25 Years of BS: a layperson’s introduction to Greek politics.

I first came to this enchanted land in February of 1989.  Within a year the country had held parliamentary elections three times, the battle cry in the local and international press was “Catharsis” and the Koskotas scandal had brought the dirty laundry of the House Papandreou to the fore.

Perhaps here it would be prudent to provide a wee bit of background…  Greece may have lost its monarchy – however its political life has always been governed by a handful of families.  Since the end of the Greek Civil War three households have predominated: Karamanlis, Papandreo, Mitsotakis.  I won’t go into all of the nepotistic and (at times) incestuous detail, that would require tomes to relate and would involve a style of writing I personally don’t care for – let it suffice to say that were Aaron Spelling still around he could have a field day with Greek political life.

DRAMATIS PERSONAE:

Georgios Papandreo (the elder) had his hand in the political cookie jar since the Venizelos (Eleftherios not Evaggelos) days.  He got his law degree in Athens then studied Political Science in Berlin – strongly influenced by the then Social Democratic Party.  He enjoyed a 50 year tenure in Hellenic politics – is it any wonder that his progeny were all inducted to the Hellenic Club Politic?  He was Prime Minister until two years before the Colonel’s Junta, and had the good taste to pass away one year into their rule.

Konstantinos Karamanlis (the elder) never had a family of his own although he used his political power to “endow” all of his relatives with prime real estate and/or select government posts/contracts.  His siblings, nieces and nephews were “looked after” and received their memberships to the Hellenic Club Politic.  Their uncle lived his life quietly, with his “Gentleman’s Gentleman”, played golf, tossed out the occasional enigmatic quip to journalists and everyone said “What a worldly and elegant man.”

Konstantinos Mitsotakis (the bearer of bad tidings a.k.a. the “black sheep”) in many ways Mr. Mitsotakis, to my mind at least, is one of the most interesting figures in post WWII Greek political life.  He is one of the few extant “old school” politicians who always called the shots like he saw them, regardless of the personal political cost.  Sadly his children don’t seem to share his gift although his daughter, Dora Bacogiannis is more attractive on camera than in person and has charisma.  Mr. Mitsotakis was Prime Minister for only a brief 2 and a half year period before being usurped by none other than Antonis Samaras, founder of the Germanophile “mnimonio” – not one of the “grand old names” of Greek politics, but nonetheless a very ambitious young politician and contemporary of George Papandreo (the younger) grandson of Georgios the 1st, but I shall get to them later.

Andreas Papandreou (son of George the 1st and father of George the younger)  He enjoyed a fruitful academic career in Sweden and the United States (where he met his second wife) until he returned to Greece.  He was invited by Konstantinos Karamanlis (the elder) to participate in the Hellenic Club Politic in 1959. Unfortunately, after his rise to power in 1981 Andreas set out to fund a “Socialist” state with credit from the EEU that his mentor Karamanlis (the elder) had participated in the founding of.  The problem was he primarily funded fellow “Socialists” and voters rather than the establishment of a lasting infrastructure that would become a self sustaining complex.  He died of heart disease before his policy managed to blow up in his face.

Kostas Simitis (the technocrat) He was Andreas’ “heir” to the leadership of the PASOK party.  That seemingly mild mannered fellow ‘cooked the books’ to ensure Greece would be inducted into the EEU monetary union under the common Euro currency, to the benefit of the few and the detriment of the many.  The cost of living was summarily “rounded up” at the expense of the elderly and low income citizens in particular, while government and employer obligations were “rounded down”. That trend continued for seven years but the media focus was always on how “beneficial” the Euro was in enabling Greek industries to import first materials (many of which could have been produced or procured locally at lesser expense – not to mention the fact that the EEC imposed restrictions on the type and amounts of agricultural products that Greece was ALLOWED to cultivate).

Konstantinos Karamanlis (the nephew) took the political baton from Mr. Simitis just shortly before the extraordinarily over priced 2004 Olympiad.  His party members expected turnabout in that they would receive some sort of perks from the EEU ESPA funding programs, but much to his and their chagrin, the coffers were already seriously overstretched. The best he could do was to shrug it out until 2009, he couldn’t really promise much of anything, and his opponent was basically ignorant of the economic and political reality check Greece was facing.

Georgios Papandreou (the younger) won the popular vote in the 2009 elections with the simple campaign slogan “There is Money”… As lame as it may seem in retrospect it was sufficient to muster voters who were silently terrified after three decades of “easy living” at the prospect of 1) having their sources of funding cut off, and 2) being held accountable for their application of resources. As soon as Georgios was brought up to speed on the actual economic situation, in short the equivalent of a margin call on all of the “free” money his departed father had “invested” in his constituents on the parts of the countries International lenders, his first instinct was to call for a referendum – unfortunately he didn’t have the “cahones” to carry it out. In the interim the economic establishment of Cyprus came tumbling down with capital controls and deposit shaving to celebrate the end of “off shore” banking for former Soviet and Middle Eastern interests.

Provisional Government #1 (Papademos & Co 2011-2012) The first “bailout” package orchestrators.  Mr. Papademos had been governor of the Bank of Greece from 1994 to 2002, and vice president of the European Central Bank from 2002 -2010, it is hardly surprising that our European “partners” chose him to implement the first “reform” package.

Coalition Government #2 ( June 2012: Antonis Samaras – New Democracy Right Party, Evangelos Venizelos – PASOK Socialist Center Party, Fotis Kouvelis – Democratic Left Party) “Negotiated” the second bailout package, until the left party had to pull out to avoid betraying all of the principles it was founded upon.

Elections January 2015 (The “Great Left Hope” Alexis Tsipras) This was perhaps the cruelest moment in Greek political history, at least over the 25 years I have been living here.  People actually believed there was a possibility of genuine political change. But as it turned out Mr. Tsipras and his “team” were unfortunately ill-informed. Or at least that is how they played their hand. Realizing that he was backed into a corner Mr. Tsipras called for a referendum, what Mr. G. Papandreou (the younger) could have done back in 2009.

Referendum July 5th 2015, the truly curious thing is that Mr. Tsipras’ actions AFTER the referendum, were in direct conflict with his positions BEFORE not only the referendum but the general elections in January.  62% of the Greek voters said NO, he said YES… to everything his platform had been opposed to before the general election.

The moral of this story???  If you don’t break any eggs, you can’t make an omelette.

If you understand that, then you have a far higher IQ than most Ivy League educated Greek politicians. What will become of the general population? Good question, but as it turns out those in elected office whose salaries we pay via taxes don’t really give a damn.

Victoria Andre King is a freelance writer and audiovisual professional her novel The Führer Must Die is available for pre-orders and will be released on November 8th 2016 with Yucca Publications, an imprint of Sky Horse Publishing NYC.

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