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Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Going back to England

After midnight, Amy and Guy were waiting at Birmingham Airport to pick us up. Lin was annoyed. "You're both supposed to be at work really early". I was relieved and grateful, knowing we had missed the last bus when the taxi fare doubles to £40 - and we were not going to pay that to get back to Handsworth. The journey home had been on a calm sea via Igoumenitsa and Ancona from where we took a stopping train to Rome Termini, and another to Fiumicino for our flight home. I scanned a UK newspaper full of financial panic stories I'd already seen on the web while in Greece. Home was tidy, with a pile of mail, no unwelcome letters and a couple of £50 Premium Bond wins. The university server was down and is still down at 0915 this Wednesday morning. I shall get on my bicycle and go to campus. * * * Far off by Vido as the dusk gathers a liner departs. We can watch its progress north from the balcony until it passes up the straits behind Pantokrator. * * * At the top of the thirteen shallow steps on the short path that leads by 208 onto Democracy Street, Faiakon Council has - as in other places in the village where there’s a drop - put up a deep green railing, by which people chat in the street. It is one of the sounds here, along with the cars slowed by the narrows, negotiating with other cars various unmarked broadenings. Lads on scooters, unaffected, often speed by at over the marked 20kph limit. The road is at last open again but the new drains haven’t reached us yet, and we’re unsure whether we want to pay the service charge for connection when they do. Our cesspool seems to work fine – especially now that we, unlike the previous owners, are not putting bleach and other disinfectants down the sink or loo. * * * Down at the harbour we’ve had Summer Song’s mast down, replaced halliards, repaired the masthead lights, and the worn pulley wheel that had made it so tricky to raise and lower the jib. Between us, Dave’s wife Trish and I filmed him and Ben, their son, as they went through the tricky process of getting the mast down and back up. Until at least one halliard was safe, no-one was going to risk using the existing tackle to go up the mast and do repairs without this operation. Now if any more work needs doing someone can go up on a new rope. I feel the better for having seen what’s happening up there. It’s saved us money doing the job at her berth in the harbour, rather than going to a yard and paying for a crane. Lin has painted a Greek phonetic version of Summer Song on an old tyre - ΣΑΜΕΡ (oops! she put an 'R' instead of a 'Ρ') ΣΟΝ - which I cut to shape. Dave screwed it to the end of our mended jetty. Τhe 'R' can be made a 'P' with some black paint, meantime pedants can enjoy pointing out the mistake. Before we left I tidied the boat. For a minute or so an insufficiently tightened jubilee clip had meant a cooling water pipe coming loose. Starting the engine to turn the boat between lowering and raising her mast, I'd seen no water coming out of the exhaust - a routine check I mightn't have made a year ago. The only harm was having to pump and sponge a couple of buckets of seawater out of the bilges. * * * Dave has hand sewn the head of Summer Song's furling genoa where it ripped. It'll work, but there's another problem. From top to bottom - head to clew - along the leech of the sail - its' outer edge - there is meant to be a strip of light blue sail about a 9" wide which acts as a sun shield it when it's fully furled on its rollers. This 'sacrificial' strip has become very tattered. Dave suggests unpicking it entirely. The sail now goes up and down so easily that I might as well lower, detach and store it after each sail. That's an idea. Having the strip removed and replaced professionally could cost as much as a new sail; far more than a useable secondhand one. Just before we left, Mark, who came, with Sally and her brother, to supper at 208, kindly agreed to take the sail away and see what could be done about repairing it before we returned. * * * Blue recycling bins have appeared round about. Fran and Dave told us of one near them in the village and Dave mentioned a new recycling site nearing completion at Temploni. Pleasing. There are no blue bins yet on Democracy Street but we are sorting out plastic, tins, paper and bottles before getting rid of our rubbish in ones further away. How well the new bins are being used I'm unsure. They have separate holes on the top for different items which are get mixed together inside, with the lids often so loose, or just left open, that people are chucking in sacks of current recyclables still mixed up in plastic bags. Misuse of recycling bins seems to be the norm whenever they are first introduced. Their survival, and the spread of recycling habits, depends on councils or their contractors getting tougher and cleverer about preventing and educating, combining stick and carrot. Fix My Street is a good example in England. * * * I bumped into Kostas Apergis yesterday in the shop further down the street, while collecting our electric bill. Told him I’d visited St.Elias; that I would definitely search for the rumoured petition from the village elders to the High Commissioner in the 1860s asking the British not to abandon the Protectorate. There is a grumble at the moment among some local politicians, part fueled by post-Olympic resentment at money famine for local government across the country. Too much that needs repair is falling into disrepair. Too much foreign money spent in the island leaks out of the economy or never gets into it in the first place. It doesn't help that Athens has introduced a 10% income tax on the first €10,000 of Greek residents' earnings - previously exempt. [Back to the future: January 09 - the government has withdrawn this tax] Harry Tsoukalas speaks of candidates standing on an 'independence for Corfu' ticket at local elections in two year's time, seeking through bravura to renegotiate the balance of funding between centre and locality. A Greek rebuttal on YouTube includes the title 'British rubbish' - no doubt because Tsoukalas' views on the 'huge problems in this paradise' received serious attention from the BBC and The Guardian. There's history here. The prospect of 'faction' sent shivers through the British polity in the aftermath of our civil war, invoking passionate charges and counter-charges of treason and sedition. It wasn't paranoia. it was terror at the prospect of a return to the 'heart of darkness' ("The horror! The horror!"). That was 360 years ago. Civil War in mainland Britain is off the public's radar. In Greece civil war is just 60 years old; in the memories of many still alive. Wounds are unhealed; the subject is only just entering Greece's history books for grown-ups. It's not safe yet for primary school texts. Volatile feelings, including many contrary interpretations of what went on between 1945 and 1950 and the 'stone years' - πέτρινα χρόνια - that followed, are lodged in the popular psyche. Talk of 'autonomy' or 'independence' can prompt visceral reaction, outside the appreciation of those for whom bloody civil strife is more remote. Corfucius - British with inherited colonial sensibilities as erratic ('I love writing and I love hiding behind words.' 20/4/08) as mine (Sir Henry Maine on the Council for India and Master of Trinity Hall; Sidney Baddeley, military secretary to the Governor-General of Madras; another grandfather and father earning CMGs) - makes some choice comments on the silliness of the imputation that GB could have the slightest interest in - let alone the capacity - for such an initiative - and it wasn't mentioned by Tsoukalas who speaks sensibly in Greek and English. In The British and the Hellenes: Struggles for Mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean 1850-1960, Robert Holland and Diana Markides wrote - between pages 13 and 80 [Chapter 2 - Gladstone and the Greeks: The Extraordinary Mission to the Ionian Islands, 1858-1859, and Chapter 3 - The Abandonment of the Ionian Protectorate, 1849-1864] about Gladstones' visit to Greece, especially Corfu, between 24 November 1858 and 19 February 1859. This consummate politician had the delicate task of finding a way to extricate Britain from a Protectorate that had become a costly entanglement - given Malta's availability as a strategic naval base - without making it look as if our departure was an abandonment of the responsibilities that had led us to take up the role of Ionian Protector, a betrayal of our allies on the island, or a retreat forced on us by those keen for union with independent Greece. Gladstone found himself utterly absorbed 'in the affairs of these little islands...The complexity of the case is inversely (so to speak) as the extent of the sphere.' (William Gladstone Diary, 31 Dec 1858) Eleni Calligas is the current expert on this subject - much quoted in other academic studies of these events. Her 1994 doctoral thesis is titled The `Rizospastai' (Radical-Unionists): politics and nationalism in the British Protectorate of the Ionian Islands 1815-1964. [Calligas, E., 1994, A9m British Library Shelfmark DX187456 Ph.D., London, London School of Economics, 44-9204]
ABSTRACT: When the Ionian Islands were placed under British Protection in 1815, they were granted the right to regulate their internal affairs, but in the resultant 1817 Constitution political power emanated from the High Commissioner and was exercised through an authoritarian system of government. Ionian opposition acquired salient nationalist connotations during the Greek War of Independence although in the 1830s it was mostly confined to demands for liberal constitutional reform expressed by the so-called Ionian liberali. As the British introduced a reform programme that met many of the liberals' demands during the 1840s, a more radical opposition group emerged in Cephalonia, the largest and poorest of the seven islands. These political activists, who became known as the `Rizospastai' (Radical-Unionists), challenged the legitimacy of British Protection and favoured major internal socio-political changes on the basis of the right of national self-determination and the principle of popular sovereignty. Although they were involved in various popular demonstrations of discontent, they remained parliamentarians rather than revolutionaries and promoted their ideology through the press, political clubs and parliament, which they first entered in 1850. The growing popularity of the Rizospastai led the moderate liberal majority to co-operate with the High Commissioner in an effort to eradicate radicalism and exclude its representatives from the islands' polity. Most energetically pursued in Cephalonia, this governmental policy temporarily silenced the old radical leadership. However, a new leadership emerged from Zakynthos and, in the altered circumstances of the late 1850s, it redefined radicalism on purely unionist lines and carried most of the popular base with it. The `old' radicals, still considered heroes by a rather bewildered popular following, were isolated during the last years of the Protectorate and adamantly opposed the terms on which the Ionian Islands were finally ceded to Greece in 1864.
Calligas, Markides and Holland remain intrigued by the history of these years, not least because the dynamic tensions between different groups within the Ionian and mainland polities which Gladstone and his successor Sir Henry Storks in Corfu, Sir Henry Elliott in Athens, Lords Palmerston and Russell in London tried to understand, navigate and exploit, exist but slightly transmuted to this day - they are in the Hellenic grain. I hope there's another book there. I like Calligas's reference to a 'rather bewildered popular following'. Holland and Markides suggest that the way the British government extracted themselves from Corfu served as a precedent for colonial departures to come. What this talented Greek-English authorial collaboration call the 'abandonment' of the Protectorate, was an early model for finessing imperial withdrawal - one that the British have been doing quite well for over a century, and which the English are now doing from Scotland and Wales, after grim practice in Ulster (my talk in Tokyo - "England: her own last colony"). Giving up power is no less fraught than taking it, but there's a more pervasive moral underlying these proposals and rebuttals, interpretations and counter-interpretations of what happened when Corfu and Britain separated - Holland's and Markides' theme being continuing relations between the British and the Hellenes. This is less dry - a matter of passionate inconsistency among all parties; an enduring affaire, full of rumour, misinterpreted motives, hidden agendas, exaggerated simplifications, curses, tearful embraces, forgiveness, anger, reproach, estrangement and reconciliation. Sounds like family.
Anyone seeking real political leverage; any possibility of access to the hi-politics of present Corfu in its relations with Athens, needs to have spent time networking in Brussels and Strasbourg, not to mention building links with other Ionian polities. Kefalonia played the rebel against the Protectorate in the 1860s (Miranta Paximapolou-Stavrinou Rebellions of Cephalonia in the years 1848 and 1849, Athens 1980). The British executed twenty one men there in 1849. I respect those trying to make sense of the issues that surround the landfill at Lefkimmi, characterised by secrecy, confusion, miscommunication and now violence. (Lefkimmiblog.forum - in Greek and ditto Lefkimmiblog and ΧΥΤΑ ΛΕΥΚΙΜΜΗΣ and Lefkimmi Demos - the local council.)
Born in Corfu and growing up on the island before emigrating to Australia, Harry Tsoukalas returned to Corfu, enthusiastic from experience in Australia about what could be done in Corfu about 'going green'. He's a civil engineer, a successful businessman directing a Corfu estate agency specialising in selling old houses for renovation. He started the Corfu Heritage Preservation Foundation, using it to get attention from UNESCO to some of Corfu's oldest villages. With his brother, Lefteris, he advises incomers who've bought properties on how to renovate them in ways that respect Corfu's great architectural tradition. In last year's April edition of The Corfiot he announced the first of three recycling yards, charging €50 to receive rubble which, at 20 cubic metres per truckload, would normally cost ten times as much taken to a municipal site. I understand that one of the new recycling sites is near Kontokali on the inland inner road close to Danilia junction [info@petracon.biz 6947269112 or 6932606332]. I've not checked these details. My sources are, in many cases, from Tsoukalas himself, and from Hilary Paipeti, his partner and enthusiatic promoter, but Tsoukalas and his allies (in addition to island jealousies) face conservative inertia on care for the environment that is not special to Greece. Now he is challenging Athens. New ideas start small. Tsoukalas' capacity to cope with threats, ridicule, even contempt, will be a measure of the man and his growing political experience. I realise that we, as EU citizens, can vote in local elections in Corfu.
* * *
26/9/08 Environment Commissioner on climate change BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/M. Aroni): Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, replying to a question by the press shortly after his meeting in Brussels with Polish Environment Minister Maciej Nowicki, expressed confidence that the European Union will not back down on the commitments it has undertaken to combat climatic changes as a result of the fiscal crisis. "…the crisis of climatic changes is permanent and it is threatening the planet. It is not permissible that targets should be changed because a crisis has broken out this month or because some other one will break out in the next." See his page on landfill and associated issues - Green Cities for Life - and his warning to Greece earlier in the year.

"The deadline for shutting down illegal landfills by the end of 2008 that was imposed by the European Court of Justice is fast approaching...A decade ago, Greece was forced to pay €5.4 million in fines before shutting down the major landfill of Kouroupitos on the island of Crete...future fines will be steeper. The ECJ now imposes hefty fines that would make the Kouroupitos case a painless memory by comparison..." 21 April 2008

Igoumenitsa ahead - Corfu ferry Eleni 30 September 2008

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