkish domination for almost five hundred years. There is little or no trust between the two peoples.
Add to this the problem of Cyprus where no solution is in sight. The northen part of the island belongs to Turkey since its occupation and the southern part is an independent country and a member of the Euroepan Union. No other countries, however, recognises northern Cyrpus as a country.
Here in Greece we get used to the daily reports of the Turkish airforce deliberately invading Greek airspace. Now we hear that Turkey has decided to start looking for oil reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean just off the coast of Northern Cyprus.
Secretly we all know that one of the major issues between the two countries is the reserves of oil that lie beneath the Aegean Sea and who can lay claim to these. However, one would think in the interests of Turkey wanting to become a member of the European Union in the foreseeable future it might be a good idea to at least try and improve relations with Greece. One thing is clear - without Greek approval Turkey will never be a member of the European Union.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Greece - warning: jobs don't exist

While for the most part Greece seems to be into quite a lot of back-slapping in that the economic crisis which has hit the rest of Europe so severely does not seem to have had such a devastating effect on the Greek economy. Perhaps the worst is still to come. I take the example of a friend, she is in her early 40's and has been looking for a job for the past 12 months. Of Greek nationality she speaks English and German perfectly as she was brought up in Germany. Her current job chances in Greece - zero. Why? Basically too old and experienced to fill jobs that can be filled by 20 year olds on a much smaller salary.
Her alternatives? The most feasible alternative in Greece is to work for yourself and not for other people. Working as an employee the going monthly salary here is currently well below Euro 1000. So set up your own business. Although this is a nightmare for Greeks let alone foreigners it is still possible and take some time and running around to fill in the necessary myriad forms and get the licences - but it is still possible.
Next question is what sort of business? Good question. In my view the service industries will never disappear, the hair stylists and manicure shops will always exist. So wll the drycleaners. Forget coffee shops or restaurants as the competition at least in the towns and cities in very very stiff and many of these small places are going to the wall.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Something has to change in Greece ....

This morning I had to go to the local tax office to get a piece of paper as proof that I had a tax number in this country. This tax number you need for everything in Greece from the cradle to the grave. Although on this occasion I cannot complain about the queues or the behaviour of the civil servants, one thing did cross my mind this morning - the number of people I engaged in obtaining what is a relatively simple piece of paper.
When entering I enquired and was told to fill in a form - which I did after being directed to another office where two clerks helped me fill in the form. Having filled this in I had then to change offices, buildings and even streets(!) to have one of their colleagues put a protocol number at the top of the form. In the meantime I had to run and photocopy my passport - althoug they had a photocopying machine in the office! I then returned to the original lady who then redirected me to the other two I had also met earlier in order to leave the office some 30 minutes later with a simple form saying I had a tax number in Greece.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Lock up your chickens and rabbits ... changing Greece

If you live near Kozani in northern Greece, this is a very sound piece of advice. There is a refreshing movement in Greece concerned with animal rights - something unheard of 10 years ago when wild stray dogs prowled the city streets and on highwards were regarded as targeted road kill. Yesterday an animal protection group released some 6000 minks from a mink farm near Kozani which traditionally is a fur producing town. And our little furry friends are wrecking havoc upon the local population attacking chickens and rabbits and even children. They seem to be thoroughly enjoying their new found freedom and their chances of adorning some lady this winter are decreasing by the minute. Anyone with experience in catching escaped minks should apply to the Lord Mayor of Kozani - I think there may be a rare employment opportunity in the town!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Drugs abusers and migrants - just the same in Greece?

Basically if you think about it, it is strange. Yesterday's headlines in one of the few English editions of a national newspaper states that on Saturday police continued to clean up the centre of Athens removing drug addicts and migrants from a deserted hotel - the Appollon Hotel - in the city centre. I find it a bit strange as if they were talking about one and the same - drug addicts and migrants? These are very dangerous correlations for a country like Greece where xenophobia is often rumoured about in a more general sense.
What makes this story even worse, if you remove 100 - 150 drugs addicts and migrants what do you do with them? In most European countries such people would be taken care of by the social services in one manner or another. What happened in Saturday to these individuals in Greece? The story relates that one was arrested and the fate of the others is unknown?
So what do the authorities think is going to happen to these 100 - 150 minus one. Where are they going to go? What is going to happen to the drug addicts now on the street and not in some deserted hotel? I feel such Greek solutions is only a means of pushing the social problems along on front of us. These, you can bet, will come back to haunt Greek society - maybe not tomorrow but they will come back.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Greeks migrant problems continue

As mentioned in many earlier posts, the situation of migrants in Greece continues to make news. Some 550 illegal immigrants on the island of Samos have now gone on hunger strike as the Greek authorities step up their policy of moving illegal immigrants to detention centres in North Greece.
It has also been announced that one in three requests for legal residency in Greece are turned out. And turned down for a very ridiculous reason. According to the law in Greece, if the family of a migrant are allowed to stay Greece, the family head must earn an income which is 20% above that of an unskilled laborer, which amounts to 10,200 euros per year before taxes. If he fails to meet this, his family members are regarded as illegal.
All that the Ministry of the Interior were able to comment dryly was that the illegal immigrants were free to appeal their cases. No comment considering the current Greek economic situation and the level of wages in the country.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Funny but true.

The Italian national lottery jackpot has not been won since January 2009 and now stands at a record $ 166 million dollars. The mayor if a small town in Sicily had the magnificent idea of deductng money from municipal workers pay to buy as many tickets as possible for the draw on 4 August. He promised if they won half the money would go towards financing town projects and the rest of the money would be divided equally between the 2000 residents of the town. Chances of winning the jackpot were calculated at 662 million to 1 by mathematicians. Sadly the town's numbers did not come up - indeed no one won the jackpot and it has rolled over again.
The reaction of the mayor - and he could be Greek! - I found magificent. The chances of winning the draw were higher than those of receiving funds pledged by the State.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Greek politics - unreal!

Sad but true the cartoon of the day in the English version of one of the main Greek newspapers. It really does say it all.
Here we have the opposition leader on the television laynching his waves of criticisn on the ruling New Democracy Party. What the cartoon actually refers to the wave of political scandals over recent months.
The most recent which has incensed the population and has done and continues to do untold harm to the image of the ruling New Democracy is the scandal involving the computer commpany Siemens, a German multinational. Reports had leaked that top government officials had received millions of Euros in back-handers in order to ensure that Siemens won the public contracts for public works. The previous director of Siemens, Greece and a few others have absconded to Germany and Greece has tried to issue an extradition order to get them back in front of Greek courts. Strangely this is not going too well - particularly when the said individuals have stated that if they will be extradited they will tell everything. Now that's a difficult one, isn't it!

Monday, 3 August 2009

Bravo Greece - you are unbelievably stupid!

A piece of advice to Greek politicians - think before opening your mouths and before passing laws. Sorry but I am really angry as is usually the case when the issue is the rights of migrants in any country and particularly a European Union one such as Greece which is also a member of the European Union and where citizens can and SHOULD take their cases to the European Court of Human Rights.

It has just been announced that last year's programm for the integration of children of migrants has not been awfully successful. Indeed, it has been yet again spectacularly unsuccessful. A bill went through parliament last year which was supposed to help the integration of children of migrants to this country and to give them a more secure residence status in the future. Many of these children have been born here and of course do not hold a Greek passport. It was calculated that some 80 000 children would be eligible under this bill to give them permament residence. There were a total of Three - YES 3 T H R E E applications - you understood correctly. Sorry, New Democracy but that is not exactly what I call effective politics. The other 79 998 did not want to have permanent residence???? - I do not think that is the answer to the amazing response. I took a look at the terms of eligibility for such secure long-term residency for the children of aliens. It was, of course, revealing:

- applicants must be under 18 at the time of applying for long-term residency,
- applicants must have finished the nine years of compulsory education,
- applicants must have been born here,
- both parents must have legal residence in the country,
- the application fee is Euro 900 (!!) per child which is more than the average one month salary.

All this leaves me little less than disgusted with Greek politics. Firstly the country has just received over 26 million Euros from the coffers of the European Union to help the integration of migrants - legal and illegal. What is the government doing with it? Honestly, sometimes in this country I just want to shake my head and walk away to a more sane and a more just social system.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

The health and insurance system - Greek disaster

Sorry to be so frank but it is the truth. I pointed out in a previous post that without private health insurance I would advice no one to come and settle in Greece. My postings on my own illness in the past weeks I think speak for themselves.
The government is very aware of the problems it is confronted with in the economy in general and in health and social services in particular. IKA is the official medical insurance for the employed individual. However, it is bankrupt. Bad internal management, bad financial management, years of medical centers and hospitals which are more mindful of 100 years ago. Where does one begin?
And worse, ths month, IKA, which is also responsible for paying the pensions of the retired employees, had for the first time in July 2009 to borrow money to pay the pensions. Unbelievable? Yet the government is more concerned with fighting over the forthcoming elections than taking any measures - popular or unpopular - to try and improve a system which smacks of a communist East European era.
. And still worse, the insurance system is owed million by big business which simply have not paid. But alas, these are the friends of politicans in power and the latter will not rock the boat over a few million when their parliamentary seats are at stake.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Sun, sea and Greek road hell on the way back

This is one of the busiest traffic weekends of the year here in Greece as it is the first big holiday move to the coast for many families. Where I live (Thessaloniki) most families move out to their summer homes on Halkidiki. This part of northern Greece is a three-fingered peninsula - consisting of Cassandra, Sithonia and Athos - the latter is not accessible to the public as it is a collection of over 20 monasteries belonging to the Orthodox Church. The first finger, Cassandra, is the main holday area which has been spoiled compeletely over the past ten years by widespread construction of maisonettes without any any real planning or care for the environment. Admittedly Halkidiki is an extremely beautiful area and can be reached by car from the city of Thessaloniki in little over an hour. Problem is though at times of the year like this the little over an hour can become three hours if you decide to travel out on a Friday evening and back on a Sunday evening, for example. Hoteliers there have come in for a lot of criticism this year as the tourist trade is down - mainly on account of the strong Euro against other European currencies yet they will not reduce their prices. Spoiled by better times, I guess.
But do not get the impression inspite of its popularlity that the area is cheap for real estate. I have a friend who build a maisonette on the first finger about three years ago and, although one row back from the beach, she paid Euro 280 000 (ca $300 000). Unfortunately there was new development in front of her directly on the beach - a row of seven up-market properties - price - Euro 1.4 million but sorry they are all taken - mostly by Russians.

Friday, 31 July 2009

It's Greek to me - do you understand why?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Greek is not an easy language to learn and I strongly advise anyone thinking of moving to this country on a permanent basis to at least get a basic knowledge of the language.
But for Greeks English is not an easlier language either. Most (particularly young) Greeks, speak English to some degree - the younger the better the English. I know many many Greeks whose level of English I would estimate as excellent. Yet, no matter how good, Greeks have difficulty with English prepositions. i.e. "to, at, on, in" and mix these up very easily. Why?
The answer is simple, Greek has one preposition "se" which means "to, at, on, in". On the beach is "se", in the town is "se", "to the restaurant is "se". So it is extremely difficult to a Greek to understand why we say "in the town" and not "at the town", "I saw it on television" Not "I saw it in television","I am on the island of Paxos" and not "at the island of Paxos". Indeed can you say or explain why we say in English "at the beach" and not "in the beach" or "I am in the mountains" and not "I am at the mountains"?

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Well thank goodness, Greece, help is on its way

Reports that Greece has a full-scale action plan against the swine flu virus are comforting. As for my own experience, I can only hope they aare indeed true. Anyway, rest assured Here you will be able to read all about it.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Greece, swine flu and me unbelievable - see Greece and die

In earlier postings I had mentioned the shortcomings of the Greek public health system. Well, this past 10 days I had the disputable honor of experiencing it myself.
Having returned from a short trip abroad on 17 July, I took suddenly ill in the evening with an unbearable headache. It continued on Saturday, accompanied by a raging temrparature of 39,7C and other typical symptoms of swine flu - sensitivity to light, muscle pain..
First visit is the public hospital in Nrthern Greece for treatment of swine flu. BUT ....
this hospital only accepts patients who have visited another hospital and have been referred by them. So off I go to the hospital on duty that particular Saturday. They decide quickly that I am a case for AHEPA - the hospital in northern Greec responsible for all swine flu tests.
In contrast to the media hype that preparations are complete for any major epidemic, AHEPA as center for diagnosis and treament of the virus did not have a doctor on duty - but they did have a doctor on call, so I would have to wait......outside in 37C as they could not find the key to open the isolation ward! Anyway, blood tests were eventually taken and I was sent home - the drug is only given after the virus has been confirmed!!
So off I went home trying to find a taxi that would take a passenger wearing a face mask. I was told to return the following day which I did. No results on Sunday as the laboratory was closed. Returned on Monday - still with 39.7C fever - and was told I may get the results that evening - 48 hours had passed. Monday evening the hospital called me at home - reults were negative. I asked what I shoudl do now as the symtpoms remained. Answer? "We don't know we are only responsible for diagnosis of swine flu." To be continued when I feel a little better.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Greece - asylum seekers - human rights?

In an earlier posting I touched on the issue of illegal immigrants to Greece and pointed out that the geographical situation makes it extremely difficult to control immigration form Albania in the north and from the sea border with Turkey in the east.
Now the head of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in the region has strongly critised Greece for law changes which will make the situation of illegal immigrants more perilous. For a start the whole business of deciding on their fate will be decentralised to 50 police agencies. Secondly these agencies have no expertise in such matters and even lack the language skills to communicate with immigrants. Thirdly, and worst of all, the previous right of appeal has been abolished.
All this I see as signs that the government in the current economic crisis is coming under increasing pressure from the country at large to stop the influx of immigrants which many Greeks believe are now taking away their jobs.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Link exchanges wanted for my blog

By the way, if anyone has a blog related in any way to this one, ie. travel blog etc and is interested in exchanging links, please leave your details in the comments box below and I will be right back to you.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Last post on Christina Onassis and the rich life

Much of Christina and Alexandros Onassis' childhood were spent living on the Onassis faily yacht - the Chrtistina O. Their family could work from there. It is said to have been second only to the British Queen's Royal yacht Britannia in terms of luxury. Like the island of Skorpios it also played host to the rich and famous of the world - Maria Callas, Sir WInston Churchill and his wife, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe are but a few examples. In fact, it was on board this yacht that Churchill first met John F. Kennedy.
During the summer days the yacht could be seen anchored off the island of Skorpios. If you are interested in reading more about the life and times of Onassis and his relationship to the great diva, Maria Callas, I can recommend an excellent book called "Greek Fire" which also contains many accounts of the travels and persons who enjoyed the hospitality of the Christina O. It had a crew of 34 and could accommodate 36 guests.
What eventually became of the yacht. Christina in her will left it to the President of Greece but as the government was unable to pay for the upkeep, it was sold to a private company. Now you can rent it to sail in luxury in Greek waters - prices, I believe, are around $300 000 dollars/week.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Tweeters of the world unite - help me save Freddy

This is Freddy - or at least a look alike. Freddy was born in the pot holding my Russian vine on the terrace about 4 weeks ago. Yesterday he jumped out and refuses to get back in to this ready built nest as his mother had assumed.
Now the mother has disappeared and when I went last night to put him back in the pot, he took a long look at me as if to say, No more step and I'll jump as he was then pearched on the edge of the terrace and I live on the 5th floor. As I don't believe he can fly, I did not tempt fate. Please ideas welcome. What can I do to save Freddy?

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Christine Onassis, Jackie Kennedy,....not a marriage made in heaven

Christine Onassis resented her father's plans to marry Jackie Bouvier Kennedy. Christine herself was ferociously loyal to her family and probably was saddened by the fact that her father was basically making a fool of himself. Jackie Kennedy, the sleek and polished socialite, stood in strong contrast to the somewhat ordinary looking Christine and she made Christine feel this.

When Aristotle Onassis was dying and was moved to the American Clinic in Paris, home of his beloved Maria Callas, Jackie jetted off to continue her social engagements in New York leaving Christine at her father's bedside. Indeed, Jackie had always made it clear her only interest was in spending her husband's money. She even had him cancel flights on his airline, Olympic Airways, so she could jet over alone to New York. Upon Aristotle's death Jackie settled out of court for $20 million plus taxes. Christine took over the family empire and proved a shrewd business woman earning $ one million a week in private income - a lot of money in the seventies.

But Christine's life was a tragic one. Her failed affairs, her failed marriages, the death of her father and her brother Alexandros when his aircraft crashed on take off at Athens airport left her scared. If you are interested in reading a great book about her life, it is written by William Wright and entitled "All the pain that money can buy". I find it a truly fascinating and well researched story of Christine's life. Even into the minute detail that Christine Onassis was addicted to Coca Cola and on the island of Scorpios she had refrigerators stocked with Coca Cola on the many walks and paths around the island. The greates happiness for Christina was the birth of her daughter Athena after her marriage to a Swiss aristocrat. Sadly when Athena was aged three, Christine was found dead in the bathroom of her hotel suite in Buenos Aires.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Greece - Onassis and how the rich live(d) - incredibly interesting

"Greece is a poor country full of rich people". I will never forget that was the first statement someone made to me when I discovered I was relocating to this country. During my years here I became fascinated with the life of the Onassis family. Aristotle Onassis - as you probably know - was a billionaire Greek shipping tycoon, whose claim to fame I suppose was that he married Jackie Kennedy, widow of assassinated US President, J. F. Kennedy. In a nutshell the arranged marriage was motivated by Onassis' claim for social status and Jackie's love of money.

A couple of years ago I went on a yachting trip from Corfu down the Ionian Coast to Lefkada. It was during this trip that I discovered my fascination with the Onassis family. On the way I came across the Onassis private island which stands in all its incredible botanical beauty (Onassis had trees and shrubs brought from all over the world) where the family would spent summer vacations. There is something errie about this deserted paradise today. In the 70's when the family were in residence there were some 300 staff in attendance - even today deserted some 30 are constantly employed in upkeeping the houses and gardens. Taking a step forward Onassis two children, Alexandros and Christina Onassis, both died tragically. The sole inheritor of the entire Onassis fortune - including the island - is the only daughter of Christina Onassis, Athena. Now in her twenties she inherited her first $10 of the estate at the age of 18! She never visits the island and is adverse to anything Greek. To be continued .....

Monday, 6 July 2009

Continuing on the topic of illegal immigration to Greece

Recent polls show that 90% of Greeks believe that we have enough migrants in the country and that the flow should be stopped. Yet, as I mentioned yesterday, the fact alone of Greece's vulnerable geographical location would make it extremely difficult to stop all illegal immigration.

Recently New Democracy proposed several measures to tackle illegal immigration, one of which is to create detention centers at former army camps. Just over a third of those questioned disagreed with this but over half thought that it was a good idea. Just over half of respondents also believe that immigration harms the economy, as opposed to 32 percent, who believe that immigrants are a boon to economic growth.

A more interesting statistic is the following, however, 75% of Greeks believe that there is a clear relationship between immigration and the rise in crime in the country and even more importantly half the country believes that immigrants are employed in positions in which Greeks would not be interested. In conclusion about two-tirds of Greeks belive that immmigration is “probably” doing harm to Greece.

Now how does that tie in with the EU policy fo free movement of citizens throughout the European Union or are these not considered immigrants?

Greece and the problem of illegal immigrants

Largely on account of it's geographical location Greece has in recent years faced a major problem of illegal immigrants. On the one hand, the country has a large sea border with its neighbour Turkey. This has resulted in a booming industry of people trafficking via Turkey from countries such as Iran, Iraq, Pakistan. People basically paying their last pennies for the promise of a better life in Greece or Europe. Recently there have been too many incidents to mention of overcrowded non-seaworthy boats sinking in the waters off the Eastern Greek islands with countless deaths.

Secondly, the border with one of Greece's northern neighbours, Albania, is mountainous and notoriously difficult to patrol. As a result of the fact that Albania is a poor post-Communist country with high unemployment, the numbers coming illegally to Greece are incessant. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge there are no official figures - how can you count illegal entries? Now and again the police do round ups of illegal immigrants in Athens or Thessaloniki and put them on a bus back to Albania but in a couple of days they are back again on the streets. Although Greece has received very negative press on its treatment of illegal immigrants also from international UN agencies, the problem is a thorny one. Are these political refugees, are they economic fugitives? Mainly, in the case of Albanians the case is the latter and there have been a number of amnesties over the years allowing illegal immigrants to register and become legal, many are put off by the bureaucracy or the fear of repatriation. In general, the feeling I think is that Albanians are a boon to the economy. They do many jobs which Greeks would not consider. But now in times of economic hardship as in many other countries we have the right-wing voices claiming that they are taking away work from Greeks.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Bringing dear old Betsie with me - laws governing importation of your vehicle(s) to Greece

Why not. This is particularly releveant to citizens of any country in the European Union. Since the whole idea behind the European Community was to encourage the free movement of capital, goods and people within the Union, it would seem fair that you would not be penalised for bringing your car with you. Wrong, I am afraid. This has been a bone of contention between the Greek State and the European Commission for years and a lot of progress has not been made.
A series of complaints to the Commission and a number of petitions lodged with the European Parliament revealed that the Greek authorities are not applying Directive 83/183/EEC properly with regard to cars and that this is causing many problems for European citizens.
Instead of granting the "tax exemption" for cars laid down in the Directive, Greece
currently taxes cars brought into Greece by individuals moving to Greece from
another Member State at a rate of one fifth (20%) of the tax normally paid before a
car can be put on the road in Greece. Furthermore, only one car per family qualifies
for the reduced rate whereas the Directive stipulates that an exemption should apply
to every car actually used in the former country of residence by any member of the
family transferring his "normal residence" to another Member State.
Secondly, the Greek authorities apply a restrictive interpretation to the concept of
"normal residence". On the one hand, Greek nationals who have left the country to
live and work in another Member State for a number of years are regarded by the
Greek authorities as residents of Greece even if their centre of interest has been
moved to another Member State. People in this category returning to live in Greece
are therefore charged Greek taxes on an imported car because Directive 83/183 is
considered as non-applicable in their case.
In contrast, where non-nationals are concerned, there are cases where, as proof of
transfer of normal residence, the Greek authorities require the production of a long term residence permit for Greece. However, such a residence permit often takes
more than six months to obtain, in which case, instead of attributing this delay to their own officials, the Greek authorities attribute it to the persons concerned by
prohibiting them from using their vehicles for more than six months or even by
impounding vehicles on the grounds that no tax has been paid on them.
The Greek authorities failed to comply with the Commission’s formal request to
change their law and practices (see IP/02/1036 of 11 July 2002)."

No comment!

The paradox to me about Greece - low wages and a visibly high standard of living

After 14 years of living in Greece I still have no convincing answer to the obvious paradox between comparatively low wages and a seemingly high standard of living. And yet I see myself as a fairly rational or logical individual who believes that there is an explanation for everything. I have already refered to the low average wages in Greece, even State employees like doctors, nurses are relatively underpaid in comparison to other European countries. Currently we have an economic recession and talk of doom and gloom also in Greece. Yet I fail to see it. The cafes are as full as always, hotels are mostly booked out for the summer period and the tavernas are overflowing in the sultry summer evenings. So what is the answer? The property market seems to be flourishing, OK shops seem to have started the sales earlier than usual this summer. But hardship - I can see no signs of it.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

And a response to Kat

I received this comment from a fellow blogger (whose website I highly recommended in a previous posting.)

Yes, and I think you might have sourced these Kathimerini articles from my numerous posts on the cost of living, just as you based your other cost of living article on things I compiled.


I have no problem with you, as long as you abide by the rules set forth in my policy, which is based on copyright law and journalistic ethics. Thank you :) -- Kat, author and journalist

I would wish to point out to my colleague that I am not in the habit of stealing content from other web sites. I am a daily reader of the English version of kathimerini and I would assume that I also have a right to use these articles, like anyone else. I await your reponse.

Interesting comment and thanks to Jenai

"AHAH This should be fun. I doubt they will take notice of it. I am Greek by the way too so I know the mentality well, even though I don't smoke myself..Kali su evthomatha..
Yes, Jenai it will be interesting to see how the situation develops. We had failed attempts in the past to segregate smokers and non-smokers. I had a funny incident myself. About two years ago I walked into a taverna. I counted 30 tables, 28 were occupied - by smokers happily puffing away. As I am a smoker I asked if there was room - the no smoking sign rapidly vanished from another table - leaving a total of one non-smoking table. That's what I like, flexibility.

Greece busy turning a new (smoking) page

Well, that's the way Greek health minister, Avramopoulos, dexcribed the situation yesterday. He has warned that the government is going to be serious about enforcement of the new anti-smoking laws. In terms of our health we all know it is a good idea and as the following graph shows Greece is very much top of the charts in the percentage of the population over 15 years of age who smoke. Yesterday, the first day of the smoking ban, there was the usual chaos. The ministry helpline had a total of 10,086 calls, mainly from owners of tavernas and bars asking for information. Apparently if you premises are over 70 square meters you are obliged to declare the establishment either smoking or non-smoking. Unfortunately the appropriate stickers for the windows seem to be missing! I am sure it will sort itself out in typical Greek fashion - over a cigarette.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

As of today "no smoking" laws apply in Greece

If you had asked me 10 or even 5 years ago about a smoking ban in Greece, I would simply have laughed. But today sees the introduction of smoking bans in public areas in Greece. Mind you there have been severla lame attempts in the past to try this but it never had any success. Greece has the highest number of smokers per capital in Europe, cigarettes are cheap and everybody - almost - smokes. Will the ban last, in restaurants, tavernas, clubs and bars it coudl have a negative effect with a lowering of the number of visitors and a drop in turn-over. Thsi is the last thing Greece needs at present in the middle of the current European recessions. Though it will be interesting to see how the law will be enforced.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Great comment, Ashley

The comments I receive on this blog on moving to and living in Greece are the measure of my success. Ashley just left the following comments:
You can learn more about the Greek culture at http://www.greekorthodox.com where you can make a personal profile & connect with other Greeks around the world! This could be helpful with your move to Greece!
Yes, I agree completely, the more networking oen can do before moving the better it will be for you if and when you make the move. There are many many Greek forums around the world which you can find ont he Internet and perhaps it would be a good idea if I started listing some of them in this blog?

Monday, 29 June 2009

This one just to tease - Greek summer has arrived

Some of you might have the impression that I am always moaning about Greece, wrong I love the place and the people. Summer has arrived, schools closed 15 July and open again mid-September and now the city is gradually getting empty. Many are moving to their little summer homes on the coast as the temperatures begin slowly to climb. Hotels are filling up and the water is just right for the typical Greek who would never dream of swimming in anything but warm Mediterranean waters. And slowly the city life is winding down, the clubs and discos more out of the center in the summer and from mid-July to mid-August shops change their opening hours to basically mornings only (with the exception of Fridays). Walking through the city this morning I noticed the numerous tourists struggling with their guide books and phrase books. White skinned and shading themselves constantly from the sun, the Northern European is not hard to detect.

Friday, 26 June 2009

More news on the cost of living in Greece - and it's not good

This article was pubished in May 2008 but I believe the economic turn down has not improved things and the cost of living in Greece has increased:

"Greece also has the highest cost of living in Europe, according to a recent survey by the Consumer Protection Center (KEPKA) on supermarket prices. Greeks pay –215.70 for 86 of the basic goods, for which Germans pay –162.71. For example, a kilo of yoghurt costs –0.93 in Germany but –2.49 in Greece. Fresh milk costs –0.66 in Germany but –0.94 in Greece. Local farm products such as feta cheese and red (Florina) peppers cost more in Greece than in any other European country."

This I admit is frightening but it is the realities of daily life:

"According to the latest report by the European Commission, 49 percent of Greeks say they have already reduced purchases of various goods, 73 percent are no longer planning to buy a new car, 82 percent have decided against buying a home and 74 percent against having repairs done to their homes.

One in three Greeks has difficulty in paying the rent or mortgage installment, having meat or fish on the table every two days or heating their homes adequately.

Nearly half of those with low incomes say they are pessimistic about the future and are expecting more price rises over the next few months. (In Spain the corresponding percentage is just 9 percent, in France 7 and Italy 6.4 percent.)

Today the percentage of the population that lives on the poverty line stands at 20 percent, with most of the burden being borne by pensioners, single-parent families, the unemployed, young people and immigrants. A fifth cannot afford to buy a personal computer, 11.31 percent cannot afford a washing machine and 22.3 percent a car. Meanwhile two-thirds (523,122 people) say they cannot afford extraordinary expenses and 79.3 percent don’t have the money for a week’s holiday.

About 400,000 people say they have not been able to afford a visit to a doctor."

Both quotes are from the national Greek newspaper Kathimerini

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Terrorism raises its ugly head in Greece.

Since the collapse of the military junta in Greece in 1973, contemporary history has been marred with the presence of terrorist groups. The most famous or infamous was the 17th November, named after the day the junta drove tanks into the Polytechnio in Athens to quell student uprisings against the junta. The 17 November terrorist group was disbanded in 2002 with the trial and emprisonment of its key members. The group assassinated 23 people in some 103 atacks and the targets were usually Amercian, Turkish and British diplomats and rich Greek entrepreneurs. The motives of the organistaion were getting the US bases out of Greece and Cyprus, getting Greece out of NATO and the EU. It was de fact an urban Marxist organisation.

With their demise in recent years we are witnessing the growth of an offspring of the 17 November group calling themselves the Revolutionary Struggle and it is deeply anti-American and anti-globalisation. Since its inception in 2003 it has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks and assassinations in Greece. Indeed only last week, an anti-terrorist officer protecting witnesses in a case against the group was gunned down in Athens.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

A final word on the Greek language - embarrassing but funny

A true story. Just after moving to Greece - some two weeks in fact, a colleague of mine went off to the local bakery to get a loaf of bread. Armed with her scanty knowledge of Greek she walked in and was faced with a little old black-clothed lady behind the counter. Proudly she ordered "ena psouli, parakalo" - "one loaf please", she thought. In fact the word for bread in Greek is "psoumi". The immediate reaction of the little old lady indicated something was very wrong. Anyway, having asked for the bread, she then continued - "large and brown please". The atmosphere was icy to say the least. Perturbed my colleague returned home and still pondering the reaction in the shop she got out the dictionary. To her horror she had in fact order a certain part of the male anatomy - and a large brown one to boot.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The importance of having some knowledge of the Greek language

Let's be honest. If you are serious about moving permanently to Greece, then you should be serious about putting in some serious time to at least get a grasp of the language. Greek is a difficult language to learn - you are confronted with a completely different alphabet and that can be offputting enough. Thinking OK, I'll some catch on when I'm there is a mistake. Take it form someone who know and as a profesisonal linguist, I already spoke four other languages before I arrived. It is an investment you will never regret and you will feel much more confident in your new environment. Courses you will find in your telephone directory or on the Internet as Greece is a popular holiday destination and there are plenty of people wanting to learn.

Ideally, I woudl recommend doing an intensive course in Greece, I did exactly this and although I had followed a course in Germany before arriving, I found the three week intensive course much more beneficial. In fact I learned more in three weeks than I did in the six motns of twice weekly language courses at home.

Monday, 22 June 2009

My advice on the language issue

Something not to be underestimated when thinking of moving to Greece is that you will encounter a language barrier. Although many would argue this is not the case in the major cities and the touristic islands, there are a number of pitfalls you should avert. First and foremost, the majority of young and educated Greeks speak good English - simply because few people learn Greek. After living in Greece for over 14 years I will still have friends who insist on speaking English. They think they are being polite but they are not doing me a favour. It prevents me from learning the langauge. So if you do relocate be stubborn and insist you speak Greek, however weak you are at the beginning.What you are looking at below is the Greek alphabet (a word of Greek origin, by the way). The top part is Greek letters in capitals and below the Greek alphabet in small letters.
My experience is it took me about 2 years living here to learn not to have to translate each letter. It takes patience but very worth the trouble if you intend to make your life in Greece.

You may ask, why bother? The answer is very simple and was given by the great German philosopher, Goethe, who said "for every language we have a soul". One fact I will stress. If you never learn Greek, you will never understand the Greek mentality. I conclude with an interetsing point - over 53 000 words in the English language have their origins in Greek. So learning the language is an enlightening experience. It will increase your appreciation of your own language and its origins vastly.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Harsh news - even for EU citizens moving to Greece

If you are an EU citizen, you might think that you have a legitimate expectation to have national medical coverage in Greece. This is only true in part. But the rules do differ from most other EU counties and to a surprising degree. This is particularly the case if you become unemployed in Greece and here the social network falls down - incredibly so in my view.

The rules that apply to Greek citizens will also apply to any EU national who has become unemployed will working in Greece - and the news is not good. Firstly, you qualify for unemployment benefit you have to prove a minimum period of employment of 18 months. This gives you cover with the national insurance systems called IKA. However, unemployment benefit is payable only for 12 months. And if that is not bad enough, when your entitlement to unemployment benefit expires, you cease to be covered for medical insurance. Tough but true.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

A changing factor - the cost of getting to Greece

The travel landscape to and from Greece has changed remarkably over the past years with the massive increase in no frill airlines. This is something which should be factored in on any decision to relocate - and I say this from personal experience. I am exchanged by the island of Bali and for many years toyed with the idea of moving there. I still visit Indonesia on a regular basis but one of the main reasons I decided not to relocate was a number of simple questions I asked myself:

(a) Will my friends and family want to spend 17 hours ona one way trip to visit me.
(b) Will I want to spend quite a lot of money to come and see them if and when I want to.

The situation of relocating - particularly for Europeans to Greece - makes the prospect less daunting and the increase of cheap airlines has favoured this. As I do not plan on launching an advertising campaign for any particular low-cost airline, suffice it to say that both mainland Greece and the larger islands are well served by such airlines and indeed in some cases not just for the sumer season but throughout the year. Thessaloniki has frequent - if not daily - connections to London, Berlin and Athens has a much greater array of destinations where if you are clever enough to book and plan early enough you can get a round trip for less than Euro 100. This makes it much easier and cheaper to visit friends and family or to be visited than my original idea of a happy retirement in Bali.