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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 4 March 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 4 MARCH 2017 21 GREECE The fast and the furious My big fat Greek week NIKOS FOTAKIS • By now, the video has gone viral, a testament of the horror that can ensue from reckless driving: on Monday, a Porche crashed into a parked Honda at a temporary parking spot on the 83rd kilometre of the Athens-Lamia National highway, leaving four people dead. Greek Miners, Carbon County, Utah. PHOTO: THE HELLENIC CULTURAL ASSOCIATION MUSEUM/LIBRARY. • They were not the only ones to die in the streets last weekend. Twelve people lost their lives in car accidents − a toll slightly higher than last year, but not not unusual; every public holiday in Greece is marked by such accidents, to the point that we're used to the numbers, they've become a regular statistic. • And that's what makes the incident outside Thiva remarkable. It became raised above the status of a statistic, becoming a talking point. The story of a reckless driver defying speed limits, causing tragedy, destroying a family, the parked car's driver seeing his wife and three-year-old child killed on the spot, before his eyes. • It could be a useful talking point − about the condition of the national highways, the safety of parking spots, the conduct of Greek drivers, the failure of police to promptly take notice of a vehicle driving at 200km/h. PHOTO COURTESY OF UTAH STATE UNIVERSITY. the Greek community. It is a shame, as their story is part of the Greek journey, and Saltas speaks with pride and love of his grandparents, one from Crete, the other a local Mormon lady, and though this was "not popular", Saltas admitted, "both stayed side by side for 63 years and neither changed camps". Recalling his Mormon grandmother, he adds: "She made the best kaltsounies." As most immigrants were men, in the absence of mail-order brides, many Greeks married foreigners or native-born Americans. It is a mini story of America. Intermarriage, assimilation, and cross-cultural sharing are what make us Americans. This story is, of course, the story of immigration everywhere. Greeks in Utah, from that original immigration in the decade or so before the Balkan Wars, to post World War II and 1960s immigration, evolved from an exotic minority to being mainstream Utahns. Greeks, though they assimilated local ways, remained deeply attached to their religion and culture. Greeks succeeded in business, politics, and culture, and a Greek judge from the small mining town of Price sits on the Utah State Supreme Court. Utah's uniqueness changed the Greeks, but the Greeks also changed their state. Greek food is ubiquitous in town, either in Greek-owned establishments, or as part of the fare of all sorts or restaurants, hip or humble. The Salt Lake City Greek Festival, every September, is a key date on any Utahn's calendar, and in all the places I have lived in the US, no festival has even come close to the scale of the Salt Lake festival. As I always do when I go to Salt Lake, I visit the graves. Those of my parents, who died 90 days apart in 2005. A hundred yards away, my uncle, further away, a sister who died as an infant over a decade before I was born, next to her an uncle, my grandparents' first-born, who died in the influenza epidemic after World War I. Then, to my grandparents, William (Vasilis) and Avrokome Souvall (Souvaliotis), from the hills above Patras. My grandfather first immigrated to Salt Lake City in the years before the Balkan Wars, returning to serve his country in the second of those wars. He did not return home alone; marrying a girl from a neighbouring village, he returned to the US. My mother joked that it was more than patriotism that sent him back to Greece; he remembered my grandmother from a village festival before he immigrated. My maternal grandparents raised five children and had thirteen grandchildren. Their children are all now gone as well, buried within a few yards of their parents, rooted in Utah soil. I forgot to, but ought to have, taken a bit of earth with me when I returned to Chicago. Cretans would wear an amulet of Cretan earth around their necks to remind them of their roots. Perhaps though, these words suffice, to recall my Greek roots in Utah earth. • Instead, in true Greek-publicsphere fashion, it quickly verged into politics. Debate soon focused on the Porche driver's identity; he was the son of a booming retail empire owner, an entitled upperclass brat who believed that laws and rules didn't apply to him. What was a freak car accident became a parable for class warfare. • By the end of the week, Greek social media had turned into a battleground with people divided over the incident, heatedly debating if this was indeed a class issue or not. • This kind of polarisation is all too common in Greece, erupting with remarkable ease. It's one of the side effects of the crisis, that has unearthed civil war rhetoric and brought it to the mainstream. And as the crisis deepens, with no end in sight, there is very little hope that this toxic debate will cease anytime soon. • There is some validity in the arguments of those employing the class argument. The driver was indeed a member of the financial elite; he was indeed responsible for the action; he drove as if he was the king of the highway; and he was at the wheel of an expensive car, a symbol of speed and luxury. • He was also the son of an employer believed to exploit workers. • But what about the other eight people who died on the road? Were they victims of entitled heirs of retail chains? • No. Neither are most of the others losing their lives every weekend. As deep and systemic as inequality in Greece may be, it is only a coincidental factor when it comes to what is happening in the streets. • The road toll makes no distinction. People of all backgrounds meet their death on the road, under the wheels of drunk motorists, cocky bikies and poorly-trained drivers. Others fall victim to poorly-constructed roads, lack of signaling, failures in police prevention. • This is one of the main failures of Greek society; to adequately educate drivers so that they become responsible while on the road, respecting their own safety as well as that of others. • Alcohol − and the whole 'endless party' mentality that Greeks are so proud of, lamenting the lack of it in other cultures − has also been instrumental. • So yes, there are a lot of reasons for people to be furious and engage in heated arguments on this issue. But the driver's background is probably the least significant reason. • Greek citizens should be furious that their driving education is so corrupt that people can still pay their way into obtaining a licence; they should be furious that it is not unusual for people to drive after a night of drinking; they should be furious that the roads are unsafe, poorly maintained, with sidewalk billboards often blocking visibility; they should be furious that there are not more speeding cameras out there and more police patrols testing drivers for alcohol in their blood; they should be furious that a driving offence does not mean revoking a driver's licence. • And those complaining for the trouble of living in a 'nanny state' should be careful what they wish for.
25 February 2017
11 March 2017