ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
Markos the minister is still kicking in Greece
The use of mind altering substances in Greece is as old as the hellenic civilisation ranging from the Eleusinian Mysteries to the recent occasional armed confrontation among security forces and cannabis growers in the mountains of Crete’s Psiloritis. The young people of Zoniana seem to enjoy the fact that a little bunch of Cretans is still capable to defeat most foreign invaders as they did with the Venetians, the Turks and even the Germans. The history of these tough guys has become the argument of the unforgettable video Smoke Your Myth in Greece
Another good example is found in the Eleusinian Ceremonies in the mainland or the fact that Crete is considered one of the first sites where the use of the opium poppy has become quite widespread after the fall of the Minoan civilization. Greece became a hashish exporting country throughout the 19th century and although its use is still highly criminalized, it remains a common trait of the Mediterranean people.
Greece had until recently very harsh penalties for all sorts of drugs and a massive social and sanitary burden due to the criminalization and stigmatization of drug use.
On the other hand drug politics seem to be the political cinderella somehow downplayed by the main course of the continuous battle between the left wing coalition Syriza and the present government trying to comply with the economical restraints set by the EU troika. But both in Greece and in Cyprus people of the different parties were elected in the European Parliament and could help to assess some positive change.
Few years ago a wave of decriminalization passed and a major shift towards the acceptance of drug use in the scene of social and health workers brought about some little but important change in Athens, the metropolitan city with the most visible community of heroin consumers in Europe. Until then, Greece was known for the most draconian drug laws of our continent. And as a result of the economic crisis the already grimy situation had become more dramatic and the numbers show a disturbingly sky-rocketing of infections and blood borne diseases.
A new law issued in 2013 still criminalizes users and sentences them with 3 months and 1000 euros when caught with small quantities, even if these are
considered to be for personal use with no objective criteria to distinguish them from other kinds of use (it is left to the judgement of the prosecutor).
Even if someone is caught with 5 grams and declares to be a first time user he could be sentenced this way unless he has a clear criminal record.
Cultivation of cannabis for personal use again is considered a minor offence and prosecuted with 3 months and 1000 euros fine. Recently there was a case with a patient who was caught with many cannabis plants but was not jailed since the prosecutor had recognised his therapeutical needs. On the other hand the current government announced plans to introduce a new bill that would shorten the penalties for large scale traffickers who will be spending now only one third of the sentence while the users still face normal prosecution.
As a matter of fact, the culturally rooted cannabis use of Greece and also of the neighbouring hellenic part of Cyprus make for a consistent part of the national spirit of both countries.
The rembetika music, literally soaked in hashish, still represents the most genuine soul of the local popular music and its discording feature is due to its oriental circular tunes. This genre is the byproduct of the ‘megali katastrofi’, the big catastrophe, referring to the terrible outcome of the Greek Turkish wars and to the retreat of the Greek speaking population from the western coast of Turkey. As a result the metropolitan population doubled in few months, mostly due to the Anatolian refugees instead of the Westernised people the Greek nationalists had been expecting to see arriving.
Here in the south eastern Mediterranean sea, the most famous rembetes, Markos Vamvakaris, dedicated his most famous song to the political class: “Markos the Minister”:
“Those who become prime ministers are surely going to die. The people hunt them down because of the good things they do. Our Kondylis is dead. Venizelou is gone and Demrziz has left when he should have found an answer. I think I will be a candidate in order to become Prime Minister. So I will be able to stroll around all day long, eating and drinking like crazy. So I will stand up in the Parliament and I will give orders to everybody. I will let them smoke on the narghile and get them all completely stoned.“
The Greek author Ilias Petropoulos (picture) spent some years in prison during the last dictatorship because of a huge research on this underground culture. He noticed that for many Greeks there is a profound relationship between music, dance and hashish smoking. Finally Petropoulos wrote a book, the holy hashish, that remembers how this cultural heritage creates some sort of polarisation versus the existing powers.
”These intertwined forces, that are hardly coping with each other but that are complementary are in continuous involution – in crystal form in some periods and explosive in some others. The users are the predestinated victim. Nobody has never asked their opinion. But the last hashish smoker knows things that are not even imagined by the most famous of the professors. Naturally I, like everybody, have learned the mandatory lessons on the subject, i.e. that hashish is a satanic drug, that those who abuse it end up having wasted their bodies, that the State should crash the hashish smuggling, that the justice system protects our sons, that police does not sleep in order to protect our well-being, and so many similar things. 20 years ago when I was writing the three paragraphs on hashish and drug addiction in Rembetika tragudia, I was in a contradictory situation, from the psychological and ideological point of view.”
For Petropoulos the underground culture, the kosmos ipogeios, represents a source of values,experiences and knowledges that are in continuous opposition to the consolidated society. “I love the crazies and the hashish smokers, the thieves and the whores because they fight against any form of power, but I love them even more because they succeed to survive the police, the penal law, despite the disgusting petty bourgeois moral but especially despite their own flaming passion”.
In the present days the Greek drug policies are represented by the work of Okana, the national organization against drugs, that despite its official denomination is actually implementing some very interesting harm reduction measures with the opening of the first consumption room for heroin users in the centre of Athens. Also as a result of the soaring epidemics.
Another important evolution has been the paradigm shift in the drug services that has globally abandoned the slogan of the war on drugs for a more pragmatic and accepting work. But some lip services on the failed war on drugs remain, like the title ‘Department against drugs’ and similar denominations, still showing some form of complicity with the failed regime based on propaganda and on lies.
It goes without saying that Greece should be the first to wellcome some sort of progress. And similarly, our Cypriot friends and patriots would like to enter in the post prohibitionist world. It all depends on us.
By Enrico Fletzer
NEWS FROM THE SECRETARIAT
What are the perspectives for creating drug peace now that the world seems to be approaching war? Recent developments in Israel and Ukraine could very well and quickly reshape the geopolitical framework we live in. Whatever happens, the call for more souvereignty in drug policy in Europe – and less blind obedience to USA or UN – seems more and more legitimate. In the autumn, we will start our work towards the European Parliament to gain support for this position.
But first, we will hold our annual General Assembly, from 26 to 28 September, in Goricko, Slovenia. All Encod members are warmly wellcome to attend. During three days, we will discuss both internal matters and proposals for strategies to bring about reform in Europe. Please register before September 1st. See here for an agenda and a registration formular.
Encod members who cannot participate can give their mandate to vote to another member who will be present at the GA.