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Letter from Athens: And the Winner of the 2020 Ostrakon Award is…..

December 27, 2020

Ah, it's that time of year again, the end of an especially horrible time with COVID-19 swamping coverage or meaning of any other story on the planet, a pandemic that has the potential to touch everyone on it, but we still have to give the Ostrakon Award. 

In Classical Athens, when a decision had to be made to exile someone, citizen peers would cast their vote by writing the name on a piece of pottery – an ostrakon – giving rise to the term ostracism, the ignominious recipient tossed for 10 years from the city. 

It's not easy to pick one every year in Greece and there's a growing list of the selected who you would never want to belong to any club that he or she is a member of, although some of them are so rich they can start their own. 

Time Magazine, which since 1927 has named a Man of the Year, then a Woman of the Year and now a Person of the Year for 2020, declared Joe Biden and Kamala Harris the winner, like Rosey Grier and Ray Milland in the movie The Thing with Two Heads. 

And Time, which long ago ran out of time and significance as it watched the digital age sweep past, doesn't limit itself to people of achievement like Gandhi, but to the despicable and pure evil too, like Hitler and Stalin (a two-time winner, or loser depending on how you look at it) and to causes like The Hungarian Freedom Fighter, and even inanimate objects like The Computer. 

It's a little easier in Greece because there's so many candidates for the Ostrakon and so little time. Picking the winner, which means the loser, is like trying to decide which French song is the worst. 

There's a tie-in this time though. After he found out that riding on yachts was better than sinking the oligarchy as he promised, Greece's minor opposition SYRIZA Regressive Alliance leader Alexis ‘Aye, Aye Captain’ Tsipras should have been one of the recipients of the 2020 Lloyd's List Greek Shipping Awards, and an Ostrakon. 

While the rest of us were hiding in our houses, wearing masks, staying safe social distances (mine were at least two miles away from anybody) else, the shipping tycoons who let their alleged country sink during the COVID-19 pandemic put on an Academy Award-style show. 

You could name the real philanthropists among them with the fingers of one hand, and barely a few did anything to help overwhelmed public hospitals although Angeliki Frangou and Evangelos Marinakis made a $1.8 million donation for ICU units in December. 

In March, Pangiotis, and Giorgos Angelopoulos donated $1 million for the same as the pandemic was kicking in, adding their names to those of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and Onassis Foundation as real benefactors. 

That should have been the signal to pass the hat at the yacht club and get the rest of them to do something but that didn't happen because most of them were hiding behind their tax-free Flags of Very Convenience after doing just about nothing to help their alleged country during a near decade-long economic and austerity crisis. 

Instead, during a time when there were thousands of cases of the Coronavirus among the populace daily, rising deaths and fear greater even than that of a shipowner who thinks he might have to pay taxes, they had a celebration of themselves. 

That it was shameless is self-evident because they already bleed their country and won't even fly the Greek flag because it's cheaper to fly flags from dozens of places like Liberia, just not their own. 

That lets shipowners avoid heavy taxation and to cut payroll costs by employing foreign crews at low wages because who wants Greek crews at better wages, especially after the shipowners spent the economic crisis drinking champagne. 

So instead of an event where they would announce donations to public hospitals, beyond paying to renovate toilets and provide bed linens and blankets as they did in January, before COVID-19 landed, they toasted themselves in a global streaming show. 

At least they created a new class of bad taste from the upper class, who showed they had no class. They started off with a champagne toast to themselves but they're so rich they could actually eat champagne toast while everyone else gets crumbs. 

They already rule the waves of the world as dominant in their sector but that’s not enough. They have to pat themselves on the back in an orgy of self-aggrandizement while people are dropping dead faster than slaves on galleys. 

Maybe they were disappointed they had to postpone their annual Posidonia exhibition this year in Athens as the virus swept over the country like a wraith in the night so they turned to honoring themselves online. 

The show saw awards in 18 categories of achievement, presented with full respect paid to social distancing and health precautions – shipowners kept away from anyone with a net worth of under a billion dollars or a sense of integrity. 

This was their Academy Awards show but even less graceful as they gave themselves honors like the Propeller Club Lifetime Achievement Award, given to whomever can get away from helping people the fastest. 

Since they couldn’t dig deep enough for ICU’s or ventilators, maybe they could have bought a few masks, including some to hide their shame. 

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