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Letter from Athens: Here Are the Real Heroes and Villains of Greece

Having spent some time covering sports and being in the locker room of the Boston Celtics and Red Sox, it can be reported that no heroes were to be found among them, even if they hit a game-winning home run or struck out 20 batters.

You won’t find any either in the halls where politicians work out deals between each other, nor among those Greek shipping oligarchs who beat their breast for their homeland but raise the flags of the Marshall Islands to avoid paying taxes in the land they allegedly love.

Don’t look in the Halls of Justice in the Greek courts because the favored get dispensation and rarely go to jail unless someone needs a scapegoat, and even there the long arm of politics makes it mark and shows its influence.

It can take a decade to deal with a case and judges have been accused of sitting on them, not reading them, and tossing them aside while the penalties depend on who you are – or who you know.

It’s cringe-worthy to read when someone on a Greek soccer team – sometimes they’re Greek and not just hired mercenaries who, like American athletes, would change teams during the game if the other side paid more money – is called a hero for scoring a goal.

The worship of people who can play games creates a sub-culture of cretins who play out their games in the streets, hooligans who attack and kill each other to defend teams and players who don’t know their names – just like the Trumpies lined up like lemmings to walk off a cliff for a man who uses them.

Worst among the villains of Greece is the man with no soul, SYRIZA leader Alexis ‘Ice’ Tsipras, who, while Prime Minister, let people stand in the sea at the village of Mati in July, 2018 while it burned, not sending the Navy or the Coast Guard or asking private vessels to send a Dunkirk flotilla to help.

The ‘Face of Villainy’ in Greece is gone now – former defense minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos – who stole from contracts and plundered for his own gain, and mostly got away with it, apart from some jail time.

He’s dead but has been replaced by more embezzlers, scoundrels, rapscallions, thieves, and more wrongdoers, including those who stole from banks with bad loans, like Lavrentis Lavrentiadis, accused of embezzling 511 million euros ($513.25 million) from the Proton Bank he managed.

That was a decade ago and he’s free, unprosecuted, walking around with pockets full of money and nothing will ever happen to him because the villains in Greece protect the villains in mutual self-preservation society.

It was condoned bank robbery, but it wasn’t confined to his, as Hellenic Postbank went under after handing out 400 million euros ($401.92 million) in bad loans, a common practice in Greece where bankers – who were given immunity from prosecution – hand out money they know won’t be paid back, so do the math where the money went.

The head of the bank, Angelos Filippidis – who fled the country – was acquitted (see above, Greek courts, villains, and scoundrels) and no bankers were held accountable or harmed in the writing of this column.

Military duty is required in Greece, unless you’re rich or powerful or a celebrity – and while a few names of draft dodgers have surfaced, the real extent of it is unknown, people unwilling to defend their country.

So now let’s turn to some of the real heroes, including supermarket clerks and cashiers and workers who showed up every day of the COVID-19 pandemic, wearing masks, hoping like hell they wouldn’t get sick or die.

So too the hospital workers in conditions so abysmal there’s no toilet paper – or toilet seats – in many of them, and emergency rooms look like the waiting room for hell, half-naked elderly plopped on gurneys for all to see.

And the EMT’s and ambulance drivers, as well as the soldiers who didn’t dodge their service and stand on the cold border with Turkey, patrolling. And the underpaid doctors who weren’t among the 20,000 who fled the country during the economic and austerity crisis and saved lives.

And then there’s Michalis Protopsaltis.

He owns a construction company on Kythira, off the easternmost southern tip of the Peloponnese, and sent a crane to a clifftop there to help pull up 80 refugees stranded on rocks when their boat crashed onto them.

“All this talk about heroism is overblown. What we did was only human. In Kythira we always help people in need. From America and Argentina to South Africa and Australia there are Kytherians and, so, all of us have lived the experience of migration. I don’t know what has been happening further afield (in Greece) but we’d never let people drown.”

“There were people in danger, whose lives were at risk, all anyone thought about was how they could be saved,” he said.“The truth is that civilized people want to behave in a civilized way. It was only when I got home that it occurred that while they accuse us of doing all these things, here we are, a group of people on a little island in Greece who saved 80 souls tonight because it was the right thing to do.”

He was honored for it, but if only he could play soccer and score goals.

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