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Fall dances and twirls its way into Athens August 31, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Greece, Ballet Dance Opera.
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Ballet, flamenco, tango and more in the capital during September; ‘Apollo Delios’ with the Filarmonica della Scala cancelled

The great classical dancer Julio Bocca will present ‘Bocca Tango,’ a production with which he has been touring the world, at the Badminton Theater October 4 to 8. Bocca and his dance ensemble will join forces with the Octango orchestra.

With pointes and tutus, castanets and long Spanish skirts, with classic melodies ringing out under the moonlight and explosive zapateados, pirouettes and jetes, and steamy Argentinean ballads, September offers an enticing menu of dance this year.

The fall begins with a bang: From September 5-8 at the Lycabettus Theater in Athens and then on September 10 and 11 at Thessaloniki’s Dasos Theater, the Kirov Mariinsky ballet will present a double-bill panorama of classical and romantic ballet from the 19th century to the present day.

«Nuevo Tango,» a new production, directed and choreographed by Anna Maria Stekelman for Tangokinesis, that has been on tour around Europe, will come to lend a bit of Latin flair to the month as it stops in Athens on September 17 and 18 at the Lycabettus Theater before traveling north to Thessaloniki’s Dasos Theater on September 20. On September 26-28, the Badminton Theater in Goudi will, in turn, host the Andalusia Flamenco Ballet’s production «Viaje al Sur» (Journey to the South), starring Cristina Hoyos and El Junco.

Also in the last 10 days of September, the Pallas Theater in central Athens will host a dance gala with soloists of the Bolshoi Ballet, while from October 4-8, Julio Bocca, one of the greatest classical dancers of our times, will be on stage at the Badminton Theater with «Bocca Tango,» a production he has been presenting for his world farewell tour. Ballet Argentino, Bocca’s dance ensemble, and Cecilia Figaredo, a true diva of dance, will join forces with Octango orchestra in a wonderful spectacle that married Bocca’s greatest loves: ballet and the tango.

On a different note, the Earth Dance festival that begins on September 14 at the Akto Iliou Beach in Kalamaki will feature dancers and musical ensembles from Greece and other parts of the world.

Cancellation > «Apollo Delios,» the music and ballet production organized by the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation in collaboration with the Attiki Cultural Society and scheduled to take place at the Herod Atticus Theater on September 3, has been cancelled out of respect for the victims of the fires. The performance would have seen Milan’s Filarmonica della Scala orchestra perform under the baton of Daniele Gatti and joined by Teatro alla Scalla ballet soloists including distinguished dancer Roberto Bolle. Those wishing to get a refund should contact the Hellenic Society of Disabled Children, ELEPAP, tel 210 7254726, which was the recipient of the proceeds.

Kirov Mariinsky Ballet > A world-renowned ballet company, the Kirov Mariinsky Ballet, was initially known as the Imperial Mariinsky Ballet until the early 20th century, when its name was changed to Kirov following the assassination of Sergei Kirov. It switched back to its old name after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

The St Petersburg-based company holds a very special position in international ballet history and has worked with some of the greatest dancers, including Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Natalia Makarova, Galina Ulanova and many others. Russia’s oldest ballet company was founded in 1783 in St Petersburg. The current artistic director, maestro Valery Gergiev, will visit Greece along with a 20-member corps de ballet and a number of principal dancers. The first part of the program will feature the “Chopiniana,” the original version of what later developed into the well-known ballet piece “Les Sylphides.”

In the second part, the principal dancers will present extracts from a lesser-known repertoire, such as George Balanchine’s 1960 “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux,” with music by Tchaikovsky and his adagio-duet from his work on the “Rubins” section from Igor Stravinsky’s “Jewels,” a duet from William Forsythe’s 1987 “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” as well as two choreographies by Marius Petipa, written over a century ago.

Tickets can be purchased at the Hellenic Festival box office, 39 Panepistimiou Street, Athens, tel 210 3272000, at Virgin Megastores, at the Dassos Theater and at Thessaloniki’s Aristotelous Square box office as well as online, at www.ticketnet.gr


A debt of gratitude to ‘the foreigners’ August 31, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece News.
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The numerous countries that rushed to Greece’s aid and boosted firefighting efforts when much of the country was ablaze over the past week deserve our gratitude.

But the same gratitude should also be shown to thousands of foreigners living in our country – Albanians and others – who responded to the racism and mistrust they face from many citizens by undertaking gargantuan efforts to prevent damage being wreaked by fires to homes, in most cases not their own.

The images of immigrants struggling on blazing tracts of farmland in Ileia and other prefectures, battling to extinguish the flames, were reminiscent of the Filipino migrants who, a few weeks ago, did exactly the same thing on the slopes of Mount Pendeli, in many cases in the absence of their Greek employers who had been on vacation.

The problems that exist between natives and foreigners are well known and deeply rooted. And, of course, this does not only apply to Greece. We have seen the same phenomena in all countries with a significant immigrant population.

In actual fact, over the past few years in Greece, friction between natives and immigrants has gradually abated as each side has come to know the other better. We have learnt to live together.

The incorporation of immigrants into everyday life has culturally enriched Greek society. Meanwhile the foreigners living in our country have proved to be a catalyst for economic growth over the past two decades.

The most developed economies in the world and in Europe – America and Germany respectively – teach us that the presence of immigrants (which in the countries in question include approximately 1 million Greeks) are an advantage, not a weakness. Armed with the motivation of financial need, immigrants often develop into the most productive members of their societies.

In past few days, a number of foreigners have been arrested, implicated in alleged arson attacks on forestland. Some of these people – either trapped in extreme poverty or mentally unstable – may indeed have been torching our forests and jeopardizing our future. But it is not just foreigners who are guilty. Certain Greeks have been just as criminal in their behavior.

But these thoughts were offset by images earlier this week of Muslim worshippers gathering in Athens and other Greek cities to pray for an end to the horrendous destruction that resulted in dozens of deaths and burnt millions of trees, sucking up our children’s oxygen. When these people struggle and pray to save our land and when their children express pride in holding the Greek flag, we cannot remain indifferent.

Next time, when a few ignorant people curse the “Albanian” in their neighborhood, we should remember that the life of a “Greek” was saved by just such a foreigner. Perhaps this will make people think twice before speaking.

Forest fires will not widen budget gap August 31, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece News.
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Deficit to stay within the 3 percent limit

Greece’s wildfire disaster may strain its budget but will not push the deficit beyond the European Union’s 3 percent cap this year, Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis told reporters yesterday.

“The fiscal improvement we have achieved is not at stake. Despite the large problems in the fire stricken areas, the Greek economy’s productive base has not been significantly affected,” he said. Before the disaster, the government was targeting a budget gap of 2.4 percent of GDP this year.

Economists do not think the budget is at risk of serious derailment this year despite the strains from relief efforts and reconstruction.

“We expect the government to meet the 3 percent fiscal deficit target this year, but there is no doubt the fires and the underperformance on tax revenue growth so far this year create risks on the budgetary front,” said economist Platon Monokroussos at EFG Eurobank.

Another economist who declined to be named said a rise in value added tax or other indirect taxes was likely after the September 16 elections as a result of the fire damage and soft tax revenues.

Wanted: Ministry for the environment August 31, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece News.
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In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the US, the Bush administration set up a new, flexible department of homeland security.

Given that Greece has suffered a major environmental disaster, and given that conservative ministers have spoken of an “asymmetrical threat,” it’s hard to understand why the country still does not have an independent environment ministry.

Eleven European Union states have independent environment ministries while 15 countries have environment ministries that manage related affairs but not public works. Greece is the sole exception.

It’s time Greece, the European nation with the most pressing environmental problems, finally established a ministry for the environment. The situation leaves no room for personal biases or bureaucratic excuses.

Fraudsters queue for relief cash August 31, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece News.
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Efforts to keep red tape to a minimum for the disbursement of emergency relief payments to people stricken by the recent wildfires have resulted in 15 people being arrested yesterday and a further 60 detained on suspicion of lying to obtain the money.

Police said that they arrested 15 Roma in the Peloponnesian towns of Pirgos and Amaliada. Five had already submitted a solemn declaration and obtained 3,000 euros in cash, plus an extra 1,000 euros each because they had four or more children.

The other 10 were arrested before they could submit the one document needed to collect the money from the banks that are assisting in the aid disbursement program. Another 60 people were taken in for questioning as the police presence was strengthened at the banks amid complaints that hundreds of Roma were trying to collect payments for which they were not eligible.

The cases of alleged fraud have been relatively few relative to the number of people receiving financial relief. Some 20,000 people have so far collected 72.4 million euros. However, Supreme Court Prosecutor Giorgos Sanidas sent a circular to the prosecutor’s offices in Patras, Nafplion and Kalamata yesterday recommending that they urgently investigate any allegations about fraudulent claims. Prosecutors are expected to ask banks to hand over copies of the declarations submitted by claimants so they can cross-check their validity.

“Fellow citizens who behave in this manner are displaying disrespect toward the victims of the fires while also committing multiple crimes and seriously damaging the trust between the State and its citizens,” said Sanidas in his circular.

Sanidas has instructed that anyone arrested on suspicion of submitting false information should be immediately placed in custody. The suspects will be charged with defrauding the state and making a false statement. Both offenses carry a maximum five-year jail sentence.

Fires persist as Greece hopes for EU aid August 31, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece News.
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European regional policy commissioner to tour fire-ravaged regions with PM; government pledges to rebuild tens of homes burnt in blazes

Firefighters grappled with burgeoning fires in Arcadia yesterday as the government promised to undertake, and fund, the construction of homes that have been destroyed over the past week.

Meanwhile the European Union’s Regional Policy Commissioner Danuta Hubner has arrived in Greece to inspect the damage wreaked by a week of devastating fires. Economy Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis is due to accompany her on a helicopter tour of the burnt areas this morning. Alogoskoufis and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis are expected to press Hubner to allocate as much funding from Brussels as possible for reconstruction and regeneration in the afflicted areas. “The dramatic situation in Greece is not just about the Greek people, it concerns us all,” Hubner said yesterday.

The worst of yesterday’s blazes were in the Municipality of Gortynos, where eight villages were evacuated, and in Megalopolis, where flames approached the local power station. Asked by reporters about the Megalopolis blaze, Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias said it was not considered to pose a high risk.

A fire on Mount Parnon continued to burn despite repeated attempts to extinguish it from the air. A few blazes in the ravaged prefectures of Evia and Ileia were still smoldering late last night. Water-dropping aircraft concentrated their efforts over Gortynos with 11 planes and four helicopters dousing the area.

Meanwhile, state officials continued to assess the damage wreaked by fires in Evia and the Peloponnese. They expect to have an accurate picture of the number of homes destroyed by Sunday.

Those who lost their primary residence will have their homes rebuilt, at the State’s expense, Souflias said. Those whose homes were seriously damaged, but not completely razed, will receive a state subsidy covering 50 percent of the cost of reconstruction while the remaining 50 percent will be provided in the form of an interest-free loan, Souflias added.

The government will continue its policy of focusing on the aftermath of the disaster, which it believes it has handled well, ahead of the September 16 election. This means that Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis will continue to make regular appearances at Ministries and public services responsible for handling the disaster relief.

“The sense of urgency is ever present,” he said yesterday during a visit to the Environment and Public Works Ministry. Karamanlis will not return to the campaign trail this weekend and scheduled public addresses in Agrinion and Larissa have been cancelled. It is possible that the Prime Minister will appear at only one or two public rallies in the week prior to the election. In the meantime, he is likely to make more visits to the fire-ravaged Peloponnese and Evia.

Government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said yesterday that Greece will push for greater cooperation on natural disasters between European Union countries. Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis was due in Italy last night for talks on the subject with her counterpart Massimo D’Alema.

Meanwhile, PASOK leader George Papandreou resumed his campaigning yesterday and criticized the government’s handling of the crisis. “We have to tell our children the truth,” Papandreou told supporters in the northeastern Athens suburb of Aghia Paraskevi. “Our country has suffered the biggest catastrophe since the war and there are no excuses.” However, Papandreou also touched on other issues, such as family welfare benefits, the health service and education as he bids to promote PASOK’s policies ahead of the general election.

Greek wildfires don’t deter tourists August 31, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece News.
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For all the calamity caused by a barrage of brutal wildfires in Greece, travelers seem undeterred, tourism officials say.

The inferno, still blazing but seemingly under control, hit the western Peloponnesus, a popular tourist destination, hardest, destroying large swaths of property, gutting hundreds of homes and killing at least 64 people.

Flames that at times rose 100 meters, or 330 feet, into the air, burning trees and shrubs surrounding Olympia, the ancient birthplace of the Olympic Games, forced tour operators to shut down scores of hotels and travel facilities in the area.

But by midweek, three days after fire-fighters saved the sprawling ancient site from destruction, tourists began trickling in again. Among them was a group of 45 Germans who were covering their nostrils with wet cloths or masks.

The Olympia Archaeological Museum, housing ancient marble statues of the Nike of Paionios and Hermes of Praxiteles, had just reopened, and Culture Ministry employees were ordered back to their posts.

“There were serious concerns at first,” said Panayiotis Achtipis, manager of a travel company operating shore excursions and cruises to the western Peloponnesus. “But now,” he said, “it’s business as usual.”

Tourism is Greece’s top foreign currency earner, accounting for 20 percent of its gross domestic product and one in five jobs. “We’re convinced,” said Tourism Minister Fanni-Palli Petralia, “that we’ll close with a successful year.” None of the major resorts and tourist facilities in the Peloponnesus, she said, had reported any booking cancellations.

The tourism authorities have flooded international tour operators and agencies with e-mails assuring them that “Greece remains a safe and beautiful destination.” The Foreign Ministry also is scrambling to allay travel concerns among Americans, British, Australians and Germans after their governments posted warnings to would-be travelers to Greece, at the height of the wildfires.

Most of Greece’s tourism earnings come from popular vacation islands like Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes and Crete, where an estimated 1.7 million Russian and American tourists spent their summer vacations, up 350 percent from last year’s figures, Tourism Ministry statistics showed.

“No one can deny the magnitude of destruction caused by these wildfires,” Petralia said. “But Greece’s beautiful beaches and islands, our strongest marketing points, are here, untouched by the fires.”

While a popular destination for budget travelers, the Peloponnesus has been at the heart of a growing campaign to promote alternative forms of travel like agrotourism and extreme-sport travel. Even so, local residents, economists and environmentalists fear the region may not be able to bounce back.

With less than two weeks left before national elections, Greece’s beleaguered center-right government has unveiled an unprecedented aid and relief effort, budgeting $410 million in immediate grants for fire victims.

“We put together a mini-Marshall Plan,” said Peter Doukas, the deputy finance minister, referring to the U.S. aid to Western Europe after World War II. “Both the scale of aid and the speed with which it is reaching fire victims is unprecedented by European standards.”

He put the preliminary cost of the destruction at about 0.6 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product, or €1.2 billion, equivalent to $1.6 billion.