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A purely analytical perception...


Greece
A Strange Little Country

 

Greece is a strange little country that for the most part has government officials that are even stranger little people. It has probably fallen further from its illustrious past than any other country on the face of the earth. In spite of the wonders bequeathed to them by their illustrious ancestors, the Greeks penchant for screw-ups and small mindedness has reduced this country to third-world country that lives on its own island of frustrations. We see little in the near future that can change a course mapped out by this government that will not ultimately lead to intellectual suicide.

Athens is Greece's largest city with it and suburban environs making up almost half of the total population of the country's 10 million people. As more and more people give up their rural existences, primarily because of nuances in Greece's complicated relationship with the European Community and in spite of the country's having the lowest pay scale in Europe with the exception of Portugal, the County in general and Athens already smog ridden and overcrowded in particular, sees things only getting worse for the foreseeable future.

Being fortunate or unfortunate enough to be blessed with the Olympic in nod for 2004, Athens is going through a facial unseen since the time of Homer. Stadiums are rising, buildings are going up like weeds, Athens is getting a long needed subway and the roads are being spruced up. What all this means in plain English is the fact that traffic has ground to an absolute halt and moving around the city will be probably be hell through the coming years. Add to that, the fact that the Greece has the highest incidence of road accidents in Europe and you are going to have one hell of a mess (1).

Winning the Olympic host job for the Olympics and having the youth of the country all congregating in downtown Athens are not the only problems facing Greece in general and Athens in particular. Greece occupies the southern end of the Balkan Peninsula and as such shares borders with Albania and Macedonia among others and because of this unlucky stroke of fate finds itself with its hand's full of unwelcome refuges leaving their own war-torn countries.

Foreign investment has also not been substantial and using the United States as on example, two and one-half times as much has been invested in impoverished Portugal than has been earmarked for Greece by American Industry. On the other hand, the country has so little industry that an infrastructure hardly exists for investment, taxes are so complex that they literally frighten multinationals, while all other European Countries have gotten with privatization programs, the Greeks have a higher percentage of their producing industry owned by government or government agencies that at any time in their history.

The United States State Department did a study on how friendly Greece was to American business which we have included for your interest;

               

      "Greece has both EU-mandated and Greek government-initiated trade barriers. Greece maintains specific barriers in services such as law, aviation, and motion pictures:

  • Greece maintains nationality restrictions on a number of professional and business services, including legal advice. Restrictions on legal advice do not apply to EU citizens, and U.S. companies can generally circumvent these barriers by employing EU citizens.
  • The Greek flag air carrier, Olympic Airways, has a monopoly in providing ground handling services to other airlines, who must either contract from Olympic or self-handle. As of January 1, 1998, airlines will be able to choose between two ground handling agents, one of which will be Olympic Airlines. This is part of an EU-directed liberalization of ground handling.
  • Greece insists on testing U.S. wheat shipments for karnal bunt disease; it will not accept U.S.D.A. certificates stating that wheat comes from areas free from the disease. The testing method used provides a high incidence of false positive results. After one shipment was rejected late in 1996, Greek importers have been unwilling to risk importi../../ng from the _/span__st1_country-region__st1_place__span style_.css"FONT-FAMILY: Arial">U.S.
  • Greece has not been responsive to applications for introduction of bioengineered (genetically modified) seeds for field tests despite support for such tests by Greek farmers.
  • Greek film production is subsidized by a 12 percent admissions tax on all motion pictures. Moreover, enforcement of Greek laws protecting intellectual property rights for film, software, music, and books is problematic (see below).

Investment barriers:

Both local content and export performance are elements which are seriously taken into consideration by Greek authorities in evaluating applications for tax and investment incentives. However, they are not legally mandatory prerequisites for approving investments. New investment incentive legislation is under preparation.

Greece restricts foreign and domestic private investment in public utilities. Private power production for sale to the national grid is limited to "nontraditional" energy sources (e.g. wind and solar).

U.S. and other non-EU investors receive less advantageous treatment than domestic or other EU investors in the banking, mining, maritime, and air transport sectors, and in broadcasting. There are also restrictions for non-EU investors on land purchases in border regions and certain islands (on national security grounds).

Greek laws and regulations concerning government procurement nominally guarantee nondiscriminatory treatment for foreign suppliers. Officially, Greece also adheres to EU procurement policy, and Greece has adhered to the GATT

Government Procurement Code since 1992. Nevertheless, many of the following problems still exist: occasional sole-sourcing (explained as extensions of previous contracts); loosely written specifications which are subject to varying interpretations; and allegiance of tender evaluators to technologies offered by longtime, traditional suppliers. Firms from other EU member states have had a better track record than U.S. firms in winning Greek government tenders. It has been noted that U.S. companies submitting joint proposals with European companies are more likely to succeed in winning a contract. The real impact of Greece's "buy national" policy is felt in the government's offset policy (mostly for purchases of defense items) where local content, joint ventures, and other technology transfers are required.

In December 1996, the Greek Parliament passed legislation (Law 2446, article 16) which allows public utilities in the energy, water, transport, and telecommunications sectors to sign "term agreements" with local industry for procurement. "Term agreements" are contracts in which Greek suppliers are given significant preference. The reason for the signing of these agreements is to support the national manufacturing base. This was made possible as a result of Greece's receipt of an extension until January 1, 1998, to implement the EU's Utilities Directive 93/38."

With these restrictive policies toward foreign investment it should not be surprising that the government has been backed into taking over failing companies because of huge unemployment especially among the highly educated; as these cripples become part of the country's portfolio, bureaucrats and political cronies are placed in jobs for which they have little or no experience and Greeks competitiveness slides further and further from the norm. This tied to the increase in oil prices has sent deficits rising across the board of state run enterprises with no relief in sight. The unemployment rat in Greece has gone up steadily from 1960 when it stood at only 2 percent of the labor force to today where it realistically has reached almost 11 percent. There are many causes for the rate which is not particularly inconsistent with that of the rest of Europe is woefully high relative to Greek historical numbers and the type of economy that is found in this country.

Education and the Land

Being an agricultural society, the younger generation in an effort to legitimately leave the soil went to school and many received a higher education in just about everything that doesn't have anything to do with growing crops. After finishing school and receiving a diploma this cadre of future industrialist packed up their belongings and went to Athens to taste life in the big city. The only problem was that their expectations far exceeded the number of jobs available within the categories they had studied.

In spite of hopes to the contrary, Greece is still agrarian but even the farms have had their share of modernization cutting down on the number of hands that it takes to harvest the crops. Planners in Athens soon found themselves with a city crammed with educated people that couldn't find work in the cities and were either unwilling or unable because of economic considerations to go back. In addition, Greece which had a history of family traditions that relegated women to working the farm, raising the children and cooking the meals, suddenly changed as Greece's birthrate went south with the rest of Europe. Girls now wanted a higher education and a bit at the apple as well. There was little or no room for this sudden acceleration of people into a workforce already hamstrung by an infrastructure that was remaining, for the most part static.

Jobs

Other factors that will continue to plaque Government planners are the facts that even when jobs are available within categories that are deemed satisfactory to newly diplomaed graduates, the expectations of getting paid a reasonable salary to go with the increased responsibility required does not exist here and entry level wages in all industries have remained unreasonably low. Also nipping at the heels of those Greeks new to the job marketplace are refugee, legal or otherwise willing to work for less. Thus, the refugees take the lower ranking jobs at wages no Greek would accept and this puts pressure on all categories of work all the way up the line. To some degree, Greece is in a particularly bad position because of the more educated aspects of their native workforce. We do not see any change in the phenomena in the foreseeable future.

Hardly a Naval Power

Greece has always been proud of its prowess as a naval power. Greek families have historically led the way in providing new and better methodology for transporting goods and people throughout the globe. In recent years though, this edge seems to have vanished and Greece has given up the reigns as a ship building power to unlikely places like Japan, Korea and Norway. The finitudes of foreign registry has also taken a tool as Liberia and Panama have substantially more shipping under flag and unlikely countries such as The Bahamas, Cyprus, Malta and Singapore are closing in. The hard nosed Greek Shipping magnates have left their family fortunes in the hands of lesser human beings and the results are causing the nation to lose its edge, in this, the only area that the nations industry stood tall.

EU

Portugal and Spain have benefited immensely from their relationship within the European commonwealth as they have turned their lower labor costs into a tremendous magnet for industry. They have both changed their laws to encourage the countries of the commonwealth to invest with their borders and have shown a rapid transformation from the agrarian to industrial form of life. Greece, whose arable land is only a small fraction of the nation's size, is rapidly sinking into the role of farmer for the common market because they have little else to show for their efforts.

Although tourism could ultimately become somewhat of a salvation, the traffic problems in large cities, the smog and the lack of first class accommodations have not brought a migration of those with money. In addition, the war in their neighborhood along with the rift with Turkey causes people to have second thoughts when they chose where to spend their holidays. Greece can only hope that she is able to present herself well when the Olympics are played in her home if she wants to avoid the stamp of second-class citizen of the world for the foreseeable future.

Unemployment

Greece is going to have to come to grips with a massive unemployment among its young and the fourth oldest population in Europe as a percentage of overall population and rank among the top nations in terms of life expectancy for both men and women. One the other hand, Greece spends a lower percentage of their Gross National Product (GNP) than any other European Country, including poverty stricken Portugal. Strangely, employees are obligated to pay the highest percentages of income into the system for retirement where the Greek Government ranks at almost the bottom. On the other hand, the State is equally niggardly when it comes to both unemployment allowances and family benefits.

Furthermore, mandatory retirement ages for inconsistent and many people are able to retire at 45 or younger where they will ultimately collect social security for more years than they have worked an enormous drain on the system. With a crashing birth rate, early retirement and people living much longer, the Greek retirement systems is in shreds. When and even more critical statistic is added to the equation, unemployment, one can easily imagine a totally bankrupt system. Not only do the unemployed not contribute to the system, but also they deplete it because similar pockets are used for both funds. Moreover, benefits to the retired have increased with time in diametrical opposition of what should have been the facts.

Unabated inflation has also taken a bite from the social security fund as have the almost non-existent interest rates paid to the fund by the Bank of Greece which has paid a fixed rate that is the lowest they can get away with. What in reality is happening is the fact that what little is left in the depleted fund is being used to subsidize the Government by the payment of below market rates. In addition, the Government has not recently paid into the fund at all relative to their own employees due to certain exemptions that they are allowed. Nevertheless, they have become the largest debtor of the fund but because payouts to retirees tend to be so low, the system still survives.

As Greece catches up with the standard of living in the remainder of the EU, today's disparities will cause greater and greater hardships on the elderly. Because of close family ties, members step in and supply auxiliary funds when social security is not enough, but what of the next generation, they may not have anyone to help them over the social security short-fall hurdle and Greece will have a broken system, impoverished poor and streets crowded with the elderly begging for bread and crying for alms.   

Crime

Greece as a country has always prided itself on the fact that crime was almost non-existent within its borders. Furthermore, the country has always shared a little something with Albania with whom they have a common border. As the Serbs ravaged Kosovo, refugees poured into Albania, the poorest nation in Europe. This pushed penniless Albania against the wall and their social systems had to be divided between the displaced people from Yugoslavia and their own, mostly poverty stricken citizens. Many of the ethnic Albanians fled across their borders to Greece where they had heard that it was easier to make a living.

Most of those that crossed over didn't wait for the nuances of a Green Card or Citizenship, they just waited until dark and climbed over whatever barriers were in place into what they thought would be a better live. Better for them maybe, but for the Greeks a major change in their life style. You see the Albanians thought that an honest living consisted of stealing, hijacking and murder, things historically unseen in Greece.

The pure statistics show how dire the situation really is. Best estimates place the number of illegal refugees in Greece at 650,000. Greece has indicated that it will issue 235,000 Green Cards to this group meaning that 415,000 people will have to be forcibly rounded up and sent back to whence they came; in almost all cases, Albania. On the other hand, the Albanians have become frighteningly adroit at manufacturing Green Cards and Passports that if anything are better than the real thing. Thus, we are not optimistic that too many of these apparently unwelcome immigrants will be found or shipped back.

Borders With Neighbors Are Pourous

Concerned that this indeed is the case, Public Order Minister Chrysochoides has been pushing for the hiring of another 2,500 police officers that who will aid in the round up of illegal aliens and guard the formerly porous borders with Albania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Macedonia. The problem with this course of action is the fact that no money has been enacted for this massive police buildup with all available excess funding having been thrown at construction for the 2004 Olympics.

To give you some idea of how bad the problem is though, Public Order Ministry statistics show that nearly half of the lesser crimes, such as home break-ins and petty-theft are committed by Albanians, the percentage of crime to population literally goes right off of the chart. Assuming that the Government Statistics are correct and that 11 million people now live in Greece and that the vast majority of the 650,000 (6% of the population) illegal aliens are Albanians, you find that this small percentage of the population is committing and enormous amount of crime relative to its percentage of the population.

The Greek Government tried to play down the effect of the unwelcome visitors not wanting to unduly alarm tourists, but when a second Albanian bus hijacker held a substantial number of Greek hostages demanding ransom in two weeks, press throughout the world covered the event like flypaper. The fact that Greek Commandos ultimately dispatched the hijacker did little to assuage the feelings of people that had experienced a monumental upsurge in crime. Prime Minister Costas Simitis stated: "Whoever fails to respect law and order has no place in our country and must leave, Greece is a hospitable country, has in recent years encountered unprecedented "criminal phenomena" which are trying the naturally hospitable feeling of the Greek people."

Jokes about police ineptness which made the rounds after the previous bus hijacking were not totally silenced by the commando's victory because they are not considered to be part of the local police department. Police Chief Loannis Georgakopoulos when speaking to reporters in Thessaloniki said, “The Greek police have little experience in dealing with situations of this kind. That statement and a couple of drachma may get you on a bus in Athens but that is about it.

Without an enormous public relations effort to prove that Greece wants to clean up its act, the Albanians may be the only tourists in Athens over the next several years and who else but then would attend the Olympics.  Unless something is done in a big hurry, Greece will find that the only industry they have left to bring in hard currency will be left badly injured, possibly fatally. 

Strangely, while the scenario above was unraveling, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou was meeting with his counterparts from Albania and Macedonia. The Hellenic Star reported in their July 22-28, 1999 issue:

"Papandreaou and his Macedonian and Albanian counterparts, Aledksandar Dimitrov and Paskal Milo, met in the restaurant of a small guest house on the small reed-filled fishing Island of Agios Ahilios, just a few kilometers from the borders with Macedonia and Albania in Prespa Lake.

All three ministers pledged cooperation on a wide range of issues, including the construction and improvement of road and rail links…Efforts to improve relations in border regions led the ministers to agree to create a pilot program allowing local residents easier cross-border access in a 20-kilomer area with each country where frontiers meet.

The program aims at allowing residents "more ability to travel…while making sure we are strict on border crime and illegal immigration," Papandreou said.  A flood of illegal immigrants from Albania into Greece has created tensions that have hampered otherwise improving relations between them, but bilateral issues were avoided during the three-way meeting.    

This meeting probably didn't send the right message and one could really wonder under the circumstances that Greece is body with the assassins from Serbia that caused the refugee and criminal problems to begin with. Further opening the border in the name of friendship will allow Albania to export another million or so thieves and murderers to Greece extracting the final revenge for their neighbor's insensitive relationships.

Turkey Is Not A Bird In These Parts

Greece also shares a border with Turkey, a country that when known more regally as the Ottoman Empire who occupied it, from 1453 until 1829. Although Greece went through of succession of types of Governments, Kingdom then a Monarchy and later a form of Democracy with military juntas mixed in, only when the Greek Government told Mussolini to go fly a kite, did the Nazi's invade and again Greece was occupied, but this time for only a few years.

Things have gone swimmingly since then, with time for some of the most really bizarre military governments either being elected or grabbing office. The strange groups were either made up of incompetent army officials or corrupt politicians. War with Turkey and Macedonia was never more than a stones throw away. The problem with Macedonia has mostly been addressed but the Greek-Turkish fight over Cyprus has remained an open wound for both countries. Worse yet, Greece has used Cyprus as bargaining chip for Turkey's admission to the European Community, something that the Turkish Government would dearly like to have.

It is odd that Turkey who has been playing ball with the West for the longest of times has to beg for entrance and the Greeks regularly play footsie with the Russian, Chinese and Arabs with some success look like that have it made in the shade unless substantial inflation leaves them short of EU requirements.

Cyprus for many years had a population that was divided approximately 80% Greek and 20% Turkish. Although there was a bias toward Greece because of both population and territory, Cyprus existed as more as a piece of land than it did a territory or protectorate. In 1959 because of agitation by the majority population, Britain, Greece Turkey and Cypriot leaders agreed that an independent country would be formed and that the constitution of the new government would guarantee the freedoms of the Turkish minority.

In spite of "the best laid plans" the two nationalities were soon at one another's throats and it took the armed forces of the United Nations to step between them and avoid substantial bloodshed. That kept the lid on a bad situation until 1974 when the Cypriot National Guard led by officers from Greek Army in a major misjudgment, seized the government. Under the laws of physics, one reaction causes an equal and opposite reaction and it didn't take long in coming. A week later, the Turks, who really did not give a tinker's-dam what happened to Cyprus, became enraged at what they considered dirty dealing by the Greeks. When the smoke had cleared, Turkey controlled forty percent of the Island, having gone right through UN forces that divided the two combatants.

The Greeks voted to create a separate government (or country) on their 60% of the Island and promptly expelled the resident Turks while Turkey soon did the same to them. For whatever reasons, Greece's Government was globally more widely acceptable than that of Turkey who was only recognized by North Korea. Although the Greeks were not happy at all with the situation they soon found that there a few bargaining chips that they held. They knew that Turkey was desperate to become part of the European Union and that they could effectively block their admission by blackball. Normally Turkey doesn't negotiate with their backs to the wall but in this case they thought that the means may justify the end, therefore a deal could be possible.

The fact that Turkey has been on the right side in wars in Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Iraq and the USSR during the cold war, while supplying bases, armaments and men has meant little to the EU and is just the way things are around these part. The fact that Greece has wavered, wilted and withdrawn every time the slightest taint of trouble arose did not change the game either. Now, with the deck stacks against Turkey and on the 25th anniversary of their intervention in Cyprus, the agenda may once again swing toward a resolution with Greece.

Prodding by no less than Secretary General Kofi Annan, the Group of Seven and Russia, leaders have made it known that it is time for Glafcos Clerides the leader of the Greek side of the island and Rauf Denktash, the head of the Turkish enclave to sit down and talk this over. The end game would be the creation of a new nation under the primary control of the majority Greeks with certain guarantees for the Turks (Where have we heard that story before?) In exchange, the Turks would receive their highly sought after membership in the EU. Although it would seem that Turkey would be selling its own people down the river, we don't think that when push comes to shove, they are going to have major conscience pangs over the experience. After all, Turkey has the biggest army in NATO and the Greeks are a pushover. If there is any trouble or back peddling on guarantees, the Turks can retake whatever they want of Cyprus whenever they feel like it.

Obviously though, as part of the deal, Greek and Turkey would have to withdraw the majority of their forces their and the UN force would be replaced by a supposedly unbiased NATO presence.

Sounds simple in principal but in practice, the leaders of the opposing communities are for the most part intransigent and serious messages will have to come from the home office before either one of them gets off the dime.

The Greek Embassy in Washington published a diary according to the Greek Gospel which may differ to some degree with the facts. We will leave it up to the reader's interpretation to cull the wheat from the chaff:


RELATIONS BETWEEN GREECE AND TURKEY

CHRONOLOGY
Main Turkish Hostile Actions and Arbitrary Claims Against
Greece 1955-1996

September 1955

Orchestrated attack of Turkish mob against the Greek minority in Constantinople (Istanbul). Significant number of casualties and virtually total destruction of their properties. Beginning of massive exodus of minority from Constantinople (Istanbul). Reduction of its numbers from approximately 120,000 to 2,000 people today.

1958
Decision to close down the Greek Union of Constantinople, effective immediately.

1964
Unilateral Turkish denunciation of the Convention of Establishment of Commerce and Navigation of 1930 (between Venizelos and Ataturk). Greek citizens immediately forced to leave
Turkey. Obligation for the expedited departure of their relatives, minority-member Turkish citizens. Issuance of secret law denying Greek citizens all their property rights in Turkey.

1964
Shutting down of all minority schools on the islands of Imbros and Tenedos. Establishment on islands of Turkish jails for heavy criminals, expropriation of properties of the Greek population, consequent fleeing of the Greek minority from the islands. Reduction of minority population from 8,000 to 250 people today.

1971
Decision of the Turkish authorities to shut down the
Halki Theological School, immediately executable. Consequent deprival of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of its sole means for acquiring new members.

1973-74
De facto questioning of Greece's sovereign rights over the Aegean continental shelf, through the granting of research licenses to the Turkish government petroleum company (TRAO) and the sending of the research vessel "CARDALI" to conduct research in the area.

1974
Turkish invasion of
Cyprus. Occupation of 37 percent of the area of the Democracy of Cyprus. One-third of the Cypriot population (180,000-200,000 people) became refugees. Maintenance of Turkish military force of 30,000-35,000 soldiers in occupied areas. Transfer to the occupied areas of approximately 70,000 Turkish settlers from Anatolia.

1974
De facto questioning of Greek air space of 10 nautical miles for the first time since 1931. Continuous and massive violations of Greek air space (over 500 in 1995 alone). Over 80 percent of violations occur at less than 6 nautical miles from the Greek coast and even over the Greek islands. De facto arbitrary rejection by Turkey of F.I.R. Athens (until 1980).

1968-82
Throughout the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea,
Turkey systematically attempts to deprive islands of the rights enjoyed by all countries in their sea space (territorial waters, continental shelf, economic zone, etc.). Turkish efforts are rejected.

1975
Turkey agrees to the referral of the continental shelf dispute to the International Court of Justice (joint statement of Prime Ministers Karamanlis and Demirel in Brussels). Subsequently pulls back from agreement and insists on dialogue for the "political" solution of the dispute (in other words, for the division or the joint utilization of the Aegean continental shelf).

1975-today
Repeated statements by officials in all levels of Turkish government that
Greece's potential extension of her territorial waters to 12 nautical miles -- as is her legal right under the Law of the Sea Convention -- or actions concerning other Greek sovereign rights would constitute a "casus belli." Constant questioning of Greece's sovereignty over the Aegean islands (Lausane Treaty of 1923, Paris Peace Treaty of 1947) on several unfounded pretexts (historical, geopolitical, etc.).

1974-80
Greece temporarily not member of NATO military leg. Since her return in 1980, Turkey consistently attempts to prevent Greece's full re-entry, through use of the Turkish veto (military planning, joint infrastructure projects, and establishment of NATO headquarters in Greece). Since 1992, Turkey refuses to agree to the implementation of NATO decisions for the establishment of two allied headquarters in Greece. It also blocks decision on the establishment in Greece of MND South.

1989
Passage of arbitrary Turkish law establishing Turkish "Search and Rescue" rights over half of the
Aegean, in direct violation of ICAO rules.

1993
Arbitrary Turkish regulation regarding navigation through the Straits, in violation of the Montreux Convention (1936).

1995-96
For the first time in recent history, Turkey claims sovereignty over Greek territory (Imia islets and, by extension, the Dodecanese islands), both through hostile military actions and through the questioning of the validity and binding force of international treaties and agreements that establish the territorial status quo in the Aegean.

THE CHURCH

The Church in Greece is extremely important in the live of its citizens whether or not they attend on a regular basis. A number of high ranking members of the Greek Orthodox Church have taken a prominent role in the nations political affairs and although the results were not always constructive, in most cases the expressed chauvinism for the country in every regard.

Every religion has its minister who believes that charity begins at home. Because of their high standing, wayward church officials can often lead their flock in places that they should best stay out of. Such was the case in the mater of Chrysanthos, Bishop of Limassol. You see Chrysanthos wanted the better things and was not about to wait until the Church bestowed them upon him, so he carefully went about separating the faithful and not so faithful from Britain, Belgium, a charitable foundation in Ecuador, Portugal, New Zealand, the United States and Greece from as much of their money as was possible in the time between the start of his scheme and its conclusion.


In theory, Chrysanthos was promising his investors a combination of heaven on earth combined with high interest loans purportedly guaranteed by the church. When he was eventually reigned in, the Holy Synod was forced to admit that people had been globally conned by their Bishop and that Greek Justice along with that of other European countries were rapidly closing in. Chrysanthos resigned in humiliation and the church hoped the matter would end there and additional embarrassment would be spared continued publicity of having the gory details aired in public as the criminal prosecution started its process.

Justice Minister Nicos Koshis in meeting with Synod Officials indicated that there was no way in the world that this case is going to by buried just because we are talking about a form Bishop, "For us the matter is not closed, it will only be closed after the completion of a police investigation into his financial dealings. Part of this investigation would be completed within days. For us the matter is not closed, it will only be closed after the investigation is completed and the file is ready to send to the Attorney general so he can decide on further action. When investigations in these countries were wrapped up, the traveling road show would visit Portugal,

Koshis indicated that the investigation would travel from country to country in order to get all of the facts, Officials had already been to Britain and had gotten a good hold on what had happened in Greece. When these were investigations the road show would visit, the United States, Portugal and Brussels in that order. There are many unanswered questions in this matter such as a mystery American Woman, Nina Petros, who always is arriving in Cyprus momentarily to set maters straight but neither does she ever arrive but nobody can even find proof of her existence. What roll was played by the four Brits that have already been arrested? Did Chrysanthos's lawyer participate in the swindle as has been charged by some of the people that were separated from their money? How did money get from a Brussels bank in which it was deposited to the Cyprus branch of the Yugoslav-based Karic Banka bank and what role did they play? Is there anything to the statement by Chrysanthos that "the affair was "part of an orchestrated attack on the Holy Church?” And if you believe that one, I have a number of bridges for sale that you can buy for a small price and start charging tolls to everyone that wants to pass.

While Chrysanthos has been indicted by the Government, he has also been charged by the Synod of charges that he had acted out of greed and for his own benefit, profiteering in currency speculation while holding up his position in the church to attract investors in his illicit scheme. His worst crime of all was his unauthorized use of the holy seal to guarantee that the investors would get all of their money back.

Now that it is clear that they have been swindled, from a civil point of view, we wonder what happens next. The amounts taken were prodigious by any stretch of the imagination. The money is all gone, having been lost in the Bishops betting the wrong way in currency market. Lawyers have pointed out that under the theory of implied authority, fact that the Bishop had the "Seal" in his possession and in any court of law, that would be a strong indicator that he had the right to use it and indeed, bind the Church. Thus, the Church could well be sued for the loss if not in Greece, in other countries. The amounts in question of still mostly unknown but it is believed that if the Church was forced to make investors whole, it would at least put a major dent in their treasury.

For his actions that ultimately could but are likely to bankrupt the Church, Chrysanthos was only given a two year suspension from his duties, supposedly put him up in a luxury residence with servants while giving him a king's ransom for an allowance and the mission of continuing to act as a Church emissary abroad. (This flies in the face of logic; Chrysanthos is a citizen of Cyprus, Cyprus law does not allow for the extradition of its citizens. On the other hand, should the ex-Bishop leave Cyprus he becomes fair game and can be arrested and extradited anywhere? You can bet your last nickel that the good bishop is not going to be doing a lot of traveling and when asked, will reply that sickness is keeping him from his appointed duties overseas.) When asked about the bounty being paid the defrocked Bishop, Archbishop Chrysanthos said; "We could not abandon him (Chrysanthos) or leave him hungry without pay or anything."  

   

You can bet on the fact that we have not heard the last of this matter. Under the circumstances outlined above, the only way that we can picture this kind of scene unfolding would be that Chrysanthos convinced his superiors that he had the magic touch and couldn't lose. He agreed to donate the winnings to the Church and pay back the people that had investing in his little scheme. This is the only scenario in which someone that had done this much damage could literally be treated regally when caught with his hand in the cookie jar.  His protectors, concerned that he will implicate them have circled the wagons and are trying to make the best out of a bad situation. 

Unless the amount in question turns out to be an amount that the Church can quietly pay in the dead of night to the various victims, you can believe that this is only the tip of the iceberg.  With the national psyche of Greece already in the toilet and the Olympic games coming in 2004, giving them a chance to shine, this will only serve to bring embarrassment to a nation that has learned to live with shame. This may turn out to be this biggest religious fiasco since the Borghia's raid on the Catholic Churches treasury hundreds of years ago.

.1) We ran across a great article in the Letters to the Editor column of the Athens Community News, 7/25/99. The author was apparently not willing to give his or her name but we loved it anyway.

"As a foreigner spending already 6 months in Athens, I have some views of Greek-style driving, whether agreeable or not, to relate to you readers.

To my experience here, the Greek drivers, male and female, young and old, can incredibly increase their vehicles' speed from 0 kilometers per hour to 120 kilometers per hour in a flash (!) even in not-so-busy streets in Athens. When you look through the rear of your car while driving on nearly deserted streets, there will be one of many kinds of vehicles that appear suddenly behind you, and by the time you see it, it is so close that he/she can see scratches on your car's bonnet. Should there be any safety distances between two vehicles in case of sudden stop?

At a traffic light, I can hear loud honks from cars behind, even though my car is the tenth in line waiting in a queue for the green light, and quite sure that I, and others behind who honk their horns, have to wait at least one more turn to pass the intersection. What are those honks for, then? Well, maybe just to remind us to move our cars as soon as we see green light, isn't it?

Young drivers, mostly not over 25 years of age, drive like crazy stunt men in movies. No wonder, you can watch news about fatal accidents on TV every day. I cannot become a real Greek-style driver. I do smoke and talk on my mobile phone but never while driving. I even bought a hand-free kit to be used with my mobile phone for my own safety. I have my loving family waiting to see me returning home after work everyday. According to local practices, a driver is supposed to have a cigarette in one hand holding the wheel, and keep talking on mobile phone held in another hand. Conversation on mobile continues even at U-turns. Believe it or not!

Traffic signs are neglected. I have to be more careful when entering one-way streets since a vehicle may surprisingly and suddenly appear on the opposite direction.

            Sirens are never paid attention to.

Some may argue that these things can be experienced in any country. Yes, I agree. But I don't expect to gain experiences in a civilized European country like Greece. However, those have never spoiled good sides of this marvelous country. I still enjoy visiting archaeological sites, islands and beaches as usual. I will feel safer visiting places if driving behavior were improved. Law enforcement is not necessary if drivers really know "how to" drive."

It’s All About Money

The money of every country on earth is always an important part of its early history and for the most; it gives you a visual look at either a bit of history or a monument of some great importance to the country’s heritage. Tracing back the trials and tribulations that certain coinage has gone through is often one of the best ways of taking a country’s temperature at any given time. When it came time to merge most of the European currencies together recently no country’s population had a harder time adjusting to that action than did the Greek people whose history of money went back to the year 540 B.C. when the drachma originated here.

While the drachma today is a generic term for Greek money in general, both coinage and paper; when it originated it was a silver coin and was named after the island of Aegina where it originated. The silver content was necessary at that time because the people had little confidence in the longevity of their governments and if there was not some intrinsic value contained within the coins, they would not pass for currency. Gradually as Greece expanded its influence the idea of using the drachma throughout their world took hold and it became a critical part of the commerce of the era. Alexander the Great who was quite the world traveler made the drachma the currency of choice wherever he traveled, and for those years, he got around quite a bit.

Interestingly enough, many of the peoples that Alexander foisted the coin upon and had never before seen currency, soon realized that this was a capital idea and even after he pulled up stakes and left they developed coinage of their own. It wasn’t so much that the Greek coinage was not attractive, but it had faces of people carved in it that were unknown in most of the places that Alexander was either visiting or pillaging. Moreover, among other peoples that directly copied the drachma were the tribes in Afghanistan that created the dirham, which is still the currency standard in much of the Islamic world today. Beside the fact that they were not excited by the faces of a bunch of pompous Greeks cluttering up their currency, the Afghans learned early on that printing money could be very profitable.

Historically in spite of Alexander’s introduction of the drachma to the know universe, in reality, there were no single Greek national standards for currency. Early on what later became the country of Greece was in reality various states each minting their own coinage with the face of their favorite native son embedded into its surface. While this system was rather chaotic it was necessary to salve the various strong egos that pervaded the region at that time. In addition the numbering system in use during that period also varied from area to area. Commerce, although substantial among the states was to some degree bogged down by both currency and numerical comparisons. Moneychangers had a field day as traveling merchants were obligated to exchange their currency for whatever they could get as they enter into a new territory in search of business. The value of the various coins became better known based on the particular figure that appeared in its relief. 

However, eventually the Romans came along and ruined the game. They had their own leaders that they believed deserved glorification on money and the drachma had soon gone the way of the Dodo Bird. In spite of the higher intrinsic value that it possessed, it was banned relative to the use of monetary exchange under Roman rule. As time marched on the Greeks didn’t have much to say about their own government and their own money. The country seemed to be constantly under control of someone else. First it was the Romans, then it was the Barbarians and after that the Ottomans controlled the country. During those transitional periods the ever-flexible Greek population used whatever coinage the government in power recommended as the medium of choice.

However, in 1832 the Ottomans were outed and Greece became independent once again. Naturally the drachma was dusted off and established as the currency of choice. Immediately the engravers went to work putting their best faces forward on Greek currency. While it once again contained illustrations of political leaders and local events, it was not what you would call a coin of the realm. Inconceivably, at that time the drachma was being produced in the United States and many of the scenes on the early paper money originated in Latin America. Moreover, during that period people used a monetary unit called the phoenix which was a coin consisting of 90% silver and 10% brass. This continued until 1932 when obligatory paper currency was mandated. However, generically it was called the drachma.

After the end of World War I, there was both simultaneous inflation and depression in many European countries and Greece was no exception. Most of the countries were continuously issuing new coinage and notes of ever increasing denominations or at worst overprinting what they had in circulation with new values. Not so, the Greeks whose drummer had always played a somewhat different tune. They ordered their money cut in half assigning the previous value to both parts. A move that was both frugal and time saving. Then they came up with an even better idea to balance the then rocky budget, one of the halves would become a mandatory loan to the government and would be physically presented to officials. A short history of the relationship between the drachma and the pound during the occupation of the country by the German’s is rather illustrative of that currency’s precipitous loss of value.

            January 1941:    1 pound = 1,200 drachmas

January 1942     1 pound = 23,400 drachmas

January 1943     1 pound = 145,500 drachmas

January 1944     1 pound = 3,202,100 drachmas

October 1944     1 pound = 1,219,000,000,000 drachmas[1]

Anyone that made the mandatory exchange turned out to be a making an extremely bad move as the loan was never repaid and the bill was ordered cut in half once again. There was some utilitarian value to this constant down sizing of the Greek money. While it started out very large and garish, by this time it was a tidy package that could be carried around neatly in one’s purse or pocket. While this was pleasant from an aesthetic point of view, it caused the population great hardship and they started to call the drachma nasty names, which are unprintable in this article. This name calling however did little good and certainly did not put any additional money in their pockets, but if that had made the populous mad, they hadn’t seen anything yet.

During the early parts of World War II, the Greek economy became ravaged by inflation and the Drachma became worth less and less until it proverbially was no longer worth the paper it was printed on. Historians always refer to either the United States’ currency toward the end of the American Revolutionary War when people totally lost confidence in their currency and someone of importance said that it took a wagon load of money to buy a wagonload of food or worse yet the German mark after World War I. At that time things in Germany were in many instances worse than the conditions that existed during the American Revolution. People were forced to spend their money the minute it was issued or lose most of its value. However, the currency crises in Greece during the World War II brought a new name to currency devaluation. It made the American and German problems look like mere child’s play.

During November of 1944 new drachma is introduced, which in relation to the old one (the inflationary) is 1 to 50,000,000,000. Due to the bad financial conditions and to the political instability of inflation continues but with a much lower rate…” [2]

It appeared too many around that time that Germany was going to win the war and everyone’s money in Europe with the exception of the German Mark would be of no value. From a psychological, the Greeks were even more worried than the rest of a very nervous continent. For most of its history, Greece had been ruled by others and it looked like more of the same was going to be the order of the day. Government issued fiat became worthless and even the then world record for being totally worthless, Greek 100-billion drachma note could only purchase a handful of seeds to do a tad of planting. While this made the population most unhappy, there was more yet to come. In 1953, instead of reprinting Greek money, the citizenry were told just to pretend that three zeros had been removed from all paper money. The treasury could not afford to overprint their money things had gotten so bad. The people said that they no longer wanted to play “let’s pretend” and said that they had enough.

However, the Drachma and its unusual heritage are no more. The Greeks have totally converted to the Euro and in spite of the fact that their currency only bears bitter memories of the government’s inability to deal with the country’s fiscal policies; there is much emotion about losing what people now look like a long-term friend. However, cooler heads have remarked, with friends like the drachma, who needs enemies? In the meantime, the Greeks in reality really no longer use money of any kind because the entire country seems to have gone credit card mad. These pieces of plastic are seemingly accepted for even the smallest of transactions here and it beats trying to figure out how many drachmas there are going to be to the euro. 

Greek Potpourri

In an interesting story that appeared on June 12, 2001 in the New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman seemed to put everything Greek into perspective and we paraphrase:

Modern Greece, which has experienced just about every political trend you can imagine since World War II - civil war, communism, socialism, capitalism, nationalism, authoritarianism, colonels and chaos - is now tightly ensconced in what I like to call the Golden Straitjacket of the European Union, The E. U. Golden Straitjacket means the fun is over - all of Western Europe now has the same currency and must submit to the discipline of the same German bankers”…

“The E.U. loves to measure things. It discovered that Greece has the lowest number of people on the Internet and the greatest number of people in agriculture. But - you have to love this figure - Greeks lead Europe in Most Nights Out in Restaurants per Year. Memo to E.U.: These people are going to take their traditional naps between 4 and 8 and head for the taverna at 9 if the E.W. likes it or not, or if it costs them some growth or not.”

The Greek national dish is cocoretsi, which is made up of all of the innards, including bowels of a lamb. The E.U. ruled that cocoretsi did not meet Euro-hygiene standards. Too bad - every Greek home still serves it on holidays. So there you have it: Greece is the last E.U. country to leave the Old World behind, and proud of it. And it’s determined to prove that while you may have to give up your politics when you put on the Golden Straitjacket, you don’t have to give up your culture. You can have your euro and cocoretsi too. Don’t know if they’re right, but you gotta root for them.

When Is a Wager Not A Wager? When It Is In Athens!

However, Friedman left out one very important statistic, the fact that Greece has the highest incidence of gambling in the 15-nation European Union. “Gambling is a Greek passion. While that is an interesting statistic, no one really is sure what it means. You see, Greece has laws which clearly do not allow gambling outside of licensed casinos, but that doesn’t describe to the satisfaction of the local constabulary what exactly gambling is and what it isn’t. “It’s our Mediterranean character. They say the biggest gamblers in the world are the Chinese and the Greeks. The Chinese will gamble their wives away; we stop at our mothers-in-law.” [3] Another interesting statistic brought by one of Friedman’s cohorts at the New York Times, Anthee Arassava in an article entitled “Scandals Drive a Crackdown on Illegal Gambling in Greece states some interesting facts:

“Under Greek law, gambling is prohibited outside licensed casinos. But in the last two months, more than 750 arcade owners have been arrested fined and slapped with three-month prison sentences for converting slot machines so they pay out cash instead of bonus playing time. In all, 200,000 unlicensed gambling machines operate nationwide, costing the cash-strapped country an estimated $5 million daily in lost revenue, according to government officials.

Naturally corruption in the Greek Government, which has been pervasive for years no matter which party is in office, has something to do with the strange goings on here. Alekos Chrysanthakopoulos, a social deputy and head of an ad-hoc parliamentary committee on gambling was the unwilling star of a television show, which caught him in the act of playing video poker in an establishment that was not licensed for anything even indirectly associated with gambling. For his trouble, Chrysanthakopoulos was expelled from the ruling Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK)”s Parliament group over the affair. This wonderment was followed up the major media event of the year, which included pictures on the front pages of numerous papers showing George Pashalides, a senior minister playing footsie with a man believed to control a substantial portion of illicit Greek gambling. Pashalides excuses for the meeting were about as lame as a three legged frog, but nobody expects much more from a system in which corruption and motherhood seem to walk arm in arm.

The gamblers meanwhile have moved their operations to new quarters and the arcade owners, who were paying off in cash, have gone on line with their operation. Thus, once the inept politicians get around to defining what gambling is and what it isn’t, it won’t be there anymore anyway. However, no one here expected much more and that’s what they are getting. And talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water, frightened politicians have even banned Pac-Man in their efforts show the people they are doing something about the problem. In Greece though, what you see is not what you get. As Dimitris Batzelis, secretary general of Greece’s Financial Crime Bureau put it, “It isn’t enforcing the gaming ban. It’s clarifying what the ban will in fact ban.”

However, gambling and just about everything die hard in Greece. “We don’t want to have illegal gambling in Greece. We are banning all electronic games. We wanted a clean decision... and the decision is no electron games,” stated Christos Protopapas when speaking for the national government.  However, he added, “Pool is not an electronic game.” For what it is worth, slot machines in Greece are called “froutakia” which if translated comes out meaning “little fruit.” I guess we know where their heart is at.

The Olympics

The Ancient Games

We know that you are really interested in what happened way back when the Olympic Games began and why. The following is the real lowdown on the story and the intricate details of this most intriguing story. .

“Pausanias,, 5.7.1, states: “As for the Olympic[4] games, the most learned antiquaries of Elis say that Cronus was the first king of heaven, and that in his honor a temple was built in Olympia by the men of that age, who were named the Golden Race. When Zeus was born, Reha entrusted the guardianship of her son to the Dactyls of Ida, who are the same as those called Curetes. They came from Cretan Ida—Heracles, Paeonaeus, Epimedes, Iasius and Idas. Heracles, being the eldest, matched his brothers, as a game, in a running-race, and crowned the winner with a branch of wild olive of which they had such a copious supply that they slept on heaps of its leaves while still green. It is said to have been introduced in Greece by Heracles from the land of the Hyperboreans, men living beyond the home of the North Wind.[5] 

The Olympics were first held in Olympia[6] (a religious site) in the northwest Peloponessus in southern Greece beginning in 776 BC,[7] until they were eventually disbanded by the newly Christianized Romans in 394 AD. Just as they are today, the games had been held every four years, usually in the months of July or August[8], the hottest time of the year in Greece. However, in earlier times, the competitors would arrive on the site approximately a month before the events were to take place. They would then go though a period of both athletic training and religious purification which would last approximately thirty days. On game day a religious ceremony would be held and after that was concluded, the games would begin. However, during the month before the games started, the judges would work with the potential competitors to determine who was the fittest of them and only those that they deemed infinitely qualified from a physical sense could enter the final competition.

The few that then remained after the weeding-out process was completed would then compete in one or more of a series of events which although somewhat changed over the years would consist of possibly two chariot races, a boxing match, wrestling, several footraces, a sword duel, and archery. Hopes to eventually enter this competition  obsessed the formative years of the young men of Greece. It was a way to both riches and glory. The potential competitors began their training as children and if they became good enough they ultimately competed when reaching the ages of between 16 and 24. Much of this information was recovered from the archeological investigation of the form Greek city of Olympia which when unearthed and studied stimulated the modern Olympic Games. These were resumed in Athens in 1896. All the buildings in ancient Olympia were either for religious worship or for athletic games. In spite of the primary religious essence of the games, they were a festive event. Vendors hawked food throughout the stands of a huge stadium during the events while many others brought along their own picnic baskets as these were literally all-day events.  Lusty jeers went up as the crowd’s favorites went into action and people would travel hundreds of miles just to witness their hero’s in action.

Early on, this was a male denominated event but in more modern times, women began to participate as early as 396 BC.  This was the year when Cynisca, the daughter of the King of Sparta, won several victories in the chariot races. However, there were competitors that charged that daddy had fixed the judges but in spite of that, the scoring held. Cynisca bred her own horses and was the first woman in recorded history to do so. Understand, we are not saying that she was the first woman to bred horses, only that she was the first one that has historically been delineated doing it. Cynisca was followed by Eurylon, also of Sparta, and she won a victory in the two horse chariot race, a grueling event. Horse back riding did not become an event until the time of the thirty-third Olympiad. The reason it took so long was the fact that no one ever thought about riding a horse literally until the time of Alexander the Great when his legions started mounting up and conquering everyone in sight.  The ridding in the Olympics was done barebacked and was carried out in a place called a hippodrome or, a place where people ride horses. . At the early stages of the ever evolving Olympic Games, women were allowed to own the horses that were raced but could not participate or even watch the event mainly because the men were prancing around the various stadiums stark naked. Other events were held in a stadium that was a distance of 607 feet from one end to the either. Interestingly enough, stadia was a measurement of distance in ancient Greece and thus we now use the world stadium to describe a large out-doors building that seats numerous people.   

Moreover, the racing track  that was in use in those times was exactly that distance and for that reason they called it a stadium.  Originally, the games spanned only one-day and had only one event, a foot race of about 200 yards. However, as the years passed and additional events were added, the finals lasted five-days.  While they early Olympics had few contestants, later competitions had thousands of participants and were seen by enormous throngs of partying spectators. The Olympic torch goes back to the earliest of times when each community in Greece had a temple devoted to Hestia. It was in this building  where a fire was maintained and it was kept continuously burning. A torch would be lighted from the temple fire and then carried by runners in what became known as a torch race. Instead of one person carrying a torch and passing it along to others until it arrived at the Olympic Stadium, this was effectively a competitive relay race among numerous teams to see which would be first to light the Olympic flame.  in those days, these teams of torch runners would vie to be the ones to light the flame at the altar of Zeus and thus begin the games. In ancient times this was called the lampadiodromia, which comes from the word lampas meaning torch. At the end of the race there was always an altar. The custom comes from the custom of transmitting a new and sacred fire from the altar to heaths polluted by death or the enemy’s presence. Once the fire had reached the “altar, the games were ready to begin and at that time the trumpets blared the start of the festivities. In reality, while not formally included in the competition, the trumpeters were rated on how well they blew and they too were awarded wreaths for blowing better than their competition.  The melodies blurted out by the trumpeters were not particularly inspiring as they were awarded points on the basis of who could blow the loudest.

The developments that took place in Greek sports between Homeric times and the 5th century BC included: those athletic contests established as important events even before the Trojan War.  By the time of Homer the Olympics had already been well established. Within the next 250 years other athletic events were added to the venue and having the male athletes perform in the nude was established as the norm. Historians tell us that performing in the nude was important because in early times, the contestants would always carry weapons under their robes and when out of the sight of officials would often attempt to maim their competition. Officials of the ancient Olympics studied many years to come up with a solution to the ever increasing problem of maimed competitors. They eventually came to the conclusion that if the contestants were not wearing any clothes, only the most unusual weapons could be concealed within a nude body. Moreover, it would take so long to retrieve them that by that time, the event would have ended, .While this didn’t totally stop the practice of competitive dismemberment, only the most brilliant of the athletes were able to find places in their bodies so that the killing dropped substantially. However, attempts to conceal weapons in the folds of a nude torso did lead to some awfully painful self inflicted bruises.

At first only running was a mandatorily nude event but as time went on other events were also staged without clothes. Interestingly enough, the trainers for the contestants also did not wear any clothes either, because it was found that they were starting to carry weapons for the competitors to use. On the other hand, the spectators more often than not, dressed to the nines.  An interesting sidelight to this story on Olympic nudity is the fact that the women in Sparta were encouraged to perform their trial events that were held locally, without clothes on because the local city fathers were convinced that this would cause the resident Lotharios to become attracted to them and thusly encourage procreation. The experiment worked far better than originally anticipated and the substantial population growth of Greece during that period was attributed in large part to this brilliant ploy. In addition, the word gymnasium when translated from its ancient derivations means, “a place where men exercise in the nude.” However, this could well be in a meadow or anywhere else for that matter.

Olympia, the site of the men’s Olympics also provided an opportunity for female athletes as well. While in early time, the women could not compete with the men or even watch them, things were already somewhat separate but equal in Greece. Every four years the Sixteen Women (the leading women of the time)  and other married women organized the Heraea Games for maiden competitors. Pausanias indicates these games consisted of footraces, and the maidens competed against other maidens of the same age. The maiden athletes competed in the Olympic stadium but the distance of the events was shortened for them by about one-sixth of its length. The Heraea Games did not have the prestige of the men’s Olympic competition, but the Greeks still regarded these games as a serious athletic event. The victors were well honored. Pausanias says “To the winning maidens they give crowns of olive and a portion of the cow sacrificed to Hera. They may also dedicated statues with the winners names inscribed on them.” [9]  The women’s events were classified by age and there were three groups. Of competitors, young maidens, older maidens and mature maidens. While the nomenclature does not give a clue to us how old these competitors were, the fact is that there were no birth certificates extant during that period, thus there was no particular way of deterring the age of the competitors. An arbitrary method evolved where judges were required to examine the participant’s milk teeth, presence or lack there-of of second molars and how much pubic hair they had on their sexual organs.  History does no recount who was in charge of determining which girls went into which class. 

In addition to the foot racing, eventually women were also allowed to indulge in chariot races as either owners, drivers or both. The first woman to win was a Euryleon of Sparta in the third century BC. However, even when women could not compete, many were offered as prizes to men that won these races. History says that before the Olympics had ever begun, King Oemomaus offered the hand of his daughter, Hippodamia to the winner of a bizarre chariot race he had arranged.  She was a fairly attractive substantive type lady and daddy had a lot of money along with a tidy little kingdom so a lot of suitors showed up to try to win her hand.  However, Oemomaus had not yet explained to them what the rules were. Many of them turned exceptionally pale when he announced that the losers would lose their heads and he was going to race each one of them individually. Oemomaus was a great athlete and was able to beat back all of the suitors who soon were headless. Well it turns out that Hippodamia had been having an affair with Pelops who was not bad at chariot racing himself. Hippodamia really had the hots for him and was unwilling to leave their fate to chance. She consorted with her dad’s charioteer, Myrtilus to do her father in.  The scheme worked to perfection, Oemomaus was dragged to his death and Pelops got both Hippodamia and the kingdom.   It may well have been that it was Pelops that instigated the first Olympic games as a sign of his victory over Oemomaus however unsportsmanlike it was.  It was also Pelops that mandated that the games be only for men. Other than the standard macho reasons that have historically been given for this decision, the real reason that women did not participate in the Olympics for such as long time was the fact that it was a festivity directed toward the god Zeus, a male. In early times, only men went to events connected to a male gods and women went to events connected to a female gods. Eventually this was changed. Eventually the gods became more cordial to each other and at that point women and men started to attend and compete in the games jointly.

Many astounding records have been recorded in Greece during the times of these early games. One of the major highlights was Orsippus who died in 652 BC after being the first man to run naked at the games. Many have said that Orsippus was only showing off his wares but considering the fact that there were only men in the crowd, we wonder what he had in mind. Theogense of Thasos by 480 BC had won 1300 titles a feat that probably will never be achieved again. There are not 1300 titles that are extant anymore in any sport.  Then there was Phayllus of Croton who in the same year recorded an amazing long jump of 51 feet[10].  For its time and even today an outstanding accomplishment under nearly any circumstances.  Then we have Milo of Crotana who in 536 BC won six events in one Olympiad just in the sport of wrestling an achievement that has never been equaled in an Olympics ancient or modern. Perhaps, Mark Spitz, the great American swimmer came the closest, winning five gold medals. Maybe the greatest record of them all was the fact that history tells us that a 12-year old boy by the name of Damiscus of Messene won the boys’ championship in 369 BC. They say he was competing with lads that were as much as five years older than he was.

However, the rules of the day were much different than they would be today. The owners of the horses not the drivers of the chariots got the award if they won. However, when a horse wins at the Kentucky Derby it seems to be the trainer that they make the fuss over, neither the jockey nor the owner. Wrestlers took on whoever happened onto the scene in those days and very large people often were pared against very small people in the wrestling events. Usually the small people not only lost but in many instances did not survive the encounter. The same thing held true in boxing during that period. The competitors were formulated more based on age than on size. . Can you imagine Mike Tyson boxing with the Junior Featherweight Champ? Tyson probably wouldn’t even bother to bite off his ear because there just wouldn’t be near enough to eat. I do hope that there were a lot of doctors at ringside at these matches. However, the smaller man had some advantages in that punching, kicking, choking, finger breaking and blows to the genitals were totally alright according to the rules, along with the standard leather straps that wrapped around the fighter’s hands and which could inflict substantial damage. Furthermore, the combatants were forced to carry on their battle without clinching and the match was over when one or the other could fight no more. However, the ancient Greeks drew the line at eye gouging and biting although Tyson probably still would have done it because it’s just been his thing.

There were not a lot of events in the early games but there were many competitors. Moreover, the elimination matches often took weeks and more often than not resulted in a number of deaths as well as many serious injuries. In addition, participants that did not perform to their abilities were could be severely punished when retuning home without a victory to present to the locals. Some of these slackers were put to death under the pretense that they had thrown their event because of being bribed which was rampant during that period. Fixed events were the norm rather than the exception and local favorites were often the victors in spite of being hopelessly outclassed much as it is today.  The calendar of early events often consisted of the following: a 200 meter race (stadion), a 400 meter race (diaulos), a longer race (dolkhos) that was of differing distances but nowhere close to the length of the marathon (at least until later years). The pentathlon[11], wrestling (pale), boxing (pux), 4-horse chariot race[12] (tethrippon) and a race in full armor known as hoplite racing, which must have really been a corker[13]. Then they had the ever-loving mule car race (apene), the mare’s race (kalpe), and finally the 2-horse chariot race (sunoris).  With a card like that, who could resist going to Olympia and watching the competition.

 However, we have left the best for last; this was one last event that went by the name of pankration, which was a so-called sport in which the competitors hit, kicked and grappled, upright or on the ground, without a break until one gave in could not go on. Seems something akin to the sexual conduct of teenagers today.  These events were more often than not held in the stadium which proudly stood in Olympia and could hold up to 50,000 male spectators. Remember, none of them could be women because the men were naked. However, there were more than a few women that were caught trying to get in wearing disguises. The officials were horrified and a penalty was mandated for a woman watching the events; she was to be thrown off Mt. Trypeum a massive mountain[14].  Only one lady was ever caught in the act and her name was Callipatera and she cleverly disguised herself to look exactly like a gymnastic trainer. But there was more to the story. The real reason that she did this was because her son Peisirodus was competing in the games and she was intensely interested in watching him hopefully win his event. Her dangerous mission was rewarded when he emerged victorious, but alas she was caught when the event was over as she attempted to leave the trainers enclosure, her garments became entangled and it became vividly clear that she was indeed a very substantive woman.

However, the reason that she escaped the proscribed punishment was the fact that not only was her son victorious but so were her father and all of her brothers. While the officials declared that there was evidence that would support her desire to watch, in order to prevent this from ever happening again, the men that were trainers were not obliged to naked. This solved the matter for a substantial number of years. Many of the spectators were among the first of the world’s bookies and wagering was rampant among the people in the stands. Substantial money changed quickly changed hands and odds changed even during the events. In addition, more often than not some of the bettors attempted to influence the outcome of the events by trying to pay off the athletes. I many cases the athletes were more than happy to accept whatever gratuities they could garner. In addition, the city-states themselves put up substantial bribes to make sure that their local hero’s that were competing made a good showing. Moreover, it was not even a rare instance when some of the entrants were drugged with either alcohol or opium either of which would substantial slow down the opposition[15]. When one of their stars lost, more often than not the city-state would file a lawsuit against the judges if they did not like the result and every so often the result would be changed by the court. However, the final decision in the events was always left to the priests and they could be very fickle at times. Even some of the priests were rumored to be on the take. All in all, the ancient Olympics were one hell of a job to keep clean and they really never were.

Moreover, there were penalties assessed against the participants for not following the rules to the letter. As an example, if a runner started too early, he was tied to a stake and whipped. This process did not improve his performance a wit when he then had to start over again. Worst yet, half way through the race, the men had to make a 180 degree turn around a post. This was particularly difficult in a footrace called Hoplitordromos, where the participants had to wear helmets, greaves, and a shield. Just surviving the race was considered to be a substantial feat. Early games were extremely restrictive with slaves, women and temple robbers excluded from competition. Of this class of people only the women were later admitted to the events. However, once entered in a competition you could not withdraw because that was considered to be a direct insult to Zeus. The penalty for withdrawing was a slow death by torture, so most people that entered finished their events in spite of aches and pains. In addition, there was uniformly,  a judge presiding over the events who carried a long stick. The judges would stand next to each event and were more than ready to punish any competitor that failed to follow the rules. Once an athlete was cracked with this stick on almost any part of his body, it became most difficult to compete because of the intense pain. However, they were reminded when they started whining that not to finish would result and a slow tortuous death. Moreover, in these early games athletes from the various city-states would viciously compete against each other giving no quarter . Most of them got along like cats and dogs. Thus, the rule was put into the games that these city-states could not attack one another during the competition either at the Olympiad or at home.  

There was usually a ceremony to award prizes to the victors at the end of the day and those that finished second were rewarded with nothing. In terms of glory, there was no silver or bronze medal. Finishing second was about as good as finishing last. Relative to the awarding of the first place prize, there is substantial controversy concerning exactly in what order this occurred. The real first prize in any event was a wreath that would be crowned upon the head of the winning athlete. Some historians say that shortly after becoming victorious the winner would be given a ribbon to be tied around the head until the wreath ceremony was formally held, others indicate that the wreath ceremony came directly after the match was over.

The events that they participated in the early days were all war related with the Javelin throw being the most directly involved. The prizes changed over the period that the Olympics were held and literally anything of value could have been given to the winners as time evolved. However, we know that silver coins, shields, wooden cloaks, olive oil and bronze tripods were some of the items along with carved vases. Many of these vases have survived and are on display in Athens. The ancient Olympics lasted the better part of 1200-years and summarily ended in 393 AD, the 293rd games.  They were stopped by the order of Theodosios II when he read an edict proclaiming the end  of all idol worshiping. The Olympics because of their connection with Zeus were certain covered by this edict and sanctuaries in which these idols lived became off-limits to everyone. However, Theodosios had acted somewhat irrationally because the Romans were profiting substantially from admission charges and other taxes that were charged. Moreover, their tourist revenues during the games were often substantial. Rome had a hard time making ends meet after the games were banned and the treasury soon became barren.  However, it was probably for the best as by this time the games had become thoroughly corrupted, unfortunately non-Greeks had been allowed to compete and men from many nations were now participants. . Moreover, at this point, the Romans had become Christians and they wanted to wipe out all semblances of the Greek Gods who were an integral part of the Olympic ceremonies and were constantly hanging around.

We all know the story of Pheidippides who ran from Athens to Marathon to join the battle that was raging there. After fighting the good fight he became disoriented and ran back to Athens where he made the pronouncement, “Greetings, we win!” At this point the poor fellow dropt dead and was carried from the spot by a group of curious onlookers. For some reason that is lost in the annals of time, he was not immediately deified for his efforts but he later received great acclaim as the world’s first professional messenger.  In spite of this mix-up, the marathon has been included in all of the modern Olympics and Mr. Pheidippides has gained substantial recent fame as a runner as well as a messenger.

Another strange anomaly is the fact that the Olympic motto, Citius, Altium, Fortius, which when translated from the Latin literally means “Faster, Higher, Braver” and was coined not in ancient Greece but at the Arcueil College in Pairs. It seem that they had as their headmaster a person by the name of Father Dideon. Dideon, a man that had become known throughout these parts for his hyperbole created the motto to describe some of the better athletes at his school. This received some notoriety and Baron Pierre de Coubertin the father of the modern Olympics thought that Dideon’s expression was rather neat and grabbed it as the motto of the reincarnated games.  Although the distinction recently has been getting rather foggy, original competitors in Olympic Games were basically professionals that spent all of their waking hours in training. These early competitors were given expert trainers  to guide them and in addition were provided a stipend by their local city-state or by some wealthy benefactor. In some rare instances they were even supported by gamblers looking for an edge and would take a dive when the price was right. However, winning for the most part was critical because the city-state would reward the victors with wealth, usually enough to last a lifetime. Times seem not to have changed very much has it? 

This is really not meant to deride the efforts of Pierre de Coubertin. He was the man that literally single handedly revived the Olympic movement with a focused approach to bringing back the games and what he then thought that they stood for. Coubertin was also an amateur archaeologist who had spent considerable amounts of his time exploring ruins in ancient Greece. More importantly, he had spent substantial time specifically in Olympia where he learned the nuances of the Greek Olympic heritage first hand. He worked fearlessly for countless years until his dream of renewing the games was realized in 1896. Greece was the home of the original Olympics which had started long before anyone around these parts was knee high to a grasshopper. They were brought back with all of the necessary pomp and circumstance to one again play their country of origin. Moreover, every once in a while the people here get the temptation to bring them back to Greece one more time and usually the feeling goes away before too causes too much damage. With the kind of pollution that abounds in Athens it would seem almost suicidal to have world-class athletes compete for championships in their specialties while their lungs are inhaling the omnipresent sulphur and carbon dioxide which make up most of the air around these parts. However, that is not for us to judge.

However, in spite of numerous problems inherent in bringing back the games, including the fact that there were not enough places to house the events, no decent transportation facilities in the city and no money to put into the necessary city work-over, the International Olympic Committee awarded Greece the “games” for 2004.  Naturally, a local committee was created to administrate the event and it was duly named, the Athens Olympic Organizing Committee, or Athoc.  In spite of the fact that new sports are being created throughout the world at an astounding rate and are regularly added to the Olympic genre as they become mature, Athoc in one of their first decisions determined that would not be done in 2004. The reasoning for this has not been made public, but when you consider the unusual and exciting assortment of new events held in Salt City in 2002, for the Winter Games you would have to agree that this is a crucial mistake. While the Summer Games are always much more interesting and diverse than those held in Winter, sports evolve just as does everything else and because of the world now being joined more closely together due to unceasing media coverage, new sports take hold much more quickly; and that is indeed what the games are all about. .However, not in Greece and not in 2004.

Relations between the Greek Government and International Olympic Officials started going down hill early on. It seems that the Greek Government really wanted the “games” in 1996 because that would have been the 100th anniversary or centennial of the rebirth of the Olympics in 1896. In 1896 they were successfully held in Athens and Greek officials thought that the same thing should hold true a century later. However, the country of Greece was virtually bankrupt in the 1990’s and was merely a shadow of the country that had existed before the turn of that century. Athens along with its historic magnificence had just about completely rotted out. Greek officials when asked about where they would get the money for sprucing up the city for the games indicated that there would hopefully be some divine intervention that would provide the funding. While the International Olympic Committee was hardly convinced by this statement, they muttered under their breath and went about their business. These people for the most part were highly motivated by the belief in prayer and that was just about all they had gong for them.

Part of the divine intervention that Greece was offering turned out to be some very expensive jewelry that had been secretly given  to certain instrumental members of the IOC site selection committee. Naturally these committee members were extremely appreciative of that thoughtfulness but word of it soon leaked out and naturally, the IOC having been caught once again became duly outraged. However, their internal investigation was more directed at finding out who in their group had released the unseemly information than dealing with the wrongdoers. Perhaps, people have said that it was more the fact that literally everyone on the site selection group received something of value. In spite of the exceptional jewelry that had been received, members of the International Olympic Committee were really not big on the hoped for, divine intervention and when nothing more substantive could be delivered, Atlanta who was talking about putting up real money got the nod. This annoyed senior Greek officials so much that they threatened to walk out in a hissy fit. Cowed by the prospect of Greece, the birthplace of the games not being a happy camper, the committee awarded them the 2004 Games, but only on the proviso that they meet certain yardsticks relative to construction of infrastructure and rehabilitation of the city and its transportation. Naturally Greek Officials agreed but indicated later that they had their fingers crossed when they promised that everything would be finished on time.

Greece does not perform well under threats and Athoc soon collapsed under the pressure of everything that they had to accomplish in such a short time. Everybody started naming names and blaming each other. A running battle soon enthused between Athoc and the Greek government. “Last November, the director of the movie “Zorba the Greek,” Michael Cacoyiannis, resigned as president of Athoc’s cultural program after complaining about bureaucratic obstacles. And then, the socialite whose money helped Athens it its bid, Gianna Angelopolous-Daskalaki, threatened to step down as Athoc’s president over continued disputes with the government.”[16]  Among the matters that have caused problems has been the lack of adequate housing for either visitors or participants and the fact that no one has come up with a viable plan to increase the amount of housing currently available. Some wags have suggested that the committee line Piraeus harbor with cruise ships during the event and house the overflow onboard. Everyone became overjoyed at this capital idea until the stark light of day dawned on  the members. For the most part, the these cruise ships did not meet the specifications of the International Olympic Committee and those that did were unavailable or the lines wanted too much money. In the meantime, under even the best of circumstances there will not be enough rooms to satisfy the needs of visitors. No workable contingency plan has been agreed upon and if it wasn’t that the games are going to be in Athens, the IOC probably would have killed the whole deal already. They are also faced with the fact that it is already too late to change their plans.

Moreover, there is also little question that many of the new roads that were scheduled to help move the enormous volume of people at the games will also not even be close to being finished. Rather than have road building going on during the games and causing even more problems, these roads constructions have now been permanently canceled. In the meantime, the promised rail facilities are behind schedule and at the rate things are going there could be the greatest traffic jam in the history of the world unless these folks get into gear. There is little chance that Greek dalliance will not result in a total and complete disaster. It will be the amazing thing if the athletes themselves are able to get to the stadiums in time for their events. 

“The International Olympic Committee has said that Athens can host a “magical Games” if it resolves the transport. Accommodation problems as well as security measures for the 2004 Summer Games.  The IOC has separately expressed concern over delays, bureaucracy and infighting dogging the Athens Olympics and issued veiled warnings that it would move the Games unless Greece started to meet its preparation deadlines. “[17]

A problem of even greater concern to the Olympic organizing committee is the fact that indigenous to Greece is an organization that goes by the name of November 17. It is a radical leftist group that believes in destroying Greece’s source of foreign exchange, which is primarily tourism. The group has been carrying out assassinations for almost three decades killing both tourists and Greek nationals in almost a random fashion. Interestingly enough, not one member of this group has ever been caught by the ever inept Greek police department and along with what is now occurring in Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and Israel, the country of Greece sits directly in the path of terror. This is probably the most dangerous place to holding the games and security precautions will have to be the stringent in history. However, Athoc has yet to begin to deal with what is going on internationally although it has been hoped that they will eventually get around to it. However, the one thing that the Greece Government has done to accommodate added security is to remove its own citizen’s civil rights by mandating that trials on terrorism charges would be handled only by judges and not by juries. Moreover, in order to insure that the judges handling the trials, are not murdered, they have created a judge - protection program. While this will not stop terrorism, it will protect the judges and maybe that is what the Greeks had in mind as some of the people that are in charge of creating law around these parts seem to be trapped in a time vortex.  

In the meantime, the price for the Greek Games is continually rising and has now spiraled totally out of control. The cost of the tab is now over $6 billion while most of the much needed infrastructure projects have not even been addressed as yet. Moreover, their  has been a continuing lack of national sponsors to help defray the cost.  At least the folks here will get the gold medal for ineptness, however they are well used to that.

 





[1] Drachma, Money in modern Greece, Copyright 1998, Stelios Tziras.

[2] Drachma, Money in modern Greece, Copyright 1998, Stelios Tziras

[3] A Greek Sojour, Time’s Paris bureau chief Thomas Sancton discovers the old and the new Greece, Time.

[4]  Now called Ellas

[5] The Olympics were basically established as a religious festival in honor of Zeus.

[6]  However, other games were held in Pythian, Isthmain and Nemean.

[7]  The first event in the first Olympics was a footrace.

[8] The four year period was mandated because of the terms of a peace treaty agreed to between the city-states of Elis and Pisa.

[9] Ancient Greek Olympics, apk.net.

[10]  This is more likely than not this was really hop, skip and jump.

[11]  The javelin was a weapon that was highly used during the Trojan war and because of the fact that soldiers were always polishing up their skills, it became part of the pentathlon in 708 BC.

[12] Known as quadriga race.

[13] Of all the Olympic events only four have come down to the present, they are racing, wrestling, discus, javelin. The pentathlon still exists but in a different form.

[14]  Only one woman was ever caught and she received a reprieve.

[15] At this time they did not yet have drugs that would enhance performance.

[16]  Troubles in Athens Threaten Success of 2004 Olympic Games, Yaroslav Trofimov and A. Craig Copetas, The Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2001.

[17] Magic awaits if Athens overcomes problems - IOC, Dina Kyriakidou, Reuters, April 3, 2002.


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