Tag Archives: reuters

Why we need the foreign media

Back in the days of the 1967-1974 colonels’ dictatorship, the free-thinking Greeks were depended on news coming from abroad. The BBC Greek service, the Deutsche Welle radio as well as media from France, were manned with Greek journalists who had escaped from Greece and were transmitting what could not be told by the censored Greek media. It’s sad to admit that we have started to return into a similar dependence when it comes to human rights violations in Greece.

Photo by Kostas Kallergis.

Especially in the past couple of years, there has not been a lack of proofs for a series of stories, yet the mainstream media in Greece have repeatedly and stubbornly denied to report on important stories. With Greece being in the international spotlight, the usual pattern was that a foreign medium would publish a story which would then be translated by some Greek portals back into Greek in a sort of what-the-foreigners-say-about-us kind of story. Nevertheless the Greek public, even through this pattern, has the chance to get informed about what is happening in our country.

I’ll give you two recent examples. Two weeks ago an anti-fascist motorcade protesting against the rise of neo-nazism met a group of far-rightists in a downtown Athens neighbourhood. The police was there too. Several leftists were arrested after the scuffle and spend a horrible night at the Greek Police HQ in Athens. When they were taken to court, some more leftists were arrested among the crowd who went  outside the courts in order to show support. Only a handful of leftist blogs reported the ordeal, despite the witness accounts and the visual proofs of their allegations for torture. Last week, the Guardian published this embarrassing report and suddenly all the mainstream portals and some tv stations have reported it. They were obliged to report it because it couldn’t be hidden any more.

In a similar fashion, some months earlier, the Reuters have published a report on questionable practices within Piraeus bank. There were two reports, one in April and one in July, the latter can be found here. These are stories for which journalists in other countries would kill to break but not a single media over here pursued the story (which would criticise the practices of a bank that has one of the biggest budgets for advertising). Ironically, the April report was based in already published documents by the anonymous blog WikiGreeks.org (which has in the meantime taken off the net for an unknown reason). So the information was there, lying freely on the net and no-one broke the story.

This is why I have been strongly convinced lately that the free-thinking democratic part of our society depends more and more on media like the BBC, Reuters and the Guardian.

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.

Another one bites the dust

Here’s the story of one more Greek who decided to leave the country. It is probably more interesting for people outside Greece as the comments by Greek viewers have been mixed. You see, the harsh reality of most Greeks, both those who leave Greece in despair and those who can’t leave the country, is much worse than the story portrayed in this video. As one viewer commented “she has a nice appartment, she can afford a dog and 750 euro per month is not that bad nowadays. I can’t understand why she is complaining”.

To judge her situation only is the best way to miss the point here. It’s not just the brain drain, it’s the thousands of Greeks who are leaving the country, lately in panick. I don’t care if this girl’s life was above the average Greek’s standard. I simply respect her decision for a living a life with dignity.

The video was produced by Reuters.