Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

A to Z of healing & creating a safer Greece

If the government can turn this red flag into an opportunity to change and reform — and residents of Greece keep constant pressure on them — I believe Greece can recover and prevent future wildfires, which would enable its people, the economy and the environment to heal.

Aid

Emergency aid of 3,000 per home and 10,000 per life is available through banks and municipalities. Call ‘1555’ for information and assistance.
Abuses have already been reported, with non-victims making multiple claims in several villages, however the Economy Ministry has tried to resolve this by requesting additional documents, making arrests and implementing a 5-year jail sentence. It amazes me that something like this can happen in a country renowned for its gauntlet of bureaucracy
– Bureaucracy blocks reconstruction: Not a cent of the 162 million euros has been distributed to victims; only money distributed has gone to flood control in Olympia. Finance Ministry will not release funds. (January 2008)

Bureaucracy

– Simplifying processes to be more straightforward, while keeping reasonably strict checks in place, so honest people in need get the attention and assistance they deserve and fraudsters are kept at bay
– This country is still learning efficiency, so please be patient (however painful): When an Albanian woman working at a hotel was killed, the body of a Greek woman was mistakenly sent to Albania for burial to the horror of her relatives, who had to return the body and order an investigation.

Claim EU funds

– Since 2000, Greece has 24 million for forest protection, 9 million for the Seih-Sou forest near Thessaloniki (which burned down this weekend) and 80 percent of 91.6 million for environmental projects — all unclaimed
– This is in addition to the 120 million we pay in taxes annually
– A economy minister flew to Brussels and requested emergency aid, and secured 200 million now for the regeneration of and 400 million to follow later (this is in addition to 4 million from Australia, 70 million from Greek banks, 950,000 from the USA and 720,000 from China, 500,000 from the Church of Greece). I desperately hope that this aid will be used appropriately and not fall victim to corruptive ills.

Don’t give in to unjustified claims

– Conspiracy: It’s amusingly sad and frightening to hear a prime minister speak about such things, especially since there’s no proof that Turks, Americans or Albanians want to destabilize or undermine Greece…seriously, what would they have to gain? (i.e. Did Sakis Rouvas place second at Eurovision in Turkey because of some destabilizing plot? No, he just didn’t shake it hard enough or something — did you see him fall at Athens 2004?).
– Terrorism: There is a huge difference between real terrorism and speculative claims based on two cell phones or a few small-time criminals who are angry and seek an outlet for their frustration. i.e. The American Embassy was hit by a rocket; it’s not terrorism, it’s a rocket.
– Arson: Though there is some basis to such claims, the 23 people arrested back in July after the first spate of blazes were not charged or prosecuted, and evidence must be produced to convict. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. (Would you want someone to blame you without having the chance to defend yourself?) — Follow-up: Still no real arrests, and it’s now October

Equipment maintenance

– Fire trucks, equipment and communication need to be updated, checked and maintained on a regular basis to respond quickly and efficiently, without waiting for backup or wasting precious time
– Extinguishing blazes in Parnitha, Penteli and Pelion encountered challenges due to faltering equipment

Forest registry

– Greece remains the only country in the EU without a forest registry (started in 2009), and needs one desperately, along with updated maps
– Without them, the State cannot prosecute those who illegally seize and develop property after forested areas have been cleared
– There are an estimated 100,000 illegal homes, with 70-80 percent in Attica

Green areas

– Instead of creating a giant park in Helleniko, which won’t even be complete until 2012, spread green areas around cities like Thessaloniki, Athens, Argos and Larisa.
– Green areas provide oxygen and cooling while dispersing pollution, making them easier to create on a small scale and spreading a lesser amount of responsibility/cost to local governments

Habits

– Not flicking cigarettes out the car window or dropping them on the ground near dried vegetation or paper can go a long way (even in urban areas)
– Use roasting fires and campfires responsibility: Clear dried vegetation from the surrounding area, have a fire extinguisher nearby and keep an eye on ash or other burning debris
– Don’t burn garbage
– In rural areas, make a habit of trimming trees/clearing forest floors or ask municipalities for assistance

Incentive

Homes that were leveled will be rebuilt by the State
Homeowners with partial damage will be compensated 50 percent by a State subsidy and 50 percent in an interest-free loan
– It is vitally important to support people who choose to live outside city limits since big city ills would only worsen with increased migration and crowding (pollution, traffic, strained public services, jobs)
– Residents who live near forests already provide vital firefighting support and services, and it’s important to recognize their contribution by increasing salaries, making them full-time employees and providing them with proper equipment and protective clothing

Jobs

– Unemployment is high and parks/firefighting services are understaffed. Kill two birds with one stone.
– People are eager to learn, provide assistance and get paid while protecting their country
– Volunteers would appreciate being paid employees, even if it’s a wage without benefits since many already have day jobs

Kits

– People in rural or island locations need fire kits
– A small investment in providing supplies, or a reimbursement program for those who get fire extinguishers, a water reserve with hose/pump, wool blankets, ladder, rakes, brooms, boots and a first aid kit could go a long way in saving lives and homes, while also saving the State’s money in the long-term

Lease or purchase aircraft

– Instead of making several passes with smaller Canadairs, a better buy and more effective aircraft is the Russian Beriev because it can drop 12 tonnes of water at one time

Municipalities

Local government has the power to act without assistance or prior consent of the State; these are community heroes
– Be active in and support your community, call the municipality with concerns

No shame in asking

– If you or someone you know is unsure of something, ask someone or a higher authority or get on the Internet to find the answer.
– Where is the stupidity in saving a home or someone’s life?

Ounce of prevention, worth a pound in cure

– It’s a different way of thinking and its obstacle is culture and tradition

Push an agenda

– If you believe in something or have knowledge to share, do so gently and choose a time when someone is ready to listen
– Be relentless with local and State governments when it comes to advocating the greater good and improving the community

Question

– Never be afraid to question the State, your local government, public services

Reforestation

– A minimum of 5,000 hectares of new growth is required to keep level; double or triple is needed to compensate for past losses
Plant Your Roots in Greece
Cleanup Greece
Promised reforestation of Parnitha’s century-old pines upon consultation with experts
– Affected areas also need measures to prepare for inevitable floods caused by the absence of trees; the floods in Kassandra last year (and now) are the result of the area’s previous forest fires

Sensors and cameras

– In the 1980s, Pasok entertained the idea of placing heat sensors and cameras in forests, but never followed through.
– Since the Athens 2004 Olympics, there is a 250 million security system that can now be converted or moved to accomplish this

Training

– In the media, there were comments made by firefighters than there were finally some professionals who knew what they were doing with help arrived from neighboring EU countries
– The people of Greece are eager and able to learn if someone would teach and train them
– Bring in professionals from other countries, if there is a shortage of experienced staff within the country

Unite forest and fire services

– In the 1990s, the forest and fire services were split, making hierarchy fuzzy and dividing an otherwise unified force; earlier this year, the public minister entertained the idea of reuniting them, but never did
– Clearly these forces are better together than apart since forest services tend to prevention and have essential knowledge about forested areas, and firefighters need this information to effectively extinguish a fast-moving wildfire

Vegetation and forest floor clearing

Water

– Instead of dumping fresh water from the sewage plant of Psyttaleia into the ocean, it could be reserved for fighting fires

eXodus of Vyron Polydoras

– He ordered that firefighting aircraft not use water on Parnitha to avoid power line failure, even though the PPC had turned that grid off
– He decided against the purchase of firefighting aircraft to expand the fleet, calling them cost-prohibitive and unprofitable
– He is unreachable when local governments request urgent help
– He stated that there was better advanced planning this year for the fire season
– He refused to sign a bilateral accord with Russia that offered Greece firefighting manpower, aircraft, supplies and maintenance with shared costs

whY not volunteer

– Forest Protection Volunteers of Attica (EDASA), 12 Ag. Konstantinou Street, 104 31 Omonia, Tel: (210) 520-0680. Email: edasa@otenet.gr or skrem@panteion.gr

Ζωα (Animals)

– Last but not least, animals are affected by drastic events like fires and the devastation of their natural environment, food and water sources
– Two organizations I respect after having consistently positive personal experiences are: Arcturos and MEDSOS

(Article updated January 8, 2008)
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7 Comments

  rositta wrote @ August 31st, 2007 at 20:30

There will always be those that try to cheat the system. It happened after Katrina, it happened after 9/11 and I’m not surprised it’s happening there. Amazing what people will do to get something that they are not entitled to….ciao

  λ:ηρ wrote @ August 31st, 2007 at 23:39

Kat, the problem with the Beriev is that it is unsuitable for operating over mountainous terrain. It’s great for plains fires, but it will be suicidal to fly the airplane over mountains. More as I go through the ABCs.

  betabug wrote @ September 1st, 2007 at 16:31

The Canadair can take 6 tons of water vs. the Beriev’s 12 tons. The russians have / had another fire fighter plane that could load 4 or 5 times that.

The problem with buying the Beriev isn’t so much the mountains, it’s that the Greek air force would have to build up a new supply chain for parts, train new mechanics, etc. I’ve seen the Beriev in action on Ymittos and it seemed to make a big difference.

  Kostas T. wrote @ September 2nd, 2007 at 08:13

This is a very worthy list of “must do” actions, but Greece and its political-social system have a unique way of squashing even the best of intentions.

In the last 30 years that I’ve observed Greece both as a resident and outside observer, I have amassed tomes of what was NOT done as opposed to a thin scribbling pad containing notes on what WAS done. And as the Parody in Blue blog said “I seriously doubt the honesty of government proclamations re. the regeneration of the Greek ecosystem possess the credibility needed to initiate such a Herculean task. Greek politicians — the very same who bear a major share of responsibility for what has just befallen us — are simply too hollow and transparent to attract any degree of trust.”

This is the sad and only truth.

  Kat wrote @ September 2nd, 2007 at 11:40

Rositta – You’re right, there is good and bad everywhere, not just in Greece.

Leo and BB – Clearly, we need more planes no matter what they are and who makes them.

Kostas – Over the last week I’ve been tortured about the fate that Greece has befallen. For me, it was more constructive and cathartic to list shortcomings along with their solutions instead of ranting the frustration/anger/sadness many of us feel. I don’t have the 30 years experience that you do or the right to vote, however I know too well it’s easy to feel hopeless and helpless (even in everyday things) against a system mired in obstacles. I have my serious doubts, but I desperately cling to the tiny handful of optimism for the people’s sake, even if these same people tell me time and again that it’s not my country. This country could be so different, prosperous and glorious.

  Kostas T wrote @ September 2nd, 2007 at 16:05

Kat,
My grandfather used to say that there are two kinds of Greeks: those who get walloped in the face and come back for more; and those who get walloped once or twice and learn their lesson (and leave). He belonged to the latter category, although leaving didn’t help much (he was too good a man to exploit others).

There’s little point in anguishing over the fate of Greece… or, more accurately, of the Greeks. This country could indeed be gorgeous and glorious, but the malaise built into the Greek character is simply not to be extinguished by medicine or self-discipline. Greek history, both ancient and more recent, contains EVERY bit of information that you need to know in order to understand why Greece won’t be “different, prosperous and glorious.” Unfortunately.

  Kat wrote @ September 2nd, 2007 at 17:30

Your grandfather was wise, and I know what you say is true, which is the reason I was set to leave January 2006. But I met my fiance and that changed.

Now it’s just a matter of trying to stay sane until departure…or until I can take it no longer, leave first and have him follow later. We’re lucky, we can leave; I realize others cannot. That also is unfortunate.

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