10 AUGUST 1985, Page 32

High life

Home sweet home


s anyone unlucky enough to visit the capital of the olive republic of Greece knows, Athens is a veritable concrete desert, devoid of greenery, smog-filled to choking point, overcrowded with people and cars, and noisier than a punk disco on a Saturday night in Times Square. Its walls are plastered with left-wing slogans, its buildings unmatched in ugliness anywhere in Europe, its denizens aggressive and quick to take umbrage, its once quaint working-class neighbourhoods now resem- ble rubbish dumps or scrapped car lots.

The few livable areas surrounding the royal palace — or ex-royal palace I should say — are mostly inhabited by foreign diplomats whose governments pay the rent, foreign-based entrepreneurs, and ministers of the Socialist ruling party. (Last week, an obscure colonel who advised the prime minister died of a heart attack at the most expensive and exclusive resort hotel in Vouliagmeni, 20 miles out of Athens. He occupied a suite which cost more per week than he earned in six months, but no one dared ask any questions.) The nefos — the smog-cloud that hangs over Athens — is probably the only demo- cratic institution the socialists have been unable to subvert. It pollutes everyone, rich and poor, conservative and commun- ist, in power and out. The nefos, however, has been and is being used by the crooks that pass as politicians in the birthplace of demagoguery, to discredit those that oppose them. When it first appeared in 1975 the then Karamanlis government blamed the colonels, and the fact that they had not taken the correct measures to combat it after seven years in the political saddle. In 1981, Papandreou was elected and naturally blamed the nefos on the unbridled capitalism permitted by the Karamanlis regime. Today, after four and a half years in power, the newly re-elected Papandreou still blames the nefos on the colonels and Karamanlis; 46 per cent of the Greeks apparently believe him.

This is what I like most about my fellow countrymen. They consider themselves the smartest people in Europe, and yet swal- low hook, line and sinker outrageous lies fed to them by a man who is to truth what Jeffrey Bernard is to abstinence. Athens has been declared the cultural capital of Europe for 1985, by persons unknown to me. The socialist press has made a big thing out of this, while an opposition paper ran a cartoon of an enormous rubbish dump with a guide saying, 'Yes, yes, this is the Acropolis.' As the refuse collectors are on strike, and the temperatures have reached 43 in the shade, the cartoon is not far from the truth. What makes it worse is that it was so different when I was a boy. The streets were wide, there was green everywhere, and all the houses, rich or poor, were built on classic lines. I remember the smell of jasmin everywhere. Then came progress in the person of Karamanlis.

Karamanlis allowed greedy businessmen to carve up the city and build to their pockets' desire. He insisted all industry be built around Athens in order to be able to control the urban centres that were bound to develop. When those urban centres began listening to the siren voices of George Papandreou, Karamanlis went to Paris for 11 years. He came back and ruled for another seven in 1974. Andreas Papan- dreou has had four years to change things. Since he came to power the pollution and corruption have increased, yet he was re-elected with ease. So much for the perspicacity of the Neo-Hellenes. (To be fair, perhaps the total control of television and radio and the large majority of the newspapers that Papandreou enjoys has something to do with his popularity.) Having been out of power for 50 years, it is natural for the socialists to want to grab a piece of the cake. The trouble is that like so many before them, they're greedy. Watching party personnel enjoy them- selves last weekend in Vouliagmeni was a bit like seeing US marines in a Vietnamese brothel after months out in the bush. The best, of course, was Papadoc himself. He has more frogmen and gun-toting body- guards than Papadopoulos ever dreamed of, and while he swims there are at least 50 frogmen around hm and under him. Perhaps he fears the CIA jellyfish that bit his wife three years ago (and died, the jellyfish, that is).