Civic Duty

δημοκρατία – (dēmokratía) “rule of the people”
Yesterday afternoon I arrived at a town meeting, with Prussian punctuality, precisely at the appointed time. Four others were already there. Four.
This meeting, widely advertised, had been called by the Asociación Cámara de Comercio de Atenas and the Delegación Policial de Atenas. It was a presentation about security measures to be implemented by our local police force.
When I entered the meeting hall, I found a Captain, an Intendente, a Sergeant and two rank & file officers, plus three members of the Chamber of Commerce present and 60 plastic folding chairs in place. The members of the police force were fiddling with their powerpoint presentation set-up and passing around a clipboard for an attendance list. I added my information below that of the other four entries, two Ticos* and two Gringos**.
* Local
** North American foreigner
If one includes the lady, who generously donated her time to translate for us non-Spanish speakers, there were nine performers for an audience of five. Talk about off-off-off Broadway!
We finally started our meeting at a quarter to six, with an audience that had grown to a grand total of roughly 20 people, locals and foreigners. I have only a vague idea, how many North Americans and Europeans live in Atenas. Estimating from a phone listing, maybe 240. But curiously the subject matter of safety, though discussed endlessly, everywhere, by so many of us, appeared to be of small interest to residential expats last night. Only twelve of us, más o menos, cared enough to join the police officers and representatives of the Chamber of Commerce – who cared enough to try to include us in communal affairs – to be informed about OUR new drug-sniffing canine unit, about OUR new camera surveillance system and signage campaign “Atenas sin violencia”. Not to forget the courtesy of providing a translator for those of us, myself included, who still haven’t managed to grasp the national tongue. And the signage, by the way, will be bi-lingual, Spanish-English. I was tempted to ask, when the German and French versions would go up but refrained.
I was embarrassed about the poor attendance last night. During my entire, by now considerable, lifetime, Americans always seemed to be so enthusiastic about promoting democratic ideals. The democratic system of government was and is portrayed as not only the best form of government but the only one. For everyone, everywhere, no exceptions allowed. I’m slightly less demanding and agree with Winston Churchill, that the ultimate model of government hasn’t been invented yet. His mildly world-weary approach suits me just fine:    
«No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time»
Last night was a big bad failure to communicate and it was a poor demonstration of democratic practices. I believe that many expats didn’t bother to attend this community meeting, because the procedures presented will not have a direct or immediate effect to increase safety or comfort for us foreigners. Exposing drug dealers in the schools seems to merit a mere shrug from retirees because it doesn’t solve the problem of burglaries in our obviously affluent expat neighborhoods. The Captain pointed out last night, however, that we have to implement different measures to create a less attractive and lucrative environment for the criminal element in our entire community. If it’s altogether too much trouble to make an honest living as a criminal in Atenas – they just might go to work somewhere else. Wouldn’t that also benefit us pensionados? 

2 thoughts on “Civic Duty

  1. When we moved to TX in '90 I went to a big newcomers club meeting where the mayor spoke. It was a wide open opportunity to ask the mayor about any city concerns. ALL the questions were about garbage pick-up.

    You deserve applause for attending!


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