Friday, 17 May 2019

Syriza unnerves creditors as it reaches for voters

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

Greece’s Syriza government on Wednesday approved a slate of tax sweeteners and handouts worth well over a billion euros, as it tried to boost its popularity days ahead of European Parliament elections.

Opposition parties joined Syriza in voting for a measure that allows tax debtors to schedule their arrears in 120 instalments.

They also supported the government in lowering sales tax on food and restaurants from 24 percent to 13 percent.

More controversial was the government’s handout of a 13th monthly pension to 2.5 million retirees.

Syriza has promised further fiscal relaxation ahead of a general election due by October.

“We have a brand and we have recognition value in Europe. It is a left wing brand and we shall contest the next election as the left and win it as the left,” finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos told parliament.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Second Tree picks up the challenge of refugee integration

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

Students in Second Tree’s English class near Katsikas camp

Sarah hands out slips of paper to her class, each with a verb in the present tense. Her 13 students must come up to the whiteboard and write the appropriate past tense for their verb, and then pronounce it.

Reza, from Afghanistan, correctly writes “tried”, but he produces peals of laughter from Riat, a Somali, when he says, “I cried to learn.” Riat is clearly the star of the class. She whispers everybody’s answer correctly to herself; but even she doesn’t understand how the aorist of leave can be “left”. Nor does anyone else. “Left, right?” asks one student.

Sarah is an English teacher for Second Tree, an aid group made entirely of volunteers. Her wards are adult refugees from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They assemble every weekday morning in a 25sqm schoolhouse of unfinished lumber hammered together by volunteers. It sits in the parking lot of a defunct furniture factory across the street from Katsikas refugee camp, near Ioannina in northwest Greece.

Friday, 12 April 2019

How refugees die

This article was published by The Sewanee Review and Longreads.

I met Doa Shukrizan at the harbormaster’s office in the port of
Chania, in western Crete. She sat with her back to a balcony
 overlooking the street, and the strong morning light enveloped
 her delicate figure, so that there appeared to be even
less of her than there was after her ordeal with the sea. Doa’s face 
had peeled from extreme sunburn; she spoke softly. Between the
cavernous ceiling and polished concrete floor, the only furnishings
 were tables, chairs and ring binders, so that voices, however slender,
 resounded. There were no secrets in this room. During the hour
 that we spoke, three coastguard officers sat at their desks not doing
 any work, transfixed by what she said.

Doa and her fiancé had been among some five hundred people
 who boarded a fishing trawler at the port of Damietta in the Nile
Delta on September 6, 2014. Many, like Doa, were Syrian. Others
 were Palestinian or Sudanese. All were fleeing war and had paid
 smugglers to ferry them, illegally, to Italy.

Doa’s family had fled their native town of Daraa soon after the
Syrian uprising began there in March 2011, when Doa was just sixteen. They spent more than two years in an unofficial refugee camp
 in Egypt, and pooled enough money to pay Doa’s and her fiancé’s 
passage, so they could start their lives in Europe.

Why Greeks abhor and applaud Brexit

The secret appeal of Britain’s imperiousness to Europe’s disenfranchised South

This article was published in the Spectator US.

Pavlos Eleftheriadis is as Anglophilic a Greek as they come. His wife and children are British, and he is a professor of public law at Oxford. But Brexit has altered Eleftheriadis’ view of life in Britain.

‘Psychologically, it’s difficult to accept that half of the society you live in is against the presence of Europeans,’ he says. ‘This came out very strongly, including from the prime minister herself. She said we have to stop the free movement of workers from Europe. It’s her primary objective. This wounds you. You wonder why they say this and what led them to it.’

Eleftheriadis says that he’s never seen a hint of racism or prejudice in professional life. But he’s hedging against the attitudes of the next generation. This year, he’s taking a sabbatical, partly in order to acquaint his children with their Greek roots.

‘My children have Greek names. I’m not sure I want them to grow up here 100 percent British. I want them to be Greek, too… so they can have a choice in case things become very ugly in Britain.’

Political divisions widen in Albania as EU decision nears

Poverty, crime, corruption and political instability are testing the EU-aspiring country

 This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

The perception that Edi Rama’s socialist government has embraced special interests, and especially the illegal drug trade, is widespread in Albania. Two interior ministers have resigned under suspicion of taking bribes from organized crime. The opposition Democratic Party is refining that sentiment into political fuel.

Last month it walked out of parliament and took to the street, beginning a series of protests outside Rama’s office. On Thursday it is inaugurating a new practice of demonstrating outside parliament every time there is a debate.

“Amendments we proposed were voted down without discussion. Whenever ministers were called to report before parliamentary commissions, they declined,” Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha tells Al Jazeera. “Investigative committees never worked because contrary to the law they refused to submit evidence of investigations we initiated of collusion between organized crime and senior ministers, including the two former ministers of interior. And finally they even denied our right of parliamentary debate. So finally we just became a piece of a picture-perfect parliament with government and opposition, which was effectively a façade.”

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Why Greek-Turkish turbulence is likely to worsen

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.
Alexis Tsipras meets Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on February 5.
Turkey chose the day of the Greek prime minister’s visit to place a $6.1mn bounty on the heads of Turkish eight army officers seeking asylum in Greece. This emphasis had been suggested days earlier, when the powerful National Security Council in Ankara issued a demand for their extradition, despite the fact that the Greek Supreme Court has forbidden this on humanitarian grounds.

The court’s decision is unreviewable, but the Turkish government suspects the men of helping to plot a failed coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July 2016. The men commandeered a helicopter to escape Turkey and seek asylum in Greece.

To the conservative Greek opposition, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had walked into a trap. “This visit is poorly prepared by the Greek side, and augurs ill for Greek interests and Greek-Turkish relations,” declared Greek shadow foreign minister Yiorgos Koumoutsakos.

“For the last 18 months, Turkey has toughened its rhetoric and backed that up with actions. The result is that the two countries are in a state of constant confrontation. Nothing has occurred to make us believe in a breakthrough,” says Angelos Syrigos, an expert in international law at Panteion University in Athens, and a candidate with the conservative New Democracy party.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Greece, North Macedonia have their work cut out for them

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

NATO and the European Union celebrated Greece’s ratification of the Prespes Agreement on January 25, whereby it recognizes its northern neighbour as North Macedonia.

But the agreement has yet to enter into force. “It has been adopted, but not implemented. It’s an interim period,” says Greek foreign ministry spokesman Alexandros Gennimatas. “As soon as we ratify the NATO Induction Protocol, we shall inform Skopje and they will reply saying that “we are now called North Macedonia.”

This is to happen over the next ten days. Then North Macedonia’s induction will have to be ratified by the parliaments of all 29 NATO members. “Last time this took year,” says Gennimatas, referring to Montenegro’s induction in 2017.

In the weeks following, Greece is also expected to notify the EU that it supports accession talks with North Macedonia. The two countries will upgrade their liaison offices to full embassies.

Within five years, North Macedonia is to rename all its public bodies, adjust its internal official documents and replace all passports currently in circulation.