Tag Archives: Anna Diamantopoulou

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The law was withdrawn in 1983, by Andreas Papandreou.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“.

Backstage talks for new political parties

Sunday paper “Real News” has its main article on the backstage discussions concerning the creation of new political parties. The international commitment on the 6th installment together with new polls showing a considerable decrease of the two main parties’ popularity (PASOK and New Democracy) has encouraged talks between several politicians.

Real News 04/12/2011

According to Real News, a meeting was held at the house of economist Aristos Doxiadis, on Thursday night. Among the many guests were PASOK MPs Anna Diamantopoulou and Giannis Ragousis. The two of them are among the most active PASOK MPs in the secret discussions with New Democracy MPs, as well as citiziens’ movements, for the creation of a new political entity.

The attendees have agreed that the situation in Greece demands the creation of a new party and the circumstances of the Papademos administration benefits such a move. Actually, is is widely discussed that Lucas Papademos can possibly be the leader of this new party. This can happen after or even before the elections, as it has been publicly expressed by Thanos Veremis (Professor of Political Science and the Athens University and Vice-President of the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy – ELIAMEP). According to the article, there are discussions between PASOK MPs Anna Diamantopoulou, Giannis Ragousis, Ilias Mosialos and New Democracy MPs Aris Spiliotopoulos, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, Kostis Hatzidakis, Evangelos Antonaros. Another name that should be noted is that of Giorgos Floridis (former PASOK MP and currently a member, together with Aristos Doxiadis, of a political formation called Koinonikos Syndesmos – Social League) who had a meeting with Andreas Loverdos last week.

Meanwhile, according to the same article, George Papandreou was also offered to found a new party and Evangelos Venizelos stated that he would too examine such a likelihood if the country wasn’t in a state of emergency.

In New Democracy, they are examining the possibility of non-majority victory in the coming elections and the option to form a coalition with LAOS. This rapprochement, according to Real News, can also be explained by the fact that Antonis Samaras agreed to LAOS’ participation in the current Papademos government.

At the same time, Dora Bakoyannis (former Foreign Minister under last New Democracy administration and now leader of her own party – Democratic Alliance) “flirts” with Sotiris Hatzigakis who was recently driven out from New Democracy. SYRIZA is examining a possible cooperation with PASOK, again in view of the coming elections. Finally, the Democratic Left under Fotis Kouvelis is also “targeting”  members of the now crumbling PASOK party.

November 17 or why this day is so important for Greeks

A date haunts Greece, the date of November 17. It’s the date when the uprising of several hundred of students, who stood up against the military dictatorship by occupying the Athens Polytechnic, was brutally crushed. The iconic photo of a tank driving through the Polytechnic’s gate is a symbol of freedom for (probably) all Greeks.

The tank just before it was ordered to enter the Polytechnic (photo borrowed from http://eteriafotografizontas.blogspot.com)

It was back in 1973. The student uprising was crushed but the beggining of the end for the military junta begun that day. The colonels fell from power a year later, in the summer of 1974.

To describe how central this day is for modern Greeks one needs to mention a few simple facts.

  • One of the characteristics that the new Greek state has (or had until recently) was the so called “university asylum”. It was an emotionally heavy (due to the Polytechnic uprising) law that officialy prohibited the police from entering any university building. From then onwards, the university compounds would be an area of free expression. In the decades that followed that law meant a lot of freedoms indeed, but few abuses as well. Police only stepped inside university areas after the local dean would ask the prosecutor for their presence. The freedom of speech boomed but Greek universities became at times a haven for different sorts of criminal activity (from rioters who caused mayhem and then hid in university buildings, playing hitch and hike with riot police, to people selling copied DVDs). In any case that law was so emotional for Greeks that, despite its occasional abuses, people were more or less supporting or tolerating it.
  • Another illustrative fact is that the biggest terrorist organization in Greece was named after that date. November 17 aka 17N. It was the Greek version of Red Army Faction or the Red Brigades, a pure urban guerilla movement targeting individuals who were connected with the dictatorship or the establishment and was relatively popular, especially up until the end of the 1980s.
  • The 1967-1974 dictatorship was one of those CIA sponsored coup d’ etats that were so popular back then. The American role behind the scenes would never wash away from our collective memory. Even today, people in the streets would tell you things like ‘The Americans are behind everything”. The first victim of 17N was Richard Welch, CIA’s station chief in Athens back in 1975. The last one was Stephen Saunders in 2000, he was the military attaché of the British Embassy in Athens. So you get the picture and now you know all about the infamous Greek anti-americanism. This is why the 17 November demonstration always begin from the Polytechnic and ends at the American Embassy.

Graffiti at the Polytechnic's gate: "Kick USA out" - "Kick NATO out"

This year’s celebration for the 17th of November is a special anniversary. It’s not a round year number as the media people would suppose (it’s 38 years since November 1973). It’s special because last summer the Greek government passed a new Education law which abolished the “university asylum”. The law, which contains much more serious reforms to the Greek Higher Education system, was suspiciously passed at the end of August, a time of the year when, traditionally, important legislation is not discussed. Mysteriously, the abolition of the university asylum was discussed (and rejected) only 6 months earlier, but last August both PASOK and ND voted for the new Education Law. So this will be the first time we celebrate the day the abolished university asylum was inspired from. It practically also means that rioters cannot hide in university buildings any more. Of course police (and the government that is ordering the police) are not stupid enough to start wandering in university classrooms chasing rioters or trying to find an answer as to why they never managed to study anything.

Today there is no 17N. There is only the government to terrorize the citizens. After the “accept these measures or we’ll run out of money” blackmail we’ve been hearing a month before every new wave of austerity measures, they now try to scare people away from the demonstrations by leaking information or implyinh that there will be too much violence. The Minister of Citizen Protection (no, seriously, it’s not an Orwellian joke, that’s the official name of the former Ministry of Public Order), Mr. Christos Papoutsis, has informed us that there will be around 7.000 policemen in the streets of Athens patroling and preventing bad things from happening. A week earlier he has met the Deans from all Athens’ Universities in order to discuss how they will better protect this year’s celebrations.

It’s interesting to have a flash back here.

Christos Papoutsis was the president of the Greek National Union of Students between 1978 and 1980 and Deputy Secretary of PASOK Youth Movement for about the same period (1978–1981). From 1984 to 1995 he was a Member of the European Parliament and served as a EU Commissioner from 1995 to 1999. For many Greeks he belongs to the degenerated “Polytechnic’s generation”. This was the generation which participated in the uprising and who belonged, politically speaking, to the Left. A lot flirted with PASOK and became politicians in the 1980s and a lot from this lot also were corrupted by consecutive years in power. Although Papoutsis was never found guilty on corruption or embezzlement, Greeks didn’t forget (and some never forgave) the fact that as a Minister of Mercantile Marine he did not resign after the MS Express Samina disaster in 2000.

But there is another more impressive example of the so called Polytechnic’s generation. During the uprising the students, calling themselves the “Free Besieged” (a reference to a poem by Greek national poet Dionysios Solomos inspired by the Ottoman siege of the city of Mesolonghi in the 1820s), barricaded themselves in and, using laboratory equipment. constructed a radio station that repeatedly broadcast across Athens this message:

This is the Polytechnic! This is the Polytechnic! This is the radio station of the free struggling Greeks. Down with the junta, down with Papadopoulos (the junta leader), kick the Americans out, down with fascism, the junta will be brought down by the people… People, come out to the streets, come to support us and you will find your freedom…

The female voice of that message which was repeated over and over again belonged to Maria Damanaki. She was then a member of the Communist Youth (KNE). After the fall of the colonels’ regime, Damanaki became an MP with the Communist Party (KKE) and then with the more progressive Leftist party, Synaspimos (Coalition of the Left) of which she also became leader between 1991 and 1993. In 2003 she resigned from Synaspismos and when George Papandreou succeeded Costas Simitis to the leadership of PASOK (January 2004), she decided to join with him. That decision came despite the fact that after her departure from Synaspismos she had ruled out the prospect of her joining PASOK. After several years as a PASOK MP, Damanaki was nominated as the representative of Greece in the European Commission and on 27 November 2009 was appointed as the Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. Since the 1973 student uprising, this iconic figure of the Polytechnic generation has managed to travel across the political spectrum, from the communist left hardliners to the practically liberal PASOK. And, just recently, in May 2011, I was totally disappointed to see her participating in the blackmailing game of the government in order to pass another round of austerity measures. “Either we agree with our creditors on a programme of tough sacrifices and results, undertaking our responsibilities to our past, or we return to the drachma” she said, being the first senior Greek official to raise that possibility.

The Athens Polytechnic courtyard after the end of the students' uprising

Her statement shocked Greeks, a lot resigned from their objections, Athens saw the biggest demonstrations in decades, but the measures were passed as Memorandum No2. It didn’t sound as sweet as that young girl’s voice which was so thirsty for freedom. Here’s how sweet it was:

Another originality of this year’s celebrations is that, for the first time, the Minister of Education, Anna Diamantopoulou, will not visit the Polytechnic in order to lay a wreath in the memory of the students who died. The crowd would probably attack her physically not only because she is a member of this government but especially because she introduced the new Education law that caused so many reactions. And guess what! If she’d go, she wouldn’t be in a university asylum anymore. Anna Diamantoulou said in a statement: “Respecting the Polytechnic means, above all, respecting the truth. And the truth is that, under the circumstances which have  been created by the non-democratic actions of some dynamic minorities in the past years, there is absolutely no point to lay wreaths accompanied by either the police or the party supporters”. As my friend Ioanna commented “what’s her problem? everywhere she is going, she is accompanied by cops or party dogs anyway”.

Banner hanged from the Polytechnic's roof - the word "Freedom" is written on it