Friday, May 31, 2019

Greek elections not for the faint of heart!

Sunday, May 26th was election day throughout Greece. Greek citizens 17 and older voted for municipal mayors/councils (DIMOTIKES), local councils (KOINOTIKES), regional governors/councils and European Parliament representatives -- marking 4 separate paper ballots by hand in 2 adjoining rooms (mostly in schools), each with 2 secrecy booths and 2 acrylic ballot boxes. And at the end of the day, the votes were counted by hand.

By joining the campaign of the only woman running for mayor of the Naousa Municipality ("DIMO"), I got to be a poll watcher with a birds eye view. And while the above might sound practically impossible to execute, I am proud to report that voting went amazingly well -- certainly no "hanging chads"or malfunctioning voting machines. Each polling place was run by a designated lawyer; ours was extremely capable and cordial. Everything was clearly done "by the book."

For Naousa mayor, the 5 candidates had each formed a "parataxi" or grouping. Each group had a name like "Koinos Topos" or "Ena Mazi." Pre-voting activities included 2 debates, public speeches, articles in local newspapers, videos on Facebook, and campaigning that extended to the 19 surrounding villages -- not to mention political pressure applied every which way and lots of decisions being made strictly according to personal relationships.

Each mayoral grouping was on a totally separate ballot -- paid for by the campaigns! -- with a list of Council candidates that was at least 40% women. On Election Day, each voter was handed  a white envelope and all 5 ballots (+ a blank sheet or "lefko" for abstentions) and could choose one, automatically giving that mayoral candidate one vote. The voter then made a cross next to up to 4 names on that ballot, sealed it in the envelope and dropped it into the ballot box. Polls closed at 7 pm, and by 10 pm we had the top mayoral results from 71 polling places.

Official Turnout: 64.32% of 33,102 voters registered throughout the Naousa DIMO with 1.27% "lefka" and 3.53% nullified because of the way they were marked. (Voting up to the age of 70 is compulsory, but many elderly voters did turn out. Also exempt were voters who were 200 kilometers from their place of registration. Conversely, many voters traveled even great distances to go back to their places of registration. Citizens are automatically registered and listed by the government when they turn 17. And there appears to be no current penalty for not voting.)

In Greece (as in most European countries and many others) there is no "winner take all"; it's the percentage of votes that counts. No Naousa mayoral candidate got a majority, and only 37 votes separated the two top vote-getters. But the top vote-getter got 12 seats on the City Council by virtue of the percentages, and the top vote-getters on his list won those spots. The breakdown by candidate was 12, 11, 4, 3, and 3 = 33 total seats. And each candidate not becoming mayor automatically gets one of the Council seats his or her group won.

On Sunday, June 2nd, there will be a run-off for Naousa mayor between the incumbent Nikos Koutsoyiannis and upstart Nikolas Karanikolas. Unfortunately, Ilia Iosifidou did not make the cut, even though some say she was the most qualified.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras acknowledged that his SYRIZA party was thoroughly beaten in the European Parliamentary elections by calling for "snap" Greek Parliamentary elections. They will be held on July 7th instead of October as previously scheduled, and during a summer month for the first time. At the moment it looks like SYRIZA will go down to the New Democracy Party largely credited with steering Greece into the financial abyss in the first place circa 2008...

Greek elections are indeed not for the faint of heart!

Monday, April 1, 2019

Archbishop Stylianos Harkianakis buried in his beloved Australia (as promised)

Surreal. That's how it felt to watch the funeral of Archbishop Stylianos Harkianakis in Sydney, Australia, live via YouTube this past Saturday while sitting in Northern Greece. On the one hand I was heartbroken to hear that my forever friend had left us on March 25th -- but on the other uplifted by the fact that he passed away on Greek Independence Day and the feast day of The Annunciation, coincidentally the name of both his church in Sydney and mine in North Miami. I am not a super-religious person, but it was a lot to take in. 

It also brought back many memories of precious time spent with His Eminence when he was Abbot at the Moni Vlatadon in Thessaloniki circa 1970; things were a whole lot simpler then. Next he was unanimously elected Exarch of Mt. Athos, and in 1975 made Archbishop of Australia (Exarch of Oceana). A brilliant theologian/writer and charismatic leader, he was at the time only 40 years old!

Many years later, I couldn't even begin to fully describe or list the Archbishop's many accomplishments and good deeds -- from establishing churches, day schools, St. Andrew's Theological College, a myriad of benevolent organizations, and so much more. In his spare time, he served -- for more than 2 decades! -- as the Orthodox Church's lead in the official "Theological Dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church." A prolific poet, Stylianos Harkianakis earned many accolades for his 40+ published collections, including the Award for Poetry from the Academy of Athens. (Details can be found in the beautiful 16-page memorial booklet published online by the Australian Archdiocese in both Greek and English.)

On a personal note, I will never forget the kind, gregarious man born in Crete who did not take himself very seriously. I remember him pulling his hand away when you tried to respectfully kiss it as prescribed by our Orthodox faith.  He was happy to meet my parents when they visited Thessaloniki in 1972 and to see them again years later when he visited the USA. Nearly 4 years ago, I wrote about that friendship and rekindled correspondence. But I knew then that the Archbishop was is poor health and so was not surprised when his letters became shorter and shorter...

A Facebook post reported that his nephew Nikos Kaliouris -- now a lawyer in Athens and like a son to him -- had been by His Eminence's side night and day for the past nine months. I was very moved to watch Nikos stay close to him  right up until the very end .

In his first days and months in Australia, the newly-minted Archbishop was often moved to tears by the Greek people so far from home. He totally dedicated himself to their needs and well-being...doubling down by saying that when the time came, he would be buried amongst them in Australia.

And so before my very eyes it came to pass on Saturday, March 30, 2019, after nearly 44 years of service in Australia.  Stylianos Harkianakis' wooden casket was lowered into the ground at the Rookwood Cemetery in far-away Sydney (as promised).

May his memory truly be eternal.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Ammochostos "Ghost Town" ridiculously inhumane -- and also forgotten?

I recently returned to Cyprus with a traveling team of 10 Girls School graduates.  We covered a lot of ground in 5 days, but aimed primarily to reconnect with a group of  17 Cypriots who became students at the American Farm School in October of 1974, most as war refugees. Our visit was amazing -- we toured, we laughed, we danced, and were duly appalled at what we saw firsthand in the occupied town of Ammochostos (aka Famagusta).

In case you have forgotten, Turkey invaded Cyprus on July 20, 1974, bombarding primarily the north including Lefkosia and subsequently occupied 36.5% of the third largest island in the Mediterranean. The occupied areas are recognized as an entity only by Turkey. The rest of the world recognizes only The Republic of Cyprus, member of the European Union and a country wrongly partitioned.

(Too many people have either forgotten what transpired in Cyprus or simply have no clue about the politics of the region. A recent email from a friend in California admitted: "I was not aware there were still occupation issues between Greece and Turkey." Cyprus is an independent country populated mostly by people of Greek/Orthodox origin; until 1960 she was ruled by the British and never joined with Greece. The Turkish invasion came in  response to a coup supported by the Greek Junta, while the USA stood idly by...Click on this LINK to my previous Cyprus report for more background information.)

Not only did 200,000 Cypriots become refugees in 1974, but occupied Cyprus was Turkefied in every possible way -- including the illegal transfer of Turkish citizens to occupy lands and homes that belonged to Greek Cypriots. We were privileged to be shown around the occupied areas of Cyprus by refugee friends, a couple that was living peacefully in Ammochostos when word came that Turkey was about to bombard the city. People fled south fearing for their lives, leaving everything behind. 30 years later, Sophocles and his wife Koula were allowed back just to have a look. They knocked on the door of the home they had built and went in to see the possessions they had left behind: glassware, furniture, rugs, etc. - all carefully preserved/used by the  not  particularly friendly Turkish woman living there. How would you feel about that?

In Ammochostos  we suddenly came upon what is called "The Ghost Town" of Varosha -- a sealed-off area which before the Turkish invasion had been a modern, high-end tourist enclave and home to 39,000 Cypriots...and a favorite of Elizabeth Taylor's, no less.  Now it is surrounded by barbed wire fencing decorated  with ominous signs forbidding people to enter or even take photos. Hotels, homes, churches, schools, and  stores  are in a perpetual state of decay -- a monument to both the 1974 invasion and the ongoing unwillingness of Turkey to allow reunification of Cyprus. In 1984, UN Security Council Resolution 550 ordered Turkey to hand Varosha over to the UN for resettlement by the people who were forced out; Turkey did not comply.  Varosha has become nothing more than a bargaining chip for the firmly entrenched Turkish president and provocateur Recep Ertegan.

So what about the ghosts of said "Ghost Town?" They happen to be real people, watching and waiting for justice.  Have they been forgotten, too?