Touchdown in lotus land

There’s something about the soporific atmosphere because I keep forgetting what day it is. I had to ask Judith whether it was Wednesday or Thursday and she seemed uncertain too.  It’s very hot during the day with temperatures above 30 degrees, but that doesn’t fully explain our slumberousness (new word). We are staying with friends in the deep south of Greece in the Peloponnese which is wild, rugged, craggy, dry country that time and the fates left behind a very long time ago. This is where the legends of Greek mythology were played out in Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey. From our hilltop balcony we look out across the bays, inlets and islands of this unforgiving corner of the Mediterranean. In the evening you can imagine The Argonauts sailing through the Aegean on another adventure sent by the Gods. Maybe it’s the weight of thousands of years of history that has exhausted the towns and villages of this sparse mountainous area: it’s bearing down on us too. In Greek mythology the lotus-eaters resided on an island off North Africa. They lived on lotus flowers “causing them to sleep in peaceful apathy”. I know how they felt.


When the Greek colonels’ junta collapsed in 1974 I visited Athens to cover the founding conference of the Panhellenic Socialist Party (Pasok) under the leadership of Andreas Papandreou.  At the time I noted it wasn’t called a party but a movement. Why was this? It was an organisation because it accepted anyone and everyone from all political persuasions (so long as they weren’t fascists). The conference brought together rich industrialists, poor farmers and under-paid workers. Wealthy lawyers jostled with earnest university types to shake hands with Papandreou who enjoyed movie star popularity. The organisation had two planks: West Europe social democracy and Greek nationalism. Although the word “socialist” appeared in the organisation’s name, it had no place in the economic manifesto. The politicians would have faced difficulties if they represented a party with a constitution and a democratic hierarchy which would have committed them to definite objectives. A vague movement carried none of this doctrinaire baggage which allowed it to be everything to everybody.  The social democratic parties of then West Germany, France and Scandinavia poured millions of dollars into Pasok coffers as soon as they received a commitment that the movement would support the EEC and Nato.

Pasok’s electoral rise and fall has been spectacular:

1974 election 13.6 per cent of the vote 12 seats;

1977 election 25.3 per cent 93 seats;

1981 election 48.1 per cent 172 seats;

1985 election 45.8 per cent 161 seats;

1989 election 39.1 per cent 125 seats;

1993 election 46.9 per cent 170 seats;

1996 election 41.5 per cent 162 seats;

2000 election 43.8 per cent 158 seats;

2004 election 40.6 per cent 117 seats;

2007 election 38.1 per cent 102 seats;

2009 election 43.9 per cent 129 seats;

2012 (May) 13.18 per cent 41 seats;

2012 (June) 12.2 per cent 33 seats.


In the recent election Pasok fell into third place behind the leftist radical party Syriza and has since formed a coalition government with its bitterest right-wing opponent, New Democracy. It is a partnership that cannot last despite vast bribery from the Euro-zone banking community.

The Greek media has been analysing Pasok’s electoral disintegration and they unanimously agree that its decline began when Pasok gave up its reformism, joined the Eurozone and began accepting billions from the European banks at giveaway rates. The impoverished nation quickly started to drown in debt and is now unable to pay the monumental “rescue” loans it has received in the past 12 months.

The Pasok experience is revealing. It is a casebook study of how the social democratic movement, having betraying its raison d’etre (to scrape crumbs from the table of capitalism) and comfort its base among working people, is capable of the most sudden implosion. It’s already happened in NSW and Queensland where the roots of social democracy go back more than a century. Where next?


The last time I saw Anthony LaPaglia was in the main street of Murwillumbah where a film crew was shooting a scene for a movie. I’m also a sucker for his role as FBI agent Jack Malone in the TV mini-series Without a Trace. But the last place I expected to see him was on a plane to the Peloponnese with his wife Gia Carides, and their nine-year-old daughter. Carides, a wonderful actor who performed brilliantly in Strictly Ballroom and Brilliant Lies, is on a sentimental journey to visit the village where her late father was born. The LaPaglia-Carides partnership reminds me of the outstanding achievement of Australia’s multi-culturalism and also that Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison, Philip Ruddock, Bronwyn Bishop and Kevin Andrews want to return Australia to a white bread, Anglo, monocultural, sovereign-worshipping sheep run. 

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