No fooling on April Fools’ Day

No fooling on April Fools’ Day

The Greek press has a long and vibrant history of humor. You may say it is a reflection of a society that takes particular pride in not taking anything too seriously and having an inherent tendency to philosophize on the frivolity of human nature. And while political cartoons have continued to be an integral part of the Greek media more or less since the foundation of the state – with the exception of the heavily censored four-year period of military rule in the early 1970s – one of the lesser known but equally interesting irreverent traditions of Greek journalism has been the lies published on April Fool’s Day.

For example, some who follow the Greek press may remember the interesting item published in 1982 in daily Elefterotypia (which ceased publication last year) that the Turkish exploration ship “Sismik” had sank off Bozcaada (Tenedos) while another daily, Proti – also now folded – had the exclusive news that “Sismik” was spotted in “Tourkolimano,” a popular port of Piraeus with the interesting name of “Turk’s port” – changed to “Mikrolimano” (Small Port), perhaps since then. 

So it was an unpleasant novelty of this year’s day of the fools that the Greek media failed to stick to their long tradition of fooling their readers and politicians alike. A month before an early and unstable general election in the country, the Greek media are not in the mood for even providing a glimpse on the bright side of life.

One can’t blame them. After a disastrous two years of economic and political mismanagement, the country is now governed by a technocrat with the support of the two main parties who have become used to taking turns in power for the last four decades. These same parties are eyeing power again in these elections and, in the most likely scenario, these two parties – deadly political opponents until a few months ago – may again find themselves in power under a renewed unholy alliance that would put Greece’s foreign creditors greatly at ease. 

That would curb the worries caused by the latest polls, which show a spectacular rise in support for the Nazi-sympathizing, extreme-right Golden Dawn Party at 5 percent and the newly formed nationalist party of “Free Greeks” at 8.5 percent. Amid the continuous impoverishment of a large part of society, all three leftist parties are on the rise, sharing 36 percent equally between them. A Parliament of eight parties would be a situation which implies instability rather than smooth governance.

There is no time or mood for fooling around, even for one day. The situation of the economy and the disastrous effect on society is deteriorating. Prime Minister Lucas Papademos has already warned that the “reforms” will continue, and more may be needed after the elections. A new (third) bailout agreement may be on the cards, something that rings like ominous bells for the Greeks. 

I tried hard to find something which might remind me of the spirit of the good old times of the Greek press on the day of the fools. In vain. But as it usually happens, when you are sure of failure, success comes. In this case, success came in the form of an item on the first page of a small regional newspaper from Mytelene that announced that “Sapho’s grave was discovered!”

Putting the current Greek crisis together with the earth-shaking discovery from Lesbos, I cannot but go back in time once more to when the Greek Culture Ministry was headed by Melina Mercouri. On April 1, an official ministerial announcement stirred the Greek and foreign media which carried the story in full faith. According to the announcement, “archaeologists discovered the grave of Socrates on the slopes of Acropolis. In the grave of the ancient philosopher an amphora was found with traces of conium in it! “
Traces of conium could be found yesterday, too in Greece. But this time it is for real.