Sunday, January 08, 2006

CULTURAL CAPITAL OF EUROPE

This article is by CHRISTINE PIROVOLAKIS who writes for the German Press Agency (dpa) in Athens. Overlooking the city of Patras in western Greece lies a problem that organisers of the 2006 Cultural Capital of Europe would give anything to forget. Right next to the city live hundreds of impoverished Roma people who say they are about to be thrown off the land they call home, to make room for the city's festivities. "They want us far away from the Cultural Capital of Europe,'' said Vassili Mihalokopoulou, a 45-year-old mother of five who now lives in a plastic covered shack on the site of a former garbage dump just two kilometres from Patras. "They say we are dirty and will not give us work,'' she said. "But you would be dirty too if your children were forced to live without any electricity, toilets or running water,'' she said pointing to the only tap supplying water to more than 200 people in this shantytown which they share with rats, cockroaches and stray dogs. The majority of the 250,000 Roma, or gypsies, living in Greece face a high level of racism, illiteracy, unemployment and poverty. In Patras, the Roma community has repeatedly experienced forced evictions in the areas of Riganokampos, Akti Dimeon and Makrigianni. According to Amnesty International, nearly 90% of the Roma have hepatitis and suffer from other illnesses as a result of unsanitary living conditions. "Greece has done little to improve the situation. On the contrary, the municipal authorities in Patras and elsewhere around Greece are most eager to get the Roma out of their territory, and in some places like here take to extreme measures,'' said Giannis Gianakakis from Amnesty. "They move in with bulldozers, telling the Greek Roma families to leave their houses, and then flatten them. Other Roma settlements like the one in Makriyianni have also been set on fire.'' Organisers of the Cultural Capital of Europe are urgently renovating museums and concert halls for their 30-million-euro event. According to human rights advocates they are also trying to get rid of the Roma as part of their effort to polish up the city. Patras' deputy mayor Giorgos Zafiropoulos said the city planned to build an open-air amphitheatre, which would be used to host concerts and plays, next to the Roma settlement. "We don't believe they will want the gypsies living anywhere near the theatre,'' said Mr Gianakakis. The Roma fear that if organisers go ahead with their plans they will be left with nowhere to go. "We are afraid that they will come here and demolish our houses to make room for the theatre _ they want to get rid of us but then were will we go?,'' said Nikolaos Giorgopoulos. Government officials insist they are committed to improving the fate of the gypsies but so far promises to spend more than 300 million euros to help them with housing and education have not been met. "The municipality has done everything to try to solve the problem but it is still waiting for the government to provide funding,'' said Mr Zafiropoulos. Human rights advocates say the plight of gypsies is made worse by a Greek attitude of indifference. "This is not an area where many people from Patras come to visit. Many Greeks will tell you that the Roma have a right to a decent place to live, but just not next to 'me','' says Mr Gianakakis. Most Greek gypsies deal in scrap metal, sell fruit and vegetables or beg to make ends meet, while some also resort to drug dealing. Cultural Capital organisers say the problem with the gypsies is one which has remained unsolved for years."The problem of the Roma is a problem of Patras,'' said Christos Roilos, an official from the Ministry of Culture and managing director of the Cultural Capital of Patras. The "European Capitals of Culture'' scheme was first launched in 1985 on the initiative of renowned film actress Melina Mercouri, then Greek culture minister.

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At 1/09/2006 10:02:00 AM, Anonymous J.Doe said...

In Italy there is a big problem of the gypsies pickpocketing, and robbing whatever is not nailed down. Even the children do this. They have no respect for the law or law abiding citizens either.
Does the same problem exist in Greece?

 
At 1/09/2006 11:00:00 AM, Blogger adfjkaj said...

I haven't heard of them pick pocketing here in Athens but they sure do get in your face to sell their tablecloths.

Plus they beg at traffic lights, outside of churches, bakeries etc.

My wife ignored one the other day and this old gypsy lady called her a "KaraKaxa" which is a very nasty bird.

Best just to ignore em and they don't bother you most times. But, if you engage them, they can become aggressive.

The biggest mistake I made years ago was donating some old clothes, etc with a friend of mine. We drove into their encampment near Ag. Varvara and initially they were very happy we had stuff to give them for free. But, as the stuff we were handing to them ran out, the ones who didn't get anything were a bit verbally abusive.

We got out of there quickly and I don't think I'll ever do that again. Now, I just donate all my old stuff to the Pakistani/Bangladeshi guys I see washing windows on the street corners. They are much more polite and non-aggressive.

Just my two "scruffy" cents.

 

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