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ERT – In memoriam

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ERT, the Greek national broadcaster was shut down by the Greek government on June 11th, 2013 without any negotiations and with the presence and help of riot police. This article is not about the political agenda of this decision or the brutality of its implementation, it is not about the level of democracy (as it comes in levels nowadays) or that of corruption. Enough is being written about all that. This is about ERT and what it is for me.

ERT was not just another broadcaster; it was and is a symbol. It formed identities, it formed me. Like most Greeks that were children at the 1980s, I grew up with carefully selected children’s programmes that ERT provided, programmes such as FROUTOPIA, a crime story with humour and symbolism tailored for children, written by famous children’s author Eugene Trivizas as a comic and adapted for the TV in the form of beautifully crafted puppets that triggered the imagination. And this is just one example.

It is however as adolescents that we make our real choices that will lead to what adults we become. The 1990s in Greece brought many private TV channels, together with all the glamour and the kitsch these could offer. I remember zapping through rubbish to land on the great names of world cinema, late nights on ET3, one of the 3 TV channels of ERT. That was the time before internet entered our homes. Film descriptions would be found in the weekly TV programme magazine, most of the times badly written blurbs. Yet for ET3 films, I didn’t need a description: there was always a magical surprise there for me, a window into different countries, different worlds. I bumped into films like “La cité des enfants perdus” by chance. Another sleepless night in my adolescent gloom I found on ET3 “Mina Tannenbaum” and this film changed me. And then I started recording the films on videocassettes and became a collector of treasures fished out of the lake in the oasis that ERT offered: Rohmer, Bergman, Dreyer, Pasolini, Fassbinder and so many more. And often there would be a very informative introduction to the film, an entirely non-pretentious cultural analysis that showed me how I wanted my conversations to be. I was wet clay and ERT moulded me into what I am.

But it was not only the film choices that distinguished ERT from any other broadcaster. ET3 would show an opera every week, picked from the best interpretations of the world. I was a child and adolescent that responded to the stimuli around me. ERT offered the best stimuli I could wish for. I am thankful to ERT for giving me a choice, for offering the opportunity of a different perspective. I am thankful I grew up in a cultural environment that my parents allowed me to choose and never forced upon me. When I was 4 years old, walking down the street with my mom, I heard music coming out of the conservatory of our neighbourhood and stretched on my toes to see what is behind that window. My mother asked me if I wanted to see what is in that house and this is how I started learning the piano. ERT showed me all these beautiful stories put into music and with the salary of my first job I took classical singing lessons. This is what ERT did to people.

And not to forget the ‘Third Programme’, one of ERT’s many radio stations: it was the only radio station in Greece broadcasting classical music and cultural programmes that educated through entertainment, an oasis of the radiosphere. I have lived in 3 more countries other than Greece and their classical music radio stations have always been keeping me company. However none of them has ever touched my soul as the ‘Third Programme’ did and not because of linguistic burdens. There was a warmth in this radio station, the short intros before each piece were not just informative, at times they would become a beautiful metaphor, a personal interpretation that would lift you one step or one cloud higher. ‘The second part of a sonata often resembles middle age, composed, without extremes, yet with an inner tension, as if reflecting on one’s life so far’ said my friend Alina, radio journalist at the ‘Third Programme’ and co-soprano at the National Conservatory Choir, one evening in the early 2000s or this is how I remember it. And this changed the way I listen to second parts of sonatas ever since and also the way I think about middle age.

This is who I am. And ERT is and will always be part of me.


The end of the ‘human rights culture’

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This is what David Cameron thinks should come next, including rubber bullets, social media restrictions and whatever else. The London riots was just the beginning. It won’t stop there.

Unfortunately we have all been infiltrated by the media industry to perceive and interpret events and people in a manicheistic sort of way. And now all this disinformation industry are in heaven, dividing us all into the good and the bad. You have to know where you stand. With the police or with the looters. Really?

Melodramatic interviews with people whose houses were burnt during the riots, video footage of angry hooded looters, breaking and stealing, the ‘other’ crowd that helped clean up, a confusion of messages. Who is to blame? The police who shot dead a young black man, the gang culture, crowd psychology, the government cuts, the closing down of libraries and youth centres? People filmed looting say ‘we are taking our taxes back’. While other British taxpayers feel they have to pay for all this damage. But who caused the original damage? And is it just such an easy one-way explanation?

Let’s play the black and white game they want us to. I am a PhD student and a MA graduate of one of the best universities in the world, speak 8 languages or 10 if you count the dead ones, have 10 years work experience in different fields and still cannot find a paid (important clarification) job in London within my expertise. What chances does a young black man from a council house without higher education have? Try to put yourself in his shoes. I know it’s difficult, we are perfectly trained to ignore, but give it a try. You could never study because you can’t pay the fees, you face social and racial discrimination when it comes to jobs, so where would you turn to? You get regular police checks because of the way you look and the place you live. Your family is poor and cannot support you. You are angry and afraid and hopeless. There is no security, nothing you have that you can lose. So you find yourself within a crowd that throws stones at window glasses. And here is the question: would you throw that stone? Would you let that anger and fear come out this way?

Now to the other side. Put yourself in the policeman’s shoes. Your duty is to protect citizens, human lives and property. To restore order into chaos. Most of the times you do paper work, but when worse comes to worst, you might find yourself in the midst of an enraging crowd. You don’t like these confrontations, but it’s part of your job and your orders are to restore order. So you catch this youngster looting from Carphone Warehouse and you have to arrest him. That’s the other question now: would you hit him with your baton? You have to arrest him and he resists, so you have to do something.

Would you throw the stone or would you use the baton? That is the question we are all expected to answer. Tell me with whom you identify most and I’ll tell you who you are, like a TV magazine quiz. Because if we invest our time answering this sort of questions, then we miss the point and Mr Cameron gets the ground he wants to rip us off our ‘human rights culture’. As far as I know there’s scarcely any place in the U.K. without video surveillance cameras; photos of youngsters stealing crisps from supermarkets are immediately first page news. When people -including 15-year-old kids- demonstrate peacefully against the rise of university fees, they find themselves kettled in the cold for 10 hours, plain torture. How worse can it possibly get? I wonder if the U.K. will be able to fulfil E.U. human rights standards in the near future.

But the real question is do we want to understand and change things or do we want to blame and condemn and get back to our lives? And how do you condemn something you do not understand? There are many good attempts to explain the context of the London riots, like the articles of Nina Power, Tariq Ali, David Harvey and many others, as well as this article published in the Guardian days before the riots started. Sometimes the context is even more important than the events themselves. And our context is that of a society that tolerates to be looted by bank bailouts, but is deaf to the angst and fear of the poor and the weak.

Yes, Mr Cameron, there are sick parts in our society, nice metaphor, well done. But when someone is sick, you don’t let them die, right? Or is it this what you want to do with the NHS? When someone is sick, you diagnose him, find the cause of the sickness and cure it. The sickness is not the problem, it is only the manifestation of the causes. And big part of the causes you’ll find if you take a good long look in the mirror. Your ‘Big Society’ is a ‘Sick Society’.

Written by Georgia

August 16, 2011 at 18:04