Tag Archives: George Papandreou

Grey-haired men pestering children

The Greek political parties have started broadcasting their political ads and thought it might be interesting to translate some of them for (fun) you.

New Democracy (ruling party) has produced three videos so far. The first one is a desperate (in terms of acting, at least) attempt to show Antonis Samaras close to the younger generation (the majority of ND’s voters are above their 40s or even 50s).

The reference to the stadium is one more cheap attempt to attract votes of supporters of AEK Athens football club. They have been asking for a new stadium for more than a decade now and New Democracy is promising to make their dream too. I loved two details in this video.

The first one is that our PM indirectly admits that Greece, the country he has been governing for the past 2,5 years, is not a normal and serious country yet.

The second one is a symbolism. Greek youth faces unprecedented high unemployment and Samaras tells them “keep on training and we will keep on working”. I hope this was not some sort of subliminal message.

Their second video is even more ridiculous and desperate to use anything that happens in order to demonise SYRIZA. In this video New Democracy plays the security card in the same way it has adopted scare-mongering as its main strategy not only to win the 2012 elections (I can still remember them saying that we will be queuing for bread if SYRIZA won) but to control reactions and unrest during their administration. Samaras goes as far as using (again) the Charlie Hebdo story in order to stress his alignment with the “Fortress Europe” approach.

Their third video is an ode to individualism. A working man, insecure and alone, is having his thoughts about Greece.

He is scared he will lose his job if SYRIZA wins. This is how they want people to think. Just keep on xeroxing and shut the fuck up.

SYRIZA tried to play around with more positive words. Lots of crisis porn footage, the usual lock somewhere and a wind of change somewhere in between. Big nice words like dignity and justice that verify the vagueness of what they want to do.

Another video by SYRIZA is this.

It reminded me of an older ad produced by PASOK, the ailing coalition partner of New Democracy. Papandreou and Tsipras get prepared to address the crowd, they walk from the backstage to the main scene like Rocky Balboa was heading to face his opponents. Lots of former PASOK politicians have jumped to SYRIZA in the meantime and there are more and more people calling SYRIZA as the new PASOK. So this similarity looks even funnier now.

And last but not least, the video of Independent Greeks. I decided to translate it because it’s funny, despite the fact that the party might not manage to gain any seats at the Parliament after the elections. Their only hope is to reach the 3% threshold, gain 5-10 seats and be invited by SYRIZA to govern together.

As Greek satirical site Luben.tv put it “Why on earth do you keep showing us grey-haired men caressing children?”

The elections’ aftermath and SYRIZA’s ghost

So the (first) elections are over, the situation is kind of normalized and we’re preparing for the next ones on June 17. Greece is a weird country when it comes to elections. Some years ago New Democracy had won an election but the talk-of-the-town was what was happening in PASOK’s leadership. Two weeks ago, New Democracy did it again. They’ve won the elections but everybody is talking about SYRIZA and its leader, sexy Alexis. So who are they? If you want to get informed, read this by BBC’s Paul Mason, whose reports on Greece are probably the most accurate accounts of foreign journalists on what’s happening here.

Well, Greeks did not become radical leftists within a night, as they haven’t been transformed to fascists either. What most Greeks were looking for in the past election was a way to express their opposition to the bailout measures and the Memoranda, an economic policy and seems more and more inefficient and unfeasible. Traditional right wing voters turned themselves to either the Independent Greeks party (centre-right voters) or the Golden Dawn party (far right party but mainly voted by traditional right wing people who are against immigrants). Though the Left had far more choices, the majority went to SYRIZA, a coalition of leftist fractions with a platform of uniting the Left (a rare motto in Greece and an perennial longing of all Greek leftists) to form a leftist government that will undo the Memorandum and cancel the loan agreements. Very appealing for a suffering Greek, isn’t it?

I personally think that these two goals are not feasible and Alexis Tsipras rather meant that he would try to renegotiate the loan agreements and the relevant measures that must be taken. Which is what he had actually caused with his 2nd position in the elections. Suddenly officials from the EU and politicians from several European countries are discussing the dead end of the current plan and are pointing out the need for a slight change or easing of the measures. There is simply no foreseeable solution and exit from the crisis with the current plan. And this fact is the only victory of Greece on a European level, not just since the last elections but during the past 2,5 years.

A cartoon of Angela Merkel and Alexis Tsirpas by German caricaturist Reiner Hachfeld.

You see, Greeks had seen the Papandreou and Papademos governments passing measures that were dictated by the EU, the ECB and the IMF without any attempt of negotiation. They’ve seen Papandreou going abroad and having new measures in his suitcase upon his return without any complaint. Samaras participated in this theatre not because he believed in the rationale of these measures but because he succumbed to another PASOK’s blackmail (either you’re on Greece side a step before bankruptcy or you’ll be responsible for its suicide) back in late 2011. So now there is a feeling that only SYRIZA and Tsipras can a) unite the Left in Greece to form its first leftist government and b) renegotiate the Memoranda. And Europe? Europe is scared of him. Europe is scared the shit out of him simply because they can’t control him and because he might mean what he says.

It’s true that SYRIZA has been a bit confusing as to what exactly they are going to do if they were to form a government. The party, an until recently small leftist party composed of different fractions that tolerated different opinions within the Left, has seen several of its members announcing contradicting promises. Its ennemies, PASOK and New Democracy basically, have used this to their favor. They started a huge campaign to discredit SYRIZA by reminding us on a daily basis of what would happen if SYRIZA comes to power. The EU has followed suit and here we are now, having daily predictions of a post-apocalyptic, Armageddon-style Greece if SYRIZA wins the elections. The whole joke, apart from a daily news item, has now gone viral, it has its own hashtag on Twitter (#ftaei_o_syriza) and is slowly entering the internet meme sphere.

I decided to create a special category of posts in this blog that would contain only these threats – I called it “The Daily Threat Show“. Come back and visit this page (or simply RSS it), I guarantee a lot of fun and also a glimpse of how Greek people’s brains are bombarded with such absurd prophecies and will then be called to vote as reasonable people. Ask any Greek in the street if he knows what will happen after June 17 and you will understand by the confusion in his answers.

But a confused Greek in the street is probably not an originality. Greeks have been confused since 2010 when they were suddenly called to have mature opinions on issues of high Economics. Europeans have always seen the Greeks as a confused people. They were asking themselves: so what do these Greeks want anyway? Why do they protest? Will they solve their problem by breaking one more bank? A foreign journalist (from a eurozone country) came last year to Athens and asked me: So, explain to me, why don’t you want our money?

Alexis Tsipras in a photoshoot by high school students’ magazine “Schooligans”

If Greeks are confused, Europeans are almost schizophrenic. The narrative they’ve adopted is “Greece is given money, they should shut up and do what we say”. They’ve no time to examine the measures asked from Greece to take. They are not in a position to know whether it’s a feasible plan. They are not here to see the misery caused together with the lack of hope for an exit from the crisis. And as they are confused too, they are also afraid of the uncertainty. Here’s a short story to illustrate this.

A foreign journalist came to Greece and we were discussing the situation. This is the dialogue we had.

Foreign journalist: Greece has falsified its statistics in order to enter the eurozone. I’m sorry to say this but Greece was corrupt, it has cheated and now it’s time to pay.
Me: Yes but people in Europe knew that Greece was cheating. And Greece was not the only country which altered its stats in order to achieve the eurozone criteria.
Foreign journalist: Who knew?
Me: A lot of people knew and certainly several EU officials.
Foreign journalist: Really? Who knew?
Me: Certainly the Germans knew about Greece and Italy. And part of the corruption was carried out with German money, through the scandals with Siemens and the German submarines.
Foreign journalist: Why the hell would Greece want a leader like Tsipras? He is going to get you out of the eurozone. His proposals are not realistic, are not feasible.
Me: I partly agree but you’re contradicting a bit now. I know, you know, the Greeks know that their previous governments, as you said, were corrupt. This crisis is happening because of them, of how they handled the situation for at least the past 10 years.
Foreign journalist: Right.
Me: So Greeks finally realize that these politicians are corrupt and they decided to take them down from power. That should please the EU, if it had a problem with their corrupt mentality.
Foreign journalist:…
Me: Tsipras is a young politician, inexperienced yes, but certainly not the like of the previous ones. So Greeks are choosing a new guy to govern them and the EU gets scared. You know why?
Foreign journalist: Why?
Me: Because they can’t, or don’t know yet if they can, control him. Because he is unknown. 
 

Alexis Tsipras is neither Ernesto Che Guevara nor a European Hugo Chavez. Tsipras is simply Greece’s only bargaining chip.

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“.

Greek papers describe crucial weekend in panic

Greek newspapers today describe in their headlines the aftershock of yesterday’s resignations and the crucial weekend ahead of us. The general feeling that arises is that of panic. Here’s a quick translation of their headlines.

Ta Nea (11/02/2012)

Headline: Dangerous games on doorstep of the madhouse.

(Funnily, today’s gimmick is a copy of the book of Kama Sutra)

Ethnos (11/02/2012)

Headline: The dilemma is deal or collapse.

Dimokratia (11/02/2012)

Headline: Everything is dismantling.

Kathimerini (11/02/2012)

Headline: Papademos calls SOS amid storm.

Adesmeftos Tipos (11/02/2012)

Headline: Tsunami of resignations.

Eleftheros Tipos (11/02/2012)

Headline: A Papandreou “movement” against Papademos – Venizelos.

Vradini (11/02/2012)

Headline: Greece, zero hour.

Avriani (11/02/2012)

Headline: Revolt in the political parties.

Avgi (11/02/2012)

Headline: Memorandum’s system in decomposition.

Like a virgin

This is a great example if you want to see how a responsible Greek politician behaves in times of crisis. In May 2010, when Greece was about sign the IMF/EU/ECB Memorandum, Michalis Chrysochoidis was not just another Socialist MP but the Minister for Citizen Protection (one of the high profile government posts). Yesterday he was invited to talk to a news program at SKAI TV. The discussion was around a recent criticism on the terms of the Memorandum, highlighted by former Prime Minister Kostas Simitis’ speech at a conference in Berlin. This is the video excerpt from SKAI TV and below a quick translation.

Journalist: Let me ask you directly. How many hours did it take you to read the Memorandum? Because Mrs [Louka] Katseli (the then Minister for the Economy, Competitiveness and Shipping) said yesterday that she was given the Memorandum on Saturday night and spent two hours on reading it and this is how she went to vote on it. Have you read what the creditors have written down and did you have a different opinion than theirs? Were you aware of what you were about to sign?
Chrysochoidis: Are you serious?
Journalist: Absolutely.
Chrysochoidis: These things were discussed in the Parliament… No, I haven’t read the Memorandum at that time because, simply, I had other obligations. I had other duties…
Journalists: Excuse Mr. Minister, this is very serious. How did you sign it? Did you sign a text that commits the country for an eternity and that is responsible for the mess in which we are now and you are telling us that you didn’t read it? How can you say this so easily?
Chrysochoidis: Look, in politics things are not like that. 
Journalist: How are they?
Chrysochoidis: Some of my colleagues had negotiated, some of the responsible members which represented the government had negotiated and brought that legislation into the Parliament and, as you remember, it was voted by the majority of the Parliament, by PASOK and LAOS if I remember well.
Journalist: Is there a direct responsibility on the economic staff of the then government [i.e. the Minister of Finance George Papaconstantinou]?
Chrysochoidis: As I told you before, it was done so under a state of panic in view of a possible suspension of payments which was a threat over our head. My job at that time was to re-organize the Police, the Fire Brigade, to create the DIAS team [a Police group which patrols in motorbikes], to fight crime. It was not my job to study the Memorandum.

So Mr. Chrysochoidis just said that he signed one of the most important legislation passed in this country without even reading it. He just went the next day to the Parliament and voted for it like an amateur politician. Like a virgin! He didn’t have the time because he was re-organizing the Police which indeed showed a great zeal to crush the demonstrations taking place in the center of Athens. It was the same days when three people were burned in the fire of Marfin Bank, a collateral damage of that day’s violent chaos. The DIAS team were roaming the streets like horses of the Apocalypse, attacking protesters. And yes, crime, there wasn’t much of it that day because the political head of the Police devoted all his time on the issue rather than having a look at the Memorandum.

Katseli & Chrysochoidis

Louka Katseli and Michalis Chrysochoidis getting bored during some speech (it was probably an important one)

Some key things to note which will make some (more) sense. There is a widespread criticism on the terms of the Memorandum even by PASOK MPs, now that the old PASOK (that of George Papandreou) is crumbling. Everyone one is trying to clear his/her name, to distance themselves from the shame of “having been part of it”, preparing for the next day, or simply for the coming elections. Let’s not forget that Mr. Chrysochoidis has declared that he intends to challenge for the PASOK leadership which will be decided very soon. But let’s not be in a hurry and put all the blame to Chrysochoidis for simply telling us the truth. Most, if not all, of the MPs had literally a few hours to read the Memorandum. Among the virgins, there were some prostitutes too.

Here’s an excerpt from an older post that I’ve wrote (The run up to the Greek economic crisis) – it is a translation by an article of To Vima’s journalist Pavlos Papadopoulos.

“We were like prostitutes after their first time” a top government official confessed in his attempt to describe the Cabinet member’s psychological situation during their meeting to sign the Memorandum, on the 5th of May 2010. “We were looking at each other and we were all pale” he says. “We felt very ashamed since we couldn’t believe that we, PASOK, led Greece to the IMF, having chopped the salaries and the pensions”. And then he concludes “Since then we have been completely prostituted. We’ve done the same things over and over again without feeling any shame”. Almost all PASOK politicians admit in private that the Memorandum, despite its provision of some necessary reforms, is synonymous at the same time with the sentencing of the economy to a prolonged depression and with the mortgaging of the country to its lenders. However they recognize that it was the last choice in order to avoid bankruptcy and to secure the savings and the pensions, especially since the government had previously failed to implement the prior solutions.

“The Memorandum was hastily written by us and the troika” admits a high-ranking government official who participated in the (so-called) negotiations. “We had no idea of what we were writing and the troika experts were equally confused, working under great pressure from the European Commission and the IMF”. According to first hand accounts, the slightest preparation hasn’t been made and simply, on the last moment, they isolated part from older IMF Memorandums as those with Turkey, Mexico or Hungary and they would hurriedly adapt them to form the Greek Memorandum. “It’s a bad compilation, a Frankestein-styled Memorandum” says a Minister who admitted that he had less than three hours to read, understand, evaluate and approve the part of the agreement which would commit his Ministry for the next four years.

Obviously this Minister was not Chrysochoidis.

Michalis Chrysochoidis is currently Minister for Development, Competitiveness and Shipping.

Did the trial of Papandreou begin?

It seems that the investigation on the alteration of Greek Statistics (in 2010) has bumped into some sort of political involvement. The case began last September after the complaint of Zoe Georganta, a professor of Econometry at the University of Macedonia (Thessaloniki) & a member of ELSTAT (the Greek Statistical Authority), who said that the 2009 deficit was artificially augmented. She underlined that in November 2010 ELSTAT accepted pressures from Eurostat and produced a higher number for the country’s 2009 deficit, at 15,4% instead of 12-13% which was the real number. The goal was to make it politically more feasible to pass further economic reforms (cuts in salaries & pensions as well as taxes).

Financial prosecutor Grigoris Peponis

Financial prosecutor Grigoris Peponis has collected testimonies from 17 people who were involved in the case. His conclusion was included in the letter accompanying the case file on its way to Greece’s Supreme Court (Areios Pagos, the descendant of ancient Areopagus). In this letter Peponis says that there is evidence concerning criminal offences (under the Law on Ministerial Responsibility) by members of the the Greek government. He also wrote that in the testimonies there is explicit reference to an augmentation and an arbitrary determination of the 2009 public debt. The blame for this, according to the testimonies submitted to Mr. Peponis, is targeting the then Prime Minister, members of his government and the respective Finance Ministers.

After the Supreme Court, the case file will be transferred to the Greek Parliament which will decide on possible political responsibilities. In other words, this could be the beginning of a Special Investigative Committee and, if responsibilities are found, a Special Court for George Papandreou and his administration.

The names of those who testified were also made publicly available. Mr. Peponis had also invited current ELSTAT chairman, Andreas Georgiou, to testify but the latter did not provide a sworn testimony. In addition, George Papaconstantinou, Finance Minister during the examined period, rejected any claims against himself. In a public statement, he concluded that “there is an attempt to penalize the truth about the grave situation Greece was in 2009“. Mr Papaconstantinou is now Greece’s Minister for the Environment.

Politics, media and pimps

Yesterday the socialist party leader and ex-Prime Minister, George Papandreou, made another confusing move. Attending PASOK’s political council, he stated that he will quit politics by not setting himself as a candidate for PM in the next elections and either for the leadership of his party. Paradoxically Papandreou suggested that the Socialists’ internal election to chose their leader should take place after the general elections. Which means that Papandreou will lead the party in the elections but, in case of a victory, he is not going to be the Prime Minister.

Funnily, that wasn’t the most interesting part of his speech. Among other things, he made a short account of his administration and accused the Lambrakis Media Group (DOL) of undermining his government. The reason for DOL’s behaviour, according to Papandreou, was that the former prime minister had advised the National Bank of Greece not to lend the media group 10 million euros. As he said, the issue shouldn’t have reached him in the first place and, after being informed that DOL didn’t satisfy the economic criteria for the loan, he instructed NBG not to proceed in the lending.

DOL’s chairman, Stavros Psycharis, replied immediately to the accusation with this short announcement.  “It’s true that DOL asked for a loan from the National Bank of Greece, of which it is a customer for the past 90 years. The National Bank rejected the request officially. Unofficially they told us that it was not approved by the Prime Minister’s office. It’s obvious that any intervention from banks against newspapers which don’t satisfy government interests, is a fascist mentality. Obviously, when power is lost, memory is lost too, even for very recent events. The PASOK leader-in-retirement is kindly requested to state the circumstances under which we met for the last time at the Prime Minister’s office and the reasons for which we were asked to enter the building through the back door. He should also say who asked what from whom!”

This is the beautiful and prudent world of Greek politics and media, an interwoven set of business and political interests which, for decades, were serving one another forming the so-called establishment. Of course, he was not the first Prime Minister who ever said such a thing publicly. Back in 2004, his predecessor, Kostas Karamanlis, gave his famous speech on Greece’s five “pimps” who were thought to undermine his project. An article of that day describes the event in a very detailed way and I found it twice interesting to read it under today’s circumstances in Greece.

“We will not allow five pimps and five interest groups to push us around… They can easily be dealt with,” Karamanlis told a gathering of about 30 of his party’s members of Parliament in a Monastiraki restaurant best known for its kebab and ebullient owner and namesake, Bairaktaris. The meeting on Wednesday, in which generous portions of food and wine are said to have been consumed, was a private affair. It was, of course, not as private as a chat in his home or office, meaning that what was said could find its way into the public domain. And so the next day Karamanlis’ purported declaration had been leaked to the media. The government commented half-heartedly that the prime minister does not use such language and actually confirmed the gist of what he had said.

In a country where politics never sleep, where words are cheap and where memorable and colorful statements become slogans, Karamanlis’ purported words soon took on a momentum of their own. It was not only as if he had actually used these particular words at the dinner at Bairaktaris but as if he had declared them in full view of the public. He could, of course, always deny paternity but the statement will stick to him and will be part of his legacy. What now remains to be seen is what he meant by this statement. But what is even more significant is whether this signaled the start of a clash of titans or whether it was a verbal flare sent up into the dark sky to illuminate public life for a while before disappearing into the sea of grand, meaningless gestures.

On the surface, the meaning of the declaration is clear. Karamanlis was telling his troops that they should be ready to kick some enemy butt as part of an irresistible force.

Here you can read more about that event. In the meantime, a question instead of an epilogue. If the ruling elite is the pimp, who are the whores?

 

Now I know what they did last summer

I just read a detailed account of the backstage negotiations during last Spring and the dramatic, for the EU and especially for Greece, months that followed. It’s a must read for anyone interested. It is the product of a Wall Street Journal investigation, based on more than two dozen interviews with euro-zone policy makers. It reveals how the currency union floundered in indecision—failing to address either the immediate concerns of investors or the fundamental weaknesses undermining the euro. The consequence was that a crisis in a few small economies turned into a threat to the survival of Europe’s common currency and a menace to the global economy. Enjoy the reading. It’s long, even though slightly reduced by me, so go get some coffee and a couple of cigarettes.

At a closed-door meeting in Washington on April 14, Europe’s effort to contain its debt crisis began to unravel.

Inside the French ambassador’s 19-bedroom mansion, finance ministers and central bankers from the world’s largest economies heard Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then-head of the International Monetary Fund, deliver an ultimatum.

Greece, the country that triggered the euro-zone debt crisis, would need a much bigger bailout than planned, Mr. Strauss-Kahn said. Unless Europe coughed up extra cash, the IMF, which a year earlier had agreed to share the burden with European countries, wouldn’t release any more aid for Athens.

The warning prompted a split among the euro zone’s representatives over who should pay to save Greece from the biggest sovereign bankruptcy in history. European taxpayers alone? Or should the banks that had lent Greece too much during the global credit bubble also suffer?

The IMF didn’t mind how Europe proceeded, as long as there was clarity by summer. “We need a decision,” said Mr. Strauss-Kahn.

The dispute at the Washington meeting divided two of the Continent’s grand old men, both of them born in 1942 and both among the fathers of the euro.

Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s ascetic and irascible finance minister, understood the IMF’s ultimatum. The euro zone would have to draw up a second bailout package for Greece by summer, just a year after a loan deal for €110 billion, or $140 billion.

But this time, Mr. Schäuble said, “We cannot just buy out the private investors” with taxpayer money. That would reward reckless lending, he said, and it would never get through an increasingly impatient German parliament. Greece’s bondholders would be required to lend more money, Mr. Schäuble proposed, rather than take payment for their bonds at maturity.

Jean-Claude Trichet, the urbane French head of the European Central Bank, warned against forcing bondholders to put in more money, which would effectively delay repayment. “This is not a good way to go in a monetary union,” Mr. Trichet said. “Investors would avoid all euro-area bonds.”

Mr. Trichet, in the twilight of a 36-year career as a finance official, feared that if Greece didn’t honor its bond debts on time, the implicit trust that kept credit flowing to many weak euro-zone governments would shatter. More countries and their banks would lose access to capital markets, in a chain reaction with incalculable consequences.

The April meeting ended inconclusively.

Meanwhile, the cost for fixing Greece was rising. The Athens government’s budget deficit was stuck at a stubbornly high level.

Italian and Spanish borrowing costs were still affordable and stable. The yield on Spain’s 10-year bonds hovered around 5.3%; on Italy’s, around 4.6%.

The debate over making bondholders contribute to the new funding package for Greece—known as private-sector involvement, or PSI—divided euro-zone countries.

Germany had allies. In the Netherlands and Finland, new governments had promised voters they wouldn’t pay for problems in less-frugal Mediterranean countries. Breaking those promises would risk rebellions in parliament.

But France joined the ECB in resisting burden-sharing by bondholders. France’s banks had lent more heavily than Germany’s to Greece and other indebted euro nations, and France fretted about a Lehman Brothers-style banking-system meltdown. Italian officials also feared that a precedent for losses in Greece would scare investors away from Italy’s bonds.

Three weeks after the Washington gathering, on Friday, May 6, panic erupted. German news weekly Der Spiegel reported that Greece was thinking of leaving the euro zone, with policy makers heading to a secret meeting that night in Luxembourg.

The report was half-right. There was a meeting, but Greece was staying put.

Inside a country chateau, top euro-zone officials told Greece’s finance minister they expected deeper austerity and faster reforms in return for a new aid package.

Then Mr. Schäuble said he wanted to discuss how bondholder burden-sharing would work. The usually smooth-mannered Mr. Trichet lost his patience. “I want to put my position on the record,” he said: “I don’t agree with private-sector involvement, so I won’t take part in a discussion about the practicalities.” He stormed out.

Mr. Trichet’s assent was vital. If the ECB were to stop accepting Greek bonds as collateral for its lending to banks on the grounds that the bonds were in default, then Greece’s banks, which were stuffed full of their government’s bonds, would quickly run out of cash and collapse. That would radically drive up the cost of a rescue.

In Greece, a new wave of mass strikes and demonstrations was starting. Protesters, angry about Europe’s imposition of extra spending cuts and tax hikes, clashed with police in front of the Athens parliament in the biggest and most violent protests in a year.

Spanish and Italian bond prices remained stable. But Europe was at a dangerous impasse over Greece.

Many euro-zone governments hoped Mr. Strauss-Kahn could find a way to relax the IMF’s summer deadline. The IMF chief was due to discuss the matter with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on May 15, and with euro-zone finance ministers in Brussels the next day.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn couldn’t attend. Police in New York pulled him off his Paris-bound flight and charged him with sexually assaulting a hotel chambermaid. (The charges were later dropped, and prosecutors said they doubted the maid’s reliability.) An aide phoned Ms. Merkel at her central-Berlin home that Saturday and told her the news. The astonished chancellor responded with a German idiom that translates roughly as: “You couldn’t make this up.”

The IMF sent a lower-ranking official to Brussels in his place who had no latitude to deviate from the IMF’s deadline.

In Athens, meanwhile, a tent city of the “Indignant” protest movement—a groundswell of anger at the country’s impoverishment—sprang up outside parliament. Spain’s bond prices began to wobble as investors worried that other countries might also face debt restructuring.

On June 1, Mr. Schäuble’s deputy, Jörg Asmussen, presented a German plan at a meeting of finance officials in Vienna, at the Hofburg palace of the former Habsburg emperors. It involved pressuring Greece’s bondholders to swap their Greek debt for new IOUs that would come due far in the future. That would cut the amount of European taxpayer funding Greece would need.

After a meal in a palace banquet hall, the officials quarreled into the wee hours.

For the ECB, Mr. Trichet’s deputy Vitor Constâncio, of Portugal, denounced the German plan as “dangerous.” Credit-rating agencies would declare Greece to be in default on some of its debts—a so-called selective default. In that case, Mr. Constâncio warned, the ECB would refuse to accept Greek government bonds as collateral, dealing a death blow to Greek banks. France, Italy and Spain all supported Mr. Constâncio.

Germany’s Mr. Asmussen shot back with a threat of his own. Europe needed Germany’s money to fund a new program of Greek loans. “Without private-sector involvement,” he said, “there will be no program.”

Greece was descending into chaos. Embattled premier George Papandreou’s slender majority in parliament was fraying. On June 15, a swelling demonstration in Athens’s central square veered out of control.

Alone in his office, Mr. Papandreou phoned the parliamentary opposition leader and offered to make way for a national-unity government. Talks broke down, and the Greek government limped on badly wounded.

Even Ms. Merkel had some doubts about her finance ministry’s hard-line insistence that Greece’s bondholders take a loss. On June 17, she discussed a softer plan with French President Nicolas Sarkozy: a gentleman’s agreement under which Greek bonds would be honored but the bondholders would volunteer to buy new ones.

Mr. Schäuble pushed back. The veteran conservative politician was Berlin’s biggest supporter of the European dream, but he was also the keeper of Germany’s purse. He was determined to make banks share the burden with German taxpayers, and he didn’t trust them to keep a gentleman’s agreement.

When finance ministers met again on June 20, Mr. Schäuble pushed harder. Greece’s bondholders should be told not merely to accept a delay in repayment, he said, but also to forgive some Greek debt—a so-called haircut.

As Greece’s economy moved toward free fall, its debts were soaring beyond the country’s ability to pay, the Germans and their northern allies argued. Mr. Trichet and the southern countries resisted. Talks dragged on for hours. The ministers knew they couldn’t leave without some agreement.

They tried to please everyone: Greece would get more aid. Bondholder losses would be substantial, to placate the Germans, Dutch and Finns. But as the ECB insisted, they would avoid pushing Greece into selective default.

Investors knew you couldn’t have it both ways. As the threat of a Greek debt restructuring sank in, Southern Europe’s bond markets grew volatile. Spain’s 10-year bond yield rose above 5.6%. Italy’s reached 4.9%.

Greece’s parliament debated the extra austerity measures that Europe demanded. Central Athens erupted in violent protests. Anarchist youths tore up chunks of paving stone and threw them at riot police, who fired back with tear gas and stun grenades. Café parasols burned.

Europe hadn’t resolved how to keep Greece afloat. The IMF—whose demand for a decision had set off the whole argument—softened its ultimatum. IMF officials said they were satisfied that Europe would sort out some kind of new bailout, and wired Greece its summer aid payment on July 8.

It wasn’t enough to calm markets. Spain’s bond yield hit 6.3%. Italy’s rose to over 5.8%. Such borrowing costs, if sustained, would make it hard for both countries to rein in their debts.

The selloff in bond markets forced leaders to call an emergency summit for July 21.

Determined not to let the summit pass without an agreement, Ms. Merkel invited the French president, who objected to the German push for bondholder losses, to Berlin. The pair and their advisers met for dinner in the German chancellery the night before the meeting.

Few of them had time to touch the duck breast and vegetables on their plates as they searched for a compromise. Finally, Mr. Sarkozy said he would accept the private-sector involvement—if Ms. Merkel dropped her resistance to giving the euro-zone bailout fund broad new powers to buy debt of weak countries directly and move to protect such countries as Spain and Italy from bond-market contagion. Ms. Merkel agreed.

One more person needed to sign off. Ms. Merkel phoned Mr. Trichet at his Frankfurt office. He took the last Lufthansa flight to Berlin and arrived at the chancellery around 10 p.m.

Reluctantly, Mr. Trichet gave his OK. But he set conditions. Governments would have to insure Greek bonds against default so that the ECB could continue to accept them as collateral. And they would have to make plain that no other euro country but Greece would have its debts restructured.

The trio’s deal was both complicated and vague. Their staffs had little time to flesh out details before the next day’s summit in Brussels. As leaders trickled into the European Union’s boxy headquarters, Ms. Merkel faced a challenge to placate the euro zone’s south, which thought private-sector involvement was dangerous, and its north, which thought it didn’t go far enough.

When the leaders assembled at the sprawling summit table, Ms. Merkel admitted that the specter of bondholder losses was causing market unrest. But, she said, some Greek debt relief was essential. Without it, the bailout’s tough austerity conditions—made tougher by Greece’s missing its budget goals—would be seen as unbearable.

“If Greece had met its program parameters in April,” she snapped, “that would have helped.”

All 17 euro nations had to agree to private-sector involvement. But presented with a calculation that the plan would reduce Greece’s debt by only about €19 billion out of more than €350 billion total, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte balked. If it’s only €19 billion, he said, “I’m out. I need more.”

Finnish premier Jyrki Katainen also complained. His parliament wanted collateral in exchange for more Finnish lending to Greece. “No collateral, no agreement from me,” he said.

Mr. Sarkozy was peeved. “All our parliaments can cause problems,” he said.

Then it was Slovakia’s turn. Prime Minister Iveta Radičová was fighting to keep her coalition together over aid for Greece—a richer country than her own. Adding more powers to the bailout fund “would be suicide,” she said.

Greece’s Mr. Papandreou pleaded for help. “If we can’t solve even Greece, we won’t be seen as being able to solve anything else,” he said.

Hours later, the leaders had a communiqué. To appease the holdouts, it left key points broad and noncommittal, offering the possibility of collateral to Finland and describing the complex bondholder deal in a few strokes, vague language that would return to haunt the bloc.

Officials struggled to explain the new Greek bailout and the bondholder losses. Amid the confusion, Mr. Rutte dispensed muddled numbers. Bank analysts put out flawed reports.

Investor confidence faltered as it became clear that Europe’s compromise achieved the worst of all worlds. Greece would be pushed into a historic default—the first time in nearly 60 years that a developed, Western country wouldn’t honor its debts. But the default was so small that Greece was still left with a crushing debt burden.

And then official Europe went on vacation: Ms. Merkel to the Italian Alps, Mr. Sarkozy to the French Riviera.

Bondholders didn’t. They went on a rampage.

This article was written by Charles Forelle and Marcus Walker. Stephen Fidler, David Gauthier-Villars, Sudeep Reddy and Brian Blackstone contributed to it.

Wall Street Journal also produced this documentary, called “Europe at the Brink” in which WSJ editors and reporters examine the origins of Europe’s debt crisis and why it spread with such ferocity to engulf much of the continent and threaten the entire world.

A poll for Papademos

PM Lucas Papademos at the Greek Parliament

A new opinion poll is presented today by Sunday’s Ethnos newspaper. It’s questions (and the results as a consequence) are constructed in a way to show that Lucas Papademos is the best we (can) have. Here are the results and some comments from me (in italics).

The participants were asked to choose between two politicians on who is the most appropriate for Prime Minister.

Current PM Lucas Papademos scored 54,3% against New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, who got 21,7%, while 24% denied to give an answer.

Against PASOK’s George Papandreou, Lucas Papademos was preferred by 71,8% to only 3,8%. Another 24,4% did not reply.

Between Antonis Samaras and George Papandreou the score was 38,3% to 10,7%. The remaining 51% did not reply.

This looked a bit dodgy to me as I haven’t seen this practice for a long time. Placing Papademos in a dilemma against worn out politicians, bearing their sins from the past, makes him look like the Messiah. Indirectly what I can see is the need for new political parties rather than the legimization of the technocrats around Europe. He is not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy.

On whether the co-operation government under Lucas Papademos is a positive or negative development for our country, 40,4% replied “Positive”, 16,6% replied “rather positive”, 9% replied “rather negative” and 37,7% gave a negative answer while 6,8% did not reply.

35,7% of the interviewees had a positive view of Papademos, 27% had a “rather positive” view, 10,4% was rather negative and the stance for the 19,3% was simply negative. A no-reply was given by 7,6%.

Surprisingly there was a question on whether the interviewee wished that the new government’s efforts suceed. An 83,6% replied “Yes”, a 4,4% did not want to give an answer and a whole 12% wished that their efforts will not suceed.

You might wander, why on earth are there Greeks who wish to see their country failing? well, this is a characteristic of this nation since antiquity, it never unites until it’s inevitable or until there is a common foreign ennemy. A reason for wanting this government to fail might also be a need to show that technocrats’ governments are not efficient. In any case, it’s not just the “irresponsible” citizens/interviewees who think that way. One simply has to see behind the current government’s (of cooperation?) sluggishness and he’ll discover Ministers sabotaging one another in view of the next elections. An illegitimate government that feels that way and has its mind in the elections.

Back to the poll, 13,2% would like to see Papademos becoming a politician with one of the existing political parties after the end of the current administration, a 35,3% wishes to see him stepping down from politics and a 30,5% wants Papademos to found a new party. The rest 21% had no opinion on the matter.

As for popularity, here’s the ranking.

Lucas Papademos: 62,7% positive/rather positive view and 29,7% negative/rather negative view.

Fotis Kouvelis (Democratic Left): 47,3% positive/rather positive view and 44,7% negative/rather negative view.

Giannis Dimaras (Panhellenic Citizens’ Chariot): 36,8% positive/rather positive view and 52,4% negative/rather negative view.

Alexis Tsipras (SYRIZA): 35,5% positive/rather positive view and 62,4% negative/rather negative view.

Antonis Samaras (New Democracy): 31,4% positive/rather positive view and 66% negative/rather negative view.

Giorgos Karatzaferis (LAOS): 27,5% positive/rather positive view and 70,5% negative/rather negative view.

Aleka Papariga (Communist Party): 24,3% positive/rather positive view and 72,6% negative/rather negative view.

Dora Bakoyannis (Democratic Alliance): 19% positive/rather positive view and 78,5% negative/rather negative view.

George Papandreou (PASOK): 15,6% positive/rather positive view and 83,7% negative/rather negative view.

International press collage

Following the Information is Beautiful post, here’s another example of how you can creatively show the bigger picture. This is  a collage with front pages from the international press on the 4th of November (some days after George Papandreou’s announcement for a referendum and days before the appointment of the new national unity government). It was made and sent to me by street artist Absent.

International Press - front pages collage