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The Vow of the Nation

My Big Fat Greek Week

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Christian Dior models in front of the Parthenon on the Acropolis, shot in 1951 for Paris Match.

17 February 2017

• It takes a lot of resilience and determination to be able to follow public debate as it happens in Greece. The country's once again on the verge of 'Grexit', with the bailout program in limbo and the stock exchange in turmoil, not to mention the farmers occupying the streets of Athens and national roads (thus cutting off access to the borders). And yet, what are the Greek people talking about? Well, fashion, of course.

• During the past few days, one word seemed to be coming out of the mouths − and especially keyboards − of Greeks, and that word is 'Gucci'. The iconic fashion brand made a request to use the Parthenon as the setting for a runway show with 300 guests (mostly international celebrities). Greece's Central Archaeological Council (KAS), rejected this request, igniting another round of the civil war that seems to erupt any time anything happens in Greece.

• On one side there were those in favour of the ruling, among them the Minister of Culture (and acclaimed thespian) Lydia Koniordou, who stated: "The Parthenon is an important monument and a universal symbol for us Greeks to protect, particularly in light of our ongoing efforts to reunite the Parthenon Marbles."

• On the other side, the government's opponents and champions of privatising public assets who dismiss the ruling as 'backwards thinking' which costs the country millions (the fashion house was offering a €2m subsidy for the site's restoration works) and more importantly, exposure − as if the Parthenon is not already the most famous tourist site in Greece and one of the most important in the world.

• Some even pointed out that this should be used as an argument for the return of the marbles. Yes, the UK government and the British museum have been resisting demands and campaigns for more than 30 years, but are bound to surrender to pressure by the fashionistas.

• Of course, critics of the archaeologists' decision have precedent to lean upon; not least among them the stance of other ministers of culture. Both Michalis Liapis (in 2008) and Evangelos Venizelos (in 1998) disregarded the KAS, the former allowing Jennifer Lopez to do a photo shoot on the Acropolis and the latter giving the Roman Theatre of Herod to Calvin Klein to host a fashion event.

• Others don't miss a chance to remind people that a fashion event had already taken place in the Parthenon, in 1951, when Christian Dior used it as setting for a photo shoot. Of course, this was the time when Greece was just starting to explore tourism as a potential source of income that would result to it becoming the country's signature economic activity.

• It is rather depressing to think that 66 years later, we still think we need this kind of exploitation and exposure, as if Greece − or the tourism industry for that matter − has not evolved throughout the years. And it is more depressing that this kind of thinking comes from people who claim to be champions of the free market and competition.

• At least they should be happy with the news that the Parthenon could, finally, face competition in the field of 'iconic-religious-buildings-in-Athens', as a group of MPs proceed with a motion for the Greek state to fulfill the 'Vow of the Nation', that is, the legendary pledge made by the leaders of the Greek Revolution of Independence to build a large temple in the centre of Athens, dedicated to Jesus Christ the Saviour for His role in the revolution's success and establishment of an independent Greek state. This 188-year-old pledge remains unfulfilled to this day (despite the junta's effort to take action, in what resulted in one of the regime's greatest scandals), which apparently is the reason behind Greece's current suffering.

• The gods may not be on our side, but Pierre Moscovici is. The European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs visited Athens and met with Alexis Tsipras, trying to act as a force of reconciliation between the Greek government and its creditors, which are themselves torn on issues like the possibility of debt relief, or the necessary primary surplus that would ensure the country's exit from the crisis. All sides have recently praised Greece for its remarkable reforms which led to modest but promising growth, but hope evaporated when Tsipras appeared reluctant to proceed with the next wave of measures (pension cuts, laying off public sector workers etc.) demanded. This makes conclusion of the bailout program talks by Monday next to impossible, and risks the future of the €86b financial aid program, which relies on the implementaion of agreed economic reforms.

• In the meantime, the Hellenic statistical authority revealed that Greek GDP shrank by 0.4 per cent in the last three months of 2016, a steep fall after growth of 0.9 per cent in the previous three-month period. We don't even know what fabricated numbers to believe in.

• Some started saying that Tsipras is trying to start another round on the blame game, with Grexit as his ultimate goal. This, of course, would mean that the PM is a cunning politician, a mastermind of Machiavellian (or Rasputinesque) proportions.

• We're talking about the same person who referred to Mitilini and Lesbos as different places, who cheerfully presented the UN general secretary with a refugee lifesaver as a gift, and who confuses (writer and political activist) Naomi Klein with (supermodel) Naomi Campbell.

• It's no wonder politics and fashion are part of the same discussion, come to think about it.

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