April 4, 2008 at 5:28 pm 1 comment

ATHENS 2004“Not the Greatest Celebration on Earth”(By Marijo Anne Gillis)                     

I peered out the window of the giant airbus as the powerful Olympic Airlines jet screeched to an abrupt halt. It was 10:30 am and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Elefterios Venezelou Airport was eerily quiet.

 In early summer Athens is usually a frenetic hub of activity. Tourists from all over the world flock to the Cradle of Western Civilization for fun in the sun and trips to the majestic monuments of a once exemplary civilization. 

My history and love affair with Greece spans 30 years, back to the military junta and  my early college days. I lived in Greece for 14 years while married and ran a lucrative yacht chartering business. I like to believe that over the years I became somewhat of an expert on Greek cultural and social mores. 

Modern day Greece pales in comparison to the mighty imprint she relinquished so many millennia ago. She is but a faint shadow and a dim memory of her ancient and glorious past. She has devolved into a disabled offspring of colossal greatness. 

I disembarked, cleared customs, said a prayer to the Lord for strength, and began a sad journey into the desperate, despairing world of the animals of Greece. Unwanted, abandoned and brutalized, the fate of these creatures, both companion and farmed are tenuous at best; especially in light of the 2004Olympic Games. 

I have made three investigative trips to Greece in the last nine months and have filmed and photographed the innocent victims of abuse, neglect and disease in horrifying municipal shelters, parks, back alleys, farms and even private homes. 

 Fear, loneliness, starvation, brutality, pain, and death are not just vocabulary for the companion and farmed animals in Greece, but living expressions of reality. 

Low cost spay/neuter programs do not exist. Greeks believe that animals deserve a sex life. Sadly some Greek veterinarians are more concerned with profits from all too often botched spay/neuters which they perform reluctantly than with the hideous conditions of the animals they were trained to help. 

 “Voluntary” vets from around the world have been denied access to practice in Greece lest they curb the inflow of bucks to the home grown variety.   Greeks proudly state that they do not practice euthanasia yet ironically mass poisoning is their barbaric form of animal population control. 

 Death sneaks upon the animals furtively and is slow and brutally agonizing.

Wanton propagation in wretched municipal shelters where animals are trapped in perpetual misery diseased and starving results in new born puppies being cannibalized by animals struggling for survival. These grisly scenes have been captured on video. 

Mans dominion over animals – an appointment by God, has apparently been stripped of mercy, compassion and humanity. 

Over the past year my meetings and negotiations with Greek ministers, mayors, and officials of the 2004 Athens Olympic Committee have produced promises to raise the standard of animal welfare and embrace social responsibility especially in light of the Games.

Unfortunately for the animal victims their promises are empty and rhetoric is meaningless. Graphic reports of animal abuse in the daily papers and on TV do little to mobilize a humane response by citizens.

Government generated press releases deny allegations of slaughter and criminal abuse and are little more than slick smokescreens meant to mislead probing journalists and the conscientious world. 

My investigations over the past two years, clearly point to a well planned, systematic house cleaning campaign. Allegedly orchestrated by Greek officials in cooperation with the 2004 Athens Olympic Committee, “gentrification” of the streets in time for the onslaught of tourists to the summer games has resulted in a massacre.

Reports from Greece indicate that the animals are not the only ones who are disappearing and taking the “ proverbial bullet “ for greed and inhumanity. Several Greek TV viewers state that a late night news report indicates that allegedly homeless gypsies and other undesirables will be spirited off to mysterious venues for the duration of the games.  Perhaps to an island spa?   I shiver as I déjà vu Gestapo tactics. 

While in Athens I brought provocative expose material including facts, photographs and film to the attention of a very powerful television journalist Makis Triantafylopoulos.  His programs “Yellow Press” and “Jungle” air twice weekly on Alter TV, a major network. 

 Both broadcasts vie for the number onespot in the ratings. He is feared for his relentless inquisitions and cunning reportage on corruption and abuse and he wreaks havoc on the humanpollution of Greek society. He travels with a body guard and threats upon his life are taken seriously.

I like him very much.  He is a gentle and compassionate man and is hell bent on securing justice for the proverbial under dog.  Many years ago Mr.Triantafylopoulos’ award winning expose on Greece’s hideous and macabre mental hospitals reached the television audiences of one of America’s most credible and popular documentary programs and shocked the nation. I am grateful for this journalists trust in WAG’s campaign for the animals of Greece.

He gave to me, Athens attorney Amalia Katsoula and South African activist Angela Fleming the opportunity to participate in a live one hour program called Yellow Press. A well known panel of guests including government officials and people from the entertainment and publishing world were invited to express their views.

I hope that we ignited an un-extinguishable “torch”.  On the air, Mr. Triantafylopoulos promised to me and his millions of viewers to thoroughly investigate allegations of mass exterminations and the disappearance of countless animals. Hopefully he will keep his promise. 

After my rabble rousing visit to Greece in June of 2003 at the invitation of the Greek government, Athens Olympic Committee director, billionaire Gianna Angelopoulou-Daskalaki  held a major press conference and promised financial aid for the welfare of abandoned animals affected by the infrastructure for the games. 

 I am curious to learn the whereabouts of the millions of euros that she promised for the animals. Has someone opened a Swiss bank account?  Who has the money in their deep pockets? 

Indulgences for the Olympic Games, expenditures will indeed have dramatic consequences for Greek citizens, idle in the billions of dollars and are dramatically over budget.

 Thankfully the international animal welfare community has called for an active united BOYCOTT of Greece and this action will undoubtedly impact an already compromised economy. Oblivious to all but the glory of the Games the 2004 Athens Olympic Committee turns a blind eye to financial disaster as well as to the grim animal issue whichscreams for a humane solution. 

 Forever lobbying and pressuring officials, I arranged a formal meeting with Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Alexandros Kontos, the minister’s counsel, animal advocates and  three  brilliant Athens attorneys Amalia Katsoula, Elias Pavlakis and Vasilis Alavanos who are working together pro bono to effect justice for animals and defamed animal advocates.

Prior to this meeting the Ministry refused communication with the animal welfare community. I am happy to report that this dialogue between people and state continues.  Another meeting ( attorneys in tow) with the Vice Mayor of Athens, Tonia Kannelopoulou who is charged with animal welfare in the Olympic host city was  extremely cordial. Once again the vice mayor made promises for reform that I hope she will keep.

However, their rejection of assistance from foreign animal welfare organizations is not wise. The Athens municipality’s primitive yet well intentioned actions have yet to prove the verity of political oratory. WAG and the heaven sent Angela Fleming, general secretary of Athens Frontida Zoon (Caring for the Animals) physically rescued several very ill,abused young dogs from the garbage dump at Loutraki,  a wealthy seaside resort some 80 kilometers from Athens. Loutrakis claim to fame is a populargambling casino. 

 Infamous is the town dump which doubles as Loutrakis municipal animal shelter.  It is despicable as are the indifferent officialsof the town, (partners in the casino). Words cannot describe the condition of the animals. At this momentI find that I cannot find the strength todescribe the misery, pain and desolation that I witnessed. 

A happy ending for these rescued creatures, is that WAG has provided veterinary treatmentfor the rescued dogs, (two were 3 week old puppies discarded as rubbish ) and foster care with loving families.  They are presently being medicated,loved, spoiled, fattened up and are awaiting a mercy airlift and re-homing in Belgium. 

 But, what about the tens of thousand left behind?

 During my 17 day stay in Greece, I had daily meetings with animal rights activists and phone conferences with these wonderful people nation wide;the only members of Greek society who seem to care about her tormented animals. Sadly these human bastions of animal rights continue to be ridiculed,slandered,  intimidated and marginalized by citizens and government officials alike, and some of their actions appear to be governedby fear.

 The pathetic Greek e-zine, Tetrapodologein has made a vicious mockery of their compassion. Happily on June 6, 2004 the Greek Parliament played involuntary host to a boisterous and passionate street demonstration. Gathering courage, over 1000 angry animal activists took to the streets with banners and loudspeakers and protested the mass poisoning of thousands ofdogs and cats and the government and the 2004 Athens Olympic Committees alleged reckless complicity in the disappearance of the countries strays. 

Even better news is the fact that the European media is covering Greece’s little shop of horrors with vitality and serious intent.

As well, WAG hasjust completed production on a 5 minute narrated documentary film called The Glory of Greece. The film details brutal animal abuse and WAG will distribute the visual images to major media outlets throughout North America and Western Europe.

A major American network has expressed interest in the expose. Adverse publicity will certainly impact the influx of Greece’s tourist dollars. 

 Money is something that the Greek nations governing force comprehends. Perhaps the slowed ching of that damn Greek cash register god may catalyze positive action. 

As the Olympic games draw near much is being questioned about vita security in defense of global terrorism and construction delays of thecity’s infrastructure are foremost concerns. The Greek government blithely reassures the media and turns it’s arrogant attention to putting their cityin the best possible light. 

As the world lobbies for assurances that the 2004 Athens Olympic Games will be a safe and successful pageant, the needless and barbaric slaughter of heranimals continues. 

The world is perplexed and somewhat stunned by this Greece’s resistance to compassion. 

As Greece assumes center stage, let us remember and never forget that athletes from around the world will exercise their prowess upon the bloodstains of the thousands of voiceless, vulnerable victims of greed and inhumanity.

This will surely outrage the millions of people who cherishtheir animals and the creatures with whom we share this planet. Alluring TV commercials and crafty print advertising, artfully displayed, proclaim that the 2004 Athens Olympics will “unite the world”. 

A full page ad in a New York City newspaper, presented by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, states:  

 At the dawn of the third millennium, more than 2,700 years after the first Olympic Games, history will repeat itself as the Olympics return to the country of their birth.  The Greek nation and the whole world will embracethe unique revival of the games, turning them into “the greatest celebration on earth”. 

Knowing what we know, this image strains credulity. And so dear readers Greece continues to rape her own image with social irresponsibility and moral bankruptcy. 

The 2004 Athens Olympic Games will hoist a bright torchlight over the failures of Greek society and civic institutions to live up to their obligations to meet the most basic, simpleneeds of animals.

 Welcome to the 2004 Athens Olympic Games as GREEK ANIMALS RACE for their LIVES! 




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