Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Όχι Day in Athens

I'm not sure if any other culture has a holiday based on a single word one guy said.

Greece does. And with good reason.

The famous "No" (Όχι) that then Greek dictator Ioannis Metaxas issued to the Italians on October 28, 1940 may be the most famous moment in modern Greek history.

That one word, refusing Italy's "entrance" into Greece, committed this small country to a war against the Axis Powers it was ill-equipped for. Victory against Italy in Albania changed the course of the war (how much is debatable) and led to the brutal NAZI occupation.

When World War II ended, a civil war ensued that left deep scars on Greek society.

Today though, the start of the war is commemorated with one heck of a holiday complete with a parade and day off from school.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Baseball with a Greek Accent

Runners on first and second. Two out. Team Milon down a run. A base hit would give us our first lead of the game after trailing most of the contest.

Here's the pitch. And it's ripped into left-centerfield! Everyone is off the bench and climbing the dugout rail screaming at the top of their lungs.


Πάμε! Πάμε!

Go! Go! Go!

Run B!%^# RUN!

This is baseball in Greece - a funky fusion of Greek and American culture brought on, partially at least, by the 2004 Olympics. The passion on the diamond is clear but the future of the game here is cloudy.

For now I shake my head to think I had to switch hemispheres to regain a part of my life that seems so fundamentally American.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Interview: Dr. Anna Triandafyllidou of ELIAMEP

When possible, I will post excerpts from my interviews for my Fulbright Project "Prevailing Faith" here on Jungle Vision. The interviews I am conducting are meant to bring my research to as current a date as possible since both immigration and the Church are forces that are in motion everyday.

Dr. Anna Triandafyllidou of the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) may well be Greece's foremost researcher on immigration.

We spoke Wednesday October 21 at ELIAMEP's offices at 49 Vas. Sofias about the Church's role in immigrant integration. Or rather, how the Church is perceived as invisible on the subject.

The excerpts below reveal first-hand how the Church has yet to raise its profile as a pro-integration force among even its most likely allies -- other NGOs and members of civil society.

Dr. Triandafyllidou's comments also reveal how it's not entirely the Church's fault it has fallen through the cracks of public perception.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Church, State, Land, Philanthropy and Immigrant Integration

Ask a Greek about the Church of Greece and inevitably they'll roll their eyes saying, more or less, the Church is rolling in money from all the land it has.

The Church does indeed own an immense amount of land (how much is uncertain) and turns a hefty profit on it. But much of the Church's possessions are under state control and, with PASOK back in power, in danger of permanent confiscation. 

However, as with everything in Greece, there's a loophole. 

Whatever land the Church devotes to philanthropic causes is exempt from confiscation. With immigrant integration tops on the Church's philanthropic agenda it seems like the most marginalized members of Greek society may end up securing the assets of its most central cultural institution. 

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A New Lease on Greece

You can't take a boat from Athens' main port of Piraeus to get to the island of Kea. So instead of a short trip on the electric railway there's a long bus ride through cramped streets and wide fields to the other nearby port of Lavrio.

It seems even an island getaway has a catch in Greece.

"You know though, " my friend Chris, a fellow Brown alum and teaching fellow at Athens College, said. "I think I'd rather be on a bus seeing all this than anywhere in Athens."

I murmured in agreement, a small smile on my face.

After three months in the Athenian concrete jungle I desperately needed a reminder of why I decided to come here in the first place.

It's amazing what a trip to a Greek island and a visit from an old friend can do for your state of mind.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On the streets with Praksis

I wrote this feature for Athens News after following the immigrant advocacy group Praksis' streetworker team in Omonia on September 16. The story was put on hold for nearly a month while the paper focused on election coverage. 
Here's a dose of vision in this Athenian jungle.
An aroma of bodily fluids and noodles hits Praksis’ streetworkers as they climb the stairs of a rundown apartment building in Omonia. Team doctors and social workers have come to offer medical aid and information on legal rights and free services.
"We try to build bridges for those who, for whatever reason, don’t use our services," Dr Yiannis Hantzopoulos, a member of Praksis' health clinic, says as he puts on a white smock.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Surprise! President Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize

Want an example of why US President Barack Obama deserved the Nobel Peace Prize?

Greece - perhaps the most vehemently anti-American country in the Western world - just had an election where the US was NOT a populist lightning rod, a major break from tradition.

When George Papandreou's Pasok won, his party rushed to report that Obama had been the first non-Greek to call with congratulations.

This seismic shift is indicative of Obama's "soft" clout in Europe. But as many Americans waking up to the news are saying now, "It's time for the hard part." Others seem about as keen to score points on anti-Obamism as Greek pols used to be with anti-Americanism.

(PHOTO: I took this picture at then Senator Obama's first rally after Hillary Clinton conceded the Democratic nomination from REALLY far away)

"Theocratic Aura": Church, State and the New Government

Scholar Theofanis Stavrou once described the presence of black-robed clergy at Greek government swearing-in ceremonies as a "Theocratic Aura."

It's still there.

Archbishop Ieronymos and a cadre of other Church hierarchs swore in new Prime Minister George Papandreou and his cabinet on Tuesday.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

First Presentation of "Prevailing Faith"

My Fulbright project began with a question in the Spring of 2008. At the time I was a student at College Year in Athens studying both Greek Civil Society and the Orthodox Church.

On Wednesday October 7, I had a chance to share my research thus far with the place that gave me my start.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

BRUesday: Cool Moose Edition

One man's crusade to rid Rhode Island of unnecessary government leads him to a park bench with a BRU reporter.

The Black Rep faces a dark future.

Green buildings are "eco" friendly in more ways than one.

And further proof that the "friend zone" caused the downfall of humanity.

This is BRUesday.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Election Weekend in Athens

48 hours before his party's likely electoral defeat, incumbent Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, gave a war cry of a speech to rally his supporters. His screams on Friday eventually cost him his voice. On Sunday, years of unpopular policies and guerrilla opposition cost him the reins of government.

People arriving at the incumbent PM's last mass demonstration just off of Victoria Square unfurled Greek flags as they rose out of the electric railway station like they were pulling out concealed shot guns. A sea of blue and white banners and the smell of gunpowder from flares and rockets did their duty for the cameras and a number on the nostrils.

The cheers were fierce, but with ever-slight signs of hesitation.

One woman amidst the mob kept trying to start the rhyming chant Όλοι μαζί με Καραμάνλη/All together with Karamanlis.

Nobody joined in.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Becoming a Master of Southeastern European Studies

Once the logistics and pleasantries of our orientation program wound to a close my professors and classmates rose to chat and become acquainted with one another.

For the next nine months, we'll spend more than 9 hours a week in a small classroom, dusty and undecorated save for two maps, that's filled with the din of passing traffic and heavily accented English as we study toward our Master's degrees in Southeastern European Studies (MA in SEE).

True to form, I made a bee-line straight to the food and  wine.