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Tuesday 19 December 2017

Tinned tomatoes

I've been following the populist 'no more tinned tomatoes' debate that broke out just over a week ago in the New Zealand media, when a women's refuge worker demanded (not just requested) that food donations to the charity should not include tinned tomatoes. The 'Treatise on Tinned Tomatoes and Why They Are Like Books' did not get as much airtime as did the readers' vicious comments about the connection between 'poor people' and tinned tomatoes, which sounded like it was coming from non-Maori/Pasifika (read: white) higher-end middle class New Zealand society. The post (I found a cached version) did not actually villify tinned tomatoes. All the reasons that the writer gave for banning tinned tomatoes were based on solid facts and sound logic. Given that we are just days away before Christmas, it shouldn't be too difficult for most people to see why words like 'tinned' and 'staple foods' don't collocate well with 'Christmas'.

The women's refuge worker claimed that refuges (like food banks) often have many tinned tomatoes in their pantries, often past their due date. Women who use refuges generally don't use tinned tomatoes, nor did the people who raised them, and some of the women who use refuges don't even (know how to) cook. So if you gave those women a choice, they would never even ask for tinned tomatoes. In other words: if a woman cooks with tinned tomatoes, its a cultural thing. Pasifika/Maori women - the main users of women's refuges in NZ - are unlikely to have a cultural background of cooking with tinned tomatoes. Middle class NZ society might be very surprised to discover this: some people just don't use this quintessential global pantry stocker. By judging these women on foreign (to them) cultural terms, ie as good and knowledgeable budgeters ("tinned tomatoes are cheap!", "tinned tomatoes are versatile!"), the 'tinned tomato brigade' can't actually see what these women are feeling when they enter a refuge, ie sadness, depression, shellshock, running away from violence. Coupled with a lack of life skills and literacy skills, being cash strapped, in debt and looking after children, they wouldn't even feel like cooking, let alone cook from scratch: tinned tomatoes usually imply cooking from scratch.

Women who turn to a refuge for help have no family support - if they did, they would not be asking a refuge to help them. The writer made a point of how important it was to help such women get what they wanted, rather than what other people feel they need. In such moments, they want simple comforts: "spaghetti on toast or really simple things, stuff [that can be eaten] straight from a can if needs be".  Donors donate what they think poor people (which does not always mean the same thing as 'women in a refuge') need rather than want: "That’s you putting your values, and your mores, and your cultural prejudices on other people." Offering to teach women how to cook, how to use tinned tomatoes, and any other life skills they may be lacking is all very well, but there's a time and place for everything; when they arrive at a refuge, they need to settle into a new kind of life. Eventually, they may start preparing meals like they used to for themselves and their children; but some of these women may never want to cook, let alone from scratch. So tinned tomatoes are probably never going to be useful for them.

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My old no longer wanted books started this foreign language library at CIHEAM.MAI Chania. Many students use it in their free time, and students also add to the collection.

The writer made the analogy that "tinned tomatoes are a bit like books": just like we don't all cook, we don't all read. While cooking and reading may sound like very basic activities to some people, to others they are not. For some people, cooking and reading are very difficult activities. Giving things to people who need things is not the same as giving people presents: the things you give to people who need things have to be useful things. Giving tinned tomatoes - a very cheap common product - to someone who has never used them is like giving away your old books which you no longer wish to read to people who never read novels. The better off harbour comfortable perceptions about what others should be doing all the time to become better off.

The treastise against tinned tomatoes aroused a storm of comments from both sides of the argument. A (Maori) woman working for another women's refuge added canned chickpeas and canned lentils to the forbidden list of items that refuges didn't want:
"We ask for fresh meat and vegetables and we get beans and lentils. What are our people going to do with chickpeas? Are they going to be making hummus in the safe house? Like tinned tomatoes, chickpeas and lentils have to be cooked and accompanied with other ingredients, using knowledge and supplies that many families [don't] have."
A (white) woman working for a Salvation Army food bank said she was shocked to hear that other charities were turning away tinned tomatoes:
"...the refuges are being a bit fussy... We are very short on things like [tinned] tomatoes... chickpeas and lentils are staples in Salvation Army food parcels given to families at this time of year... The staples are never going to go out of fashion. And hungry families will usually eat anything."
Anything? I doubt it. (And she also put her cultural prejudices into the picture by calling women in refuges hungry.)  Food is incredibly personal and highly cultural. Clearly the Salvation Army is catering for different kinds of people from those entering a women's refuge. People on a low income may also lead a more stable kind of life, not the nomadic existence of a woman fleeing from violence. Processed food is not necessarily the greatest miracle in the food world to make women's lives easier; having someone doing all the bloody cooking for you is even better than buying, carrying, storing, preparing and cooking food yourself. We don't all have that luxury of a private home cook; this usually happens when you are very wealthy or if you live in a cultural setting where one of the household's women (eg the grandmother) will prepare meals for all the family members, who may be working out of the home, or have been assigned other tasks. As mentioned above, if a woman has this kind of family support, she would not be asking a refuge to help keep her safe in the first place.

Snails and xinohondro - highly acquired Cretan tastes!

As I was following the discussion in the media, what really struck me was how unlikely it is among these refuges that someone will be cooking something for someone else, so that those people who need a decent meal (especially children) would find something that wasn't full of sugar/fat/salt (read: snack-type ready-to-eat highly-processed, eat-from-the-packet kind of food). It is already obvious that a lot of the people using these services don't have many life skills needed in order to maintain a healthy standard. So why not have someone cooking something on a regular basis, which can be served up to everyone and is also healthy and comforting? Some of the commentators mentioned that they would like to do such a thing as a cook-up, where some of the meals produced can be frozen for emergency moments. I think that the answer to this question will bring to the fore a host of other social issues that will be difficult to resolve.

It seems to have escaped people's notice that a lot of people in highly advanced countries like New Zealand are too busy to cook these days. This doesn't apply just to people in difficult situations. Most people in advanced countries spend their time in many creative ways, which often include doing things away from the home. And when they do have free time, they spend it more leisurely. Cooking is not a leisure activity when you are thinking about how to feed a family. It's a chore.

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Lentil (φακές - left) and bean (φασολάδα - right) stew/soup - it depends on how much water you add.

Cooking for others, cooking with tomatoes and cooking with beans are therefore all very culturally based. In truth, I cook tomato-based bean dishes not because they are the yummiest thing imaginable, but because I have to feed a family, and beans are a pretty good quick cheap choice of food which can be prepared the night before, by the working woman in the household. (I am doing this right now as I write: a pot of lentil stew is boiling away on the stove. It should be ready before midnight. No, I don't use a pressure cooker.) This is not to say that a woman living in New Zealand from the Maori/Pasifika cultures cannot do the same thing for her family as a Greek or Indian woman (two cultures which use beans a lot in their daily diet); she doesn't do this simply because it's not part of her culture. She could be taught to do something like this - but if it was never part of your culture to prepare food in this way, learning to do this kind of chore is very difficult in modern times, when people are generally being 'taught' to treat food as a commodity: you buy/eat food when it's time to eat, or when you're hungry, or maybe to comfort you - and it's all ready prepared by someone else, and - generally speaking - you will generally cook when you feel like it. What may have been part of the food culture of a Maori/Pasifika woman fifty years ago has now changed, due to her translocation - due both to internal and external migration - into a highly advanced society headed and directed by non-Maori/Pasifika leaders. No matter how settled a woman in New Zealand who has turned to a refuge becomes, she is unlikely to revert to a less processed-food daily diet.

*** *** *** 

The 'tinned toms' discussion that ensued tells us much more about comfort food, processed food, and the act of cooking, than it does about how to use tinned tomatoes. The following can be implied:
- Comfort food is ready-to-eat food
- Cooking is for people who lead stable lives
- Canned chickpeas and lentils are the kinds of food that connoisseurs, health-freaks, vegetarians, vegans (and generally other 'smart-farts') know about (and eat)
- Certain cultural groups eat a lot of chickpeas and lentils, so they will know what to do with them
- Certain classes of people - especially those whose lives are less complicated - have the chance to be more adventurous in their food experiences
- Canned food (eg chickpeas and lentils) is for poor people
- Canned tomatoes are useful in a home where the act (which is now often considered an art) of cooking can actually take place (read: you have a kitchen, a stove/oven, AND you can afford to pay the electricity/gas bills)
... inter alia.

Canned tomatoes - and muuuuuuuuch more recently canned beans, but never ever canned lentils, except at LIDL when it's having a 'Spanish week' - are highly popular among Greek food banks and especially in soup kitchens. They are cheap and easy to work with. They make quick filling meals. A heated tin of tomatoes could quite possibly be poured over some boiled pasta. BUT: If this was never part of your culinary repertoire, then you will not eat it, let alone know how to make it. Culinary knowledge in western countries has passed into the realms of mystery, while things like chickpeas and lentils are considered food for the poor - or food for cultured. Even Greeks will acknowledge that beans are cheap and that's why the eat them.  Most Greek women with a family (including me) will cook up a bean dish once a week on a week-day, de rigeur.

I can't actually imagine any working Greek woman with a family here in Crete not cooking up a bean dish at least 2-3 times a month, but this is based on cultural norms. Greeks may have become impoverished - but still, there is much truth in saying that theirs is a dignified kind of poverty. We can have our cake and eat it, because we know how to make the cake. Greek identity these days often implies food knowledge. Recent Greek emigrants due to the economic crisis often end up working in their own food-based business. Their family background is not necessarily middle class. They rarely realise the superiority of their culinary skills because until they leave Greece, they do not realise that there are people out there who lack such knowledge. They are also astounded to learn that most people in highly advanced societies watch cooking shows and buy cookery books - but they rarely cook meals: most of their food will have been prepared by someone else, for them to heat and eat.

It's still not very common to see soaked ready-to-use chickpeas (let alone lentils) in Greek supermarkets; on the other hand, there is a plethora of dried beans on the shelves. If such canned products were presented to a Greek woman, and she was asked to produce something on the spot with them, I don't think she'd have much trouble producing a hot comforting meal in little time. All you need to make classic Greek φακές (lentil stew) and ρεβιθάδα (chickpea stew) are tomatoes, beans and water; if you add some minced onion and garlic, salt and pepper, your soup/stew - depending on the amount of water you add - will taste nicer. A hot bean soup made with canned tomatoes makes great comfort food - and it tastes better the next day.

Puttanesca is one of the quickest things I can cook from scratch 

Tinned tomatoes are often hailed as a food processing miracle by media cooks:
"The larder is worryingly bare when you've run out of tinned tomatoes. They are the cook's comfort blanket, the progenitor of any number of soups, sauces, stews and braises... Tomatoes are the best source of the carotenoid pigment lycopene. Some studies suggest it can help prevent prostate, lung, and stomach cancers. Tomatoes are an interesting exception to the rule that cooking food reduces or destroys valuable micronutrients: lycopene is better absorbed when it has been heated, either during processing or cooking, as the heat turns the molecule into more useful isomers. Tomatoes provide significant amounts of bone-strengthening vitamin K, and some research suggests that lycopene also supports bone health. Many studies link tomatoes with heart benefits, and although the mechanisms aren't yet clear, the antioxidant vitamins C and E in them, along with lycopene, seem to slow down the processes that would eventually cause heart disease."
An old photo of my pantry - these days I prefer to freeze our bumper summer tomato harvest.

In short, a pantry full of tinned tomatoes and chickpeas and lentils symbolises domestic wisdom, happiness and prosperity. But this is something that is not within the sight of a woman fleeing to a refuge with just her kids and the clothes they're all wearing. They'd rather be having some tea and toast, and maybe something sweet, like chocolate biscuits, to bump up their spirits. In other words, they want the same things you want. I highly doubt that the average citizen of a highly advanced society is eating tinned chickpeas or lentils cooked in tinned tomatoes on a daily, let alone weekly basis. We all want variety.

When buying "food for the poor", we really need to think about what we ourselves like to eat rather than what we think poor people 'should' be eating. Better still, charities can tell you what they need because they know who they're supplying. It's even better to give them money (they are likely to make better deals with suppliers), so they can do the appropriate shopping for that tiny segment of society that is rarely visible to the majority. Especially now before Christmas, to make it a merry one, skip that bloody canned food. As the Greek saying goes:
Φάτε τώρα που το βρήκατε, γιατί αύριο έρχεται η φακή.
(Eat now that you have good food, because the lentils are coming tomorrow.)

More articles on Greek food banks and soup kitchens:

All quotes come from the following links:

©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.

Sunday 10 December 2017

The living dead

Looking after the dead is an important aspect of every modern society. Greeks bury their dearly departed in such a way that we can imagine them as sleeping in the earth, as if they are still with us, only that they are now silent and enjoying a peaceful life. This is one reason cremation has been hard to imagine for modern Greeks until very recent times. Cremation was actually very common in ancient Greece, especially for warrirors, and in Athens where there was a lack of space. Cremations are being reconsidered in our times because more people these days have expressed their desire to have a non-Christian funeral, and there are also people who see it as environmentally more sound to be cremated. But until crematoriums are built in Greece - and this won't happen too soon, although they are on the cards apparently - we will still be buried in cemeteries similar to the one I visited recently in the village of Gerolakkos in the Keramia region of the Cretan highlands.

On the ocassion of the memorial service of a friend's mother, we visited the church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, where the cemetery of the village is also located. The splendour of the area is not visible from the main road - you have to climb a marble staircase to see it. The winter season's colours were on full display in this semi-alpine region with a view to the snow-capped mountains of the Lefka Ori: the yellow orange shades of the deciduous trees contrast starkly with the evergreen olives, whose trunks show the effects of snow. Olives don't like frost, and their branches break when they are covered in snow. But olive is a very hardy tree, and it does not die easily - at such altitudes, its trunk gets stockier, and it regains its strength by winter's end, continuing to flourish over spring and summer, while remaining shorter than olive trees growing on lower ground.

The church service was rather long, the church was small, and the congregation was huge - at least 250 people turned up. Since we did not all fit into the church, I stayed outside most of the time, and strolled through the cemetery, which is very typical in Greek terms. Many of the graves had some very moving epitaphs (which we call epigraphs in Greek - επιγραφές) inscribed on them, giving away clues about the earthly life as it was lived by the residents of the tombs. The words written by the loved ones of the dearly departed imply that life does not stop once you die: your actions in the world keep your memory alive well after death, and you will be remembered for them - whether for good or for bad. Life goes on, even after death.

What particularly endeared me to the epigraphs at Gerolakkos is that they were nearly all written in the style of the Cretan mantinada, a rhyming poem very popular in Crete, consisting of two 15-syllable parts, often written over four lines. Many of the epigraphs were also written in the Cretan dialect. A few of those epigraphs stood out for the message they wished to convey: the writers know that the people reading them will not be their dearly departed loved ones, but the general public, among whom there will be many people who knew the deceased (it's a village church, after all, and it will be visited by villagers with family and friends in common). Many of the messages are simple poems showing the great sorrow of the writers at the loss of their loved ones, but a few stand out for the story they tell of their dearly beloved.

A picture may tell us a thousand words, as is the case of the accompanying photograph to the epigraph - the traditional face of the Cretan man, with a black crochet sariki on his head and a 'katsouna' (wooden walking stick) just visible, reminds the Cretans of their roots from older times which are still relatively recent in our memories:
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"Father, wherever you walked, your name stayed/And it left a legacy for your family"

In a similar way, the family of this man want to acknowledge their father's legacy:
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"You were a beacon next to me, a harbour in my life/But now you have left, and my soul is broken." (from his wife)
"Thank you for teaching us to live/You told us that we dont need to conquer the world
You taught us integrity, trust, work and manliness/Necessary in life for it to have value
You will always be in our heart and in our mind/a great ideal, our greatest teacher"

The daughter's epigraph to her dad is a simple farewell expressing sorrow for his loss.
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On closer inspection, we realise that the bus shows German placenames which tells us that her father (and perhaps her family) lived abroad but wished to die in their homeland.

Sometimes we wished things had turned out differently, not just for ourselves, but also for others, as this message written from a daughter to her father tells us: 
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"Now that you are together with your two children, don't forget your gradson. I want you to find my son so he can have company and not be alone, because my beloved father, you know well how much it hirts to be lonely. Thank you for coming and visiting my son, on pain's bed. You were the only relative to remember that he was confined and helpless. Thank you, I owe you a big apology for your own loneliness."

This beautiful epigraph, written in the Cretan dialect, shows the love that the deceased had for his homeland. It also pictures the last home that the man had ever built, but didn't quite finish. God didn't take him away too soon - someone else did:
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"You walked the highlands of Kerameia and Sfakia/And with great enthusaism, you began buidling your 'koumo' (Cretan stone mountain hut).
You will be sorely missed by the Kerameia mathways/Which you traversed up and down, your back heavily laden.
Tell me Father how you are these days in Hades' palace/You, who would say you'd die if you were ever bedridden.
You stood against the monster for four years/And now that you have gone, the vacant space is big..."

A 'synteknos' laments the passing of a good friend: "I lost my favorite bead from my kehribari." Kehribari is the Greek word for amber, which is shaped into beads, to make a komboloi, the popular 'worry bead' necklace that Greek men (and lately women) are seen clicking at cafes. The word 'sinteknos' is used very much in Crete, signifying a friend 'by marriage': someone who shares a relationship due to being a best man at a wedding or baptising a child.
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The epigraph continues with matinades about the writer's love for Crete, and sorrow for not being close to this beloved uncle:
"... I'm far away in the deserts of the foreign lands, I want to be an eagle, to have wings on my shoulders, to fly across the Atlantic, to glide across Hania, to run over Keramia, to see the Dancer's house, and to bring you a pot of curly basil, Uncle."
The Uncle must have been a γλεντζές, a word often used in Greece, derived from Turkish, meaning 'lover of having a good time with song and dance'.

Sometimes we feel guilty about why our loved ones never reached out to us and we wished we could reverse the events:
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"... I knew your pure and humble soul but I didn't know your egotistic pride..."
"... you always cared for us and kept us close to you but you, mother, did not accept from any one of us, the moment you were leaving this phoney world, to hold you hand, but never mind, we don't hold it against you, we will love and remember you forever..."

This man died too early but he must have been very much loved. There are three mantinades written for him: one by his children, one from his wife and the last one from... his father- and mother-in-law:
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"You were our hope and our joy/And now we are full of sorrow for you, in our old age."

The epigraphs at Gerolakkos remind us that there is indeed life after death, and just as we lived life on earth as we wished, so too will we live life below ground:
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"Our humble grave resembles our hearts/That it's not dressed in marble is as we wished."

*** *** ***

Bonus photos: Gerolakkos is close to the village of Drakonas, so we decided to have lunch at Ntounias. We were the first customers for the day, and the food was still cooking in the clay pots. So we didn't order anything - we just let Stelios bring us one plate after the other, until we reached satiation point. By the time we left, there was hardly a spare seat in the restaurant.

And as we drove home passing by other villages like Therisso, we could see that the tavernas in those other places were also full, not just with locals, but busloads of visiting school children from other parts of Greece. And that's when I thought that perhaps Greece is now living in the post-crisis period (but we can talk about that next year, lest I speak too soon).

©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.

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Greek Urban Warriors: Resistance & Terrorism 1967-2014 by John Brady Kiesling

Ήμασταν ζωντανοί νεκροί         (We were the living dead)
μας δίνανε μ’ ανταλλαγή           (they exchanged us for)
τη μπόμπα την ατομική             (the nuclear bomb)
Το Ισραήλ για να σωθεί             (To save Israel)
ακόμα ο στόλος ναυλοχεί          (the fleet is still charging forth)
γεμάτη πόρνες η ακτή               (the coast is full of prostitutes)
κι αν φύγανε οι Γερμανοί          (so what if the German left)
ήρθαν οι Αμερικανοί                 (the Americans came)
καινούρια πάλι κατοχή              (again a new occupation)
Panos Tzavellas, Ξυπνήστε (Wake Up), 1975

The 17th of November is supposedly a day of commemoration in Greece, in remembrance of the events on 17 November 1973 at the Athens Polytechnic. It invariably starts with what sets out to be a peaceful march through some central Athens thoroughfares; by the time the marchers get to the terminal (the US embassy), the march turns into a violent street brawl, composed mainly of hoodies, with costly damages made against public and private property. Leftist struggles against capitalism lose their meaning in such actions. This has in effect happened with the date of the commemoration of this event, which lent itself to the name of a now defunct Greek terrorist organisation, 17 November (abbreviated to 17N) with a world record of "27 years of deadly political violence before the first arrest" of one of its members, which sparked its unravelling. Most but not all members of 17N were identified, arrested and jailed, effectively putting an end to the fear that had overtaken Greek society of an attack staged by them. Home-grown Greek terrorism still exists, but in a less organised microform compared to 17N. Most of the time, the perpetrators of such crimes are caught: they are often young people (mainly men) disillusioned with the failings of their personal life, which they blame on the government, and the deterioration of a capitalistic society. A 29-year-old, believed to be working with the Conspiracy of Cells of Fire group and accused of sending letter bombs to Greek and German politicians, is the latest to be arrested (see

Last week, Dimitris Koufodinas, one of the most loyal members to the 17N ideology, was released from jail on temporary leave, which raised a political storm both in Greece and abroad, not least because another member who had been granted furlough two years ago did not return to jail until he was rearrested after a year on the run. Provocative photos of Koufodinas were splayed all over the news websites as he came out of jail - followed closely by his wife, lawyer and son Hector (whose birth father was registered under the name of another 17N member, a former husband of hector's mother because Koufodinas lacked valid ID) - with a huge smile on his face and his arms outstretched as if ready to embrace long lost friends.

Understandably many people whose lives were upturned by 17N's murder of loved ones were hurt by this action, but it also has to be said that it was a perfectly legal action and Greek law was being implemented to the letter, as even the Greek prison officers' federation was quick to point out (see If you have read "Greek Urban Warriors: Resistance & Terrorism 1967-2017" (GUW) by John Brady Kiesling, then you will know how astute Koufodinas has always displayed himself in his ideological beliefs, and what a 'model' terrorist he was - a rebel, supposedly 'with' a cause.

Kiesling was once a career diplomat serving US embassies until he resigned during his term in Athens (see His book on Greek home-grown politically motivated terrorism is a very thorough piece of work. The success of the book lies in the fact it has been written by a non-Greek who knows Greek society very well. Other accounts of Greek terrorism written by Greeks tend to melodramatise the ideals of the terrorists or simply write them off completely: accounts differ according to the political leanings (left or right) of the writers, as left- and right-wing factions make accusations against one another. Kiesling is not Greek, so he is more neutral in his analysis of the situations.

My main interest in reading GUW came from my assumption that Greeks are generally a disorganised race; how then, could anyone in this country have organised so many terrorist attacks over a period of a quarter of a century without being caught? Were it not for a failed bombing attempt in 2002 involving two of the members, one of whom was seriously injured and could not escape, 17N could probably have survived longer. When they were finally caught, we discovered that all those involved were a tightly knit group of Greeks, partly family and partly friends, masterminded by an eccentric ex-professor, with a handful of loyal servants to the cause. In essence, 17N was a group of thugs.

Apart from the analysis on Greek terrorism, GUW gives the reader a good idea about the political situation in Greece during each time period described, whenever an attack took place, tracing up to half a century of modern Greek post-WW2 history. The story of 17N is very useful for piecing together the events of recent times, covering important historical events, such as the military coup of 1967, the end of the junta in 1974, Greece's entry into the EU in 1981, the embezzlement scandals in the late 80s and the years of false prosperity in the 90s, leading to the arrest in the summer of 2002 of an almost dead 17N member Savvas Xiros, who doctors managed to bring back to life so that the police could make him sing, bringing the 17N racket down like a house of cards. Greek identity is not the focus of the book, but the account of the exploits of 17N as described in the book confirm various aspects of Greek identity and how Greek society has developed over those years. All the quotes below come from GUW.

The first victim of 17N was American Richard Welch, CIA chief of the US embassy, on 23 December, 1975, hence the dismay expressed by the US on hearing that a convicted 17N member was given leave, even though Koufodinas had nothing to do with this murder as it was way before his time. At the time of the murder, US influence (aka 'interference') was well established in Greece, since the execution of the Marshall plan:
"In 1952 Greece was an authoritarian state dependent on US economic support... an American protectorate..."
Anti-American sentiment had built up in Greece since then, and it was widely known that the US clearly supported the military dictatorship which had ended only 18 months before the murder. The Greek-American politician Spiro Agnew infamously stated that the junta was "the best thing to happen to Greece since Pericles ruled in ancient Athens". When the junta finally fell - the events of 17th of November 1973 in Athens were the first act which eventually led to this - and democracy was restored, a march from the centre of Athens to the US embassy has been held every year to remind people of the US's involvement in Greece's darker times. So it is quite ironic that Tsipras and Trump only very recently met up at the White House, saying nice things about each others' countries, given their extreme opposite political leanings (especially given that they were saying nasty things about each other only a few months before the meeting).

The struggle between left and right factions has been present since WW2 in Greece. The left have never forgiven the right from taking away their glory, even after the fall of the junta:
"Athens in 1975 was full of young activists wrapped in the glory of imprisonment or exile. The 'official' revolutionary organisation, the KKE [Greek communist party] weighted down by Brezhnev in Moscow, was deeply suspicious of ... liberated comrades in tight jeans... This slander, particularly because the KKE applied it to the heroes of the Polytechneion [the stage for the events that took place on the 17 November 1973], proved a serious tactical error. The Karamanlis government exempted members of the anti-Junta resistance from military service, apart from three months of basic training. Many of them settled in Exarcheia, an inexpensive, traditionally leftist neighbourhood just above the Polytechneion..." 
In the history of the Greek left, we find many instances of members not being able to accept modern trends (like wearing jeans, a fashion originating in the US). It is this reason that sometimes blurs what defines the difference between extreme left and right, making them both sound like different sides of the same coin. They both exhibit elements of violence in their resistance to the status quo, and they renounce foreign influences, and this has continued up to the present time, with a softening stance on the part of leftist Syriza after the humiliating OXI vote; the left had to turn right in order to find the centre. The rise of centre-left PASOK, which won the elections in 1981 by a landslide just after Greece had entered the EU, gave 17N a chance to rethink their purpose. If Greece had a leftist government, what was their role now?
"At his first NATO summit in December 1981, Papandreou announced that Greece was 'forced to consider a process of disengagement' from parts of NATO it did not approve of. In the EU, Greece vetoed economic sanctions against the USSR for its intervention in Poland... Papandreou infuriated  his European allies by rejecting the prevailing Atlantic consensus on the Middle East... But in doing so Papandreou was stage-managing a careful retreat from his election promises... PASOK had forgotten its election pledge of abolishing the MAT [riot police]... In terms of day-to-day law enforcement, PASOK would be little different from its conservative predecessors... By mid-1983... Koufodinas and his fellows were in firm, fierce agreement that the socialism implemented by PASOK was unworthy of being defended."
The left-right struggle explains the motives behind the second attack in 1976, directed against Evangelos Mallios, a policeman accused of torturing political prisoners during the junta period: the terrorists were taking revenge on what they regarded as the failure of the state to punish people like Mallios (who, by all accounts, sounded like a nasty man). The police took more notice of this attack than the first one, partly because 17N had never been heard of before; this is also the time when Koufodinas started to take a serious interest in 17N, which gave him his life's calling. The murders continued in this way: US servicemen and Greek police officers were the main victims until the mid-80s. The police were never really liked in the past, unlike now when they are more highly respected than they were 30 years ago - at the time, they were scorned for their origins and their leanings:
"Greeks watching police battling stone throwers in the streets of Athens do not automatically cheer for the forces of order. Contempt for policemen is partly a relic of history; in Ottoman times, police earned their reputation as cruel corrupt and politicised. Class snobbery also plays a role, in that the sons of poor villagers are recruited to police an urban society. "
The left-right struggle continued while PASOK was in power, exaggerated by the claims from both sides, firmly entrenching the two major parties. The media was now regarded as a propaganda tool: 
"Prime Minister Papandreou warned of a vast right-wing scheme to destabilise the country. Conservative newspapers blamed Papandreou's secret army of leftists. KKE ... accused the CIA of planting ... bombs. Police used the excuse to search the houses of dozens of extremists and haul [them] in for questioning... ND [the centre-right opposition] organised a protest march and rally against the offices of Greek state television (ERT) ... Every governing party rewarded friendly journalists and the mistresses of cabinet minsters with ERT sinecures, but the scale of PASOK's media intervention had triggered charges from ND that PASOK was building a North Korean-style one-party propaganda machine."
At this point, Greek journalists and businessmen are added to the list of 17N's victims. In a country being governed by the left, the leftist terrorists had to find fault somewhere. When newspaper publisher Nikos Momferatos was killed in 1985, 17N charged that:
"the CIA had funded Momferatos to buy his newspaper 'in a systematic effort to make the more backward sections of the people stupid and torpid, offering various sentimental scandals and half-naked women, cultivating their lowest and crudest instincts. This proclamation introduced a new term, the 'lumpen big bourgeoisie' (LMAT). The government and LMAT were selling out Cyprus while de-industrialising Greece to turn it into 'the West's beach, a huge hotel, which will depend even for the basic necessities on imports, that is on loans from Western Banks'... servants of international capitalism and the multinational corporations."
PASOK was "perceived to have betrayed the popular strata that naively supported it." The same tune is sung in our times with Syriza's rise to power. 17N proclamations in the mid-80s showed the ambivalence 17N members felt towards capitalism and the West:
"After complaining that tax evasion was rampant, the author offered a harsh but scarcely revolutionary critique of the Greek educational system. The working class paid taxes but got a worthless education, since passing the examination for the state universities was impossible without private tutors. Admission to a state university entitled one to join the 'university proletariat' because the desirable jobs went to graduates of foreign universities. The 'hypernationalist, xenophobic' PASOK government pretended to be against foreign and private schools but let them function unimpeded. At the same time, the state promotes 'the superiority of ignorance' by obstructing bureaucratic recognition of foreign university degrees."
We recognise a lot of these traits among Syriza in their early days when they were in opposition. On securing power, they realised they had little choice but to continue in the same vein as their predecessors, in the same way that PASOK could not keep its promises in the late 80s:
"PASOK's leftist voters felt cheated by austerity budges, the continued US military presence, the co-option of the organised labor movement, and the first rumours of high-level corruption."
TheKoskotas scandal (see had just broken out, helping 17N to forge their belief in their cause: to fight against corruption, for justice of the λαός. By the late 80s, 17Ν began targeting Turkish embassy and military officials posted in Greece (two of whom were killed in the early 90s), adding the divided Cyprus issue to their causes, by linking the arch-enemy US with the Turkish coup:
"17N promised to fight rapprochement with Turkey until the Turkish army left Cyprus... A thoughtful handful of journalists were supporting Papandreou's Davos process, admitting that Greece had some share of responsibility for the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, that the US was a potentially helpful intermediary, or at least that negotiations with Turkey might be a good thing. 17N rejected these ideas firmly. US imperialism had orchestrated the Turkish invasion..." 
Thus, Cyprus became a 17N cause, since Papandreou had already started discussions on the Cyprus issue with Turkey. Thus, 17N could carry on with its murderous activities. One wonders if these rebels really had a real cause. Having been bank robbers (to sustain their criminal activities) and murderers most of the time, one gets the idea that they were acting like common thugs. And since they had never been caught, they became legends:
"By the end of 1988, 17N had everything it needed to be one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in Europe. it now counted among its members several young men with weapons, discipline, practical skills, and proven courage. Their ideology - libertarian socialism - was all-embracing enough to transcend their personal moral objections to theft and murder. A major scandal had delegitimised the current government and the entire Greek political system. Appeals to Greek nationalism ... could help energise Greece's pre-socialist proletariat to consider the need for revolutionary solutions. Simultaneously, 17N was taken with the idea that it could help fill the political vacuum the scandals had created... 17N printed up and scattered little campaign fliers and stickers with a 17N star logo calling for 'People's Power and Socialism with 17 November' ... a little stack of them was found in a safe house 14 years later."
To add to 17N's cause, the leftist PASOK eventually lost the elections, thanks to the Koskotas scandal, and centre-right ND came to power in 1990. By then, 17N had become a highly discussed topic in Greek political debate. The disorganised Greek state of the time could not stand up to 17N's well developed organisational skills. On 3 February 1990, 17N proved a formidable power in a comical farce when they stole nothing less than bazookas from the Athens War Museum:
"... a white Toyota ... parked illegally... Five well-dressed men in sunglasses... walked up the steps of the Junta-era ochre cube... The guards at the War Museum were unarmed and somnolent, their closed-circuit cameras out of order. The men pulled out handguns, explained politely but briskly that this was an exercise, and asked the guards and two visitors to gather against the wall. Three ... men then went upstairs where they immobilised two more guards and a pair of French tourists. One of the men cut the wires attaching the ... bazookas to their wooden display case and put them in a large plastic bag... they placed a cardboard box in the entryway with a wire sticking out and explained that this was a bomb with a motion-sensitive detonator. They climbed into their car and drove away. The cardboard box did its job well enough that no eyewitness spotted the license plate."
A year later, the left-right divide was blurred once again with the death of a leftist by a group of right-wingers:
"On Jaunary 8, 1991 a group that included a local cadre of the ND youth wing ONNED burst into an occupied school in Patras and fatally bludgeoned a far-left teacher named Nikos Temboneras." 
This was not a 17N attack. But it was part of the same political crisis that gave forth groups like 17N. Temboneras' son recently rebuked ND, when they showed dismay concerning Koufodinas' prison break: "Ξεχνά προφανώς ότι και εμείς πήγαμε σε κηδείες." Left and right violence is essentially of the same nature: everyone involved in such activities is nothing less than a thug. Thuggery was once again shown in 17N's failed attempt to kill Ioannis Paleokrassas, the ND Minister of the Economy for doing exactly what 17N believed in - weakening bank secrecy and combatting tax evasion:
"17N was certain the state planned to tax ordinary workers on the income from their moonlighting jobs while giving wealthy tax-dodgers an amnesty to legalise their hoarded wealth."
So we understand that making banks more open and collecting more taxes for the state was welcome, but only as long as the 'other' side was being punished and the 'goodies' were allowed to continue as usual. But 17N made a fatal mistake: instead of killing Paleokrassas, 17N killed a young man, an innocent bystander, in the botched operation. (I was in Athens centre the day that this murder took place, having been in Greece only a year at the time. The event made me wonder what I was doing choosing to live so close to random danger.) For Koufodinas, ever the ideologist, who was constantly searching for (and finding) reasons to justify his involvement in murder, this was a major setback. He knew 17N would be regarded by the public as just a group of thugs, something he so painstakingly tried to prevent:
"... for Koufodinas, the aftermath was the turning point for 17 November, a shift that caused the Organisation, then at the height of its capabilities and influence, suddenly to go limp, to turn into a mere team of militants again. There should have been a major strategic reevaluation at that point... because the Greek people were still passive spectators in this political process despite all 17N had done on their behalf." 
What exactly had 17N done for the Greeks? Nothing. It was by joining the EU that Greece finally got out of its poverty trap and steadily progressed (albeit on false premises) from a backward low-income country to a wealthy nation where everyone could dream of and have a fitted kitchen just like the ones we see in American films. Just a year before this murder, 17N had killed a black American serviceman, sparking another negative reaction on the part of the public due to the race factor involved in this crime. He was working at the Hellenikon US army base which was vacated by the US in that same year. Greece was changing, slowly ubt surely. By the mid-90s:
"... Greece's industrial base had evaporated. Propaganding socialist revolution to a country of civil servants and small shopkeepers required new ideas, but the far Left did not have them. ... 17N was not ready to abandon the armed struggle, but its sparse disconnected attacks and proclamations reflected a failure of internal leadership and ideology... To justify its deadly violence, 17N needed a more persuasive 'ism'. Nationalism was all it had left."  
In other words, the leftist organisation turned to ideals often associated with the far-right, as it had nothing 'left' to strike at. On 16 February 1996, the US embassy in Athens was attacked, with 17N firing a bazooka (the one stolen from the War Museum), which fell into the carpark area, damaging vehicles.  In February 1998, they exploded bombs at 2 McDonalds outlets and damaged the GM Detroit General Motors showroom, all in the northern suburbs of Athens, which are often associated with wealthy Greeks and foreigners:
"The heart of the McDonalds proclamation was a defesne of Greek nationalism as the natural patriotism of a struggling people. By contrast, [as] 17N asserted, American, European and Turkish nationalisms were inherently racist, based upon a sense that ethinic superiority gave them the right to dominate lesser breeds and turn them into junior versions of themselves." 
Αt this point we could say that 17N είχε μπερδέψει τα μπούτια της, as the Greek saying goes, although their hatred of the US did manage to have one important outcome: President Clinton's visit in November 1999, set to coincide with the 17 November commemorations, was shortened to just one overnight stay. Not only that but the Greek President George Stefanopoulos basically got an apology for American interference in Greek politics during the years of the military dictatorship. The following quote comes from Clinton's speech in Athens:
"When the junta took over in 1967 here, the United States allowed its interests in prosecuting the Cold War to prevail over its interests - I should say, its obligation to support democracy, which was, after all, the cause for which we fought the Civil War. It is important that we acknowledge that." 
According to a 17N member, Koufodinas did not fail to note Clinton's acknowledgement of US interference in Greece, and he might even have considered stopping 17N's activities. This didn't happen, but at any rate, by this time, 17N's days were numbered. Unfortunately, not in time to stop one more - the last - murder, of a British military officer, Stephen Saunders in June 2000, on the pretext that he murdered Greeks' Serbiann brothers (even though the UK insisted that he was not involved in any bombing attacks over Serbia). This came at a difficult time for Greece, which had committed to staging the 2004 Olympics. The US was one of the first critics of Greek security tactics:
"The Greeks were furious at the US. They had mortgaged their economic future and national honor to the Games. Though the US government never threatened a boycott, Greeks were certain [the US] were spreading lies with some kind of extortion in mindl No one cared to point out publicly that 17N was too nationalist and public-relations-sensitive a group to shame Greece by attacking tourists or athletes at the 2004 Athens Olympics."
After Saunders' death, Scotland Yard got involved in the 17N investigations. But this was all to prive futile: 17N unravelled completely by accident, basically when their luck ran out, on 29 June 2002, when a bomb exploded in 17N member Savvas Xiros' hand, while he was setting it up with Koufodinas:
"The explosion below Savvas several yards backwards. 'Can you walk?' Koufodinas asked the crumpled figure. 'No,' Savvas grunted. 'leave!' he had lost three fingers of his right hand andboth eardrums. He had blast particles in both eyes, damaged blood vessels in neck and brain, and pressure and burn damage to his chest and lungs. a cold-blooded fanatic would have finished off Savvas to keep him from talking. Long friendship prevailed... Koufodinas embraced him and left... An hour later the Port Police found the second bomb and the bag with savvas' revolver, two hand grenades, keys, and telephone card thrown by the blast... The .38 Smith&Wesson had a history that could be recovered frm the effaced serial number. In 1984, it had been taken off the corpse of Christos Matis, the young policeman shot dead in a bank robbery, the 6th of 17N's victims. here, after 27 frustrating years, was the final mistake the Greek police and the CIA had been waiting for."
Koufodinas' action here tells us that his ideology did not prevail in a freindship. This is in fact very typical of Greeks. Their emotions prevail, even in the face of logic. Koufodinas was no exception. It cost him his life's calling. Perhaps though he had gotten tired of setting up bombs - maybe he just wanted to give up this lifestyle, and by letting Savvas live, he had found a way to do it.

In the summer of 2002, I was a new mother with very young children living in a not so well-connected Greece. The 17N arrests, as they were being reported all day on television, were an addictive diversion from raising babies. That summer was a busy one for Greek media, as they unravelled 17N's history, displaying photos of the members as they were discovered one by one, and the 'yafkas', the numerous safe houses containing the incriminating evidence. When Savvas was finally able to speak, the Greek world was amazed to discover that Savvas came from a poor family with 10 children, and his father was a priest. We were even more astounded to hear that not one, but two of his brothers were also involved in 17N's murderous activities: 17N was beginning to look like some kind of family business. Over the next month, more arrests were made, as many as you can count on your fingers and toes. Was that it, we wondered? 17N was made up of a closely knit secretive family and friends, who kept their activities well guarded, while they lived among ordinary Greek citizens in various parts of the country.

Christodoulos, Savvas and Vasilis Xiros

When Savvas was finally able to speak, he basically sang. He clearly wanted to live, not die. The evidence eventually led in mid-July to the capture of 17N's mastermind, Alexandros Giotopoulos who was holidaying on the remote Greek island of Lipsi, but not Koufodinas, who also preferred remote Greek islands for holidays. Instead of hiding in Gavdos where he had a modest holiday home, Koufodinas chose Angistri, close to Athens. He camped there throughout the whole summer, without anyone realising who he was:
"The weather turned rainy at the beginning of September. Koufodinas was subject to migraines. the press was reporting imminent arrest of his partner Kiki. Koufodinas decided the time had come to redeem the honor of the organisation. On Thursday, September 5, 2002, he left his tent and newspaper clippings beside the dumpster and took the boat to Piraeus. having showered, shaved, and put on a new shirt, he called Kiki's lawyer to ask her help, then caught a taxi to Athens. On reaching GADA [the central police station], he told the driver to keep the change from a 100 euro note... When Koufodinas introduced himself to the police at the front desk, they were at first certain it was a joke at their expense. His fingertips ultimately persuaded them he was indeed the man they had been pursuing for the past 65 days." 
GUW reveals details of the confessions and trials of the 17N gang members, which Kiesling attended. The 17N women, partners of the accused, although eventually cleared of charges, are noteworthy for their allegiances: Kiki, for example, had grown up in an orphanage and was clearly anti-American, even though she had a sister living in the US working in space research. Kiesling notes the pressure involved during the trials: they had to take place as quickly as possible in order to show that justice was being served but this could only really be done by plea bargaining, so that the end result pleased the prosecutors. There are also bound to be some 17N members who were never caught. In other words, we only know some of the story: the rest has been consigned to history.

The very different personalities of Savvas Xiros and Dimitris Koufodinas, who opened the way to the end of 17N, could easily have led to different circumstances: one cannot help wondering what might have happened had it been Koufodinas in Savvas' place, so that Savvas was the one who busied himself the next day erasing evidence, while Koufodinas was lying in a hospital bed making up alibis about his presence at the site where the bomb exploded.

More writing by John Brady Kiesling about 17N and US-GR relations:

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Tuesday 10 October 2017

Tsigariasto with chili

My husband's line of work in the taxi business usually involves mundane rides from A to B. During the summer, foreign clients make the rides more interesting. Yesterday, he came home late, after spending 7 hours with an Indian couple holidaying in Hania. Sometimes, such exotic customers give away a lot about their culture. Yesterdy was no exception.

"The man and woman had been standing by the sign listing the indicative prices for rides at Square 1866 in Hania. I couldn't see what ride they were looking at. At one point, the man walked confidently straight up to my cab [E-class 2011 model Mercedes] and asked me outright: 'Can you take us to Elafonisi?'

"I explained that the ride was an expensive one. 'I don't care', he said. I feel obliged to explain this to foreign customers because sometimes they come here thinking that everythig in Greece is cheap, and they are shocked to hear the prices of some services. I even had someone remark 'that's London prices' and walk off in a huff. So I gathered that these people were wealthy. They looked like Indians to me. We usually think of India as a country with a lot of poor people, so this ostentatious show of wealth felt shocking to me. The taxi has been part of my family for over 50 years, but when I travel, I would never spend this kind of money on a taxi, not even with my whole family in the car. Idon't feel that rich.

"On the way to Elafonisi, I asked them where they were from (Mumbai), and why they chose Hania for a holiday (a friend of theirs had come here and given them a good review of the place). I explained a few things to them about the sites they were passing by. It's an expensive ride, and they may as well get their money's worth. They took a lot of photos, and they seemed genuinely interested in the scenery.

"On arriving to Elafonisi, I was really quite amazed to see so many people at the beach. It's mid-October, and the place looked like it hadn't calmed down since the beginning of summer. I let the passengers off and asked them what their plans were after Elafonisi. They told me they just wanted to to enhjoy the beach and they wanted me to take them back to Hania after a couple of hours. Obviously it was my lucky day today.

"The car parks in the area were full and there was no shade. Driving is the easy part of a taxi driver's journey: what tires you out is keeping the customer entertained at the same time. The weather in the northern part of Crete does not compare to the southern part. We've been feeling autumn setting in in the north, while the south still feels like high summer. While I waited for them, I could feel the car heating up. It had also become a dust bomb. Elafonisi is very dry.

"Two hours later, my customers stroll back to the cab at the designated meeting place. The man was limping a little. I asked him if he was OK. 'It's nothing,' he insisted. 'We walked the Samaria Gorge yesterday'. That made my day. they had ventured out of their comfort zone.

"'Where do you recommend we go for lunch?' the man asked. I was thinking the same thing, meaning I wanted to get back home and enjoy my own lunch. I suggested that they might like to pick a restaurant while we were driving back. The man looked around, and spotted the restaurant located on a small rise , just beyond the sandy area where the tarmac road starts. He could tell that it would have a good view of the sea. 'We'll go here!' He was always very confident about his choices.

"The waiter bought us the menu cards. I told him I was surprised to see so many people here at this time of year. 'So many?' he exclaimed. 'This is nothing! You should have seen what was happening here in the last week of September!' We've all had a good run this year in terms of tourism.

"My customers asked me to join them for lunch, whcih I think was very generous of them. This doesn't happen often. Naturally they wanted a bit of help with the menu. The restaurant served very traditional Cretan food with a few tourist dishes for those who didn't want to be too adventurous. I told them about tsigariasto - 'I don't think I want to eat goat' - pork roast - 'I don't eat pork' - braised chicken - 'Hm, chicken is common'. The woman ordered a pizza. 'What are you going to have?' the man asked me. I chose the tsigariasto. 'OK, I'll have that too,' he said. I really hoped it was going to be good.

"The meals came and we began eating. The tsigariasto was much as I expected it - slightly oily, well-cooked tender meat, falling off the bone, with a wine flavour to the sauce (no tomato). 'Does the restuarant have any hot sauces?' the man asked me. Hot food is being served more often in Cfrete these days... but this restaurant, it's location, the menu - hot food was clearly off limits. I asked the waiter, and he bought some commercial spicy tomato sauce to the table. 'Got any ketchup?' the man asked. The waiter bought some ketchup too. The man must have used up a quarter of each bottle, splurging it all over the tsigariasto. He reminded me of when my children were young and we were in London at a Pakistani restaurant. Except that they wanted to eat everything without the heat. Now they're used to other people's food, and they eat it as they find it.

"On the way back to Hania, the man asked me about other places to visit. I suggested Knossos in Iraklio. 'I mean another part of Greece'. Crete is a very big island, I explained. But they clearly wanted to go island hopping. So I mentioned the classics: Santorini, Mykonos. This is the most common route that first-time tourists take when comeing to Hania: after spending three days here, they go to Iraklio, then take the ferry from there to Santorini, with Mykonos on the itinerary too.

'You have a lot of mini markets here, don't you?' I asked him why he was asking this question. We had been driving mainly on country roads until then with hardly any shops. 'What are those people selling on the road?' he asked. What he was seeing was the local producers of natural products selling their wares along the road, and there were many of them. My customers were interested in the natural products, so he asked me to stop at the next seller. They bought wine, raki, rakomelo, thyme, oregano, marjoram, sea salt and honey, one of each item that the producer was selling on his stall. As we were leaving, the man asked me to stop again. 'Can we go back to the stall?' he asked. They decided to buy some presents too. And as we all got back into the cab again, the stall owner called me back. 'Come and take a present for yourself,' he said. I waited for him to give me the present. 'You choose,' he said. So I took a bottle of rakomelo. It was clearly his lucky day too.

We drove back to Hania with the cab smelling like a Cretan hillside from all the herbs tmy customers had bought. As I dropped my customers off at their hotel, I asked them if they enjoyed the trip. "Wonderful, wonderful! We will tell our friends to come too!' I suppose I coudn't ask for more than that."

*** *** ***

More and more people are coming to Greece for a holiday. 2017 was an interesting year for us in Hania. We've never seen so many Asian tourists coming here before. Tourism depends on stable politics in the general area which is generally an unknown quantity in our world these days. No one knows where the next attack will take place, ruining a country's reputation  for safety.

The tourism season in Hania ends on 29  October 2017 and starts again on 24 March 2018. We have suffered a little from over-tourism in Crete this year. But as a Cretan I can tell you that the winter is also a wonderful time to be here too. You have the island to yourself. The weather isn't always guaranteed, but you will still be blown away by Greece's beauty, history and archaeological sites are not season-dependent, and the food is still fantastic (perhaps even better). The sea is perhaps a little over-rated anyway.

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Friday 1 September 2017

As things stand today: An appraisal of Greek neo-immigration to the UK

When someone was typing, someone else was listening:
"If only we could all find ourselves where we feel well, or feel well wherever we may find ourselves. There's no point trying to convince someone about what we are going through." 

If you look into the reasons Greek people give for leaving Greece, you will often find that recent Greek immigrants speak of their country in a very ambivalent way. At the same time as telling you that Greece is ‘the best country in the world’, they will also denounce Greece for her low levels of meritocracy, education and healthcare, not to mention the high unemployment rate that has been plaguing the country for the last decade. But they may also admit that their adopted countries' healthcare and education services are not as good as they had expected, albeit in a different way to Greece’s. Corruption is also mentioned as a serious issue thwarting development in Greece; but Greeks abroad also realise that there are traces of corruption - albeit less visible - in their adopted countries too. In other words, societies are very similar the world over. Plus, most people like to complain about their lot. Immigration is not necessarily the answer to our problems.

At the same time, while immigration has never been easier in contemporary history, it is now under threat as governments around the world try to curb the number of newcomers arriving to their country. While some people never get the chance to reach their ideal 'promised land', for others who did, their status there is no longer guaranteed. Many countries are showing 'impatience' with politically correct immigration rules, while the immigrants themselves are facing a time of reckoning. They may have secured homes and jobs away from their homelands, but some are now having doubts about what the future holds for them as an immigrant resident of a foreign country, in a world that is forever merging. As traditionally held beliefs fall apart, their unravelling reveals that things are not always what they seem to be.

The question
In this frame, a Greek immigrant living in the UK recently asked the following question in a forum/help-site (Greek Professionals in London) for Greeks in the UK:

"If you had the chance to return to Greece, as things stand today, would you do it? Would you send your child to school in Greece? Would you trust the Greek health system? Or would you continue to live in the UK?"

The question (posed some time after the Westminster/London attack in March 2017, and just before the Manchester attack in May 2017) quickly became one of the most commented posts in the forum, and drew a wide - and surprising - range of responses from the members of the group. What followed was an unravelling of sorts: having been through the experience of immigration, one counts the gains as well as the losses of living away from the homeland, and wonders whether it has been a worthwhile effort. The question also implies that when a Greek leaves Greece, they leave as an immigrant, not necessarily as an expat, or someone just seeking experience abroad. Greeks generally don't have 'experience' in mind when they leave their country - they have 'emigration'. They leave on what they consider a long-term basis, rather than temporarily.

According to the wording of the question, 'as things stand today', it is trying to elicit information about whether Greek people who live abroad would contemplate returning to live in the country at the present time, implying uncertainty about life in Greece. The question is not asking about visiting Greece; it is questioning whether moving back to live in Greece permanently is a wise move in the present time. This mindset implies that 'things aren't good' in Greece, and another country is 'a better place to live', offering 'a better life'.

It's a fair question to ask. Greece has, over the many centuries of her existence as a modern nation state, been plagued by the curse of her people not wanting to live within her designated territorial borders. From its inception in 1821, the country known as Greece had fewer people of Greek heritage living in it than the number of Greeks living in the diaspora communities. A century later, when Smyrni (modern-day Izmir in Turkey) was razed and over a million Greeks were forced out of Asia Minor, many chose to immigrate to the New World rather than live in what seemed to them the backwaters of a failed bankrupt state. Those who did stay would bear witness to the mass destruction of all the country's infrastructure during WWII when Greece fell under Nazi rule. The decades after the war were marked by mass immigration (spiking in the 1960s) of the poor and rural to Western, some of which were not much older than modern Greece herself: Canada, New Zealand and Belgium come to mind, i.a. 

Greek emigration stopped some time in the early 70s, a few years before Greece entered the EU, when Greece was under military rule. While political freedom was being squeezed, the junta period was a very propserous one for the working class and middle class Greeks. This was the period of urban migration: Greeks were deserting the villages for urban conglomerations, notably Athens, where there were many jobs available for the low-skilled. Hence, emigration decreased markedly. By 1976 (post-junta), the Greek statistical service stopped keeping records for emigration because it seemed pointless to do so (personal communication).

When the three decades of false prosperity as a member of the EU were finally shattered just after the onset of the global financial crisis, this time it was the turn of the highly educated to take flight. The latest crisis is not a passing phase, but it is at a mature enough stage for most Greeks to understand the course that their country is taking. At the same time, it has been overshadowed by global events in the field of immigration that are clearly closing doors rather than opening them to people on the move, in search of that 'promised land', based on that infamous expression: 'for a better life'.

As things stand today
The wording of the above forum question has negative undertones: 'as things stand today' is surely telling us that things aren't standing very well. Greece has become synonymous with the phrase 'economic crisis'. At the same time, Greeks are often unflattering towards their country, whether Greece is in crisis or not, whether they live in Greece or not, and especially when they live out of the country...:

"... 'an utter hole' - much as some Greek exiles appear to view it today, indeed, when they return on holiday to their humble little villages from the concrete jungles of New York or Sydney, and cannot rest until they have told erstwhile compatriots how inferior are all their ways of doing things.Greece without Columns by David Holden (Faber, 1972)
... even if they have never lived in Greece at all - Greekness does not stop by being born beyond the borders of the Greek state:

"When and where, we may ask ourselves, is a Greek not a Greek? The answer is practically never; not in ancient times, when Greeks ruled for twenty generations in northern India and still were Greeks in every way, nor in modern times when a Greek may leave his homeland as a child and spend his entire life elsewhere without sacrificing one jot of his Greekness." Greece without Columns by David Holden (Faber, 1972)

With these ideas in mind, namely that Greece is at present a 'difficult' country to live in and, like Odysseus, Greeks are always looking behind their shoulder to see what they are leaving behind, I decided to analyse the nearly 850 responses that this public forum question elicited.

Social media
Social media as research material
Using social media in research concerning self-evaluation has helped to broaden our perspectives about heterogeneous groups: according to a 2008 study published in Psychological Science,
"people tend to express their real personalities on Facebook, rather than idealized versions of themselves... [social media] allow researchers to study unobtrusively how people behave in real life"

Much university research uses the most accessible subjects for study: the handiest human subjects tend to be university students. Therefore, scientific studies can benefit from research using social media because:
"We no longer have the excuse of relying on self-reports of undergraduates... We can now reach out to other groups and see the actual electronic traces of their behavior."
"... social media is a rich vein of data for user researchers... it would be an oversight for an organization to treat social media as nothing more than an opportunity for customer service enquiries, help requests and brand advocacy."

Issues of privacy and confidentiality need to be considered when using public posts on social media, because most people think of their comments as 'private', even though they are commenting on a public (open) platform. For this reason, I don't refer to the names of the participants, and I examined only publicly available profiles that are not connected to my own social media profiles. It is worth mentioning that one of the participants of the forum mentioned the idea of conducting a survey from the comments during the ensuing discussion:

"It would have been a good idea if a poll had been placed in the question so we could work out the trends."
In this way, the analysis of public 'private' comments may seem justified.

The analysis will begin by discussing the topics raised in the discussion, and will then move on to how positively/negatively the question was answered. The question is repeated below:
"If you had the chance to return to Greece, as things stand today, would you do it? Would you send your child to school in Greece? Would you trust the health system? Or would you continue to live in the UK?"
The main assumption underlying this question is: 
"Given the current situation in Greece - a country in crisis, with high unemployment, lack of graduate job opportunities, low salaries, uncceptable levels of corruption according to internationally recognised expert opinions, etc - someone who left Greece 'for a better life' elsewhere (as is being assumed of the participants in the discussion) would probably not return to Greece, as things stand today."

Therefore, some hypotheses can be stated as follows:

As things stand today, living in Greece is not 'easy'/'good' (H1)
As things stand today, life in the UK is better than in Greece (H2)
As things stand today, Greeks living and working in the UK would not return to Greece (H3)

An attempt will be made to quantify the data in such a way that they will be able to shed some light on the above hypotheses. Other assumptions can also be made:
  • If someone left Greece before the crisis broke out, they are unlikely to want to return to Greece (because they 'know' Greece mainly from phone conversations with thier families in Greece, the media, etc rather than from a daily routine in the country itself, which they may 'fear' due to what they hear/read) 
  • If someone left Greece after the crisis broke out, they are more likely to want to return to Greece (because they may be homesick, still have close contact with family, etc)
  • The longer someone has been living away from Greece, the less likely they are to wish to return to Greece (for similar reasons as stated above) 
  • If someone is single or in a relationship without children, they are less likely to want to return to Greece (because they have the freedom to build up their career, make money, be away from home more often, etc)
  • If some has children, they are more likely to want to return to Greece (because their situation will be viewed as more dependent on extra help, they may wish to have closer family ties)
  • etc
Unfortunately, however, such hypotheses cannot all be answered because the data needed to answer these questions - when respondents left Greece, how long they have been living away from Greece, if they are single/married/have children - is not available. Some comments allude to the above-mentioned situations, but the information was gained randomly.

According to the media coverage of the crisis over the last seven years, we can also make other assumptions on the reasons why Greek citizens emigrated. These assumptions are based on things like lack of job opportunities and loss of income, as other studies will attest. Greece was regarded as a country of emigration up to the mid-70s; once it entered the EU, emigration levels dropped dramatically as the standard of living rose equally dramatically. Census information from the Greek statistics authorities shows a significant decline in the population between 2001 and 2011. Since the crisis to date, it has been recognised that up to half a million Greek citizens have left the country (half of whom were immigrants to the country). While there had always been some emigration taking place, it was mainly among the highly educated professional class (medical experts, business executives, engineers, etc) who enjoyed global work abroad, as there seemed to be enough jobs in the country, mainly in the tourist industry (in the hotel and catering industries), and this was also noticeable in the service sectors of the UK, from the places where the Greek language was heard being spoken and the workers in the high street stores. Greeks in the UK were once based mainly in London whereas now they are found living and working all over the UK, unlike in the past when they were mainly students in the UK or tourists in London. Greeks rarely worked in the UK service sector in the past: they were mainly professionals. Now all this has changed. Based on such information, in line with previous studies (this link opens a DOC file), we can also assume that: 

If someone left Greece because they could not find work (or the desired kind of work) easily, they are less likely to want to return to Greece if job opportunities are still lacking in Greece (H4)
If someone left Greece because of loss of income, they are less likely to want to return to Greece if their income level will not be high in Greece (H5

With this in mind, we can now begin to analyse the data available on the forum.


A total of 164 individual social media identities commented on the forum question, with the number of responses totaling 843 comments. The forum question reached out to approximately 23,500 forum members who were the number of members of the forum at the time the comments to the question were being posted; in other words, the question was answered by approximately 0.7% of the total population. But that figure gives a good margin of error for calculations at the 95% confidence interval, with a margin of error of 7.63% (according to The sample is of a good size - it is similar to the sample in the following survey on Greek migration during the crisis: .

All the data were collected from the comments posted in response to a question posed on an online forum within the space of approximately 6 weeks. As mentioned above, the question appeared some time after the Westminster/London attack in March 2017, and just before the Manchester attack in May 2017. The data (comments) were all entered into an Excel spreadsheet. Since the data were generally subjective in nature, evaluations and calculations were made manually.

Demographic data
The demographic data collected about the participants will seem quite poor, but such is the quality of social media data: it is not always possible to gather all the kinds of objective data that a subjective question such as the one posed could benefit from. For example, I could not always work out whether the participants were actually of Greek heritage and/or citizens of Greece, their age, how many years they had been living away from Greece, whether they were in a relationship or not, and if they had children, all of which would bear great weight when replying to the posed question. I was however able to work out their gender (through profile photos and the nature and morphology of Greek names), and most of the time, I could work out where they lived (in Greece, the UK or elsewhere).

Concerning age, it should be noted that from the comments on the forum question, it was deduced that the participants were not teenagers, most (and possibly all) had completed high school in Greece, and many (but not all) had also completed tertiary studies. Therefore, it could safely be said that they were at least 23 years of age, while a few people were older than 55. So the sample could be said to reasonably homogeneous, with a relative amount of diversity in terms of age groups, and everyone was of working age. It is highly unlikely that any teenagers responded, because the question topic pertains to people who are working or looking for work in a foreign country. All the participants in the discussion will have spent their teenage years in Greece. The earliest year that they will have come to the UK was as a student; some will have stayed on in the UK since then, while others will have come at a later age.

With all the above in mind, I was able to deduce the following demographics about the participants who commented on the forum question:
- gender (to check for an even distribution)
- country of residence at time of data collection (members of the forum did not necessarily have to be living in the UK)
- language used in the comment to reply to the question (this alludes to their nationality - generally speaking, Greek is the kind of language that Greek citizens speak, and not a popular language to learn for its 'fun' or 'international' value)
- number of times each participant commented on the forum (which checks the engagement of the participants)

The list is not necessarily complete; it is simply the main complete unbiased information that can be harnessed from data suffering from significant defects.

It is useful to know that the gender split of the individual identities who took part in the discussion of the question posed in the forum was practically 50/50 (80 male and 82 women). Gender was not ascribed to 2 identities because the information was not clear. No attempt was made to ascribe LGBT status (none of the discussion made any mention about non-male/female gender).

Knowledge of the Greek language
Everyone who took part in the discussion understood the Greek language, as the overwhelming number of responses (97%) using the Greek alphabet or language shows: 660 comments were written using the Greek alphabet and 156 using the Greek language transliterated into Latin script (commonly known as 'gringlish')Only
comments were written in English, while the remaining comments contained no text, but a photo (8), emoji (6) or web link (5) instead. So we can safely assume that all the participants in the forum were fluent Greek speakers who had sufficiently high written skills (pointing to the fact that the participants must all be first-generation Greek-heritage immigrants, if they live away from Greece). Those who wrote in English/gringlish probably did not have access to the Greek alphabet on their computers at the time they were responding.

Country of residence
The majority of the participants who answered the forum question were living in the UK. Of the 164 individual social media identities102 (62.2%) lived in the UK, 38 (23.2%) in Greece, and 11 (6.7%) in other countries, while for 13 (7.9%) cases, country of residence of the participant could not be ascertained. Members of the forum do not necessarily have to live in the UK. The participants who live in Greece and take part in this forum may be interested in working abroad, or wish to keep in touch with issues that concern them, as they may have lived in the UK (or another country) before returning to Greece. Due to the crisis, many Greeks showed an interest in moving to the UK, and for this reason they may have joined the forum in order to keep up to date with developments in the UK, without actually moving to the UK. The subjects covered in the forum posts are very diverse, ranging from work offers, job opportunities, debt/qualifications checks, rental home/room availability and information about UK work/administrative issues, to warnings about scams, information about how to open a UK bank account, qualifications compatibility between the UK and Greece, and more recently, issues concerning Brexit. 

Number of times participants commented
The number of times an individual social media identity participates in a discussion doesn't necessarily tell us anything more significant than how verbose a participant may be, but it could allude to how interesting a topic thread may be to the forum members. Participation is voluntary and could be based on many factors, including how much time a participant may wish to spend on social media. It is worth noting that nearly half the individual participants (81 out of 16449.4%) in this forum commented on the question just once; in other words, they did not actually take part in any discussion. They simply gave their answer to the question and left the discussion after that. They may also have 'liked' or reacted in some way to another participant's comment, but this does not involve a typed comment. Such reactions were not counted for the purposes of this analysis. 28% (46) of the participants left between 2 and 5 comments; together with the participants who commented just once, this covers 77% (127) of the total number of 164 participants. Around 16% (26 individual participants) commented between 5 and 19 times, while a smaller percentage (6.7%) commented between 20 and 70 times.

Before or during the crisis?
Concerning the answer to the question posed in the forum, it is assumed that one of the most significant demographic variables that could determine how participants answered/replied to the question might lie in whether they 'emigrated' to the UK before or during the Greek economic crisis (which I named an identity crisis as far back as 4 years ago). Greeks leaving the country during the Greek crisis are more likely to have left out of 'need' than those who left the country before the word 'crisis' was collocated with the word 'Greek'. So it can be assumed that the people who left before the crisis will have done so on their own terms rather than being influenced by a political situation in Greece. The inverted commas around the word 'emigrated' have been placed there due to the notion that Greeks have when they leave Greece to work abroad - Greeks regard themselves as having emigrated, as I've noted in an older post:

"One thing that should be remembered when analysing Greek neo-immigrants is that they did not leave their country on a working holiday. The concept of a working holiday is not understood by the grand majority of Greeks, even though that is in effect what they are actually doing. They just don't realise it, which is what leads them to their misconceptions about the world beyond their borders (and especially up north). Had they realised what they were doing, they would have returned home feeling less deluded and/or disillusioned." 

To add weight to my argument that neo-immigrant Greeks do not really understand the processes and phases of emigration and immigration, I will describe another linguistic example: Very often, when I am writing text/facebook messages to Greek neo-immigrants who do not know me, they can't understand why I write in English. I do this because it comes more naturally to me, since my educative years were spent in English-medium schools, and because I know that the people I am talking to understand more than enough English to understand my messages. But they will often ask me why I am writing in English, because they see my Greek name and they know I live in Greece, so they assume that my stronger language must be Greek. If they understood better the processes and phases of long-term migration, I believe that they would understand better why I find it easier to communicate in written form using the English language. I assume that I would probably make more sense to them if I used gringlish (using Latin script to write Greek messages) instead.

The main problem with collecting data on whether participants left before or during the crisis is that it is not easy to obtain from anonymous social media, as noted earlier. Extra attention will be paid to the comments which give away information about how long a participant has been living in the UK in order to elicit further information that may give credibility to the hypotheses being claimed about the question posed on the forum. One thing is sure: it is not easy to deduce the reasons why Greeks at this time, because they are not necessarily all due to the Greek crisis:
"... it is reasonable to assume that the free movement of people inside the EU and the absence of state-sponsored, heavily monitored, intra-European migration – typical of the postwar period – underestimates the number of Greeks currently moving or residing abroad or engaging in seasonal and repeated migration. Free movement of capital and the common currency might also render diffi cult the measurement of remittances towards Greece from these recent migrants."
The sample
We now have a clearer idea about the participants of the discussion that replied to the forum question about returning to Greece 'as things stand today': namely, that they are independent educated Greek people of a working age, equally distributed between gender, most of whom live in the UK, who speak and write Greek fluently (which makes them first-generation immigrants if they live abroad), making the sample a relatively very homogeneous group.

Identifying topic threads
The comments posted in reply to the question are very wordy, and need to be coded in some way in order to be analysed for the assumptions they make. This section will explain how I coded the comments.

It is obvious from the outset of this research that comments made in an online forum on an open question where there is no right or wrong answer will consist mainly of subjective opinions and advice, beliefs and ideals, personal biases, conspiracy theories, anachronisms and, above all, sweeping generalisations:

"We inhabit a world in which institutional restraints are withering, feeling trumps fact, and social media only reinforce our prejudices and instincts."

Comparisons between two countries may be made as much through objective examples as through subjective prejudices. When reading the comments, it is necessary to be open-minded, to accept the validity of each statement as coming from the experiences that the participant of the discussion has formed, despite the fact that many of the comments being made on the forum will seem to be of a judgmental nature. Participants were basically providing a self-evaluation of their experiences, using factors that they consider priorities in their own opinion. So in essence, there may not necessarily be any two participants that will use the same criteria weighted in the same way to form their opinion in their answer to the question. In the same frame, countries can be compared using the same criteria, but the criteria are rarely equal across countries. Ranking sites like Transparency International and the UN Human Develpment Report are often touted as objective, but they lose some of their credibility when one considers that such rankings are based directly on asking people what they believe to be true about a country; even companies that offer country credit ratings use methodology that is not always transparent and may even be paying bribes to the researchers they use in order to force out the results they prefer to publish. Such organisations are all working in much the same way as the online forum under analysis: collecting data from a questionnaire is not much different from what the well-known ranking sites such as the above-mentioned do, when they ask people what they think about a certain subject; they are all based on the self-evaluations of a small sample subset of a much larger population, which is too large to be examined as a whole.

General gist
One way to try to work out what people are discussing in an online forum is to read each comment and summarise the issues raised in each comment using one word (or perhaps a phrase) for each concept discussed. In other words, the general gist of the discussion is being summarised in one or two words. This is time-consuming but it provides greater depth, instead of just looking for key words out of context. It also involves a certain amount of re-evaluation, which makes it less liable to error. As I sifted through the comments, I had to name and rename some topics - and then go back on the already read comments to ensure a certain level of consistency in what I was recording.

The wording of the original question (which is not included in the total number of comments) will be used as an example to illustrate how this method worked. Using the Greek text (translated into English), 3 different topics can be discerned:
Topic A: "As things stand today, would you return to Greece?"
Topic B: "Would you send your child to a Greek school?"
Topic C: "Would you trust the Greek health system?"

Topic A (As things stand today, would you return to Greece?) is a question which can be answered with a yes/no response. But it could also be answered in a multiple number of other ways, for example: 'it's a really difficult question to answer', or 'it depends on your priorities': such responses could be generalised to 'depends'. So three different generalised responses could be recorded for this topic (yes/no/depends).

Topics B (Would you send your child to a Greek school?) and C (Would you trust the Greek health system?) can be generalised in the following way:
  • 'school' can fall under the umbrella topic of 'education' (discussed in 76 of the comments), which can also include words like 'university', 'teacher'. 'learn', etc
  • 'health system' can be generalised to 'health' (discussed in 152 of the comments), which can also cover words like 'doctor', 'hospital', 'medicine', etc.
This kind of categorisation was used in order to elicit other topics covered by the responses that participants gave to the question. It was much more efficient to find common topic threads by reading the whole comment - which is of course time-consuming - than it was to discover them by automatic computer searches, which do not detect incorrect spellings (see following section). Reading for the general gist yielded a more accurate account of what was being discussed in the comments. 

Apart from health and education, the following topic threads - arranged in alphabetical order rather than frequency - also emerged in the discussion: anti-social behaviour, beauty, bureaucracy, class system, corruption, crime, the (Greek) crisis, entertainment, family, food, friendship, good/bad experiences, humanity, immigration, insecutiry, job opportunities, lifestyle choices, mentality, money, politically correct behaviour, politeness, politics, quality of life, race relations, road code, sex relations, smoking, solidarity, taxation, terrorism, tourism and the weather. The phrasing of the generalised category of each topic could be said to be the researcher's subjective reckoning, which cannot be avoided: researchers bring their own experiences into their work. An attempt was made to phrase each topic as objectively as possible. Some topics were more widely discussed than others, but this does not necessarily mean that they were more important. The forum was arranged in such a way that participants could comment on the question posed, and other participants could reply to a comment or start their own thread. Some discussions proved more popular than others, but not necessarily because the topic under discussion was a more significant one: the forum was styled as a conversation rather than a debate. Certain topics, e.g. smoking, terrorism and beauty, also cropped up, but their mention was too infrequent (in less than 5-6 comments) to warrant serious discussion; terrorism, for example, was mentioned only once, despite a major terrorist attack having taken place in the UK at the time of the discussion.

It should also be noted that of the 843 comments in total, 243 were regarded as irrelevant: they did not discuss any topic. Some responses were intended more as personal retorts, insults, sarcasm, etc. The discussion was moderated (to maintain a polite standard and omit 'hate speech'), which meant that some comments had already been deleted before I came across the forum.

Root word strings
Another way to discover what people are talking about in a discussion is to look for commonly used words. A word search in a single file is quite easy to execute by computer, making it sound quite simple to discover the topics that have been covered by the participants of the discussion in their comments. But this method also has its drawbacks: misspellings and gringlish variant transliterations will imply omissions. This can also happen in the case where root word strings are used instead of standardised spellings, although using root word strings will help detect various morphological variations, so it can work out to be a concise way of detecting a thread in a discussion, as long as the original text is all correctly written in standardised spelling.

Depending on the research, some word strings are deemed more important than others. The Greek crisis is regarded as a landmark in the context of neo-immigration in the Greek context. For this reason, a careful search was made to detect certain words/strings that may provide more insight into the reasons why Greek citizens left Greece. The word 'crisis' (KRIsi, κρίση) as it is used in the comments made by the participants in the discussion is expected to elicit some interesting information. It should be remembered that the search for such words/strings needs to be made in all languages concerned (Greek, English, gringlish). The results will be elaborated in a later section. 

Positive/negative connotations
Finally, all the responses (excluding the irrelevant ones) were coded as 'pro-Greece', 'anti-Greece', 'pro-UK' and/or 'anti-UK' (some comments mentioned the pros and cons of both countries), so that a final 'verdict' could be given for each comment, in the form of: 'pro-Greece' (= 'Greece is really quite OK') or 'anti-Greece' (= ''things in Greece aren’t good at the moment'). This was done in order to gauge the positive and negative aspects of each country, which might provide more information about how likely it is for someone to want to return to Greece.


Topic analysis
Topic A: "As things stand today, would you return to Greece?"
Out of a total of 843 comments, 173 comments (approximately 20% of the total comments) answered the question of whether the respondents in the discussion would take the chance to "return to Greece, as things stand today". In order for a comment to be classified as an answer to the question, it had to directly or indirectly answer the question of whether the respondent states that s/he would (wouldn't) return to Greece as things stand today. Describing the advantages/drawbacks of Greece (or the UK) was not regarded as a "yes/no" response to the question: such a response was raising other topics, as previously discussed. Responses which expressed a 'like' or 'dislike' of certain aspects of each respective country were also not regarded as replying to the question.

In this way, it was found that 74 (42.78%) comments gave a negative ("no") response, e.g.:
"Not under any circumstances" (i.e., I would not return to Greece)
"We love Greece wherever we are... but... the dreams we make unfortunately don't allow us to realise them in Greece. If only that could happen" (i.e., I can't return to Greece)

... while 25 (14.44%) comments were positive ("yes"), e.g.:
"I've already done so" (i.e., I would return to Greece as things stand today)
"Yes, of course, is it better here?" (i.e., I will return to Greece as things stand today)

So on first sight, it seems that the respondents who were answering with a direct yes/no response were overwhelmingly in favour of NOT returning to Greece, at a rate of something like 75%. But there were also another 74 (42.78%) comments that were clearly stating factors that the answer to the question "depends" on, e.g.:

"Everyone has a different point of view. If your heart tells you that you want to return... despite your job security [in the UK] ... then you should go back... I personally will return... So do what you feel will make you happy, and don't listen to any of us" (i.e., it depends on what you want)

"Before I had a child, I didn't think at all about returning, I was disappointed with a lot of things about Greece... Saving some money is a good first step" (i.e., it depends on my circumstances)

It should be noted that some of the participants who answered the question with a 'no' response actually live in Greece and not the UK. The forum is open to anyone in essence, and people living in Greece that responded negatively about returning to Greece are simply giving their opinion concerning the way they view their country, as things stand today. Clearly, they are not happy about the way things are going here. Furthermore, some participants answered the question more than one time in their multiple responses but each comment was treated separately, as one individual reply. This may seem like a doubling of answers; therefore, the results are best viewed as a percentage of the discussion that replied to the question rather than as the total number of people who answered the question.  

Hence, from the results, it seems that the question did not elicit a clear-cut negative image of Greece as a country in crisis: Greece is not necessarily a country that one should not return to, even in the state that it is right now. Thus, the answers given to the question do not validate H1 (As things stand today, living in Greece is not 'easy'/'good'), casting doubt on H2 (As things stand today, life in the UK is better than in Greece) and H3 (As things stand today, Greeks living and working in the UK would not return to Greece).

Further analysis of Topic B (health) and Topic C (education) may elucidate this unexpected outcome, that Greeks do not view their homeland as a place of no return, even during a crisis. Before these topics are examined, it is worth investigating the 'depends' responses in more detail: just what does returning to Greece depend on? A further classification of the 'depends' results reveals that in 23 of the 74 comments, the respondent stated that they would actually return to Greece if:

"... I had the possibility, of course", "... if there were promises of work in Greece, a lot of people would return", "if I could have the same salary... I'd return", "... if you find what you are looking for in Greece, you should leave", "if I had a normal salary for a midwife, I'd return tomorrow", etc.

The common threads throughout the 23 'depends' comments where the respondent mentioned they would prefer to live in Greece is 'job opportunities' (work) and 'money' (income levels), which are the basis of H4 and H5, both of which are validated by these results. Both topics will be discussed in more detail in a later section. 

Topic B: "Would you send your child to a Greek school?"
The question posed here discusses 'education', which was mentioned in 76 comments in the discussion. In order to find out participants' thoughts about education, each comment that mentioned the subject of 'education' was assigned one or more values from the following:
proGR, antiGR, proUK, antiUK

depending on whether the comment expressed a positive or negative opinion about 'education' for each respective country, e.g.:
"I consider Greek schools to be good, and so is the Greek education system (I finished my education in a Greek public school and university) ... There is no perfect system ...In this respect, I personally view Greece as better." (proGR)
"If you take account ... the depreciation of education, you understand that Greece is not an ideal choice as a country of residence." (antiGR)
"I love Greece but I don't wish to return... we have better access to work, my children's education..." (proUK)
"I find the encyclopedic knowledge of the average Brit inferior compared to the average Greek. The children here are totally uncontrollable ... based on ... what I hear from friends of teachers." (antiUK)

Some comments were assigned more than one value, because the content of the comment was more detailed, e.g., 
"I have no reservations about the education I received in Greece at public schools and university. But I have reservations about ... the education system in the UK." (proGR, antiUK)

In this way, a total of 68 values for 'education' were obtained from 76 comments. It should be noted that 17 (20%of the 76 comments that mentioned 'education' did not have any relevance to the topic, so they were excluded from the analysis, e.g.: 
"Many people confuse educational qualifications with knowledge... Qualifications don't have any relevance in this case."

proGR 18            26.5%
antiGR 27           39.7%
proUK 6              8.8%
antiUK 17           25%
TOTAL:   68      100%
irrelevant 17/85   20%

proGR + antiUK = proGR      35      51.5%
antiGR + proUK = antiGR     33      48.5%
TOTAL:                                 68      100%

Interestingly, the participants, most likely all of whom went through the Greek state school education system, seem equally divided in their opinion about which education system is better between Greece and the UK. The Greek system is generally known to be more academic, while the UK system is regarded as providing a more generic kind of education, which is where some of the discrepancies may lie. The participants generally had something positive to say about their own education in Greece, especially the tertiary sector, often admitting that, having passed through the Greek system before coming to the UK, it was this sytem that gave them the qualifications they needed to work in the UK: 

"I think Greeks schools are OK, and so is the education system of Greece." 
I have no complaints about the education I received at Greek public schools and university"
We all finished Greek schools, and some of us also went to university in Greece whereas we are now working abroad" 

Some comments also mentioned the fact that it is not always possible to send your child to the school of your choice in UK, or a 'good' school (especially for those living in London) due to overcrowding. Finally, some participants mentioned the aspect of antisocial behaviour in British schools, and knife crime among youngsters. In comparison to the antisocial behaviour that also exists in Greek schools, participants regarded the problem in the UK as more exacerbated. Thus, the results for 'education' do not validate H1 (As things stand today, living in Greece is not 'easy'/'good'), casting doubt on H2 (As things stand today, life in the UK is better than in Greece) and H3 (As things stand today, Greeks living and working in the UK would not return to Greece).

Topic C: "Would you trust the Greek health system?
The question posed here discusses 'health', which was mentioned in 152 comments in the discussion. As for Topic B (education), each comment that mentioned the subject of 'health' was assigned one or more values from the following:

proGR, antiGR, proUK, antiUK

depending on whether the comment expressed a positive or negative opinion about 'health' for each respective country, e.g.:
"The Greek system... is still better on the staff side. A staff that is used (or has learned) to being fast and efficient and working with reduced means." (proGR)
"In 2008, Greece spent as much on medication as Spain which has 4 times the population." (antiGR)
"Women here [in the UK] ... are called up for annual screenings for many kinds of cancer." (proUK)
"The healthcare system here in the UK is clearly worse [than Greece's]." (antiUK)

Some comments were also assigned more than one value, because the content of the comment was more detailed, e.g.,

"Having worked in both health systems, the healthcare system in Greece is better in terms of medical and nursing care and access. It lacks support services, hardware... in general, whatever else the underprivileged Greek society lacks." (proGR, antiGR)

In this way, a total of 181 values for 'health' were obtained from 152 comments. It should be noted that 26 (17.1%) of the 152 comments that mentioned 'health' did not have any relevance to the topic, e.g.: 
"... which [health] system is good and which isn't can be estimated from specific research studies and statistics, and not from whatever someone posts on the web concerning his/her personal experiences."

proGR   41      22.6 %
antiGR   51     28.2 %
proUK   19      10.5 %
antiUK   70      38.7 %
TOTAL:   181    100%
irrelevant  26/152  17.1%

proGR + antiUK = proGR     111        61.3%
antiGR + proUK = antiGR     70         38.7%
TOTAL:                                181       100%

The finding that the participants in the discussion believe that the UK health system is not so good should not come as a surprise, given the very negative media attention that the British health system has been given over the last few recent years. The NHS has become synonymous with long waiting times due to rapidly growing populations without a parallel increase in services, a lack of skilled experts, staff shortages, fewer hirings, the spread of hospital-acquired infections, rigidity of the system, high usage rates due to its 'free' nature and the very high cost of private care in the UK, foreign doctors lacking in English skills, and the wide variety of nationalities of medical experts working for the same public healthcare system, which also entails a wide range of standards prevailing in the system. Similar issues were expressed by the participants in the discussion:

"I don't feel I'm in safe hands here when I go to a GP, I don't care if it's free."

So it should not be surprising to discover that the participants showed a clear preference for the Greek health system, which, despite suffering from a wide variety of problems (not necessarily the same ones as the NHS), is not as rigid as the NHS. Among the advantages stated by the participants in the discussion are the following: medication is available over the counter (without a doctor's prescription), patients do not have to go through a GP before seeking expert medical advice, and private health care - while still regarded as 'costly' - is much more affordable in Greece to the masses than it is in the UK (where it is available to a much smaller segment of society). The most significant reason that participants gave for classifying the Greek health system as better is the very good knowledge of the doctors, the high level of training and the way they behave towards the patient, by showing compassion, willingness to explore alternative treatments, prescribing drugs more readily and listening more attentively to the patient’s self-diagnosis. On this note, it is worth mentioning that British citizens living in my part of the Greece often remark on how happy they are with the way the Greek health system has worked for them; despite the problems it is plagued by, it still manages to be efficient. Above all, foreign users mention the human element that is very discernible in Greek medical care:

"The Greek health care system ... continues to be better from the human resources point of view. Greek staff has gotten used to or even learnt to be fast and efficient and to work within limited means. It's the staff that make the big difference compared to the NHS."

The above discussion should not be interpreted as one system being rated better than another system: the experiences of the participants are clearly why they are rating the two different health care systems in this way. Disadvantages concerning the Greek health system were also mentioned: a lack of support services, inadequately equipped, too much bureaucracy, high costs compared to low output, among other issues. But the fact still remains: there are far more doctors graduating in Greece than are needed in the country itself, making doctors one of Greece's greatest exports.

In conclusion, the results for 'health' do not validate H1 (As things stand today, living in Greece is not 'easy'/'good'), casting doubt on H2 (As things stand today, life in the UK is better than in Greece) and H3 (As things stand today, Greeks living and working in the UK would not return to Greece).

Topics related to the crisis
It is obvious that the topics of 'health' and 'education' were used as 'food for thought' in the original question, in order to find out what people think about returning to Greece, as things stand today. It is also true to say that the reasons for migration may be diverse and can only be assessed on a case-by-case basis. But it should be remembered that the reason why many Greeks left the country during the crisis did not necessarily have to do with seeking better education opportunities for their children, or a better healthcare system. A comment made in the forum in answer to the question implies this:

It wasn’t just the work conditions but also the mentality, corruption, antisocial behavior, indifference to the law… has this changed?” 

The 'mentality', 'corruption', 'antisocial behavior', and 'indifference to the law' that the participant mentions in the above comment were also present before the crisis. But people were not emigrating then. They were common problems plaguing Greek society in both the 'before the crisis' and 'during the crisis' periods; they were not the instigators of the exodus of young people leaving Greece during this period, as another comment alludes: 

"... just how do things stand today? What changed for the better that I didn't notice?"

Recalling the media's attention - both in Greece and abroad - to the Greek crisis, it is fair to say that the main reasons why people decided to leave Greece had to do with the way the economic crisis developed in Greece: high unemployment, a lack of job opportunities among highly qualified people and low salaries are the factors often quoted in the media about why close to half a million Greek citizens left the country since 2010. These ideas formed the basis of H4 (If someone left Greece because they could not find work (or the desired kind of work) easily, they are less likely to want to return to Greece if job opportunities are still lacking in Greece) and H5 (If someone left Greece because of loss of income (impoverishment), they are less likely to want to return to Greece if their income level will not be high here).

As previously mentioned, a number of topics were discussed in the forum, which relate to the reasons why Greek people emigrated in the last decade, including ‘high unemployment/lack of jobs', which was coded as 'job opportunities':

job opportunities (80): job opportunities, work conditions, career, exploitation, competition, public/private sector, unemployment, work experience, employers 

and 'loss of income/low salaries' which was coded as 'money':

money (163): price of a product/service, public-private cost comparison, price-to-quality ratio, expenses/cost-of-living, state money spent/wasted on public services, having/making 'enough' money, affordability, salary levels  
The numbers in brackets refer to the number of times that the topics were raised in the comments, followed by a short description of the variety of subjects discussed for that topic. Interestingly, the 'money' topic was in fact the most popular topic raised in the comments, surpassing even the topics raised in the question.  

As expected according to the previous discussion, the participants responded negatively concerning issues involving work and job opportunities in Greece. Each comment that discussed the subject of work was assigned one or more values from the following:

proGR, antiGR, proUK, antiUK

in a similar way to the other topics. Respondents were overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the UK, validating H1, H2, H3, H4 and H5. Typical examples of comments follow:
Young people who've inherited property... in Crete, the Cyclades... they're doing very well as far as I know. (proGR)
Not Greece... the work environment and conditions are the issue here (antiGR)
I came with the aim to work in a high class restaurant and learn a few things for which i could not gain the same experience as in Greece. (proUK)
Even in London... there's an even greater degree of exploitation than in Greece (antiUK)

proGR     20      23.5%
antiGR     30     35.3%
proUK     26      30.6%
antiUK      9      10.6%
TOTAL:    85    100%
irrelevant  18/80  17.1%

proGR + antiUK = proGR     29       34.1%
antiGR + proUK = antiGR    56       65.9%
TOTAL:                                85       100%

As expected according to the previous discussion, the participants in the discussion responded negatively concerning issues involving money matters in Greece. Each comment that discussed the subject of money was assigned one or more values from the following:

proGR, antiGR, proUK, antiUK

in a similar way to the other topics. Respondents were overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the UK, validating H1, H2, H3, H4 and H5. Typical examples of comments follow:
If someone can live in Greece off 500 euro and make plans and live with dignity, then it's OK (to make less money). (proGR) 
Do you know how many taxes we have paid (in Greece) and for how many years, only to be unemployed at 50+? (antiGR)
In London, where money is flying in the air... (proUK) 
In the UK, the cost of private health coverage is prohibitive. (antiUK)

proGR         25            14.5%
antiGR        95             55.3%
proUK        32             18.6%
antiUK        20            11.6%
TOTAL:     172          100%
irrelevant     28/163    17.18%

proGR + antiUK = proGR   45    26.2%
antiGR + proUK = antiGR  127  73.8%
TOTAL:                              172  100%

Mention of word 'crisis' in the comment
Mention of the word 'crisis' is regarded as particularly important in the discussion because it alludes to the present time, which forms part of the wording of the question posed in the forum ('as things stand today'). The word 'crisis' was mentioned 29 times in the comments. It should be noted that the Greek word κρίση (KRIsi) has two meanings: it can mean 'crisis' or 'judgment/opinion' depending on the context. Both meanings were found in the comments. The word 'κρίση' in its 'crisis' meaning was used to denote a 'time reference point' (ie the Greek crisis) or a 'state/condition' (of a country - specifically Greece - suffering from an economic crisis). Its meaning as 'judgment/opinion' was excluded from the analysis, as was another instance where 'crisis' was used to denote a cultural crisis (in reference to the UK). 

Typical uses of the word are found in the following examples:
“... before the crisis...”, My generation was unlucky in that it is now entering the job market during the crisis period”, “The majority of people would stay in Greece if there wasn't a crisis”, “... because before the crisis I didn't notice people leaving...” “Personally, it wasn’t the crisis that made me decide to leave...”, “I would have left at any rate, independent of the crisis...”, “For me, Greece was hell well before the crisis”, “Even during the crisis, if there were good prospects (for a job), a lot of people would want to return to Greece”

Reading through these comments, the question that sprung to my mind was the following:

"Is the crisis the reason why people left/are leaving/will leave Greece?"

The answer seems to be 'no' - even though some do actually return. The comments show that the reasons for leaving Greece are not all necessarily related to the Greek crisis. Well before the crisis, since Greece's entry to the EU, Greeks formed one of the biggest groups of foreign students in the UK. Some were leaving Greece straight after finishing school, while others went to the UK for advanced studies. A number of those students stayed on in the UK after their studies and found work. They are now 'accustomed' to life in the UK and do not wish to return to Greece for personal reasons (lifestyle preferences, family reasons, long-term career development, etc). 

But the comments also show, quite significantly, that among the people who left during the crisis, there are quite a few who would like to return to Greece, but do not make this choice because of the dilemma of finding work and earning a high salary while in Greece. Such results validate H1 (As things stand today, living in Greece is not 'easy'/'good'), H2 (As things stand today, life in the UK is better than in Greece), H4 (If someone left Greece because they could not find work (or the desired kind of work) easily, they are less likely to want to return to Greece if job opportunities are still lacking in Greece) and H5 (If someone left Greece because of loss of income, they are less likely to want to return to Greece if their income level will not be high here). But they do not validate H3 (As things stand today, Greeks living and working in the UK would not return to Greece), which is the subject of the question posed on the forum. 

Other topics mentioned in the comments
The topic threads discussed in the forum question are repeated here (in alphabetical order) for ease of reference: anti-social behaviour, beauty, bureaucracy, class system, corruption, crime, the (Greek) crisis, education, entertainment, family, food, friendship, good/bad experiences, health, immigration, insecurity, job opportunities, lifestyle choices, mentality, money, politically correct behaviour, politeness, politics, quality of life, race relations, road code, sex relations, smoking, solidaritytaxation, terrorism, tourism and the weather. Not all the topics were discussed to a great extent, but conclusions can be gleaned from the information that participants in the discussion 'gave away' through their comments.

From the comments made throughout the discussion, a very pro-Greece stance can generally be felt. Some participants described certain good or bad experiences that have overshadowed their opinion about where they prefer not to live (between Greece and the UK); but since Greece is the country where nearly all the participants were born and have family still based here, nearly all participants still return to Greece for the annual summer holiday (tourism). Aside from family reasons, the quality factor of a Greek holiday should not be underestimated: in this year alone, Greece is expecting more than 30 million tourist arrivals by the end of 2017, making Greece one of the top 10 destinations in the world for a summer holiday destination:

"Greece is paradise, albeit a poor one ... people here [in the UK] know it and that's why they save money all year ... to go to paradise for a fortnight."

Quality of life and lifestyle choices are significant determinants used to set personal priorities about place of residence. But quality of life and lifestyle choices are not black-or-white variables: they differ for everyone, in the same way as what kind of entertainment and food each person prefers. More tangible factors like income levels and work availability provide greater insights into how people make this choice. The beauty of the landscape and good weather were regarded as reasons for liking Greece rather than reasons for wanting to return to Greece. Factors such as high levels of bureaucracy and corruption in Greece were already present before the crisis, as were bad politics; they are not determinants of loss of jobs and income. High taxation was mentioned in relation to Greece, due to the loss of income that some participants may have suffered, which led them to emigrate, and the constant new measures being implemented in Greece:

"We want to live on UK incomes in Greece with UK-style stability, but without constantlypaying taxes to a bankrupt country

Relations with the opposite sex are dependent on the open-mindedness of the couple, as it is generally recognised that culture clashes will inevitably exist. Friendship is of lesser importance than family. In another thread on the same forum, however, many participants admitted that they keep company with Greeks more often than with other cultures, despite the multicultural nature of the UK. Family seems to be a greater determinant for returning to Greece: when there are children in a family, childcare comes to the fore, which is deemed expensive in the UK. Greek grandparents help immensely towards this end; they do not accept or expect payment for doing this work. Lower expenses allow you to live on a lower income level:

"I decided to return to Greece to give birth and raise my child... I live in my own home in a nice suburb and have help from my parents. In the UK, I needed more than £3000 for 2 a 2-bedroom home plus a nanny on two average UK salaries... We were ... both working 15-hour days."

Smoking and adhering to the road code were discussed in relation to anti-social behaviour, politically correct behaviour and the mentality of society. Adhering to the rule of law and political correctness were seen as British traits, whereas lawlessness and showing solidarity were regarded as typical of Greek society. But the results here do not correlate well with how participants view crime. Crime and violence are regarded as happening at a greater rate in the UK than in Greece. A few participants mentioned the dysfunctionality of family life and UK society (especially as viewed outside London), which was often silenced by the politeness factor often used as a cover to not discuss situations that look culturally unusual (the subjects of race relations and immigration should be included here). The UK class system was touched on, but there were very few participants in the discussion who understood the concept well enough to use it as a factor in deciding whether to return to Greece. Finally, terrorism was only mentioned once, despite the fact that a terror attack had already taken place in the UK when the question was raised on the forum.


In a scientific study, one way to form conclusions is to add up the numbers for each variable and put them in some kind of order so that one variable stands out in such a way that it gives a black-or-white answer to the question of the study - "Would you return to Greece as things stand today?" - in order to show the effect of how numbers speak. It would be a shame to do that in this case because it would miss the whole point of the analysis: that there really is no easy answer to the question, and most of the time, the answer depends on personal priorities.

The defining variables for the most recent wave of Greek emigration have been lack of work opportunities and loss of income, and in both cases, this situation has not changed 'as things stand today', as a participant in the discussion questions: 

"Has that thing which made you leave Greece changed?"

Unemployment and low salaries still plague many parts of Greece, so this specific situation has not changed for people who left the country because of the crisis. What if it were to change though? Would people return to Greece? The answer may lie in the results of Topic A (see above): 

"... If I had the possibility, of course", "... if there were promises of work in Greece, a lot of people would return", "if I could have the same salary... I'd return", "... if you find what you are looking for in Greece, you should leave", "if I had a normal salary for a midwife, I'd return tomorrow", etc

We understand from such comments that, possibly, people would like to Greece - but not as things stand today. Better healthcare and education are not priority criteria, as both seem to suffer from various problems in countries the world over: good job prospects and high income levels do not give rise to feelings of insecurity. Having some form of regular work provides regular income, which gives you space to plan your upcoming expenses - in this way, you can choose between public and private services, as expressed by a number of participants:

"I had to go to a Greek hospital to get a proper 'repair job' on my leg. Of course, it cost me."
"I get everything done privately in Greece. So I don't have any complaints."
"I expect different kinds of treatment from something that costs €10 and something that costs £100."
"I was really against bribes [for hospital care] when I first left Greece, but since coming to the UK, I can appreciate it better."
"[On healthcare] in the UK, you get a Primark suit in an expensive Boss box. In Greece, you get a Boss suit in a Primark bag. I prefer the latter."

Perhaps the most appropriate comment concerning whether to return to Greece, as things stand today, was made in the following comment:
"... there's no easy answer for whether it's better up here or down there. It's a multi-factorial equation dependent on many variables, such as if you are single, have children, where you live here, where you live there, if you are renting/paying off a loan here/there, what your salary level is here/there, if you want to save or spend money, etc. It's a difficult question that can only be answered case-by-case."

On the subject of repatriation, I experience the issue as cousins visit, and cousins leave, every year, after the Big Fat Greek Summer Holiday. My children ask me why we don't reciprocate the visits to NZ. I mention time, money and upside-down seasons - they all sound like good excuses. "But you were born there," they say. My kids are in their mid-teens and they still have no idea what immigration is about. They need to try to understand why it is that the Greeks who emigrate are the ones that feel the burning need to keep returning, even if it is only for a holiday. But they won't be able to understand this unless they themselves emigrate. On the one hand, I hope they experience it; on the other hand, I hope they don't need to. And if this does end up happening, I really hope that they will be able to enjoy the same privilege as their mother - repatriation without regrets.

More reading:
"The Brain Drain Phenomenon in Higher Education in Greece: Attitudes and Opinions on the Decision to Immigrate"
"Economic Crisis Marks 3rd Emigration Wave of Greeks"
"Outward migration from Greece during the crisis"
"Neo-immigrant (Νεο-μετανάστης)"
"Immobility in Times of Crisis? The Case of Greece"
"Ratings Agencies"
"My Experience In General Hospital St. George Of Chania"
A Greek malady: Too many doctors, too few GPs
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