Sick Bodies


“No one ever imagined such a situation. No one expected it. And the political class never warned the common people of such a trajectory. This is a serious political crime. There was widespread political silence until the crisis blew up. And suddenly the people felt that they were robbed of their recent past of a few decades ago.”     Christos Chryssopoulos, author of  The Destruction of the Parthenon


For days the word “bruised” was on my mind, the color as much as the tenderness of skin, the vulnerability of hurt flesh, its beauty as flesh as much as its human fallibility, skin and body always exposed and prey to what can mar, and destroy it. The idea was there because the days again collapsed into a series of unexpected events. The unexpected has come to be synonymous with kinds of bruisings, whether these be announcements of people being laid off, or notices of taxes – the ongoing “Xaratsi” (Solidarity Tax) – the bills that seem always inflated even if we barely turn on the heat or the water heater. Worse, the economic reality has also, maybe inevitably, affected the number of people now physically ill. The bodies on the streets, bodies on the subways announcing their illnesses as the afflicted hold stamped papers from doctors verifying their ailments, many terminal.

But the sickest body is that of the state and its continuing inability to hold itself accountable, as it mandates that the people follow prescribed “cures” for the ailing economy. The first prescription came, of course, in 2010 when the George Papandreou government tried to  “save” the country from the spreading disease of economic fallout. So it was not with little disgust that I read an email from someone close to the body of that government, writing of GP’s choice to introduce “the support mechanisms” (the troika’s austerity package) as a way of “saving Greece” and avoiding Cyprus’ sudden, unprecedented 6.75% — 9.9% government tax on all bank deposits:

The email read:

Τώρα καταλαβαίνουν πολλοί τι γλύτωσε η Ελλάδα το 2010…

Γ. Παπανδρέου, Βουλή, ομιλία για την ένταξη της Ελλάδας στο μηχανισμό στήριξης, 6/5/2010: «Και δεν άκουσα και δεν έχει ακούσει κανένας εναλλακτική λύση -πολύ θα το θέλαμε. Πέστε, εξηγήστε τι θα συμβεί, αν χρεοκοπήσει η χώρα, αν κηρύξει στάση πληρωμών. Τι θα γίνει με τους μισθούς και τις συντάξεις, που όλοι κοπτόμαστε κατά τα άλλα; Τι θα γίνει, κύριοι της Νέας Δημοκρατίας, με ένα κράτος, που δεν μπορεί να δώσει τίποτα; Τι θα γίνει με τις καταθέσεις των κόπων του ελληνικού λαού, σε μια οικονομία που θα καταρρεύσει 
Ο Σαμαράς δεν τον στήριξε – καταψήφισε με περισσή σιγουριά το νομοσχέδιο εκείνο το βράδυ. Ο Τσίπρας τον κατηγόρησε για “επικοινωνιακή και οικονομική τρομοκρατία”. Τα ίδια και η Παπαρήγα. Γενικά, ουδείς είχε αντιληφθεί το διακύβευμα. Ουδείς είχε αντιληφθεί τον άμεσο κίνδυνο που διέτρεχε η Ελλάδα. Αντίθετα, και εκείνο το βράδυ και μέχρι τον Οκτώβριο του 2011 τον κατηγορούσαν ότι τρομοκρατούσε με παραμύθια τον κόσμο για να περάσει σκληρά μέτρα. Αυτό έλεγαν εν χορώ, επί μήνες, όλοι: κόμματα, εφημερίδες, ραδιόφωνα, κανάλια, πρωϊνάδικα, καθηγητάδες, οι πάντες.

Το πόσο “παραμύθιαήταν όλα αυτά, όλα αυτά που γλυτώσαμε από το 2010 μέχρι σήμεραμε βαρύ κόστος, αλλά τα γλυτώσαμε χάρη στον Παπανδρέου και την κυβέρνησή τουφαίνεται τώρα στην περίπτωση της Κύπρου.

Οι εξελίξεις είναι ραγδαίες. Θα επανέλθουμε.

 In summary, we, and it is a national “we” that is being addressed, were “saved” from what just happened to Cyprus in what Jeroen Dijsselbloem, president of the Eurogroup meeting of the 17-nation eurozone’s finance ministers, called a “unique measure” that has sent Cyprus reeling (to say nothing of the geopolitical consequences of this). I was amazed at the utter absence of mea-culpa regarding the economic tragedy – GP’s inertia and inability to deal with tax evasion and slash inflated public sector privileges, to say nothing of outright corruption rampant in the public sector – I forwarded the email to various people. The following responses express some of the outrage.

  • “What a shame! How does he dare?! To say that everyone else has tried to fool the people, while GP was saving the country!  How can we forget Papandreou’s infamous “lefta uparxoun” [“money exists”]. I want to vomit! Okay, Tsipras is an idiot, incapable of articulating a decent, coherent discourse. I’ve never thought the contrary. But I have been in favor of a solution closer to the Irish one. Taking the example of Cyprus to claim that the Greek solution was the best, another silly way to put the blame elsewhere, to excuse his crime. If the Papandreou family believes that history has revealed its ultimate truth, then leave them in their delusion and keep the irony!”
  • “Here is what I thought after I read this email:

btw.. (what level of ignorance is he assuming, whoever wrote the email that          is?)

Once again we are presented with an argument that leaves people, politicians    and institutions highly powerless and not in a position to control their fate. The social actors *again* are the markets and the economy. So this argument is no different than the quoted Samara’s claims in the sense that they both enact the same rhetoric.”

  • “The inclusive plural of the narrative implies a common victimization and at the same time a common responsibility towards what it represents as an unavoidable choice – the paradox of the expression included. The impersonal “the country” necessarily involves both government and people – I would rearticulate the metaphor as follows: the country is a crippled person: there are no miracles to make “it” let’s say, walk, but there is a wheel chair, and we have to choose the most effective one, otherwise the country will atrophy, die of “stillness.” The deceptiveness of the narrative lies in the fact that it avoids specifics around that “wheelchair choice.” I would say it’s also a question of aesthetics: opt for a different type of death!”

The email’s “justifications” of the crippling effects of austerity that GP voted in add insult to injury, further bruising that leadership’s already damaged reputation. But if there’s blind (or willed) ignorance, and arrogance, here – there’s another body forming as a result of our alienation, a collectivity that has grown among those bearing the effects of these measures. I went to the electricity company again, shocked to see that I had another very large bill, after paying installments on the various taxes. The woman (we were now on a first name basis) in charge of the installments told me that my electricity was about to be cut. I was speechless, and then said, “But I’ve been paying the installments. And I thought I was finished with them?” She had opened the computer to see my statements. “You missed the February installment,” she said, “and there were more taxes added.” By now I was blurting, “What is anyone going to do?” It must have sounded like a refrain. She nodded, “That’s what we all say. We’re not going to have money for the supermarket soon.” I looked at her, still trying to think of how I was going to deal with this. “Why doesn’t anyone just dismantle the system!” She nodded again. I couldn’t help thinking if I was having this outburst in the States I might have been arrested. But she smiled, “Why doesn’t it happen?” she repeated in agreement, then suggested that I pay 175 Euros before the end of the day, and fax her the receipt from the ATM. She would make sure my electricity wouldn’t be cut off. I would pay this for the next 3 months. In May there would be a new bill. I was numb. These stories are no longer surprising or exceptional. What is exceptional is that I have a second job, and can still manage to pay.

The Greek writer Christos Chryssopoulos says in an interview with Pierre Jassonge: “For me, the European symbolism of a destroyed Parthenon means that, even if the crisis is eventually overcome and Europe remains “united,” even if we are led to a more “federalist” union as it is often said lately, we already live in a very different EU than the one we had associated with the “European example”. Democracy, social justice, protection against poverty and inequality, equal opportunities for culture and education, human and work rights, social welfare etc., all seem to be under serious threat.”

Historically the Greeks are not a people afraid of sacrifice – from Sophocles’ “Antigone” to the heroisms of World War II, to more contemporary expressions of it, the Greeks have risked for their ideals. It was to rid the city of plague, to right an injustice, not to further destroy an already dying body. I suppose that’s the ideal of sacrifice we want to salvage.

“Το τρίο της συμφοράς” με αγάπη

About akalfopoulou

Author of three poetry collections, a book of essays, Ruin, Essays in Exilic Living, and most recently, A History of Too Much (Red Hen Press 2018).
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1 Response to Sick Bodies

  1. BarbK says:

    Other countries do things differently… and we CAN learn! There ARE choices, dear politicians! See Iceland’s President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson speak on this link: (subtitles also in Greek)

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