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Columnists

The National Herald: Your Eyewitness to Greece’s Crises, Comeback

October 15, 2022

For a quarter of a century, The National Herald English edition has been a paper – and now a website – of record for the Greek-American community and the entire Hellenic Diaspora, but it has also left an imprint in Greece and Cyprus with reporting covering crucial periods of change.

For a small country of 11 million people, Greece is a wellspring of news stories that have affected not only the country, but the region, the European Union, and the world, especially after an economic crisis broke out in 2010.

That required three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($322.38 billion) to save the country from its own excesses of wild overspending and runaway patronage, but came with harsh austerity that drove often violent protests.

It also tested the unity of the 27 states of the EU and whether it could survive the trauma if Greece left the Eurozone of the 19 countries using the Euro, headlines around the world filled with news of demonstrations and doomsday stories.

The paper’s role has been to be a record of events that shaped Modern Greece at the beginning of the 21st Century, coinciding with 200 years since independence, and be a witness to a litany of crises, near-catastrophes, heartbreak, and hope.

It has catalogued the transition into the euro as a currency from the ancient drachma, scandals and successes – the rogues and rapscallions who tried to plunder their alleged homeland, the further rise of the shipping oligarchs who rule the world’s waves, the rise and fall of political parties – the end and re-emergence of the once-dominant PASOK Socialists chief among them.

The biggest story before the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020 and changed people’s perceptions even of the air they breathe was the near Grexit, leaving the Eurozone, and the political shenanigans while people suffered: their pay cuts, taxes hiked, pensions slashed, jobs lost, and the exodus of scores of thousands – mostly the best and brightest – to other countries.

It changed the demographics of Greece, and TNH was there to report on those who left, and why, and those who stayed, and why.

There was a shock to the system: in 2012, a retired pharmacist, Dimitris Christoulas, 77, shot himself in the head under a tree in Syntagma Square across from Parliament, killed by debt and austerity measures.

He said he wouldn’t scrounge for food, illustrating the plight of many in a nation apart from the rich and workers in the Parliament across the street who were exempted from the measures aimed squarely at workers, pensioners, and the poor.

The troubles began two years earlier when three bank workers, Epameinondas Tsakalis, 36, Paraskevi Zoulia, 32, and Angeliki Papathanasopoulou, 32, were killed by a firebomb tossed by hooded cowardly anarchists protesting austerity.

They ran like rats while the three moved to a balcony trying to escape, overcome by smoke while people watched on the street and protesters tried to keep firefighters away, the tragedy also claiming another victim: the baby the pregnant Papathanasopoulo was carrying.

No one of any consequence was charged, and that’s the real story of Greece: lawlessness with impunity, bank officers who gave bad loans given immunity from prosecution, scandal after scandal with few convictions.

These are the stories TNH brought you to remember because the names of victims have been forgotten, including Athanasia Paraskevopoulou, her three daughters, 15, 12, and 10,s and 5-year-old son, burned to death in 2007 fires.

They were found together, the mother’s arms around them, one of the many fires that sweep Greece in the summer, many believed set so that land could be developed and some people could make money, no one held accountable.

It happened again, accidentally this time, on July 23, 2018 when a man burning materials – his name still hasn’t been given – started a conflagration that killed 103 people and nearly wiped out the seaside village of Mati northeast of Athens.

Those are the kinds of stories that make politics pitiful, pathetic, and picayune by comparison because those people escape everything, just like the shipping oligarchs, most of whom do next to nothing for their alleged homeland – and TNH let you know it.

Some of that was done through a little column called Letter from Athens, more than 800 of them so far and counting, enough to fill some 2,400 pages in a hardbound book – twice the length of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

What LFA tried to do was capture moments of life in Greece that rose and fell, from the comic to the tragicomic, to do what the late, great actor Jack Lemmon described best: “It’s hard enough to write a good drama, it’s much harder to write a good comedy, and it’s hardest of all to write a drama with comedy. Which is what life is,” he said.

There was the rise and fall of Golden Dawn neo-Nazis, whose leaders and dozens of members were jailed for running a criminal gang and the murder of anti-Fascist hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas, killed when stabbed in the heart, a dagger to Greece.

There was the giving away of the name Macedonia to Greece’s northern neighbor North Macedonia, its citizens calling themselves Macedonians. The triumph of the 2004 Olympics and a magical opening ceremony.

TNH covered all the major events of Cyprus, a near-bank collapse and Golden Visa scandal, and none of these would have been recorded for the Diaspora if not for us being on the scene, supported by readers and an audience that cares.

And now there’s been a terrible turn, to the specter of Turkey threatening “to come suddenly one night,” the kind of fear not known since World War II.

There have been strikes, riots, stories about food, travel, sports, bailouts and busts, scoundrels and thieves – and heroes too, the quiet ones who worked to make Greece better and transmit a better country to those coming. Hopefully.

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