On the Frontlines of the Refugee Crisis

If you would like to humanize the humanitarian crisis that’s happening right now in the Middle East, Turkey, Greece and the Aegean, watch this short documentary from the NYT. In it, you will be presented with a view of the crisis from the front lines – the Greek coast guard and the refugees themselves. What can one say? The scenes are simply heartbreaking. Refugees–among them many women and children–desperately attempting to flee war and state collapse, and on the other side, the Greek coast guard and Greek islanders who simply lack the resources to deal with such an enormous, difficult situation but make every effort to do so. And no one lends a hand. The EU has forsaken Greece, made it into some sort of quarantine zone–problem solved, they must say! Typical Eurocrats–heartless, cruel, selfish to the core. And the broader international community? Well, the US has done little, in no small part due to the rampant Islamophobia gripping the country (fomented more so by the vile campaign of Donald Trump). And so the lost are left to fend for themselves, told (effectively), to deal with it, wait a bit (or, you know, for months or years), for some sort of coherent policy to emerge. Such will never arrive. For these are the world’s forgotten, the have nots–everyday Syrians, Afghans, and others–the “collateral damage” from the games of the great powers, whose mercy is absent and lust for destruction knows no bounds. Perhaps a few heads of state should sit and watch this video–watch as near-dead children are rescued and resuscitated, watch as the masses of the dispossessed float in the cold Aegean–and see their policies in action. For ours is a reprehensible global order, writ large in this video through the suffering of the innocent.


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An Aerial Video of the Corinthia

The Archaeological Museum of Ancient Corinth has produced a wonderful video of the Corinthia’s antiquities from the air. Take a look:

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Yiovan Tsaous Tabouras

Here, Stavros Kourousis, author of From Tabouras to Bouzouki, plays one of Tsaous’ actual instruments–the larger tabouras (he also played a smaller tzouras). As Kourousis notes, Tsaous recorded Diamanto Alaniara, Blamissa, Se mia Mikroula, and Yelasmenos with this instrument. It sounds the way it does, in part, because the strings are quite old. According to the man who keeps the instrument, they haven’t been changed since Tsaous’ death in 1942 (though this is somewhat difficult to believe).

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The Sound of a Pre-War Bouzouki

From 1911, to be precise. I stumbled upon this video on YouTube tonight and thought–what a sound! That guy’s bouzouki sounds just like the pre-war bouzoukia. Turns out, it is a pre-war bouzouki, made by Karambas in 1911 in NYC.

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The bouzouki player is Stavros Kourousis, who has also written an excellent book, From Tabouras to Bouzoukiwhich is well worth reading (if you can find it). Remarkably, this was recorded at the BSA–the British School of Archaeology at Athens–which hosted a rebetika night last November. You can check out the instrument at Spyros Dimis’ excellent blog (just scroll down a bit). Of course, it could be a replica….well, what can we here at Mediterranean Palimpsest do to confirm such things anyway? We’re a small operation, after all.


Want a bit more? Here’s Stavros talking about his book (in Greek):

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Archaeology, Sexism and Scandal

Natalia has posted a nice review of Alan Kaiser’s new book, Archaeology, Sexism, and Scandal: The Long-Suppressed Story of One Woman’s Discoveries and the Man who Stole Credit for Them. The title is apt. Kaiser came to the School when I was member a few years ago and told us of his difficulties finding a publisher–so it’s good to see that he finally did so. In fact, dozens of outlets turned him down–and not because of the quality of his work. As one of these reviewers noted, “What you are dealing with here is part of the unwritten history of classical archaeology. Best to leave it unwritten.” Natalia also provides a nice overview of David Robinson as an excavator (he was quite bad), his relationship with the School (also bad), his extraordinary ability to alienate members of his field team, and (of course) Mary Ross Ellingson, the female protagonist here.

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Alexi’s Big Day

Greeks went to the polls Sunday – for the fifth time in six years – and returned Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party to power. In fact, the results mirror those from the January general election almost exactly. Here’s a snapshot:

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Syriza: 145 seats
Nea Demokratia: 75
Golden Dawn: 18
KKE: 15
Potami: 11
ANEL (Syriza’s coalition partner): 10
Union of Centrists (newbies): 9

Perhaps the most notable outcome is that Popular Union, the breakaway Syriza faction, didn’t reach the 3% threshold for entry into Parliament. So, Tsipras managed to purge his party of its most committed leftists and suffered little for it. On the other hand, the abstention rate, which has been a major focus in the Greek media since the election, was unusually high –  ca. 44%. Greeks are understandably disillusioned at this point and, reasonably enough, many have come to see these “exercises in democracy” as pointless pageantry.

So, what now? Well, one could try to be optimistic, I suppose, and put forward an argument along the lines of: New-model Syriza, a party now committed to the bailout/reform program of its creditors, was just returned to power with a renewed mandate, shorn of its hard-core leftists. The party doesn’t have connections to the old clientelistic system and it should be willing to confront these vested interests as directly as it did its European creditors over the first six months of the year. This is a party, after all, which talks constantly about the need to “battle” the diaplekomenoi (the “entangled”), the oligarchs who control so much of the Greek state, economy, media, and so on. Maybe they’ll do it now, and maybe they’ll succeed.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of room for pessimism right now, too, and you can count me in this camp. First, what does the new “bailout” program demand of Greece? The same things that the previous two did: deregulation (open the closed professions, liberalize product markets), privatization and the sale of state assets (major ports, the railway company, electric company, etc.), reform of the public sector (curtailing collective bargaining, layoffs, salary cuts, etc.), restructure of the judiciary, lots of tax increases, spending cuts, and pension reform. The austerity measures bundled into this package are sure to cause economic contraction, as they have for many years now in Greece (and elsewhere). And what of the structural reforms? Well, I’ll eschew any judgment here on whether they’re good or bad for Greece–we can leave that to the economists (though some are good and necessary, e.g. reform of the courts and judiciary). More to the point, is Syriza capable of implementing this reform program? Does Greece’s governing party have the technical skill and the human capital to do so? Are Greece’s institutions of state up to the task? No on both counts, I’m afraid. Syriza consists, predominantly, of people who have never governed before–a motley collection of leftists, former academics, activists, and so on–who have no experience managing much of anything, much less a country of 11 million that is being asked to restructure fundamentally its entire state, economy, and society. We can add to this that the institutions of state don’t tend to work well at all–in fact, they’re notoriously dysfunctional, something which every Greek knows all too well. So, on a structural level I simply cannot see how this ends well. Neither Syriza nor Greek institutions are up to the task.

We can add that Syriza remains – even in its new form – a party of the left, fundamentally. Their ideology and party platform are, in many ways, at odds with the neoliberal reform package contained in the third “bailout.” And, in fact, there is little public support for such reforms in Greece. The political center in Greece is much further to the left on the spectrum than here in the US. Greeks of many political persuasions simply don’t support neoliberal economic policies. They didn’t before the crisis, and they certainly don’t now. So, there’s likely to be a lack of ownership over the reform program at the political and popular level.

And what will Europe’s response be if (or when) the reform program goes off the rails (again)? Well, there seems to be no room for error moving forward, and it does seem to be the case that the creditor nations are at wit’s end with Greece. They’ve said so bluntly. They were also willing to discuss openly and formally Grexit scenarios for the first time back in June. That was a major step and indicates that patience with Greece has run out. I suspect that once Alexi and Co. start missing deadlines and failing their semi-regular comprehensive reviews, the EU will simply pull the plug and cut off the money supply. This would be a draconian thing to do, but the EU has demonstrated quite clearly that it’s perfectly capable of acting in this manner.

So what happens, politically, if Syriza suffers the same fate as the “pro-bailout” governments before it? Well, I’ll turn it over to Ilias

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Alexis Tsipras – Master of (Calling) Elections

Well, that was fun.


So, Tsipras has resigned and Greece is heading toward elections in September. As the graphic above illustrates, the third memorandum split Syriza. The far-left faction, aptly named Left Platform, remains opposed and is in the process of forming its own parliamentary group. Lafazanis (former energy minister is Tsipras’ government) will likely lead this new party into election next month. So, it looks like the Greek political scene is about to become more fractured and unstable. Although Tsipras and his new-model Syriza will likely carry the election, it’s anyone’s guess how much of the vote they receive. The most recent polls, which are somewhat outdated, put Syriza at ca. 32-35%, which is not enough for a majority. That said, Tsipras remains quite popular, despite his poor track record while in office. θα δουμε….


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