Tag Archives: Medium-Term Program

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The law was withdrawn in 1983, by Andreas Papandreou.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 nomination of Lucas Papademos

Here’s an interesting article with some backstage information on what really happened during the talks before the formation of the Papademos government. It was published yesterday by Dimokratia, a right-wing pro-New Democracy newspaper.

The article is based on the confidential minutes of the talks between the Greek President, Karolos Papoulias, and the leaders of PASOK (George Papandreou), New Democracy (Antonis Samaras) and LAOS (Giorgos Karatzaferis). The conclusion is that Papandreou ended up in suggesting for the seat of the new Prime Minister the same person he was rejecting at the beginning of the talks, having as  a goal to cause the collapse of the talks and put the blame on Samaras.

The first name that was suggested by George Papandreou was that of former New Democracy MP (now independent after her resignation) Elsa Papadimitriou. The reaction of Antonis Samaras, according to the article, was “I will smile in order not to burst into laughter”. Samaras allegedly later said “I realized since the beginning [of the talks] that Papandreou was cheating, trying to lead things into a no way out situation. His goal was to either force me to say Yes to everything or he’d remain as Prime Minister”. According to the article, Papandreou’s tactic was to ridicule the process by suggesting non-relevant names for the seat of Prime Minister in order to cancel the procedure and keep his position. Another Sunday newspaper, Proto Thema, also had an article about the suggestion of Elsa Papadimitriou. Proto Thema journalists Giannis Kourtakis wrote that Samaras’ reaction that day (6/11/11) was “Do we have anything more serious?”.

Elsa Papadimitriou at the Parliament (discussion on the 2011 Budget - December 2010)

Here’s a funny trivia to understand why her nomination was so surreal. Elsa Papadimitriou was a member of New Democracy – she quit her party in June 2011 when she also gave a confidence vote to George Papandreou in his crucial Medium-Term Program. She is the daughter of Dimitris Papadimitriou, a politician who belonged to the Centre Union party in the 1960s under George Papandreou (the grandfather). Her father was one of the so-called apostates who, as Konstantinos Mitsotakis, undermined George Papandreou and led to a situation which facilitated the colonels’ coup d’ etat in 1967. Thus, after the dictatorship, Dimitris Papadimitriou joined the New Democracy party together with former Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis. However, according to an article of Proto Thema newspaper, Dimitris Papadimitriou had personal ties to George Papandreou (the grandfather). His son, Andreas Papandreou was Elsa Papadimitriou’s professor of Economics when she was studying at Berkeley college in the 1950s. And funnily enough, Elsa spent some nights as a baby sitter for her professor’s children (among which was the recent Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou). According to Proto Thema, George Papandreou came up with the idea of nominating Elsa Papadimitriou after talks with his brother Antrikos Papandreou. So, in a nuttshell, during the recent crucial moments for Greece and for the whole of eurozone, George Papandreou (the grandson) -after consultation with his brother, nominated their former-baby sitter for Prime Minister of the government of national unity. How cute.

After the rejection of Apostolos Kaklamanis, on Wednesday night (9/11/11), Papandreou called Samaras to suggest Filippos Petsalnikos. “I’ll think about it and will let you know in 10 mins” replied Samaras according to Dimokratia newspaper. After half an hour the leader of New Democracy, knowing that Petsalnikos would cause great reactions inside PASOK and thus not having to be the one who would veto him, called Papandreou and gave him the go ahead. He also knew that Petsalnikos would strongly be rejected by Karatzaferis.

The reactions inside PASOK did start to occur and some hours later the leaders of PASOK, New Democracy and LAOS headed towards the Presidential Mansion where Giorgos Karatzaferis invented an unbelievable excuse to walk out from the meeting. According to Dimokratia’s article, Karatzaferis arrived at the Presidential Mansion after Papandreou and Samaras. The latter two were already sitting  with Papoulias in the meeting room waiting for him. When Karatzaferis arrived, he ordered from an employee to fetch him an orange juice. A bit later he stormed out of the mansion and went furious to the journalists who were outside the building. See his style while doing that.

“I am extremely saddened that at such a critical moment they are playing tactical games at the expense of the president of the republic,” an agitated Karatzaferis shouted on camera.

When the President’s secretary entered the meeting room and announced that “Karatzaferis departed”, Papoulias, Samaras and Papandreou thought that he was on his way to the mansion. They didn’t believe that he had arrived and left the Presidential Mansion in protest.

Later on, according to the same article, Samaras went to his family home nearby to have some rest for the night. The Prime Minister’s office in the meantime was leaking information to the media that Papademos was asking for several conditions in order to be the head of the new government. Half an hour after midnight Papandreou called Samaras and they had the following dialogue:

Papandreou: Antonis, you must decide tonight! I suggested Papademos.

Samaras: George, are you some kind of dictator to dictate me what I must decide immediately? As for me, I am not.

Papandreou: You don’t understand. Since things came that far, it’s you who decides! Either you accept Papademos or I go on.

Samaras: Tell me George, all these things about the conditions of Papademos… are they true?

Papandreou mumbled something about the way the journalists function and then said that Papademos had set five conditions. Samaras told him that he would reply in the morning. Before they hanged up the phone, Papandreou told Samaras that Papademos would call the New Democracy leader in a bit.

At about 1am of Thursday, Papademos called Samaras. The New Democracy leader asked him if he had set conditions for his nomination. After Papademos said no, Samaras asked him to deny this with a public statement. The current Prime Minister said that he couldn’t due to technical reasons, it was too late and he was all alone in his house, without his team. The next morning Papandreou and Samaras met at the Presidential Mansion, Karatzaferis was convinced to attend too. Samaras was furious that Papandreou lied to him so openly the previous night concerning the alleged Papademos’ conditions. The three politicians, under the President of the Republic, finally agreed on Papademos who later, in his first public statement outside the mansion, did Samaras the favor and denied that he had set any conditions in order to accept the post.

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 run-up to the Greek economic crisis (Part 3)

This is the 3rd 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 and the second part is here.

“The Prime Minister regretted for not insisting to have the Memorandum voted by 180 MPs” says a Minister. This was a proposal that came from Mr. Venizelos and Mr. Pampoukis but the rest of the Cabinet members disagreed. Papandreou regretted for not adopting that proposal because, if he had done it and New Democracy wouldn’t vote for it, he could call for an early election. According to converging sources, Papandreou thought that the Memorandum couldn’t be implemented by a one-party government. This is not what he expected when he was counting on an “international solution” (see Part 2 for an explanation of the international solution).

The extraordinary political and social circumstances tested his psychological strength, his close associates were well aware of that. He was feeling trapped in power. In many occasions the men of his security team tried to prevent him from appearing in public which was something he could never think of. He gave considerable thought to the idea of calling an early election at the same time with the local elections in November 2010 but he hesitated once more due to the tight time constraints for the disbursement of the bailout installments.

On the morning of 15 June, the day the Medium-Term Program (the so-called Memorandum No2) was brought to the Greek Parliament, while the prime ministerial car was heading to the Maximou Mansion, some gathered citizens welcomed him with a rain of eggs (see video above). For Papandreou, that experience was decisive. He was personally hurt. He reckoned that the attack was an indisputable sign of destabilization, given the fact that at the same time in Syntagma riots were reaching a climax. When he arrived in his office he called Antonis Samaras. “The country is being dissolved. We must form a government of cooperation” he suggested. “The PM should be a third person” was the answer of New Democracy’s leader. “I have no problem” replied Papandreou with an emotionally charged voice and added “I will not become an obstacle to my country’s salvation”. For New Democracy it was a sudden “cold shower”. They didn’t want this development and they were not ready to govern. They leaked the information in order to provoke the expected reactions which would cancel the deal.

The Prime Minister’s associates called Nikos Papandreou who rushed to the Maximou Mansion and discussed with his brother. They were just the two of them for quite some time. Nobody knows what was discussed. People who know them insist that they are totally aligned politically and they always act after mutual consultation. According to some sources, the Andreas Papandreou’s second son also called Antonis Samaras, whom he knows personally through the friendship of the New Democracy leader with the Prime Minister. “If you form a government of cooperation, you’ll share the price” he allegedly said to Samaras. However, this specific information has not been officially confirmed.

While the drama of a soon-to-resign Prime Minister was evolving at the Maximou Mansion, the hesitant coup of Mr. Venizelos was unfolding at the Ministry of Defense. Already by Tuesday 14th of June, those who had visited the Minister of Defense were left with the impression that he was about to resign. An MP who visited him had the impression that the secretaries were collecting the Minister’s folders. Venizelos himself was implying in his discussions that he could even resign. Of course, he would never mention the word “resign”. “You tell me. What should I do?” was his meaningful question to his interlocutors. This stance inspired other PASOK MPs, as Paris Koukoulopoulos, Kostas Spiliopoulos, Nikos Salagiannis and Dimitris Lintzeris, who were promoting at the Parliament the idea of a government’s overthrow. This “rebellious atmosphere “ is said to have influenced PASOK MP Yannis Floridis who finally decided to resign irrespective of what the Venizelian wing would do. The day after Papandreou’s failure to form a government with Samaras, several MPs who were loyal to the Prime Minister were ordered to appear in front of tv cameras and remember the “ghost of Apostasy” (read more about the history of Apostasy/July events/Royal coup) in order to restrain the Venizelians’ attack. The 46-year-old ghost has once more served the Papandreou family. At the same time Papandreou proceeded to a government reshuffle and at 4am of the 17th of June, he appointed Venizelos to take the responsibility of the economy since, for the second time in two years, Lucas Papademos had declined to head the Ministry of Finance. A historic member of PASOK said for Venizelos: “An apostate in the morning, a vice-president in the evening”.

Greek Minister of Finance, Evangelos Venizelos

Venizelos was reassured by the Prime Minister that night that he could have as Deputy Minister the chairman of the National Bank of Greece, Vasilis Rapanos. However, instead of him, he got Pantelis Oikonomou who, as soon as he accepted the post, took all his speeches off his website. He was against the Memorandum in all of them. Another important point is that Venizelos demanded from the Prime Minister to strip Theodoros Pangalos from his responsibilities. He wanted to be the only vice-president in the government. The Prime Minister invented a “Solomon solution”: he formed a governmental commission without the participation of Pangalos. In that way, Venizelos was “first vice-president”. Thanks to his special political weight, his popularity and his rhetorical prowess, he “passed” the Medium-Term Program from the Parliament. Even if that was partly because he “checked” the intra-PASOK dissident MPs who he himself controls.

The “first vice-president” accepted the Ministry of Finance because he estimated that the Prime Minister would later be obliged to call for elections in which PASOK would be defeated and thus he would substitute Papandreou as the party leader. “I know that Evangelos wants elections but I won’t do him the favor” Papandreou is said to have commented to one of his associates during the summer. Most Ministers in their personal discussions they accuse Venizelos of postponing the implementation of the Medium-Term Program’s commitments while waiting for elections. With the possibility of having him as their leader in the near future though, they are very careful in their public statements. When, on the 2nd of September 2011, the troika demanded the immediate implementation of the reforms, Venizelos unexpectedly suspended the negotiations. The heads of the troika left Athens within a few hours.

The troika’s embargo against Greece lasted for 27 days. The delay of the bailout’s sixth installment was in no way agreed and the responsibility for bringing the state on the verge of a domestic cessation of payments lies completely to the Minister of Finance. Highly respected European sources say that the deviation from the agreed commitments has overthrown the, generous for Greece, deal of 21 July. The new negotiation, with an uncertain and (probably) worse outcome, is under way. According to Greek and foreign officials, Greece has been ostracized from that deal. Two years after PASOK’s election victory, the improvisations are continued and the uncertainty keeps intensifying…

End of Part 3 of 4 – to read the fourth part click here.