An open letter to Greece:
to its authorities, its media and its citizens
From: Anna Pouliou, Brussels
I would have been 8 years old. Our car hit a dog on the road. My uncle got out and looked only at the license plate of our car that was bent from the impact. He stretched it out and we left. Only today do I wonder what became of that poor dog.
Penelope (that’s what my friend Kostas baptised her), a grey cat who lived on the University Campus of Thessaloniki plays with her two kittens. It’s a beautiful sight… A few days later we learned of her barbaric torture by passing drug addicts. The poor creature’s screams were heard for hours. Apparently, nobody was moved by them.
In Margarita’s garden, a neighbour systematically poisons all the cats (strays or otherwise) while in Kostas’ neighbourhood, an old lady is proud of the fact that she gives meat filled with ground glass to all the stray dogs. Nobody says anything.
This is the country I grew up in. I think every Greek can remember similar incidents from his or her life.
I don’t remember that the Greek school, which I loved so much, ever taught me how to behave towards animals. I learned that for myself much later when I searched for further information about animal welfare when I was abroad and when I looked for the hidden wisdom in the works of the ancient Greeks scholars. And I finally became a better person when I rescued a starving stray who gave me his rare absolute love (that only animals can give) in return.
Brussels, Belgium 1994…
A Turkish immigrant mercilessly beats his German shepherd dog and throws him onto a road with broken legs. It seems the dog had become sick and then a burden for the Turk, so he wanted to offload her. Jacqueline, my current neighbour in Brussels, picked up Iluna (as she named her), and with a lot of effort treated her and adopted her. She loved and cared for Iluna for years. I saw Jacqueline cry when Iluna died two years ago. Even today tears swell in her eyes when she thinks of her. She doesn’t ever think of the 2,000 Euros she spent on the final operation to save her.
Milan, Italy 2000…
My friend Roberta’s neighbours adopt a kitten. They want their children to grow up to developing sensitivity, mercy and responsibility. What better way is there to achieve this than by adopting an animal!
I could give so many examples. And it’s so difficult for me as a Greek to admit that in no other European Union country (before its enlargement) have I met such lack of sensitivity and ignorance as I encounter within my own country. In no other town in Europe have I met so much silent pain of animals that I encounter daily in Greece.
Reims, France 2004…
In an antique bookshop I discovered a book in French dating back to 1817. It’s called «How to care for animals». 1817!! Think of it!! Where was my country in 1817? And yet, since our liberation from the Turkish occupation or, later, since our accession into the then European Community – what steps have we taken to change our sickening mentality towards animals?
In Homer’s Odyssey, I remember the dog of Odysseus who waited patiently for his master before he could die. What happened to the sensitivity, the greatness of spirit which the Greek had thousands of years ago? I feel so sad because such examples from the depths of our past make the pitiful state we are reduced to nowadays appear even more tragic.
The big news is the Olympic Games. And it is sad that its meaning has been changed. Instead of symbolising the reconciliation of states and culture as in ancient times, it has been reduced to a preparation for a bean feast, a mockery of the international community and an unfair and totally baseless and racist attack against foreign animal lovers.
I will not refer to the details of mass poisonings. These are already well known as a result of newspaper articles (Greek and foreign) and television broadcasts. The scene of tortured and starving animals will obviously destroy the Olympic celebration and we search for ways to make them disappear (in essence with poison and smashed glass!). The relevant law of 2003 was passed in order to throw dust in the eyes of the international community. It is not implemented but neither, it seems, is it going to ever be implemented. Are we ready then for the celebration! How awful my modern Greece has become! No mercy for a life that is struggling on the roads of our country, no concept of compassionate civilisation?
Unfortunately, you were right, great Giorgos Seferis: «Wherever I go, Greece causes me pain.»
Meanwhile, in Brussels where I now live, I continually receive (to my great embarrassment) articles on the shameful behaviour of my compatriots in relation to strays. These articles circulate around the globe damaging our culture, our tourism and our dignity.
I also received some writings from a few of my compatriots. I was ashamed, because these letters – from Greeks – highlight lack of education and ignorance. Some ladies woke up one morning and imagined that some «foreigners» (as they call them) are taking dogs and cats out of Greece for fur and experiments!!!!!! At the same time, I wonder what the educational and cultural level is of somebody who calls an unfortunate creature a ”scavenging mongrel”, as these ladies repeatedly do in their letters!
The scenario (according to the accusing ‘ladies’):
”Foreign vets go to Greece, sterilise, vaccinate and give anti-parasitic therapy to strays at the expense of foreign animal lovers in order to transport them abroad for fur and experiments.”
Come on! Haven’t my fellow countrywomen comprehended that the cost is so high that it’s just not economically viable to use stray animals for this purpose? I have sent many letters to companies that undertake experiments and I know that they attempt to reduce the cost. It is not necessary for them to pay around 10 Euro per kilo for the transfer of animals from Greece. And why sterilise and vaccinate them (additional expense) if they are going to use them for experiments?
The scenario becomes more like science fiction:
”Foreign animal lovers are supposed to be ‘paid agents’ of the companies, otherwise how do they find the money and the time to occupy themselves with strays? And more important, ‘why’ do they occupy themselves (with strays)?”
The truth is, because they have a heart and sensitivity. Because they grew up in a society and went to schools which nurtured this sensitivity. They already have animals themselves and they are used to paying for their safety and health. Dear ladies, don’t judge everybody by your own standards.
Do you wonder where they find the money to fund their merciful work? It comes, in fact, from people who fortunately do not think like you. I myself have contributed by sending drugs and by helping raise money as so have other colleagues and friends in Brussels. Many of them are Greeks like myself, all of us ashamed of the phenomenon of strays in our country.
Another argument by misled Greeks:
”Why don’t they save the animals in their own countries?”
Who told you that they don’t try to do exactly that as well? The fact is the phenomenon of strays in North West European countries is nowhere near as severe as in Greece. You are fighting with compassionate people who battle for the welfare of animals all over the planet!
Have you thought why they all come to Greece to save animals? It’s because we Greeks are showing that we don’t seem to care!
Finally, why does it matter to us what becomes of all those animals (that are regarded as garbage by us, the ‘civilized’ Greeks) once they are transported abroad? Let’s suppose that they go for experiments. If we are so concerned about that possibility, why don’t we take these poor animals into our own Greek homes? Why don’t we teach our children how to love them?
All these absurd allegations would have remained science fiction if the Greek Veterinary Department of the Ministry of Agriculture had not believed them, banishing the hope of many unfortunate animals who could otherwise find a loving home abroad. Instead, with the new procedure (as with every state bureaucratic procedure) it becomes virtually impossible for a foreigner to adopt an animal in Greece, and it becomes another golden opportunity for a few public servants to perhaps go for some bribes from the good people who are trying to send animals to homes abroad.
Do these stir-mongering women and the Department of Agriculture feel proud of what they have done? They have even reversed the basic Greek penal litigation principle by which it is up to the prosecutor to prove the accused guilty and not up to the accused to prove his/her innocence. But with the help of the misled Greek media, a judgment of «guilty» was passed against completely innocent animal rescuers.
My tone is critical against my one and only country. Whoever loves his or her country, however has two paths:
1) to defend his country and its bad practices in every situation, or:
2) to bring them to light and seek solutions because he/she believes in his/her country.
I chose the second road in case somebody asks why a Greek decided to write all this.
I would like to direct an appeal to Greece ….
To Greek teachers … please sensitise our children towards animals in school.
To Greek priests … please sensitise your flocks to the silent torture of God’s innocent creatures.
To all my fellow country people – please turn around and look at the sad sight of the suffering strays. Adopt one and sterilise it for its own protection. There is no reason for animals in large towns to multiply unchecked. The fate of these puppies and kittens will be to end up under the wheels of a car.
And finally, I ask the Greek State (but with little hope), to finally wake up. We Greeks are able to be better than we think.
«People who kill animals will kill each other, too. He who sows death and pain is naturally not able to reap the fruits of joy and love». Pythagoras