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My big fat Greek week

Mourning a beloved head of state, striking against austerity, risking tension with Turkey. That's Greece, actually

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25 November 2016

* Greece woke up to sad news on Monday, learning of the demise of the country's beloved former president, Kostis Stefanopoulos. Throughout his political career, Stefanopoulos had never been as successful in any position he held, as he was when he was appointed head of state, something that came as a kind of recognition of his modesty and decency, attributes that are rare in Greek politics. A conservative throughout his life, Stefanopoulos proved to be the kind of voice that Greece needed and he soon became a unifying factor, often offering much-needed reminders of the Greek values. His legacy is perfectly displayed in his now legendary speech, during President Clinton's visit to Athens, in which he expressed the kind of national pride that many thought was lacking from the way the country conducted itself in the international arena. In pop culture terms, this speech is the equivalent of Hugh Grant's stance against Billy Bob Thornton (playing the British PM and the US president respectively) in the popular Christmas movie Love Actually.

* Another late − and equally beloved − politician made the news last week, as it was revealed that two police officers are still appointed as part of the team guarding Melina Merkouri, 22 years after her death. It is yet unclear if this is a real-life Walking Dead scenario or, more likely, another perfect example of what has been going wrong with the country's management of civil servants.

* Speaking of civil servants, they went on strike on Thursday, protesting labour and pension reforms and state asset sales which the government agreed with the country's official creditors in exchange for loans. This, of course, makes sense. What doesn't is that the Greek public sector union (ADEDY), which called for the strike, had been silently in favour of the pro-Europe party in last year's referendum, effectively approving the same actions that it now protests again. But then, paradox is a Greek word, isn't it?

* What else is a Greek word? Nostalgia. Apparently this is the sentiment that prevails in certain ranks of the government, hence its decision to unearth two road projects that were supposed to have been completed as part of the 2004 Athens Olympics infrastructure update policy. Shelved for more than a decade, two flyovers for the capital's Kifissias Avenue are now finally given the green light − one at the junction with Alexandras Avenue and the second at the junction with Ethnikis Antistaseos in Halandri, at a total budget of €44.5 million. Now, if they could also greenlight a time machine, the government could return Greece to its pre-2004 state of euphoria.

* Unfortunately, though, the days of euphoria are long gone and, as winter is coming to Greece, so is a sense of gloom and depression that dominates the news. As if the current state of the country, as an entry point of a massive wave of refugees hadn't been enough, the fire that erupted in the Moria hotspot in Lesvos further cemented the sense of despair prevailing on the island.

* The plight of refugees is, of course, dependent on the cooperation between Greece (representing the EU) and Turkey and this has not been going very well lately. Which should be an indicator of what to expect from the Turkish side, during the recent talks about the Cyprus issue and the time-frame of the Turkish occupation forces leaving the island. Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias is said to have vetoed the talks, something he denies, but what's undeniable is that the issue will not be resolved anytime soon.

* Which, in a way, is the perfect excuse for the Cypriot community in Melbourne, which gathered to celebrate the arrival of Michalis Hatzigiannis, who gave a sold-out concert on Friday. The day before, the beloved singer joined voices with culinary mastermind George Calombaris, in a surprise cover of the most Aussie pop song ever, Men at Work's Down Under. It was the explosive finale to an orgasmic gastronomic event, named OMG Week, but which should be named 'Calombaris and friends showcasing modern Greek cuisine to the world'. The crowd had a blast seeing the singer and the chef together, everyone was dancing and few noticed how the song's lyrics could be echoing what is going on in Greece at the moment:
"Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover."

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