Stavros Dimas fails to win required number of votes, meaning parliament must now be dissolved and poll held within 30 days
Alexis Tsipras, leader of the leftist Syriza party, leaves parliament after the vote. Photograph: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters
Fears were growing on Monday night of a fresh crisis in the Eurozone after Greece failed to elect a head of state, triggering a snap election that is tipped to bring radical, anti-austerity leftists to power.
The Athens stock exchange slumped by more than 10% at one point as concerns mounted over the political turmoil likely to hit the twice bailed-out country. The effective interest rate on the nation’s three-year debt soared to more than 12% – signalling investor fears that Greece will not be able to repay its loans in the short term.
Elections were called for 25 January after the government failed to find enough votes to elect its preferred candidate for president, the former European commissioner Stavros Dimas. With the vehemently anti-cuts Syriza opposition ahead in the polls, the campaign will now revive the debate about austerity policies across the Eurozone and raise questions over the harsh terms attached to Greece’s €240bn (£188bn) bailouts.
The leftists have declared that renegotiation of the accords Athens has signed with the EU, European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund – the lenders that have kept the country afloat – will be among its top priorities.
Syriza would also seek to write off the country’s monumental €320bn debt – an aim that has revived fears of Greece clashing with creditors and being ejected from the Eurozone.
The new threat comes six years after the country’s near economic collapse first sent panic through global markets and two years after prime minister Antonio Samaras came to power with his conservative-dominated two-party alliance.
Following the vote, Syriza’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, said the country had experienced “a historic day”, adding: “In a few days the Samaras government, which pillaged the country, will belong to the past, as will the memoranda of austerity.”
Athens’s 300-seat house voted by 168-132 in favour of Dimas, the sole candidate for the post of president – falling short of the 180 votes required for his installation.
Market analysts said there could be wider repercussions, including for the ECB, which is due to meet just days before the election to discuss monetary policy and debate the prospect of embarking on injecting billions into the Eurozone's economies through quantitative easing (QE) – or electronic money-printing.
The ECB has so far held off from QE despite speculation earlier this month that it was ready to act to bolster economic growth in the face of inflation which has fallen to 0.3%, dangerously close to outright deflation.
Alastair McCaig, market analyst at IG UK, said: “Although this is a specific issue for Greece, it will raise fresh fears over the fate of the Eurozone and the timelines for the possible implementation of a European version of QE. 2015 could see an escalation in the debate over austerity, with the same old north-south divide on what is proportional still raging”.
The IMF played down fears of any immediate funding crisis for Greece and will embark on its delayed review of the terms attached to the bailout programme once the new government is in place.
“Discussions with the Greek authorities on the completion of the sixth review of the programme … will resume once a new government is in place, in consultation with the European commission and the ECB. Greece faces no immediate financing needs,” the IMF said.
The EU’s commissioner for economic and finance affairs, Pierre Moscovici, said the Greeks needed “a strong commitment to Europe” and support “for the necessary growth-friendly reform process will be essential for Greece to thrive again within the euro area”.
After failing to find enough support, Dimas said: “The number of 168 votes is a clear parliamentary majority but as the constitution foresees it does not allow my election … what is important, now, is the interests of the country and the Greek people … what unites us is Greece.”
Greek law says parliament must be dissolved within 10 days and a poll held within 30. Samaras said: “Tomorrow I will go to the president of the republic to request snap polls as early as possible on 25 January. It is the hour of democracy, which means truth and responsibility, not populism.”
Christos Pappas, the jailed second-in-command of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, was the first to announce he would not be voting for the government’s candidate. Independent MPs, whom Samaras had hoped to sway in this, the final round of a three-stage vote, followed suit.
Stony-faced lawmakers looked on as Golden Dawn MPs, accentuating the deep political divisions now plaguing Greece, screamed at Samaras: “We’ll see you in prison” at Samaras.”
Samaras immediately called a cabinet meeting for 2pm local time on Monday to decide on government strategy in the coming days.
Emerging from parliament, he said: “We did whatever we could for a president to be elected by today’s parliament and to avert early elections which hold serious dangers and which the majority of Greeks don’t want … unfortunately a minority of 132 parliamentarians are dragging the country to snap polls.”
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Tuesday 30 December 2014
Photo: Opinion polls show Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras' candidate for president would not be victorious over the leftist Syriza party. (AFP: Louisa Gouliamaki)
Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras has announced plans for an early general election next month after the country's parliament rejected his candidate for president, throwing the country's international bailout into doubt.
After three rounds of voting, the only candidate in the race, former European commissioner Stavros Dimas, fell short of the 180 votes needed to become president, triggering a procedure leading to the dissolution of parliament.
Mr Samaras immediately announced he would meet outgoing president Karolos Papoulias on Tuesday to propose holding parliamentary elections on January 25 and called on Greek voters to ensure stability was preserved.
Opinion polls point to a victory by the radical leftist Syriza party, which wants to wipe out a big part of Greece's debt and cancel the terms of a bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund (IMF) that Greece still needs to pay its bills.
"With the will of our people, in a few days, bailouts tied to austerity will be a thing of the past," Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras said after the vote.
"The future has already begun."
The result leaves financial markets and Greece's European Union partners facing weeks of uncertainty that could undermine fragile signs of economic recovery and derail its public finances.
Syriza held a steady lead in opinion polls for months, although its advantage over Mr Samaras' conservative New Democracy party has narrowed in recent weeks.
Weakness among potential coalition partners of both could mean that whichever party wins in January will struggle to form a government and may not survive long.
Markets tumble amid uncertainty
Underlining the potential volatility facing markets, the main Athens stock market index fell 7 per cent while Greek bond yields jumped above 9 per cent. The main banking stocks index was down more than 11 per cent.
"The outcome of the final vote extends the political uncertainty for at least one month," said Theodore Krintas, head of wealth management at Attica Bank in Athens.
"One cannot know if the result of early elections will be a viable government.
"No significant economic decisions can be made before there is a new government and this is already reflected in the markets today," he said.
Mr Samaras, who was pushing for an early end to the deeply unpopular bailout program, brought forward the presidential vote earlier this month, gambling that victory would ease the growing political pressure on his ruling coalition.
A negotiating team from the "troika" of creditors from the European Commission, IMF and European Central Bank, had been due to resume talks in Athens next month to wind up the 240 billion euro ($358.8 billion) bailout and agree an interim, post-bailout program.
In a bid to reassure international partners, leftist leader Mr Tsipras sounded a more moderate tone recently, promising to keep Greece in the euro and negotiate an end to the bailout agreement rather than scrap it unilaterally.
But he has stuck to his promise to reverse many of the tough austerity measures imposed during the crisis, reversing cuts to the minimum wage, freezing state layoffs and halting the sale of state assets.
Sunday, December 28, 2014
24 December 2014
Samaras has to find another 12 votes to secure Dimas’s election in the third and final round on Monday
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is expected to make one last public appeal to wavering MPs to back his presidential candidate, Stavros Dimas, but will not offer anything more in exchange than he already has.
Presidential candidate, Stavros Dimas.
Samaras has to find another 12 votes to secure Dimas’s election in the third and final round on Monday after 168 MPs backed the candidate in Tuesday’s vote. Eight more independent lawmakers backed Dimas than in the first ballot but that still leaves the government needing support from Democratic Left (DIMAR) and Independent Greeks deputies.
Kathimerini understands that Samaras may make a public address on Sunday, as he did last Sunday, to repeat his offer of introducing independent and opposition MPs into his cabinet and holding elections toward the end of next year if Parliament elects a president on December 29.
After Tuesday’s vote, though, the premier took a tougher line with MPs who are so far refusing to back the government’s candidate. “The third ballot will not be one where they can just vote present,” he said. “There will be names and surnames. Each MP will have to face up to Greeks’ concerns and the country’s interests.”
It is thought that in his TV address, Samaras will highlight the possible negative consequences of failing to elect a president and going to snap elections. However, government sources said he will not set a specific date for snap elections next year as part of his compromise toward MPs who might switch their support at the last minute.
The government hopes to pick up the votes of Niki Founta, who quit DIMAR on Tuesday, as well as a couple of independents in the final round. However, coalition sources said there is an acceptance that the chances of drawing the seven to 10 votes needed from DIMAR and Independent Greeks are not strong.
In the ranks of SYRIZA, officials are all but certain that the government will be unable to garner the required 180 votes in the third presidential ballot and avert snap polls. Speaking to reporters after Tuesday’s vote, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras declared that “neither Parliament nor the people will give Mr Samaras a mandate to continue with memorandums.” “In the new year, the country will turn a page, with democracy, with a strong popular mandate for real negotiation.”
The leftist opposition is now preparing for the government to intensify its rhetoric of the risks that a potential SYRIZA government will bring, sources said.
New Democracy and PASOK are also in pre-election mode, with the junior coalition partner facing a fresh headache due to the planned creation of a new party by former party leader and ex-Premier George Papandreou. A last-ditch attempt by PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos to bring Papandreou back into the fold on Tuesday failed to lead anywhere.
Friday, December 26, 2014
By Ken Hanly
Athens - Greece's parliament must elect a new president by December 29th or early elections must be called according to the constitution. The Coalition of the Radical Left or Syriza as it is commonly called may be poised to win those elections
Most Greeks are fed up after five full years of recession, continual tax hikes, and record high levels of unemployment. This has increased the popularity of parties on both ends of the political spectrum but Syriza under popular leader Alexis Tsipras is predicted to win any elections.
Nikos Samanidis, a top official and founding member of Syriza said: "After decades on the defensive, the left is staging a comeback. Not just in Greece, but in Europe and Latin America as well." In Europe, there is also a surge in the popularity of more radical right parties as well.
The popularity of Syriza rattles financial markets. The Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras warned members of parliament that they must elect a new president soon or face a government that could even force an exit from the Eurozone. Supporters of Syriza already triumphed last May when they won in the European elections. Polls show them still leading other parties.
The possibility of an election and a win by Syriza helped caused a record drop in the Athens stock market on December 9th. Borrowing costs for Greece are also moving much higher. Even senior EU officials have entered the fray. President of the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said about a general election in Greece:
"I wouldn't like extreme forces to come to power. I would prefer if known faces show up,"
As it draws closer to power, Syriza has attempted to reassure opponents and financial officials that it wants to keep Greece within the Eurozone and will not make unilateral decisions. Political economist Yanis Varoufakis claims that Syriza's position that the bailout laws with its austerity provisions should be changed is a reasonable way out of the political crisis:"The first priority is renegotiating with creditors. Syriza needs to speak the language of truth about the continuing triple bankruptcy of the country - public debt, banks, private sector - something no Greek government has done so far. Then they need to table positions that the average German will find reasonable."Many in the Greek and EU establishment remain fearful of Syriza and its leader. Syriza's solution to the crisis is the exact opposite of what is going on at present. Syriza leader Tsipras wants to increase public spending, reverse privatization, boost salaries and also pensions, and have less liberal markets.
The Greek parliament has three chances to elect a new president before it must call national elections. On Tuesday it failed in its second attempt. There is one last chance on December 29th and if they fail then it is three strikes and the parliament must declare fresh elections that Syriza may very well win.The elections would be held in January.
The IMF, European Commission, and European Central Bank may not agree to renegotiate the $293 billion bailout package, that Syriza refuses to accept. Unlike Yaroufakis many financial experts think that the Syriza program is irresponsible and unrealistic as well.
After the failed vote on Tuesday the Athens stock market main index fell two per cent. Yields on Greek government bonds rose to 8.25 per cent up from 7.8 per cent a month ago.
The Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was optimistic that he would be able to garner enough votes on the third try to elect a president and avoid an election since he had a better result for his candidate than on the first vote. The candidate Stavros Dimas won 168 votes in the 300 seat parliament. He needs 180 for election. Although he won 8 more than on the last vote, he still needs 12 more to be elected. There will be a furious lobbying push to garner the twelve votes over Xmas. Polls show that a majority of Greeks do not want snap elections. While Syriza still leads in the polls its lead has narrowed to a 3.4 point lead recently.
by Philip Chrysopoulos – December 25, 2014
The Greek family remains very traditional as the man goes to work and puts bread on the table while the woman stays at home and tends to the household, according to a new report by the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT).
The “Time Use Survey” conducted by ELSTAT took one year to complete. Its purpose was to see how people in Greece distribute their time in various activities. Regarding household work, men aged 20-74 spend an average of 1 hour and 31 minutes doing household chores while women of the same age spend 4 hours and 36 minutes.
According to the survey, 95.3% of women spend at least 10 minutes a day on housework, while only 74% of men do the same. The household activity men like the most is cooking (38.3%) but only 2.4% are involved in laundry, ironing or mending clothes.
Men spend 6 hours and 24 minutes per day in sports, outdoor activities, fine arts, crafts, hobbies and information technology while women spend 5 hours and 10 minutes in such activities. Overall, 47.2% of men have a hobby or use computers while only 29.9% of women do the same; 28.9% of men do sports or outdoor activities while for women that is 20%. Also, 92.8% of the total population watches television, reads newspapers and magazines and listens to the radio for an average of 2 hours and 56 minutes per day.
Greek men and women sleep an average of 8 hours and 25 minutes per day, including naps and staying in bed. On personal hygiene, women dedicate six minutes per day more than men.
People in rural areas – mostly women – dedicate an average of 12 minutes a day on religious activities while residents of urban communities dedicate only 5.
Information and Communication Technologies
Men spend 43 minutes per day on information and communication technologies. Women, on the other hand, spend 25 minutes. However, people in Greece appear to be very social as 83.7% of women and 82.1% of men spend at least 10 minutes a day to visit friends and relatives or talk to them on the telephone. Over 82% of the total population has an active social life combined with other activities outside the home, spending an average of 2 hours and 28 minutes.
Eating and Transportation Time
The average Greek spends 2 hours and 16 minutes daily on the table. Men spend 24 minutes a day on some means of transportation to go to various leisure activities while women spend exactly half of that. Commuting time in urban areas is 12 minutes on average and 6 minutes in rural areas. Transportation is 1 hour and 2 minutes on average for the total population.
Time at Home and Work
The majority of the population spends the biggest part of the day at home (18 hours and 17 minutes on average, including sleep). The older the person, the more time they spend at home. In ages over 65, average time spent at home is 20 hours and 31 minutes. Also, women spend more time at home than men (19 hours and 24 minutes compared to 17 hours and 1 minute).
Greek men spend more time at work than women; they work an average of 2 hours and 31 minutes per day, especially in the 35-44 age group where the average is 4 hours and 21 minutes.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
The former Prime Minister and once president of PASOK Giorgos Papandreou, who introduced the first bailout and ruining the most popular party since the restoration of Democracy, is planning on forming a new party, named “Change” according to our information.
The president of DIMAR, who left SYRIZA in order to form his party, is planning on disbanding his party so that he may return to SYRIZA.
Spyros Lykoudis, who left DIMAR in order to participate in the reconstruction of the centre left, probably did not find any shelter anywhere so he is ending up with Stavros Theodorakis’ River, which up until recently, he did not consider the most appropriate expression of the Centre Left.
Giorgos Floridis and Anna Diamantopoulou are attempting to form a new party, after their efforts for a greater reform movement fell on deaf ears.
Also, the new Left, which SYRIZA wants to represent, has shown that it is very distant from the mores of the greater faction, which has historically avoided like the plagues its involvement in observing, spying and entrapments.
The new Left of Mr Tsipras did not hesitate to adopt these practices in order to prevail and avert the election of a new President.
And Mr Samaras who promised a return to the markets a few months ago, getting rid of the troika and expelling the International Monetary Fund, is now referring to the threat of being ousted from the Europe in order to ensure conservative voters.
In other words, we are watching the perfect political theatre of the absurd.
God be with us…
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Sunday, December 21, 2014
The divisive conflict and polarization is generating further political and financial uncertainty, as elections approach
The heavily indebted and totally dependent on creditors and partners Greece is struggling to address its most critical structural problem which is none other than that of politics, while facing a slew of financial and social obligations in a state of decline and polarization. The first vote in the Presidential elections disappointed the instigators of the last political dice roll and excited the contenders for power. And of course it brought back international headlines doubting over the country's ability to overcome the long-term crisis.
The events on Friday saw Greek politics reached a new low of corruption and humiliation. Questionable people starred in these events and there is an attempt to even implicate the Prime Minister, greatly affecting the political environment and thus creating a very tense atmosphere ahead of the second and third vote for a new President.
State of decay
The accusations of Independent Greeks president Panos Kammenos and the television interviews of his MP Pavlos Haikalis that followed – where he tried to implicate the Prime Minister Antonis Samaras in he attempted bribery – have sparked a dangerous fire in the political climate. Mr Samaras appears enraged, accused Kammenos of hooliganism and Tsipras of falling very low in order to serve his political purposes.
The Prime Minister is essentially accusing Kammenos and Tsipras of colluding in order to block the MPs and the election of a new President because, if that is achieved, then the country's finances and future outlook will change for good.
Some of his ministers will even go a bit further and talk of “financial backers” who are playing their last card and want to create a state of tension to benefit themselves against the country's interest. They insist that Mr Tsipras has adopted conspiracy theories and is awestruck from Mr Kammenos' “stories”.
From the other side, it is true that Mr Tsipras' circle has more or less adopted Kammenos' accusations – of an attempt made to bribe Mr Haikalis – and believe that the Prime Minister and his banker friends are implicated. The leader of the main opposition party himself is said to give great importance in the assurances provided by Lakis Lazopoulos regarding the validity of the accusations of his friend and fellow actor, Pavlos Haikalis.
According to all indications, Mr Lazopoulos, whom Mr Tsipras speaks with on a daily basis and treats like the prevailing expression of the so-called “social opposition”, played a decisive role in trapping the “shady” intermediate Mr Giorgos Apostolopoulos, who has coincidentally “been” with everyone for decades and some describe him as the “suitcase man”.
Based on all the aforementioned, it becomes clear that the political atmosphere in Parliament on Tuesday will be heavy and unbearable. After the baseless accusations of Mr Voudouris and Mr Parastatidis against independent MPs, including Mr Lykoudis, we may even have clashes in Parliament. There was no shortage of rage in Mr Lykoudis' face and words last Friday, to the point that he personally asked Mr. Tsipras to exclude Voudouris and Parastatidis from SYRIZA's ballots.
In any case, the accusations of attempted bribery of Independent Greeks MPs are creating a negative climate and do not allow much leeway in the upcoming votes. Despite the government officials' insistence that the MPs will perform their duties towards the country, the chances of the current Parliament electing a new President have all but disappeared. Even those who were wavering and were considering making that step are now having to think again, under threat of facing bribery accusations.
The President of PASOK, who is trying to stay out of all of this, argues that “provocative elements have unfortunately prevailed” and now nothing seems capable of averting the path to elections. It is very likely then that we are quickly headed for general elections amidst a state of conflict, tension and mudslinging. Quite a few are worried that things may get out of hand, benefiting the extremist forces and prompting them to take action/
With the political world covered in mud, the dirt having hit the fan and splattered in all directions, the institutions froze and Democracy left defenceless, all sorts of mischief may occur, or worse, be tempted to influence the developments.
The political system is insufficient, the creditors are suspicious
The threat is that this mischief will coincide with undesirable attitudes of the concerned depositors, who in the generalized uncertainty will likely want to secure themselves against the dangers. If a President is not elected on the 29th of December, everyone speculates that insecurity may prevail.
This means that we may have out-of-control situations from the start of the new year. In this case, anything can happen and “the country may hit rocks”, like the once Finance Minister Alekos Papadopoulos often says.
He believes that the political system is ill, that it is comprised, in all of its versions, old and new, from worn-out materials and as such cannot get the country out of the crisis. However, he considers the upcoming elections “liberating”, because they will highlight the “irresponsible leadership's” complete impasse, leading to new failures, which will in turn dictate the emergence of truly new forces which will dominate the in country's rebirth.
Nobody can accurately predict how things will work out. What is certain is that Greece is deeply divided, dangerously covered in mud and could easily hit the rocks. After all, our partners and creditors don't have the best feelings towards us. There is an abundance of suspicion, which after recent events has skyrocketed. Any government formed after these elections will have to face the stiff demand from Berlin and Brussels to implement what was agreed. The government will face an immovable wall that will demand and claim the continuation of changes and reforms that will ensure financial stability over time. Namely, precisely what we tried to avoid and which lead us to today's endless and absolutely corrosive mudslinging.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
How the international media saw the announcements on presidential elections.
BBC: Greece has announced it will bring forward by two months the date of a key presidential vote, in an apparent attempt to end political uncertainty.
The announcement came after Eurozone ministers approved a Greek request for a two-month extension to its bailout programme due to end later this month.
It will be a vital test for embattled Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
Guardian: The Greek government has announced that it will bring forward presidential elections. The announcement of the high-stakes gamble that will make or break its survival was made only a few hours after lenders agreed on Monday to grant Greece a two-month extension of its financial rescue programme.
The ruling coalition surprised party leaders and political pundits by saying the process to replace the country's head of state would begin next week, two months ahead of schedule.
Amid widespread discontent after five years of austerity – the price of emergency bailout funds from the EU and IMF – polls show the main opposition, the radical left Syriza party, would easily emerge as the winner if general elections were held.
"The open vote makes their choice more difficult but if they believe they can go back to their constituencies and sit in tavernas and coffee houses and not be lynched, they may well back the government's candidate," said one seasoned political observer. "It gives them longer in posts that they would otherwise lose.
Balcaneu: Prime Minister Antonis Samaras announced on Tuesday that former Foreign Minister and former European Commissioner Stavros Dimas will be a candidate for President of the Republic, in all three rounds of the upcoming elections.
In his announcement Mr Samaras noted that "although the country's economy had been stabilized, clouds of political uncertainty appeared once again on the horizon. The government did what it had to do in order to lift the uncertainty and fully restore political stability."
"With the election of the President of the Republic at the end of the month, our country will be ready to enter the post-memorandum era," the Prime Minister underlined. "We chose Stavros Dimas because he is a person esteemed by the Greek society and the international community. He will be a candidate in the three electoral processes," Mr Samaras said.
Earlier in the day, Mr Antonis Samaras held a meeting with Stavros Dimas.
After the meeting, Mr Dimas was asked whether he will run for President of the Republic and he replied laconically that the decision is up to PM Antonis Samaras.
AFP: Former EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas is the Greek government candidate to assume the country's presidency, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said on Tuesday.
"The best possible candidate for president is Stavros Dimas," Samaras said in a nationally televised address. Dimas, 73, served in the European Commission from 2004 to 2010. A year later, he briefly served as foreign minister. The vote by 300 members of parliament to replace President Karolos Papoulias had been due in February but has now been set for a first round on December 17. The poll is a key test for Samaras, who would be forced to call snap general elections if his presidential candidate fails to garner enough support. Given the government's slim majority in parliament, a full three voting rounds are likely to be required to elect Dimas.
Reuters: Greece's government named a respected former EU commissioner, Stavros Dimas, on Tuesday as its candidate for president in a crucial vote in parliament this month that could trigger an early general election. In a surprise move, the government on Monday moved forward the start of the presidential vote by two months to next week, risking early elections if it fails to secure a super-majority in parliament to back Dimas's candidature.
The conservative government is negotiating to bring about an early end to the 240 billion euro EU/IMF bailout that rescued Greece at the height of its debt crisis. The program is deeply unpopular because of the strict austerity conditions attached.
"When the current parliament elects a president at the end of the month the clouds will be gone and the country will be ready to officially enter the post-bailout era," Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said in a televised address.
Dimas, a 73-year-old lawyer, is a prominent politician from Samaras's New Democracy party, where he has been vice president since 2010. He served as EU environment commissioner from 2004 to 2009 and has held various ministerial positions. He was foreign minister under a technocrat government at the peak of Greece's debt crisis in 2011-2012.
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
By Alexis Papachelas
Greece faces a geopolitical conundrum: Even if it wanted to make a move on the regional chessboard, it would find very limited room for manoeuvre.
There was a time when Greece could flirt with the eastern bloc or play the French card against the Americans like the late Constantine Karamanlis did with Charles de Gaulle. More recently even, the country could side with Paris against Berlin inside the EU.
All that is pretty much over. France appears weak. It’s not just President Francois Hollande who is to blame for this but, more importantly, the country’s financial troubles. Meanwhile, Washington has all but withdrawn from the region. Its only concern is that Greece remains stable and that it does not slide into a disorderly default that could jeopardize the US or global economy.
Various pundits like to theorize about how Washington uses the IMF like a Trojan horse to manipulate Europe. Others have supported the idea of a Greek-American alliance against Germany. Wishful thinking.
The US helped Greece at a crucial time in 2012 when it convinced German Chancellor Angela that a Grexit at that time would entail devastating consequences. Sure, there are disagreements on economic policy and tension over the phone-tapping scandal. However, no one in Washington is really interested in a game of Stratego that would pit Athens against Berlin. And then there are those who envisaged a grand strategic alliance with China against Germany. Chinese officials are interested in Greece as an investment opportunity as far as the country remains in the Eurozone and is stable. Finally, there are the champions of the Russian scenario which has, for obvious reasons, lost support following the crisis in Ukraine and Russia’s own economic woes.
In other words, the chessboard is laid out and there is no escape from it. This is why we always end up with those “Med alliances” and “protest movements” and talk about “the peoples of Europe.” Meanwhile, no southern European government wants to appear standing beside Greece after it was labelled a “special case.”
Put differently, we need to find our own way. We need a good dose of self-confidence and a good plan. But we also need to keep mind of the facts. If we fall off the cliff because of a mishap or because we were chosen as an example to be avoided, our isolation would be devastating. We feel humiliated because our economic dependence has eroded the country’s sovereignty. It is our obligation to rebuild the country and its institutions, to get rid of the old guard, turn the page and reduce our dependence. Europe may not offer the security that Karamanlis had once hoped. But there is no one else out there who can foot the bill or provide security.
ekathimerini.com , Sunday December 7, 2014 (15:41)
By Yiannis Papadoyiannis
A few months ago an employee at a major Greek bank who had just transferred to its newly created nonperforming loans management department noticed a very familiar name as he was going through the files of bad debtors. The name was the same as a client he knew who had large deposits with the bank.
Before his transfer to the NPLs division, the employee frequently saw clients at the branch where he worked with whom he negotiated interest rates for time deposits. At first he thought it was a mere coincidence, but he soon realized that the bad debtor and the client with the high deposits were one and the same person.
The clerk informed his superiors and a decision was immediately reached to run a search through the bank’s records for other such “coincidences.” A few weeks later the results were particularly impressive: Some 10 per cent of those who were not servicing the debts they had run up at the bank also maintained large deposits there.
These are the so-called strategic defaulters, who viewed the crisis as an opportunity to avoid paying their dues. They are tactical bad debtors who are able to cover their debts but do not in anticipation of a more favourable future settlement, usually through the use of laws to benefit the financially challenged. Strategic defaulters are everywhere among us: salary workers, self-employed and of course businesspeople and corporations.
Banks now estimate that nonperforming loans have reached particularly high levels, over 35 per cent of the total, but believe that the current picture also includes many strategic defaulters. As the economy improves, lenders expect the tactical bad debtors to be forced to settle their dues. At the same time they are closely monitoring the behaviour of every client they consider to be suspicious, thereby reducing the scope for such strategies.
Sources from the Bank of Greece highlight the phenomenon of wealthy company owners who have allowed their enterprises to lapse into over indebtedness.
Notably, the decline in deposits from 2009 to 2013 came to some 70 billion euros, exactly the same amount as the sum of bad loans in December 2013. Officials from the credit sector estimate that out of the 30 billion euros in NPLs at the end of 2013, about 10 billion may well concern strategic defaulters, or entrepreneurs who have placed huge debt burdens on their companies and transferred a large sum of the loans they have received to their personal accounts, thereby using their firms as cash machines.
The current picture of over indebted companies with well-off owners to a great extent reflects the generally distorted business culture that developed during the euphoria years. Considerably high salaries, high bonuses, buyouts of enterprises or other personal assets and other such tactics have led to today’s paradox of companies suffering under the weight of debts while their owners remain affluent. Banks have strong indications that there is a relationship between nonperforming loans and deposits sent to accounts abroad.
Bank officials also argue that wealthy business owners are now waiting for the state to resolve the general problem of bad loans, which they have contributed to, in anticipation of a haircut on their obligations. They also refuse to make any share capital increases in their companies, as they want to maintain full control of them.
ekathimerini.com , Monday December 8, 2014 (23:16)
Saturday, December 6, 2014
British Museum angers Greek prime minister by lending statue of Greek god Ilissos, part of Elgin Marbles, to Russia's Hermitage
By Europe correspondent Barbara Miller Saturday 6 December 2014
The British Museum is loaning one of the Elgin Marbles to the Hermitage in St Petersburg, but the Greeks desperately want the works back, saying they were acquired illegally and are rightfully theirs.
The sculptures, some of the British Museum's most prized and controversial works, have not left the UK since Lord Elgin brought them there from Athens 200 years ago.
Now one of the works - a headless sculpture of the Greek river god Ilissos - has left the UK, but will be displayed not in Athens but in St Petersburg at the Hermitage.
Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras described the move as an affront to his country.
Sir Richard Lambert, the chairman of the British Museum Trustees, is unapologetic.
"We are a museum of the world, for the world," he said.
"We lent last year 5,000 objects to 340 museums around the world. We are a lending institution, that's what we do."
London-based historian and author Dominic Selwood said the Elgin Marbles were acquired "completely legitimately" by Lord Elgin in 1801.
I think it's precisely because relations between [the West and Russia] are difficult that this kind of loan is so important.
British Museum director Neil MacGregor
"When he arrived in Athens he saw them being destroyed," he said.
"There had been a program since 500 when Athens started wrecking them, through to the Ottomans when he was there, who were grinding them up and selling them off for lime, using them for target practice and giving them to tourists.
"He realised that he had to do something to save these artefacts. So I think that the debate is often coloured by saying that Lord Elgin was a thief.
"But in fact it's only thanks to him that we have such good quality artefacts left today."
Mr Selwood said stolen or looted artefacts were routinely returned to their original homes in modern times, but said "no-one was seriously doubting" the British Museum owned the Elgin Marbles.
"The question is really whether there is some broader or wider cultural reasons for returning them," he said.
"But from a straightforward legal perspective, the British Museum owns them and they've said time and again they will loan them, as with any other artefacts, to any museum that wants to exhibit them.
"But the Greeks haven't been willing to give an assurance that they would return them."
British Museum director Neil MacGregor said the loan was particularly important given the current geo-political tensions between the West and Russia, which have caused analysts to talk about the development of a new Cold War.
"I think it's precisely because relations between the countries are difficult that this kind of loan is so important," he said.
"And so does the Hermitage. Both institutions believe that precisely at moments like that, that the museums have to keep speaking."
The statue will be on display in Russia until January - a short loan, but one with potentially long-term consequences for British-Greek relations.
Monday, December 1, 2014
When 28 civilians were killed in Athens, it wasn’t the Nazis who were to blame, it was the British. Ed Vulliamy and Helena Smith reveal how Churchill’s shameful decision to turn on the partisans who had fought on our side in the war sowed the seeds for the rise of the far right in Greece today
A day that changed history: the bodies of unarmed protestors shot by the police and the British army in Athens on 3 December 1944. Photograph: Dmitri Kessel/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
I can still see it very clearly, I have not forgotten,” says Títos Patríkios. “The Athens police firing on the crowd from the roof of the parliament in Syntagma Square. The young men and women lying in pools of blood, everyone rushing down the stairs in total shock, total panic.”
And then came the defining moment: the recklessness of youth, the passion of belief in a justice burning bright: “I jumped up on the fountain in the middle of the square, the one that is still there, and I began to shout: “Comrades, don’t disperse! Victory will be ours! Don’t leave. The time has come. We will win!”
“I was,” he says now, “profoundly sure, that we would win.” But there was no winning that day; just as there was no pretending that what had happened would not change the history of a country that, liberated from Adolf Hitler’s Reich barely six weeks earlier, was now surging headlong towards bloody civil war.
Even now, at 86, when Patríkios “laughs at and with myself that I have reached such an age”, the poet can remember, scene-for-scene, shot for shot, what happened in the central square of Greek political life on the morning of 3 December 1944.
This was the day, those 70 years ago this week, when the British army, still at war with Germany, opened fire upon – and gave locals who had collaborated with the Nazis the guns to fire upon – a civilian crowd demonstrating in support of the partisans with whom Britain had been allied for three years.
The crowd carried Greek, American, British and Soviet flags, and chanted: “Viva Churchill, Viva Roosevelt, Viva Stalin’” in endorsement of the wartime alliance.
Twenty-eight civilians, mostly young boys and girls, were killed and hundreds injured. “We had all thought it would be a demonstration like any other,” Patríkios recalls. “Business as usual. Nobody expected a bloodbath.”
Britain’s logic was brutal and perfidious: Prime minister Winston Churchill considered the influence of the Communist Party within the resistance movement he had backed throughout the war – the National Liberation Front, EAM – to have grown stronger than he had calculated, sufficient to jeopardise his plan to return the Greek king to power and keep Communism at bay. So he switched allegiances to back the supporters of Hitler against his own erstwhile allies.
There were others in the square that day who, like the 16-year-old Patríkios, would go on to become prominent members of the left. Míkis Theodorakis, renowned composer and iconic figure in modern Greek history, daubed a Greek flag in the blood of those who fell. Like Patríkios, he was a member of the resistance youth movement. And, like Patríkios, he knew his country had changed. Within days, RAF Spitfires and Beaufighters were strafing leftist strongholds as the Battle of Athens – known in Greece as the Dekemvriana – began, fought not between the British and the Nazis, but the British alongside supporters of the Nazis against the partisans. “I can still smell the destruction,” Patríkios laments. “The mortars were raining down and planes were targeting everything. Even now, after all these years, I flinch at the sound of planes in war movies.”
And thereafter Greece’s descent into catastrophic civil war: a cruel and bloody episode in British as well as Greek history which every Greek knows to their core – differently, depending on which side they were on – but which remains curiously untold in Britain, perhaps out of shame, maybe the arrogance of a lack of interest. It is a narrative of which the millions of Britons who go to savour the glories of Greek antiquity or disco-dance around the islands Mamma Mia-style, are unaware.
The legacy of this betrayal has haunted Greece ever since, its shadow hanging over the turbulence and violence that erupted in 2008 after the killing of a schoolboy by police – also called the Dekemvriana – and created an abyss between the left and right thereafter.
“The 1944 December uprising and 1946-49 civil war period infuses the present,” says the leading historian of these events, André Gerolymatos, “because there has never been a reconciliation. In France or Italy, if you fought the Nazis, you were respected in society after the war, regardless of ideology. In Greece, you found yourself fighting – or imprisoned and tortured by – the people who had collaborated with the Nazis, on British orders. There has never been a reckoning with that crime, and much of what is happening in Greece now is the result of not coming to terms with the past.”
Before the war, Greece was ruled by a royalist dictatorship whose emblem of a fascist axe and crown well expressed its dichotomy once war began: the dictator, General Ioannis Metaxas, had been trained as an army officer in Imperial Germany, while Greek King George II – an uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh – was attached to Britain. The Greek left, meanwhile, had been reinforced by a huge influx of politicised refugees and liberal intellectuals from Asia Minor, who crammed into the slums of Pireaus and working-class Athens.
Both dictator and king were fervently anti-communist, and Metaxas banned the Communist Party, KKE, interning and torturing its members, supporters and anyone who did not accept “the national ideology” in camps and prisons, or sending them into internal exile. Once war started, Metaxas refused to accept Mussolini’s ultimatum to surrender and pledged his loyalty to the Anglo-Greek alliance. The Greeks fought valiantly and defeated the Italians, but could not resist the Wehrmacht. By the end of April 1941, the Axis forces imposed a harsh occupation of the country. The Greeks – at first spontaneously, later in organised groups – resisted.
But, noted the British Special Operations Executive (SOE): “The right wing and monarchists were slower than their opponents in deciding to resist the occupation, and were therefore of little use.”
Britain’s natural allies were therefore EAM – an alliance of left wing and agrarian parties of which the KKE was dominant, but by no means the entirety – and its partisan military arm, ELAS.
There is no overstating the horror of occupation. Professor Mark Mazower’s book Inside Hitler’s Greece describes hideous bloccos or “round-ups” – whereby crowds would be corralled into the streets so that masked informers could point out ELAS supporters to the Gestapo and Security Battalions – which had been established by the collaborationist government to assist the Nazis – for execution. Stripping and violation of women was a common means to secure “confessions”. Mass executions took place “on the German model”: in public, for purposes of intimidation; bodies would be left hanging from trees, guarded by Security Battalion collaborators to prevent their removal. In response, ELAS mounted daily counterattacks on the Germans and their quislings. The partisan movement was born in Athens but based in the villages, so that Greece was progressively liberated from the countryside. The SOE played its part, famous in military annals for the role of Brigadier Eddie Myers and “Monty” Woodhouse in blowing up the Gorgopotomas viaduct in 1942 and other operations with the partisans – andartes in Greek.
By autumn 1944, Greece had been devastated by occupation and famine. Half a million people had died – 7% of the population. ELAS had, however, liberated dozens of villages and become a proto-government, administering parts of the country while the official state withered away. But after German withdrawal, ELAS kept its 50,000 armed partisans outside the capital, and in May 1944 agreed to the arrival of British troops, and to place its men under the officer commanding, Lt Gen Ronald Scobie.
On 12 October the Germans evacuated Athens. Some ELAS fighters, however, had been in the capital all along, and welcomed the fresh air of freedom during a six-day window between liberation and the arrival of the British. One partisan in particular is still alive, aged 92, and is a legend of modern Greece.
Commanding presence: Churchill leaving HMS Ajax to attend a conference ashore. Athens can be seen in the background. Photograph: Crown Copyright. IWM/Imperial War Museum
In and around the European parliament in Brussels, the man in a Greek fisherman’s cap, with his mane of white hair and moustache, stands out. He is Manolis Glezos, senior MEP for the leftist Syriza party of Greece.
Glezos is a man of humbling greatness. On 30 May 1941, he climbed the Acropolis with another partisan and tore down the swastika flag that had been hung there a month before. He was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942, was tortured and as a result suffered from tuberculosis. He escaped and was re-arrested twice – the second time by collaborators. He recalls being sentenced to death in May 1944, before the Germans left Athens – “They told me my grave had already been dug”. Somehow he avoided execution and was then saved from a Greek court-martials’ firing squad during the civil war period by international outcry led by General de Gaulle, Jean-Paul Sartre and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rev Geoffrey Fisher.”
Seventy years later, he is an icon of the Greek left who is also hailed as the greatest living authority on the resistance. “The English, to this day, argue that they liberated Greece and saved it from communism,” he says. “But that is the basic problem. They never liberated Greece. Greece had been liberated by the resistance, groups across the spectrum, not just EAM, on 12 October. I was there, on the streets – people were everywhere shouting: ‘Freedom!’ we cried, Laokratia! – ‘Power to the People!’”
The British duly arrived on 18 October, installed a provisional government under Georgios Papandreou and prepared to restore the king. “From the moment they came,” recalls Glezos, “the people and the resistance greeted them as allies. There was nothing but respect and friendship towards the British. We had no idea that we were already giving up our country and our rights.” It was only a matter of time before EAM walked out of the provisional government in frustration over demands that the partisans demobilise. The negotiations broke down on 2 December.
Official British thinking is reflected in War Cabinet papers and other documents kept in the Public Record Office at Kew. As far back as 17 August 1944, Churchill had written a “Personal and Top Secret” memo to US president Franklin Roosevelt to say that: “The War Cabinet and Foreign Secretary are much concerned about what will happen in Athens, and indeed Greece, when the Germans crack or when their divisions try to evacuate the country. If there is a long hiatus after German authorities have gone from the city before organised government can be set up, it seems very likely that EAM and the Communist extremists will attempt to seize the city.”
But what the freedom fighters wanted, insists Glezos “was what we had achieved during the war: a state ruled by the people for the people. There was no plot to take over Athens as Churchill always maintained. If we had wanted to do that, we could have done so before the British arrived.” During November, the British set about building the new National Guard, tasked to police Greece and disarm the wartime militias. In reality, disarmament applied to ELAS only, explains Gerolymatos, not to those who had collaborated with the Nazis. Gerolymatos writes in his forthcoming book, The International Civil War, about how “in the middle of November, the British started releasing Security Battalion officers… and soon some of them were freely walking the streets of Athens wearing new uniforms... The British army continued to provide protection to assist the gradual rehabilitation of the former quisling units in the Greek army and police forces.” An SOE memo urged that “HMG must not appear to be connected with this scheme.”
In conversation, Gerolymatos says: “So far as ELAS could see, the British had arrived, and now some senior officers of the Security Battalions and Special Security Branch [collaborationist units which had been integrated into the SS] were seen walking freely in the streets. Athens in 1944 was a small place, and you could not miss these people. Senior British officers knew exactly what they were doing, despite the fact that the ordinary soldiers of the former Security Battalions were the scum of Greece”. Gerolymatos estimates that 12,000 Security Battalionists were released from Gondi prison during the uprising to join the National Guard, and 228 had been reinstated in the army.
Any British notion that the Communists were poised for revolution fell within the context of the so-called Percentages Agreement, forged between Churchill and Soviet Commissar Josef Stalin at the code-named “Tolstoy Conference” in Moscow on 9 October 1944. Under the terms agreed in what Churchill called “a naughty document”, southeast Europe was carved up into “spheres of influence”, whereby – broadly – Stalin took Romania and Bulgaria, while Britain, in order to keep Russia out of the Mediterranean, took Greece. The obvious thing to have done, argues Gerolymatos, “would have been to incorporate ELAS into the Greek army. The officers in ELAS, many holding commissions in the pre-war Greek army, presumed this would happen – like De Gaulle did with French communists fighting in the resistance: ‘France is liberated, now let’s go and fight Germany!’
“But the British and the Greek government in exile decided from the outset that ELAS officers and men would not be admitted into the new army. Churchill wanted a showdown with the KKE so as to be able to restore the king. Churchill believed that a restoration would result in the return of legitimacy and bring back the old order. EAM-ELAS, regardless of its relationship to the KKE, represented a revolutionary force, and change.”
Meanwhile, continues Gerolymatos: “The Greek communists had decided not to try to take over the country, as least not until late November/early December 1944. The KKE wanted to push for a left-of-centre government and be part of it, that’s all.” Echoing Glezos, he says: “If they had wanted a revolution, they would not have left 50,000 armed men outside the capital after liberation – they’d have brought them in.”
“By recruiting the collaborators, the British changed the paradigm, signalling that the old order was back. Churchill wanted the conflict,” says Gerolymatos. “We must remember: there was no Battle for Greece. A large number of the British troops that arrived were administrative, not line units. When the fighting broke out in December, the British and the provisional government let the Security Battalions out of Goudi; they knew how to fight street-to-street because they’d done it with the Nazis. They’d been fighting ELAS already during the occupation and resumed the battle with gusto.”
The morning of Sunday 3 December was a sunny one, as several processions of Greek republicans, anti-monarchists, socialists and communists wound their way towards Syntagma Square. Police cordons blocked their way, but several thousand broke through; as they approached the square, a man in military uniform shouted: “Shoot the bastards!” The lethal fusillade – from Greek police positions atop the parliament building and British headquarters in the Grande Bretagne hotel – lasted half an hour. By noon, a second crowd of demonstrators entered the square, until it was jammed with 60,000 people. After several hours, a column of British Para troops cleared the square; but the Battle of Athens had begun, and Churchill had his war.
Manolis Glezos was sick that morning, suffering from tuberculosis. “But when I heard what had happened, I got off my sick bed,” he recalls. The following day, Glezos was roaming the streets, angry and determined, disarming police stations. By the time the British sent in an armoured division he and his comrades were waiting.
“I note the fact,” he says, “that they would rather use those troops to fight our population than German Nazis!” By the time British tanks rolled in from the port of Pireaus, he was lying in wait: “I remember them coming up the Sacred Way. We were dug in a trench. I took out three tanks,” he says. “There was much bloodshed, a lot of fighting, I lost many very good friends. It was difficult to strike at an Englishman, difficult to kill a British soldier – they had been our allies. But now they were trying to destroy the popular will, and had declared war on our people”.
At battle’s peak, Glezos says, the British even set up sniper nests on the Acropolis. “Not even the Germans did that. They were firing down on EAM targets, but we didn’t fire back, so as not [to harm] the monument.”
On 5 December, Lt Gen Scobie imposed martial law and the following day ordered the aerial bombing of the working-class Metz quarter. “British and government forces,” writes anthropologist Neni Panourgia in her study of families in that time, “having at their disposal heavy armament, tanks, aircraft and a disciplined army, were able to make forays into the city, burning and bombing houses and streets and carving out segments of the city… The German tanks had been replaced by British ones, the SS and Gestapo officers by British soldiers.” The house belonging to actor Mimis Fotopoulos, she writes, was burned out with a portrait of Churchill above the fireplace.
“I recall shouting slogans in English, during one battle in Koumoundourou Square because I had a strong voice and it was felt I could be heard,” says poet Títos Patríkios as we talk in his apartment. “‘We are brothers, there’s nothing to divide us, come with us!’ That’s what I was shouting in the hope that they [British troops] would withdraw. And right at that moment, with my head poked above the wall, a bullet brushed over my helmet. Had I not been yanked down by Evangelos Goufas[another poet], who was there next to me, I would have been dead.”
On their knees: women protest against the shootings, which led to more than a month of street fighting in Athens. Photograph: Dmitri Kessel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty
He can now smile at the thought that only months after the killing in the square he was back at school, studying English on a British Council summer course. “We were enemies, but at the same time friends. In one battle I came across an injured English soldier and I took him to a field hospital. I gave him my copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped which I remember he kept.”
It is illuminating to read the dispatches by British soldiers themselves, as extracted by the head censor, Capt JB Gibson, now stored at the Public Record Office. They give no indication that the enemy they fight was once a partisan ally, indeed many troops think they are fighting a German-backed force. A warrant officer writes: “Mr Churchill and his speech bucked us no end, we know now what we are fighting for and against, it is obviously a Hun element behind all this trouble.” From “An Officer”: “You may ask: why should our boys give their lives to settle Greek political differences, but they are only Greek political differences? I say: no, it is all part of the war against the Hun, and we must go on and exterminate this rebellious element.”
Cabinet papers at Kew trace the reactions in London: a minute of 12 December records Harold Macmillan, political advisor to Field Marshal Alexander, returning from Athens to recommend “a proclamation of all civilians against us as rebels, and a declaration those found in civilian clothes opposing us with weapons were liable to be shot, and that 24 hours notice should be given that certain areas were to be wholly evacuated by the civilian population” – ergo, the British Army was to depopulate and occupy Athens. Soon, reinforced British troops had the upper hand and on Christmas Eve Churchill arrived in the Greek capital in a failed bid to make peace on Christmas Day.
“I will now tell you something I have never told anyone,” says Manolis Glezos mischievously. On the evening of 25 December Glezos would take part in his most daring escapade, laying more than a ton of dynamite under the hotel Grande Bretagne, where Lt Gen Scobie had headquartered himself. “There were about 30 of us involved. We worked through the tunnels of the sewerage system; we had people to cover the grid-lines in the streets, so scared we were that we’d be heard. We crawled through all the shit and water and laid the dynamite right under the hotel, enough to blow it sky high.
“I carried the fuse wire myself, wire wound all around me, and I had to unravel it. We were absolutely filthy, covered [in excrement] and when we got out of the sewerage system I remember the boys washing us down. I went over to the boy with the detonator; and we waited, waited for the signal, but it never came. Nothing. There was no explosion. Then I found out: at the last minute EAM found out that Churchill was in the building, and put out an order to call off the attack. They’d wanted to blow up the British command, but didn’t want to be responsible for assassinating one of the big three.”
At the end of the Dekemvriana, thousands had been killed; 12,000 leftists rounded up and sent to camps in the Middle East. A truce was signed on 12 February, the only clause of which that was even partially honoured was the demobilisation of ELAS. And so began a chapter known in Greek history as the “White Terror”, as anyone suspected of helping ELAS during the Dekemvriana or even Nazi occupation was rounded up and sent to a gulag of camps established for their internment, torture, often murder – or else repentance, as under the Metaxas dictatorship.
Títos Patríkios is not the kind of man who wants the past to impinge on the present. But he does not deny the degree to which this history has done just that – affecting his poetry, his movement, his quest to find “le mot juste”. This most measured and mild-mannered of men would spend years in concentration camps, set up with the help of the British as civil war beckoned. With imprisonment came hard labour, and with hard labour came torture, and with exile came censorship. “The first night on Makronissos [the most infamous camp] we were all beaten very badly.
“I spent six months there, mostly breaking stones, picking brambles and carrying sand. Once, I was made to stand for 24 hours after it had been discovered that a newspaper had published a letter describing the appalling conditions in the camp. But though I had written it, and had managed to pass it on to my mother, I never admitted to doing so and throughout my time there I never signed a statement of repentance.”
Patríkios was among the relatively fortunate; thousands of others were executed, usually in public, their severed heads or hanging bodies routinely displayed in public squares. His Majesty’s embassy in Athens commented by saying the exhibition of severed heads “is a regular custom in this country which cannot be judged by western European standards”.
The name of the man in command of the “British Police Mission” to Greece is little known. Sir Charles Wickham had been assigned by Churchill to oversee the new Greek security forces – in effect, to recruit the collaborators. Anthropologist Neni Panourgia describes Wickham as “one of the persons who traversed the empire establishing the infrastructure needed for its survival,” and credits him with the establishment of one of the most vicious camps in which prisoners were tortured and murdered, at Giaros.
From Yorkshire, Wickham was a military man who served in the Boer War, during which concentration camps in the modern sense were invented by the British. He then fought in Russia, as part of the allied Expeditionary Force sent in 1918 to aid White Russian Czarist forces in opposition to the Bolshevik revolution. After Greece, he moved on in 1948 to Palestine. But his qualification for Greece was this: Sir Charles was the first Inspector General of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, from 1922 to 1945.
The RUC was founded in 1922, following what became known as the Belfast pogroms of 1920-22, when Catholic streets were attacked and burned. It was, writes the historian Tim Pat Coogan, “conceived not as a regular police body, but as a counter-insurgency one… The new force contained many recruits who joined up wishing to be ordinary policemen, but it also contained murder gangs headed by men like a head constable who used bayonets on his victims because it prolonged their agonies.”
As the writer Michael Farrell found out when researching his book Arming the Protestants, much material pertaining to Sir Charles’s incorporation of these UVF and Special Constabulary militiamen into the RUC has been destroyed, but enough remains to give a clear indication of what was happening. In a memo written by Wickham in November 1921, before the formation of the RUC, and while the partition treaty of December that year was being negotiated, he had addressed “All County Commanders” as follows: “Owing to the number of reports which has been received as to the growth of unauthorised loyalist defence forces, the government have under consideration the desirability of obtaining the services of the best elements of these organisations.”
Coogan, Ireland’s greatest and veteran historian, stakes no claim to neutrality over matters concerning the Republic and Union, but historical facts are objective and he has a command of those that none can match. We talk at his home outside Dublin over a glass of whiskey appositely called “Writer’s Tears”.
“It’s the narrative of empire,” says Coogan, “and, of course, they applied it to Greece. That same combination of concentration camps, putting the murder gangs in uniform, and calling it the police. That’s colonialism, that’s how it works. You use whatever means are necessary, one of which is terror and collusion with terrorists. It works.
“Wickham organised the RUC as the armed wing of Unionism, which is something it remained thereafter,” he says. “How long was it in the history of this country before the Chris Patten report of 1999, and Wickham’s hands were finally prised off the police? That’s a hell of a long piece of history – and how much suffering, meanwhile?”
The head of MI5 reported in 1940 that “in the personality and experience of Sir Charles Wickham, the fighting services have at their elbow a most valuable friend and counsellor”. When the intelligence services needed to integrate the Greek Security Battalions – the Third Reich’s “Special Constabulary” – into a new police force, they had found their man.
‘I carried the fuse wire myself: Manolis Glezos, senior MEP and ‘a man of humbling greatness’ in Brussels. Helena Smith Photograph: Helena Smith/Observer
Greek academics vary in their views on how directly responsible Wickham was in establishing the camps and staffing them with the torturers. Panourgia finds the camp on Giaros – an island which even the Roman Emperor Tiberius decreed unfit for prisoners – to have been Wickham’s own direct initiative. Gerolymatos, meanwhile, says: “The Greeks didn’t need the British to help them set up camps. It had been done before, under Metaxas.” Papers at Kew show British police serving under Wickham to be regularly present in the camps.
Gerolymatos adds: “The British – and that means Wickham – knew who these people were. And that’s what makes it so frightening. They were the people who had been in the torture chambers during occupation, pulling out the fingernails and applying thumbscrews.” By September 1947, the year the Communist Party was outlawed, 19,620 leftists were held in Greek camps and prisons, 12,000 of them in Makronissos, with a further 39,948 exiled internally or in British camps across the Middle East. There exist many terrifying accounts of torture, murder and sadism in the Greek concentration camps – one of the outrageous atrocities in post-war Europe. Polymeris Volgis of New York University describes how a system of repentance was introduced as though by a “latter-day secular Inquisition”, with confessions extracted through “endless and violent degradation”.
Women detainees would have their children taken away until they confessed to being “Bulgarians” and “whores”. The repentance system led Makronissos to be seen as a “school” and “National University” for those now convinced that “Our life belongs to Mother Greece,’ in which converts were visited by the king and queen, ministers and foreign officials. “The idea”, says Patríkios, who never repented, “was to reform and create patriots who would serve the homeland.”
Minors in the Kifissa prison were beaten with wires and socks filled with concrete. “On the boys’ chests, they sewed name tags”, writes Voglis, “with Slavic endings added to the names; many boys were raped”. A female prisoner was forced, after a severe beating, to stand in the square of Kastoria holding the severed heads of her uncle and brother-in-law. One detainee at Patras prison in May 1945 writes simply this: “They beat me furiously on the soles of my feet until I lost my sight. I lost the world.”
Manolis Glezos has a story of his own. He produces a book about the occupation, and shows a reproduction of the last message left by his brother Nikos, scrawled on the inside of a beret. Nikos was executed by collaborators barely a month before the Germans evacuated Greece. As he was being driven to the firing squad, the 19-year-old managed to throw the cap he was wearing from the window of the car. Subsequently found by a friend and restored to the family, the cap is among Glezos’s most treasured possessions.
Scribbled inside, Nikos had written: “Beloved mother. I kiss you. Greetings. Today I am going to be executed, falling for the Greek People. 10-5-44.”
Nowhere else in newly liberated Europe were Nazi sympathisers enabled to penetrate the state structure – the army, security forces, judiciary – so effectively. The resurgence of neo-fascism in the form of present-day far-right party Golden Dawn has direct links to the failure to purge the state of right-wing extremists; many of Golden Dawn’s supporters are descendants of Battalionists, as were the “The Colonels” who seized power in 1967.
Glezos says: “I know exactly who executed my brother and I guarantee they all got off scot-free. I know that the people who did it are in government, and no one was ever punished.” Glezos has dedicated years to creating a library in his brother’s honour. In Brussels, he unabashedly asks interlocutors to contribute to the fund by popping a “frango” (a euro) into a silk purse. It is, along with the issue of war reparations, his other great campaign, his last wish: to erect a building worthy of the library that will honour Nikos. “The story of my brother is the story of Greece,” he says.
There is no claim that ELAS, or the Democratic Army of Greece which replaced it, were hapless victims. There was indeed a “Red Terror” in response to the onslaught, and on the retreat from Athens, ELAS took some 15,000 prisoners with them. “We did some killing,” concedes Glezos, “and some people acted out of revenge. But the line was not to kill civilians.”
In December 1946, Greek prime minister Konstantinos Tsaldaris, faced with the probability of British withdrawal, visited Washington to seek American assistance. In response, the US State Department formulated a plan for military intervention which, in March 1947, formed the basis for an announcement by President Truman of what became known as the Truman Doctrine, to intervene with force wherever communism was considered a threat. All that had passed in Greece on Britain’s initiative was the first salvo of the Cold War.
Glezos still calls himself a communist. But like Patríkios, who rejected Stalinism, he believes that communism, as applied to Greece’s neighbours to the north, would have been a catastrophe. He recalls how he even gave Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader who would de-Stalinise the Soviet Union “an earful about it all”. The occasion arose when Khrushchev invited Glezos – who at the height of the Cold War was a hero in the Soviet Union, honoured with a postage stamp bearing his image – to the Kremlin. It was 1963 and Khrushchev was in talkative mood. Glezos wanted to know why the Red Army, having marched through Bulgaria and Romania, stopped at the Greek border. Perhaps the Russian leader could explain.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Why?’
“I said: ‘Because Stalin didn’t behave like a communist. He divided up the world with others and gave Greece to the English.’ Then I told him what I really thought, that Stalin had been the cause of our downfall, the root of all evil. All we had wanted was a state where the people ruled, just like our [then] government in the mountains, where you can still see the words ‘all powers spring from the people and are executed by the people’ inscribed into the hills. What they wanted, and created, was rule by the party.”
Khrushchev, says Glezos, did not openly concur. “He sat and listened. But then after our meeting he invited me to dinner, which was also attended by Leonid Brezhnev [who succeeded Khrushchev in 1964] and he listened for another four and a half hours. I have always taken that for tacit agreement.”
Taking charge: Lt Gen Ronald Scobie (centre) who, on 5 December 1944, imposed martial law and ordered the aerial bombing of the working-class Metz quarter of Athens. Photograph: Dmitri Kessel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty
For Patríkios, it was not until the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, that the penny dropped: a line had been drawn across the map, agreed by Churchill and Stalin. “When I saw the west was not going to intervene [during the Budapest uprising] I realised what had happened – the agreed ‘spheres of influence’. And later, I understood that the Dekemvriana was not a local conflict, but the beginning of the Cold War that had started as a warm war here in Greece.”
Patríkios returned to Athens as a detainee “on leave” and was eventually granted a passport in 1959. Upon procuring it, he immediately got on a ship to Paris where he would spend the next five years studying sociology and philosophy at the Sorbonne. “In politics there are no ethics,” he says, “especially imperial politics.”
It’s the afternoon of 25 January 2009. The tear gas that has drenched Athens – a new variety, imported from Israel – clears. A march in support of a Bulgarian cleaner, whose face has been disfigured in an acid attack by neo-fascists, has been broken up by riot police after hours of street-fighting.
Back in the rebel-held quarter of Exarcheia, a young woman called Marina pulls off her balaclava and draws air. Over coffee, she answers the question: why Greece? Why is it so different from the rest of Europe in this regard – the especially bitter war between left and right? “Because,” she replies, “of what was done to us in 1944. The persecution of the partisans who fought the Nazis, for which they were honoured in France, Italy, Belgium or the Netherlands – but for which, here, they were tortured and killed on orders from your government.”
She continues: “I come from a family that has been detained and tortured for two generations before me: my grandfather after the Second World War, my father under the Junta of the colonels – and now it could be me, any day now. We are the grandchildren of the andartes, and our enemies are Churchill’s Greek grandchildren.”
“The whole thing”, spits Dr Gerolymatos, “was for nothing. None of this need have happened, and the British crime was to legitimise people whose record under occupation by the Third Reich put them beyond legitimacy. It happened because Churchill believed he had to bring back the Greek king. And the last thing the Greek people wanted or needed was the return of a de-frocked monarchy backed by Nazi collaborators. But that is what the British imposed, and it has scarred Greece ever since.”
“All those collaborators went into the system,” says Manolis Glezos. “Into the government mechanism – during and after the civil war, and their sons went into the military junta. The deposits remain, like malignant cells in the system. Although we liberated Greece, the Nazi collaborators won the war, thanks to the British. And the deposits remain, like bacilli in the system.”
But there is one last thing Glezos would like to make clear. “You haven’t asked: ‘Why do I go on? Why I am doing this when I am 92 years and two months old?’ he says, fixing us with his eyes. “I could, after all, be sitting on a sofa in slippers with my feet up,” he jests. “So why do I do this?”
He answers himself: “You think the man sitting opposite you is Manolis but you are wrong. I am not him. And I am not him because I have not forgotten that every time someone was about to be executed, they said: ‘Don’t forget me. When you say good morning, think of me. When you raise a glass, say my name.’ And that is what I am doing talking to you, or doing any of this. The man you see before you is all those people. And all this is about not forgetting them.”
Timeline: the battle between left and right
Late summer 1944 German forces withdraw from most of Greece, which is taken over by local partisans. Most of them are members of ELAS, the armed wing of the National Liberation Front, EAM, which included the Communist KKE party
October 1944 Allied forces, led by General Ronald Scobie, enter Athens, the last German-occupied area, on 13 October. Georgios Papandreou returns from exile with the Greek government
2 December 1944 Rather than integrate ELAS into the new army, Papandreou and Scobie demand the disarmament of all guerrilla forces. Six members of the new cabinet resign in protest
3 December 1944 Violence in Athens after 200,000 march against the demands. More than 28 are killed and hundreds are injured. The 37-day Dekemvrianá begins. Martial law is declared on 5 December
January/February 1945 Gen Scobie agrees to a ceasefire in exchange for ELAS withdrawal. In February the Treaty of Varkiza is signed by all parties. ELAS troops leave Athens with 15,000 prisoners
1945/46 Right-wing gangs kill more than 1,100 civilians, triggering civil war when government forces start battling the new Democratic Army of Greece (DSE), mainly former ELAS soldiers
1948-49 DSE suffers a catastrophic defeat in the summer of 1948, with nearly 20,000 killed. In July 1949 Tito closes the Yugoslav border, denying DSE shelter. Ceasefire signed on 16 October 1949
21 April 1967 Right-wing forces seize power in a coup d’état. The junta lasts until 1974. Only in 1982 are communist veterans who had fled overseas allowed to return to Greece