OPINION

Town and country

As time passes, a new relationship is developing between the people of Greece’s cities and the relatives and others whom they left behind in the villages in the great wave of urbanization of the past few decades. Each side needs the other, because the city dwellers have managed to make their cities hell, and the people of the countryside never got away from their dependence on the land, either as farmers or through occupation in the tourism sector. Until recently, the mutual dependency was marked by a warm relationship, with the country people seeing in their city cousins as migrants who never quite left the village and would one day return. The myth that people in the cities lived better than those in the country sank into the mist of pollution and the endless sources of rage that our cities produce – and so the complexes of those who had stayed behind were replaced by the arrogance that it was they who now held the keys to earthly paradise. With money from the European Union, from tourism and from their agricultural products and subsidies, the people of the countryside have no reason to envy their city cousins in terms of consumerism and luxuries. And both are caught up in the same web of debt, having borrowed beyond their means. In the villages, the old balance between young and old, rich and poor, educated and illiterate has been destroyed. Now power belongs to those who have the cash or the political connections to achieve their aims. Intrigue and deal making in the promotion of selfish interests have made the people of the countryside more Athenian than the Athenians. Today, country people have organized themselves to such a degree that they control their relationship with the «others.» There is constant intrigue between the powerful in local communities (through their money or position), the local news media and the local political parties’ apparatus. The greatest dividing line is no longer political or based on class: It is between the «permanent residents» and «visitors,» those «here» and those «there.» The locals have to live with each other all year round, when the «foreigners» will be back in the city. They don’t want to fight with anyone whom they may need at some point in their lives, so they would rather pick fights with city dwellers or, at best, not stand up for their interests when another local undermines them. We can see this in the simplest things, such as the conspiracy of silence when someone intrudes on the property or rights of someone who does not live in the village. In more complicated situations, big scams are carried out in which various members of the local society work together to their mutual benefit, placing their own interests first, to the detriment of justice, the environment and the social whole. We might see, for example, a small town’s waste treatment plant being delayed by decades because those with the power to do so suddenly changed its location and placed it somewhere else, to their own benefit. The justified protests will hold it up for years, to the detriment of the environment. We see town plans being changed solely to benefit those with the means to influence decisions, at the expense of everyone else. The victims are usually the weaker members of society – through poverty, age or lack of schooling – or are among those who do not live in the area. When the latter protest, locals comment: «They don’t even live here. Why do they speak?» The most intriguing and dangerous element of the whole situation is the gall of those who insist on getting their own way even when this is shown to be against the law. It’s as if you catch a thief in your house and he refuses to leave – because he knows that his fellow villagers, police, mayor, judiciary and political powerbrokers are on his side, as long as he is «one of us.» If those who have a duty to enforce the law do not react and do not shoulder the burden of their responsibility, if they do not enforce the law on all, without exception, our countryside will become the fief of whoever is powerful at that time. If laws and institutions are not applied to everyone but are abused for personal interest, then the whole of society loses, and this decline is to the detriment of all, without any distinction between «us» and «them.»