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Ancient Byzantine Orthodox architectural gems decorated with international cultural heritage awards

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The beauty and timelessness of Byzantine architecture place it among the world’s greatest treasures and cultural inheritances. Its characteristic churches and monasteries, adorned with instantly recognizable domes and glorious iconography, have inspired hearts and minds for more than a millennium.

And now, they have won an award.

Conservation work on two outstanding gems of Byzantine Orthodox architecture, the ancient Church of St. Kyriaki in the South Aegean and a mosaic of the Transfiguration of Christ at Mt. Sinai’s world-renowned St. Catherine’s Monastery, has been awarded the 2018 European Union / Europa Nostra Prize for Cultural Heritage.

Europa Nostra Award is one of the highest honors in the field of European heritage.

The winners were “recognized for their impressive accomplishments in conservation, research, dedicated service, and education, training and awareness-raising.”

In a statement, renowned opera singer and Europa Nostra president Plácido Domingo stated:

“I warmly congratulate this year’s ‘heritage champions’… We are deeply impressed by the exceptional skills, creativity, commitment and generosity of so many heritage professionals, volunteers and supporters from all over Europe… Our Award winners are living proof that our cultural heritage is far more than the memory of our past; it is key to understanding our present and a resource for our future.”

Church of St. Kyriaki

Church of St. Kyriaki. Photo: www.europeanheritageawards.eu

St. Kyriaki’s is a true gem, featuring a unique set of wall paintings dating to the 8th or 9th century. The Church was embroiled in a battle against the heresy of Iconoclasm during those times that saw the destruction of countless precious icons.

Iconography plays such a central role in Orthodox spirituality and worship because the theology of the Orthodox Church, the religious home of 90% of the Greek population, has always held that as God took on a circumscribed nature in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, so He can be depicted, thus proclaiming faith in the God-Man.

The Iconoclasts rejected this foundational theology and wreaked great havoc in the Church and throughout the Byzantine Empire. The final defeat of this heresy in 843 AD and the restoration of icons to the Church is celebrated every first Sunday of Lent, known as the Triumph of Orthodoxy.

The secluded, single-domed Church of St. Kyriaki on the Greek island of Naxos was until recently accessible only by a footpath from the village of Apeiranthos. The church’s rural setting, while picturesque, led to years of neglect, and rainwater penetrating the roof inflicted severe damage on the structure of the walls and vaults and on the ancient wall paintings.

The well-preserved interior paintings, limited only to crosses, animals, and geometric and floral patterns, bear witness to their origin during the Iconoclastic controversy. Such paintings, representing aniconic art that eschews material representations of the natural and supernatural world, have been preserved in rare cases, and those of the Church of St. Kyriaki are the best preserved in the Cyclades islands.

The church caught the attention of the Swiss associations “J.-G. Eynard” of Geneva and “Amitiés gréco-suisses,” which began their conservation efforts in 1993. A voluntary association, with the sole purpose of saving the endangered house of God, was formed in 2004.

Thankfully, their efforts proved successful. “The conservation of Hagia Kyriaki succeeded in saving an endangered monument and its unique paintings, with meticulous effort to protect its authenticity and refrained from adding elements that would mask the passing of time and history,” according to Europa Nostra.

The video below offers an up-close look at the church’s unique paintings:

The St. Kyriaki project is being seen as a model for similar cases on Naxos Island, where dozens of ruined Byzantine churches demand such care and attention for their preservation.

Transfiguration mosaic at St. Catherine’s Monastery

Credit: europeanheritageawards.eu

St. Catherine’s Monastery was founded by Byzantine emperor St. Justinian and completed before 565 AD. The basilica church retains most of its ancient 6th-century decorations, including a wondrous mosaic of the Transfiguration of the Lord in the apse, deemed a “a masterpiece of Eastern Christian art” by Europa Nostra.

The monastery is one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world. It houses a world-famous collection of icons, and its library is the oldest continuously-operating collections in the world, and the second richest in the world, according to Aleteia.

The basilica at St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai suffered serious damage from an earthquake in 1995.

With funding provided by the then-Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and the Los Angeles-based Getty Conservation Institute, the monastery was able to cover the costs of the conservation work undertaken by the Rome-based Centro di Conservazione Archaeologica (CCA).

The monastery’s Athens-based Technical Bureau completed its restoration work on the apse walls in 2011, and the CCA completed its work on the mosaics in 2016, with support from the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. The official opening was held in 2017.

The jury highly commended “the European cooperation between the Italian conservation experts and the Greek Orthodox Monastery which was undertaken in close consultation with the Egyptian authorities and has resulted in high-quality conservation work on an element of such an outstanding World Heritage Site as the Monastery of Saint Catherine in Sinai. The documentation and quality of the work are exceptional.”

The conservators were able to identify the original materials and methods used in the construction of the mosaics, and in subsequent restorations, and thus were able to use materials compatible with the original mosaics. Each of the 20,000 replacement tiles were documented, with the information to be publicly posted online.

Europa Nostra also noted the unique scaffolding system, which allowed the conservation work to continue for years without interrupting the liturgical and spiritual life of the monastery. The judges praised “the strong scientific and religious collaboration in the most complex circumstances to create innovative technical solutions which made it possible to carry out conservation during religious services and in the most sacred part of the site.”

The video below offers a look at the beautiful territory of St. Catherine’s Monastery and a glimpse into the process of restoring the Transfiguration icon.

Winners of the Europa Nostra Awards will be honored at an award ceremony on June 22 in Berlin.

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After Embarrassing Defeat, NATO, EU and the West Try to Alter Reality in Macedonia

Amidst all the faux cheer and public displays of confidence of the pro-NATO/EU crowd, a palpable sense of unease hangs in the air.

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Authored by Aleksandar Pavic via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Although the September 30, 2018 name-change referendum in Macedonia, which was supposed to set that ex-Yugoslav federal republic on a path to (certain) NATO and (blithely promised but much less certain) EU membership, failed miserably, with only 36.91% of the voters turning out, well short of the 50% + 1 necessary for it to be valid – one would never know it from the reactions of its Western proponents and impatient beneficiaries. Indeed, a new term may be needed to adequately describe the reactions of the key pillars representing the reliquiae reliquiarum of the Western-led post-Cold War unipolar moment. Fake news simply doesn’t do them justice. Fake reality anyone?

The US State Department was firmly in denial, releasing the following statement“The United States welcomes the results of the Republic of Macedonia’s September 30 referendum, in which citizens expressed their support for NATO and European Union (EU) membership by accepting the Prespa Agreement between Macedonia and Greece. The United States strongly supports the Agreement’s full implementation, which will allow Macedonia to take its rightful place in NATO and the EU, contributing to regional stability, security, and prosperity. As Macedonia’s parliament now begins deliberation on constitutional changes, we urge leaders to rise above partisan politics and seize this historic opportunity to secure a brighter future for the country as a full participant in Western institutions.”

EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn wasn’t to be outdone in his contempt for the 63% of the Macedonian “deplorables” who stayed home in order to voice their disagreement with renouncing their perceived national identity and country name (it was to become “Northern Macedonia”) in exchange for the double joy of a) becoming NATO’s cannon-fodder in its increasingly hazardous game of chicken with Russia and b) the EU’s newest debt-serfs: “Referendum in Macedonia: I congratulate those citizens who voted in today’s consultative referendum and made use of their democratic freedoms. With the very significant “yes” vote, there is broad support to the #Prespa Agreement + to the country’s #Euroatlantic path. I now expect all political leaders to respect this decision and take it forward with utmost responsibility and unity across party lines, in the interest of the country.” He was seconded the following day, in a joint statement, by Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the EU Commission.

Understandably, as the most direct public stakeholder, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was particularly (hyper)active. As the disappointing results began to roll in, Stoltenberg went into immediate damage control, tweeting“I welcome the yes vote in Macedonia referendum. I urge all political leaders & parties to engage constructively & responsibly to seize this historic opportunity. #NATO’s door is open, but all national procedures have to be completed.” He reinforced his delusional missive the next day, releasing a similar statement co-signed by EU President Donald Tusk. And the day after, during a news conference, Stoltenberg even offered lightning-quick NATO accession to the unwilling Macedonians – January 2019, to be exact – if they would just be so kind as to urgently implement the very agreement that they had just so emphatically rejected. When NATO says it promotes democratic values – it means it!

But that wasn’t the end of the “democracy mongering” surrounding what may well prove to be NATO’s, the EU’s and the rest of the end-of-history West’s Balkan Waterloo. For example, the EU Parliament’s Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, although “regretting that the turnout was less than 50%,” nevertheless hailed the referendum’s results and “call(ed) on the opposition to respect the expressed will of the majority [sic] of voters.” The Group’s leader, Udo Bullmann, while also maintaining that, somehow, a voter turnout of under 37% still represented a “majority,” additionally used the occasion to chastise Macedonia’s President for having the nerve to call for a boycott of the referendum (he committed the crimethink of referring to it as “historical suicide” during his UN General Assembly address), as well as to decry – what else? – “reports about Russian interference in the electoral process.” It goes without saying that Bullmann offered absolutely zero proof for his assertion. On the other hand, according to numerous media reports, as September 30 approached, while no high Russian official was to be seen anywhere in the vicinity, a veritable procession of Western political bigwigs made the pilgrimage to Skopje in order to reveal to the natives their “true” best interests: Sebastian Kurz“Mad Dog” Mattis, the indefatigable StoltenbergFederica MogheriniJohannes HahnAngela Merkel. No meddling there, obviously…

Speaking of Angela Merkel, she also joined her fellow Western democrats’ show of unanimous disdain for the Macedonian voters’ majority opinion, urging the country to “push ahead” with the implementation of the majority-rejected accord, citing voters’ “overwhelming support” [sic], and arguing through the mouth of her spokesman that the required 50% + 1 turnout was actually “very high,” as voter registers purportedly included many people who had long since left the country.

Coincidentally (?), the same argument was used by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, who opined that the “yes” votes cast in the referendum do, in fact, “represent the majority despite the low turnout because Macedonia does not have the 1.8 million voters entered into its electoral rolls but just 1.2 million since 300,000 people have left the country since the voter lists were last updated 20 years ago.” The fallacy of his reality-challenged claim is easily exposed if we just take a glance at the results of Macedonia’s last parliamentary elections (December 2016), in which voter turnout was just under 1.2 million (1,191,832 to be exact) or, officially, 66.79%. If we were to believe Kotzias and Merkel (who lodged no objections at the time), that would have meant that the turnout for the 2016 elections had been 99% – a figure that would make any totalitarian dictator blush with envy. On the other hand, since those elections did produce the “desired result,” enabling the current heavily pro-NATO/EU government led by Zoran Zaev to be formed, that automatically made them “valid” in the eyes of the high priests of democracy in Brussels, Berlin, London and Washington.

Needless to say, Zaev joined his Western patrons’ charade, hailing the referendum as a “democratic success,” and announcing that he would seek the Macedonian Parliament’s support to amend the constitution and get the agreement with Greece ratified (according to the so-called Prespa Agreement, the Macedonian Parliament must adopt the necessary constitutional amendments by the end of 2018) so that the Greek Parliament can do the same, which would seal the deal. However, Zaev and his Albanian political partners are currently well short of the necessary two-thirds majority (reportedly, they can count on 71 deputies, or 9 short of the needed 80), and will have to call early elections if they don’t soon succeed in securing it.

Yet, let it not go unsaid that Zaev was singing a rather different tune prior to the referendum, assuring that “citizens will make the decision,” and that Parliament would vote on the necessary constitutional changes only if the referendum is successful. But that was then, when confidence was still high that the usual combination of Western pressure, money and overwhelming domination of the media spectrum would get the job done. And then reality struck on September 30…

Still, amidst all the faux cheer and public displays of confidence of the pro-NATO/EU crowd, a palpable sense of unease hangs in the air. As a Deutsche Welle opinion piece put it, the “low voter turnout for Macedonia’s referendum is a bad starting point for the country’s future development.” And, according to DW in Serbian, a Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung commentary warned that “politicians who otherwise ceaselessly talk of democracy as a ‘special value’ should not call on the parliament in Skopje to accept the voting results.” In other words, Macedonia’s people (read – a large majority of the majority Slavic population) have “voted with their feet” and rejected the agreement, and no new parliamentary election, no matter the results, can change that unpleasant-but-immutable fact. That alone will delegitimize any Western-led effort to “manufacture consent” by ramming the agreement through the present or future Parliament – although, as we know, NATO doesn’t put too much stock in referenda anyway, while the EU is not averse to making citizens vote as many times as needed to obtain the “right” result.

But the West has lost more than just legitimacy in Macedonia – it has damaged its reputation, perhaps irretrievably. In the words of former presidential advisor Cvetin Chilimanov, “The West has humiliated us… Macedonians have rejected this media, psychological, political and propaganda aggression against the people, and that’s the tragedy of these days, that a large percentage of a people that had been genuinely oriented towards the West has changed its mind and stopped looking at the West as something democratic, something progressive and successful… That is the reason for the boycott. Pressure was applied against Macedonia, a country that had always been open to ties with the West, but which did not want to make this disgusting compromise and humiliate itself before the neighboring countries, before Western countries. We did not understand why that humiliation was needed so that we might become a member of Europe. What’s worst, perhaps that is now the thinking of a silent majority of the people, that they won’t forget this insult and this attack on Macedonia.”

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Greeks Owe A Stunning €182 Billion In Tax Arrears To The State

Greece repeatedly raised taxes during its international bailouts between 2010 and August 2018.

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Via Zerohedge


Data from the Independent Authority for Public Revenue show tax arrears totaled 182.5 billion euros ($214 billion) on Aug. 10, according to a note sent from the agency to parliament last week and seen by The Associated Press Wednesday.

“The Greek government is owed so much in tax arrears from households and companies that it could pay off more than half its massive public debts if it collected it all,” writes AP, adding “unfortunately for the government, that’s unlikely to ever happen.”

However, as KeepTalkingGreece.com reports, more than 80 billion euros of that represents interest and fines on delayed payments from debtors that include companies that have been out of business for decades.

The arrears come close to Greece’s total economic output, estimated at 184.7 billion euros ($217 billion) this year, and Greece’s total public debt is worth about 180% of these arrears.

Eurozone-member Greece repeatedly raised taxes during its international bailouts between 2010 and August 2018.

Some 3.7 million Greeks – about 60 percent of the total – are behind on tax payments, and while the EU governments have attempted to crack down on the so-called shadow economy, black market activity still thrives in Greece.

As Statista’s Niall McCarthy notesexamples of black market activity are pretty common, whether it’s a warehouse worker driving an unlicensed taxi between shifts, an electrician accepting cash payments without declaring his earnings or a simple drug deal in a shady alleyway.

However, the level of black market activity, also defined as the shadow economy, depends highly on your country of residence. Generally defined as businesses and individuals engaging in inappropriate practices without complying with certain legal obligations such as paying tax or maintaining acceptable standards of employment, the shadow economy costs governments around the world trillions of dollars every year.

According to the IMF, heavily regulated economies with weaker administration tend to have well-established shadow economies. It’s far smaller in natons with strong, well-regulated and efficient government institutions. Back in the late 1990s, this was readily apparent in former Soviet states like Georgia where the shadow economy was estimated at 64 percent of GDP.

Today, the shadow economy is booming across southern Europe, though the scale of underground activity can only be measured indirectly.

You will find more infographics at Statista.

According to a new study published by the Institute for Applied Economic Research at the University of Tübingen in Germany (IAW), Greece’s shadow economy is estimated to average 21.5 percent of GDP. In the United States, undeclared cash transactions seem to be rarer with IAW’s study placing U.S. shadow economic activity at 5.4 percent of the country’s GDP.

 

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‘Hell on Earth’: MSF doctor tells RT of rape, violence, inhumane conditions in Lesbos refugee camp

One toilet for over 70 people, rape, and mental health issues – a doctor from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and an aid worker told RT about the dire conditions in the overcrowded Moria refugee camp in Greece.

Alex Christoforou

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Via RT


One toilet for over 70 people, rape, and mental health issues – a doctor from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and an aid worker told RT about the dire conditions in the overcrowded Moria refugee camp in Greece.

The overcrowded camp on the island of Lesbos, built to accommodate 3,100, houses around 9,000 people. “It’s a kind of hell on Earth in Europe,” Dr. Alessandro Barberio, an MSF clinical psychiatrist, said, adding that people in the camp suffer from lack of water and medical care. “It is impossible to stay there,” he said.

According to Barberio, asylum seekers are subjected to violence “during night and day.””There is also sexual violence”which leads to “mental health issues,” he said, adding that all categories of people at the camp may be subjected to it. “There is rape against men, women and children,” and the victims of sexual violence in the camp often have nightmares and hallucinations, Barberio told RT.

Asylum seekers in Moria “are in constant fear of violence,” and these fears are not groundless, the psychiatrist said. “Such cases [of violence] take place every week.”

There is “one toilet for 72 people, one shower for 84 people. The sanitation is bad. People are suffering from bad conditions,” Michael Raeber, an aid worker at the camp, told RT. They suffer from mental health problems because they are kept for a long time in the camp, according to Raeber.

“There is no perspective, they don’t know how their case will go on, when they will ever be able to leave the island.” The camp is a “place where there is no rule of law,” with rampant violence and drug addiction among the inhabitants, Raeber said.

In its latest report, MSF, which has been working near Moria since late 2017, criticized the unprecedented health crisis in the camp – one of the biggest in Greece. About a third of the camp population consists of children, and many of them have harmed themselves, and have thought about or attempted suicide, according to the group.

Barberio was behind an MSF open letter on the state of emergency in Moria, released on Monday, in which he writes that he has never “witnessed such overwhelming numbers of people suffering from serious mental health conditions.”

Calling the camp an “island prison,” he insisted that many of his patients in the camp are unable to perform basic everyday functions, “such as sleeping, eating well, maintaining personal hygiene, and communicating.”

A number of human rights groups have strongly criticized the conditions at the camp and Greece’s “containment policy”regarding asylum seekers.

Christina Kalogirou, the regional governor of the North Aegean, which includes Lesbos, has repeatedly threatened to shut down the facility unless the government improves the conditions. On Tuesday, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said that Greece will move 2,000 asylum seekers out of the severely overcrowded camp and send them to the mainland by the end of September.

Greece, like other EU states, is experiencing the worst refugee crisis since WWII. According to International Organization for Migration estimates, 22,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Greece since the start of this year alone.

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