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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 4 February 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 4 FEBRUARY 2017 23 OPINION creation of a federal Greek-Albanian state. These examples, however, serve only to illumine the sources of fear and suspicion where they exist. They do nothing to allay them. It is quite plausible that many Albanians living in Greece harbour prejudices against Greeks commensurate to those harboured by Greeks against Albanians, created either by 'history' or by their experiences living within Greece. Some of those prejudices, related to me by them, appear eerily similar to those harboured by first generation Greek migrants against Australians. What the Australian experience should teach us, however, is that petty prejudices of this nature seldom, if ever, translate to anything more serious. But then again, the Australian multicultural paradigm is built on a myth of its own, that of terra nullius, whereby all nations have the right to co-exist here (as long as they acknowledge the ascendancy of the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture) because there were no competing nationalisms to contend with the ruling culture in the first place, Aboriginal cultures being conveniently effaced from the discourse. The success of the Australian multicultural model thus stems from the ability of the dominant culture to control and define the cultural narratives of the minorities it has permitted to settle within its sovereignty. This is markedly different from the experience of Albania, Greece and other Balkan states where nationalisms compete, collide, contend and overlap, continuously. It is of no benefit to gloss over the fact of this acrimony. I don't think we will ever know the motivation of the young men who assumed the butterfly position in the now infamous photograph. Were they, as I suspect, merely highlighting the incongruity of men of Albanian background serving in the Greek army, given the known historical background of Greco-Albanian relations? Were they parodying competing nationalisms, or merely expressing sub-cultural solidarity with each other? Were they indeed, as many contend, setting out to insult the Greek state? It is impossible to fathom the inscrutable workings of their young minds. What is certain, however, is that the ensuing hysteria clearly is a product of a deeply-felt insecurity about the changing face of Greece, where recourse to threadbare tropes of collective national self-indulgence no longer assist in any meaningful way to interpret the world around us. No amount of wishful thinking will bring Greece to the almost ethnically homogenous state it believed itself to be between the end of the Second World War and the downfall of the Communist bloc − itself a temporary aberration in two millennia of continuous population movement. Many of those population movements, such as those of the Avars, Slavs and Goths, caused upheavals that directly threatened the security and existence of the Greek-speaking people. Yet despite the immense human cost of those almost continuous upheavals, eventually, over a long period of time, Greece was able to absorb those populations and make them their own, despite the state of insecurity it found itself in. Such a long view of history makes the hand gestures of little boys pale into insignificance. Ultimately, we cannot hope to know now whether it will be government policy or social attrition that will determine how ethnic nonGreek peoples will be accommodated as Greek citizens and what form any type of multiculturalism, if any, will take. The social and ethnic realities of Greece do not bear any resemblance to those of western multicultural countries, created largely as a result of colonialism or de-colonisation, and thus any comparison or translation of their ideologies is unhelpful. The pre-existing, though not-consistent practice, of not permitting ‘risky’ groups such as Thracian Muslim citizens to bear arms with ammunition while serving in the Greek army suggests that the creation of distinct ‘classes’ of citizens is a possibility, with all the implications for the bilateral relations between Greece and the target's country of origin that these entail. This is especially so considering that over the border in Albania, the Greek minority and its politicians' commitment to the Albanian state is called into question on a daily basis by the media and Albanian politicians, often, most crudely. Of paramount importance, therefore, is to keep ethnic and social tension from bubbling over, as the unique processes of dealing with the new social realities resolve themselves over time. The best we can do to assist such a process is to exhort all concerned, little Albanian soldiers and Greeks alike, to keep their hands firmly in their pockets, where we can see them. Lost in space My big fat Greek week NIKOS FOTAKIS Necessity is the mother of invention, they say, and Greeks have been known to become very creative during times of necessity. The current situation is no exception, which in part explains a wave of creativity that is sweeping the country, or at least, some parts of it. It is no coincidence, therefore, that one of the world's major art events, Documenta, usually held every five years in Kassel, Germany, chose Athens as its first co-host city, inviting the cream of the crop to present the cutting edge in contemporary art (with a side dish of political commentary). All this will take place in April, but until then, it's worth visiting the event's website, if only to find Nikos Papastergiadis' interview with the late John Berger, the art critic who arguably taught the world how to look at art, through his highly-influential TV show and book, Ways of Seeing. • Berger's teachings can be easily applied to the internet era, which has all but elevated internet memes to an art form − and a truly democratic one. One can only marvel at the inventiveness, irreverence and quick wit of the flood of memes emerging as a reaction to current news. Especially when it comes to news coming from Greece, one has to be very self-controlled not to embark in memecreation. Greece's SYRIZA government, comprised of a colourful bunch of cabinet members, certainly offers a lot of opportunities for the avid memecreator, which explains the mirth that flooded the Greek public sphere (or at least its social media faction), when Telecoms and Digital Policy Minister Nikos Pappas announced the creation of a ‘National Centrefor Space Applications’, aimed at "making up for the country's huge deficit in this area". • The idea of Greece, a country struggling to make ends meet (and this is an understatement), plagued by unemployment, poverty, corruption, a dysfunctional public sector − not to mention the refugee crisis − should have anything to do with space exploration and exploitation does sound ridiculous. This is a country where hospital patients are asked to bring their own linen and antiseptics when admitted − how can it possibly have a space program? • This is, of course, one of the paradoxes of Greece. For all its troubles, the country remains a developed one, a member of the European Union and as such, a participant in the EU’s space programs − which, to be precise, have little to do with astronauts and alien life and more with satellite systems and the collection of data, which could be of use in scientific and military research, environmental monitoring, fire prevention, agriculture and so on. Greece itself has long had telecommunication satellite and is now about to launch a new one. "Greece is one of the few European countries that does not have an organisation for commercially and scientifically utilising its rights or the plethora of research and scientific applications and resources available through the European Space Agency," Pappas said when presenting the bill. He failed to say that this long-overdue agency is part of the country's legal obligations and, more importantly, that it will use EU funds that are already allocated for this purpose (and which could be lost, if Greece fails to act on this). • Pappas could present the reason for this announcement all he liked, but people in Greece would not listen, carried away by the mirth and ridicule with which this announcement was made. The news cycle was dominated by jokes on government advisors (such as the infamously unqualified Nikos Karanicas) meeting E.T., the cabinet dressed as the cast of Star Trek aboard the Enterprise and of course, of the Defense Minister, Panos Kammenos, master of disguise, dressed up in a space suit. • Kammenos, of course, has other causes for concern, as the true problems of Greece start well below the stratosphere − Turkish military aircraft have been crowding the Greek airspace, in an unprecedented wave of violations, which can only be explained as backlash for the refusal to extradite the eight military officers who fled to Greece after the failed coup against Recep Tayip Erdogan. • Lower still, another trend threatens to change Greece for ever; the all-too-frequent sale of land to foreign 'investors', who know a bargain when they see one. And desperate Greeks are selling their assets at 'bargain' prices. According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, in total last year assets with a combined value of €4.4 billion changed hands in 38 transactions. • Anyone interested might want to wait, because prices are about to fall even lower. As the Greek bailout program is still in limbo, with the creditors asking the government to commit to further slashing pensions, laying off public workers and greenlighting mass layoffs in the private sector, with Germany and the IMF disputing over the possibility of debt relief and whether a surplus goal of 3.5 per cent is attainable, the word #Grexit started to circulate again in social media. One can only imagine what the inventive Greeks can do with it, meme-wise. • As for investors, they can wait for the drachma, when all will be cheaper.
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