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Unintended Consequences



When you do something, you have an idea what its effect is going to be. Often enough, though, things don’t work out the way you expect. No doubt when the Americans armed and trained Osama Bin Laden to fight the Russians in Afghanistan, they never envisaged that training being turned against them. In the same way, our support for minorities in the Balkans during the break-up of the former Yugoslavia produced some unexpected consequences as I discovered one sunny winter’s day in Athens.

“God is definitely a Greek,” Konstantina remarked.

“How do you make that out?” I asked.

The midday sun was low in the sky as we walked down the street. In the distance I could see the Acropolis standing stark against the clear blue sky.

“He knows the Greeks have no money to pay for heating, so he sends warm weather.”

I laughed. I couldn’t disagree. It was three weeks to Christmas and the temperature had risen to twenty one degrees.

We turned left into a narrow pedestrianised street.

“Here God has not been so good,” she remarked.

On the corner stood the shell of a half-built apartment block. It was one of many all over the city.

I stopped to look up at the unplastered walls. “It’ll get finished. All it takes is time.”

She nodded. “I hope so. The Crisis is having a very bad effect on this area.”

I could hear the capital letters in her voice. It was how every Athenian described the financial whirlwind that had devastated the world in 2008..

“It’s the same in Ireland,” I said. “Outside almost every town in the country, we have fields full of half-completed houses. Ghost estates, we call them.”

Konstantina nodded. “I know. I saw a programme on television about The Crisis in the rest of the world. There also places in Spain with unfinished apartment blocks.”

We continued walking towards the city centre.

“The problem for us,” Konstantina continued, as we passed another unfinished apartment block. “Is that this Crisis is happening in the middle of the city.” She paused to look around. “This used to be a good area of Athens. Now look what’s happening.” She nodded in the direction of two young men sitting on the steps of a derelict building.

I glanced in their direction, but kept walking. One of the men had his trousers down around his knees while the other massaged his thigh. A syringe with a needle in its sheath sat on the step.

Konstantina shook her head. “They can’t find a vein in their arms, so they have to try their legs. It’s a tragedy. A Greek tragedy,” she concluded.

“It’s a human tragedy,” I replied. “You think we don’t have people shooting up in the street in Ireland?”

She sighed. “I suppose it’s true.”

“Where do the drugs come from?”

She laughed bitterly. “From our friends in the north. All those people you were so worried about in the ‘nineties. And their persecutors.”

I frowned. “How do you mean?”

She stopped and looked at me, anger on her face. “You remember Kosovo? All those poor Albanians being murdered by the Serbs?”

I nodded. “I’ve heard of it.”

“They were the victims, so we let them into Europe. Now they are the big boys. The Albanian mafia smuggles heroin. The Serbs smuggle cocaine.”

She took off down the street again. I struggled to catch up.

“How can anyone in Greece afford drugs?” I asked, slightly breathless.

She shook her head derisively. “People can always get money for drugs. Street crime, prostitution, you know.”

I nodded. “Yes, I know.”

She smiled bitterly. “Of course, for the really poor, the criminals have made shisha, the austerity drug.”

I frowned. “Shisha. I’ve never heard of it.”

She shook her head. “A lot of people in Greece wish they’d never heard of it. It’s a kind of crystal meth. It’s called the ‘cocaine of the poor’.”

“Where does it come from?”

We waited for the traffic lights to change. “It’s synthetic,” she said. “It’s easy to make in home laboratories. Dealers sell it to people who can’t afford heroin or cocaine.”

The lights changed and we crossed the road. “And it’s cheap?” I said.

She nodded. “It costs €2 a time and it’s easy to get. It can be sniffed or injected. It’s spreading fast. A lot of users have died.”

I thought about that. “So we save the Albanians and they become the drug traffickers. The Crisis comes and they make a special drug for the poor.”

Konstantina smiled. “Unintended consequences, you call it?”

From → Writing

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