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Olympic dreams: A Greek gift to humanity

The Olympics were more than just an athletic event: they were a means to develop the mind, preserve freedom, and promote unity.

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If you can escape the toxic vortex of the twenty-first century and dream of a time our world was being born, you would have to travel to ancient Greece.
Hellas
Hellenes (Greeks) have always called their country Hellas (Greece). However, Hellas was not one country but something like a couple of thousands small states spread all over mainland Greece and the Mediterranean. Hellas was the Greek United Nations: employing the diplomatic niceties of peace but perpetually bickering and, often, fighting border conflicts and, sometimes, real wars.
Yes, the Greeks of hundreds of states were one people with the same language, piety for the same Olympian gods, and similar traditions like reading Homer and investigating the natural world and the heavens.

Diskobolos of Myron, the thrower of the discus in the Olympics and other Panhellenic games. The marble statue dates to the fifth century BCE. Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome. Courtesy Wikipedia.


Athletics
The best of the Greeks, including Homer, embraced the education of the mind. But they also added athletics as an end and a means to an end: educating the Greeks to live well and preserve their freedom.
Athletics meant competing peacefully in sprint and long distance footraces, the throwing of discus and the javelin, jumping, wrestling, boxing and horse and chariot races in order to tame the violent in human nature while, at the same time, honoring the gods that made their athletic and other achievements possible.
The religious dimension of Greek athletics was ancient and powerful. It’s impossible to separate athletics from the worship of the gods. The Olympics celebrated Zeus; the games at Delphi honored Apollo; the Isthmian games in Corinth centered on Poseidon; in Nemea and Dodona in Epiros in northern Greece, Zeus was the divine sponsor of the games.
Pausanias, a Greek doctor from Asia who toured Greece in the second century, said that Greece was a land full of sights and memorable stories. But nothing in Greece did Zeus bless more than the Olympic Games (Guide to Greece 5.10.1).
The sibling to athletics was the cultivation of the mind with works of civilization: reading and writing, geometry, astronomy, philosophy, poetry, theater, sculpture, painting, architecture, and technology.
The Academy of Plato and the Lyceum of Aristotle included a palaistra (wrestling) school for the vigorous physical education of the students.
The Greeks knew they had to find a way out of strife and civil wars. Enemies surrounded most of their small poleis. If they failed to tone down their aggressive competitiveness, they were doomed.

Gold coin representing Zeus from Lampsakos, a polis in the Troad in northwestern Asia Minor (Greek Ionia). Coin dares to about 360 BCE. Courtesy Wikipedia.


Who founded the Olympics?
Herakles offered an alternative way to the politics of hubris. He was born in Thebes as the son of Zeus and a mortal mother, Alkmene. He was a powerful demigod with great virtues and tremendous courage and fortitude. He became the greatest hero of the Greeks through good works: killing monsters and evildoers. He served the common interest.
Pindar, 518-after 440 BCE, the Theban lyric poet, credits Herakles with the founding of the Olympics (Olympian 2.1-7). It’s quite possible he did. Among other honors, the Greeks thought of Herakles as the patron god of athletes.
Pelops
Another hero sharing with Herakles the honor of establishing the Olympics is Pelops, dating from the late second millennium BCE. Peloponnesos means the island of Pelops. This was a daring man. When he heard that Oinomeos, king of Pisa, challenged any one to compete with him in a chariot race, he volunteered. Pelops won the contest and killed Oinomeos. He then married a woman horse-tamer, Hippodameia, daughter of Oinomeos.
Achilles and the games honoring Patroklos
The third possible influence in the founding of the Olympics comes from Achilles, king of Phthia in Thessaly. His mother was Thetis, a sea-nymph daughter of the sea-god Nereus. Achilles was the greatest Greek hero in the Trojan War. His uncontrollable wrath shaped the ten-year conflict. The death of his best friend, Patroklos, shocked him so much he reentered the war and killed Hektor, a Trojan hero who had killed Patroklos.
Achilles honored Patroklos by sponsoring athletic competitions.
The prizes for the victors in the Patroklos funeral games go to the first, second and third winner – a tradition dropped in the Olympics that rewards only the first winner.
Achilles sponsored the following games: the chariot race, boxing, wrestling, footrace, close combat, discus and javelin throwing, and the bow and arrow competition. He was generous with the prizes, which included gold, iron, cauldrons, tripods, mixing bowls, a “silver-studded sword,” horses, mules, oxen, and “beautifully girdled women.” Achilles is proud for his solid-footed horses because they were immortal, gift of Poseidon to his father Peleus (Homer, Iliad 23.256-24.6).
Homer also briefly mentions athletics when Odysseus finally arrives in Phaiakia (Kerkyra), his last stop before arriving home at Ithaca. Young men of Phaiakia competed in jumping, running, boxing, wrestling, and the throwing of discus. In fact, one of those young me, Laodamas, invites Odysseus to try his hand at some sport. “There’s no greater fame a man earns in life than the glory he wins with his feet and hands,” Laodamas tells Odysseus.
Another young man, Euryalos, insults Odysseus, telling him he looked more like a captain of a ship rather than an athlete. This angers Odysseus. He grabs a discus and throws it further than any local. Then he tells the Phaialians he was the best in athletics among the Greeks at Troy (Odyssey 8.97-253).

Greek postage stamp honoring the first modern Olympics in Athens, Greece, 1896.


The Olympics
The very ancient religious-athletic traditions of the Greeks finally found a formal expression in the Olympics in Olympia, located in northwestern Peloponnesos. This is early eighth century BCE – a time of troubles for Greece.
Pausanias reported that Iphitos started the Olympics. Iphitos, a prince from Elis, a polis about forty kilometers north of Olympia, consulted the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi. The priestess of Apollo told him he and the people of Elis should revive the Olympics, including the Olympic Truce or ekecheiria (holding of hands) (Guide to Greece 5.4.5-6).
Iphytos did that and the first Olympiad took place in 776 BCE. The only game in the first Olympiad was the stadion, a sprint footrace of about 200 meters.
The people of Elis administered the Olympics for centuries. They built the infrastructure for the quadrennial games. The magnificent temple of Zeus was at the center of the Olympics. In early fifth century BCE, Pheidias sculpted the statue of Zeus from gold and ivory (chryselephantine). On his right hand, the seated god held a two-meter statue of Nike, goddess of victory.
Every four years, Greek athletes and thousands of spectators gathered at Olympia for a truly great athletic competition and a magnificent festival of food, entertainment, and renewal of the Greek identity — Hellenism. Writers read their work. Politicians spread their ideas. Dancers and musicians produced shows. Greeks from one polis met Greeks from all over Greece and the Mediterranean. They talked about the athletes and their hopes and fears. The Olympics became a meeting place for understanding and fixing Greece.
The Olympic Truce, the holding of hands, forbade conflict around the time for a new Olympiad. Yes, the ekecheiria was a small step, but it helped in building a more cohesive and civilized country.

Zeus Nikephoros (Zeus holding Nike, goddess of victory). Alexandrian Age, 2nd-1st centuries, BCE. Courtesy Wikipedia.


Were the athletes evil?
Not every Greek loved the Olympics. In late fifth century BCE, the poet Euripides denounced the festival as a waste of time and the athletes as evil, being slaves to their jaws and servants to their belies. Instead of watching athletes and taking part in useless pleasures, Euripides urged the Greeks to honor good and virtuous men governing poleis and other men with good ideas for the abolition of strife and war (Autolykos, fragment 282).
Seven hundred years after Euripides, Galen, the greatest Greek physician since Hippokrates, associated athletes with pigs, force-feeding themselves flesh and blood (Galen, Exhortation for Medicine 9-14).
Athletics and civilization
Euripides and Galen missed the significance of the Olympics. Like dozens of Panhellenic athletic and religious festivals, the Olympics gave meaning of what it was to be Greek. They were laboratories searching for the magic of what keeps people civilized.
Pausanias tells us that athletes learned that not money but swiftness of foot or strength of body win Olympic victories. In addition, Pausanias reports that athletes and their fathers, brothers and coaches took an oath in front of a bronze statue of Zeus of Oaths (Zeus Horkios). Zeus was holding a silver-plated thunderbolt in each hand. The athletes and their supporters and trainers stood in front of the statue and slices of meat from a boar sacrificed in honor of Zeus. They swore not to shame the Olympics by bribes or other unethical conduct (Guide to Greece 5.21.2-4; 5.24.9-10)

Death of Ladas by George Murray, 1899. The runner Ladas is dying while receiving the crown of victory at the Olympics. Courtesy Wikipedia.


We learn from Lucian, a second century Greek writer, that the spectator in the Olympics would probably find himself in the midst of huge cheering crowds. One could barely help but admire the virtues of the athletes: their physical beauty, dramatic skills and daring, enormous pride and unbeatable tenacity and passion for victory. It was not surprising that one could hardly stop cheering and applauding the athletes and the games (Anacharsis 9-14).
But the most exalted treatment of athletes was that of Pindar. He made a living by praising victorious athletes. He said an athletic victory brings beauty to a manly deed, lifting the mind above the “pursuit of money.” Man, Pindar said, is ephemeral. What is he and what is he not? Man is a dream of a shadow. Yet, when the gods bless men with a ray of sunshine, a brilliant light settles on them. Their lives become gentle (Pythian Ode 8.70-98).

Unearthed ruins of the temple of Zeus in Olympia. Courtesy Wikipedia.


The Olympics lasted for 1,167 years. In 393 of our common era, the Christian emperor Theodosius I brought them to an end.
A millennium-and-a-half later, Greek and French intellectuals revived them. The first modern Olympics took place in Athens in 1896.
The Olympics remain an indelible Greek gift to humanity. They are a tradition of enormous potential for the improvement of the human condition – especially making athletes and spectators of sport virtuous and diminishing men’s hunger for war.

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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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Greece: “Humanitarian Aid” Organization’s People-Smuggling

Greek NGO evidently received 2,000 euros from each illegal immigrant it helped to enter Greece.

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Authored by Maria Polizoidou of Gatestone Institute:


  • Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI) describes itself as a “Greek nonprofit organization that provides emergency response and humanitarian aid in times of crisis….” It has reportedly abetted the illegal entry into Greece of 70,000 immigrants since 2015, providing the “nonprofit” with half a billion euros per year.
  • ECRI evidently received 2,000 euros from each illegal immigrant it helped to enter Greece. In addition, its members created a business for “integrating refugees” into Greek society, granting it 5,000 euros per immigrant per year from various government programs (in education, housing and nutrition).
  • With the government of Greece seemingly at a loss as to how to handle its refugee crisis and safeguard the security of its citizens, it is particularly dismaying to discover that the major NGO whose mandate is to provide humanitarian aid to immigrants is instead profiting from smuggling them.

Migrants arrive at a beach on the Greek island of Kos after crossing part of the Aegean sea from Turkey in a rubber dinghy, on August 15, 2015. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

On August 28, thirty members of the Greek NGO Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI) were arrested for their involvement in a people-smuggling network that has been operating on the island of Lesbos since 2015. According to a statement released by Greek police, as a result of the investigation that led to the arrests, “The activities of an organised criminal network that systematically facilitated the illegal entry of foreigners were fully exposed.”

Among the activities uncovered were forgery, espionage and the illegal monitoring of both the Greek coastguard and the EU border agency, Frontex, for the purpose of gleaning confidential information about Turkish refugee flows. The investigation also led to the discovery of an additional six Greeks and 24 foreign nationals implicated in the case.

ERCI describes itself as:

“[A] Greek nonprofit organization that provides emergency response and humanitarian aid in times of crisis. ERCI’s philosophy is to identify the gaps of humanitarian aid and step in to assist in the most efficient and impactful manner. Currently ERCI has 4 active programs working with refugees in Greece in the areas of Search and Rescue, Medical, Education and Refugee Camp Coordination.”

In spite of its stated mission and non-profit profile, however, ECRI — according to Greek authorities, has earned considerable sums of money from its serving as a conduit for illegal activities. ECRI evidently received 2,000 euros from each illegal immigrant it helped to enter Greece. In addition, its members created a business for “integrating refugees” into Greek society, granting it 5,000 euros per immigrant per year from various government programs (in education, housing and nutrition). ERCI has reportedly abetted the illegal entry into Greece of 70,000 immigrants since 2015, providing the “non-profit” with half a billion euros per year.

This revelation, however, does not begin to cover the extent of the illegal activities surrounding the entry of migrants into Greece. In 2017, for instance, Greek authorities arrested 1,399 people-smugglers, some under the cover of “humanitarian” operations; and during the first four months of 2018, authorities arrested 25,594 illegal immigrants.

More worrisome than the literally steep price paid to people-smugglers by the immigrants themselves — or that doled out by the Greek government in the form of integration subsidies — is the toll the situation is taking on Greek society as a whole.

According to Greek police statistics, there were 75,707 robberies and burglaries reported in 2017. Of these cases only 15,048 were solved, and 4,207 were committed by aliens. In addition, the police estimate that more than 40% of serious crimes were committed by illegal immigrants. (Legal and illegal immigrants in Greece make up 10-15% of the total population.)

In 2016, Greek prisons reportedly contained 4,246 Greeks and 5,221 foreigners convicted of serious crimes: 336 for homicide; 101 for attempted homicide; 77 for rape; and 635 for robbery. In addition, thousands of cases are still pending trial.

In a recent heart-wrenching case on August 15, a 25-year-old college student from Athens — on a visit home from his studies at a university in Scotland — was murdered by three illegal immigrants while he was out touring the city with a female friend from Portugal.

The three perpetrators, two Pakistanis and an Iraqi ranging in age from 17 to 28, told police that they first attacked the young woman, stealing money, credit cards, a passport and a cell phone from her purse, but when they realized that her phone was “old,” they went for the young man’s phone, threatening him with a knife. When he tried to fend them off, they said in their confession, they shoved him and he fell off a cliff to his death. After the interrogation, it transpired that the three killers were wanted for 10 additional robberies in the area.

In an angry letter to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, members of parliament and the mayor of Athens, the mother of the victim accused Tsipras of “criminal negligence” and “complicity” in her son’s murder.

“Instead of welcoming and providing “land and water” to every criminal and dangerous individual with savage instincts,” she wrote, “should the state not think first of the safety of its own citizens, whose blood it drinks daily [economically]? [Should the state] abandon [its citizens] to ravenous gangs, for whom the worth of a human life has less meaning than the value of a cell phone or a gold chain?”

Although those were the words of a grieving mother, they are sentiments widely felt and expressed throughout Greece, where such incidents are increasingly common.

On August 29, two weeks after that murder, six immigrants in northern Greece verbally assaulted a 52-year-old man on the street, apparently for no reason. When he ignored them and kept walking, one of them stabbed him in the shoulder blade with a 24-cm (9.4-inch) knife, landing him in the hospital.

Two days earlier, on August 27, approximately 100 immigrants, protesting the living conditions in their camp in Malakasa, blocked the National Highway for more than three hours. Drivers stuck on the road said that some of the protestors went on a rampage, bashing cars with blocks of wood. To make matters worse, police on the scene said that they had not received instructions from the Ministry of Citizen Protection to clear the highway or protect the victims. Gatestone was told upon further queries, that there was no official statement from the police or the ministry, just the drivers’ statements.

With the government of Greece seemingly at a loss as to how to handle its migrant crisis and safeguard the security of its citizens, it is particularly dismaying to discover that the major NGO whose mandate is to provide humanitarian aid to immigrants is instead profiting from smuggling them. The recent arrest of ERCI members underscores the need to scrutinize all such organizations.

Maria Polizoidou, a reporter, broadcast journalist, and consultant on international and foreign affairs, is based in Greece. She has a post-graduate degree in “Geopolitics and Security Issues in the Islamic complex of Turkey and Middle East” from the University of Athens.

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Turkey’s Latest Power Grab: A Naval Base In Cyprus?

“If Greek-Turkish tensions escalate, the possibility of another ill-timed military provocation could escalate with them… Moreover, such a conflict might open up an even greater opportunity for Russian interference.” — Lawrence A. Franklin.

The Duran

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Authored by Debalina Ghoshal via The Gatestone Institute:


  • The possibility of a Turkish naval base on Cyprus does not bode well for the chances of a Cyprus reunification deal, particularly after the breakdown of the July 2017 peace talks, which were suspended when “Turkey had refused to relinquish its intervention rights on Cyprus or the presence of troops on the island.” Turkey has 30,000 soldiers stationed on Cyprus, the northern part of which it has illegally occupied since 1974.

Turkey’s Naval Forces Command has “submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stating that Turkey should establish a naval base in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” according to Turkey’s strongly pro-Erdogan daily, Yeni Safak, which recently endorsed the proposal for the base in an article entitled, “Why Turkey should establish a naval base in Northern Cyprus.”

“The base will enable the protection of Northern Cyprus’ sovereignty as well as facilitate and fortify Turkey’s rights and interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, preventing the occupation of sea energy fields, and strengthening Turkey’s hand in the Cyprus peace process talks.”

Having a naval base in northern Cyprus would also strengthen the self-proclaimed “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” which is recognized only by Turkey. Cyprus is strategically important: a naval base there would give Turkey easier access to the Eastern Mediterranean’s international trade routes and greater control over the vast undersea energy resources around Cyprus. In the past, Turkey has blocked foreign vessels from drilling for these resources; in June, Turkey began its own exploration of the island’s waters for gas and oil.

This is not the first time that Turkey has set its sights on the area’s resources. In 2014, Ankara dispatched surveillance vessels and warships to Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to search for hydrocarbons. This incident took place just before the leaders of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt deepened their an energy-cooperation, “freezing Turkey out.” As soon as the accord was signed, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades blasted “Turkey’s provocative actions,” saying that they “do not just compromise the peace talks [between Greek and Turkish Cypriots]… [but] also affect security in the eastern Mediterranean region.”

At the time, UN-brokered reunification negotiations, which had been renewed after a long hiatus, ended unsuccessfully yet again, as a result of Turkey’s search for hydrocarbons in the EEZ. According to a November 2014 report in the Guardian:

“Turkey’s decision to dispatch a research vessel into disputed waters last month not only resulted in talks being broken off but has exacerbated the row over drilling rights.”

The possibility of a Turkish naval base does not bode well for the chances of a Cyprus reunification deal, particularly after the breakdown of the July 2017 peace talks between Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades. The talks were suspended when “Turkey had refused to relinquish its intervention rights on Cyprus or the presence of troops on the island.” Turkey has 30,000 soldiers stationed on Cyprus, the northern part of which it has illegally occupied since 1974.

Another factor that may be contributing to the Turkish Navy’s desire for a base in Cyprus is Israel. Aside from Ankara’s extremely rocky relations with Jerusalem, Israel and Cyprus have been working to forge an agreement to join their electricity grids and construct a pipeline to link their gas fields to mainland Europe. Although they are in a dispute over development rights of one of these gas fields, Aphrodite, they are invested in reaching a solution that will not damage their increasingly friendly relations.

Erdogan’s considerations should concern NATO, of which Turkey, surprisingly, is still a member, and the rest of the West. As Lawrence A. Franklin recently wrote for Gatestone:

“If Greek-Turkish tensions escalate, the possibility of another ill-timed military provocation could escalate with them. The ability of NATO to respond to other conflicts in the area could be affected, as well as NATO air and naval assets based in both countries. Moreover, such a conflict might open up an even greater opportunity for Russian interference.”

Debalina Ghoshal, an independent consultant specializing in nuclear and missile issues, is based in India.

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