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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Some positive Greek responses

For some time now, I’ve been wanting to visit Thessalonika which is just down the road. A week or so ago, I watched a documentary about the city’s new mayor – a 69 year-old vintner who got involved in citizen politics some 7 years back through disgust with the way the city was being run. It was clear he (Boutaris) was a popular figure as he walked through its streets with the journalist. Der Spiegel has a short article about how he is going about the reform of the city’s administration – eg hiring an auditor in his first week in office and reducing the number of Directorates from 31 to 20. Already the city's budget has decreased by 30%
Thessaloniki was always seen as a stronghold of the conservatives and nationalists. The conservative New Democracy party controlled city hall for 24 years, holding the city hostage with its cronies. During the election campaign, the local archbishop refused to allow Boutaris to kiss the cross during mass, even imposing an excommunication of sorts on the candidate: "As long as I am in office, you will not see the inside of city hall." A television crew recorded the incident, and when the footage was aired even conservative citizens were outraged over the archbishop's audacity. "People wanted change. They realized that things couldn't go on that way," says Pengas. Under Boutaris's predecessor, €51.4 million ($68.4 million) had suddenly and inexplicably disappeared from the city budget. No one knew what had happened to the money. A former prefect is now under investigation in the case.
One of the mayor’s young aides reckons that the city (with 7,000 officials) has double the number it needs – thanks to cronyism. So clearly some of the shine will come off the mayor’s image as he begins to tackle that problem. Already his attempts (with French help) to introduce performance evaluation of staff has hit resisitance.
All of this confirms the appalling picture which emerged in the recent OECD report on Greek administration - which, again, seems to have been covered only by Der Spiegel. But the Archbishop's behaviour reminds me of Michael Lewis' article on the Greek crisis which appeared in October 2010 (in the American Vanity Fair of all places) which fingered the Orthodox Church as the richest and most corrupt body in Greece!

Most of the articles which are appearing about the impact of government measures are focussing on the impoverisation of its people and settlements. The New York Times Magazine ran a long piece recently.
But Le Monde of the 10th February ran an article called "Vivre la Decroissance" by two journalists Olivier Razemon and Alain Sailles to Athens telling the story of people who had set up a “bank of time” (trapeza chronou)..It works like this; people work as certain amount of hours and in exchange they get some services. Some people have set up a clothes exchange…Others are working solar systems in order to get free electricity…Some cultivate tomatoes, spinach, thyme, laurel, in a word all sorts of fruits and vegetables…which can be exchange for hours in the bank of time. The two journalists asked the question: “a big debate has ben launched; must we exchange products for services? If yes, how do you define the value of this product”. People in Britain have tried similar ‘alternative systems” like ‘letts’. It did not get very far…

An interesting Greek blog I've just come across gives a lot of detail going back some years about the situation there.
One of the journalists has recently published a book on a theme close to my heart – how concrete is destroying our countryside -
Année après année, la campagne française disparaît sous la ville. Malgré les proclamations indignées et les législations vertueuses, la terre fertile se raréfie, les espaces naturels se morcellent, la ville s’éparpille et se cloisonne, l’automobile s’impose comme unique lien social. Le phénomène, connu sous le nom d’étalement urbain, ne résulte pas seulement, comme on le croit souvent, de la crise du logement et du désir d’accession à la propriété individuelle. Centres commerciaux, entrepôts, parkings, la ville étalée se nourrit, en France comme ailleurs, d’une économie opulente et d’une société qui valorise le bonheur individuel, à court terme de préférence. Autrement dit, nous sommes tous responsables.
Les égoïsmes locaux, les tentations des élus et les tics des aménageurs se heurtent ça et là à des réflexes de survie. On pourrait densifier et vitaliser la ville existante. On pourrait prendre les décisions au bon niveau et en réfléchissant à l’avenir. On pourrait résister au tout-parking. On pourrait améliorer la qualité de vie sans gaspiller le territoire.
Les auteurs brossent un portrait vivant et sans concession de la bataille inégale qui se livre entre la soif de bitume et les rares garde-fous susceptibles de contrer le phénomène. Tout est perdu ? Voire. Et si les crises qui se profilent fournissaient un sursaut brutal mais inespéré ?

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