The language of Greek politics

Chania Post –In the past few years the Greek crisis has, with predictable regularity, dominated European headlines and there is hardly anyone left, who in the last few years has not heard or talked about the situation in Greece. The crisis brought with it its own vocabulary; so apart from Grexit, a recent addition to the Oxford dictionary, many other words – ones of very specialised usage that were part of financial speak jargon – became part of the everyday popular parlance . After five years of being exposed to explanations about the Greek economy the great public, at least here in Greece, does not bat an eyelid when they hear reports about ‘spreads’, ‘stress tests’, loan sustainability’ , and ‘capital controls’. Terms which have entered the Greek language in their English form, probably as a payback for the generous contribution of the Greek language to English.

But Greek language pulogo-chania-post-web-smallrists need not worry. The Greek language has still got a number of distinctive words that are exclusively Greek and characterise Greek culture. Words like the old familiar filotimo, the unique Greek value that I would personally argue is at risk of extinction not because of the crisis but rather because of the years of affluence and greed that preceded it.

Still, in recent weeks a parallel crisis hit the already exhausted Greeks, that of the Syrian people fleeing war and the refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and the Lebanon partly because of the worsening conditions in these camps and partly encouraged by Mrs Merkel’s announcement that Germany will accommodate 800000 people displaced by war.

Incidentally, and without denying that the large numbers of refugee arrivals have stretched small island communities to braking point, the mere mention of the word refugee is enough to bring the best and the worst in people. So, on the one hand we have the kindness of people like the baker of Kos who donates 100 kilos of bread a day, and the army of volunteers who went to the entry islands to help, while on the other, we have the vast and rather unpleasant volume of blatant hostility, racism, verbal violence and fabrication of immigrant myths designed to scare the public. To be found in both social media and in a real life conversation somewhere near you.

Still, the Greeks, who in their long and troubled history have often been at the receiving end of a refugee crisis themselves, have words like xenophilia and xenophobia in their language to describe the whole range of reactions to the refugee crisis.

And while these words have an equivalent or have been incorporated in other languages, I have written before about the many other, truly unique words in the Greek language, not so much because they cannot be translated in other languages but rather because of the uniquely Greek concepts they represent. Words that vaguely translate as nominal values, assumed incomes, taxable horsepower and many more, all of which have a shared meaning for all Greeks, but make little sense to people from other countries .

But it is now time to add another word to that list, one which came out of political discourse in the pre election campaign. The word being AFTOFORAKIAS (αυτοφωράκιας) as used by the leader of New Democracy, Mr Meimarakis when referring to his opponent, Mr Tsipras, in the phrase “he wants me for AFTOFORAKIAS”, by which, in this context, he meant ‘the fall guy.’

“AFTOFORAKIAS? What does that mean?” wondered great many of the Greek public who had never heard the word before. The Greek press obligingly printed a few pages of explanation the next day. Apparently the word has its origins in the shady world of the night club tax evasion schemes.

Aftoforakis describes a job. It is the person who sits at an office in the establishment at night, with only one responsibility: When the financial crimes squad make a visit and find that an infringement, such as the use fake invoices or some VAT offence – offences that call for an immediate appearance before the court (aftoforo)- the aftoforakis takes the blame and often spends the rest of the night in custody until the courts open. The going rate for the job is 40 to 60 euros a night and 100 euros for spending the night in prison. The owner’s lawyer then gets an adjournment of the case, with a trial date set in 2-3 years time, and when a number of hearings accumulate, the owner changes the fall guy. The practice has been in existence for over a decade now and I am told that conviction usually carries a fine and a criminal record.

The use of the term by a respectable politician impressed a lot of people: The man who by the time you read this will be either the prime minister or the leader of the opposition, is sussed and street wise, they mused. Missing the point that a situation has been revealed where the police, financial authorities and evidently the politicians who use the word for making a pre election point, all know about an apparently widespread practice which allows tax evaders to get away unpunished. And yet, none of them, in all the years they have known about it, made any effort to change the law and close a loophole that allows the guilty to carry on with impunity.

Full marks to the Greek language for originality. But is there any hope for the country?

Yannis Xamonakis

In this month’s Chania Post / Crete Post