It’s been happening again, as we knew it would: the creditors formerly known as the Troika are pushing the Greek government to pass more austerity measures, and many demoralized, struggling Greek men, women, and even children are responding with more strikes, protests, and occupations. In early November, pharmacists went on strike over new regulations about who can open pharmacies, ferry boats stopped running for four days, pensioners in Athens protested additional pension and benefit cuts, farmers demonstrated against expected tax and pension contribution increases, and secondary school students occupied their schools—to name a few off the top of my head. Another general strike is coming later this week.
|Occupied junior high school|
However, the young student council members I saw at a local junior high school on November 2 looked like they were seeking excitement and power more than anything else. Why wouldn’t it be thrilling for teenagers to keep the principal and teachers out of school, determine which students could come and go, and oversee a vote on whether or not to “occupy” the school? When I asked why they were preventing classes from taking place, one said “Ma’am, look at the building where your child has class”—pointing to one of the prefabricated temporary classrooms brought to the schoolyard to compensate for overcrowding in a school meant for far fewer kids.
|“Temporary” classroom (right)|
The students argued that changes would be made because the authorities didn’t want the schools to remain closed, but if it were that easy to make the changes, it would have been done long ago. I urged my daughter—who was in the sensible minority of 62 against the occupation, vs. 300 in favor—to talk to her schoolmates about trying to come up with solutions they might discuss with the principal, the mayor, or the minister of education, rather than just shutting things down.
|Science Day, Technical University of Crete|
The school principal, parents’ association representatives, and some parents will be talking with the mayor about the overcrowding problem. Wouldn’t, couldn’t, that have happened in any case? Okay, one day off school isn’t that big a deal, but the senior high schools took a whole week, and that means a lot of classes missed. Students had little enough school already since the “school day” ended at varying and unpredictable times between 12:30 and 2:00 through mid November due to the Greek government’s annual failure to assign enough teachers to each school by the time the school year starts. I’d like to see students work with teachers to draft a logical schedule of summer planning to help government officials prevent that.
Earlier this month, editor and writer Nikos Konstandaras wrote that “[r]epeated protests that disrupt lives without achieving much else are not the greatest problem that the Greeks face but highlight the dead end of our politics, our economy and our society.” He added that “[c]itizens know that whatever plans they make will be disrupted by the plans of others,” but “most Greeks” simply tolerate this. While this tolerant attitude used to be “based on acknowledging the right to protest,” Konstandaras asserts that “today it betrays exhaustion. It leads to resignation and apathy” (Tolerance and resignation).
I do see quite a bit of that here. Coming from a different place, though, I feel anger and disgust at the wasted efforts to make a point by disrupting the lives of those who can’t fix the problems being protested. Yes, the affected citizens can contact their legislators or vote for different lawmakers in the next election, but the combination of an entrenched party system with the rule of the creditors and the disappointing showing of the newest political party to take control of the government (after the old ones were voted out) suggest this will result in little improvement.
Many of us are thoroughly fed up with the political situation here. I am disappointed that none of the attempts at new political beginnings during the years of the crisis seem to have succeeded. The disbursal of the latest 12 billion euros to the Greek government was finally approved after Parliament narrowly passed the latest measures demanded by the creditors, but few seem to believe most of the measures being passed this year are productive rather than destructive to the Greek people and the Greek economy.
I’D RATHER THINK ABOUT THE OLIVE HARVEST
|Olives at Terra Creta’s mill, Kolymbari, Crete|
One day, I stopped by an olive grove where the denuded tree trunks with almost no leaves left, and the piles of branches all over the ground, seemed to indicate that the trees were being cut down for firewood. However, I soon saw that there was still green netting under the branches that hadn’t been cut, with a small generator nearby and a man using a hand-held mechanical harvesting instrument--a long rod with some small moving parts at the end--to dislodge olives from the leafy branches of some very tall old trees, so olives flew off onto the nets below. A middle-aged man and an older relative were pruning trees on the other side of the lot, but he assured me that in two years the twenty trees would produce plenty of olives again.
|Olive harvest in Crete|
Irini showed me a device off to the side that resembled a barbecue grill; there they separate harvested olives from leaves and branches after they’re gathered from the nets. Irini emphasized that olive harvesting is hard work that makes the arms really tired by the end of the day. But she seemed proud to be doing it, since she mentioned the health benefits of olive oil as part of the Mediterranean diet, pointing out that it could help prevent cancer and other diseases.
|Olive harvesting equipment|
So many Cretans spend weekends or, if they have many trees, two-week fall vacations from work (taken instead of summer holidays) harvesting olives in their family groves. One neighbor and her family (six of them) gathered olives from their 40 trees over two weekend days, collecting 38 large burlap sacks of olives, which yielded 180 kg of olive oil. They gave 20 kg of the oil to the mill as payment for the milling; the rest will provide their family and a brother’s café with about two years’ worth of olive oil.
|Olive groves near Kolymbari, Crete|
|Stone mill at Biolea in Astrikas, Crete|
TERRORIST ATTACKS IN PARIS AND REFUGEES IN EUROPE
|Syrian refugee children|
I am so sad for the people who have been injured, those who suffered as they were killed, and the families of those who died. I can imagine the anxiety of the people who were or are afraid to leave their homes, whether in France, Belgium, Syria, Iraq, or elsewhere. And I feel distressed by the thought of all the refugees trying to escape shooting, bombing, or kidnapping in Syria and other countries who now have to face greater suspicion and fear, and much greater likelihood of rejection and hatred, thanks to terrorists and the xenophobes whose arguments terrorists appear to have strengthened.
Encouraged by major European countries, a number of Balkan nations have begun allowing only refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan to enter, leaving other migrants stranded in Greece. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is the latest country to build a fence along its border, in this case with Greece, to control the flow of migrants. A summit meeting between Turkey and EU members this past weekend ended with agreements on various concessions for Turkey, plus 3 billion euros to improve conditions for refugees there, in exchange for Turkey’s increasing efforts to stop migrants from entering the EU illegally. I have not heard anything about refugees being allowed to work legally in Turkey, however, which should be a major concern. The major concern was apparently to keep refugees in the region, and out of Europe, except when invited in.
Even so, German chancellor Angela Merkel has continued to call for Europeans to “liv[e] our values with courage” after the terrorist attacks (Attacker’s Possible Link to Migrant Trail Heightens Security Fears). The New York Times reported that Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, was among those reminding people that “[t]hose who organized these attacks, and those who carried them out, are exactly those who the refugees are fleeing.” A Czech volunteer who works with migrants added, “What happened in Paris on Friday night is happening in Syria every day, and it is exactly why those people are running away.” A Latvian man suggested that if we help migrants more, “the risk of a terror attack happening again would be less” (Paris Attacks Shift Europe’s Migrant Focus to Security).
While it is much more difficult to weed out the one in 100,000 or so
terrorists who may sneak into Europe among refugees than it is to keep
terrorists from entering the U. S. disguised as refugees, given the one and a
half to two years’ vetting of those destined for American soil, that doesn’t
mean 99,999 innocent, desperate children, women, and men need to be rejected
for each terrorist who hides among them. Lately, American citizens with guns have
been killing more Americans than foreign terrorists have, and it’s mostly
European citizens who are committing terrorist acts in Europe. Yes, this could
change, and of course we should try to stop terrorists, but we also need to continue
to make refugees welcome.
|Say No to Racism, Open Borders signs|
GATHERING WILD GREENS AND HERBS
|Heather among other plants|
Walking on one of our warm, sunny, calm late November days, I met a neighbor who was collecting edible wild greens, or “horta.” He told me that where he came from in northern Greece, no one collected wild greens. His Cretan mother in law taught him what was what after he moved here. He showed me three different kinds of greens, and when I asked him if the sprig I held was thyme, he said no, it was throumbi (pronounced throombee--savory), a “cousin” of thyme. We found a great deal of wild thyme as well, with its new leaves just beginning to cover the dry grey branches of summer, and only a few of its tiny lavender blossoms open. The throumbi got its new leaves and flowers earlier.
I commented on a large herd of goats feeding on the wild shrubs on the
side of a gorge. I’d been thinking the creatures were rather picturesque, and a
rustic sign of Greeks making do (letting the livestock eat where and what it
can). But my neighbor replied in disgust that it was a “catastrophe,” because
the goats eat so much that the plants don’t grow back. Learn something new
every day and every year. I have, thanks to Greeks, including olive oil farmers
and businesspeople, and thanks to migrants and refugees I’ve spoken with. This
keeps life interesting, exercises the brain, and broadens the mind.
|Irini discussing the harvest|
|Olive groves near Kolymbari, Crete|