Monday, 3 September 2007

‘Come down and drown yourself’

A day or two ago I was distracted to this woman on the ITV evening news who was returning to her home in Greece after fires destroyed most of her village, a few hours north of Delphi, and her son went missing a few days earlier in the same region. Overwhelmed by emotions she screamed something which translates as ‘Six months ago we were cheering for our Mayor and now the whole place burns down, he should drown himself in the river!’ At first I thought it was an outcry of an old fool, the laughing stock of the village. But soon the rest of the people present seemed to agree and soon they made an appeal for the Mayor ‘to stop hiding, be a man and drown himself in the river’.

A few hours later BBC24 brought the news thousands of protestors in Athens, the capital, were chanting anti-government rhetoric in front of the office of the Prime Minister. Then I realized there are still third world countries in the EU. Where else in a civilized country can you see citizens chasing down the local Mayor for a natural disaster? To demand him present in the village, maybe even request for his arrest, fine. But make a (serious) appeal ‘to drown him in the river’, or even better; he should ‘come down and drown himself’?

Although the question ‘should that water not be used for something else right now’ popped up right away, I imagined the situation ‘what if there was more than enough water’.
When the flooding took place in England five weeks ago, I did not see any protestors outside Downing Street or any mayor in the Oxford area asking for a protection program. Natural disasters, whether that is a flooding, fire, earthquake or hurricane, are out of human control and can not be blamed on some politicians or local heroes. That is what happens in parts of the area we horribly call ‘the third world’; where people believe in local medicine men, voodoo and higher powers within mortal human beings. The power of the nature is sometimes too much for some us, we need to blame someone in charge to compensate our loss and sadness.

However, if Greece was showing me pictures normally shot in Africa or South-America, what to think of New Orleans after Katrina? I guess philosopher Locke would have loved it: an organized country with a (relatively) developed society is suddenly (partly) thrown back into disorder; into complete chaos. Perhaps in such a situation the ‘basic instinct’ of people appears, the ‘survivor’ within all of us. Nevertheless, how we respond to it differs from person to person, from tribe to village, from community to society: does someone really believe drowning the mayor will bring back her son or her house? How much we love to play the blame game, it is unrealistic and simplistic to blame a local policymaker (or as good as any individual) for fires and events started by others. Those are the ones who have to be blamed, who have to be brought to justice, if you want to play that game. At the end of the day there are still elements like climate change and natural powers; and I suppose that can sometimes be in conflict with common sense. At least there can be said it takes courage to run for Mayor in certain parts of Greece. Although it might be tempting to solve problems with ancient, classic methods, I do not see Ken Livingston (if not Boris Johnson) being drowned in the Thames if the whole congestion charge scheme turns out to be a massive failure or when the first teenage killing takes place in the West End.
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