Saturday, June 22, 2013


"If ERT is being shut down owing to poor management, why cannot the Greek government also be shut down for the same reason?" Anonymous Greek protester.

We live in Orwellian times. So says Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, when in a recent speech describing modern Greece, he suggested that we are living through times similar to those described in George Orwell's totalitarian world of "1984." In modern Orwellian Greece, Samaras says, words are starting to mean their real opposites. For instance, those who we now describe as progressives, in reality are people who do not want anything to change.

I'm not sure whether Samaras is right. After all, Airstrip One in 1984 was replete with telescreens, broadcasting Big Brother's news and propaganda to hapless party members. Presumably, such broadcasts were free. In Hellenic 2013, however, there is no public broadcaster, the Greek Radio and Television or ERT, having been disbanded by the government, with only a vague promise that it will re-open, suitably chastened and shorn of its dross, privileges and perquisites.

Maybe rather that living in Orwellian times, it would be more correct to say that we live in Macbethian times, where fair is foul and foul is fair and if one is to survive, one must hover through fog and filthy air. In the case that filthy air seems to be the revelation that certain superstars of the Greek public broadcaster have been the recipients of hyper-inflated wages and this, at a time when the majority of the Greek people are finding themselves in increasingly straitened circumstances. As a result, the fog of their indignation at the privileges of the pampered presenters, or of revelations that personages drew a wage from ERT without ever setting foot in the place, obscures their understanding of the true significance of ERT's closure and the consequential loss of over three thousand jobs. For them, it is a long awaited nemesis that justly follows the hubris of the culture of indulgence and clientilism propagated by successive Greek governments.

Reconciling the natural order of things from their current inversion seems exactly that which Samaras wants his people to believe that he is able to achieve: that he is willing to take radical measures to break from the corrupt, static and inefficient past in order to have Greece merge, lean, purged of its iniquities and absolves of its peccadilloes, willing to take its place in a modern, global world. In this new world, there is no room for sentimentality, or for that matter, the need for consultation or protest. Instead, the dissenting parties of the Greek government coalition, namely PASOK and DIMAR which have hitherto prided themselves on their alleged 'progressive' character are labelled as reactionary by Samaras, in his quest to convince the International Monetary Fund and any one else who may be listening, that Greece is slavishly adhering to the terms of its bailout, no matter the social cost. What Samaras is in fact proclaiming, while, in the manner of Macbeth, screwing his courage to the sticking place, is that the curtain of illusion is finally drawn aside: no longer are the governments of Greece to claim that they concern themselves with formulating and executing policies that will ensure the future progress of the Greek people. Rather, they act in the capacity of appointed receivers and managers, there to run the Greek state as a concern for its mortgagees, to whom it has defaulted, in order to recoup their losses. At some undisclosed time in the future, sovereignty of the state will be handed back to the people, but predicting when this will occur is as difficult as interpreting the signs of the Revelation in order to ascertain the exact moment of the Second Coming.

Despite the undeniable fact that ERT, like most other Greek government institutions was poorly and inefficiently run and riven by political machinations, regardless of the inexplicability of a nation of ten million people requiring not one, but three public television stations, it cannot be disputed that ERT played an invaluable role within Greek society and of course for diaspora Greeks who were, via satellite treated, at any given time, to lavish productions of «Μένουμε Ελλάδα,» a travel show that took the viewer to diverse prospective holiday spots around Greece, all of which seemed eerily to resemble each other. Without ERT, we would not be able to spend "Sunday in the village," being compelled to witness visibly bored television presenters visiting obscure villages of Greece that, if it was not for ERT we would never even have heard of (for if the Greek commercial channels are to be believed, Greece starts and ends a little outside Athens, to which are added some Mexican barrios and Turkish enclaves), and listen to them asking the same inane questions over and over again as the villagers eagerly attempt to display their traditional foodstuffs and  relate village lore before being cut off by the presenter. Further, without ERT, we would not know that it is permissible to have ladies who have wrinkles, moles and do not look as if their skin has been airbrushed every time they enter a studio, appearing on screen. Variety shows such as «΄Εχει Γούστο,» presented by the euphoniously named Bilio Tsoukala, or «Στην υγειά σας ρε παιδιά,» were not only thought provoking, but laid back, unpretentious and able to host a wide array of contemporary as well as traditional entertainers.

It is in this field, that of traditional culture, that ERT undoubtedly made its mark more than anywhere else. While Greek commercial television presents a sanitised and westernised view of Greece, giving voice to the commercial and bourgeois aspirations of the middle class, ERT, through its programs, sponsored and promoted the survival of traditional music and dance, causing a revival of interest in this neglected field, especially among younger generations. ERT was also instrumental in producing such shows as Arxontariki, hosted by the bishop of Dimitrias, in which the orthodox Christian perspective on a range of social and political issues was examined in a sophisticated manner. This, coupled with the maintenance of ERT's vast historical archives, containing rare footage and quality news programs comprise what is in jeopardy here. ERT, for all its foibles is one of the chief custodians of Greek culture. It is also worthwhile mentioning that two of its other important subsidiaries, the National Symphony Orchestra of Greece and the Orchestra of Contemporary Music  are also set to close.

As usual, the multitude of Greeks who took the time to protest outside ERT's headquarters in St Paraskevi have realised this a little too late. In times of crisis, it is to those perennial aspects of culture, whether these be musical, historical or religious that our people invariably turn in order to gain strength and guidance, so as to negotiate the tortuous passage to better times. Without a central protector, these essential aspects to our national character, which are priceless and thus above any estimation that could be given to them by a plague of international bankers, are placed in jeopardy.

Surely, Samaras could have avoided compromising the integrity of the Greek public broadcaster by appointing a commission to institute the requisite cuts and cauterise the institution from the rot within. By abolishing it wholesale, while making the desired overtures to his financial overlords, he is perhaps also signalling to the Greek people that they  alone and no one else are responsible for the preservation of their identity and the interests of their country. Nonetheless, now that a  Greek court has ruled that ERT must reopen immediately, Samaras now must realise that, in his eagerness to please,  his fate would resemble that of with the words of the mistress herself, Lady Macbeth: "Nought's had, all's spent, Where our desire is got without content; Tis safer to be that which we destroy, than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy." Silly, silly man.
First published in NKEE on Saturday, 22 June 2013