All Greek To Them: How Three Colombians Found Athens In Italy

Three Colombians ended up in Atena Lucana, Italy, instead of Atenas, Greece.

Atena Lucana, Italy
Atena Lucana, Italy
Google Street View
Juan David Romero

PARIS — Nobody would be happier than me if there were direct flights between Bogotá and Athens. As a native Colombian residing in Greece, I have had to make connecting flights between these two homes from time to time. The back-and-forth from the Greek capital to my hometown has landed me in different international airports with layovers of all kinds: Bogotá-Miami-Barcelona-Athens, Athens-Rome-Miami-Bogotá, Bogotá-Miami-Paris-Athens and onward-and-elsewhere.

But for three fellow Colombians (with whom, for the record, I have absolutely no connection), trying to get to Greece turned into a true lost-in-translation odyssey.

The three Colombians (a man named Diego, his girlfriend and her friend) were on their way to Greece for vacation, with a stopover at the Capodichino airport in Naples, Italy. But according to the southern Italian newspaper Gazzetta della Valdagri, the trio was somehow convinced that they had already reached the Greek capital: Atenas, as we say in Spanish, or Atene, as they say in Italian.

They disembarked and merrily began to search for their hotel (who knows, maybe they would catch a view of the Parthenon along the way!). But as Il Messaggero reports, the three wound up on a bus from Naples 142 kilometers southeast to a village called: Atena Lucana. Sure, a few millennia ago, it was a trading town in the Greek empire, but its 3,000 residents today live in what nobody disputes is the country of Italy.

A quick Google Maps search reveals the sheer outlandishness of this tale and leaves us wondering how the trio got so far off their trail. Surely they must have known they had a layover. Surely they must have done some preliminary research and quickly realized Italian is not the official language of Greece. Surely, they could have inquired at the airport.

Perhaps the common olive-scented whiff of the Mediterranean might have thrown them off the trail, but this only makes this story slightly less preposterous than having ended up in a different Athens, like the one in the U.S., in Georgia or Arkansas.

In any case, these three stooges ended up in a lounge bar called Maracanà around 9 p.m., where the owner, Luigi Terruzzi, happened to be hosting an evening of Latin music with Enzo Santoriello, the DJ.

The Map of Naples, Italy — Google Maps

"There are always many people with South American origins for these evenings. Of course, ‘originating from" and not ‘from South America"," Terruzzi recounted. "At first, we did not really understand each other. Those three continued to say ‘Athens, Athens." And then they asked for the Hotel Museum, which we don't have here."

Indeed, the Hotel Museum is not too far from my house, in Athens. The Athens. Again, to be fair, Athens in Spanish is written Atenas, which obviously sounds the same as Atena — except for the Lucana part. In addition to that, they didn't have a SIM card, so they were unable to use their cell phones and the internet. And it is true that visa-free travel to Europe was granted to Colombians as recently as December of 2018, so it is possible that it was their first time ever in Europe.

Eventually, Santoriello and Terruzzi, good samaritans and lovers of Latin music, helped the Colombians reach a bus station, where they all learned the tickets to Rome cost 70 euros, and the tickets to Greece another 700. "They didn't even want a sandwich," Terruzzi said. "Enzo and I were as surprised as they were. We showed them a map of Atena Lucana. We sat them down because they were no longer able to stand."

To my three fellow Colombians, I feel for you, I know that feeling of being lost. Well, not that lost. In fact, I can assure you that if this story is true, as Luigi and Enzo claim when I reached out to them, most of my compatriatos are not this disoriented. For the moment, I am in Paris (France, not Texas), but when I get back to Athens, you can hire me as your own special Greek tourist guide — from Colombia.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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