Tag Archives: Ministry of Citizen Protection

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.

A porn star’s political party and random thoughts of today

While the fate of my country is decided by unknown people on the other side of the planet and Twitter is like a sewer of rumours on how the PSI negotiations are going, here’s some random thoughts and news in brief.

The Public Power Company (DEI or PPC) has sent out the first 30.000 notices to electricity consumers who haven’t paid the bill which included the special property tax. This was a tax based on the square meters of each consumer’s home and was charged in the electricity bill so that everyone had to pay this. I know several people who had no money to buy petrol for heating and were warming themselves with the use of electrical appliances or, simply, firewood.

Nikos Fotopoulos greeting his comrades from the prosecutor's office window (older incident)

The chairman of PPC’s trade union, Nikos Fotopoulos, has called the PPC employees to disobey the order of cutting electricity supply to homes of unemployed and poor citizens. God knows how this can be done in practice. According to Ethnos newspaper, the notices have not been handed yet to the private companies which will carry out the work of cutting the supply.

According to the latest statistics (from the Ministry of Citizen Protection) the number of suicides between January-November 2011 reached 598 people. Last Friday, an 80 years old man set himself on fire outside the parking lot of the Greek Telecom office in Lefkada island.

Along with the best of the Greek youth that is steadily emigrating abroad in search of a job (preferably with a decent pay), Julia Alexandratou, the nation’s most famous porn star, has decided to move to Los Angeles and try her chances with the planet’s top porn industry. She also announced her intention to create a new political party. “You never know, people might vote for me just to state their reaction to the current situation” said the blonde porn celebrity. If she indeed gets any votes at all, I’ll feel that I belong in the most desperate country in the world. Greek blogger Pitsirikos expressed his disappointment that Greece cannot sustain financially not only its youth but also its best paid porn star. He also added that Julia has put things in the right order. She’ll go to try her chances in the American porn industry and, if things don’t go well, she’ll return to found a political party.

Finally, here’s how the paranoia of Greek politics and economy look like to foreign observers of things here. This is a short post from ZeroHedge based on an article from the German broadsheet newspaper Die Zeit.

As Greek standards of living nose-dive, loans to households and businesses shrink still further, and Troika-imposed PSI discussions continue, there is one segment of the country’s infrastructure that is holding up well. In a story on Zeit Online, the details of the multi-billion Euro new arms contracts are exposed as the European reach-around would be complete with IMF (US) and Europe-provided Greek bailout cash doing a full-circle into American Apache helicopters, French frigates, and German U-Boats. As the unnamed source in the article notes: “If Greece gets paid in March the next tranche of funding (€ 80 billion is expected), there is a real opportunity to conclude new arms contracts.”

Greece intends to buy tens of these EuroFighters

With the country’s doctors only treating emergencies, bus drivers on strike, and a dire lack of school textbooks and the country teetering on the brink of Drachmatization, perhaps our previous concerns over military coups was not so far-fetched as after the Portuguese (another obviously stressed nation), the Greeks are the largest buyers of German war weapons.  It seems debt crisis talks perhaps had more quid pro quo than many expected as Euro Fighter commitments were also discussed and Greek foreign minister Droutsas points out: “Whether we like it or not, Greece is obliged to have a strong military”.

Speaking of coups (again), here’s a short story that happened to me yesterday. I was outside a public health building and an old man approached me. He didn’t look very well. “Can I tell you something very serious?” he said. “On 21st of January, 4pm, there will be a military coup d’ etat. The tanks will get out in the streets and a curfew will be imposed. Prepare yourself, buy goods from the super market and, for god’s sake, don’t get out from your house!”. I asked his source and he replied very seriously “I was told so by my uncle who was an adjutant of Dertilis”, one of the most prominent members of the 1967-1974 military dictatorship who is still serving his life sentence. This is not to be taken seriously of course (I was in no position of checking the credibility of his claims), it’s just a note on how some people are losing it.

Plainclothes justice 2.0

Yesterday I posted two videos from an incident that took place in downtown Athens where plainclothes policemen arrested a teenager. In that video you can clearly see one of the policemen, in a dark green jacket, acting as the coordinator of the whole thing. I kept telling myself that I’ve seen him before. I did some searching and I found this video. It’s from the same day of protests (the General Strike demonstration on December 15, 2010). The incident takes place in the Exarchia district of Athens.

To translate just a couple of things that are said on the video, at 3:40 the coordinator is asked by the passers-by to give his identity. They ask “Tell us who you are. What are you afraid of?” and he replies “What do you mean “what are you afraid of?”… I’m an officer”. At 3:50 he turns to a woman and tells her “Don’t film the issue, I will break your camera”.

Yesterday’s videos where from Akadimias street, in the center of Athens. That plainclothes police team seems to have been pretty busy on that day.

Plainclothes justice

The majority of foreign journalists with whom I have worked with here in Greece found it very hard, if impossible, to believe the role (if not the existence itself) of plainclothes policemen during various demonstrations in Greece. When I’d first mention their existence they would think I’m some kind of hardline leftist who sees parastatal ghosts around him all the time. At times I would be in a position to show them one of the photos that have been circulated in Greek websites and blogs, but still, it wasn’t that impressive. So here’s a video from yesterday’s demonstration which commemorated the 3rd year from the assassination of 15 years old Alexis Grigoropoulos by a police man 2010. [Update: Thanks to my friend M.B. who pointed out to me that the video was from the demonstration of the 15/12/2010 general strike – I have hastily embedded the video and mistook it as a yesterday’s incident because of its Youtube upload date. The point of the post remains the same. Apologies.]

In the video several plainclothes policemen hang around side by side with riot police. At some point a bunch of hooded plainclothes policemen approach a teenager and proceed in his arrest. The teenager says “I was at my university school”. Here’s the incident from a second mobile phone recording.

There have been many occasions where protesters have accused plainclothes policemen of causing the typically Greek (and radically vain) “molotov cocktail” violence in order to justify tons of tear gas spraying by riot police which have repeatedly dispersed powerful and peaceful demonstrations in the past.

I don’t care if this kid has actually done something wrong – I just don’t like to live in a country (remember that “cradle of democracy” cliche?) where plainclothes policemen simply have the power to arrest people in this way.

Not in my name, “gentlemen”.

PS: I wonder what the Minister for Citizen Protection (sic) has to say about this video.

Update: Read also “Plainclothes justice 2.o

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