Category Archives: Default

Whither Greece?

Our arrival in Athens coincided with the Parliament’s approval (read: acquiescence) to the latest round of austerity measures to comply with budget targets set by the “Troika” of official lenders (the EU Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF) that has been floating the public sector in Greece for several years now. In exchange for €11bn in new loans that will be used entirely for meeting upcoming debt-service payments and for clearing existing arrears, Greece has agreed to measures that increases taxes on food, gas, alcohol, cell phones, Internet service, TV service, luxury goods, and the VAT which is now at 24%. The latest austerity program also lays the groundwork for the sale of publicly owned transport, utilities, port systems, 71,500 pieces of ‘prime public property,’ and further public assistance of private Greek banks that are holding non-performing business loans. For good measure, the parliament also implemented a trigger clause that will automatically cut additional public spending should the country fail to meet any of the steep austerity targets imposed in the wake of the default standoff with Europe last summer.

This latest episode is, of course, just the latest in a daunting list of austerity measures that Greece has been forced to implement to honor their debt payments (well, most of the time) and to keep their line of credit open. Sadly, none of the loans accumulated throughout the crisis have been used for productive investment or a ‘stimulus package’ of any sort. Further, with income taxes now at 48% and sales taxes set at 23%, shortfalls in aggregate demand will not be originating from consumers in any time soon. Given that the economy that has shrunk by 25% since the crisis began, there simply isn’t enough economic activity to generate tax revenues to that keep the public sector afloat. As a result, all efforts to meet debt obligations have come in the form of more loans and massive cuts. Over the past 6 years, public employees have endured salary freezes, massive layoffs, the elimination of core employee benefits, significant pension and retirement reforms, reduced minimum wages from €750 ($850) per month to €585 ($660), the elimination of a number of holidays, and much more.

As I learned from our guide Dmitri, the depression has led to a decline in the material conditions of Athenians in a number of ways. For example, renters that qualify cannot be forced to pay rent on their apartments which has led to low upkeep and scores of housing complexes falling into disrepair. Other examples that are telling include cuts at the University of Athens that extend all the way to the supply of toilette paper, and the well-publicized undersupply of medical provisions at hospitals that have led to inadequate care. With unemployment at 26%, youth unemployment at 51%, immeasurable levels of underemployed, the steep and steady brain drain, and jaw-dropping levels of capital flight (with estimates as high as a third of annual GDP leaving the country in the year after Syriza was elected), one gets the sinking feeling that Greece might still be at the very beginning of their decline. To paint an even grimmer picture, suicides have increased by almost 40% since 2012, some of which committed by pensioners in front of the parliament building in the ultimate act of protest.

To be sure, there is plenty of blame to be shared by scores of actors in the lead-up to the crisis including lax public spending (though pre-crisis debt to GPD ratios looked sustainable and were reflected as such in credit ratings), fraudulent public bookkeeping, and dismaying levels tax evasion from the Greek populace. Private creditors, however, have played a massive role in deepening and extending the crisis by passing the risk of Greek default to regional taxpayers in the 2012 restructuring process.

Perhaps the worst part for Greece, however, is that their Eurozone membership completely eliminates the use of the only economic instruments that have a decent record in turning around past sovereign debt crises; namely currency devaluation (which could increase foreign demand of Greek exports) and inflation (which decreases the cost of paying back loans). By not having control over their own currency, Greece’s hands are completely tied, and their only real option is to continue to beg for loans to pay off existing loans in exchange for more austerity measures.

Given that an exit from the Eurozone is off the table for the time being, the only other hope is for Greece to somehow experience a sustained period of economic growth, but I have no idea if and how this is ever going to happen any time in coming years without the possibility of a large public stimulus, continued increases on taxes, and no ability to control its currency. My best guess is that the Troika will, at some point in the next few years be forced to write-off a significant amount of debt, but not before a number of harrowing moments that will once again threaten the European (and global) financial system.

In the meantime, we can expect continued social and economic unrest manifested in a number of ways similar to the transit strikes that coincided with our arrival, or the public demonstration that Dan and I stumbled upon while walking off our jet lag.


What is to be done? I’m not sure, but perhaps suggestions like the one posted on the bus stop outside the parliament building are as good a place to start as any.

move away from capitalism

Philip Mellizo

Home and Remains

I did not know what to expect from the cultural journey we were about to take when we landed at Athens International Airport, Eleftherios Venizelos. Unlike others in the group, I grew up in the region. Hence, it felt like I was coming home to a home that was not my home. My story is a direct outcome of globalization—the economic, cultural, political, and technological webbing of the world and the people who move freely within and outside of national and regional borders. This new group of people are often referred to as cosmopolitans; in the Greek, they are κοσμοπολίτης (kosmopolitês), formed from κόσμος (kosmos), which is “world”, and πολίτης (politês), which is “citizen” or “[one] of a city.” A diasporic cosmopolitan, my journey of exploring Greece and the Balkans began with mixed feelings about identity, belonging, nationality, memory, and border crossing. As I passed the security at the airport, I arrived at a place whose history, culture, food, landscape, smells, and people reminded me of home.



Performing ruins and cultural memory occupied most of our discussion prior to our Hales trip. Even though my research heavily deals with cultural memory and the topic is at the core of the Intercultural Communication course I teach every other year, I rarely use my ethnography and performance studies lenses to understand how cultural memory is performed in locations that are clearly connected to my cultural background.


As the familiar aromas of jasmine and oranges took me to a journey of remembrance, the streets of Athens, Dubrovnik, Sarajevo, and Mostar guided me in a cultural journey to the past and the complicated presents of these cultures, where civilizations, religions, empires, nation-states, regional groupings, European Union (EU), and globalization processes left their marks. As the streets, monuments, landmarks, and ancient sites of these locations revealed pieces of history and narrated aspects of complicated national and regional stories, the information presented in tourist spots framed these stories in a particular way. Hence, ruins and cultural memory are framed to fit into the national story the way a particular group prefers its story to be told. For example, the Ottoman Empire, despite more than 400 years of historical connection, was absent in Greece, while the presence of the Ottomans in Bosnia and Herzegovina was visible and was part of the contemporary cultural fabric.


As I maneuvered among these cultural locations, ancient and contemporary sites, and ruins (particularly in Sarajevo), I focused on how stories (local and national) are told, how the past is framed, how ruins are re-appropriated, and how their cultural memories are overlapped, intersected, clashed, and recreated with my own. It is not accidental that I felt at home, even though I was far away.

Ahmet Atay

Religious Remains

Much of our work on this Hales’ trip has centered on examining the ruins of wars and civilizations in order to understand how such remains help to create collective memories. These sites, with a great deal of help from their human interpreters, perform the past so that modern people develop identities informed by that past. For me, as a scholar of religion, some of the most interesting and important of these sites were the temples, churches, and mosques that were around us all the time. Religious sites are the ultimate performing remains, as they link together stories about the past and its people with present populations who, in turn, develop personal and social identities through the work of religious buildings and people.

Almost every ancient site we’ve seen in Greece has included a temple to one of the gods. Zeus, Apollo, Athena, Artemis, Hephestus, Hecate, and many more all had their proper places of worship in the Ancient Greek landscape. Indeed, in many of these cases, the gods were intimately tied to the immediate landscape in a manner so as to suggest that they were deities whose stories helped to define the life of a specific place and to help the inhabitants develop meaningful identities linked to those places.

The most apt example here is the famous Athenian landmark, the Parthenon. Dedicated to Athena, the goddess of wisdom, the pediments of the temple tell the story of the people of the city choosing Athena as their patron. But look closely at the picture. Notice the crane in the background, evidence of the ongoing restoration efforts. Look closely at the bottom of the photo and you will see the floodlights used to light up the building at night, marking it as the primary feature of the landscape in the city. These remains have been resacralized to now serve as a connection for the people of Greece, and indeed of the world, to link themselves to an idealized and glorified golden era of human history.

ParthBut today the vast majority of Greeks are Orthodox Christians. The ancient gods did not survive the coming of Paul and his Christian message, at least not in any regular, lived religious way. The Christians too found ways inscribe themselves on the landscape and today in Corinth memorials linked with Paul’s mission to that city are as prominent as many of the remains from the Greek gods. Orthodox churches abound, and many ancient remains bring Paul and the Christian message onto the stage. The Bema, in the Corinth marketplace (shown below) is supposed to be the place where Paul debated Roman officials and got them to accept the logic of Christianity. We saw at least two groups of Christian pilgrims while were at Corinth, visiting significant sites recounted in the New Testament. As I took the picture below, I could hear one group singing Amazing Grace, reminding me of the role that physical remains, even if they are nearly unrecognizable today, can play in pushing the emotions of religious belief to the surface of peoples’ experiences.

Picture2These ties to the Christian past now appear in the liturgy of the Church. The Greek Orthodox tradition uses icons as part of its worship. These stylized, elaborately decorated paintings of Jesus, Mary, and the Saints both instruct and inspire worshippers by illustrating the past and its stories for each parishioner. In central Athens we came across a church being renovated (see below), reminding us of the need to constantly recreate and refurbish the past in order to maintain and recreate its power for modern people. To continue to serve as a place of worship for modern Athenians, the Church must be kept in good repair. This picture points to one of the most important ways that phyical structures tell stories and reflect power. The sites of the ancient Greek gods are now “archeological,” a past to be studied, interpreted, and admired as evidence of the highest achievements of ancient people, but they are no longer in use as religious sites, as the Orthodox Churches clearly are.


As our trip moved into the Balkans, we became aware of the central place of Islam in that area of the world. Over fifty percent of Bosnia and Herzegovina is Muslim, and mosques were a common site during our three days there. Any religious building marks a land as belonging to specific people, and so we should not be surprised to see religious buildings targeted during war time. Many of the mosques were clearly new buildings, reflecting a land and a people who are still recovering from a vicious civil war whose combatants understood only too well what the effect of destroying religious sites would have on the people of the area.

One of the highlights of our trip came when we visited the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque is Sarajevo. Built in the 16th century, it is the central mosque of Sarajevo and a popular tourist site. The Mosque was targeted several times during the Balkan Civil War, and we could easily see spots on the exterior of the building where artillerary shell damage had been repaired. Our tour guide there was a local imam (prayer leader), a friendly, soft-spoken man who explained how the architectural and artistic elements of the Mosque reflected the teachings and values of the local Muslim community. Many of us were deeply moved by his candor, out reach, and voice when he sang some verses from the Quran in Arabic.


All the religious sites we saw spoke to us of the past. Some told stories, mediated through the skill of modern tour guides, of an ancient world where the exploits of gods marked the landscape as a point of connection between the divine realm and the human world. Some told stories about the triumph of new traditions. Some bore witness to the destruction of war and the striving to rebuild that demonstrates the power of the tradition in peoples’ lives. All of these places performed in various ways, making it evident to us how understanding both the past and the present must include understanding the physical marks that people leave.





Reflecting on the Elgin Marbles

I came to Greece because nineteenth century British culture was so strongly influenced by Greek culture that I wanted to see the other side of the story–to learn about Greek perspectives on Anglo-Hellenic relations, both then and now. 

From the Age of Enlightenment on, the British saw themselves as the natural heirs of Greek civilization, an attitude that sometimes seems to continue even today, as witness a 2011 exhibit of British art at King’s College London titled “‘A brighter Hellas’: rediscovering Greece in the 19th century,” or the British Museum’s controversial refusal to restore the Parthenon statues to their homeland.


On the other hand, some British–especially those who were themselves marginalized in one way or another–critiqued their countrymen’s casual looting of Greek remains. Here’s Byron, writing in 1815 about the Acropolis:    

 Look on this spot—a nation’s sepulchre!
Abode of gods, whose shrines no longer burn.
E’en gods must yield—religions take their turn:
‘Twas Jove’s—’tis Mahomet’s; and other creeds
Will rise with other years, till man shall learn
Vainly his incense soars, his victim bleeds;
Poor child of Doubt and Death, whose hope is built on reeds.

(from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto III, 1812-1818)

Byron’s explicit critique of the Ottoman Empire carries an implicit warning to the British–as well as uncanny shadows of the religious and nationalist conflicts whose ravages we just witnessed in the Balkans. And later in the poem, Byron condemns Lord Elgin (who in the first decade of the nineteenth century carted off much of the statuary from the Acropolis and shipped it back to Britain ) as a plunderer: 

Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed
By British hands . . .

“Elgin’s Marbles” have been a point of contention between Britain and Greece ever since.


I’ve been fascinated to see how often the British pop into the lectures given by our Greek guides.  On our first day in Athens, we were shown the house where Byron lived.  At the Beehive Tomb in Mycenae, we learned that the columns that originally decorated the tomb are now in the British Museum, because (as our guide Roula put it) “Lord Elgin also . . . ahem, paid his respects in Mycenae.” In Olympia, as Deb mentioned in an earlier post, we learned that the Germans have restored the relics they expropriated from Greece–but the Brits have not followed suit. 

On the Acropolis in Athens, Lord Elgin holds the dubious distinction of being the foreigner mentioned most often in official representations of the site’s history. By the Erechtheion, for example, a Ministry of Culture placard informs visitors that “In the first years of the 19th century Lord Elgin of Britain carried off the third caryatid from the west . . .  and the column of the northeast corner of the building. Today they have been replaced by copies.” 


And when touring the astonishing new Acropolis museum, we heard even more about Lord Elgin. The museum draws visitors’ attention to his violent expropriation of Greek heritage by exhibiting “ocular proof” of his destructive methods. High on a wall hang replicas of the Parthenon’s freize, with a placard informing visitors that many of the originals were taken from Greece by Elgin and are still displayed by the British Museum. Directly below the frieze sits a rough block of stone.


img_6802.jpgRoula explained its purpose: as part of the original wall that supported the statuary, this stone still bears the marks  of successive generations of depredation: first by the Turks and then of the British. The Ministry of Culture wants museum visitors to be able to see the physical scars left by  the crowbars that brutally prised the statues off of the Parthenon, and a short animated video on a screen just below the frieze shows a crowbar in action, separating frieze from stone.

This mute stone block bears silent witness to centuries of Anglo-Hellenic relations–but only because the museum’s curators deliberately staged a display that speaks to present day political and cultural relations as much as it does to the past. 

As for the British, if you watch the British Museum’s official advert on the Elgin Marbles–which are now, by common consent, renamed the Parthenon Marbles–you might well think that Britain still considers itself the true inheritor of “the grandeur that was Greece and the glory that was Rome.” 

But as always, more nuanced perspectives also exist. I’ll let John Keats have the last word on the British confrontation with Ancient Greece:

Such dim-conceived glories of the brain
Bring round the heart an undescribable feud;
So do these wonders a most dizzy pain,
That mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude
Wasting of old Time — with a billowy main —
A sun — a shadow of a magnitude.

(On Seeing The Elgin Marbles, March 1817)

Benjamin Robert Haydon, “Head of the horse of Selene, from the east pediment of the Parthenon” (Black chalk, heightened with white, on grey paper; British Museum, London).



2016 Hales Group

Drawing upon the theatre as a metaphor, this Hales group launches its inquiry through Rebecca Schneider’s Performing Remains, which “questions the importance of representations through history and today, while boldly reassessing the ritual value of failure to recapture the past and recreate the ‘original.’” Schneider’s work asks us to investigate social and cultural re-membering, how memory is (re)scripted through archives, the housing/selling of remains, the staging of remains, and, as a result, the power of remains based on how we invest in them and verify their validity.