Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Sustainability (Βιωσιμότητα)

Parts of this post were written nearly two years ago, but even I considered my own views too avant garde to post them at the time. They seem to make more sense now. 

Last weekend was the first one in Hania where the sun was out for the whole time in the two days. While up at the village, enjoying what seemed to be the first beautiful day of the new year, after a long spell of wet damp cold dismal dull climate (both environmentally and economically), I saw a Cretan wild cat (commonly known as φουρόγατος - fourogatos). It made itself quite conspicuous with its stout body, fat face and short ears, as it darted in front of our car, skipping from one field to another. Don't ask me where my photo of it is: fourogatoi don't hang around for long! The photo shows pretty much what I saw: Cretan Wildcat (Felis silvestris cretensis; Greek φουρόκατος). It was believed to be extinct until someone sighted it about 15 years ago, and presumably made a careful note of the event - rural Cretans probably saw them well before that time, but probably didn't bother to tell people about what they saw because such an event was taken for granted. The fourogatos had survived extinction, after all.

Last Saturday, we spent the morning at our olive grove clearing the land of twigs and branches that could not be used as firewood. The land is very steep, not the most comfortable for trekking. It is located two kilometres away from the nearest house in the village and it borders μαδάρα (grazing fields). We've seen two fourogatoi in this area - or maybe it was the same one twice.

"Φουρόγατος" is also the name of a newsletter published by the Environmental Initiative of Chania which stopped circulating until just recently, when it resurfaced with its first issue last month. I picked up their first newsletter at an event held at Agious Apostolous against the commercialisation of the area. The newsletter contained references to various environmental issues that should concern all residents of Hania, eg plans for the investigation of fuel sources around Cretan waters, as well as making people aware of the newly created groups catering for the welfare of people severely affected by the economic crisis, eg the Kοινωνική Kουζίνα (Community Kitchen), an extension service of the meal provisions for people in difficult circumstances (only lunch used to be provided by charity).

January 2012 Fourogatos edition
The newsletter also contained a comment, in the form of a letter-to-the-editor, by a critic of the stereotyped Greece (the one the contemporary world now knows well), written in the same lamenting tone that many similar articles appearing in the cybersphere have recently been written in just lately, with the title: 'The crisis that we deserved' (by George Skoulas). Here is a selective translation of some parts:
"Many years passed and we arrived at yesterday, the epoch of 'I want', and 'I want it now'. We wanted an American jeep, a German car, an Italian suit, a Japanese TV, a Viennese desert, an Irish drink, Spanish oil, African fruit, Argentinian juice, Chinese meals, huge balconies, radiators turned to the maximum, air conditioners turned to the minimum, plenty of liquid fuel, summer vacations in every corner of the world, and immigrants to dig up our potatoes, which we never planted enough of for the nation's supply. We wanted corrupt government, so that we can pull strings. We didn't want good education, in order to avoid creating good people who would be laughing at the mess we're in, since we were also writing rap songs for Jumbo, downloadable cellphone tunes and salami jingles."
Perceived Greek organisational abilities
No one can now try to argue that change is unnecessary, nor can they pretend that they don't know how this nightmare developed. But it isn't restricted to Greece - these unsustainable practices are true of most developed nations. In Greece's case, they all took place within the space of thirty years, since Greece's entry into the EU, when democracy was supposedly restored after the fall of the junta in 1974. For years, various parts of pre-modern Greece (who is only about 200 years old) were ruled by various non-Greek conquerors, so that when Greece finally came into being, she lacked her own internal leadership, and the skills required to lead. Greeks didn't really know what to do with the too-much money that was suddenly falling into their hands, like a windfall. Greece was given money to rebuild herself - and that's when the spending spree started. If you are given money without being educated in its use as a powerful investment tool, then you will treat it like it's falling off trees. You're more likely to buy yourself candy, and then treat the rest of the family to it. If you've been used to living amidst so much inequality, like Greeks were before the fall of the junta, then that's hard to erase from your mind, so your spending will still need supervision: your spending habits will mirror someone who is suspicious of others, as you will believe that others may get their hands on it. You will want your own people to benefit from it before anyone else does, as a self-perceived form of justice to the inequality (or simply put, the bad luck, whether self-inflicted or not) that you may have suffered in your past. Certainly, while the Greeks' spending habits were being 'supervised' (eg under the Marshall Plan), they seemed to be a more productive society.

Toilets at Ayious Apostolous beach: I don't care who designed them, I simply like them!
So, apart from unsustainable spending, your new status makes you think you are important and you start passing on these so-called privileges to your 'friends' (in the form of 'forever' jobs with 'forever' salaries/pensions in the public service). Suddenly everyone wants to be your friend, and whoever isn't your friend has a really hard time. Greece always had a division between the rich and the poor, even in ancient times, when the common people were slaves to the elite aristocracy. In modern Greek times, this was simply renamed as: 'state employees' vs 'private employees'. Hence, a parallel system had been working for the last 30 years in Greece. To get on in life, private employees had to 'suck up to' the power-wielding state employees with whatever tools they had at hand (eg bribes, sex). There is no need to be productive or creative in such a system: all you have to do is find someone to 'help' you, after you yourself will have 'helped' them - you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. Productivity is simply not necessary in such a system: there is no need for it in a corrupt society.

So this is where Greece finds herself now - a new kind of civil war which is destroying her, without the help of anyone else outside it: we are capable of our own self-destruction. The nation is divided into a 'we deserved this crisis' group and a 'we did not deserve this crisis' group. This is where the saying 'serves you right' fits in: 'The crisis that we deserved', as George Skoulas wrote in the above article in the first issue of Fourogatos for 2012.
The writer of the above excerpt presumably meant that demanding to eat Chinese food is not sustainable in Greece because Chinese food is imported at the expense of Greek food not being used (and it's expensive in Greece, by the way, especially in Chinese restaurants). My home-cooked Chinese-inspired meals are made with Greek ingredients - with a little help from bottled sauces.
Change depends on the awareness that such a lifestyle was never sustainable. The surfacing of such articles on the web and elsewhere shows that there is hope for a better future, one where there isn't a surplus of propaganda and a lack of knowledge, or a surplus of skills in people lacking spherical education, or a surplus of rulers exhibiting a lack of democracy. There's definitely hope yet; as the phrase goes, hope dies last.

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