Thur., April 2. 3:35pm.
The Greek doctors who’ve spent the bulk of the coronavirus crisis on the frontlines with almost no support from the government—
—got a rude April Fool’s Day prank played on them this week, with the delivery of thousands of Chinese masks which, the head of the National Federation of Public Hospital Doctors of Greece alleged, didn’t meet the necessary medical specs for healthcare workers treating Covid-19 patients.
The government fired back, in what quickly became a heated and predictably absurd debate about the serial numbers stamped on a box whose labeling just happened to be written in Chinese. (In this, as in all coronavirus-related matters, I’ve decided to defer to healthcare experts over government apologists.) It was the latest salvo in what’s increasingly become an Orwellian campaign of dis-, mis-, and non-information about the extent of the coronavirus crisis in Greece.
The same government, for example, that’s consistently taken victory laps on TV for its response to the pandemic has dodged questions about why widespread testing still isn’t taking place, or exactly why positive cases that have been found in refugee camps, and in a cruise ship that was recently allowed to dock in Piraeus, weren’t included in the official tally.
Meanwhile the mainstream media, or ΜΜΕ (μέσα μαζικής ενημέρωσης)—long accused of bowing to the corporate and political interests of the magnates who foot their bills—have been acting, as one Twitter user put it, like a dog who licks the floor as soon as you toss it a piece of sausage.
Throughout the crisis, TV newscasters have conducted breathless interviews with (Greek) doctors in coronavirus hotspots such as New York, London and Madrid, only to cut off doctors here in the πατρίδα as soon as they begin to complain about PPE shortages at Greek hospitals. Recent evening news broadcasts, meanwhile, have included a riveting ANT1 segment on how to make potato chips, with singer, model and former pole-vaulter Saki Rouvas, and a side-by-side comparison on Mega of the hairstyles of government spokesman Stelios Petsas before and after the onset of the pandemic.
Still other broadcasts drew attention to the alarming lines forming outside Athens banks this week, with at least one reporter flouting the measures on social distancing to demand of one patron why she wasn’t social distancing.
Deputy Minister of Civil Protection and Crisis Management Nikos Hardalias declared the situation “unacceptable.” But missing from the newscast was any indication that many of those gathered on the last day of the month were there to collect their pensions checks—those meager, ever-dwindling pay-outs treated by successive waves of Greek and European politicians as bargaining chips in the endless negotiations over austerity measures and debt repayments. As one opinion writer put it:
Ο συνταξιούχος…πάει γιατί η σύνταξη του προηγούμενου μήνα έχει εξαντληθεί εδώ και 10 μέρες. Με τη σύνταξη αυτήν την πενιχρή προσπαθεί να κρατήσει την αξιοπρέπειά του. Να πάει στον φαρμακοποιό για να πληρώνει τα φάρμακα, να πάει στο σπίτι για να μοιράσει τα χρήματα για το νερό, το τηλέφωνο, το ρεύμα, να πάρει τα παιδιά να δει τι λείπουν στα εγγόνια του. Αυτοί, λοιπόν, κατά Χαρδαλιά, είναι οι «απαράδεκτοι».
Κατανοούμε το γεγονός ότι δεν μπορείς να αντιληφθείς την αγωνία αυτών που παλεύουν να κρατήσουν την αξιοπρέπειά τους με τα ψίχουλα.
The retiree…goes because the last month’s pension was exhausted 10 days ago. With this meager pension he tries to hold onto his dignity. To go to the pharmacy to buy medication, to go home and split the money for water, the phone, the electricity, to see from his children what his grandchildren are missing. This, as opposed to what Hardalias says, is “unacceptable.”
We understand that you can’t comprehend the agony of those who struggle to maintain their dignity with crumbs.
But the Χρυσή Μούντζα—
—went to a recent Open TV report about the alleged hordes that descended on the waterfront in Thessaloniki on an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon, footage of which has subsequently become a sort of Zapruder film for this generation of Greek armchair forensic scientists.
The footage, at first glance, seemed simple and damning enough: despite official stay-at-home orders, hundreds of unruly Thessalonikans could be seen power-walking, jogging, bicycling, and otherwise disregarding government calls to limit daily outings and stick to social distancing when they did leave the house. The following day, the παραλία was roped off to pedestrians.
Stare at it long enough, though, and you’ll start to notice funny little inconsistencies: a jogger who seems to be running in place, another who casts no shadow, still others who almost appear to be passing right through each other. One photographer pointed out how you could achieve this effect by zooming into a section of the waterfront from a distance, compressing the field of vision to make it seem much more crowded than it actually was.
But then the floodgates opened, as engineers and architects and conspiracy theorists—most of whom, in this homebound age, had a bit too much time on their hands to begin with—began deconstructing the fraudulent footage. For a few hours, Greek Twitter resembled a Super Bowl party dissecting the replays after the game-winning touchdown was, upon further review, overturned.
Things only went downhill from there.
The most wide-ranging and straight-laced take on coronavirus in Greece I found this week came from CNN, whose Christiane Amanpour interviewed PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis about his government’s response to the crisis. It was bewildering at first to see a head of state speaking with intelligence and poise, so accustomed have I gotten to the three-ring circus of insults, lies, self-congratulation and corporate pandering that passes for President Trump’s daily press briefings.
To the PM’s credit—or, more likely, to the credit of millions of Greeks—the country has so far managed to flatten the transmission curve. “Our healthcare system is coping relatively well,” he told Amanpour. “It was battered after 10 years of austerity, so we were painfully aware of the fact that we were at bigger risk compared to other E.U. countries.”
For 15 minutes, the Harvard grad put on such a smooth and polished performance that I almost forgot the Sphinx-like proclamations he’s been making to the Greek public, insisting that we’re like “ελεύθεροι πολιορκημένοι, που επιλέγουν, όμως, να είναι πολιορκημένοι γιατί είναι ελεύθεροι,” or “the free besieged, who choose, however, to be besieged because they’re free.”
The PM also warned: “Δεν είμαστε στην αρχή του τέλους, είμαστε το τέλος της αρχής.” We’re not at the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.