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Tuesday 25 November 2014

The threat of childhood obesity by Eva Stamou

Obesity is rarely mentioned in the Greek news. While the UK makes a big issue of it, and expends a great amount of time, effort and money into thinking up solutions for the problem, in Greek news, we simply get the latest results of an obesity survey, mentioned in passing in the news, and that's about it. Everyone is left to their own devices. Not that this is wrong, since obesity does have a lot to do with the food habits of the home environment, but it does seem wrong that no one is trying to find a solution to it, especially when Greece apparently claims the greatest weight levels for children aged 6-9 in Europe. The article below appeared today in Protagon. I have translated it into English in order to add (even) a (small) Greek voice to the global debate. 

Inter-school sports day for primary school children in Hania:  I took this photo in June 2008

According to the survey results of the World Health Organisation which were released last month, the childhood obesity rate in Greece is among the highest in Europe. Survey data concern the obesity rate and the 'more than normal' body weight for children aged 6-9 years in 16 European countries, including ours. One of the actions taken by the Greek Society of Obesity to address the scourge of childhood obesity is to establish "Obesity Week" (October 21 to 26) to inform and raise public awareness. One week is not enough however.

We can laugh over the developments related to the case of the "new food" program devised by Michelle Obama, and the comments of American students on twitter, but in Greece the situation is just very sad. The absence of welfare interventions in our country is a trait that dates back to long before the economic crisis. Nutrition, dental, and psychiatric care during childhood and adolescence, unfortunately, remains almost inactive, not just because of limited resources but also because of the famous Greek discontinuity of party-appointed authority, which constantly creates obstacles and misunderstanding among public bodies.

Competent bodies should not ignore the relative economic status and dietary choices of the population, which is confirmed by the survey data, showing that childhood obesity is present at an increased incidence in low family incomes - but they should also not underestimate the role of prevention and systematic information to the public in the way that this works in all the other European states. It might also be good of the parents if, apart from seeking support from doctors, nutritionists and psychologists, they think seriously how they themselves can help their children, changing their way of life.

My work in Britain with families of adolescents suffering from eating disorders made me realize how painful and multidimensional this issue is. The first thing that psychology takes into account when facing the problem of childhood obesity is the eating habits of parents. If the child grows up copying the wrong habits of his/her parents - who may or may not be obese, according to their body type - it is necessary to address the problem as a problem of the whole family. Those using certain food items, such as sweets, as "bait" to encourage the child to do or not do something, or as a "painkiller" when the child is sad, help to create not only obese children, but also obese adults, since we can reproduce the wrong perception about food, which we acquired as children for the rest of our lives.

With the guidance of experts, parents are wise to set and follow certain dietary rules, so that they themselves provide the good example, even if they are not overweight. It is important to encourage the child to be involved in sports and exercise, helping them to choose something that suits the body type and temperament of their child. It is equally important not to devalue the child, to avoid comparisons with friends and classmates, so as to not create guilt about the child's extra weight.

The time has come for us to understand that childhood obesity is a threat to the individual and to public health. This disease is directly related to physical and mental disorders, which usually appear in childhood and are maintained into adulthood. An organized scientific approach on the part of the state is now compulsory.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki. 

Friday 14 November 2014

We've got to talk about Macedonia

The country that must not be named needs to be named often in my workplace. 

"Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) are nowhere near a solution to the name dispute, the Balkan statelet’s foreign minister, Nikola Poposki, said on Saturday. “We are further away from a solution than we were a few years ago. I wish I were in a position to say that we are close to leaving this issue behind us, but reality mandates that we remain particularly cautious,” Poposki told Skopje’s Faktor website. In the same interview, the FYROM official blamed the government in Athens for lack of progress in the negotiations, while adding that he was still waiting for a fresh proposal from United Nations special mediator Matthew Nimetz." Saturday November 1, 2014

I totally agree, both sides are nowhere near any solution, and I don't foresee any solution in the near future, not in the next year, nor in the next five years, and why should I expect a solution in the next decade, judging by the way other more significant issues (eg Cyprus) are being resolved. The main reason why there will be no solution is because neither side wishes to be unhappy: "A really good compromise is the one that leaves both sides equally dissatisfied", but in the case of Greece and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, both sides are stubbornly staying put, refusing to budge. Those who purport to be involved in helping them find a solution do not make it a priority, nor do they create penalties to force the two countries to find a solution. So we find ourselves in a stalemate, creating fertile ground for breeding propaganda, suspicion and ultimately hatred. 

I am not a historian, so I will not use historical references to write this blog post. We all have access to the internet, and we can use any sources we wish, in order to prove any point we want to make about literally anything. Diatribes about the Macedonia name dispute abound on the web, and we are all free to look them up and read the ones that best suit our feelings. I am not interested in adding to this futile list about which side owns a name, and who it rightfully belongs to, and why. It pays to remember that no one is jumping up and down with American place names such as Athens (GA) and Crete (IL). I am also not interested in the history of the geographical region, ie how the area known as Macedonia got divided up among the various countries that the area now belongs to in the 21st century. The Greek part of Macedonia was only incorporated into Greece proper about a century ago. The borders of Greece and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia have been known for years as places of exacerbation of national differences: 
For the last two decades of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth, Macedonia, with its inextricably mixed populations of Greeks, Bulgars, Serbs, Albanians, Turks and Vlachs, was to be the focus of the competing nationalisms of Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia, as each sought to carve out as large a stake as possible of the crumbling Ottoman possessions of the Balkans. A Concise History of GREECE by Richard Clogg, 1992.
Neither am I interested in the propaganda-style claims made by way of maps showing an area named something to the likes of Greater Macedonia. Irredentism was the root cause of the recent brawls at a football match against Serbia where a similar map was used by Albanian nationalists in reference to Greater Albania. Similar maps are also used by Greek nationalists for Greater Epirus, a region which was divided between Greece and Albania during the WW2 period. (A Kiwi joke springs to mind as I write this, concerning friendly rivalry between New Zealand and Australia.)

The images presented here are propagandistic maps. Some of the borders of the areas depicted in them have changed hands over the last century, as well as in the last two decades, and even more recently than that. For example, Kosovo is a partially recognised state in Southeastern Europe that declared independence from Serbia in February 2008 as the Republic of Kosovo. While Serbia recognises the Republic's governance of the territory, it still continues to claim it as its own Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija (Wikipedia). In the left-hand map above, Albania clearly makes a claim to it: 'Shqiperia e sotme' translates to 'Albania today'. The right-hand map above shows, as Greek territory, parts of modern-day Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, where Lake Ochrid is located. In the map, it looks like it is also part of Greece. In fact, Greek news sources still call the southern region of Albania 'Northern Epirus' - Epirus is located in the north-westernmost border of Greece, on the border with Albania.
Half the area labelled Macedonia on the left-hand map below includes Greek territory, while Greece is labelled separately. The right-hand map below shows the same map, overlaid with the Greek flag - but not all the area is Greek territory. 

I am avoiding the use of Greek or Slav Macedonian references apart from newspapers that report on certain incidents and 'need' to name the countries being referred to - each side takes on nationalistic reporting styles that illustrate its politics. I also will not talk about the recent archaeological findings in Amphipolis, in the Central Macedonia region of Greece. Even if Alexander the Great (or his army friend Hephaestus) is buried there (and something like this does seem highly likely), it bears no relation to the borders and names of the countries of the modern world we live in. It will have a bearing on the way we view history, and some gaps may be clarified, while other details may be proved incorrect. But it won't change the modern borders of a modern country. If Alexander the Great could speak, I wonder what he would have said first: 'I am a Hellene', or 'I am a Macedonian', to throw a spanner in the works. 

What I am interested in is trying to find a workable solution to the Macedonia name dispute, because I am quite directly involved with this issue. Very few of us have first-hand experience of the Macedonia name dispute, meaning that the dispute creates significant work-related issues that must be dealt with as effectively as possible without insulting either side. In my line of work, I have to make numerous proofreading corrections to various English language texts, which is why I am particularly sensitive to the name dispute, and the wording used to refer to the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. At my workplace the country known as the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia is frequently mentioned as we have students who come from there to study in our institute, hence it is very important that we use the utmost respect when referring to each other's counties, and this is especially important, and even more so in the English language (my workplace uses English as its teaching medium), considering its global context. 

What made me decide to talk about Macedonia at this point in time is the number of news stories that have come out of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, putting it into the national and international spotlight on numerous occasions in just the last few weeks. This is in reference to a spy case, the Ebola virusa film competition and the name dispute itself. For this reason, I think it really is about time that we talked about Macedonia. The world is not waiting for Greece and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia to resolve their issues before they start talking about Macedonia. The world is unconcerned with such a seemingly minor spat as a name dispute, possibly treating the issue as a sign of childishness. This is because the world does not comprehend the magnitude placed on the dispute by either side. The world just ploughs on without looking back all the time, without flinching every time the word Macedonia is uttered. Ιt wouldn't be normal to not just keep calm and carry on with life just because the word Macedonia was mentioned. The world in general does not understand the significance of Macedonia in history over time, in the same way as the Greeks and the -- the, the?? - the Macedonians, of course, as they have been known and referred to throughout modern history since the 19th century: 
To understand the forces of nationalism and their impact on the late 19th century city [of Salonica], we need above all to appreciate their novelty. Much time, money and effort was required by the disciples of the new nationalist creeds to convert its inhabitants from their older, habitual ways of referring to themselves, and to turn nationalism itself from the obsession of a small, educated elite to a movement capable of galvanising masses. The Macedonian Struggle, which swept across the city and its surroundings, started out as a religious conflict among the region's Christians but quickly turned into a way for activists to force national identities - 'Greek' or 'Bulgarian' or even 'Macedonian' - on those who refused them. By the first decade of the twentieth century, thanks to years of fighting, there were indeed Greeks, Bulgarians, and even Turks in a national sense, and their rivalries were threatening to undermine Salonica's cosmopolitan Ottomanist facade. Salonica: City of Ghosts, by Mark Mazower, 2004
"Modern researchers recognize that all nations are modern constructs." By way of illustration, I will use my blog's statistics counter. I am given a variety of information, including where the reader comes from: 
The server of this information is using a specific protocol in the naming of each country to aid in data reporting. If I decide to disagree with this protocol, I can stop using this server to report my data to me and find another server that uses a different protocol. But if all I want is access to the data, then I can say that the server serves me well. So where is the problem? The problem is that I am Greek, and supposedly we Greeks object to the country called Macedonia (or Republic of Macedonia) being referred to as such, and we insist that the country should refer to itself (as if you can tell someone what to call themselves!) as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (in Greek: πρώην Γιουγκοσλαβική Δημοκρατία της Μακεδονίας), abbreviated to the acronym FYROM in English (and ΠΓΔΜ in English). In other words, I have been indoctrinated. 

Indoctrination works both ways. A friend who is not Greek but lives in Greece told me the following story, of what happened when she met someone from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: 
  • "Where we are in Greece, the country is always referred to as Skopje, even by people from there. One woman told me she was from 'a village in Skopje'. Since Skopje is a city, I said 'You mean a village in Macedonia?' She quickly looked around to see if anyone had heard me and then said, 'We're not allowed to say that here. We can only say Skopje.' She told me she was Skopianos. I kept saying Macedonia. She was from a mountain village, not the city of Skopje. When she said Skopianos, I said, you mean Macedonian. She said, 'we don't say that here'. That's indoctrination."
Another possible reason why we opt for abbreviations and acronyms is laziness. The English abbreviation FYROM is ΠΓΔΜ in Greek (which is transliterated into English as PGDM): Πρώην Γιουγκοσλαβική Δημοκρατία της Μακεδονίας. But there is one big problem with it: it's completely unpronounceable because it has no vowels, which is why Greeks quite happily use the English abbreviation to refer to the country, freely calling it 'fee-ROM', and going as far as to write it in Greek as ΦΥΡΟΜAlexis Tsipras, leader of the opposition in Greece, used it in Parliament just a few days ago, and this was broadcast on TV: 
Concern was expressed by the president of SYRIZA surrounding the events in the Western Balkans and the upsurge of nationalism, which he said, weighs heavily on the attempt to solve the problems of the region, including the issue of the name of FYROM. 13th November, 2014
Tut, tut, he should have used the acronym ΠΓΔΜ in the Greek Parliament, or better still, he should have said πρώην Γιουγκοσλαβική Δημοκρατία της Μακεδονίας - instead, he chose to use the English acronym (since the Greek one is not pronounceable). This is precisely where all the problems lie, and it is easy to see why this word - which has no meaning, it is not even a Greek acronym, and has been blindly accepted as a name by Greeks - is regarded as derisive and offensive to the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. 

To complicate matters, it is actually only the Greeks who call the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia FYROM. It is also only the Greeks who also refer to the country as Skopia (from the name of the capital city, Skopje, in the Republic of Macedonia). So Slav Macedonians as referred to as Skopians, presumably as a way to avoid the use of the word Macedonia/nThat's OK by me; it solves the name dispute on Greek territory, but only in the Greek language. We also do this in various ways for other placenames; we know what we are talking about amongst ourselves. We say Pekino, no Beijing; Vomvai, not Mumbai, we call Istanbul Constantinoupoli. But at the airport, it's always Beijing, Mumbai and Istanbul, not Constantinople.

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam 
Why they changed it I can't say
People just liked it better that way
So take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constntinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constnatinople get the works?
That's nobody's business but the Turks'... 

While the Greeks are using 'fee-ROM' (or 'SKO-pya'), the rest of the world just says Macedonia. Greeks know what the rest of the world means when it says Macedonia, and are able to separate the use of the word between its Greek meaning and it country meaning, but the rest of the world generally does not know what is meant by 'fee-rom'. Ask the average Greek what 'fee-rom' is and you will get a standard answer: the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. Ask any average person in the world who isn't Greek what 'fee-rom' (or 'fy-rom') is, and I'll bet they'll say 'What's that?' It is a similar problem to the difference between Burma and Myanmar (Greeks say Virminia in this case) - it all depends on what your politics tell you what to do.  

The 'Greek' way to refer to the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia causes great embarrassment to me. FYROM is not the name of a country, it is simply an acronym. There is no such thing as a 'fyromese/fyromian' - person or product; it is a purposeful slight on the part of the Greeks to call a group of people φυρομαίοι - they are simply playing on the sound of the acronym in spoken English, and have coined a word in their language which cannot be transliterated into a comprehensible concept beyond the Greek borders. Few non-Greeks would know what the Greeks were talking about when they talk about φυρομαίοι (fyromians) or σκοπιανοί (Skopians). Worse still, φυρομ is often pronounced offensively: the Greek φ becomes English v, and the Greek υ is dropped, so the word comes out sounding like 'vrom'. If you are a Greek speaker, let's not kid ourselves - it's offensive. 

Not that Greece does not/has not recognise(d) over the years the fact that there are both Greek Macedonians and Slav MacedoniansNon-Greek Macedonians are known as Slav Macedonians (Σλαβομακεδόνοι) in Greece. Greeks have known this very well, but for ideological reasons, they do not like to mention it - unless they are forced to face up to it: 
"In the 1980s, a socialist government in Athens, in what it presented as a long overdue effort to heal the wounds of the civil war, invited veterans of the communist army and their families to leave their places of exile in the Soviet bloc [where they fled after Greece's post-WW2 civil war] and return to Greece. However  the law providing for this return made it clear that the invitation applied only to people 'of Greek race' - so veterans who regarded themselves as Slav Macedonians need not apply. The Greek communist party protested mildly over this ethnic criterion but it could not do so very loudly for fear of being branded treacherous, anti-national and disloyal to the broader Hellenic community..." Twice a Stranger: How Mass Expulsion Forged Modern Greece and Turkey, by Bruce Clark, 2006)
So, if, in the 1980s, there were Greek Macedonians and Slav Macedonians, and if the Greeks came back to Greece, where would the Slav Macedonians go, if they were allowed to 'return'? Yugoslavia was still under communist rule at the time - but the Slav Macedonians in exile wouldn't have known Yugoslavia, as that was a country created after WW2, and they had fled to Russia before then. So if they did indeed 'come back home', where would it have been? Probably Greek Macedonia, where they were living amongst the Greek Macedonians, or the Socialist Republic of Macedonia, as their former homeland was known during the communist years (which formed part of the Yugoslavian state). Multi-culturalism in the greater Macedonian region has undergone various degrees of ethnic cleansing at various times over history, as people moved according to the politics of the time:
Konstantin is a Skopje taxi-driver, a complete contrast to his London opposite numbers with immediate views on every question. He is taciturn and pretend at first not to speak Greek. He admits, eventually, that he is an ethnic Greek, born in [FYR] Macedonia in the aftermath of the Greek Civil War and that he hates nationalism and abstained in the [1991] referendum [for the independence of the former Yugoslav state of Macedonia]. But he refuses to reveal his surname and he knows that he is living on a dangerous crossroads... By 1949 at least 50 percent of the troops in the Communist army in the Greek Civil War were Slav-Macedonians. Konstantin's father was almost certainly among them. The Greeks: The land and people since the war, by James Pettifer, 1993.
Macedonia has been inhabited by a variety of cultures over the period of its history, not just Greek and Slav Macedonians: Turks, Serbs, Albanians, Roma, Vlachs, Pomaks, Armenians and the largest (and oldest) Jewish community in Europe (who lived mainly in the area of Thessaloniki - they were wiped out during WW2) gave this endlessly complex republic the name Macedoine to a French salad

Slav Macedonians don't call themselves Skopians, so I fully sympathise with them when they become irate about their country being introduced as FYROM during international events that take place in Greece. In such incidents (many of them, occurring every now and then), the teams from the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia refuse to take part unless their country is named the 'Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia', and not pronounced as 'fee-rom' by Greeks. The Greek hosts do not always oblige, so the groups sometimes pack up and leave. I do not blame them. As an aside: My compatriots from my birth country wouldn't like it either, if someone called their country Enzed at an official event instead of "New Zealanders". (But there is a difference between New Zealand and the Republics of Macedonia and Greece: New Zelanders would not pack up and leave! They'd just go away thinking 'weird people...' After all, there is no country in the world called Enzed - it's called New Zealand.) There is no country in the world called Fyrom - it's Macedonia for most countries, the Republic of Macedonia for many countries, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia according to the United Nations ruling, which is the one that Greece uses in all official mentions of the country. 

Who is to stop one country from using another form of a name? No one, it seems, and the latest example of this is when Greece took part in a film competition in Lugano (Switzerland), where the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia was referred to as the Republic of Macedonia. So Greece pulled out 7 films from the competition, meaning that Greece was not represented in the competition. The Greek film producers were devastated by this. So as Greeks, it really is about time we talked about Macedonia, because everyone else in the world is talking about Macedonia without having a tantrum.

We have to remember that Greece is the country that has turned itself upside down over the adoption of the naming of the Republic of Macedonia by the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, "as though Alexander the Great's nationality were a matter of extreme contemporary urgency" since the early 1990s. It does not seem to have been an issue before Yugoslavia broke up, presumably because the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia was not a separate country, even though, during the communist years, the area was known as the Socialist Republic of Macedonia. Greece was not concerned with the name issue until after the breakup of Yugoslavia, when it suddenly became the central focus of everyday life, as Patricia Storace illustrates, in her mystical account of living in Greece for a year during that period:
The doorbell rings, and I answer it a little uncertainly, not knowing quite how cautious to be. Standing outside is a small, sturdy woman with carefully architected gray curls. She is holding a tray of some unrecognizable cookies, and is dressed in a flowered smock. The entire floor smells like a swimming pool thanks to the heavily chlorinated cleansers popular in Greek households. "Welcome to Greece," she says, "I am Kyria Maro. If you have any questions, knock at my door. I am a friend of your landlady's, so if you cannot reach her for some reason you can come to me. Any questions at all. And," she adds in grandmotherly tones, as if she were imparting some domestic golden rule about doing the dishes or the frugal use of electricity, "you know, Macedonia is Greek." She hands me the china plate and tells me to return it whenever it should happen that I have the time, and clacks down the hall in her slippers. Dinner with Persephone, Patricia Storace, 1996
'Macedonia is Greek'. We have been saying this for a long time, learning the phrase like one of those children's songs that you learn in primary school, and you never forget it, even if the lyrics do not make sense. Poor Kyria Maro, she was stating the obvious! Of course Macedonia is Greek! But what would she have thought of the idea that Macedonia is also Macedonian? The name dispute surfaced in recent times after Yugoslavia broke up, with the fall of communism. Before that, the name dispute was limited to the end of WW2: What stopped it from being discussed too loudly was the closing of the Yugoslavian borders, in other words, communist rule, which effectively put an end to the Greek fears of a country called Macedonia. This stemmed back to the Balkan Wars, fought during the WW1 period, where the greater region of Macedonia was shared among various countries, including Greece and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. This is in fact what gave rise to what is often referred to as the Macedonian Issue. When the Greek economic crisis broke out, the name dispute, while not at all forgotten, was pushed under the carpet, overshadowed by other more serious matters, swapping places with the economic issues that were plaguing the country over all those years but were never dealt with until the eleventh hour. Both countries involved in the name dispute - like their neighbours - always have more pressing issues than just their names!

How exactly does the world now talk about the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia? The recent spy case in the country, and a possible Ebola case (which proved to be incorrect), gave the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia a lot of coverage in the news. Below are screen shots of google searches using the following phrases: 'macedonia ebola/spy case' and 'fyrom ebola/spy case'.

macedonia spy case: BBC (UK) and NYTimes (US) top the list. One reference ( uses FYRO Macedonia - from their facebook page, I found out that they are registered in Thessaloniki - ie Greece.
macedonia ebola: All the first-page references (except one) are from the UK (the other is from Canada). 
fyrom spy case: The relevant links (ie the ones that actually report on the spy case) are ALL Greek. The others are all sites or fora, both Greek and non-Greek, that discuss the name issue. 
fyrom ebola: The links are ALL Greek - except the first highlighted one, which is from the Guardian, a very highly ranked global news website. 
I scrutinised the Guardian references a little more closely, as one would think that a newspaper with such a great global readership would be very careful in its wording and would have strict guidelines about how to mention politically sensitive issues. The 'fyrom ebola' Guardian write-up was thus:
Guests quarantined in the Hotel ‘SUPER 8’ look out from their windows, being not allowed to leave the hotel in Skopje, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 09 October 2014
But that seems to be someone else's wording, as the above was used as a caption to a photograph. It was not Guardian staff that wrote this. When actually writing about the case, the Guardian used 'macedonia':
UK to introduce Ebola screening as death of Briton reported in MacedoniaThe Foreign Office was last night investigating reports that a Briton had died of suspected Ebola in Macedonia. Tests were being carried out but the man’s colleague said he had not been in any country known to have Ebola outbreaks.
The use of 'FYROM' is inextricably linked to Greek usage; everywhere else, it's 'Macedonia'. The comments on a Reuters article Ebola) are particularly telling of how the issue of the name dispute is being viewed: Greeks don't want to read about Macedonia and non-Greek Macedonians don't want to read about FYROM.

During those early years of the name dispute, I couldn't remain unaffected by the constant barrage of nationalism. About eight years ago, which coincides with the 2008 proposal for the name dispute, while proofreading M.Sc. theses at my workplace, I noticed that students from the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia were using just the word Macedonia in their thesis work (their studies often refer specifically to issues concerning their country, and the data is collected there too), to refer to their country's name. Given the attention placed on the name dispute, I could not let this slip by unnoticed. I decided that it was unlikely that this would remain unnoticed in the long-term anyway, and sooner or later, someone would notice if I wasn't 'correcting' the students' writing appropriately. I decided not to take a nationalist stance: I corrected the reference to Macedonia by writing FYR before the word, so that the the phrase looked like this: 'FYR Macedonia'. This rewriting was also relayed to my boss, who agreed with what I was doing. 

Eight years later, I proved myself right, when someone other than the boss did actually notice something about my proofreading style: someone who was flipping through a MSc thesis asked me about the wording FYR Macedonia. What was it exactly that they found difficult to accept? Don't FYROM and FYR Macedonia look the same? The reasoning behind their stance in my opinion is purely psychological: since the name dispute broke out, there has been a Greek tendency to view the initials FYR placed next to the word Macedonia as something that is revolting. With FYROM, it was very easy to mask the revulsion - and given that the acronym was pronounceable and easily turned into a word, it was a simple matter to turn the acronym into a name, and be done with the issue. The sight of the word Macedonia sitting next to - but not stuck to - the initials FYR stirs up feelings of revulsion among some Greeks, which is turned into nationalism, which is why Greeks try to claim the word Macedonia as their own. 

When the name issue broke out in my office, a couple of other people (both Greeks) also questioned my use if the phrase FYR Macedonia. One was from the Greek region of Macedonia, while the other was married to someone from the Greek region of Macedonia. A very brief discussion revealed that while they were initially, let's say, 'perturbed' by the sight of the written phrase FYR Macedonia, they did in fact agree that FYROM is not a name of a country, and the name of the country must be referred to appropriately in a thesis. The name issue was simply a case of psychological revulsion: once people 'got over' the revulsion factor, they began to accept that the word Macedonia must be used to refer to the former Yugoslav republic. It isn't just my own Greek Macedonian colleagues who can see the logic in this (we now write 'Macedonia[FYROM]' as the name of the country in student lists) - there are Slav Macedonians who admit that they too have seen Greeks show respect to their countries' name dispute: 
Eleanora Veninova, the director whose short film "Hair" has been shown in Switzerland, has told us that she hasn’t heard about the Greek reaction. "I have not had inconveniences during other festivals because the Festivals independently decide whether they would address us as Macedonia or FYROM and almost always it has been Macedonia. When I was at the Festival in Drama in Greece, where the movie "Hair" was in official competition, the organizers everywhere announced the movie as a movie from FYROM, but during my official statements I was introducing myself as a director from Macedonia and they had no problem with it. I won a prize for a pitching workshop, held alongside the festival for the next short film I make, so the film professionals had never been a problem. Certainly, sometimes there are reactions from the audience or people we come across there, but it has not been anything news", says Veninova.
Given the work-related incident, I decided to google 'fyr macedonia' to see who else is using the FYR abbreviation next to the full-form Macedonia, without abbreviating it to just the letter M. It seems that this is used mainly by the football team of the Republic of Macedonia, and by Eurovision to name the country in the song contest. I also found a reference to it that is being used by the World Bank. The phrasing FYR Macedonia is officially being used in a similar way to my own, when I proofread students' theses. So it seems to me that in terms of the written form of the name involved in the dispute, it has actually been resolved theoretically and practically for most intents and purposes. The spoken form is a case of psychology - that will take forever to resolve. The question that now remains is when the two countries will finally realise that the world is not waiting for them to solve their problems. 

The borders of countries are purely political constructs with global recognition. The people living on or near the borders often mingle with each other, and this is noted in their customs, their dress styles, their architecture, and of course, their food. While talking with one of my FYR Macedonia students about Florinis peppers (long red ones, not hot), she told me I could try making ajvar, since we always produce a lot every year in our garden:
"We use florina type peppers (long red sweet peppers), seeds removed, and eggplants: 50 kg peppers, and 50 big size eggplants [you need more peppers than eggplants] The vegetables are roasted over fire, peeled, ground and placed in huge pan. We add 3-4 liters oil and we cook it over fire, outdoors for 4-5 hours, continuously stirring. This is my family's recipe, but it varies from family to family, in terms of the pepper/eggplant ratio, oil, addition of parsley or garlic, shili pepper, etc. It is usually flavoured with just salt. The hot ajvar is placed in hot jars and then the jars are placed in a big pot all together, wrapped in old blankets. The next day, the jars are cold and the sauce can last for several years like this without changing the flavour. But of course, it never stays longer on my shelves than April the following year..."
I wondered if the same preparation was also made on the other side of the border. Communally made storeable food, like yufki (a kind of egg and milk based pasta that can be kept all year round and is used in a variety of dishes), is still popular in the former communist countries which border Greece. The cold-war barriers once ensured that not even neighbours could learn from each other. I made some ajvar on her advice. 

This year's batch of ajvar - I use it as a base for stews

I am always on the lookout for new products on our supermarket shelves. So you can imagine my surprise when, after making ajvar for the first time last year, I found something like ajvar at the local supermarket. It was not labelled ajvar; it had a very general description that could be translated to something like 'pepper and eggplant spread'. But it was unmistakably the same product (for more information, see this link - it was this product). The name was simply not being mentioned. If you google the search string 'αιβαρ' (= ajvar transliterated into Greek), you will find it. The search can be narrowed down to food only by googling 'αιβαρ φλωρινης' (= ajvar florinis, from the pepper variety used to make it). And my wackiest find: a bilingual recipe for ajvar, written in the official languages of Greece and FYR Macedonia. 

I will end this post with a poignant quote from Farewell to Salonica, by Leon Sciaky, a Jew whose family was born, raised and based in Thessaloniki, left the city in 1915, during the political turmoil: 
The Balkan coalition which had been the hope of the people, the war which was to be the liberation of the oppressed, had ended with the Treaty Of Bucharest, that treatty of August 1913, which for the first time partitioned Macedonia and sowed the seeds of further hatreds and cruelty. And now the wave of horror which had swept pover Macedonia had engulfed the countries fo the West. The shot fired at Sarajevo [ie the beginning of WW1] had plunged the whole of Europe into war... Bulgaria, humbled by its defeat in 1913 and bearing the pressure of over 600,000 Macedonian refugees, had thrown her lot on the side of the Austro-Germans. She had attacked the Serbs from the rear and in a few weeks had overrun most of Serbia. The British and French had landed in Salonica... During the first few years, there was in our New York apartment an atmosphere of transiency, the feeling that we must be ready to pack up at any moment. The talk around the dinner table often reverted to our home in Salonica and to plans for our return. The war could not last much longer... Now that America had entered the conflict, it would soon come to a successful conclusion and we would be on our way... Farewell to Salonica, by Leon Sciaky, 1946
Of course that never happened, as Leon's son, Peter, explains in the Afterword. Instead, Leon bought a farm in the are of New York now known as Fahnestock State Park
For the greater part of the year, we lived there by ourselves; other family members came on weekends... Thanksgiving and Christmas were family times, which occasionally included close friends... In the late summer, the Macedonians - Greeks, Bugarians and Turks - would arrive for a giant barbecue. Despite all the Old Country animosities, they seemed to find compatibility and freindship with one another in their adopted land. Afterword to Farewell to Salonica, by Peter Sciaky, 1974
For the time being, let's admit it - we are nowhere near to a solution:
United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz admitted on Wednesday that “no progress” was made in the latest round of talks between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) aimed at resolving their name dispute. Nimetz called for “greater flexibility” from both sides after hosting talks between Greek diplomat Adamantios Vassilakis and FYROM negotiator Vasko Naumovski in New York. Nimetz, who visited Athens and Skopje in the summer, did not submit a new proposal designed to settle the dispute. He said that talks would continue in the next few months. Vassilakis said that “no new ideas” were put forward during the talks and that Naumovski, who recently took up his role, “essentially repeated the ideas that Skopje has.” Wednesday November 12, 2014 (22:06) 
Why? Because: "A really good compromise is the one that leaves both sides equally dissatisfied" but neither side wishes to be dissatisfied. That's why we really need to talk about Macedonia, as soon as we can: people are already talking about us, so why can't we talk about each other too? But even with the rest of the world, no one is really taking a position: 
Following a new deadlock in talks between diplomats from Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the Balkan state's official name, Washington has said it supports the continuation of United Nations-mediated efforts to resolve the longstanding dispute. The US would like to see "a mutually acceptable solution as soon as possible," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was quoted as saying after talks in New York on Wednesday, mediated by UN official Matthew Nimetz, failed to break any new ground. 
Friday November 14, 2014
Hm. The oracle has spoken. 

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Monday 10 November 2014

New Greece, new food

Food is more interesting than ever these days in our house. This is because of the range of foods I can buy from the local food stores, that allow me to cook a greater variety of meals. There are new food products on the shelves, as well as better quality food products. As the economic crisis gives way to a re-examination of values and a new lifestyle, people look more for quality in their purchases rather than just for the cheapest price, as a report from today's news suggests.

The products on the supermarket shelves these days suggest innovation:
Olive sweets, prickly pear jam, aloe spread, carob spread, chocolate-strawberry spread, olive marmalade, apple marmalade - a result of post-crisis creativity, or was this the direction we were heading for in the gloabl world? 

They also suggest creativity:
Mnay butchers now stock a variety of in-house processed meats. I recently bought some of the pork rolls (7.90 euro/kilo) for a Sunday meal. 

One my favorite 'new' foods is the growing of fresh produce that we used to import, at high prices, with a significant loss of quality and taste:
Fresh raspberries, grown in Hania - only 20 food miles away from me!

Some new products are a symbol of free trade:
This packet of ground Humalayan salt cost a mere 1 euro. It is just one of a new range of weird and wonderful salt varieites available to the average Cretan who is WTP (willing-to-pay). This salt was available at INKA, but I also saw coarse pink Himalyan salt selling for 3.59 for a little vial, black Cyprus salt, smoked Cyprus salt, red salt from Hawaii and grey salt from Brittany, all selling for 3-4 euro a small jar, all at AB! (Do people really use this stuff in Crete?! and why?!?!?!)

During our trip to London, we bought some supermarket curries which I froze on arrival back home. To my surprise, I needn't have made the effort, as the kind of ready meals (in frozen form, rather than on the cold refrigerated shelves) are now also available in Hania!
Chicken tikka masala from LIDL in Hania (top) and Sainsbury's in London.

There are also some newies which don't quite fit into life in Hania:
Halloween is not celebrated in Greece, but LIDL seems to think otherwise (pumpkin features a lot in this food).

And how about some new uses for old things?
#changinggreece blue rose rice grown in Greece: the white writing in the bottom red line reads 'for sushi and leaf parcels'. Some of you may remember the (well before the crisis) days when this commercial for mayonnaise was being shown: 

'Whatcha doin' there Christina?' the ad begins. "I'm opening seaweed (a take on the Greek phrase 'opening filo', which means rolling out pastry) for the children in Athens - they only eat it from my own hands'. The point made in the ad was since Hellmans sells prepared salads, we have more time to do other things in the kitchen. 

How all these novelties will shape the Mediterranean diet is anyone's guess. But if the Mediterranean diet is seen as a lifestyle rather than just a food regime, then there is a place for all of them. 

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Monday 3 November 2014

Writing in Greek

When I first moved to Greece, my Greek language skills were 'good', probably better than most diaspora Greeks' skills, perhaps because I had studied linguistics, which meant that I could detect language patterns that would ultimately help me to use Greek more effectively. To improve your foreign language skills, it helps to live in a country where it is used as the main language medium, it also helps to speak the language frequently and converse with native speakers - but that will not necessarily help you to improve your written skills in that language.

My Greek reading skills were good to start with, but my writing skills were completely lacking. This is because I did not need to write in Greek. In fact, most people's writing skills in those days (over 2 decades ago) were lacking - apart from the occasional letter to a friend, Christmas cards, and shopping lists, we did not write much. These days, we write much more given our use of the internet; therefore, we read much more too, because we have access to more reading material than we ever did before.

This is in fact what helped me to improve my writing skills - thanks to the internet, I had access to as much reading material in the Greek language as I wanted. Reading allows you to 'see' the language, which then helps you to remember spelling and standardized word endings. I have now got to the stage where I write the Greek press releases for my son's local fencing club. Normally, I am simply informing local newspapers and web sites about the competitions that the young athletes take part in, the results, and messages of thanks to sponsors. The press releases are often used just as they have been written, but I notice that the print version in the local paper rewrites them to suit their newspaper's style.

My latest write-up is more descriptive: it discusses a visit by German students during an exchange trip. I've just sent it off to the papers and news sites. You get a sneak preview of it here - in translation!

"The Hania fencing club received a surprise visit last Wednesday from a group of high school students who came to Chania via an exchange programme from Straubing, a German town about 100 kilometers away from Munich. The exchange was organised through the 5th High School in Nea Hora, Chania, through e-Twinning. The visit to the fencing club was organized by the fencing coach, Mr. Michael Konstantinopoulos, who is a physical education teacher at the 5th High School. The German students stayed in Chania for a week. They also visited Knossos, and watched the football match between Platanias and PAS Ioannina, among other events planned for them. 

The fencing club in Hania, in the area known as Palea Ilektriki.
Η αίθουσα της Α.Λ.Ξ. Χανίων, στην Παλαιά Ηλεκτρική.

"In the frame of exchanging ideas and experiences, Mr. Konstantinopoulos organized the visit to the fencing club, so that our guests will have the opportunity to learn about the sport of fencing and to see Greek students participating in this sport which is particularly widespread in their country in contrast to Greece. This is the second time that the same German high school has visited the club, at their request, to get an experience of the fencing sport. After a short demonstration by the young athletes from the Hania club, our German guests also had the opportunity to test their skills with the swords under the supervision of Mr. Konstantinopoulos. 
The athletes of the fencing club show the German students how it's done.
Οι αθλητές της Α.Λ.Ξ. Χανίων κάνουν επίδειξη στους Γερμανούς επισκέπτες.
The German visitors get a chance to try out the swords for themselves.
Οι Γερμανοί επισκέπτες δοκιμάζουν το άθλημα.

"Overall, our German guests were quite enthusiastic about their fencing experience and left with the best impressions of the progressive nature of their Greek peers. They ask that such exchanges continue to occur in the future."

And here is the Greek version, which will appear sometime tomorrow in the following websites:,,, .

"Η Α.Λ.Χ. Χανίων έλαβε μια ευχάριστη  έκπληξη την περασμένη Τετάρτη από μια ομάδα μαθητών γυμνασίου που ήρθαν στα Χανιά μέσω μιας μαθητικής ανταλλαγής, από το Straubing, μια γερμανική πόλη περίπου 100 χιλιόμετρα από το Μόναχο. Η ανταλλαγή έγινε με το 5ο Γυμνάσιο στη Νέα Χώρα, Χανιά, μέσω του προγράμματος e-Twinning ( Η επίσκεψη στην Α.Λ.Χ. Χανίων διοργανώθηκε από τον προπονητή ξιφασκίας, τον κ. Μιχάλη Κωνσταντινόπουλος, ο οποίος είναι καθηγητής φυσικής αγωγής στο 5ο Γυμνάσιο. Οι Γερμανοί μαθητές έμειναν στα Χανιά για μια εβδομάδα. Επισκεφθήκαν επίσης και την Κνωσό, και παρακολούθησαν τον ποδοσφαιρικό αγώνα μεταξύ Πλατανιά και ΠΑΣ Γιάννενα, μεταξύ άλλων εκδηλώσεων που είχαν προγραμματιστεί για αυτούς. 

"Στο πλαίσιο ανταλλαγής ιδεών και εμπειριών, ο κ.  Κωνσταντινόπουλος οργάνωσε την επίσκεψη στην Α.Λ.Ξ. Χανίων, έτσι ώστε οι επισκέπτες μας να έχουν την ευκαιρία να γνωρίσουν το άθλημα της ξιφασκίας και να δουν Έλληνες μαθητές να συμμετέχουν σε αυτό το άθλημα ιδιαίτερα διαδεδομένο στη χωρά τους σε αντίθεση με την Ελλάδα. Αυτή είναι η δεύτερη φορά που το ίδιο γερμανικό γυμνάσιο έχει επισκεφτεί την λέσχη, μετά από αίτησή τους, για να πάρουν μια εμπειρία για την ξιφασκία. Μετά από μια μικρή επίδειξη του αθλήματος από τους Χανιώτες αθλητές της λέσχης μας, οι γερμανοί επισκέπτες είχαν επίσης την ευκαιρία να δοκιμάσουν τις δικές τους δεξιότητες με τα σπαθιά. υπό την επιτήρηση του κ. Κωνσταντινόπουλο. 

Συνολικά, οι γερμανοί επισκέπτες μας έμειναν ενθουσιασμένοι και έφυγαν με τις καλύτερες εντυπώσεις από την προοδευτική φύση των Ελλήνων ομολόγων τους. Έχουν ζητήσει τέτοιες ανταλλαγές να συνεχίσουν να λαμβάνουν χώρα στο μέλλον."

It's not a case of the internet degrading our reading and writing skills, if you know how to use this tool which has changed the world completely in just over a decade.

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