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A taste of Grexit

My Big Fat Greek Week

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24 November 2017

– Imagine being a Greek travelling within the EU, say going from Athens to Berlin, nonchalantly carrying nothing more than your state ID, as you normally do when you travel from one Schengen area country to another.

– Only this time, instead of just passing through the gate with nothing more than a polite nod from the security officers, imagine being treated as a passenger from a non-Schengen country and asked to go to the respective queue for the appropriate passport control. Of course, being a EU citizen travelling within the EU, you are not carrying your passport around. Which means that you're up for a long, arduous, exhausting and humiliating process.

– Which will take away any shred of proud European identity you may have left.

– This is what happened to many Greek passengers who arrived to Berlin this week, only to be treated as 'passengers from other countries'.

– The incidents urged the German Foreign Ministry to admit that passengers on flights from Greece were subject to a great deal of tribulation.

– So, does this mean that Greeks are seen as personae non gratae for Germany?

– Is this what Grexit feels like?

– And if this is indeed some kind of unilateral Grexit, why was Greece not informed?

– Well, apparently, it was. Germany had notified the EU authorities in early October that it would increase security controls for flights coming from Greece for six months starting on 12 November. Greece's Deputy Minister of Citizen Protection, Nikos Toskas, has known since 11 October.

– In fact, Greece was expected to have sent Greek police officers to assist German authorities in this task, but they never made it.

– Perhaps they got stuck in passport control and were denied entry.

– The reason for this action was that during the first quarter of 2017, German authorities noticed 427 irregular entries to the country - of which 234 were Syrians - from flights coming from Greece. This number is far greater than any similar 'irregularities' occurring in flights from other EU countries. Overall, throughout 2017 more than 1,000 such irregular entries have occurred, urging Germany to take additional measures.

– The truth is that the Schengen treaty has been in quasi-suspension mode for the past couple of years since the refugee crisis fell upon Europe, with countries like Italy, Slovakia, Belgium, Poland, Malta, and the Czech Republic taking additional measures at some point and for at least some time.

– As for relieving Greek passengers from the extreme discomfort, Dimitris Avramopoulos came to the rescue. In his capacity as European Commissioner of Immigration and Citizenship, he called a trilateral meeting which resulted to a decision that travel document checks will be made at the Schengen area arrivals gate and not in another part of the airport, and will be restricted to identity and document validity control.

– Which brings us to one of EU's constant demands upon Greece - to finally update the identity documents that Greek citizens carry around.

– Despite their iconic, retro appeal, Greek ID cards are arguably the easiest to forge legal documents in Europe.

– A Greek ID is basically a laminated piece of blue paper, featuring the carrier's photo, signature, fingerprint and some basic info, often handwritten by a semi-illiterate police officer.

– No wonder German police need help to confirm if they are real or not.

– Only the expert eyes of Greek police officers can tell a forged Greek ID card from a genuine one.

– Of course, this was supposed to have changed in 2015, when the new ID cards - plastic, laser-printed, with biometric data stored in microchip - were finally legislated by the Greek parliament.

– They should be issued any minute now - or at least sometime by 2019.

– Despite what one might think, delay was not due to objections by the Greek Orthodox Church, which has traditionally seen the new ID cards as symbols of the devil, saying that the barcode is actually reading '666'.

– No, delay was due to the cost of the new ID cards, which was estimated to amount to €80 million. And Greece can't afford that kind of money, not with the economy still in shambles.

– The economy is not the only thing in shambles in Greece at the moment. The country is still reeling from the devastating effect of the floods that destroyed one of Athens outer suburbs, Mandra, destroying property and killing 20 people.

– The Greek PM, Alexis Tsipras, attributed this to climate change, which might be partly true.

– Another part of the truth is that a large part of modern Athens is built where rivers and streams used to flow, a policy starting from the 50s and 60s, when Konstantinos Karamanlis was Minister of of Infrastructure and later, Prime Minister.

– So now, roads and houses are where natural pathways for extreme currents used to be.

– Nature doesn't get city planning.

– Add to that the fires that destroyed forests, which also prevent flooding, and criminal negligence by the authorities responsible for the implementation of both fire-prevention and flood-prevention measures, and you see why this disaster was an accident waiting to happen.

– Despite Greece being in a state of mourning last week, something officially declared by the PM, Tsipras himself did not lose his cheer.

– Maybe because he was out of the country, travelling in Europe.

– Apparently, his travel documents are not an issue for concern.

– The Greek PM first visited Gothenburg to attend a European Union meeting on Social issues, fair employment and growth.

– All areas of expertise for him.

– He then flew back to Athens, before leaving again, this time for Paris, where he received the 'Political Courage' award, annually handed out to politicians by the French quarterly review Politique Internationale, basically for not respecting the 'No' to the bailout program vote of the referendum, but instead opting to make a U-turn and implement the austerity measures and the overall policy he had originally campaigned against.

– Another area of expertise for him.

– Back in Athens, citizens and non-government organisations have stepped up where the state is still lagging; promptly organising campaigns to collect food, clothing, and money for the flood victims.

– The result has been overwhelming - a glimmer of hope for humanity still striving under pressure and adversity.

– This kind of solidarity was what we were promised, when the crisis began.

– An alternative economy that would leave no person behind.

– What we got instead was a dog-eat-dog situation, where the social fabric was torn to shreds and the Golden Dawn Nazis were ready to pick up the pieces.

– It's sad that it took a major destruction - and 20 people dead - for this to change.

– But yes, let the Greek people start putting stitches back to the social fabric.

– And then go and claim an award of Political Courage of their own.

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