Σάββατο, 28 Δεκεμβρίου 2013

ANDREAS PAPANDREOU: A truthful biography!!!


 


The Making of a Greek Democrat and Political Maverick



I.B. Tauris, July 2012
ISBN: 978-1-78076-080-3, ISBN10: 1-78076-080-9,
6.175 x 9.250 inches, 256 pages,

Greece in the 1960s produced one of Europe's arguably most controversial politicians of the post-war era. The contrarian politics of Andreas Papandreou grew out of his conflict laden re-engagement with Greece in the 1960s. Returning to Athens after 20 years in the US where he had been a rising member of the American liberal establishment, Papandreou forged a social reform-oriented, nationalist politics in Greece that ultimately put him at odds with the US foreign policy establishment and made him the primary target of a pro-American military coup in 1967. Venerated by his admirers and despised by his detractors with equal passion, the Harvard-educated Papandreou left in his wake no clear-cut answer to the question of who he was and what he stood for. Andreas Papandreou chronicles the events, struggles and ideas that defined the man's dramatic, intrigue-filled transformation from Kennedy-era modernizer to Cold War maverick. In the process the book examines the explosive interplay of character and circumstance that generated Papandreou's contentious, but powerfully consequential politics.

 

Praise

"The author has done a marvelous job of research on Andreas Papandreou and has brought him back to life." – Professor Dale Jorgensen, Harvard University"Spyros Draenos has chosen a difficult and elusive topic – Andreas Papandreou – and has managed admirably to walk the tightrope of objectivity balancing between hagiography and demonization. He highlights the ambivalence of a brilliant man (Andreas) torn between the lure of academia and the charm of politics and between the vastness of America and the primordial call of a return to his roots." – Ted Couloumbis, University of Athens"Discovering and presenting the 'real' Andreas, his personality, ideological underpinnings, and lasting achievements is a Herculean undertaking that requires special skills and talents. [...] Stan Draenos has proven himself equal to this formidable task and all who study Greek politics owe him a debt of gratitude for his remarkable accomplishment. [...] He has produced a political biography that is highly readable, penetrating, and rich in detail and analysis. Draenos' work is bound to remain the bench mark against which the efforts of future biographers will be measured." – John O. Iatrides, Southern Connecticut State University"Spyros Draenos has produced the first serious attempt in English to analyze the career and personality of one of the most fascinating and complex Greek political leaders of the 20th century, Andreas Papandreou. During his long tenure as prime minister, Papandreou infuriated his western allies, but also played a major role in transforming Greece into a modern European state. This book will be essential reading for anyone who wants to know how and why." – Monteagle Stearns, US Ambassador to Greece, 1981-1985


Stan Draenos holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of York (Toronto). A political analyst, historian and consultant, his articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Historical Review, Salmagundi, Ta Nea and the Los Angeles Times. He served for several years as Historian at the Andreas Papandreou Foundation and has been a Contributing Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, DC and a Research Fellow at Princeton University, as well as a guest lecturer at the University of Michigan, City University of New York, the Greek National Research Foundation and the University of Macedonia.

Preface: In Search of Andreas Papandreou * A Prodigious Youth * The American Years * Return to Ithaca * The Leap * First Victory * Breaking In * The National Question * A Fateful Dynamic * Worsening Malaise * The Path to the People * ASPIDA * Collision Course * Apostasy * New Realities * Andreas Rising * Pivot Point * The Pathos of Change * Derailment * Descent * Free Fall * End Game * Epilogue * Endnotes * Select Bibliography

 

Τρίτη, 24 Δεκεμβρίου 2013

Orthodox Christmas, a Message for Humanity



Justine Frangouli-Argyris
The Huffington Post

Today the Virgin gives birth to him who is above all being,
and the Earth offers a cave to him whom no one can approach.
Angels with shepherds give glory
and magi journey with a star,
for to us there has been born
a little Child, God before the ages.

Bethlehem has opened Eden, come, let us see;
We have found delight in secret, come, let us receive
the joys of Paradise within the cave.


-- Orthodox Christian Contakion (hymn)

During these holy days, my father, being Greek Orthodox priest, was always sure to remind us children about the true meaning of the birth of Jesus Christ as it is understood in the Greek Orthodox tradition. Apart from explaining the origins of the traditions that decorate this sacred instant of Christianity such as the trees, the ornaments and the special baked goods, he always took the time to depict the celebration in a most simple way so that we could understand its true meaning.

I remember sitting around the fireplace on Christmas Eve and listening to his soft narration about the symbolism surrounding the 25th of December. He would always begin by showing us an icon of Jesus in the manger among the animals and describe how the birth of the Savior fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah by being born of a virgin and shedding his blood to atone for our sins.
"God became a man in order to save humanity from Adam's sin," he would say.
He was given birth in a humble cave in Bethlehem with the animals providing warmth with their breath. The appearance of Christ on earth in such humility shows that Jesus arrived with the very humanistic message that God was not a punisher but, on the contrary, a compassionate creator.

We would listen attentively as he recounted how Jesus birth was synonymous with humility, compassion, love, understanding and peace in the world and that he came here to baptize mankind in the virtues that had vanished after Adam. Perhaps the deepest spiritual meanings were beyond our comprehension but, in our eyes, my father's words, spoken as they were, brought to life the true magic of the event. To us, Dad was a saint, eternally emphasizing the ideals of Christianity, repeatedly espousing its forgiveness and compassion and telling us that we were truly blessed to be able to understand the meaning of this holy time.

Then, it was on to the fasting table. Mom would prepare lentil soup without oil which we would eat along with the "stavros," the holy bread in the shape of the cross that was baked using only strict fasting ingredients.

The following morning, dressed in our "Sunday best," it was off to church to partake in the Orthodox Christmas liturgy officiated by Dad celebrating the birth of Christ.
Listening to the "troparia" or words of the divine liturgy, special for the Day, I remember my father describing how Jesus rebirth denotes a message of forgiveness and recreation of mankind." For me, it was a tremendously joyous time, as I was thrilled to feel that I was experiencing this glorious event with soul and mind.

Lunchtime would follow, beginning with the Lord's prayer and the cutting up of Christ's bread, "the Christopsomo," a special feasting bread baked with the richest of goodies and the carving of the turkey roasted with all of Mom's love and expertise.

In contrast to the rampant consumerism of today, my memory often wanders to those wonderful times that remind me of the true meaning of Christmas . As time passes, I feel that the rest of the world should focus more on this message!

 
 

 


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Τετάρτη, 18 Δεκεμβρίου 2013

Greek National Television: Of Raids and Deficiencies

Justine Frangouli-Argyris
The Huffington Post

The Greek public and the international media were left speechless last Thursday after the decision of the government to send Athens police on a pre-dawn raid to evacuate the headquarters of the country's national broadcaster. Involving the use of strong-arm tactics and tear gas, the order was given to put an end to the prolonged occupation of the building by a smattering of fired journalists who refused to leave the premises when ERT was permanently shut down in June.

At the time, I was one of a small minority of Greek journalists and citizens who considered that the shuttering of the public broadcaster was a correct policy decision, believing that it was a demonstration of the Samaras' government's determination to commence much-needed and long overdue structural changes to the country's public sector.

Unfortunately, however, the events that would follow ERT's closing this summer, would belie any hope of a government ready to clean house but, rather, depict an administration devoid of any plans for a proposed cleaner, leaner broadcaster. For, a few short weeks after the turmoil, the birth of New Hellenic Radio Internet and Television, or NERIT, was proclaimed but, instead of proceeding in a fresh direction, the government quickly re-hired an overwhelming number of politically tied and connected former ERT employees to fill the majority of the new positions.

The new corporation appeared to have no qualms with the poor resumes of its candidates nor did it seem to fret about the fact that many offers were given to those holding more than one job, even though new guidelines forbid such practices.

At the same time, the administration has failed to provide proper compensation to its terminated ex-ERT workers as was promised. As of October 18th, the due date of the third and final instalment, hundreds of ERT's 2,650 former employees remained unpaid. Under Greek law, such inaction could lead to the layoffs being declared null and void and force the government to reinstate them.

Given the utter chaos that ensued, government spokesman, Simos Kedikoglou, attempted to explain the government's reasons for sending in the riot police by declaring, "Police intervention in ERT was done in order to apply the law and restore legality. The building was under illegal occupation, resulting in daily losses for the Greek government and the intervention took place in the presence of the prosecutor."

The public outcry was such that the opposition SYRIZA party tabled a motion of non-confidence in Parliament on Sunday but that was easily defeated by the New Democracy government with the support of its coalition partner, PASOK.

It is unfortunate that, at a time when Greece's image in the world is suffering in the wake of the debt crisis, the government continues to show an inability to deal with everyday events, lacking consistency and continuity in its decision making and resorting to the use of force where negotiations can resolve matters more amenably.

The country will be assuming the rotating presidency of the European Union this coming January and must have a properly functioning and professional public broadcaster in place at the time. It appears highly unlikely that NERIT fits the bill, stacked as it will be with re-shuffled, politically connected, old hacks.

It is unfortunate that the Greek government had the daring to make the politically risky but astute decision to put an end to a corrupt and decrepit ERT only to have it replaced by what is shaping up to be a NERIT that is its clone.

 
 

 


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Τετάρτη, 27 Νοεμβρίου 2013

Mommy, I Promise We Will Never Be Hungry Again!

Justine Frangouli-Argyris
Huffington Post

"Mommy, take us home and we will never ask for food again!" With this heartbreaking cry, a girl residing at a nursery in the Kallithea area of Athens tugs on her mother's skirt and begs her to take her and her two siblings back home. The mother, visiting to cuddle and play with her children at the nursery that is providing them with food and shelter, runs away crying as she can not afford to take her children with her.

"But, sweetheart, we have nothing to eat at home," she replies. Undaunted, the child continues with a seriousness way beyond her years, "Mommy, take us home and we will never be hungry again, I promise you!"

This story, along with many other similar tales of destitute families unable to feed and clothe their children, has become so common in Greece that UNICEF reports an unbelievable 600,000 of the country's young are malnourished and living below the poverty line.

Yes, the phenomenon of malnutrition has become a reality in Greece ever since the beginning of the debt crisis in 2010, forcing a growing number of organizations and individuals into a daily fight to feed the hungry. For, hanging from most public garbage cans around Athens, one can find neatly packed bags full of cooked food waiting to be picked up. Almost like a secret code among the public, it is understood that these rations have been placed there for their needy co-citizens.

In dozens of Athenian suburbs, such as Keratsini, Tambouria, Agia Varvara, Peristeri and Ano Liosia to name but a few, but also in Western Thessaloniki and in Crete, there are ever-increasing incidents of starved students fainting in class. This has led to a rush by the myriad of Parents' Associations in the country, in the face of an absentee government, to provide assistance to the families in dire economic straits.

The Greek capital is teeming with soup kitchens that continue to pop up everywhere, everyday. As Mayor Giorgos Kaminis reported last month, more than 20,000 residents now rely on strained municipal services for their daily subsistence with another 20,000 being fed by the kitchens operated by the Greek Orthodox Church and other private donors.

The numbers are shocking with over forty percent of users forced to visit a soup kitchen for the first time within the last six months and with 18 percent of those going hungry holding university degrees. Almost two-thirds of the needy are in their prime earning ages of 26 to 55 years, devastated by the crisis and by endless austerity measures that have pushed unemployment to stratospheric levels.
Mothers no longer leave their children in orphanages and nurseries as a result of abuse as was often the case in the past but, rather, because they can not provide for them and the situation is worsening rapidly. The "Smile of the Child" organization has assisted 10,927 children so far this year compared to 4,465 in 2012 and the "Children's Village SOS" is providing for 900 families today compared with just 47 five years ago.

The dire news has reached this side of the Atlantic with Greek North American organizations such as the Greek Orthodox Church, AHEPA, and others steeping in to help those back home.
One Montreal-based group, the "Magic Mission," founded in response to the crisis, has shipped over $100,000 worth of food, clothing, school supplies and medicines to the many organizations helping Greece's needy children such as "The Ark of the World," the "Smile of the Child," the "Children's Villages SOS," the "Lighthouse of the World," as well as the to the schools of Kilkis, the municipalities of Veria and Athens and to MSF Cyprus. Founded only eighteen months ago, "Magic Mission's" members continue their work diligently and silently, striving not only to collect money but to identify specific needs to be addressed.

For all the Greeks around the world, proud of their country's heritage and its contribution to Western society, there is nothing sadder than to hear the voices of the young back home crying out, "we will never be hungry again, we promise you Mom!"

 
 

 


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Δευτέρα, 18 Νοεμβρίου 2013

A Negative Press

Justine Frangouli-Argyris
The Huffington Post

In 2010, amid fears of an imminent default on the country's bond payments and the potential for this contagion to spread to other European countries, Greece's fellow eurozone members agreed to an unprecedented 110-billion euro rescue package. In the following year, an even larger bailout of 130 billion euros was arranged in order to stave off financial Armageddon. However, these two lifelines combined, amounting to a total of 240 billion euros, were not sufficient to completely close the gap in the country's finances and, by this year, it was clear that a further 10 billion euros would be required.

All this, while the Greek economy continues to contract, its GDP having lost an astounding 23 percent in the last 5 years. At the prompting of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the country has been striving to reduce its debt ratio from an untenable 160 percent of GDP to a targeted figure of 120 percent and to recapitalize its banks in order to put them on sounder footing.

The conditions attached to the various rescue packages that Greece has received have included drastic cuts to public spending which have resulted in dramatically lower wages, slashed pensions and an astronomical unemployment rate 26.8 percent.

Following the events one can point to three distinct periods of negative press surrounding the Greek debt crisis...
The first period is the one immediately following the outbreak of the crisis in 2010 and can be characterized as being the worst and most negative. At the time, Greece was immediately placed under the spotlight of the world's media.

Initial reaction, especially in Germany, Belgium and Holland, was to characterize the problem as purely Greek in nature and to present it as resulting from the chronic structural problems in the Greek economy, the ineptness of the country's governments to resolve them and their unwillingness to tackle the issues of tax evasion and corruption. Often, the commentary was stereotypical, deriding the Greeks for being lazy and reckless and personifying them as liars who falsified official state financial statistics for years.

Everyone remembers the provocative cover of the German magazine, Focus, entitled "Traitor to the Family of Europe," showing the statue of Aphrodite of Milos giving Europe the finger and asserting that Greece cheated its way into the eurozone.

What is most insulting is not that the Northern European press was abusing sacred symbols of ancient Greek civilization to condemn modern Greek society, but, rather, the hatred that was emanating from a slew of articles that were not criticizing actual current events but, rather, negatively interpreting the evolution of post-war Greek political and social life.

Soon afterwards, however, the media could no longer frame the problem as purely Greek in nature as the crisis began to spread to other eurozone nations with two of its founding members, Ireland and Portugal, also forced to seek support and being placed under the Troika's supervision.
The derogatory statements in the press would take on an expanded target, the PIIGS, and lead to the stigmatization of the countries of south. This separation of Europe into a "good north" and a "bad south" by the traditional European press has been instrumental in undermining feelings of solidarity on the continent and have torn at the very heart of the "European ideal."

After the second bailout was decided in October 2011, the vitriol in the international press was directed at the Greek government and its inability to impose structural changes, reform the public sector and improve tax collection. The referendum proposed by Prime Minister George Papandreou late that same month sent waves of disbelief through the world's financial community and the headlines that appeared would describe the announcement as "the final bell before Greece defaults and quits the euro." The scenario of a Greek eurozone exit would quickly spread and dominate the world's newspapers' bylines.

After much consternation, a second bailout was ratified in February of 2012 and implemented one month later after all conditions regarding a successful restructuring of Greek government bonds was met.

Regardless, a mere three months later, the continuing crisis along with an inconclusive election that led to the impossibility of the formation of a new coalition government, would lead to strong speculation that Greece would have to leave the eurozone.

The potential exit that came to be known in the European and American media as the "Grexit" would become an ongoing drag on the world's markets and be instrumental in destroying any final shred of credibility that remained in the Greek economy. Terrified by the nightmare exit scenario and the persistent rumors that their savings would vanish into thin air, Greeks would send billions in deposits abroad, adding to an already critical situation. Those in the diaspora would be forced to explain, excuse and apologize for their country that was spiraling out of control and bearing the brunt of worldwide media ridicule.

Meanwhile, the harsh austerity measures imposed on Greece continue to wreak havoc on the country's economy with GDP being shrunk 3.8 percent in the second quarter of 2013, a fifth consecutive year of decline. The dire consequences are reflected in the everyday lives of the population with the phenomenon of malnutrition having reared its ugly head and many organizations waging a daily battle to provide food and resources to destitute families in the face of an absentee government presence.

This latest phase of the decline in the economic and social life of Greece has seen the worldwide media taking on a more sympathetic stance and focusing more and more on how gravely this devastated society is suffering under the incredibly harsh austerity measures.

Another element that has drummed up some positive worldwide publicity for Greece has to do with the government's recent raid against the extremist Golden Dawn party.
Regardless, Greece continues to wilt under the imposed austerity with its economy continuing to shrink and the negative publicity surrounding every new fault that the Troika finds in its investigations of government finances. It is an ongoing situation that will keep feeding the European and American press and keep harming the climate for recovery in the country.

Τετάρτη, 6 Νοεμβρίου 2013

To "Roam" Ancient Greek Drama to the Ends of the World

Justine Frangouli-Argyris
The Huffington Post


What a thrill it is to take your seat in the ancient Roman theater of Herodes Atticus, located right in the heart of Athens with the Parthenon perched immediately above, and experience a live classical performance. And what a blessing it is to relive Agamemnon, the first instalmment of Aeschylus' dramatic trilogy, Oresteia, under the superb direction of your fellow classmate and longtime girlfriend, Niketi Kondouri.

I have fond memories of Niketi when we were studying together in the Department of Political Science at the Law School of Athens. She was a joyful party girl who was taking drama classes at Athens' National Theatre School in tandem with her law studies. I was convinced that, one day, Niketi would cause me to shed tears of emotion and pride as a result of her great talent with respect to ancient Greek drama.

In replying to why she chose to stage Agamemnon, Niketi states, "I have seen various performances of the trilogy Oresteia in Greece and in Europe. I even took an acting role in two Greek productions and I must say that I found the theme staggering!"

In Aeschylus' Oresteia (Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides>), the great ancient Greek dramatist grapples with the law of the Gods and the terror with which the "dark" Gods with autocratic ideas and values define the fate of a people. In the three parts of the tragedy, the common folk live in fear but it is through this fear that they are able to see what tyranny is and seek out some other system of ideas to redeem them from their fears. In the end, a fairer and more humane system of governance and justice evolves that can not be self-imposed but must result from the application of the rule of law.

What was it that attracted Niketi to this cruelest of Greek tragedies where Clytemnestra, the wife of the victorious King Agamemnon, coldly plots his death upon his return from the Trojan War? "Throughout the trilogy there is a clash of ancient and modern deities," she says. "Lots of blood is spilled and it is very violent but, in the end, democracy triumphs (The Eumenides, final play of the trilogy). The personalities of the Agamemnon tragedy are very modern whose relevance to today's world leaves you speechless. They have true values but, at the same time, are full of weaknesses and this combination of poetry and reality is paramount in its ability to produce glorious heroes. And the texts are a truly unique worldwide cultural heritage!"

Years ago, Niketi directed Medea, the infamous killer of her children, and last summer, together with the Municipal Theater of Kozani, she emphasized the role of Clytemnestra as brutal husband-killer. In response to why she is so fascinated by women murderers, she says, "I attempted to interpret Agamemnon through the use of the archetypical figure of the androgynous Queen of Argos, Clytemnestra. For Aeschylus, the sacrifice of his daughter, Iphigenia, by Agamemnon, in order to appease the Gods and bring his army to Troy, is the reason for Clytemnestra's hatred of her husband Agamemnon and for which she massacres him along with his mistress, Cassandra."
"The mother whose child is slaughtered takes on the role of 'mother-avenger-punisher" throughout the history of mankind. She may be queen or commoner but she will find a way to revenge what is, for her, the ultimate injustice. In Agamemnon, the recipient of this vengeance is none other than the mighty King of Argos and conqueror of Troy, Agamemnon himself but Clytemnestra is not done yet, carrying her rage one step further by murdering his concubine, Cassandra, as well."
Niketi goes on to explain that it was Aeschylus who opted to put a woman to kill her husband as Homer makes no mention of this in The Iliad.

As to why she prefers to mount ancient Greek tragedies rather than comedies, Niketi cries, "The tragedies have everything! They have strong structure, overbearing characters and suspense while, at the same time, they hide an underlying humor. Human conflicts and emotions may be easily recognizable and familiar yet they are difficult to interpret and capture as a process to self-awareness, as a vehicle towards the liberating euphoria of catharsis. I feel that every time I am confronted by them, that they open a new window in my life. We enrich ourselves by studying Classic ancient Greek texts," she continues, "and ancient drama teaches us that human nature remains unchanged through time."

Niketi would like to direct other works of ancient Greek writers as well as those of modern European and American authors. She would also like to complete the staging of the full Oresteia trilogy by adding the final two works to her repertoire. "Now I am beginning my beloved Justine," she says, "and I might not have time to finish. Between us, why would I want to put an end to this?"
Her real dream, however, "is to roam the ancient Greek theater to the ends of the world where there are lovers of ancient Greek drama, where people are moved by the principles of tragedy and its catharsis."

Niketi Kondouri has a B.A. in Political Science from Athens Law School and an M.A. in Theatre and Film from Hunter College. She has worked as an actor, musician, assistant director, assistant artistic director and director in Athens and New York. She has directed Medea (Euripides), Antigone (Sophocles), Tartuffe (Molière), Othello (Shakespeare), Miss Julie (Strindberg), The Dollhouse and Hedda Gabler (Ibsen), Siblings (Goethe), Betrayal (Pinter), Higher than the Bridge (Miller) and numerous other plays.

 
 

 


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Τρίτη, 15 Οκτωβρίου 2013

Charter of Quebec Values or a Change in Immigration Policy?

Justine Frangouli-Argyris
Huffington Post

A major controversy has erupted in Quebec as a result of Premier Pauline Marois' proposed "Charter of Quebec Values," which aim to prohibit public sector employees from wearing or displaying any overt religious symbols. The proposed bill would ban the donning, for example, of a hijab or turban by government workers but, at the same time, permit the continued display of the large crucifix hanging in the province's legislature.

Quebec's ethnic communities were swift and unanimous in their condemnation but, surprisingly, two former influential separatist premiers and leaders of Marois' party, Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard, also turned thumbs down on the initiative. Arguing that they were in favor of the removal of religious symbols only from those in positions of authority, such as judges and police officers, they implied that the National Assembly's crucifix would have to go as well.

The official line from Canada's federal government, which was delivered by Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney, was: "If it's determined that a prospective law violates the constitutional protections to freedom of religion to which all Canadians are entitled, we will defend those rights vigorously."

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair also reacted negatively to the plan: "There's no expiry date on human rights. It's not a popularity contest, this for us is completely unacceptable and the NDP will be standing up foursquare against this project."

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was no less forthcoming: "Madame [Pauline] Marois does not speak for all Quebecers when she puts forward an idea of forcing people to choose between their work and their religion, to set out an idea of second-class Quebecers who would not qualify to work in public institutions because of their religion".

The debate has turned bitter as today's growing immigrant population of Quebec, once predominantly European in nature, is overwhelmingly derived from the French-speaking countries of Northwest Africa and from Asia. How can Ms. Marois believe that with two out of every three newcomers to the province arriving from the former French colonies of the Maghreb and from Asia, from lands, that is, with vastly different religious beliefs from her own, that she can outlaw the display of the symbols of their faith?

If the Parti Quebecois is desirous of a more "homogeneous" community, perhaps it should attempt to address the issue by refocusing its immigration policies. For the current state of affairs in Southern Europe, where the economies of Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal have been devastated by the ongoing crisis, may present a golden opportunity for the government to invite willing, educated immigrants with cultures more similar to that of traditional Quebecers, provide them with intensive French language instruction and encourage them to settle here. An equally attractive pool of potential candidates with backgrounds closely resembling that of the Roman-Catholic Quebecois can be found in the countries of the former Soviet Union and the ex-Communist States of Central and Eastern Europe.

The reality, however, is that current statistics depict migration from Europe to Quebec in free fall, dropping to 16.6 percent of the total in 2010 and plummeting to a recent historic low of 15.3 percent in 2011. Instead of the province attempting to enforce short-sighted legislation that can do little else but foment division and anger among its citizens, it should be putting its efforts into creating and promoting a harmonious, inclusive society that is representative of the mosaic that is Quebec today.

 
 

 


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Πέμπτη, 19 Σεπτεμβρίου 2013

Lefkas, a Picturesque Island Blended With Jetsetters

 



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I was born on Lefkas, an island located between Italy and mainland Greece in the deep blue Ionian Sea. Lekada, as it is known in Greece, is one of seven islands that comprise the complex of the Ionian Islands and is situated a few kilometers south of cosmopolitan Corfu.

For me, my island has always been the center of the universe, the navel of the earth. I saw the light of day in the streets of its capital, the town of Lefkas. It is here where I ran and danced and suffered my share of cuts and bruises playing in the neighborhoods inhabited by the most welcoming and adorable people.

Lefkada town is all about magic. Entering the island by car over a movable bridge, you get the feeling that, with one snap of the fingers, you're back on the mainland. As you cross the bridge onto the island, you find yourself on a causeway with the azure blue sea on your left and the grayish waters of the lagoon on your right. The view remains etched in the mind of the visitor, creating an unforgettable first impression.

A little further down, the capital rises up with its brightly colored houses and their red and yellow roofs forming a lovely palette. The town, surrounded by the sea and the lagoon, sports a crowded western pier teeming with trendy bars while that on the east side is home to traditional tavernas and ouzeries offering up wonderful local specialties.

It is fringed by the beach of St. John, a unique stretch of all-white sand several kilometers long that is ideal for swimming and partaking in watersports. Here, amidst the refurbished windmills, you can sip the local sweet almond drink, or "soumada," while admiring the incomparable sunset in the soft dusk of summer or experience the twilight rising beyond the cliff side mansion of the Stavros family.

The eastern side of the island has the privilege of standing directly across the mountains of Aetoloakarnania, on the Greek mainland, that paint its waters with their golden colors. Small beaches and fishing villages adorn the winding coastal road, providing the visitor with a wonderful view of the small, "fjord-like" coastline.

Immediately south lies the town of Lygia, with its numerous fishing boats, and the village of Nikiana, with its many small, accessible beaches of pure, white sand. Further along, you find Perigiali, with its little bays, and Vlycho with its spectacular inlet resting beneath a tall, green mountain and offering one of the finest examples of the island's beauty.

A stop at Nidri, the cosmopolitan resort of Lefkada, is a must. Once a quaint fishing village, the town thrived in step with the persona of Aristotle Onassis who purchased the neighboring mythical Scorpios Island in 1963, married Jackie Kennedy five years later and transformed Lefkada into a playground for the rich. Legendary for his international "jetset" parties, Onassis also owned the adjacent, smaller island of Sparti which he used as a hunting ground to entertain his famous friends.
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Today, Nidri is reliving moments of past glory as Russian oligarch, Dmitry Rybolovlev, who recently bought Scorpios from Onassis' grand-daughter, Athena, begins preparing this exclusive paradise to receive elite company once again. Purchasing the bulk of his supplies and renovation materials from local Nidri shops, Rybolovlev plans to restore the beautiful homes on the island while, in turn, giving a boost to the local economy.

Eastward, the shoreline passes Sivota, a sheltered bay of staggering beauty, where the clear waters reflect the view of the surrounding mountains. Continuing on, bypassing numerous small, landlocked villages, you arrive at vibrant Vassiliki, at the southern tip of the island. Strictly a commercial port in the pre-war years, Vassiliki is, today, the offloading point for the large ferries crossing daily from Cephalonia loaded with toursists. Here-in sits the small hamlet of Ponti which is famed for its stiff breezes and has become an international meeting place for champion windsurfers and sailboaters.
On its western shore, Lefkada offers spectacular views and wild seas. Following the road from the village of Agios Petros, down towards the stunning Athani and past Exantheia, you can gaze as far as the eye can see, far beyond the deep, blue color of the Ionian Sea. Snaking along the coast, you come to Agios Nikitas, where you can walk the cobbled streets of this picturesque fishing village, breathe in the saltiness of the water and stroll along its beautiful, rocky beach.

Dancing among a panoply of beaches on the way back to Lefkada town, you can discover the renowned Porto Katsiki with its turquoise sea, the stunning Ekremnous with their open waters, the expansive Kathisma with its ivory sand and cosmopolitan bars and the calm, more remote Peukakia.
If you're a the true sea lover, hire a sloop to sail around the Island and admire the cape of IRAS with its quaint monastery and bathe in one of the countless virgin beaches.

Before departing, do not forget that you have a duty to visit the monastery of Phaneromeni, perched on the hill, high above the capital, guarding the precious image of the Virgin Mary and giving hope to the weak and courage to the strong.

Should you enjoy the journey, you will want return to the magical island of ancient Pegasus, again and again, as many have before you, to get to know the locals and become acquainted with a new Greek generation of Dorians and Ionians.

 
 

 


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Πέμπτη, 12 Σεπτεμβρίου 2013

Sifnos, the Island of Wild Beauty and Food Tasting!

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Photos :Courtesy Vangelis Rassias

Justine Frangouli-Argyris
The Huffingon Post

 Greece is a country of many islands, each boasting its own unique morphology, architecture and culture. The Cyclades, a group of twelve remote islands in the midst of the Aegean Sea surrounding the sacred island of Delos in a circular formation, are renowned for their "jet-set" destinations of Mykonos, Santorini and Paros.

However, it is well worth the effort to venture "off the beaten track" and visit some of the lesser known jewels of this Aegean archipelago. For, it is here, where the tourist masses have yet to establish a presence, that the visitor can discover the true splendor of the Cyclades.

This summer, I was fortunate to land on the hidden paradise of Sifnos, an island of wild beauty yet, at the same time, with a unique nobility. Hugging the sea but sporting steep mountains that stand naked in its midst, Sifnos immediately attracts for the ruggedness of its spectacular scenery.

Apollonia, the capital, with its classic white-washed houses dotted with Aegean blue and other soft shades that blend to form a soothing pallette, appears as if perched on a ledge, overhanging the ocean and offering an unforgettable panoramic view.

Artemonas, with its cobbled streets and predominantly larger structures, stands proud in its urban nobility. The expansive residences, with their large fenced yards, are pristine examples of Greek Neoclassical architecture. The wealth of the local churches, with their important byzantine icons and frescoes, are proof of the town's financial superiority, owing to its historical ties with the shipping trade.

The Kastro, a past capital featuring medieval fortifications, is, perhaps, the island's most picturesque village, resembling a living museum and overlooking the tiny cove of Seralia with its tiny fish restaurants.

Sifnos may not be blessed with a panoply of beaches like some of its more renowned neighbors, but it posesses a few very beautiful and easily accessible ones that house good services. The extensive Platis Yialos, for example, has fine, dark sand and brandishes small hotels and beach bars that offer parasols and lounge chairs at water's edge.

At the less-organized Vathy, where many yauchts are docked, the transparent waters allow the wader to gaze at the teeming marine life underfoot and to enjoy the sight of the quaint fishing village across the bay.

The sandy beach at Kamares, with its calm waters, is home to many shops, bars and cafés and doubles as the official port of the island, where the visitor is first welcomed.

Over the course of the summer, Sifnos hosts many cultural events. A splendid affair to which I was invited, the 7th annual Festival of Cycladic Tasting, is a three-day gastronomic exposition of Cyclades delicacies, many of which I had no idea were purely Greek in origin.

An intricate part of the celebrations is an event organized by the Cultural Association of Sifnos. "Sifnos makes the table," is dedicated to the memory of the famous Greek chef, Nikos Tselemendes. Born in the town of Exambela, Tselementes went on to international stardom by showcasing the flavors and products of his beloved Cycladic cuisine.

On exhibit were twenty separate kiosks, each displaying local agricultural specialties and offering up appetizers, indigenous wines, and Sifnian pastries. Visitors could even partake in the many cooking demonstrations that were a sight to behold.


The evenings were capped off in the central square of Artemona where local music abounds and island dance troupes performed. A stunning highlight was the annual reincarnation of the traditional Sifnian wedding that originated at the home of Tselementes and weaved its way through the narrow streets to the great square, signalling the conclusion of the festivities.

"Apart from traditional food, the Cycladic islands proudly display local agricultural produce chiefly cultivated by a new class of young entrepreneurs trying to succeed in a country that has been devastated by the economic crisis," confessed to me the President of the Cultural Association of Sifnos, Maria Nadalis.

For his part, Mayor Andreas Babounis hopes that the festival will continue to flourish and eventually become international in scope. "Our aim is to further communication and networking amongst the Cyclades and every year we invite representatives from some other island groups in order to promote interaction between our individual cultures. Our ultimate goal, however, is to give a wider connotation to the event and, at some point in the future, have European participants showcasing their cuisines."

Sifnos, the island known for its chick pea soup, or "revythada," and local wild sheep, or "mastelo," is, truly, a rare paradise that captivates with its wild beauty and offers the best of the reputed Aegean good life.

 
 

 


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Τετάρτη, 4 Σεπτεμβρίου 2013

John Catsimatidis, a people's man


Justine Frangouli-Argyris

What can be written about John A. Catsimatidis, the boy from the small Aegean island of Nissyros in the Dodecanese, that hasn’t been penned already?  Arriving in New York at the tender age of six months, folded in his Mother Despina’s arms alongside his Father, Andreas, in search of a better tomorrow, John is the embodiment of the ‘American dream.’  

What can be said about the entrrepreneur who began as an assistant in his friend’s uncle’s grocery store in Harlem that hasn’t been heard many a time?  For, from those early days, John has gone on to conquer the business world and is presently ranked as the 132nd richest man in the United States, according to Forbes.

This past January, his story became national in scope as John declared his intention to run for the Mayoralty of New York City, setting his sights on the Republican nomination at this month’s primaries and, eventually, hoping to capture Gracie Manor, on November 5th.  

John Catsimatidis was born on the Greek island of Nissyros in 1948 and emigrated with his family to New York City when he was six months old.  He spent the past forty years of his life building his company from a single grocery store into a conglomerate with vast holdings in real estate, energy and aviation.  He still retains ownership of Manhattan’s largest supermarket chain, Red Apple Stores, but this represents only a tiny slice of his empire that has been estimated at $3 billion according to Forbes, although, as John claims, “it is actually between $3 and $5 billion.”  Before annoucing his candidacy for Mayor, Catsimatidis denounced the poor quality of the declared and presumed candidates and stated that “he was willing to spend whatever it takes to win City Hall.”

John may be reputed as being “tough” but those who know him closely describe him as a “man of the people.”  True, given his role as businessman, investor and dealmaker, he is renowned for being a hard-nosed negotiatior but he prefers to describe himself as a devoted father and a passionate citizen of his beloved New York.

To know John personally is to know a man who has raised his children “hands on,” rising at dawn to prepare breakfast and to share in their most serious conversations at the morning table with his charming wife, Margo.  To have lived close to the Catsimatidis family is to know that, even today, with the children having become young adults, they cotinue to be showered with love and attention.  Vacations are still planned in unison and the family, although great American patriots, continues to honor the culture and land of their origin, the distant Nissyros, as one.

To walk with John in Manhattan is to realize that he is intricately familiar with every building, every sidewalk and every stone in town.  To travel with him by car, to the Bronx or over the bridges to Brooklyn or Queen’s, is to hear him describe      
how he hopes to reshape the city, revive the New York World’s Fair and make the metropolis “the capital of the world.”

John Catsimatidis is not an accidental successful entrepreneur.  Originating from an important family in Istanbul, Turkey, where his grandfather was chancellor of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, his mother, Despina Emmanouillidis, was educated in French and graduated from the renowned School of Rhodes.  It was she who shaped him with kindness and devotion and through her deep knowledge resulting from her classic education.  His intimate beginnings are well known to me as I have authored the fictional biography of his mother, For the Love of Others.  

In a few days, John hopes to obtain the Republican nomination for Mayor of New York and, should he succeed, it is my belief that his persuasion and gentle demeanor will lead him to City Hall.  Once there, John is adamant that municipal policies will take their clue from the everyday citizen, not from individual interest groups.  He will bring along his patriotism, his cosmopolitainism and his management skills as well as his unique ability to touch people’s hearts.

In my opinion, with John at the helm, New York will have a true people’s mayor who will make it the shining light of all the world’s great cities!  

Δευτέρα, 12 Αυγούστου 2013

EROS in a bottle!

He sells "eros," or love, in a bottle and originates from the Greek island of Crete. His name is Emmanuel Maniadakis and the "Eros" apple ice cider he produces is strictly made with the purest organic products on the outskirts of Montreal where his vast orchards form an impressive sight.
justine frangouliargyris

Maniadakis may be a native of the famous Greek island but he was the first grower in Quebec who dared invest in the biological cultivation of apples. You can call him innovator, crazy or a dreamer but he explains, "the apple tree is a very sensitive plantation and no one believed that I could grow apples without the use of chemical fertilizers or sprays."
Daring to go against the tide because he was very sensitive to chemicals and had suffered for years from allergies when dealing with apples and apple growers, he began his "natural" production in 2002 and was granted the official stamp of the Agricultural Service of Quebec, designating his apples as unquestionably organic.
His experiment, however, was not a simple one as he notes that chemicals are widely used to suppress apple tree diseases. "The main problem is the various diseases that can attack the trees and the mildew that proliferates with the rain is almost impossible to arrest without antibacterial drugs. However, I proved to growers and agronomists alike that, with constant trimming, sparseness of tree numbers and the use of geological sedatives apple trees can survive and flourish without any need for chemicals."
Ever since, Manolis Maniadakis' apples have become a staple in Quebec's organic supermarkets and fruit stands. His Cretan restlessness, however, led to his desire to take his dream one step further and demonstrate that he could distill organic cider. He proudly proclaims, "After I succeeded with the organic apples, I decided to use the fruit to make ice cider because the weather in Quebec is favorable to the production of this kind of spirit."
He explains,
We let the apples freeze as the frost mashes and kneads the inside of the fruit. We then harvest the frozen produce towards the end of January when the temperature reaches minus 10 degrees celsius and place it in a sterile chamber where the kernels are gathered and the alcohol is produced. The result is a much sought after sweet ice cider, or apple wine, that is served as an aperitif or digestive.

Maniadakis has bottled his nectar in a long, slender, elegant flask and affixed a colorful, artistic label with the words "Eros" emblazoned in gold. In mythology, Eros was the god of love and the word itself means passionate love in Greek. Proclaims Manolis, "I live and breathe Greek mythology. It is a passion of mine and I believe that an aphrodisiac wine such as Eros, made without chemicals, should have a name that denotes pure love from a God."
Maniadakis has received numerous awards for his ice cider around the world and has begun to export his production to France, Switzerland and the United States. Surprisingly, he has found it a struggle to obtain shelf space in his home market as the liquor stores in Quebec are a government monopoly that is not easy to penetrate. Undaunted, he continues to broaden his scope and recently introduced an ice wine made from organic pears.
His dream is to some day become another "Bacchus" and have his sophisticated wine widely available in his homeland, being enjoyed by the Greeks themselves. He would like to see his Cretan brothers under the bright sun in front of the sea brandishing a bottle of Eros!

 
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Τετάρτη, 24 Ιουλίου 2013

Passionate for a Hellenic Identity: The Greeks of Boston

Huffington Post
Justine Frangouli-Argyris

At the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. From left to right: Businessman Ted Argyris, author/journalist Justine Frangouli-Argyris, Museum coordinator Betty, lobbyist Nick Koskores,
Sitting:English teacher Mary Koskores and the great benefactor of the Boston Museum,  Ms Eve Condakes!
 

They may have been marginalized, frowned upon as being part of an immigrant ghetto and received so suspiciously before World War II that they were often forced to hide their origins but the Greeks of Boston, who emigrated to America early last century in search of a better life, have come a long way. So far in fact that, today, some of their names adorn the walls of the city's storied Museum of Fine Arts, having taken their place amongst its most vaunted benefactors.
The couple of Eve and Leo Condakes were instrumental in funding the restoration of the Classical Antiquity Gallery while George Behrakis provided the financial resources for the new "George D. and Margo Behrakis Art of the Ancient World" wing. Opened last September, it marked the first time that the museum has named a multi-gallery wing after a major donor since 1915 and led to Behrakis being honoured as one of the seven "guardians" of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, a title reserved for those that have contributed in excess of $25 million. A true masterpiece, the wing is crowned by a showcase gallery featuring some thirty pieces from the museum's collection of Greek and Roman sculptures.
Strolling through the majestic corridors with the ever-charming Eve Condakes at my side, I am filled with pride as I spy the names "Eve and Leo Condakes" prominently displayed above the Antiquity Gallery and listen attentively as she begins to narrate in a most eloquent, fluent Greek:
My father was the publisher of the first Greek newspaper here in Boston and, along with my mother, taught us the Greek language and instilled in us the obligation to honor the country of our origin. I remember that we visited the museum when we were very young and how devastated my father was when we were shown the museum's collection of ancient Greek sculptures on display, down in the basement. As such, when the opportunity arose many years later, my late husband, Leo, and I jumped at the chance to fund the marvellous gallery that houses many of those very same works of art today. I am very proud to witness our national treasures being admired by visitors from around the world in one of the most famous museums in the United States.
Born and raised in Boston and the mother of two prominent professionals, Nick and Ted Koskores, Evanthia Condakes rose to a senior level executive position with a major international cosmetics company but, following her father's teachings, never forgot her roots.
Our parents and grandparents were conscious of their great responsibility towards their history when they began their long journey to the blessed land of America. They may have come here with very little means in the quest of a better future but they arrived full of pride in their history and traditions.
A much decorated and highly beloved former president of the National Philoptochos Society of the Archdiocese of America, a longtime benefactor of Leadership 100 and the Greek Orthodox Community of Boston to name but a few, Eve Condakes has also become an outspoken advocate for the reopening of the Chalki Greek Orthodox Theological School in Turkey.
A long friendship connects me with his Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew. Together with many other Greek Communities in the Diaspora, we support all his efforts for the re-opening of the historical Theological School in Chalki. We demand protection for the human and religious rights of the people in Turkey and we hope that the status of our historic Patriarchate in Istanbul will be respected and that the country begins to adopt a more pro-European stance. Our prayers are with his Holiness, our Patriarch and leader of the Orthodox around the world.
Eve, along with her late husband, Lycurgus (Leo) Condakes, may symbolize the "American Dream" but she is also a shining example, as was he, of an individual with a deep sense of being and respect for her heritage. Their gallery at the museum houses an important series of sculptures and vases that date from the 4th century B.C.
As we walk down the gallery named after the Eve and Leo Condakes' Foundation, she notes, head held high:
I am proud of my cultural and religious origin. Here in Boston, I feel full of Greece and Orthodoxy and I am trying to pass these values on to my grandchildren. My late husband and I invested in the Classical Antiquity wing at the museum so that future generations of the Hellenes could explore and admire the beauty of our culture and experience the eternity of the Hellenic spirit.

Πέμπτη, 18 Ιουλίου 2013

The Greek Diaspora: A People Neglected

Justine Frangouli-Argyris
The Huffington Post

Somewhat after World War I but, predominantly after World War II and the devastating Greek Civil War that ensued, Greece encouraged her children to emigrate, en masse, in quest of a brighter future.

Facing a ruined economy, the post-war eras left no other plausible options to the Greeks who fled to Australia, Canada, the United States and Germany as they had done in ancient times when they left for the shores of Southern Italy and France.

However, instead of Greece moving ahead with the implementation of some coherent policy to support the Greek element overseas, the country, on the contrary, became dependent on a flow of funds from these expatriates back to the homeland. Known as "hidden resources," these monies were essential in providing the developing nation with an economic respite in its effort to stand on its feet.

The only aid that Greece offered was to dispatch a vibrant clergy to the Greek communities that sprung up around the world who would go on to become the founding fathers of Greek Orthodox churches and parishes and, by extension, the pillars of Greek language education with the establishment of parochial schools.

This great wave of post-war migration created a large Greek diaspora with varied problems, needs and priorities. Unfortunately, however, Greece showed little interest in or entirely abstained from adopting a continuous, consistent and balanced approach to help these new communities. For example, Greek-educated teachers were sent to Germany but not to any other country until the recent years.

Meanwhile, post-dictatorial Greece (1974) began to develop rapidly, quickly obtaining the means necessary for abetting the Greek diaspora whose flow was, by then, slowly subsiding. Once again, however, the government demonstrated no desire in promoting educational or other programs that could instill a Greek identity among the youth and strengthen the ties between the fledgling communities and the motherland.

To this day, Greece continues to act irresponsibly and unevenly with respect to the teaching of the Greek language in the Greek Community schools abroad. In Germany, for example, an old-fashioned methodology has resulted in outdated institutions whose teachings have long been bypassed by a much more quickly evolving population whereas in Australia and America the Greek schools have been basically abandoned, left to fend on their own with anachronous textbooks and teaching materials.

The government has been inept at dealing with the different generations of Greeks abroad, unable to tailor its educational programs in accordance with the differing stages of progress in which they are and insisting on focusing almost exclusively on language to the detriment of Hellenic history and culture.

On fomenting a Hellenic identity among Greek youth abroad, here, too, political investment is sorely amiss. The country should be avidly promoting the attendance of the diaspora's young in camps around the country where contact with Greece's natural beauty, the native population and other Greeks from around the world could go a long way to instilling these Hellenic ideals.

Despite the fragmented efforts of leaders such as Andreas Papandreou who showed true compassion for the Greeks living abroad as he, himself, was an expatriate for many years, the Greek government has done far too little for far too long to arrest the crumbling of the majority of Greek institutions abroad.

And today, given the ongoing economic crisis with Greek unemployment approaching 30 percent and surpassing 60 percent among the young, we are faced with a new wave of Greek immigration looking to build a life in Europe, Australia and America. This may just be the Greek state's last chance to help the Greek Diaspora reach its full potential and become a force that can eventually be instrumental in bringing Greece, once again, back from the brink.