Thursday, 3 June 2010

A new Parthenon

(Renovation of the Parthenon in Athens)

Besides the word for cutting down on spending – perikopes – there are two other words that are often to be found in the Greek news nowadays: cabotage and kallikrates.

I had assumed kallikrates meant something like ‘good country’. Kalli from kalo (good) and krates from kratos (land). But I was totally wrong. Kallikrates is the name of one of the two architects who built the Parthenon on the Athenian hill the Acropolis (Iktonos was the other architect) in the fifth century BC. So it takes a lot of courage and maybe some arrogance to name a project that will turn Greece upside down after the architect who designed its most famous icon. Maybe not many Greeks knew the names of the architects of the Parthenon, but plenty do now thanks to ‘project kallikrates’ that will restructure the entire nation: the number of municipalities will be reduced from 1034 to 370. That means many villages and small islands have be merged into one large municipality.

This ‘rationalisation’ will not only will save lots of money, it will be a way of making civic rule easier for mayors, governors and other authorities, simply because there will be fewer of them to hold up the decision-making that can influence projects which cross over local boundaries or are the favourites of particular individuals..

And we know, the Greek, do not like change. Especially the kind that melds their village with another. Because, imagine if you can’t go and complain to your own mayor — who you know — but have to take your case to a total stranger. Many people on Lesvos were against the project, especially when it appeared that the island had to reduce thirteen municipalities into an only one. So now Agia Paraskevi, Agiassos, Jera, Eresos-Andissa, Evergetoulas, Kalloni, Loutropoli Thermi, Mandamados, Mytilini, Molyvos, Petra, Plomari and Polichnitos will come under just one mayor. Some people here are praising the kallikrates plan because it may solve some long existing problems (like getting a new waste treatment facility and a new electricity power plant (no individual municipality wants a plant within its borders). Other people are against the plan because they say: how can a man from, say, Mytilini, solve the problems in Plomari? That is why, as in many parts of Greece, lots of people have taken to the streets in Mytilini to protest against the kallikrates policy.

I cannot choose which side I am on. I must admit that it is easy to have your own mayor in your own village. You always can sit at his table or besides him on the beach to confront him with a problem. On the other hand it is madness to maintain thirteen municipalities whose personnel often spend their working days drinking coffee.

Another new policy that drove people on to the streets is about that other word I did not know: cabotage — which means the transport of goods or people between two points in a country, done by businesses based in a foreign country. Cabotage was not allowed in Greece, and the ban acted as a form of protection(ism) for local business and employment. So, foreign cruise ships weren’t allowed to bring their passengers to more than one port in Greece, because bringing them from one island to another was technically cabotage. Last April passengers from an Italian cruise ship visiting Athens found out about the situation in a very confrontational situation when a large group of people protested against the government’s intention to lift the ban on cabotage for cruise ships, and blocked the passengers’ way back to their ship, so they were forced to spend a night in a hotel. However, despite all the protests the new law was passed — but the economy minister made a little adjustment to appease the people against it: now 10% of the crews of all ships doing cabotage has to be of Greek nationality!

When you just change just one letter of cabotage you get sabotage. You would think that one part of Greece somehow enjoys sabotaging the other: think how many families get their living from tourism but why doesn’t this group (against the lifting of the ban) see how their selfishness destroys the already stressed tourist industry?

Lesvos has nothing to do with sabotage nor with cabotage. The cruise ships that come to the island can be counted on the fingers of one hand. But maybe the kallikrates project is not so bad at all, if it finally gets the Greeks on one line and not being so selfish anymore.

The Parthenon survived many desecrations: by Demetrios Poliorcetes, a Macedonian conqueror, who after he took Athens in 307 BC put his whores to live in a room at the back of the Parthenon; in the 6th century AD it became a church dedicated to Saint Sophia; in the middle ages a church for Maria (mother of God) and after the Ottomans conquered Athens in 1460, they turned the Parthenon into a mosque. In 1687 it was a store for gun powder and when the Venetians besieged the Acropolis the arsenal went up in a monster explosion and the central part of the Parthenon was badly damaged.

Now the building has been renovated and the Partheon towers proudly on top of the Acropolis. And the new government of Papandreou has taken the name of one of its architects to raise Greece from its terrible crisis, like a new temple. The building of the original Parthenon took some ten years. I really hope that the building of New Greece will go a bit quicker…

(with thanks to Tony Barrell)

@ Smitaki 2010

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