Greeks and Geeks III

Dear Mr Stroligo,

Just to give you a little update on the situation.

The whole thing started back in February 2002 when it came to public
attention that a member of the Parliament who is also a member of the
leading party PASOK, Mr. Hrisanthakopoulos, was caught by a TV camera
playing on illegal electronic gambling machines. As a result he was
promptly kicked out of PASOK.

It was absolutely certain that the simple Greek citizen would react with
indignation to this case. The case of Mr. Hrisanthakopoulos simply
made the problem known to the government, which then felt threatened.

(It should be noted here that such games were already illegal
according to the law.)

At that point the government admitted that it was very difficult to
distinguish which games where purely used for entertainment and which
were used for gambling, so it decided to get rid of them all.

Government spokesman Christos Protopapas said on February 21st:

“We don’t want to have illegal gambling in Greece. We are banning all
electronic games. We need a clean decision…and the decision is no
electronic games. The measure is a tough one but it is the only
effective one, as ordinary electronic games can easily be converted into
illegal games by the owners of such facilities”

At that point it was unclear if the draft bill would only prohibit
coin-ops – arcade games, or all types of games including computer games.
On February 22nd Mr Protopapas said that the government will examine
carefully all the aspects of the bill so that internet cafes and
computers will not be affected.

More than three months later, on the 30th of May of 2002, the draft bill
was brought to the Parliament by the Secretary of the Ministry of
Finance, Mr Fotiadis, who had the sole responsibility for the matter.
The bill stated clearly that all games supported by electrical,
electromechanical and software means are banned from public places. The
government’s response to questions about the reasons including computer
games in the ban, was that a lot of the operators of bars or cafes with
illegal gambling machines, were to replace them with PCs and the
appropriate gambling software.

The bill was discussed in the parliament from the 9th until the 17th of
July 2002.

In the Parliament, a member of the opposition party, Mr. Katsaros,
expressed the concern that, since the law prohibits gaming only in
public places, it would only be a matter of time before the owners of
illegal gambling machines moved whatever machines they were using for
gambling (coin-ops, PCs, consoles) from their stores in private places,
like appartments, private properties, private clubs. Mr Fotiadis agreed,
so the law was modified to include every private place as well. In my
opinion, nobody from the members of the parliament realized or could
foresee the effects that this would have for PC Games, Internet Games,
game consoles, etc, simply because they are not familiar with that side
of technology.

The consensus between the members of the Parliament at
that point was: WOW, with the same law, we both combat illegal gambling
and at the same time we prevent our youngsters from wasting their time
on video games. Fantastic!

Following the vote by the Greek Parliament on July 17th, the bill became
a law on July 30th after it was officially published in Greece’s
Governmental newspaper.

In my opinion, the Greek Government banned computer and console games in
an attempt to stop illegal gambling. The point is that although the
government admitted that it is a tough measure they could not realize
that banning computer games and consoles would be a major issue. Who
cares about these stupid games! Until today – more than a month after
the law was published – nobody from the government will admit that there
is a problem and try to rectify the situation!

Internet café owners are being arrested and fined for allowing Counter-Strike,
Age of Empires, or Chess on Yahoo! all over Greece for the past week. A
store that belongs in our chain of internet cafes was closed down
because our clients were playing the above games.

The Greek Internet Café Union responds by suing public services, cell
phone users, gamers that play in their own house. As you can see, the
whole situation is turning into a rather funny situation – except for
Internet café owners. Yes, the police are not breaking into our houses
(still), but The Greek Internet Café Union is encouraging its members to
sue even each other for private use of a computer or cell phone for
gaming, so that the full implications of the law can be seen even by the
bureaucratic and technologically impaired politicians.

If you need any further information on the above, I’ll be glad to help.

Best regards

Nikos Kakayanis
Managing Director

Ionos Dragoumi 24
54625 Thessaloniki

Tel. +30 310 250442

Additional Web sources:

(It’s all Greek to me :))

Initial statement from government
PCs initially not to be affected
Debate in Parliament I
Debate in Parliament II
Debate in Parliament III
Debate in Parliament IV
Greek Internet Cafe association

Nikos Kakayanis

Ed. commment: I can’t say those on my side of the Atlantic are exactly busting down my doors over this issue.

I don’t see how people can live in cyberspace all the time and then turn around and think Greece is a million miles away and certainly nothing to be concerned about.

Whatever our nationality may be; we are all citizens of cyberspace, and what is a threat to some is a threat to all.

Not in the sense a Hitler was or a Saddam Hussein could be, but what happens in Greece today could happen in your hometown tomorrow. There are certainly people out there who think games create homicidal maniacs and they’ll use Greece as an example of what can be done to solve the problem.

This is only a guess, but I’d bet Greek gamers never thought anything could come of this, that certainly the government wouldn’t dare take away their right to go down to the Internet cafe and play a bit.

But they did, and there’s some people there spending some cell time just for playing a game or letting somebody do that.

Yet some, maybe most of those reading this think the U.S. government can’t possibly ever do anything to them for stealing. Can’t happen to you? Those Greek gamers didn’t think it could happen to them, either.

Do you have to be in a jail cell before you say, “Well, maybe this could happen to me?”

George Santayana once said “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Martin Niemoller said something along the lines of:

In Germany they first came for the Communists,

and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics,

and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me –

and by that time no one was left to speak up.

One of the big lessons of the past is “the organized always beat the unorganized.” Maybe not immediately, but eventually.

In the U.S., the RIAA and the other content providers know the truth of what Niemoller said, and are counting on you continuing to stay dumb, delusional and disorganized. They’re putting plenty of time, effort and money into protecting what they consider to be their rights.

Yet so many out there think they need do nothing to beat them, then pat themselves on the back and say how smart they are.

I think some people are going to be in for the shock of their lives in the next few years, when the real world steps in and crumples their own little world.


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