Tag Archives: Kostas Simitis

Pacta sunt servanda

*The agreements must be kept.
Cicero

Breach-of-employment-agreements

So we reached December, almost 6 months into Samaras’ administration. What was his main pre-election promise? Renegotiation. A sweet word which the majority of the people haven’t yet tasted. The recent Eurogroup meeting finished with a lot of criticism on whether this government, like the previous, actually negotiated anything. Yet, no one is complaining because most of the people struggle for the daily life, our daily bread. We’re thankful it’s not worse, says a Greek expression.

Beyond the scandals, one of the main reasons for the depreciation of Greek politicians is their unfulfilled promises. The thousands “I will” of old school politicians that have been quickly forgotten. When I look back the examples are countless. In 2009, Papandreou ran for election with a program for growth while New Democracy (and the Bank of Greece as it was later revealed) was saying that we were running low on cash. “There is money” was Papandreou motto, but we ended up finding out that we were hugely indebted and called the IMF. Before him, Karamanlis (2004-2009) declared the re-organisation and reconstitution of  the State. He wanted to end years of PASOK’s dominance by changing the mentality of the public sector. Instead he filled the public sector with New Democracy voters in an attempt to balance the demographics in Ministries and state enterprises. We now know that this project was financed with loans. Before him, Simitis (1996-2004) main promise was the entry into the eurozone and, as a result, an unprecedented wave of growth. The “creative accounting” as it was called got us into the european currency, the Stock Exchange collapses in a scandalous way and, as we keep finding out until these days, millions of euros went into “personal commissions” for weapons, public tenders won by Siemens, etc. The growth that we saw was just the gift wrap of the same old shit.

For the past 20 years we are living in a fake democracy where we vote for something that is really different with what we end up in our hands. It’s like getting a ticket to Mykonos but the boat strands on some dry rock island in the middle of nowhere. Yet, we disembark without complaint.

In a conversation I had recently with a friend, we were saying that the elections is some kind of contract. One side proposes to do something and the other authorises it to do it, an agreement legitimised by votes instead of signatures. However, no one is accountable for failing to fulfil the contract’s obligations. No one is punished for this systematic fraud, where it is intentional or unintentional. We don’t investigate that either. We just end up with a collective sense of injustice and anger, treating the elections more like a small circus rather than the celebration of democracy as we used to call it. We just get the next luxurious and super-fast boat that will end up at another rock island.

The other day I was surfing on the Internet and I somehow stranded on the personal website of Adonis Georgiades, a former far-right politician turned mainstream after joining New Democracy, less than a year ago. He had a banner at the top of the page which was saying “Pacta sunt servanda”. With this profound latin quote he was trying to calm the few who were actually anxious on whether Europe will keep its promise to give us the next instalment. The “153 brave ones”, as Georgiades likes to call them, of the Greek Parliament have voted the measures the troika asked, so now Europe was expected to do its bit. How would Georgiades feel if the other side of the contract simply breached the agreement? Which is something that they will do because there will be more measures in the future, despite the government’s statement that these will be the last. The announcement of new measures, is an old measure by itself. An old trick.

Hence, my dear Greek politicians of the current and future governments, the unilateral breaching of a contract means the de facto cancellation of the agreement. Therefore, when a government is elected by promising to renegotiate a situation in order to improve it and ends up by voting worse austerity measures than the ones of their predecessors, its moral legitimisation expires.

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.

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

Who is Loukas Papadimos?

Here’s a short CV of Loukas Papadimos, the name which is discussed more for the seat of the new Greek Prime minister in the coming national unity government. He has been the No1 choice in the theoretical discussions for a possible national unity government for months now. He is also respected by George Papandreou who actually appointed him as an unpaid Economic advisor in 2010. Reports on the backstage political tug-of-war which preceded the Greek government reshuffle back in June 2011 were mentioning that he was offered to succeed George Papaconstantinou in the Ministry of Finance, a post that Papadimos has denied.

He was born in 1947 and graduated from the high-profile elitist Athens College (Hellenic American Educational Foundation). The school is often referred to as a power hub, due to its numerous influential alumni who remain closely connected after graduation. He later studied at the MIT earning a BA in Physics, a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering and a Phd in Economics.

In 1980 he worked as an economist for the Federal Bank in Boston and in 1985 he was appointed as a chief economist for the Bank of Greece. In 1988 he became a Professor of Economics at the University of Athens. In 1993 he was appointed by Andreas Papandreou (George’s father) as Vice Chairman of the Bank of Greece and he became its Chairman a year later. From that post he worked for Greece’s preparation to join the euro zone, a project which was continued under Prime Minister Kostas Simitis until the end of the 1990s.

Between 2002 and 2010 he worked as Vice Chairman of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.

A funny historic trivia is that the last national unity government in Greece was formed in 1989 under another banker, Xenofon Zolotas, who was Greece’s former representative to the IMF and the European Economic Committee. Zolotas was also a former Chairman of the Bank of Greece (1974-1981). That government, which was called Ecumenical Government, was also formed in order to avoid the  bankruptcy of the Greek state and lasted for less than 6 months. Current President of the Greek Republic, Karolos Papoulias, and New Democracy leader, Antonis Samaras, had also participated in that government.

Less than two weeks ago, Loukas Papadimos has written an article for the Greek Sunday newspaper To Vima saying that he preferred a wide restructuring of the Greek debt than a generous haircut.

You can also read a profile of Loukas Papadimos here (The Telegraph newspaper)