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Lost in space

My Big Fat Greek Week

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03 February 2017

Necessity is the mother of invention, they say, and Greeks have been known to become very creative during times of necessity. The current situation is no exception, which in part explains a wave of creativity that is sweeping the country, or at least, some parts of it.
It is no coincidence, therefore, that one of the world's major art events, Documenta, usually held every five years in Kassel, Germany, chose Athens as its first co-host city, inviting the cream of the crop to present the cutting edge in contemporary art (with a side dish of political commentary).
All this will take place in April, but until then, it's worth visiting the event's website, if only to find Nikos Papastergiadis' interview with the late John Berger, the art critic who arguably taught the world how to look at art, through his highly-influential TV show and book, Ways of Seeing.
• Berger's teachings can be easily applied to the internet era, which has all but elevated internet memes to an art form − and a truly democratic one. One can only marvel at the inventiveness, irreverence and quick wit of the flood of memes emerging as a reaction to current news. Especially when it comes to news coming from Greece, one has to be very self-controlled not to embark in meme-creation.
Greece's SYRIZA government, comprised of a colourful bunch of cabinet members, certainly offers a lot of opportunities for the avid meme-creator, which explains the mirth that flooded the Greek public sphere (or at least its social media faction), when Telecoms and Digital Policy Minister Nikos Pappas announced the creation of a 'National Centrefor Space Applications', aimed at "making up for the country's huge deficit in this area".

• The idea of Greece, a country struggling to make ends meet (and this is an understatement), plagued by unemployment, poverty, corruption, a dysfunctional public sector − not to mention the refugee crisis − should have anything to do with space exploration and exploitation does sound ridiculous.
This is a country where hospital patients are asked to bring their own linen and antiseptics when admitted − how can it possibly have a space program?

• This is, of course, one of the paradoxes of Greece. For all its troubles, the country remains a developed one, a member of the European Union and as such, a participant in the EU's space programs − which, to be precise, have little to do with astronauts and alien life and more with satellite systems and the collection of data, which could be of use in scientific and military research, environmental monitoring, fire prevention, agriculture and so on. Greece itself has long had telecommunication satellite and is now about to launch a new one.

"Greece is one of the few European countries that does not have an organisation for commercially and scientifically utilising its rights or the plethora of research and scientific applications and resources available through the European Space Agency," Pappas said when presenting the bill. He failed to say that this long-overdue agency is part of the country's legal obligations and, more importantly, that it will use EU funds that are already allocated for this purpose (and which could be lost, if Greece fails to act on this).

• Pappas could present the reason for this announcement all he liked, but people in Greece would not listen, carried away by the mirth and ridicule with which this announcement was made. The news cycle was dominated by jokes on government advisors (such as the infamously unqualified Nikos Karanicas) meeting E.T., the cabinet dressed as the cast of Star Trek aboard the Enterprise and of course, of the Defense Minister, Panos Kammenos, master of disguise, dressed up in a space suit.

• Kammenos, of course, has other causes for concern, as the true problems of Greece start well below the stratosphere − Turkish military aircraft have been crowding the Greek airspace, in an unprecedented wave of violations, which can only be explained as backlash for the refusal to extradite the eight military officers who fled to Greece after the failed coup against Recep Tayip Erdogan.

• Lower still, another trend threatens to change Greece for ever; the all-too-frequent sale of land to foreign 'investors', who know a bargain when they see one. And desperate Greeks are selling their assets at 'bargain' prices. According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, in total last year assets with a combined value of €4.4 billion changed hands in 38 transactions.

• Anyone interested might want to wait, because prices are about to fall even lower. As the Greek bailout program is still in limbo, with the creditors asking the government to commit to further slashing pensions, laying off public workers and green-lighting mass layoffs in the private sector, with Germany and the IMF disputing over the possibility of debt relief and whether a surplus goal of 3.5 per cent is attainable, the word #Grexit started to circulate again in social media. One can only imagine what the inventive Greeks can do with it, meme-wise.

• As for investors, they can wait for the drachma, when all will be cheaper.

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