Tag Archives: Andreas Papandreou

On yogurts as a form of political protest in Greece

The co-ruling PASOK party had its national conference today. Its goal is to elect the new party leader who will succeed George Papandreou and will lead the Socialists in the coming elections. The candidates are Christos Papoutsis and Evangelos Venizelos. At some point, an old man, member of PASOK himself, approached Venizelos, complained about the cuts in his pension and then threw him a yogurt before being carried out by bodyguards outside the hall.

This is the latest in a series of food throwing that has reemerged during the past two years of the crisis as a means of political protest.

Greek yogurt

Originally, “yogurt throwing” was a means of protest against authority by Greek youngsters in the late 1950s. They were called “Teddy Boys”, a name borrowed from the homonymous British subculture. You see, food throwing was traditionally a form of protest (preferable rotten eggs or tomatoes) but it was only in 1950s when the plastic cup substituted yogurt’s classic ceramic pot, a marketing move that made yogurt a non-lethal weapon. The trend of yogurt-throwing was fiercely fought by the authorities with the legendary “Law 4000/1958” according to which offenders were arrested, had their heads shaved and paraded through the streets of Athens.

A teddy boy is paraded in the streets of Athens with his head shaved.

The law also inspired a movie (Law 4000). Here’s a great excerpt that needs no subtitles.

The law was withdrawn in 1983, by Andreas Papandreou. In 1997, a builder who was member of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) threw a yogurt on the then Minister of Employment, Miltiadis Papaioannou (now Minister of Justice) and his then Deputy Minister Christos Protopappas (now PASOK’s Parliamentary Group Representative) . The court decided that yogurt throwing was not an offense that had to be tried automatically but only if a lawsuit is filed by the victim.

During the past two years of the Greek crisis, attacks by angry citizens against politicians have become a frequent phenomenon. At the beginning there were verbal attacks, in restaurants and in the streets. Politicians began to walk less freely in the street without bodyguards, especially after Kostis Hatzidakis, a New Democracy MP, was brutally attacked by protesters in December of 2010.

The verbal attacks are still the norm wherever politicians appear in public (e.g. see what happened in the 28th October military parades – btw these days the government had a meeting to assess the security situation in view of the 25th of March Independence Day parades) Soon food throwing reappeared. The most popular “weapons” have been yogurt, eggs and, at times, tomatoes.

According to an article of Eleftherotypia newspaper, written by Georgia Linardou, in 2011 two members of the government and one MP have been attacked with yogurts. Last March, the vice president of the government Theodoros Pangalos was attacked while having dinner at a town just outside Athens. Some months later, Minister of Interior Haris Kastanidis was attacked in a similar fashion while watching “Midnight in Paris” at a cinema in Thessaloniki. Liana Kanelli, an MP with the Communist Party of Greece, has also been attacked with yogurt in June 2011, while she was trying to get through a block of protesters in order to reach the Parliament for the vote on the Mid-Term Program.

As for attacks with eggs, the list is longer, probably thanks to the different characteristics of this sort of food when used as a missile (their position on the day of the attack):

  • Manolis Othonas, Deputy Minister for Citizen Protection
  • Ilias Mosialos, Minister of State
  • Kostas Skandalidis, Deputy Minister of Agriculture
  • Andreas Loverdos, Minister of Health
  • Anna Diamantopoulou, Minister of Education
  • Giorgos Petalotis, Government Spokesman

Also:

  • Asterios Rontoulis, MP with LAOS
  • Dora Bakoyanis, Democratic Alliance party leader
  • Spiros Taliadouros, MP with New Democracy

In 2010 Alekos Alavanos was also attacked, with yogurts, during SYRIZA’s campaign for that year’s local elections.

Many politicians have criticized this form of protest. KKE’s leader, Aleka Papariga, has said that yogurt-throwers are people who have voted for PASOK or New Democracy and that the act itself is not some particular act of resistance but rather a bourgeois reaction that defuses the social discontent. Deputy Minister of Regional Development, Sokratis Xinidis, preferred some self-criticism when he said “The time has come for all of us to pay the price. I am ready to be thrown a yogurt…”

There’s a great article about the presence of food in Greek politics. It’s called “Bread, Milk, and the Greek Parliamentary Record” and is written by Leo Vournelis, here. Another interesting aspect can be read in “Eating in Times of Financial Crisis” also hosted on the website of the Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition.

Finally, let me remind the readers of a historical recurrence. This is the second time that Evangelos Venizelos is trying to win the leadership of PASOK. The first time was back in 2007, in a mutiny-styled manoeuvre when he appeared as a candidate practically on the same night his party, then led by George Papandreou, lost the elections. In the following days few cared about the newly elected government – the top story was what was happening inside PASOK. In those polarized (for PASOK supporters) times, another party member threw a coffee on Venizelos while he was entering the party offices.

What I still remember from that video is Venizelos’ reaction. See at 1:33 for a better a view of it. Scary isn’t it?

UPDATE: Another interesting read is “The Dangers of Yoghurtification as a Political Movement in Greece“.

The run-up to the nomination of Lucas Papademos

Here’s an interesting article with some backstage information on what really happened during the talks before the formation of the Papademos government. It was published yesterday by Dimokratia, a right-wing pro-New Democracy newspaper.

The article is based on the confidential minutes of the talks between the Greek President, Karolos Papoulias, and the leaders of PASOK (George Papandreou), New Democracy (Antonis Samaras) and LAOS (Giorgos Karatzaferis). The conclusion is that Papandreou ended up in suggesting for the seat of the new Prime Minister the same person he was rejecting at the beginning of the talks, having as  a goal to cause the collapse of the talks and put the blame on Samaras.

The first name that was suggested by George Papandreou was that of former New Democracy MP (now independent after her resignation) Elsa Papadimitriou. The reaction of Antonis Samaras, according to the article, was “I will smile in order not to burst into laughter”. Samaras allegedly later said “I realized since the beginning [of the talks] that Papandreou was cheating, trying to lead things into a no way out situation. His goal was to either force me to say Yes to everything or he’d remain as Prime Minister”. According to the article, Papandreou’s tactic was to ridicule the process by suggesting non-relevant names for the seat of Prime Minister in order to cancel the procedure and keep his position. Another Sunday newspaper, Proto Thema, also had an article about the suggestion of Elsa Papadimitriou. Proto Thema journalists Giannis Kourtakis wrote that Samaras’ reaction that day (6/11/11) was “Do we have anything more serious?”.

Elsa Papadimitriou at the Parliament (discussion on the 2011 Budget - December 2010)

Here’s a funny trivia to understand why her nomination was so surreal. Elsa Papadimitriou was a member of New Democracy – she quit her party in June 2011 when she also gave a confidence vote to George Papandreou in his crucial Medium-Term Program. She is the daughter of Dimitris Papadimitriou, a politician who belonged to the Centre Union party in the 1960s under George Papandreou (the grandfather). Her father was one of the so-called apostates who, as Konstantinos Mitsotakis, undermined George Papandreou and led to a situation which facilitated the colonels’ coup d’ etat in 1967. Thus, after the dictatorship, Dimitris Papadimitriou joined the New Democracy party together with former Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis. However, according to an article of Proto Thema newspaper, Dimitris Papadimitriou had personal ties to George Papandreou (the grandfather). His son, Andreas Papandreou was Elsa Papadimitriou’s professor of Economics when she was studying at Berkeley college in the 1950s. And funnily enough, Elsa spent some nights as a baby sitter for her professor’s children (among which was the recent Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou). According to Proto Thema, George Papandreou came up with the idea of nominating Elsa Papadimitriou after talks with his brother Antrikos Papandreou. So, in a nuttshell, during the recent crucial moments for Greece and for the whole of eurozone, George Papandreou (the grandson) -after consultation with his brother, nominated their former-baby sitter for Prime Minister of the government of national unity. How cute.

After the rejection of Apostolos Kaklamanis, on Wednesday night (9/11/11), Papandreou called Samaras to suggest Filippos Petsalnikos. “I’ll think about it and will let you know in 10 mins” replied Samaras according to Dimokratia newspaper. After half an hour the leader of New Democracy, knowing that Petsalnikos would cause great reactions inside PASOK and thus not having to be the one who would veto him, called Papandreou and gave him the go ahead. He also knew that Petsalnikos would strongly be rejected by Karatzaferis.

The reactions inside PASOK did start to occur and some hours later the leaders of PASOK, New Democracy and LAOS headed towards the Presidential Mansion where Giorgos Karatzaferis invented an unbelievable excuse to walk out from the meeting. According to Dimokratia’s article, Karatzaferis arrived at the Presidential Mansion after Papandreou and Samaras. The latter two were already sitting  with Papoulias in the meeting room waiting for him. When Karatzaferis arrived, he ordered from an employee to fetch him an orange juice. A bit later he stormed out of the mansion and went furious to the journalists who were outside the building. See his style while doing that.

“I am extremely saddened that at such a critical moment they are playing tactical games at the expense of the president of the republic,” an agitated Karatzaferis shouted on camera.

When the President’s secretary entered the meeting room and announced that “Karatzaferis departed”, Papoulias, Samaras and Papandreou thought that he was on his way to the mansion. They didn’t believe that he had arrived and left the Presidential Mansion in protest.

Later on, according to the same article, Samaras went to his family home nearby to have some rest for the night. The Prime Minister’s office in the meantime was leaking information to the media that Papademos was asking for several conditions in order to be the head of the new government. Half an hour after midnight Papandreou called Samaras and they had the following dialogue:

Papandreou: Antonis, you must decide tonight! I suggested Papademos.

Samaras: George, are you some kind of dictator to dictate me what I must decide immediately? As for me, I am not.

Papandreou: You don’t understand. Since things came that far, it’s you who decides! Either you accept Papademos or I go on.

Samaras: Tell me George, all these things about the conditions of Papademos… are they true?

Papandreou mumbled something about the way the journalists function and then said that Papademos had set five conditions. Samaras told him that he would reply in the morning. Before they hanged up the phone, Papandreou told Samaras that Papademos would call the New Democracy leader in a bit.

At about 1am of Thursday, Papademos called Samaras. The New Democracy leader asked him if he had set conditions for his nomination. After Papademos said no, Samaras asked him to deny this with a public statement. The current Prime Minister said that he couldn’t due to technical reasons, it was too late and he was all alone in his house, without his team. The next morning Papandreou and Samaras met at the Presidential Mansion, Karatzaferis was convinced to attend too. Samaras was furious that Papandreou lied to him so openly the previous night concerning the alleged Papademos’ conditions. The three politicians, under the President of the Republic, finally agreed on Papademos who later, in his first public statement outside the mansion, did Samaras the favor and denied that he had set any conditions in order to accept the post.

Who is Loukas Papadimos?

Here’s a short CV of Loukas Papadimos, the name which is discussed more for the seat of the new Greek Prime minister in the coming national unity government. He has been the No1 choice in the theoretical discussions for a possible national unity government for months now. He is also respected by George Papandreou who actually appointed him as an unpaid Economic advisor in 2010. Reports on the backstage political tug-of-war which preceded the Greek government reshuffle back in June 2011 were mentioning that he was offered to succeed George Papaconstantinou in the Ministry of Finance, a post that Papadimos has denied.

He was born in 1947 and graduated from the high-profile elitist Athens College (Hellenic American Educational Foundation). The school is often referred to as a power hub, due to its numerous influential alumni who remain closely connected after graduation. He later studied at the MIT earning a BA in Physics, a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering and a Phd in Economics.

In 1980 he worked as an economist for the Federal Bank in Boston and in 1985 he was appointed as a chief economist for the Bank of Greece. In 1988 he became a Professor of Economics at the University of Athens. In 1993 he was appointed by Andreas Papandreou (George’s father) as Vice Chairman of the Bank of Greece and he became its Chairman a year later. From that post he worked for Greece’s preparation to join the euro zone, a project which was continued under Prime Minister Kostas Simitis until the end of the 1990s.

Between 2002 and 2010 he worked as Vice Chairman of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.

A funny historic trivia is that the last national unity government in Greece was formed in 1989 under another banker, Xenofon Zolotas, who was Greece’s former representative to the IMF and the European Economic Committee. Zolotas was also a former Chairman of the Bank of Greece (1974-1981). That government, which was called Ecumenical Government, was also formed in order to avoid the  bankruptcy of the Greek state and lasted for less than 6 months. Current President of the Greek Republic, Karolos Papoulias, and New Democracy leader, Antonis Samaras, had also participated in that government.

Less than two weeks ago, Loukas Papadimos has written an article for the Greek Sunday newspaper To Vima saying that he preferred a wide restructuring of the Greek debt than a generous haircut.

You can also read a profile of Loukas Papadimos here (The Telegraph newspaper)

Classifieds: Prime Minister wanted for small South European country

When I started writing this blog I was thinking that one post per 1-2 days would be enough. The developments of last week have been so many that I feel like posting something every half an hour. Unfortunately everything is changing so fast that I avoid writing things that might be outdated within minutes.

A Prime Minister decides a referendum about question X. He then changes his mind and prefers question Z. Then he changes his mind and cancels the referendum. Decisions that usually need weeks or months to be taken or change. Here in Greece, our politicians need minutes to do that. Who said that Greeks are slow and lazy at their job?

I was relieved that Papandreou and Samaras (I shall call them “the kids” for the rest of this post) have shelved their egos and started talking about the new government. Unsurprisingly they haven’t yet agreed on the new Prime Minister (or, rather, the agreed candidates they chose did not want to take the job post). The irony with these kids is that they now look like adults who have nothing in common. Some decades ago, they were studying in the USA enjoying a comfortable life.

Papandreou and Samaras studied together at Amherst College (USA)

The were playing in the same music band, they were going out together. They could even have had the same girlfriends, said jokingly Mimis Androulakis, a PASOK veteran ideologist. One day Samaras and Papandreou were at their favourite place, a pizza restaurant owned by some Chris Bell. Samaras told Papandreou “One day we’ll face each other in the Parliament”. “I will not get involved with politics” replied Papandreou. And here they are quarelling like kids again. The only difference is that now the whole world cares.

Samaras and New Democracy have rejected the idea to offer their members for Ministry posts. So we have the paradox that New Democracy is the only opposition party in the world that wants to participate and influence a new government, without ever being accused of having participated in it.

Another funny thing is that the greek public has been a bit confused on the name of the new goverment. Here are some of the names:

  • national unity government
  • government of national salvation
  • emergency government
  • interim government
  • transitional government
  • government of cooperation
  • co-goverment
  • special task government
  • fixed-term government

But that’s a detail if you compare it with the crucial point: who’s gonna be the Prime Minister? The most probable candidate for the most of the day (yes, it actually changed during less than a single day) was Loukas Papadimos, former vice-president of ECB. It was reported that he posed some demands that couldn’t be satisfied. Another candidate was former Ombudsman Nikiforos Diamantouros. The third candidate was Panagiotis Roumeliotis.

Now, I have no reason to prefer one of the three, but I would like to write this. Panagiotis Roumeliotis was a Minister at the end of 1980s during Andreas Papandreou’s (George’s father) administration. During that scandal heavy era, Andreas Papandreou, Panagiotis Roumeliotis and three more MPs were accused of embezzlement. Roumeliotis went off to become a European MP before the court and managed to avoid being tried thanks to his European MP immunity. He later was Greece’s representative to the IMF.

Update: As soon as I posted this I read that a deal has been reached and it will be announced tomorrow. Despite that, I’ll keep the fact expressed in the words of popular Greek blogger Pitsirikos: In the country where everyone says “Make me a Prime Minister even for just a day and I will manage to change everything”, no one wants to become a Prime Minister.