Τετάρτη, 27 Νοεμβρίου 2013

Mommy, I Promise We Will Never Be Hungry Again!

Justine Frangouli-Argyris
Huffington Post

"Mommy, take us home and we will never ask for food again!" With this heartbreaking cry, a girl residing at a nursery in the Kallithea area of Athens tugs on her mother's skirt and begs her to take her and her two siblings back home. The mother, visiting to cuddle and play with her children at the nursery that is providing them with food and shelter, runs away crying as she can not afford to take her children with her.

"But, sweetheart, we have nothing to eat at home," she replies. Undaunted, the child continues with a seriousness way beyond her years, "Mommy, take us home and we will never be hungry again, I promise you!"

This story, along with many other similar tales of destitute families unable to feed and clothe their children, has become so common in Greece that UNICEF reports an unbelievable 600,000 of the country's young are malnourished and living below the poverty line.

Yes, the phenomenon of malnutrition has become a reality in Greece ever since the beginning of the debt crisis in 2010, forcing a growing number of organizations and individuals into a daily fight to feed the hungry. For, hanging from most public garbage cans around Athens, one can find neatly packed bags full of cooked food waiting to be picked up. Almost like a secret code among the public, it is understood that these rations have been placed there for their needy co-citizens.

In dozens of Athenian suburbs, such as Keratsini, Tambouria, Agia Varvara, Peristeri and Ano Liosia to name but a few, but also in Western Thessaloniki and in Crete, there are ever-increasing incidents of starved students fainting in class. This has led to a rush by the myriad of Parents' Associations in the country, in the face of an absentee government, to provide assistance to the families in dire economic straits.

The Greek capital is teeming with soup kitchens that continue to pop up everywhere, everyday. As Mayor Giorgos Kaminis reported last month, more than 20,000 residents now rely on strained municipal services for their daily subsistence with another 20,000 being fed by the kitchens operated by the Greek Orthodox Church and other private donors.

The numbers are shocking with over forty percent of users forced to visit a soup kitchen for the first time within the last six months and with 18 percent of those going hungry holding university degrees. Almost two-thirds of the needy are in their prime earning ages of 26 to 55 years, devastated by the crisis and by endless austerity measures that have pushed unemployment to stratospheric levels.
Mothers no longer leave their children in orphanages and nurseries as a result of abuse as was often the case in the past but, rather, because they can not provide for them and the situation is worsening rapidly. The "Smile of the Child" organization has assisted 10,927 children so far this year compared to 4,465 in 2012 and the "Children's Village SOS" is providing for 900 families today compared with just 47 five years ago.

The dire news has reached this side of the Atlantic with Greek North American organizations such as the Greek Orthodox Church, AHEPA, and others steeping in to help those back home.
One Montreal-based group, the "Magic Mission," founded in response to the crisis, has shipped over $100,000 worth of food, clothing, school supplies and medicines to the many organizations helping Greece's needy children such as "The Ark of the World," the "Smile of the Child," the "Children's Villages SOS," the "Lighthouse of the World," as well as the to the schools of Kilkis, the municipalities of Veria and Athens and to MSF Cyprus. Founded only eighteen months ago, "Magic Mission's" members continue their work diligently and silently, striving not only to collect money but to identify specific needs to be addressed.

For all the Greeks around the world, proud of their country's heritage and its contribution to Western society, there is nothing sadder than to hear the voices of the young back home crying out, "we will never be hungry again, we promise you Mom!"



Follow Justine Frangouli-Argyris on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Justinakion

Δευτέρα, 18 Νοεμβρίου 2013

A Negative Press

Justine Frangouli-Argyris
The Huffington Post

In 2010, amid fears of an imminent default on the country's bond payments and the potential for this contagion to spread to other European countries, Greece's fellow eurozone members agreed to an unprecedented 110-billion euro rescue package. In the following year, an even larger bailout of 130 billion euros was arranged in order to stave off financial Armageddon. However, these two lifelines combined, amounting to a total of 240 billion euros, were not sufficient to completely close the gap in the country's finances and, by this year, it was clear that a further 10 billion euros would be required.

All this, while the Greek economy continues to contract, its GDP having lost an astounding 23 percent in the last 5 years. At the prompting of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the country has been striving to reduce its debt ratio from an untenable 160 percent of GDP to a targeted figure of 120 percent and to recapitalize its banks in order to put them on sounder footing.

The conditions attached to the various rescue packages that Greece has received have included drastic cuts to public spending which have resulted in dramatically lower wages, slashed pensions and an astronomical unemployment rate 26.8 percent.

Following the events one can point to three distinct periods of negative press surrounding the Greek debt crisis...
The first period is the one immediately following the outbreak of the crisis in 2010 and can be characterized as being the worst and most negative. At the time, Greece was immediately placed under the spotlight of the world's media.

Initial reaction, especially in Germany, Belgium and Holland, was to characterize the problem as purely Greek in nature and to present it as resulting from the chronic structural problems in the Greek economy, the ineptness of the country's governments to resolve them and their unwillingness to tackle the issues of tax evasion and corruption. Often, the commentary was stereotypical, deriding the Greeks for being lazy and reckless and personifying them as liars who falsified official state financial statistics for years.

Everyone remembers the provocative cover of the German magazine, Focus, entitled "Traitor to the Family of Europe," showing the statue of Aphrodite of Milos giving Europe the finger and asserting that Greece cheated its way into the eurozone.

What is most insulting is not that the Northern European press was abusing sacred symbols of ancient Greek civilization to condemn modern Greek society, but, rather, the hatred that was emanating from a slew of articles that were not criticizing actual current events but, rather, negatively interpreting the evolution of post-war Greek political and social life.

Soon afterwards, however, the media could no longer frame the problem as purely Greek in nature as the crisis began to spread to other eurozone nations with two of its founding members, Ireland and Portugal, also forced to seek support and being placed under the Troika's supervision.
The derogatory statements in the press would take on an expanded target, the PIIGS, and lead to the stigmatization of the countries of south. This separation of Europe into a "good north" and a "bad south" by the traditional European press has been instrumental in undermining feelings of solidarity on the continent and have torn at the very heart of the "European ideal."

After the second bailout was decided in October 2011, the vitriol in the international press was directed at the Greek government and its inability to impose structural changes, reform the public sector and improve tax collection. The referendum proposed by Prime Minister George Papandreou late that same month sent waves of disbelief through the world's financial community and the headlines that appeared would describe the announcement as "the final bell before Greece defaults and quits the euro." The scenario of a Greek eurozone exit would quickly spread and dominate the world's newspapers' bylines.

After much consternation, a second bailout was ratified in February of 2012 and implemented one month later after all conditions regarding a successful restructuring of Greek government bonds was met.

Regardless, a mere three months later, the continuing crisis along with an inconclusive election that led to the impossibility of the formation of a new coalition government, would lead to strong speculation that Greece would have to leave the eurozone.

The potential exit that came to be known in the European and American media as the "Grexit" would become an ongoing drag on the world's markets and be instrumental in destroying any final shred of credibility that remained in the Greek economy. Terrified by the nightmare exit scenario and the persistent rumors that their savings would vanish into thin air, Greeks would send billions in deposits abroad, adding to an already critical situation. Those in the diaspora would be forced to explain, excuse and apologize for their country that was spiraling out of control and bearing the brunt of worldwide media ridicule.

Meanwhile, the harsh austerity measures imposed on Greece continue to wreak havoc on the country's economy with GDP being shrunk 3.8 percent in the second quarter of 2013, a fifth consecutive year of decline. The dire consequences are reflected in the everyday lives of the population with the phenomenon of malnutrition having reared its ugly head and many organizations waging a daily battle to provide food and resources to destitute families in the face of an absentee government presence.

This latest phase of the decline in the economic and social life of Greece has seen the worldwide media taking on a more sympathetic stance and focusing more and more on how gravely this devastated society is suffering under the incredibly harsh austerity measures.

Another element that has drummed up some positive worldwide publicity for Greece has to do with the government's recent raid against the extremist Golden Dawn party.
Regardless, Greece continues to wilt under the imposed austerity with its economy continuing to shrink and the negative publicity surrounding every new fault that the Troika finds in its investigations of government finances. It is an ongoing situation that will keep feeding the European and American press and keep harming the climate for recovery in the country.

Τετάρτη, 6 Νοεμβρίου 2013

To "Roam" Ancient Greek Drama to the Ends of the World

Justine Frangouli-Argyris
The Huffington Post

What a thrill it is to take your seat in the ancient Roman theater of Herodes Atticus, located right in the heart of Athens with the Parthenon perched immediately above, and experience a live classical performance. And what a blessing it is to relive Agamemnon, the first instalmment of Aeschylus' dramatic trilogy, Oresteia, under the superb direction of your fellow classmate and longtime girlfriend, Niketi Kondouri.

I have fond memories of Niketi when we were studying together in the Department of Political Science at the Law School of Athens. She was a joyful party girl who was taking drama classes at Athens' National Theatre School in tandem with her law studies. I was convinced that, one day, Niketi would cause me to shed tears of emotion and pride as a result of her great talent with respect to ancient Greek drama.

In replying to why she chose to stage Agamemnon, Niketi states, "I have seen various performances of the trilogy Oresteia in Greece and in Europe. I even took an acting role in two Greek productions and I must say that I found the theme staggering!"

In Aeschylus' Oresteia (Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides>), the great ancient Greek dramatist grapples with the law of the Gods and the terror with which the "dark" Gods with autocratic ideas and values define the fate of a people. In the three parts of the tragedy, the common folk live in fear but it is through this fear that they are able to see what tyranny is and seek out some other system of ideas to redeem them from their fears. In the end, a fairer and more humane system of governance and justice evolves that can not be self-imposed but must result from the application of the rule of law.

What was it that attracted Niketi to this cruelest of Greek tragedies where Clytemnestra, the wife of the victorious King Agamemnon, coldly plots his death upon his return from the Trojan War? "Throughout the trilogy there is a clash of ancient and modern deities," she says. "Lots of blood is spilled and it is very violent but, in the end, democracy triumphs (The Eumenides, final play of the trilogy). The personalities of the Agamemnon tragedy are very modern whose relevance to today's world leaves you speechless. They have true values but, at the same time, are full of weaknesses and this combination of poetry and reality is paramount in its ability to produce glorious heroes. And the texts are a truly unique worldwide cultural heritage!"

Years ago, Niketi directed Medea, the infamous killer of her children, and last summer, together with the Municipal Theater of Kozani, she emphasized the role of Clytemnestra as brutal husband-killer. In response to why she is so fascinated by women murderers, she says, "I attempted to interpret Agamemnon through the use of the archetypical figure of the androgynous Queen of Argos, Clytemnestra. For Aeschylus, the sacrifice of his daughter, Iphigenia, by Agamemnon, in order to appease the Gods and bring his army to Troy, is the reason for Clytemnestra's hatred of her husband Agamemnon and for which she massacres him along with his mistress, Cassandra."
"The mother whose child is slaughtered takes on the role of 'mother-avenger-punisher" throughout the history of mankind. She may be queen or commoner but she will find a way to revenge what is, for her, the ultimate injustice. In Agamemnon, the recipient of this vengeance is none other than the mighty King of Argos and conqueror of Troy, Agamemnon himself but Clytemnestra is not done yet, carrying her rage one step further by murdering his concubine, Cassandra, as well."
Niketi goes on to explain that it was Aeschylus who opted to put a woman to kill her husband as Homer makes no mention of this in The Iliad.

As to why she prefers to mount ancient Greek tragedies rather than comedies, Niketi cries, "The tragedies have everything! They have strong structure, overbearing characters and suspense while, at the same time, they hide an underlying humor. Human conflicts and emotions may be easily recognizable and familiar yet they are difficult to interpret and capture as a process to self-awareness, as a vehicle towards the liberating euphoria of catharsis. I feel that every time I am confronted by them, that they open a new window in my life. We enrich ourselves by studying Classic ancient Greek texts," she continues, "and ancient drama teaches us that human nature remains unchanged through time."

Niketi would like to direct other works of ancient Greek writers as well as those of modern European and American authors. She would also like to complete the staging of the full Oresteia trilogy by adding the final two works to her repertoire. "Now I am beginning my beloved Justine," she says, "and I might not have time to finish. Between us, why would I want to put an end to this?"
Her real dream, however, "is to roam the ancient Greek theater to the ends of the world where there are lovers of ancient Greek drama, where people are moved by the principles of tragedy and its catharsis."

Niketi Kondouri has a B.A. in Political Science from Athens Law School and an M.A. in Theatre and Film from Hunter College. She has worked as an actor, musician, assistant director, assistant artistic director and director in Athens and New York. She has directed Medea (Euripides), Antigone (Sophocles), Tartuffe (Molière), Othello (Shakespeare), Miss Julie (Strindberg), The Dollhouse and Hedda Gabler (Ibsen), Siblings (Goethe), Betrayal (Pinter), Higher than the Bridge (Miller) and numerous other plays.



Follow Justine Frangouli-Argyris on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Justinakion