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Greece: Criticism of Politicians During Theophany Celebrations

This article is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.

In Greece, January 6 is the national holiday of Theophany, traditionally known as Phota (“lights”). Customs revolve around the Great Blessing of the Waters: a cross is thrown into the water and people try to retrieve it in order to receive good luck and blessings. Every year, government and civic officials attend the celebrations, after which they have an opportunity to make official statements on the spiritual importance of the day, along with political and social comments.

However, due to the economical, political and social crisis Greece is going through, this year's celebrations were marked by strong expressions of people's disapproval and criticism of politicians. This came as no surprise, as it happened earlier during the national celebrations of “Ochi” day on October 28, when President Karolos Papoulias was forced to leave after protesters called him a traitor.

Chalkida, Evia

It happened again this time, when President Papoulias appeared at Chalkida, despite the tradition of going to Piraeus, the country's major port. Citizens booed him, calling him a traitor and shouting anti-austerity slogans, as the following video [el] shows:

A small group tried to reach the dignitaries’ podium, but were blocked by the police. The president departed making no official statement.

Chalkida's police arrested six citizens, three men and three women, and a file was submitted accusing them of “insulting the President of the Republic's honor”. The city prosecutor ordered their release.

Netizens commented both on the jeering of Papoulias and the demonstrators’ arrest, with a large majority in favor of the arrested and against the major public figure's behavior and inaction concerning the current crisis:

Makis: ΣΙΓΑ ΤΟ ΠΡΟΣΩΠΟ.ΚΑΛΑ ΤΟΥ ΕΚΑΝΑΝ.
NO IMPORTANT PERSON IS HE. THEY DID WELL.
: Ο Κάρολος Παπούλιας πρέπει να ‘χει κάνει ασφαλιστικά μέτρα εναντίον όλων των πολιτών. Αν παραβιάσεις την ακτίνα 50μ. συλλαμβάνεσαι.
Karolos Papoulias must probably have requested an injunction against all citizens. If you approach within a 50m radius, you are under arrest.

Sonia Andrianou: Από πότε διώκεται ρε παιδιά η ελευθερία του λόγου και της έκφρασης; Γιατί το άρθρο δε λέει να τον αποδοκίμασαν με τπτ αντικείμενα ή να τον πείραξαν σωματικά! Θα τρελλαθούμε εντελώς…

Since when is freedom of speech and expression under prosecution? Because the article doesn't mention that they [the arrested citizens] booed him by throwing objects or physically assaulting him! We will totally lose our mind…

A different view was held by a small minority:

miri: Μα τι έφταιξε ο Πρόεδρος της Δημοκρατίας;
But what's the President of the Republic's fault?
user Under: Οχι οτι εχω καμια διαθεση να υπερασπιστω τον Παπουλια τον οποιο τον θεωρουσα προδοτη πολυ πριν το ξεσπασμα της κρισης αλλα απο την αλλη παραγινεται γραφικο να δινεται εμφαση σε καποια περιστατικα αποδοκιμασιων. Μαζευονται 5 γραφικοι “αγανακτισμενοι” και αποδοκιμαζουν και αυτο γινεται θεμα.[...] Λιγη σοβαροτητα δεν βλαπτει.
I'm not in the mood to defend Papoulias, whom I considered to be a traitor long before the crisis outburst, but on the other hand, it gets too “picturesque”, to emphasize some jeering incidents. Five bizarre “indignados” gather and protest and that becomes a major issue. [...] A bit of seriousness is not harmful to anyone.

Kitsos stresses that nobody can impose respect on people:

Kitsos (07/01, 10:36): Τον σεβασμό τον εμπνέεις ! Άμα χάσεις τον σεβασμό του κόσμου δεν τον επιβάλεις ούτε με χίλιους στρατούς. Κάτι ήξεραν οι παλιοί ηγέτες που έλεγαν “ισχύς μου η αγάπη του λαού μου”.
Respect is inspired! If you lose people's respect, you cannot impose it, even with an army of a thousand. Old leaders knew this, these were the ones that said, “My strength is my people's love.”

Dimitris Vlachos wonders why the news was reported as if only a small percentage of people openly expressed their disrespect for the President:

Dimitris Vlachos: Apo merida kosmou? Oloi ton giouxaran!
“From a small group of people?” Everybody booed at him!

The previous day, commenting on an article that announced Papoulias’ appearance in Chalkida instead of Piraeus, Dimitris N. had “predicted”:

Dimitris N. (05/01, 15:41): Καλά έχει να ακούσει τα σχολιανά του, αν και έχω την αίσθηση ότι δεν θα πάει ούτε εκεί αλλά θα κάτσει στο προεδρικό μέγαρο….όπου και να πάει ο λαός θα καταστρέψει την παράτα…

Oh well, he will be told off; however, I've got this feeling that he won't go even there [Chalkida], instead he will remain inside the presidential palace… Wherever he goes, people will spoil the show…

Secondly, citizens also criticized the fact that the Prime Minister Loukas Papadimos of the interim coalition government didn't have the time to attend any celebrations, apparently due to his workload. A post on apospasma.gr said:

[...]δεν τόλμησε να πάει στην τελετή αγιασμού των υδάτων στον Πειραιά επειδή θα άκουγε τα εξ΄αμάξης.

[...] he didn't dare go to the Blessing of the Waters in Piraeus, because he would be shot down.

Athens, Attica

Earlier, in Athens, Minister of Education Anna Diamantopoulou was jeered during celebrations at Dexameni in Kolonaki. In this video [el], people are heard to shout “Good digestion!” (usually used after the “Bon appetit” expression in Greek) and “Bring offshore companies’ money back”:

The general disapproval of politicians, especially representatives of the two major political parties (PASOK and ND), caused once again a long discourse on personal responsibility and the support of current politicians:

Nikos Prassas: Καλά είναι τα μασκαριλίκια, οι αποδοκιμασίες και οι αντιπολιτευτικές διαμαρτυρίες, το μόνο εύκολο! Κάποτε όμως καταντούν και κουραστικές, όταν δεν υπάρχουν προτεινόμενες λύσεις!

Giorgos Kaminis (mayor of Athens) and Anna Diamantopoulou (Minister of Education, Lifelong Learning and Religious Affairs) at Blessing of Waters in Dexameni, Kolonaki. (Flickr user:annadiamantopoulou, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Masquerades, fanfares, protests and oppositional parades are very nice, it's the easiest thing! Someday, they degenerate, however, when there are no solutions to suggest!

Maria Kapurani: ολοι εσείς που βρίζετε τους πολιτικους(και καλα κανετε) την Ευρώπη και ολα, αναρωτηθειτε μια φορά, 30 χρονια στη μεταπολίτευση τι έκανα ”ΕΓΩ” για την πατρίδα μου για να μην φτάσει εδω? Νομίζω οτι φωνάζετε επειδή ξεβολευτήκατε. Μια αγανακτισμένη… με ολους

All of you that curse the politicians (you are doing the right thing), Europe and all that, let's wonder once: during the 30 years of the Metapolitefsi [period in Greek history after the fall of the military Junta in 1974], what did “I” do for my country in order not to reach this point today? I think you are furious because you have lost all your comforts. An indignado…along with everyone else
Same topic, different trend

Meanwhile, however, the news trending on social media was that Apostolos Gkletsos, a popular actor and now Mayor of Stylida town, managed eventually to get into the water and compete to catch the holy cross – noteworthy as he suffers from heart disease. The “importance” given to this fact was humorously commented on on Twitter:

@iokastita: Ο γκλέτσος ετοιμάζεται να βουτήξει στη Στυλίδα για να πιάσει το σταυρό.Το καλύτερο νέο μετά τη μεταπολίτευση.

In Stylida, Gkletsos is getting prepared to dive to catch the cross. Best news since the Metapolitefsi period.

@Conn_x: Ο Γκλέτσος σήμερα δεν θα βουτήξει. Θα περπατήσει πάνω στο νερό.

Today, Gkletsos is not going to dive. He will be walking on water.

The celebration of Theophany also brought out some cynicism and cold facts, for example from Teacherdude and Yns_x:

@teacherdude: ή Εορτή των Φώτων ακυρώθηκε φέτος – δεν πληρώσουμε το χαρτάτσι της ΔΕΗ
The Celebration of Phota (lights) was canceled this year – we are not going to pay the extra taxes for DEI (Public Power Corporation of Greece).
@yns_x: Στον Έβρο γιορτάζουν κάθε μέρα τα Θεοφάνεια -εκατοντάδες μετανάστες βουτούν στα νερά του προσπαθώντας να αγγίξουν το (όποιο) θαύμα.
In the Evros river [the natural border between Greece and Turkey], Theophany is celebrated every day – hundreds of immigrants dive into its waters to touch a miracle, if any.

This article is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.

Thumbnail and featured image show Christian holiday of Epiphany, Thessaloniki. Image by Konstantinos Tsakalidis, copyright Demotix (06/01/2011).

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