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Sunday, 4 November 2007

Yearning, burning and earning

Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias to Parliament this week
Greece will not have a separate environment ministry for another two or three years. Greece is lagging way behind its other European Union partners with regard to its political agenda and its citizens’ awareness of environmental issues.
Theodota Nantsou, head of environmental policy for WWF Hellas:

Every environmental crisis, whether great or small, shows there is a pressing need to restructure the national system of environmental management and protection...The Environment and Public Works Ministry continues to refuse to provide any information regarding the distribution of public funds it is supposed to be making available for environmental protection through the Program for Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development (ETERPS), nor regarding the imposition of fines for crimes related to the environment. Until last year, the ministry’s political leadership fought hard to cut significant funds from the Third Community Support Framework earmarked for protected areas and threatened species. Meanwhile the lack of coordination between services and ministries, insufficient staff, lack of structures and infrastructures, not to mention corruption, show that Greece is unable in practice to deal with the accumulated environmental problems.
When I quote these individuals from Greece, including her Prime Minister who spoke on this on Thursday, I recognise, as should all who think they can watch this wicked problem from some position of moral safety, that these problems are inflamed - literally - by desire for Greek land that exists among Greek citizens but starts far beyond Greece, in internationally stirred yearning for Greece, in a global market for an idea of place that feeds on and desires to consume Greece. Every commodifying exercise, internal and external, every sexy landscape image in glossy spreads, the posters and pamphlets at conference stands and, of course, on the web, enlivens the market for matches and turns the gaze of the profiteer towards the temptations of dry tinder. Yearning leads to burning leads to earning. This is a problem for me, for everyone. If Greece finds solutions, the world finds solutions. Hurling imprecations at the corrupt may be personal therapy. It's not politics.
[For much more information - and greater insight on this see American in Athens blog
[note re Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature; EU eco-convictions and see also Yazan Badran on Global Voices]

Dear X. Good to hear from you. ‘Hope your road is a long one. May there be many summer mornings when, with what pleasure, what joy, you enter harbours you're seeing for the first time'. You ask me when G's case will come to court. The case is in a queue. We have heard it will be heard after Christmas but we have also heard his lawyer say ‘it might just fade away’. What we have learned is that our Prime Minister has threatened – through diplomatic channels – to invade Corfu – should G. faces execution for his son’s deed. Our troops are already training for a parachute drop on Corfu (I am supposed to keep this secret but I know I can trust you). First a small commando team will try to rescue G by dressing up as Greek policemen and entering the jail with forged papers – and some money in brown envelopes. If that fails and shooting starts then an invasion fleet will bombard the island, take over the airport and march on Corfu town. I have said too much already .... Seriously though (I'd appreciate it if you'd stop laughing!) we now understand that this problem began because G, who is a fine carpenter, electrician and plumber, had done some services for the Mayor as a result of which he, of all the other foreign yachtsmen moored in the harbour, was allowed access to the electric supply that powers the street lights on the harbour wall. G could use power tools on his boat and have a TV and so on. For everyone else, except the fishermen for whom, under EU law, the harbour is designated, the only power supply is their own batteries. This applies to my boat and has never been a problem as my mooring is free. Brilliant arrangement! Everyone happy. But a Greek yachtsman arrived last summer and began complaining to the Mayor that one Englishman was getting free electricity. The Mayor now had a problem. In reality no-one who is not a fisherman should have electricity. See how complicated this gets! The Mayor is in a quandary. He hears the complaint but he is friendly with G and values his skills. They have a deal. However the new Greek yachtsman is a persistent complainant. The Mayor was saved by the incident of F’s girl friend’s panties (which I told you about in my last letter, mentioning that G as F's dad takes the rap for hauling up the knickers even tho' they were came down again quickly), because by this time some of the fishermen were asking why the yachtsmen even had lights on the harbour mole, let alone a connection like G’s to the actual power cable. The Greek yachtsman complained to the Mayor about F’s girl friend’s knickers raised beneath F’s Greek courtesy flag. The police were summoned. You heard what happened. They ordered the knickers down. The Mayor took away G’s electricity and told the Greek yachtsman that no-one - but no-one - who was not a fishermen could plug into the harbour supply. Indeed, at the height of the crisis, the mayor ordered all lights on the harbour wall to be turned off leaving the mole in darkness. What happened next? F’s girl friend was returning one night to his boat as she tried to step from the wall onto his boat in the dark she fell in the harbour and was left hanging by one leg with her head in the water. Luckily F heard her struggles and went to her rescue. She could have drowned and all laughter would have ceased. G told the Mayor about the accident. As a result the harbour lights were immediately switched on again. The Mayor could say to the fishermen that he must respect the safety of the people on the yachts, and he could say to the yachtsman who was complaining that now nobody - Greek or foreigner – has direct access to the electric supply, unless they are a fisherman. Personally I suspect the mayor will try to get G off now the political problem is solved. It depends on the attitude of the lawyers and the Mayor and the matter staying reasonably quiet (which was your argument.) Someone said the Greeks are especially good at intrigue. Because they are not powerful (like the USA, or like Britain used to be) they have had to rely more on cunning to maintain their integrity. This is why Ulysses is such a Greek hero. He’s my favourite person too, because he is such a fine sailor, likes good food and had a beautiful wife who was good at weaving. Herete. Simon (see also)
[Back to the future - 28 March 2009: See Friday, March 20, 2009 THE PIMPING OF PANOREA, abridged and translated by Maria Strani-Potts, as published in ISLAND Magazine, Summer/Autumn 2008. Translated from the Greek by the author, originally published as ο πούλημα της Πανωραίας,, 2008]


  1. The tale of the British knickers has got me on the edge of my seat! I do hope this does not turn into a major diplomatic incident, as it could seriously affect next years stifado crop!

  2. We'll just have to keep our fingers crossed, as in the case of the 'frog farm' in Ayios Markos.


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Simon Baddeley