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(From our man in Athens) ... Syriza's "Castles in the sky"?

I spent the last week north of Athens at a magical place called Meteora. (See my video below for some clips.)

Famous throughout the Orthodox world, Meteora is home to "Castles in the Sky" - ancient monasteries built atop precipitous peaks of grey rock, each 150 to 200 meters high.

These fortress-like towers are so tall and so easily defensible that they have been home to Christian retreats since the earliest times. Until quite recently many were only accessible via ladders or narrow tunnels hacked through the living rock, however today they draw tourists and pilgrims from all over the Europe & beyond.

Each monastery is beautifully maintained with smooth new roads leading to wide car-parks where the monks’ BMWs and Daihatsu jeeps are kept. Inside the fortress walls, the churches and other buildings drip with the accumulated wealth of centuries, including dozens of stunning Byzantine artifacts.

At sunset, looking up from the valley these religious fortresses appeared even more magnificent and unreal.

A compelling contrast to the reality of life for ordinary Greeks below. 

As electioneering progressed over the past weeks, I got the sense of a similar sort of (possibly) unreal vision being promoted to voters by Syriza ... Reject the memorandum and revise the austerity measures - but retain the Euro and keep external funding. 

That is quite a compelling vision. In fact, it is so stunning it is almost impossible to reject. But the big question is can such a promise come true, or is Alexis Tsipras building castles in the sky?

Whilst in Meteora I spoke to the owner of the hotel I was staying in (the excellent Aoelic Star). 

He summarised what I have been hearing from many others - contempt for the traditional parties of Pasok and New Democracy as well as a suspicion about the promises of Syriza. But alongside suspicion also a resignation that they may offer the only way out.

The argument goes that everything else has been tried and look where it has led them? Maybe it is time to give Syriza a go. Surely it can’t do any worse. And besides Tsipras insists that the Germans will cave in, won’t they?

The TV ad campaigns wrapped up last night.

The only one that featured a party leader was that of Syriza, presumably because much of its image relies on Tsipras charisma. In an ad that appeared rather homemade, he talked directly to the electorate. I could not understand what he said but his message was clear.

I can save you. I will reject the bailout but keep the euro. Believe me. The Germans will not let us pull the trigger. 

And that's where the Greek people's conundrum lies. Is this vision a reality or an illusion? What will happen when he looks into the steely eyes of Angela in Berlin to tell her his new plan - and then asks for some more money to keep paying salaries and pensions.

Will she climb the peak with him? Or throw him off the top? 


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