Tag Archives: KKE

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The law was withdrawn in 1983, by Andreas Papandreou.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

Potato wars

Here’s a story of a citizens’ initiative in Greece that intended to fight high prices and the politics that rose around it. It’s a promising initiative but the politics gave me a pessimistic feeling and reminded me that we can’t wait much from our political parties. They remain so disconnected from society, caring only about their small political gains rather than the well being of the citizens.

Potato Wars: May the spud be with you

Some weeks ago a volunteer group from the northern town of Katerini decided to bypass the middlemen and the big super market chains in order to get lower prices for a basic good. The potato. In a normal country you would expect capitalism, competition or the state (sic) to work in the benefit of the consumers. In Greece, with its middlemen and cartels, this is not happening. So the Volunteers’ Action Group decided to contact potato producers from Nevrokopi, Drama, in order to ask for a lower price. The citizens from Katerini declared on the group’s website what quantities they needed and the group informed the producers from Drama. The latter hired a couple of trucks and the drove all the way to Katerini to distribute their products in 10 kg sacks. Until then, the citizens of Katerini were buying the same sack for 7 euros but the volunteers’ group initiative they bought them for 2,5! According to the group, a local supermarket responded to the initiative by lowering the price of potato to 0.35 euros (i.e. 3,5 euros for a 10 kg sack).

The success of the initiative was followed by many other citizens’ groups all around Greece who ordered several tons of potatoes. The potato movement reached big cities like Athens and Thessaloniki too. The story was shown by several mainstream media, in a fashion that praised the citizens’ initiative. I was so surprised to see this happening, especially since big super market chains are some of the top advertisers on tv, that I even got a bit suspicious. But before I understand what was happening, there came politics to fuck up the story.

Firstly, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) issued a statement with which it accused the state and the multinationals’ monopolies and cartels for trying to disorientate the people. According to KKE the problem of poverty is not going to be solved by such initiatives and the mainstream media promoted the “potato movement” in order not to let them identify with the labour movement. The real reason behind that statement of course was that KKE did not organize or control the initiative and thus felt the need to criticize it in attempt to limit its success. For the newbies in Greek politics, it’s enough to say here that KKE hates everything it doesn’t control as it believes that only itself is the true leftist and revolutionary party and that only they can and are going to bring the socialist change. Something like a copyright to revolution.

As one can imagine there was an uproar with this statement and some saw this situation as an opportunity to serve their own interests. For example, another leftist party and longtime opponent of KKE, SYRIZA praised the potato movement in an attempt to approach them in view of the coming elections. So did a third leftist party, the Democratic Left. Even the extreme right LAOS issued the following statement:

“Some people are bothered by the potato movement for one reason: They can not control and check it. We believe in these initiatives that can be overcome  the fears and inhibitions of the government towards its customers, the middlemen and wholesalers”.

Someone must remind LAOS that they were part of this government for some months and did nothing about its customers.

Finally KKE issued a second statement on the issue and said that they have been misunderstood. Few people were convinced and thus we ended up talking more about the parties’ statements and less about the power of such initiatives, since the state is absent, to make daily life a bit easier.

The initiative is now taking place in at least ten different cities all around Greece and is spreading to other goods as well. Olive oil, beans and rice are among the next in the Greek price wars.

Up in the air

An interesting moment from yesterday’s session at the Greek Parliament. George Mavrikos, an MP with the Greek Communist Party (KKE), throws the draft Memorandum (No2) towards Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos after a heated debate.

George Mavrikos returns the draft Memorandum No2 to Evangelos Venizelos

Venizelos stood up and started shouted a prophecy. “The image of Mr. Mavrikos doing this act will be shown by the international media around the world. He is humiliating the country. He is exposing the country to risk. You won’t drive the country into a state of soviet-style socialism, twenty years later “.

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.

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

Paul Mason’s tweets for today’s situation

Paul Mason (BBC, Newsnight) just tweeted several tweets on where we stand today concerning the Greek (and EU) crisis. I decided to copy them over here as they do tell a truth and I respect his insight in these matters. By the way, he has written some of the most accurate articles about the situation in Greece last June, before the so-called Second Memorandum.

A quick Twittersplurge on the Euro situation: 1) With G-Pap gone Greece is not “sorted”. 1a) Both Pasok and ND have deep roots in GR society

1b)…Hence Pasok tried to avoid inflicting pain on state, ND must avoid infliciting pain on urban poor, super-rich, middle classes…

1c) Not clear what, if anything, Samaras has signed up to from 26 Oct deal, since he does not believe further austerity can work.

2) An unelected Greek technocratic govt cannot do what an elected Pasok govt failed to do. Anybody busy in EU/IMF diplo understand this?

3) I go back to “anomic breakdown” – only Pasok machine stood in way of this, and as we saw KKE security squads. Also ND hope of election…

4) So now Italy: here there is a clear #Berluscomparsi dividend. He has added instability to sit, so technocratic govt might work. Howevr…

4a) “The restaurants are full” was most telling comment. Whole S Europe living dolce vita on unsustainable debt. Above all upper middleclass

5) There are 3 potential ways to save situation: EFSF, IMF, ECB. Of which… EFSF is most doable.

6) Of EFSF/ECB/IMF routes, each has a democratic impediment. USA/UK won’t do enough IMF, Germany won’t do ECB, Germany stymied EFSF v1.0

7) The Anglo-Saxon insistence on ECB route is both logical and impossible: Germany easier to persuade to redesign EFSF + go fiscal union

8) So logically, since we are in mode of overtrhowing governments who get in way of Eurocrisis resolution… the one to overthrow wd be?

9) Work it out: SPD and Greens stand for fiscal union. That’s why I asked Sarko where does it stop.

10) Meanwhile EU better hope Greeks not listening to G-Pap when he said an election would cause a bank run. The day is young.

The run-up to the Greek economic crisis (Part 1)

Last week I read one of the most interesting articles in the past months. It was written by journalist Pavlos Papadopoulos for the popular Sunday newspaper To Vima (16/10/2011). I decided to translate it for anyone who is interested in the backstage political activity during the first months of the Greek economic crisis. I have re-phrased some parts in order to facilitate the article’s understanding and, of course, to make it easier for my mediocre translating skills. I also decided to split the 3.000+ words article in four  parts so that it makes it easier to read online. The next parts will be translated and published during the week.

Apart from the journalistic interest, this article can prove to be useful in order to understand the suspiciousness of the Greek public against the current administration and the reasons why so many people react by protesting in the streets. Simply, try to imagine what kind of trust would you show to your government if you knew that your current state of misery is due to the amateur handling of extremely crucial issues. It is also interesting to notice how some of the decisions were not taken under the motivation of doing the right thing for Greece but were rather the results of small-party political machinations.

So here’s the first part of the article.

“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.


Only the first two chapters of the Memorandum are purely Greek. They consist the “legal introduction” which was written by professors Evangelos Venizelos and Haris Paboukis in an office at the fifth floor of the Ministry of Development, in Mesogion Avenue.  A lot of government officials found refuge in that 10 years old building, the design of which reminds the optimism of the European Monetary Union’s era. The centre of Athens was impassable because of the tear gas and the riots which concluded that afternoon in the assassination of three young people at the Marfin Bank Stadiou Street branch.

“We’ll become like Argentina. They will enter and they will kill us” Theodoros Pangalos shouted when he was informed of the three bank employees’ death. He was at the Parliament and the MPs next to him who heard him got afraid that the mob will come inside and lynch them. But they haven’t taken into account Aleka Papariga. The General Secretary of the Greek Communist Party, an always suspicious and proactive woman, has given strict orders to the safeguarding team of PAME (the Communist trade union). The strapping communists, instead of invading the former Palace (i.e. the Greek Parliament), obeyed and sheltered it by standing in the way of a united crowd of extreme leftists and parastatal protestors who were trying to break through the police collar at the Monument of the Unknown Soldier. Once more, the Greek Communist Part had saved the bourgeois democracy.

End of Part 1 – To read Part 2 click here.