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ERT, Polish populism and Ikaria - weekly comments roundup

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A look at this week's best reader comments on our Can Europe make it? debate.

 

Alex Sakalis
20 June 2013

One of the most shocking news items of the past week was the sudden closing down of Greek public broadcaster ERT. Although after intense public pressure, ERT has re-opened - at least for now - the fact that such a decision was even taken, and without parliamentary approval, is leaving many Greeks still reeling and fearful of the direction in which their country is heading.

We have had several different perspectives from our authors and commenters, although all expressed anxious disbelief at Antonis Samaras' decision. On Ilektra Tsakalidou's article, More than a bad soap opera, a guest wrote:

It's not two factions, pro-ERT and anti-ERT at all. It's 75% opposed to shutting down the entire network of radio, TV, relays etc, at a moment's notice, failing to register the domain name of the proposed replacement for ERT (so that somebody else has claimed it) and passing this legislation by decree law so that it has not appeared before Parliament.

 

Of that 75%, a majority are unhappy with the way that ERT was being used by all the political parties (and most recently involving Kedikoglou's office staff) in corrupt practices such that new employees were recruited, paid 3,500-4,000 a month and never appeared. They were political appointments made to give money with fake employment -- directly implicating Samaras and his ministers.

 

The idea that Samaras wants to reform state institutions to remove corruption and waste is so laughable, that if it had not caused such a political crisis we would be laughing at the court jester with his Noddy hat and belled shoes.

while in Eleftheria Lekakis' article, adelepaul sums up the fear of many in Greece and beyond:

The silencing of public service broadcasting should worry us all. Taking control of the media is the act of a dictator. Peron closed down newspapers. Remember him?

Moving on, in an interview with Marek Beylin on the rise of populism in Poland, Jeremy Tate asked:

Amazing that there is an interview about populism focusing on Poland without a mention of the Palikot Movement. A populist movement, if ever there was one, and a rather positive development. This article is just fixated with the usual doom-mongering about the nationalist right, who are conspicuous by their lack of success in most places including Poland despite the crisis. Where are the League of Polish Families now? Where is Self- Defence? Does Kaczynski have any chance of winning an election?

One may disagree with the assessment that the far right in Europe are conspicuous by their lack of success - one need only look at Hungary and Greece to find counter-examples - but it is true that we should also look to the positives in the burgeoning social democratic left in Poland. This is a debate that we at Can Europe Make it? are looking to have soon.

Finally, we had Ed Vulliamy's fascinating article on Ikaria. All the commenters seemed to agree that this was a wonderful piece, and a few of you even added your own experiences of the island! Greek by birth wrote:

This is indeed a great place, which comes alive very much at night! The 'panigyria' (feasts) take place almost every night in the summer months, whereby large cauldrons of rice and meat are served together with lots of wine. Anyone passing by is a guest and they are treated generously!

 

On the other hand, it is difficult to go from one of the two cities of the island to the other in the same day. Buses run to and fro more or less once a day! If you ask why (esp. in the tourist season), they look at you and explain (in an exasperated way, sometimes!) "this is Ikaria" ...!! Yes, it is worth a visit. Could one adjust to living there or to living to such norms? This is a whole different question.

while Chris Jones added:

I too was irritated by the longevity stories about Ikaria which made no mention of its recent political history which has such a profound influence on the island's life and culture. I recall my first visit at the time of huge antagonism to the Albanians in Greece. On the wall coming out of the port in huge letters was a sign in English saying "We are all Albanians!".

Andrew Anthony, the author of the original piece to which Vulliamy's article was partly a response, did not appreciate Vulliamy's comments on his work...

Dear Ed,

 

What an ill-tempered and perversely selective attack on my piece. Let's get the snide implications out of the way first. I didn't "pant"'How old are you?" at anyone, anymore than you've "panted" as a reporter asking necessary questions for your stories. All the people who spoke to me, with the exception of one friendly old gent I ran into in the street, invited me into their homes, fully aware of my interest. I made mention of the economic problems that Greece as a whole and Ikaria in particular are facing, as well as the island's radical history and specifically the political influence of communists who were exiled there in the late 40s. But please let's not pretend that quality and longevity of life are a function of communism per se – you need only look at the experience of Albania and Romania in the same region to know that.

 

Furthermore I did not write a piece on Nicaragua about my "conversion to born-again conservatism". That's a figment of your imagination. It's true that I was critical of some aspects of the Sandinistas, particularly a disastrous agricultural policy (which they themselves eventually acknowledged) but also broadly supportive of the revolution. What I was clear about was the moral, political and economic corruption of Daniel Ortega - do you disagree? If so, I'd like to hear your defence of him. It may suit your agenda to claim that I'm a conservative supporting turbo-charged capitalism, but it's rather undermined by the inconvenient fact that it's not true. In return for your sage advice on how to write about Greek islands, can I also offer a small journalistic tip: when upbraiding a fellow writer for poor research and misleading reporting, it sort of helps your case if you don't make things up.

Many commenters defended Anthony, while nonetheless praising Vulliamy's article. John Magrath wrote:

It's an excellent article that adds enormously to our understanding, so thank you. But I do feel you're being quite unfair (and rather aggressively rude) to your colleague Andrew Anthony. In his article he wrote the following which contains much of your argument:

 

"There is also a strong tradition of solidarity among Ikarians. During the second world war, when the island was occupied by the Italians and Germans, there was substantial loss of life through starvation – some estimates put the death toll at 20% of the population. It's been speculated that one of the reasons for Ikarians' longevity is a Darwinian effect of survival of the fittest.

 

After the war, thousands of communists and leftists were exiled to the island, bringing an ideological underpinning to the Ikarians' instinct to share. As one of the island's few doctors told Buettner, "It's not a 'me' place. It's an 'us' place."

And Jeremy Fox:

Despite the rather uncharitable criticism of Andrew Anthony's piece - which another commentator has already mentioned - this is a fascinating, thoughtful and well-researched article.The picture, however, is not  quite as straightforward as the author suggests. Life expectancy has increased steadily in all the so-called capitalist countries over last couple of hundred years. A glance at a country-by-country longevity list such as this one shows that small island and city states figure predominately at the top, with Japan - a supremely consumerist country - leading the large nations. Aphilokerdo may well be a significant factor in Ikaria's spectacular record.

 

If so, it would constitute a living example of what Kropotkin advocated in Mutual Aid. There's something deeply appealing about Kropotkin's account as there is about Ed Vulliamy's description of Ikarian life. But it begs the question of how to bring about the radical change it would require in our thinking as well as in our economic and political systems.

Without wanting to get involved in a spat between two journalists, I would remark that both Vulliamy's article for openDemocracy, and Anthony's original article, are fascinating and represent two different journalistic approaches to what is a broad, equivocal and hopefully ongoing debate.

I leave the final word to jobardu:

I learned from this piece. Thanks to the author and OD.

Goodbye!

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