Tag Archives: Thessaloniki

Come back to reality

“I won’t commit suicide. I’m not crazy. I’m going to eliminate one of you” said a desperate middle-aged man to Greek Health Minister, Adonis Georgiades during the latter’s visit to the Thessaloniki International Fair.

The Minister is giving him an advise. “Calm down. Come back to reality. Problems do not get solved in one day”. And Rome wasn’t built in one but that’s irrelevant. The man had used his life savings to buy Greek bonds which have recently been severely cut because of the Greek “haircut”. Thousands like him are desperate, having trusted their life savings to a betraying State that is now calming them down and calls them back to reality. Blend despair with injustice and you have anger.

Some other thousands have been less angry, they have only been desperate. Extremely desperate. Fresh reports quantitatively show a dramatic rise in suicides. The Greek Statistical Authority announced that suicides have gone up in 2011 – 26,5% compared to 2010 and 43% compared to 2007, the year before the Greek crisis broke out. At the same time, NGO Klimaka, that deals with suicides and runs a 24-hour hotline, added that the actual number of suicides is much higher than this.

According to an EU-wide study researching data for the period 1970-2007, every 1% of rise in unemployment results in a 0,79% rise in suicides. The projection is geometric. If unemployment rises by 3%, suicides rise as a result by 4,45%.

Unemployment in Greece was below 10% before the crisis. It is now about to reach 30% without any visible prospect of recovery on the ground. Now do the math.

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.

A threat, some confidence and a couple of news

Yesterday I received the first threat targeting the author of this blog. Some far right supporter was angry with what I wrote about Mr. Voridis and Mr. Georgiades. I was threatened, among other things, that once the “revolution” takes place, my throat will be one of the first to be slit (if you wonder about the use of the word “revolution”, have in mind that Greek dictator Georgios Papadopoulos has famously characterized the imposition of the military junta as a “revolution”). Of course the post was not a result of my own research, the Greek blogosphere is full of this story (actually it’s even more detailed). I have merely translated and summarized what is written in Greek blogs and newspapers. Not that I feel like being apologetic for the post but it just strikes me how stupid and narrow-minded some people are. Unfortunately the threat was anonymous and thus I couldn’t reply to its author and it was written in Greek. I thought of translating it and posting it here but my limited translation skills are not enough to fully and rightfully translate the richness of Greek obscenity that was used. I was also embarrassed to translate the detailed knowledge that the commentator had about some of my female relatives’ genitalia.

Time for today’s news. Greece’s eyebrows are going to turn to the Parliament tonight for the vote of confidence of Lucas Papademos’ government. No surprises are expected though as the majority of the three parties that formed the national unity government will vote for it. Some MPs expressed concerns but overall I feel no suspense.

DEI trade unionists outside the Greek Ministry of Health

The Public Power Corporation’s (DEI) trade union, GENOP-DEI, has thrown another symbolic act today. Several trade unionists visited the Ministry of Health in downtown Athens and have cut the electricity supply. They said that the Ministry owes more than 141 million euros to DEI in unpaid electricity bills.

DEI trade unionists cutting the electricity supply at the Ministry of Health

If that looks strange for you, here’s the background. Last September the Greek government announced that the recently decided tax on property would be sent to the citizens through their electricity bills. In that way, paying your electricity and paying the property tax would be connected and if you would deny to pay the latter you would have your electricity supply cut off. That decision was taken despite Mr. Venizelos’ reassurances in June that they wouldn’t use the electricity bills for such a cause. Of course people were furious about it and DEI’s trade union, who were already under governmental and public pressure for a series of accusations and scandals, initially denied to print the bills in question. That rebellious announcement by the union leader Nikos Fotopoulos, which of course wasn’t implemented (I know a lot of people who received their electricity bill together with the new property tax), was followed by today’s show which aims to regain the people’s sympathy towards the trade union. If you want to find out more about the developments in DEI and the trade union’s reaction you can read this. Here’s a short video of today’s show.

Finally, 17 people have been identified for their participation in the events during the cancelled military parade for the Ohi Day, on 28 October. According to the Police, eleven of them come from the far left political spectrum, two from the far right and four have been identified as football fans (probably supporters of the delegated Iraklis F.C. team of Thessaloniki). They will be tried shortly.

Waiting for a Prime Minister

Today’s round up of the Greek newspaper covers is nothing more than expected headlines. Half of them are criticizing the indecisiveness that they Greek political leaders have shown and another part, the right wing papers, are congratulating Antonis Samaras for protecting our national dignity. I decided to present only one cover, by Aggelioforos newspaper which is published in Thessaloniki. It’s minimalist, it’s ironic, it’s critical of our political leaders, it’s very much like me.

Greece, Wednesday 9 November 2011 / 01:30 am - Waiting for a Prime Minister...

Politicians! At ease!

An unprecedented thing took place today in Greece’s second biggest city, Thessaloniki. For the first time a military parade was cancelled. It was the military parade for the celebration of the 28th of October National Day (the so-called Ohi Day that signalled Greece’s resistance to the Axis in WW II). Hundreds of people gathered near the VIP stand, where the Head of State President Karolos Papoulias and the Minister of Defense Panos Beglitis were seated, and booed them. Among other slogans they were called as traitors, a political manifestation that becomes more and more popular in the past couple of years.

This is a short video of the moment when the Greek President decided to leave the VIP stand.

Moments before he departed from the VIP stand, Karolos Papoulias said “Who can call me a traitor? I fought the Nazis when I was 15 years old. I regret that they chose such a day to demonstrate. They should be ashamed”.

The group of protesters was composed by public employees, members of Syriza political party and other leftist groups, indignant Greeks and several fans of Iraklis FC (who have been protesting for weeks against the relegation of their team to the Fourth Division).

Some parts of the parade managed to walk through the gathered crowd but the military part of the parade was cancelled.

In Athens, the High School students’ parade was also a target of civil irritation. The City of Athens’ Brass Band paraded with black ribbon on their instruments whilst some students decided to turn their head opposite from the VIP stand when they were passing by it. The Mayor of Athens, Giorgos Kaminis, said that he will take disciplinary action against the members of the municipality’s band.

In the central Greek city of Trikala one man managed to evade the policemen, approached the local PASOK MP Christos Magoufis and punched him.

According to cretalive.gr, similar reactions took place in cities of the island of Crete. In the island’s capital, Heraklion, citizens threw eggs towards the VIP stand and the local MPs were escorted to the nearby building of the Prefecture.

Greece is one of the last countries in the European Union that is still holding military parades during its National Days of 25 March (Independence from the Ottoman Empire) and 28 October (Resistance against the Axis powers). Last year the Ministry of Defense has estimated the cost of such events. Here’s the analysis:

Cost of the 25th March parade: 840.000€
Cost of the 28th October parade: 430.000€