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Saturday, 30 January 2010

Damp and grey

Thursday was damp and grey and stayed so most of the day. I rather like such weather. With my folding bicycle, cleaned and oiled, I walked it a hundred yards down the narrow path below our house to the bus stop on the lower road. Just after 9 the bus arrived. Someone at the bus stop had already counted out the €1.70 from small change in my palm. Another reminded the driver to load my bicycle in the hold.
After these typical small kindnesses I just sat back and read up the Kallicrates Plan for Hellenic local government reorganisation in Athens News and in 20 minutes we were in town from where I cycled to the Liston, after getting a few good photographs of the magnificent Kapodistrias statue. Jim Potts had kindly agreed to let me run by him, my chat about the Lord High Commissioners next week. We met at Zisimos on the Liston, a delectable bar of old wood, mirrors and glass with a high ceiling that had looked a bit too exclusive. Just before 11-o-clock I entered hesitantly, parking my Brompton by the umbrella stand, then chose a table amid conversation among older people and no piped music. Jim arrived within minutes.
We enjoyed coffee, chocolate, mezes and a long and fascinating chat about his new book – the first recent well sourced popular history of the Ionian Islands and Epirus that I’ve come across, and due out in a few weeks. Jim had copied me a chapter on ‘The Lord High Commissioners’ (pp.201-209) from a 1969 book by Arthur Foss on the Ionian islands – very encouraging and helpful.
We had ouzos, met other regulars and were then, to my delight joined by Jim’s wife, Maria Strani whose writing includes the apocalyptic story of The Pimping of Panorea. When I praised her for it, she remarked gently that it made no difference, reminding, even as I mentioned many recent concerns about the environment in Greece, of the saying that “Knocking at the door of someone dead brings no response.”
Thoroughly content with further introductions to English and Greek customers, one of whom – Dr Spyros Giourgas – gave me his card and promises to gain me access to the old Ionian Parliament building, I left for the Green Bus station, caught the smaller 2-o-clock bus to Sokraki, since the one to Ano Korakiana didn’t leave until until four. Again my bicycle was loaded and unloaded for me. In just under 40 minutes - my fare €3.40 - we were past Ipsos and Pirgi, heading up 30 hairpin bends below Pantocrator and in the mists beyond Spartillas at the left hand turn down to Zygos where another bus awaited us. Everyone but me and the driver got off in Zygos and, with me as a lone passenger, the bus headed slowly up into deeper mist, dropping me by stretch of road in Sokraki just above the twenty nine hairpin bends that led down to Ano Korakiana.
In the quiet an eagle mewed. Muffled by mist, I could hear children playing somewhere in Sokraki. I freewheeled contentedly down the finely constructed serpentine route to Ano Korakiana, bend by bend by bend, until abruptly dropping below cloud cover above little Agios Isadoras, I saw sunlight on a patch of green far below. I could even make out the city I’d left an hour earlier. I was home for tea in Ano Korakiana a few minutes later.
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Ionian radicalism during the British Protectorate 1815-1864
Inequality unexpressed is accepted as the way of things. Good masters can even make good servants. Oppression, until it is perceived and named, is endured, sometimes evident in madness. Thus it seems to have been on the Ionian islands - dull unrecorded animosity until the emergence of the rizospastai gave voice to a philosophy of criticism and eventually direct resistance, through armed action, futile and easily dealt with by the soldiery, and then effective political activity - overt opposition in rhetoric and text, satire, cartoon, and more covert acts of subversive impoliteness – refusing to observe public rituals to celebrate the status quo, absenting from ceremonies of government, mutterings and murmurings.
The soil for radicalism in the Ionian Islands was fertilised by the socio-economic structures of the Venetian era, beginning to dissolve with the decline of Venice, then abruptly disrupted at the turn of the 18th-19th centuries by the occupying forces of French revolutionary republicanism under Napoleon, but partly recovered under the British, whose Protectorate extended first to protecting the pre-revolutionary status quo, though the British disappointed those prominent families who hoped this included preserving their exclusive powers.
The British, in Corfu and London were concerned about maintaining control of one of their possessions in the face of the jealous interests of co-signatories – Russia, Prussia and Austria – of the Treaty of Paris which had agreed Britain’s accession to the Ionian Protectorate. They did this in what was then the normal way, through conferring patronage on different groups within the Ionian polity, at the same giving sometimes more, sometimes less, support for the emergence of a gradual form of liberal parliamentary franchise to replace what had decayed into an archaically exclusive aristocracy of Venetian landowners in a caste society where the upper classes spoke Italian and lived off a peasant majority who did not.
On Corfu, the Grand Assembly of the cittadini had once been open to all prosperous members of island society. Eleni Calligas’ 1994 thesis reports how this body gradually lost its ‘demotic element’:
Increasingly specific qualifications were required for membership. Each island Assembly elected a smaller Council to conduct the business of government and appoint officials, it was composed of 150 members in Corfu and, eventually, Zante which, although a smaller community, was very prosperous, and limited to thirty in Cerigo. To protect the power that such exclusive franchise conferred, the Corfiot cittadini began closing their ranks, constituting themselves into a separate social class of signorini [nobles], limiting the families allowed to participate in the Assembly and, to avoid confusion, introducing the Libro d'oro in 1572.
Via representations to Venice the Corfiot nobility refined its privileges. By 1641 those who did not own city homes were excluded from the Assembly. Although being an apothecary, goldsmith or mercier (σωποπωλης) was viewed as compatible with nobility in Venice, the land owning Corfiot signorini:
...looked upon any form of mercantile activity with unrestrained aristocratic contempt. Citizenship…involved furnishing proof that a particular individual, as well as his father and forefather, were the issue of a legitimate marriage, inhabitants of their own city residence and not contaminated by the practice of any menial occupation. [Eleni Calligas pp 9-10 whose rich references on this alone include G.Mavrogiannis, 1889, History of the lonian Islands 1797-1815, 2 Vols., Athens (Ιστορία των Ιονίων Νήσων αρχομένη η Ενωση της Επτανησου) and L. Zois 1955, History of Zakinthos (Ιστορία τως Ζακυθνου)]
It may have been expressed nationalistically as a British-Hellenic issue, but the strongest source of animosity towards the British, as a small number of High Commissioner’s, especially John Colborne Lord Seaton, but also Lord Nugent and Gladstone, recognised, lay in perceptions among the poor majority of the islands that the British were allies of the landed aristocracy, their successors and allies among the middle classes; that they worked through them and encouraged them through patronage. Such opinions were realistic. On those occasions when the poor reacted - sometimes violently - against those who effectively owned them, British were seen to apply justice in the interests of the propertied. Thus were the rizopastai, given further encouragement by the ideas of 1848 and the success on the mainland of the Hellenic Revolution against Turkey, able to turn class injustice into a philosophy part nationalistic, part revolutionary, against the British ‘occupiers’.
Over half a century, some British governors resisted this process vehemently, others sought to channel it into their own vision of a mature democracy, some pragmatically, some idealistically, until wider events focused their attention on achieving a dignified abandonment of the Protectorate.
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The Kallicrates Plan for the reform of local government ~ 2010
Greece is divided administratively into nomes, which are further separated into eparchies. Lefkas and Zante are nomes; the nome of Cephalonia includes Ithaca as an eparchy. Kithira is now attached to a non-Ionian nome, and the eparchy of Paxos is part of the nome of Corfu.
This is an extract from a short description of local government in our area of Greece. All this seems to be about to change. What will happen to Demos Faiakon and the other island municipalities including Demos Kerkyron and the Ionian Eparchies under PASOK’s recently proposed Kallikrates Plan for reforming Greek local government? These measures, are, like the local government reorganisations set in motion by our Redcliffe-Maud Report in 1974, based on a managerial philosophy, not so much antagonistic towards local democracy as distrustful of its claims to be democratic.
Kallikrates seems designed to address the suspicions of the already powerful in Greece that many of its smaller units of local government, far from being local democracies – efficient, transparent, representative and accountable to the local population - provide havens for self-interested factions habituated to dipping into the purses of that local population to feather the nests of those able to buy influence over local decisions. We see, as a consequence, contempt for government – as much among its corrupting beneficiaries as among those excluded. We see the resentment caused by local government officials who ignore complaints about a noisy neighbour who won’t control his dogs, a business that plays illegally loud music at anti-social hours, a householder who let’s rubbish accumulate and spread from his property, a developer who pours concrete, bulldozes trees and builds despite planning prohibitions.
This isn’t just a Greek problem, though Greece may have recognised it later than some other European countries. It’s a problem of modernity – where the definition of community is no longer self-evident and where the idea of local councils which can assess local needs in a professional way and formulate, through debate and participation, the voice of the communities they are meant to govern, is a novel idea, requiring new methods of measurement and new sets of values about the meaning of local democracy.
In our fragmented mobile world it isn’t easy to define ‘community’, measure ‘need’ and express a unique local ‘voice’ and so, as in the UK, it has proved easier to resort to rational centralised solutions that rely on market forces and privately provided services to a more individualised population of consumers rather than voters.
Across Europe there seems to be a slow retreat from representative democracy. Policy develops away from centres of elected political authority. Even the most senior politicians are constrained by decisions being made by shadowy figures whose relationship to democratic government has altered from being agents of government to being its principals - to steal a quote from my colleague Prof Chris Skelcher - an expert on the subject of democratic deficit.
Most of us have little idea how this works. We struggle to find ways to research the process - avoiding conspiracy theory for its one tenth accurate silliness. The Kallikrates Plan is presented for public consultation on the web with a view to creating blueprint that can be voted into law by MPs in May 2010, and implemented over six months, in time for municipal elections in November. It involves abolishing Greece’s 54 Prefectures and 22 other administrative units including eparchies. In their place will be 7 regional unelected agencies, their chiefs appointed by central government. These new regions will be responsible for policies on immigration, waste disposal (not collection), public works and highways as well as land use in town and country and the management of EU funding in each region - referred to as ESPA infrastructure development funds. The regional chiefs will appoint deputy regional chiefs with authority similar to current prefects. 1034 existing municipalities will be reduced by two thirds -1034 to 370 - responsible for civil protection, welfare, public health inspections and building permits. There will be something equivalent to our Audit Commission, checking regularly on local expenditure – the State Auditor’s Council - and something that looks like a scrutiny function based in Athens to maintain oversight of local policies – measures aimed at increasing public understanding of things are being done, what is often called ‘transparency’.
No names of specific councils are mentioned in the consultation document, - an obvious and sensible move to avoid contention during consultation - so I’m not sure just when the actual Kalliktrates plan will be presented for Parliament. What a tremendous test of the political will and weight of Papandreou’s still new government.
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Corfucius keeps me in touch with all I want to know of our previous PM and his encounter with the Chilcot and the Thomas Cook Corfu case.

1 comment:

  1. A fascinating and thought-provoking posting.

    We much enjoyed the meeting at Zisimos. Maybe you'll become one of the regulars? Thank you for the mentions of our books. Looking forward to your talk at the Durrell School!

    I'm going to get one of those folding bikes! Maybe I'll wait for the completion of the cycle paths....


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Simon Baddeley