Tag Archives: Giorgos Petalotis

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The law was withdrawn in 1983, by Andreas Papandreou.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 Greek economic crisis (Part 4)

This is the 4th part of Greek journalist Pavlos Papadopoulos’ article on the run-up to the current Greek economic crisis, published by “To Vima” newspaper (16/10/2011). The first part of the article is here, the second part is here and the third part is here.

“Neither Papandreou nor any of us believe in the Memorandum” says a Minister. “I’ll remind you that the Medium-Term Program was fifth in the row when discussed at the Cabinet, right after the legislation for companion dogs. The whole government is in denial”. This denial led to a blackmail, using the drachma. On Friday 6 May 2011 Papaconstantinou traveled to Luxembourg for a secret meeting with several powerful euro zone Finance Ministers, presided by the Eurogroup head, Jean Claude Juncker.

According to the most probable version the cause of that meeting was that, some days earlier, Papandreou had implied at a talk with German officials that the Memorandum’s policy and the German strictness on its implementation could make Greece return to the drachma. This indirect threat annoyed the Germans. It is alleged that Wolfgang Schaeuble himself leaked the information to Der Spiegel Magazine, which posted it in its web edition that Friday evening, after the closure of euro zone banks, in order to drag the Greek government into a disorderly retreat.

Despite the upheaval that was caused in Athens, Papandreou delayed for two hours (!) to allow the then government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis to issue a rudimentary rebuttal. He first wanted to learn the European partners’ reaction to the “Greek ultimatum”. The reaction was not a polite one. Papaconstantinou was attacked by Juncker and and Schaeuble, while Jean Claude Trichet left the meeting within a few minutes. The “Greek blackmail” collapsed but it inspired Schaeuble to examine the famous “Plan B”, which is a “euro zone without Greece”. Despite all these, the Greek demands for a new bailout program with decreased interest rates and a prolongation of the deadlines for loan repayments were accepted. It was exchanged with a deeper “domestic devaluation” (of prices and incomes) through a Medium-Term Program which almost led to the fall of the government.

George Papandreou with Dominique Strauss Kahn

Papandreou maintained a secret communication channel with Dominique Strauss Kahn, looking for a platform for IMF intervention in Europe. Within the Papandreou family the IMF is thought to be an organization with a positive impact around the world. Papandreou’s brother, Nikos Papandreou, who participates decisively in the administration of the country (though always in backstage), was a supporter of the recourse to the IMF. The Papandreous believed that an advanced “international” model of administration should be applied to Greece. They have underestimated the fact that IMF means submission.

The Pushkin Cafe in Moscow

While the prime ministerial mind was lying in Washington D.C., where the IMF headquarters are, Moscow brought Greece closer to… Tel Aviv. The first secret meeting between Papandreou and the Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, took place at the Russian capital’s Pushkin Café. Greece would provide Israel an alliance and the gateway it needed to push the Leviathan deposit’s natural gas towards Europe. The energy diplomacy with Israel (which couldn’t start paying off but in 5-10 years) was considered a basic component of the strategy for the avoidance of bankruptcy (!). So this is why time was passing by and the government was taking zero efficiency measures, the government’s staffing was carried out through open.gov (unless Nikos Papandreou was intervening in order to promote persons of his own influence into key-posts) and the Ministers were in a constant state of confusion when it came to strategy and responsibilities.

George Papandreou in Davos (January 2010 - photo by Reuters)

The real shock for the Prime Minister came at Davos, at the end of January 2010. “The Hungarian Prime Minister approached me and told me to take measures” Papandreou said to the Cabinet meeting that he called right after his return. “Things are different compared to how they were a month ago” added Papaconstantinou. The Social Democrat Hungarian Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany, had recent experience with the IMF and wanted to share it with Papandreou. Some time later, he would be defeated at the elections by the Right. After Davos, the atmosphere within the Greek government was like a funeral. They had realized that they “lost” the time. Likewise they also lost the banks. “For a long time they believed that the warnings from bankers were only about the banks’ interests” say sources from the banking sector. They were too late to realize that the state’s exclusion from the markets is accompanied by a similar exclusion of the banks, having as a result the postponing of lending to individuals and corporations which slows down the economic activity, spreads poverty and increases unemployment.

The European Mechanism which was presented in 25 March caused the markets’ attack to Greece instead of making them not to do so. Why would the markets lend a state when they can much more safely lend the Mechanism that would then lend the state? Greek bond yields skyrocketed in mid-April 2010. On Friday 23 April, the Prime Minister had a planned visit to the tiny island of Kastellorizo, which had to do with issues of regional development. During Wednesday and Thrusday before the trip the telephones in the Maximou Mansion and the Finance Ministry didn’t stop ringing. Heads of governments and Finance Ministers of big states were calling Papandreou and Papaconstantinou. They were demanding that Greece recourses to the Mechanism because the crisis was hitting bank trust towards their own countries jeopardizing their future.

“Are we going to cancel the trip to Kastellorizo?” Papandreou was asked by his associates. “Why should we cancel it? Life goes on” he replied and added “I will make the announcements from Kastellorizo”. The circumstances necessitated a purple tie. In a surreal scenery, with a small fishing boat sailing in the picturesque port, the Prime Minister called forth metaphors from the Odyssey.

He wasn’t wrong. The odyssey for Greece had just started and he was aware of it. This is why he avoided signing the Memorandum. He wanted to avoid an odyssey of an agreement which could chase him forever. The new “social contract” was signed only by Finance Minister Papaconstantinou. Probably the only Minister who really believed that the Memorandum could actually save Greece…

The Memorandum was signed only by George Papaconstantinou

End of Part 4 of 4.