Tag Archives: greek government

Greece 2012

The things that are happening are starting to be too many. They can overwhelm you. We are living in a kind of post-apocalyptic situation where everything is collapsing. Incomes, values, morality… A society that is suffocating. Here’s how I saw Greece today, 12 October 2012, through some headlines.

Graffiti by Sidron – NDA Crew, photo by Kostas Kallergis

Unemployment has reached 25,1% (official stats for July 2012). Among young people the number is 54,2%. Yes, 1 out of 2 young Greeks is looking for a job. Needless to say that among those who are working, there is a percentage who doesn’t get paid. Employers owe more and more salaries to their employees because of cash shortages. But these are just percentages, misery turned to statistics. You only need to sit down and think that, practically, around 1.000 Greeks are losing their job every day. One thousand people. Every day.

The government is about to announce another round of harsh austerity measures. Lots of cuts and more taxes. How much more can you tax a country? How are they going to pay? Where on earth did economic growth come thanks to more and more taxes? The country gave what it had to give, now it’s time for the officials to see that their predictions for more state revenues through taxes are superficial. Some days ago, one of the biggest dairy firms in Greece (FAGE) announced that it is moving part of its operations, for accounting purposes of course, to Luxembourg. Some days later another one among the biggest Greek companies (Coca-Cola) made a similar announcement sending shockwaves to the markets.

On another weird story, the Minister of Maritime Affairs spoke to an audience at the Maritime Club of Piraeus. He told people there that the troika had this idea. To evacuate all the islands which are inhabited by less than 150 people in order to cut down on public expenses (coz they still need schools, doctors, local administration and subsidised transport connection to the mainland). Of course, it was not an official request from the troika but probably a lower level official making a joke. But the Minister, like any random amateur, said this in public. And the Minister of Finance, who in theory carries out the day-to-day negotiations with the troika, suddenly became something like a troika spokesman, denying here and there that such a request was made. And these people are serious. Our Ministers. Seriously!

This is the situation in which we live for the past two and a half months. Since August the government is spending all its energy carrying out some hidden negotiations with the troika, deciding how they are going to cut 11,5 billion euros from the state budget. One day the Greek government says “this is how we’ll do it” and the other day the troika says “you can’t raise so much money out of it-just fire 10.000 public sector employees’. Government officials, and the Finance Minister Mr Stournaras himself, have informed a number of EU, ECB and IMF officials about what the measures are going to be. But the Greek public… noooo… of course we are not mature enough yet to know. We will be the last ones to find out how much we will be called to pay, how much more tax we should give. Which other nation has been so patient to await for 2,5 months to see how its government, its supposed guardian of its interests, is going to kick  our ass?

And on the top of that, a bunch of Golden Dawn far-rightists, accompanied by two of their MPs and a mob of Christian fanatics, have attempted to block the premiere of a theatrical play. A journalist reported that he got beaten by them-here’s his story made by uniting some of his tweets after his ordeal:

“At the entrance of the theatre, there were Golden Dawn and priests tearing down the show posters and stepping on them.  I took out my mobile to take pictures for the blog. 5 Golden Dawners and a cop surrounded me. They ask ‘Are you a journalist?’ I say “I write for lifo”, hoping to escape a beating. Quite the opposite. They pull me aside, call me ‘faggot’ and ‘queer’, pull my beard, spit in my face, hit me in the stomach.  Cops nearby. I shout “They’re beating me, do something?” Reply : I’ve nothing, move along please. The cop’s wearing 3 stars. They put a lit cigarette in my pocket. A woman standing near warns me, in front of the cop. He pretends he hasn’t heard.  I start to get scared, move away from the entrance. They shout after me ‘Go away, you dirty faggot, go suck someone’s cock!’ I turn back to observe. A known Golden Dawn MP follows me, punches me twice in the face, knocks me down. Downed, I lose my glasses. The Golden Dawn MP kicks me. The police are exactly 2 steps away. Their backs are turned. Repeatedly, I shout to the cop “THEY”RE PUNCHING ME, DO SOMETHING!” Back still turned, he walks away. The rest of them shouting at me next to the police officer “Cry, you pussy, queen, little girl” We pass dozens of cops hanging out. I tell them I was beaten at theatre entrance. They ignore me. One blows me a sarcastic kiss.”

The police detained some Christian fanatics during the events. A bit later, one of their MPs, Christos Pappas, approaches a riot police bus and easily drags one of the detainees there. He set him free seconds later, with the policemen staring at him in awe, as if it was the Police Chief. Look for yourself how easy it was (most of the anti-fascist protesters who were arrested last week and were allegedly tortured inside the Police HQ in Athens are probably jealous of how easy it was for Mr Pappas to do this). Christos Pappas is with the blue suit and the tie.

Yes, my friend, this CAN happen in Greece today, as we become a less democratic state, every second day.

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.

Pangalos’ reception in Berlin

This  is how the vice-president of the Greek government, Theodoros Pangalos, was received in Berlin by local Greek activists (of the Real Democracy movement). The banner stated support for the 400 strikers of Hellenic Halyvourgia steel industry. They’ve been on strike for about two months, one of the biggest labor actions for decades. The strike has been greatly underreported in the Greek media, causing concern and suspicion.

Living in Greece at the end of November 2011

I just checked today’s newspapers and they had few exciting headlines. However, yesterday’s front pages would probably cause either panick or depression to a society somewhere in North Europe. As I stood there, watching all the post-apocalyptic headlines, I realized that in some years I will be saying that this is how it was to live in Greece at the end of November 2011.

Firstly, I will begin with the cover of this week’s Economist which has been reproduced, partly or as a whole, by several Greek newspapers.

Economist

“Eleftheri Ora” newspaper, which is a fringe paper that hardly sells a bit above 2.000 copies per day, has chosen to reproduce the whole Economist front page. Oh yes, with no reference at all. This paper is famous for its populist content, full of conspiracy theories, front pages of dead monks whose prophecies are now becoming reality, and so on. Actually I think that a daily translation of the paper’s front page could offer enough material for a separate blog. Anyway, when I think that usually it should be the last one in these posts of translated front pages due to its lower circulation. I only place it first here because of its relation to the Economist’s cover.

Eleftheri Ora

Title: The evil plan of the New World Order’s “Messiah”

Another newspaper which chose to use the euro meteor illustration is Dimokratia.

Dimokratia

Title: The Wehrmacht is approaching Europe

Overhead title: Everyone is talking about the coming financial Armageddon

“Ethnos” newspaper was the only one to reproduce the whole Economist front page, thus indirectly referring the source.

Ethnos

Title: A whole town is sleeping in the streets

Overhead title: Social shock – more than 20.000 homeless around Greece

Eleftherotypia and Kathimerini highlighted the continuing struggle of the Egyptians at Tahrir square.

Eleftherotypia

Title: The extra tax will be paid too by unemployed who worked even for one day (in 2011)

Picture’s caption title: Tahrir square does not succumb

Kathimerini

Title: Suffocation around the euro zone

Picture’s caption title: Egyptians overwhelm Tahrir square

Ta Nea

Title: Run Lucas Run! (a cartoon depicts Lucas Papademos in the body of Pheidippides, the first “marathon runner”)

Overhead title: A 100-day race for the government

Eleftheros Tipos

Title: Last chance for saving the euro

Overhead title: Germany leads euro zone off the cliff

Avriani

Title: Countdown for the euro

Men of Iron

This morning, I woke up and read the story of the Greek Public Power Corporation’s (DEI) trade union, GENOP-DEI and their occupation of a company’s building. It wasn’t just a random building of course but the data-processing center from which disconnection orders are issued. You see, a couple of months ago the Greek government has announced the levying of a new property tax (in relation to the square meters of the property) which would be incorporated in our electricity bills. Why the electricity bills? So that people HAD to pay the tax in order to avoid a very short-term and vital consequence, having their electricity supply cut off.

Nikos Fotopoulos greeted his comrades from the prosecutor's office window

The GENOP-DEI union’s leader, Nikos Fotopoulos, posed as a hero immediately after the announcement. He said that DEI’s workers would never allow such a thing to be carried out with the help of their hands. Some people wondered back then: Who actually governs this country? Can a trade unionist block an elected government’s policy? Well, today the government has tried to perform its own tour de force. Nikos Fotopoulos and 9 other GENOP-DEI union officials were detained after up to 80 riot policemen were sent in to end the four-day sit-in at the Public Power Corporation (DEI) data processing centre. Fotopoulos himself appeared before a prosecutor on charges of  obstructing the functioning of a public utility. The riot policemen arrested 5 more people in the event (3 employees in Ministries, a pensioner and an unemployed man). “We’ll always fail the exam of the course on Submission” shouted Fotopoulos from the prosecutor’s office window as another Andrzej Wajda’s Man of Iron.

To avoid any misunderstanding, I don’t believe that the new property tax is fair. Especially when exceptions have not been designed (unemployed people for example also have to pay this). The implementation of the law caused laughter in some cases, anger in some other. There was a big debate in September on whether churches should pay the tax, based on the square meters of the temples. And there was an uproar a couple of days ago when some earthquake victims (of a 1995 quake, who were promised to get preferential loans in order to rebuild their homes) were sent their electricity bill which included the new property tax, based on the square meters of the container-houses in which they are living since the 1995 earthquake. However I believe that what GENOP-DEI is doing with these shows of rebelliousness is just an act in order to gain public sympathy in their struggle to protect their guild’s benefits. See this post for another show by GENOP-DEI.

This trade union is not alone though. It is not uncommon during the past months to see trade unions which in the past were synonymous to either the interwoven political and business interests (e.g. journalists) or the state protectionism of special groups of public employees. Of course this is not to say that all trade unions function like that in Greece (but a lot of my friends would say that the majority of them do).

Strike at Hellenic Halyvourgia (Steelworks)

One example for what I wrote above is this. Given the opportunity of a 25-day long strike at Hellenic Halyvourgia (Steelworks) which has gone largely unreported by the Greek mainstream media (thanks to business relations, advertisement, you name it) the Union of Journalists of Athens’ Newspapers (ESIEA) has sent a newsletters showing their support to the workers at the steelworks. While I was writing this, I found another example. The Union of Employees at the Public Broadcasting Corporation (POSPERT) have stated their support to GENOP-DEI and demanded (?) the release of the arrested trade unionists. Here are the relevant newsletters (from ESIEA and from POSPERT), unfortunately only in Greek.

It’s fantastic! Greek trade unions seem to have remembered that they represent the working class of this country. Too bad they are a bit too late.

PS. A very common slogan during the demonstrations in Athens which aims to show the hidden agenda of trade unionists (who usually end up in the Parliament with one political party or another) is this: Αλήτες, λέρες, εργατοπατέρες. I’d be grateful if a Greek reader could translate it. :-)

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.

The far right in the new Greek government

There have been few surprises when we heard the names of those who compose the new Greek government under Lucas Papademos. As a government of national unity, everybody expected to see which members of New Democracy and LAOS parties would be selected and for which posts. New Democracy reluctantly offered its members, afraid that the new government will fail and that this failure could be partly blamed to them during the next general elections (yes, Greek politicians are still playing their little political games at this very crucial time). In this post, I decided to focus on two members of LAOS. Not the South East Asian country but the Greek far right populist party of the Popular Orthodox Rally (laos in Greek is the word for “people”, λαός). They are Mavroudis (Makis) Voridis and Adonis Georgiades.

The logo of LAOS party

Makis Voridis has been very active during his youth years in the nationalist and extreme right part of the political spectrum. Here’s some biographical data collected from already published articles.

LAOS party leader, Karatzaferis (left) with Makis Voridis (right)

He graduated from the Athens College, the same school that was attended by Lucas Papademos and the majority of the Greek political and business elite. Soon after he became General Secretary of EPEN’s youth. EPEN (National Political Union) was a far-right political party which was founded in 1984 by jailed former junta leader Georgios Papadopoulos. He substituted in that post Nikos Michaloliakos who founded and still heads the national socialist party Hrisi Avgi (Golden Dawn).  “EPEN was the main vehicle for the the national, popular and social right to express its views, and it had elected a Eurodeputy. As a youth activist in the national, patriotic circle who wanted to be active politically, it was the only outlet,” Voridis has stated. He later enrolled at the Law School of Athens University and founded a group called Student Alternative. The Law School Students Union expelled him in 1985 because of his fascist activity. Greek investigative journalist team “Ios” (i.e. virus in Greek) later published a photo of Voridis from those events (9/6/2002 in Eleftherotypia newspaper). He was seen holding an axe. At a later interview, he justified it as self-defence to an attack by leftists.

Makis Voridis holding an axe (photo from "Ios", Eleftherotypia newspaper 9/6/2002)

In 1986 the National Union of Students (EFEE-ΕΦΕΕ) sued him for participation to a fascists’ attack against several Law School students.

The logo of the Hellenic Front party

In 1994 Makis Voridis, together with members of EPEN and ENEK (United Nationalist Movement), found the Hellenic Front party. Originally it was a small insignificant party (“the Hellenic Front’s insignificance illustrates the comparative weakness of extreme right politics in Greece” – The Guardian newspaper) before it disguised itself into more acceptable, but still far right, forms. Voridis headed the new political formation until 2005 when the party was disbanded and its leadership called its members to join the LAOS party. A year earlier, in the 2004 general elections, the Hellenic Front cooperated with another far right party, Proti Grammi (Front Line), which was headed by the most prominent far right politician and author, Kostas Plevris (his bio at Wikipedia is quite informative). His son, Thanos Plevris, is today an MP with the LAOS party.

LAOS party leader, Giorgos Karatzeferis (whose popular nickname among Greeks is KaratzaFührer) once said in an interview to Ethnos newspaper (26/10/10) in an attempt to justify why Voridis wasn’t the party’s candidate for the Athens regional governor in the 2010 local elections:

Giorogos Karatzaferis: I was simply afraid that Voridis has a history which I have managed to cover after considerable effort…
Christos Machairas (journalist): What exactly do you mean by “history”?
Giorgos Karatzaferis: About his relation with Jean Marie Le Pen, the axes and all the rest. I am just thinking that suddenly, on the 30th of October (i.e. a bit before the local elections) some guy from New Democracy or from Tsipras’ team (i.e. SYRIZA leftist party) can throw a video on the air and drag me explaining about all these things.

Makis Voridis is now the new Minister of Infrastructure, Transport and Networks.

Adonis Georgiades speaking at the Greek Parliament

The second prominent member of LAOS who joined the new national unity government is Adonis Georgiades. He founded Georgiades Publications and he is Director of two magazines: History of Greeks (Ελλήνων Ιστορία) and Greek Education (Ελληνική Αγωγή).

Adonis Georgiades presenting his books' show at TeleAsty channel

He later started his own tv show in TeleCity (TeleAsty) channel, which is managed by Giorgos Karatzaferis’ party. There, Adonis Georgiades presented a show about books which was practically a 1-hour advertisement of publications that glorified the Greek past. A lot were related to ancient Greek literature and several had historical or even political subjects. Eleftherotypia (mainly the Ios investigative journalism team) and Ta Neanewspapers have accused Georgiades’ show of being a means for the promotion of nationalist and nazi-friendly content.

Kostas Plevris' book "Jews: the Whole Truth", published by Electron Editions (June 2006)

One example was his repeated advertisement of Kostas Plevris’  book “Jews: the Whole Truth”, an anti-semitic publication containing outright praises for Adolf Hitler and calls for the extermination of Jews, published by Electron Editions in June 2006. Shortly after its publication in June 2006 the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece and the Greek Helsinki Monitor brought a suit against Plevris for “insult of Jews” and “injury to Judaism”. On December 13, 2007 the court found Plevris guilty of inciting racial hatred and handed him a 14-month suspended sentencePlevris appealed and was eventually acquitted on 27 March 2009; his acquittal caused international reactions that were very unfavorable towards the Greek judicial system, as the Greek justice system failed to enforce Greece’s antiracist legislation

In 2007 and 2009, Adonis Georgiades was elected MP with LAOS party. In 2010 local elections he was the party’s candidate for the post of Athens regional governor (after Voridis was thought to be too risky a candidate – read above).

On 11 November 2011, Adonis Georgiades was appointed Deputy Minister of Development (his sector of responsibility is Shipping).