Brother from another Mother


“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Samuel Johnson, 7 April 1775, quoted by James Boswell in The Life of Johnson (1791)

I have in recent days taken to hiding under the bedclothes as late as possible each morning, partly as a defence against the unusually prolonged winter cold in Athens, but principally in terror of what fresh horrors await me on the front pages of multiple global broadsheets every day.

Britain is in a state of Brexit-induced catalepsy alternating with periodic spasms of delusional disorder as a result of the dueling incompetence of its coalition government and the official opposition; the US is quite literally gridlocked as the President and the newly ensconced Speaker of the House are engaged in a metaphorical schoolyard brawl; and yellow-vested protesters of distinctly Breton-bent, egged on by the only honest media outlets still standing – RT and Sputnik – have brought generalized, incoherent and gratuitously violent outrage at Emmanuel Macron to the streets of Paris and beyond. However, one Tuesday morning recently I was joined under the duvet by my terrified terrier pal B., shivering in his haste to find a safe space beneath the blankets.

No thunderstorms were forecast, there was no flash of lightning, and the fireworks of New Years were well, and gratefully, behind us. But then seconds later I heard and, indeed, felt it. Low-flying fighter aircraft described a lazy arc across the Athenian sky, rattling the glass in our little downtown hovel. Turning on the television, there before me was a military gathering the likes of which is usually reserved for the 28th of October – ‘Oxi’ Day. Taking up a disproportionate amount of the frame was the sizable figure of the outgoing Minister of Defence, Panos Kammenos, dwarfing the newly-defrocked Admiral and head of the Greek armed forces who was to take his place standing by his side.




The many faces of Panos, all captured within a period of 72 hours.

Normally the handover from one civilian to another of the Defence Minister’s desk takes place in a Ministry reception area, with staff gathered ’round to politely applaud. Not so this time. In scenes lifted straight from the criminally-neglected Richard Dreyfuss vehicle Moon over Parador, bands played, soldiers marched, rifles twirled and jets roared, with framed trophies, swords and other military paraphernalia presented one by one to the soon-to-be former minister by a seemingly endless parade of spit ‘n polish uniformed officers. Not bad for a man who (it is widely believed) avoided the mandatory military service required of every able-bodied Greek male. As my editor Atlantis Host says below, this was chicken hawkery of the highest calibre.

But it was this last point that reminded me of someone else, also plus-sized in the tailored suit department, given to using childish bullying and obscene personal insults as political discourse, with a finger on the pulse of the angry man (and woman) in the street. Populism’s genius, of course, is that it conjures up whatever bogeyman the public believes lies in wait beneath their bed, then launches a crusade to slay it. As a writer in the Guardian put it, you cannot free yourself from an imaginary oppressor. Nor can you ever sufficiently defend yourself against a non-existent enemy. In pre-Referendum Britain, the imagined assault on the nation came in the form of invisible Romanians, rushing towards Blighty to steal jobs and sign on for public benefits. In the US, it is invisible hordes of gun-toting murderers, rapists and drug mules, wading across the Rio Grande. In Greece it is the dangling threat of an impoverished country less than one-fifth its size on its northern border deploying the word ‘Macedonia’ in its name as but the first salvo in the Republic of Northern Macedonia’s future claims to the northern half of Greece. And behind all of this? George Soros, of course.

If you repeat a patent falsehood enough times, while feigning loud, righteous indignation at the failure of the ‘establishment’ to act in the face of such a clear and present danger, it’s amazing what you can get away with. The more outrageous the lie, the more likely it will find a receptive public. This is a point made time and again by historian Timothy Snyder in The Road to Unfreedom, as he describes Russian efforts to meddle in and discredit the EU, the US and democracy generally as a tool for maintaining the domestic stranglehold on power by Vladimir Putin. Big lies must be true because, uh, who would say something so outrageous if they weren’t? Such logic is impervious to critical assault.

The thing about populists is that, whether they be of far left or far right persuasion, they find common cause in blaming all of society’s ills on the evil centre. While some may marvel at the perfidy of the current British Tory government in paying a £1 billion bribe  to the minuscule, rabidly anti-Catholic and previously politically irrelevant Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland in order to secure their handful of MPs to form a government, broadly speaking there is at least some wafer-thin sliver of Tories who might find themselves in agreement with their Irish colleagues. Here in Greece, the story is rather different: SYRIZA, the self-anointed ‘first’ (sic) ‘leftist’ government in Greece (eliding over the Panhellenic Socialist (PASOK) government that swept to power in 1981 under Andreas Papandreou) headed by Alexis Tsipras, found its path to power not through an outright parliamentary majority, but in forming a coalition with the minuscule, far right fringe Independent Greeks (ANEL). If one were to describe two political parties as ‘mirror images’ of one another in the true sense of the phrase, you could do no better than point to the SYRIZA-ANEL marriage of convenience.

SYRIZA is composed of a ragtag bunch of fringe Trotskyites and Leninists tossed out of the official Greek communist party (KKE) as heretics, as well as opportunistic, finger-in-the-wind ex-PASOK MPs and a range of chemtrail-fearing, anti-American, anti-NATO, anti-Soros, pro-Russian rubes. ANEL, on the other hand, is composed of a, er, ragtag bunch of far right fringe, church-backed, hawkish, anti-American, anti-NATO, anti-Soros, pro-Russian ultra-nationalists and opportunistic finger-in-the-wind ex-Nea Demokratia MPs who sniffed an opportunity to get their snouts in the trough. You get the picture.

At the head of ANEL stands our hero Panos Kammenos, a foul-mouthed, church going, conspiracy theory-espousing, hard-partying scion of wealth, who – as noted above – having (allegedly) successfully managed to avoid military service (did I hear someone at the back of the room say ‘bone spurs’? – Ed.), was rewarded for his enabling SYRIZA to seize the reigns of power with the portfolio of Defence Minister. He has used the post and all its perquisites to jet, jeep, tank and helicopter around the provinces dressed in camo whenever possible, posing before a Greek flag and drawing lines in the sand. No, I’m not making this up.

Among his habits are that of threatening to sue journalists who dare print anything critical about him (astonishingly, sitting politicians in Greece can sue for libel and slander, and in some cases have journalists arrested; whether they win is of little consequence as the legal costs of defending against such charges in the sclerotic Greek judiciary are prohibitive … thus the mere threat of legal action has an all-too-predictable chilling effect on the publication of critical journalism) and using obscene innuendo and personal insults against political opponents. Much of this bombast is delivered via Twitter. Sound familiar?

In his custom tailored military regalia, Kammenos looked the part of the defence minister for sale to the highest bidder. Even though he’s left that post behind (presumably he got to keep the uniforms, bomber jackets and baseball caps), the swagger he developed as leader of the one Greek ministry virtually untouched by the bone-crushing austerity of the past decade continues full bore. Just as his American counterpart and role model (don’t think Panos doesn’t have his eyes on a bigger prize) sounds like a regional sales director addressing the annual conference, so too Kammenos peppers his speech with out-sized hyperbole and thuggish threats. Even in his irrelevance – ANEL have lost most of their handful of MPs to defections to SYRIZA (they too having acquired a taste for power) – he continues to be newsworthy as the coalition of convenience lives on in fact if not in name.

Like the Godfather of all political blaggers Silvio Berlusconi, Panos Kammenos may well seek to stay relevant in politics as long as possible for no other reason than the immunity from prosecution afforded sitting MPs and ministers. The same has been said of Trump, as an army of eagle-eyed Federal, state and municipal prosecutors comb through his business records, ‘charitable’ foundations, his ‘university’, etc., in an effort to ‘walk the cat back’ and sniff out the sham business deals, the fraudulent contracts, and a multitude of other criminal acts that have been hiding in plain sight for years.

Just as his senior American counterpart has been at this game of smoke and mirrors for decades, Panos Kammenos in the Greek variant also has decades of form in the business of peddling delusional conspiracy and bellicose faux-patriotism.

Almost from the day The Donald took the oath of office, people have asked ‘what will come after Trump?’. The assumption on the part of many middle-of-the-roaders is, ‘a return to normalcy’. I hate to break it to you, but at least over here in Europe, the answer is likely ‘more Trump’. Just ask the folks in Italy, France, Hungary, Poland, the UK … and Greece.



Brother from another Mother

Farewell to arms?


What leaving gift do you give the man who has everything? Outgoing Defence Minister Panos Kammenos is a man of expensive tastes, as his bills from the Knightsbridge Mandarin Oriental can attest.. One can well imagine him having a Geneva shop front’s worth of gold watches in the closet behind his collection of plus-size military uniforms accumulated during his four years in the post – none of them earned in military service. This morning, Kammenos got the chicken-hawk’s wet dream of a send-off: a parade attended by top military brass, complete with a fighter jet fly-past. In order to allow him his pomp and ceremony, parliament delayed by two hours the debate on a vote of confidence in the government, triggered by Kammenos’s well-signposted but still rather inconvenient departure.

The ceremony was ostensibly staged in honour of his successor, but then Kammenos is not known for his aversion to military spectacle, having laid wreaths for every military event since the Battle of Salamis (480 BC) and never passed up on an opportunity to don camouflage or a Top Gun-style flying jacket. He spent the 48 hours since resigning from the government flaunting the trappings of his office in a valedictory tour: first taking a military helicopter to drop a wreath over the site of the 1996 dispute with Turkey at the islet of Imia, then using his office in the ministry as the setting for a TV interview in which he accused proponents of the Prespes deal of being in the pay of George Soros. Prior to that he posted a video of the raising of the flat on the Albanian border, and made sure the cameras captured him taking Sunday communion.

On an earlier occasion, laying a wreath at the site of the Battle of Salamis (480 BC).

Kammenos’s successor in the post is the now former head of the Greek armed forces, Admiral Apostolakis – a man unknown to the general pubic until a couple of weeks ago, when he threatened Turkey that if they dared send forces to any disputed islet he would raze it.  While a (figurative) army of talking heads struggled to rationalise his bellicose eruption in geostrategic terms, it now seems that this was merely his debut into political society. Like any traditional pantomime worth its salt, the handover featured a cross-dressing act: the admiral donned a suit, a nod to the rule that a serving army officer is not allowed to take political office. It is not known whether the outgoing minister gets to keep his G.I.-Joe wardrobe as a souvenir of his time in office. It is more than likely, given how many rules have been bent to keep the junior coalition partner’s toys in his pram.

And what a time it has been. Aside from getting to play with some pretty powerful toys and make friends with the boys who wield them, Kammenos has enjoyed what has traditionally been one of the most lucrative public offices in the country. Without a hint of irony as the jet fuel burned overhead, he praised his successor for his stewardship of a much-reduced armed forces budget “paid for by the Greek people out of their sacrifices”. It is true that under the current belt-tightening Defence offers fewer opportunities for enrichment that it once did – one former holder of the post has only just been released from prison on compassionate grounds after funding a lavish lifestyle on kickbacks linked to procurement contracts, while another recently did the perp walk on similar charges. To give him is due, Kammenos has made the best of the poor hand he was dealt. His ministry is implicated in skimming from the EU refugee aid funds managed by the army, while he also tried to flog surplus missiles to Saudi Arabia, of the type that regularly rain down on Yemen, in a morally and legally dubious deal involving a shady middleman. One would like to think that someone is presently conducting an inventory of all the doorknobs in the Ministry, along the lines of a popular Greek saying, but it is unlikely that anyone in the government is minded to spoil his leaving do.

And so, the somewhat unconventional marriage of convenience between left- and right-wing populism (or the progressive forces and the traditional centre-right as they prefer to style themselves respectively) has come to an end, at least for now. But Kammenos has made it clear that he intends to stay in politics. Backed up against his last remaining “red line”, the refusal to let our northern neighbours call themselves “Macedonians”, he finds himself once again on the side of popular outrage. He will now ensure that opposition New Democracy aren’t tempted to waver from the “patriotic” line they have taken, albeit with a large dose of opportunism, on the subject. This is a worrying development. Having demonstrated that he is content to be the tail wagging a much bigger dog, this Tinpot Trump (or Puny Putin – he is a great admirer of both men) appeared doomed to the political oblivion that is the fate of junior coalition partners until this gift of a cause landed in his lap and gave him a new lease on life.

It has become commonplace in Greece in the years of a crisis for people to throw around words like “junta” and “coup” to casually describe governments or policies they disagree with. It is still a shock to wake up to such a spectacular deployment of the trappings of totalitarianism in plain view, using public funds, with consent at the highest level. Kammenos now returns to the political fray weakened but unfettered in the pursuit of his less progressive beliefs (he has abstained from every significant vote on social issues including citizenship and civil partnerships), leaving in his chair a man who – as he was ominously reminded at the handover ceremony – may owe his health to a religious dedication made by his trophy fishing buddy, the outgoing minister himself.





Farewell to arms?

Authentic Greek taxi ride to get protected status


ATHENS, 19 March 2018. The authentic Greek taxi ride is to be granted protected status alongside feta cheese and Kalamata olives, under government plans aimed at safeguarding what it being called “an essential part of our national heritage that is under attack.”

The government has launched the initiative under pressure from the powerful taxi drivers’ union which has been organising protests against the incursion of ride-sharing apps.

Taxi drivers attacking an Uber car in Athens during a protest.

The Greek parliament is currently debating a transport bill that would force ride-booking platforms to hire full-time drivers on long-term contracts. Defending the traditional taxi sector in the debate, the president of the taxi driver’s union accused platforms like Uber and the home-grown Beat (formerly Taxibeat) of “using innovation to rip off not only professional drivers but our country.” Meanwhile, in an ongoing court case, drivers for Uber Hellas, who in a typically Greek exercise in rule-bending are actually employed by tour operators, are being tried for breaking the rules governing the leasing of private vehicles. Beat, which works with licensed taxi drivers, is being attacked primarily on the (very dubious) grounds of alleged tax evasion, with the Transport Minister suggesting that “SDOE (the financial crime agency) will have a lot of work on its hands.”

Representatives of the Greek taxi drivers’ union at last week’s committee hearing on the draft transport bill.

There are other aspects of ride-booking platforms that old-school cabbies appear to object to, including the ability of customers to rate their driver’s performance. On a previous occasion, a spokesman for the taxi drivers accused the founder of Beat, aka. “the man who enriched himself from the sweat of taxi drivers” (let that olfactory image sink in for a moment), of “putting drivers on display for the client to chose, as if they were whores in the windows of Amsterdam’s red light district.”

Meanwhile, the local chapter of the Travis Bickle Appreciation Society, whose members are not-so-affectionately known as “tarifes” (sing. tarifas, m.), complain that they are the victims of a black propaganda campaign sponsored by offshore multinationals. Galvanised by their battle against the troika‘s attempt to open up the profession, they see the protected designation as their best defence against the malign foreign forces bent on the destruction of the hard-working cabbie, guardian of the last remaining honourable profession, last bastion of true Greekness.

To qualify as an “authentic Greek taxi ride” under the terms of the proposed designation, the customer experience will need to include all of the following elements:

  • passive smoking: driver may make a token offer to open the window and drive with his smoke dangling out – if you’re going to be such a stickler about it, you know the police should get after all those motorcyclists who cut between lanes, those guys are a real danger, smoking is a human right etc.
  • talk radio, themed on sports, politics or religion, played at a loud volume with additional commentary from the driver, or loud skyladiko music with vocal accompaniment and/or wistful sighing.
  • a sped-up meter and/or a “broken” (or genuinely non-functioning) receipt dispenser.
  • a minimum of one (1) non-functioning seat belt.
  • a request for directions to the passenger’s destination and/or unneccesary detour.
  • an unsolicited educational lecture drawn from the Approved List of Private Transportation Drivers’ Topics of Discourse, including but not limited to: the evils of motorcyclists/delivery drivers/women drivers/immigrants/taxi platforms who employ all of the above,the miracles of Saint Paisios, why this country needs a junta, why Vladimir Putin’s patronage is the next best thing, the latest snake-oil miracle cure bought off the internet that “actually works”, doctors are all quacks they’re just after your money.
  • a loud conversation on a mobile phone with a buddy/colleague/dispatch centre, liberally peppered with excess personal detail/obscenity/references to the incumbent customer in the third person.
  • minimum of one (1) sexist comment, either in “appreciation” of a female pedestrian or in condemnation of a female driver.
  • absence of means for the passenger to evaluate the ride, other than slamming the door on exit and yelling “I’ve got your registration number and I’m going to sue you,” as the vehicle speeds off belching black smoke.

Connoisseurs, meanwhile, bemoan the fact that many of the essential features of the Greek taxi ride have already been rendered obsolete by interventionist government policies and “those namby-pamby metropolitan killjoys who want to appear more ‘European'”. They point to the involuntary rideshare, once a staple of the Greek cab experience, which was all but eradicated by driver “re-education” programmes in the run-up to the 2004 Olympics.

“Look at what happened there,” rages Menios, a 30-year veteran tarifas. “They tell us ‘don’t do it, the foreigners don’t like it.’ Next thing you know, some smartass capitalist in America ‘invents’ the ‘ride-share’. Those capitalists, my friend, they come here and rip off our best inventions and make a fortune. Just like computers and space travel, which were invented by the ancient Greeks, but will you see that in any of the history books? That is why this country will never get ahead.”

IMAGES:,, twitter.

DISCLAIMER: For the avoidance of doubt, the above is #fakenews, however all external links are 100% genuine.

Authentic Greek taxi ride to get protected status

Carnival justice


The separation of powers (legislative, executive, judiciary) is, like democracy, an invention attributed to the ancient Greeks. As such, the descendants of Aristotle reserve the right, by virtue of their inherited intellectual ownership, to interpret it as they please. Inspired by the Novartis affair, some of the giants of contemporary Greek politics have been competing to deliver a masterclass in this cornerstone concept of just government. Students of law and political science would do well to watch and learn.

It all started when, at the height of the carnival season, the Greek parliament was handed a file on the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis, implicating ten former Ministers and Prime Ministers in corruption and money laundering. The allegations contained in the case are that the company’s Greek subsidiary paid senior officials up to €50 million in bribes to favour their products, a practice which cost the Greek state an estimated €3 billion between 2010 and 2015. This is just the latest in a string of corruption charges which the company has faced around the world (including China, South Korea, and most recently Turkey). The Greek investigation was initiated when the U.S. authorities passed information resulting from their own case to the Greek prosecutors.

Somewhere along the way, things took a distinctly Greek turn.

The government adopted a characteristically low-key approach to the affair, with the Deputy Justice Minister soon hailing it as “the biggest scandal since the establishment of the Greek state”. One of the more enduring refrains of the governing SYRIZA-ANEL coalition has been its pledge to expose the corruption of their predecessors at every turn, and they have been hinting at revelations in the Novartis case for at least a year. The government spokesman made sure he was seen leaving the prosecutors’ office on the day the file was handed to parliament, and studiously avoided giving a consistent explanation for his visit.

The opposition quickly took the bait, accusing the government of a political smear campaign.

First out of the gate was Evaggelos Venizelos, former leader of PASOK, Deputy Prime Minister in the Nea Demokratia-PASOK government of 2012-2014, and professor of constitutinal law, no less. “We will deal with the Prime Minister and the members of his government after the elections,” he thundered on the evening news. “But right now we will deal with the false witnesses. I am not threatening anyone, suing someone for perjury is not a threat, but how must political assassination or character assassination be dealth with?”

The target of his ire was the testimony of three witnesses which implicated him and the nine other opposition politicians in bribe-taking.


“I’m not saying something bad might happen to you and your dearest ones, but please take extra good care of the little ones on their way to school, knowwhaddimean?”

OK, he didn’t say that last bit, but you get the picture.

But it’s not just the accused that seem intent on exposing the protected witnesses.

Deputy Health Minister, walking Cretan hard-man stereotype and full-time professional smoker Pavlos Polakis went on morning TV the next day to tease viewers with a blind item worthy of the trashiest gossip rag: the protected witnesses, he said, are Novartis executives who were caught with the proceeds of illegal enrichment and have been “singing like canaries” (sic). They are not “innocent children” in this, he added for good measure. Perhaps from the vertiginous elevation of the moral high ground it was hard for the Minister to discern the damage he might be inflicting on the people involved or on any court case arising from their testimony – or maybe these are just the sort of legal niceties that get in the way of dispensing his particular brand of rough justice.


This cheery morning TV show has a history of pandering to the toxic macho side of our political culture – the “money shot” in one memorable June 2012 edition was a Golden Dawn MP repeatedly punching a female colleague from the Communist Party. His party went on to win 18 seats in parliament in the elections a few days later. “Good morning Greece,” indeed!

But I digress.

Heavy-handed hints were not enough for Andreas Loverdos, Health Minister under the Nea Demokratia-PASOK coaltion, who went one step further, threatening that “I will be the one to rip their hoods off.”


At this point, many were reminded of another of Loverdos’s radical transparency initiatives. During his tenure at the Ministry of Health in 2012, eleven HIV-positive women were publicly named and shamed, their mugshots splashed across the evening news, accused of intentionally infecting people with the disease while allegedly working as prostitutes. With their customary delay, the courts eventually found no evidence that the women were prostitutes, or that they had had unprotected sex (with one exception). Only eight women survived to hear the verdict in December 2016.

Next to this, the deperate 24-hour rolling protestations of New Demokratia deputy leader Adonis Georgiadis seemed merely quaint. Answering to witness allegations that he used kickbacks from pharmaceutical contracts to refubish his house, he invited the media to visit him and document the damp patches in his sitting room.


Already, though, the trial-by-media was well and truly on for the less publicity-hungry witnesses in the case. One notorious tabloid hack bragged of knowing the identity of one of the protected witnesses, and went on to publish her name and professional history, along with several photos of the blonde “deep throat” (sic) dreged from social media.


It appears that the prosecutors had neglected to fully redact her name from the documents passed on to parliament, several pages of which were also leaked to the media.

Then came the parade of almost comically pointless lawsuits.

Former PM Antonis Samaras was obviously put out by the accusations. Having just emerged from his crypt once again to flog the rotting carcass of Bucephalus to victory over the usurpers of Alexander the Great, he was enjoying an unexpected moment of relevance. He promptly sued the current PM Alexis Tsipras, his Justice Minister, the prosecutors in the case, and the witnesses who had named him.


Former New Democracy Health Minister and current EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos was next. In his customary modest, self-effacing style, he not held a verbose press conferend to announce his own lawsuit against the witnesses, but took the opportunity to throw some serious shade on the elected representatives of the people to whom it falls to determine the course of the investigation. His letter to to the Speaker of the Vouli states – and I paraphrase only very slightly – “I would simply love to attend your little hearing, but my long-standing commitments with the College of Commissioners in Brussels and the Secretary General of the United Nations in New York sadly prevent me from doing so. Kindly convey my message to the plenary, there’s a good chap!”


Others named in the case have also threatened to sue but have not yet followed through.

Many wondered what Avramopoulos’s former boss, Kostas Karamanlis, had to say about the case, which stated that as PM he had been “led astray” by his Health Minister into approving lavish healthcare budgets. Extracting a statement from Karamanlis these days seems to involve getting a circle of his close associates to chew on mytle leaves while inhaling the smoke of his favourite souvlaki joint at his holiday retreat in Rafina. But it appears that through them he backed up parts of Avramopoulos’s account.

What of the current leadership of the party? As surely as Achilles is “fleet of foot” in Homer’s epics, Nea Demokratia leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis is invariably “reformist, Harvard-educated” in the adoring foreign press. These seemingly impeccable credentials did not prevent him from pondering aloud, in the manner of the honest family businessman in a Mario Puzo novel, “What exactly are these three hooded ones afraid of? That they will be murdered by [former caretaker PM] Mr Pikrammenos or Mr Samaras, or that they will be beaten by Mr Georgiadis or [Governor of the Bank of Greece and former Finance Minister] Mr Stournaras?”

What are they afraid of, ideed? Perhaps they have the same liking for extreme sports as one former Novartis brand manager, who was so elated at the prospect of an internal investigation that he had to be talked down from the parapet of the Athens Hilton on New Year’s eve last year.


The incident was described in loving detail in the article above, published in Kathimerini newspaper, which surely contravenes every single guideline on the reporting of such desperate incidents.

But that is nitpicking compared to the accusations levelled at the media covering the Novartis affair. Here is Polakis again, berating the host of a talk show on state broadcaster ERT for not being robust enough in prosecuting the case against his opponents: “Is it perhaps to do with the fact that in 2014 YOU also took a cool fifty-five thousand euros in advertising from KEELPNO [the Greek authority for disease control]?????? (it may have been more but I can’t quite recall at the moment).”


Of course, everyone has their own style of communicating and we can perhaps allow for a bit of political bluster, but surely we can rely on the presumption of innocence to ensure that justice is served? Not according to Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias. A consummate multi-tasker who has spent the last few weeks fending off a compromise assault from our former Yugoslav neighbours to the north, while viciously nipping at Turkey’s ankes in the Aegean to the east, he still found time to opine on this issue: “There certainly is a scandal,” he said, “let them prove that they are innocent.”


The grotesquery of carnival is now behind us and we have entered Lent. It can only be hoped that when parliament reconvenes to vote on the course of the investigation, the proceedings will be characterised by the restraint and solemnity that the season, and the case, demand.

This, however, is unlikely. The histrionics and flagrant disregard for due process on both sides suggest that the last thing on their mind is seeing through a thorough investigation. For the opposition, it is almost certain to dredge up some embarrassing facts about their past management of the healthcare sector, even if they fall short of the sensational accusations of wheelie bags of cash ushered through the back door of the prime ministerial mansion – the best they can do is obstruct and sabotage. For the government, which has already shown a much greater love of tactics than the nitty gritty of implementation, this is the golden moment of chaos in the opposition that they hope the electorate will savour – the moment before the tabloid sensation fizzles into a dull procedural.

There will amost certainly be collateral damage. There will be a direct human cost for those ill-advised enough to volunteer information in such a politically charged case, however tainted or unsympathetic their characters may turn out to be. The pressure to deliver big name political scalps is also likely to deflect from an investigation into the very real questions surrounding the explosion in healthcare spending, which extends well outside the historical time frame of the investigation. Finally, the casual disregard shown towards the justice system by people in the highest political offices has already inflicted a damaging blow to any remaining public trust in the institution.

MAIN IMAGE: Novartis-themed float at the Rethymno carnival, featuring drugs named after the politicians in the Novartis affair (Source: @spasmenoPar).

Carnival justice

Sunday in Syntagma

IMAGES @atlantishost


Sunday in Syntagma

On the march with the sisters in Salonica


THESSALONIKI, 21 January 2018, from our Airbnb correspondent. Not a pussy hat in sight but plenty of raw passion! On a clear January day the seafront of the beautiful northern port of Thessaloniki, or Salonika to those in the know, was bursting with enthusiasm as we took to the street for the second Womens’ March of the #resistance. Having been in Washington for the original march, and witnessed the thousands of angry, joyful, strong, beautiful women marching against the patriarchy, I can tell you the Greeks really know how to do it!

For a start, this was the only women’s march where I saw men come out in equal or large numbers. They came out in solidarity with their sisters, wives, daughters, but mainly, apparently, their grandmothers.

Women of all ages respected and venerated at the Salonica march.

There were men everywhere. And I’m not talking about suburban dads chaperoning their teenage daughers or browbeaten liberal husbands trudging dutifully along, but macho men not afraid to brandish their masculinity while respecting their women.

“You look at my sister and you’ll feel the sharp end of my #metoo,” was the Cretan macho man’s response when I took this photo.

Slogans were everywhere. Proud, defiant slogans unlike any I have seen before. “Macedonia is Greek”, “Hands off our Macedonia” – with my limited Greek I deduced from the context that “Macedonia” must be regional slang for the female anatomy. It was fairly clear to me, no one would dare grab any of these marchers by the Macedonia!

The local twist on the pussy hat – “Hands off my Macedonia!”

In the midst of the carnivalesque atmosphere, it was so heartening to see the LGBT community out and proud, lending their support. Clergy in their flowing robes and heavy jewellery happily posing for photos with the local “bears”, dozens of men camping it up in historical costume, some on horseback, army veterans in fatigues singing patriotic songs.

A picturesque Greek priest embracing the local “bear” community.
Men are not afraid to dress up in skirts and embrace here.

There were rousing speeches, mostly by men, about the need to defend “Macedonia” and keep it out of foreign hands. Away from the main rally, I am told a delegation decorated the local Holocaust memorial and lit bonfires in a celebration of inclusiveness.

Back on the seafront the crowd dispersed peacefully, but a sense of expectation filled the air. There was even talk of starting a political party to take the fight to Athens. Maybe this is the spark that will ignite the bonfire of change?

Brunch on stylish pink plastic stools the seafront – the perfect end to a day of protest and celebration.


On the march with the sisters in Salonica

2017 in Atlantis


Big shout-out to everyone who has continued to visit this blog for insight, entertainment, or their own dark reasons. Your visits were all the more meaningful in a year when reality gave us some stiff competition in the sheer volume and magnitude of fake (and wish-it-were-fake) news disgorged on a daily basis.

History will record that the most-read posts on Dateline Atlantis in the year 2017 of the Gregorian calendar (1483228800 – 1514764799 Unix time) were as follows:

  1. In March, a Calvinist apparatchik on the fast track to political oblivion tried to lecture the Greeks on profligacy, and got a very predictable comeuppance: “Drink and women: it’s a culture thang”
  2. With the Greek wedding industry in the doldrums, some provincial caterers reinvented their business model – skimming from the aid budget for refugee meals. A sordid tale of opportunity in crisis, as reported by “Feeding the invisible refugees”
  3. In February, we donned our green-tinted spectacles to travel back in time to the utopian heyday of the “Old PASOK”, the latest manifestation of our national nostalgia epidemic. Why is it so hard to say, “Good bye, Andrea?”
  4. In January, a cold snap prompted some thoughts on the Cold War calculus of heating a Greek apartment: “The polykatoikia-dweller’s dilemma”
  5. Another summer, another round of forest fires. Last year’s post about the politics of natural disasters found a new audience. We look forward to the year when this is no longer topical: “The best cure?”

IMAGE: The “controversial” Christmas tree of Ioannina, possibly an hommage to Meccano – via

2017 in Atlantis

Oh, what a lovely media war!


Among the plethora of explanations put forward for the Greek crisis, one of the most prominent has been the cosy relationship between the country’s media ownership and the financial and political establishment. Some observers have gone so far as to claim that this so-called “triangle of corruption” is the chief cause of Greece’s ills, while SYRIZA, currently the lead partner in the country’s governing coalition, named tackling the country’s “oligarchs” through their media interests as one of their first priorities on the eve of their coming to power in 2015.

Whether a weak and interest-led media can be made to shoulder such an overwhelming burden of blame for the country’s economic collapse is open to question (if only because this view, championed enthusiastically by the foreign media, seems itself suspiciously, ahem, media-centric). That said, there is no doubt that the fourth estate is a crucial part of the democratic anatomy, so when looking for signs of a turnaround it is one of the places to check for vital signs. It has to be said (SPOILER ALERT!) that things are not looking good for the patient.

Sure enough, SYRIZA made good on their promise to go after the “anarchic” broadcast licensing regime, and we gave our take on their efforts here and here. About a year ago, with a new – supposedly more transparent and incorruptible – legal framework in place, the government set out to allocate new broadcast licenses. What happened from that point on is instructive.

When it came to the allocation, the government devised a devilishly complex auction procedure, seemingly designed to humiliate the bidders by subjecting them to an extended sleepover in a heavily guarded office block, complete with camp beds and invigilated toiled breaks. Perversely, the private TV channels, whose proprietors were personally involved in most cases, lapped it up. The spectacle gifted them a reality TV format which they didn’t have to pay to license (as they do when they copy gameshows like “Survivor” or “X Factor”) – in essence hours of free entertainment, with plenty of occasion for anti-government invective. Indeed, the Greek Union of Journalists, faced with hundreds of job losses whatever the outcome, wrote the advertising copy, describing the contest as a “badly written reality show” (translation: ratings gold!).

The outcome of the auction was equally entertaining to observe (though no doubt very stressful for anyone with a personal stake in it). The lowest successful bidder was Skai TV, which had been singled out as the coalition’s bête noir for its hostile coverage. Another incumbent, Antenna TV, also won one of the new licenses, ensuring that at least 50% of the allocated spectrum remained firmly in the hands of the old “oligarchic” regime.

What of the new entrants? One license was awarded to Ioannis Kalogritsas, a government-friendly public works contractor, who supported his bid with a highly favourable loan from a government-friendly bank, guaranteed on a piece of vastly overvalued real estate – thus squaring the “triangle of corruption” that the governing coalition had vowed to shatter, and illustrating precisely how short the new licensing regime fell of the political hype that had surrounded it. Kalogritas was forced to pull out only when the borrowed money failed to materialise by the deadline, and his license passed to the next runner-up.

Born in Russia of Pontic Greek descent, Ivan Savvidis is a relatively recent transplant on the local political scene: a minor oligarch who made his fortune in the de-nationalised tobacco industry, erstwhile friend of Vladimir Putin and former MP with his United Russia party, he is best known in Greece as the owner of PAOK FC (a purchase sweetened by a not insignificant tax write-off passed by the current government). Savvidis is held dear by the Russophile wings on both sides of the political spectrum in Greece as a back-channel to Moscow. He has since made the connection more overt by comparing prime minister Tsipras favourably to Putin, while he is also behind one of the rag-tag consortium of bidders who recently won the tender for the de-nationalised Thessaloniki Port Authority, a key piece of national infrastructure.

The final license of the original four was awarded to Evangelos Marinakis, a shipowner, also well-known to Greek football fans as the owner of Piraeus team Olympiakos FC, and now to English footie fans as well through his recent purchase of a majority stake in Nottingham Forest. He has been tried and acquitted in one major match-fixing case, and remains accused in another case which is still ongoing, while his name has been linked to a major drug-smuggling case with potential political implications. All of which has not stopped him from leveraging his football-based popularity to gain election to the Piraeus city council, where his newly formed party including the new mayor opposed the privatisation of the port – unsuccessfully as it turned out.

Despite being on the same side of that particular battle, a senior SYRIZA candidate and opponent of privatisation (now a senior member of the cabinet closely connected to the privatisation agenda) commented at the time with a straight face that, “This is a new kind of fruit in our politics and it’s a very dangerous one.” The battle lines between Marinakis and SYRIZA remain drawn, as do the ones between Marinakis and Yiannis Alafouzos, owner of Skai TV and traditional football rival Panathinaikos FC (are we spotting a pattern here?), who at one time was his business partner – on any given day, Skai TV can be trusted to run a regular bulletin on Marinakis’s court room battles and alleged criminal entanglements.

All in all, the state stood to make €246 million from the licenses; but the euphoria in government circles was short-lived. After banking the first instalment, the Council of State, Greece’s top administrative court, declared the auction unconstitutional. This prompted the then government spokesperson to accuse the court of depriving 15,000 children of primary school places and the health system of 4,000 sorely needed new staff. Neither claim stood up to serious scrutiny, but the message was crystal clear – the courts were taking public funds away from the young and the infirm and using them to pad the bank accounts of a bunch of rich guys.

The rhetorical kids and hospital patients were not the only casualties of the aborted auction. For snatching defeat out of the jaws of a much-vaunted PR victory, Minister of State Nikos Pappas who had fronted the whole initiative was demoted to the custom-made Ministry of Digital Policy, where he is subjected to jokes about “the Greek NASA” for celebrating the launch of a commercial satellite, while he plots his return to the frontline.

Government spokesperson Olga Gerovasili, to whom the previous statement belongs, was banished to the Ministry of Administrative Reconstruction where she is charged with the unenviable task of forcing unpopular reforms in the teeth of recalcitrant civil servants.

There were further attempts to shatter the “triangle.” A special parliamentary committee launched to investigate bad bank loans to media companies and political parties gave plenty of occasion for show-boating over its nine months of hearings. The outcome, however, was so equivocal as to allow both government and opposition to claim victory, yielding not a hint of impropriety on the part of politicians, and no incriminating evidence on bankers or media magnates. A small step towards transparency was taken when a SYRIZA lawmaker got a law passed requiring banks to file quarterly reports on their advertising and sponsorship budget.

So far, so disappointing on the TV front. At a recent meeting of the SYRIZA central committee, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos is reported to have said that “given the outcome, it would have been better if the whole story hadn’t been started.”

Greek television remains as bad as ever, if not worse. The whole nation soon began to receive a nightly injection of opioids through the eyeballs in the form of a new series of “Survivor,” which buried most public discourse under a tidal wave of celebrity six-packs and self-absorbption.

Meanwhile, having acquired a taste for the media business, the also-rans of the license auction have been trying other routes. The dead tree press was an obvious play for anyone concerned with profile but unconcerned with financial viability – and the pickings here have been rich. So what if sales have halved since the start of the crisis and newspapers are trusted less than any news source, in a country already low in newspaper readership? Everyone scans the font pages as they are strung outside the kiosks like dirty laundry hung out to dry, even if they don’t fork out for a copy. For the proprietor, owning a masthead still confers a veneer of old-fashioned respectability. And, unlike TV stations which broadcast on a regulated public frequency, no government agency or regulator has a say (even theoretically) in who gets to print a paper.

Within months, Kalogritsas launched Documento, a new pro-government weekly, while continuing to bid successfully for government contracts – despite a terrible record of delivery and a long series of complaints from unpaid employees.

But there was bigger game to be had out there. Like exhausted wildebeest around a dry watering hole, two of the country’s biggest news organisations, the Lambrakis Group and Pegasus, owners of prestigious titles including Ta Nea, To Vima and Ethnos, have been slowly collapsing under the weight of bad loans, political pressure and inter-oligarchical strife. Within the last few weeks, the distressed carcass of the former has been acquired at auction by Marinakis, and the latter by Savvidis. Through those same routes, both have acquired stakes in Mega TV, and Savvidis has also bought Epsilon TV, giving prominent public platforms to two highly partisan interests.

On their relaunch Ta Nea and To Vima, historically venerable bastions of the centre-left, carried a message from the new proprietor, in which Marinakis pledged to uphold the values of “Democracy, Freedom and Social Justice” (sic) that made the Lambrakis titles great, and to meet the readers’ demand for “authoritative, independent information with historical weight, opinion and proposition.”

A couple of days later, Ta Nea went to press with an eye-catching front page, featuring the unmistakable silhouette of Uncle Joe with his trademark moustache under the headline “Stalinism in Power.” There is, of course, a back story, but in terms of nailing the new owner’s colours to the mast there couldn’t be a clearer signal of the editorial line.

Ta Nea returns with “timely” coverage of the Prague Spring.

No doubt Ethnos, when it returns to the kiosks, will respond in kind.

[to be continued, no doubt]

IMAGES: AP via; Ta Nea.


Oh, what a lovely media war!

Summer in the city


In the glare of the midday sun, a small disorderly chorus of human voices can be heard chanting a rhyming slogan. The video is shaky, the images blurred and distant. The audio is muffled, but one familiar sound cuts through the hubub and renders the chanting barely audible: the dry, rhythmical vibration of cicadas. The self-styled anarchist collective Rouvikonas (Rubicon) are staging a protest outside the Greek parliament, in their customary style, leafletting against the detention of prisoners who they consider political, the prison system, and society in general, which is (in their telling) one big prison. The video is repeated on a loop on every news bulletin, the timeless lullaby of the cicadas subtly undermining the revolutionary message and scuppering the carefully cultivated outrage of the presenters, reminding us that it is, after all, midsummer in Athens. Soon, even the anarchists will pack their bags and head to one of the lesser known islands, and the city will be deserted.

(it is the male cicada that makes the noise)

Already, people have started to drift away, if not physically then mentally. It is getting harder to get hold of friends and co-workers, longer to get anything accomplished. Social media timelines are filling up with photos of beaches, sunsets and meals in seaside tavernas. Ιn the absence of an unfolding political drama, banking crisis or cliffhanger negotiations, it feels like people are starting to let go.

In the last few weeks, a number of loose ends have been tied on the political scene. Greece finally concluded the dreaded second programme review – a mandatory progress assessment by the country’s creditors – which had been extended by about eighteen months of painful negotiations with the inevitable suspense, recriminations, and further austerity measures, banked (and almost immediately disbursed) the loan instalment that had been contingent on its completion, received a credit upgrade by Standard & Poors, and topped it all by issuing a new bond. Homework duly handed in and graded, school is most definitely out for the country’s leadership, even if most peoples’ reality is somewhat less celebratory.

It seemed a bit touch and go for a while, and the silly season appeared to kick of early, when the Greek press started publishing translated extracts from Adults in the Room, the tell-all memoir of Yanis Varoufakis’s turbulent love affair with Syriza which culminated in his traumatic six-month tenure as Finance Minister and chief bailout negotiator. Although the disclosures were not quite as risqué as the title might suggest, it soon became apparent that public discourse was about to turn into a very public karaoke face-off, Varoufakis kicking off with his favourite refrain, A Lover Spurned, Tsipras belting out a defiant My Way (“I have made mistakes… big mistakes”), Varoufakis retaliating with some vintage Gloria Gaynor. Musical accompaniment has been provided by the opposition, calling for a special investigation into the events of two summers ago when Greece came perilously close to exiting the Euro. The memoirs offer little new in terms of hard evidence, but the tune is catchy. After the 2015 debacle, Varoufakis no longer enjoys the kind of rock star reception in Greece that still greets him in other parts of Europe (one Greek recently wrote to entreat the Financial Times not to “promote” his views) but everyone snaps to attention at the slightest whiff of dirty laundry,

On a slightly more serious note, the government seems to have opened up another battle front, this time with the judiciary. Tsipras himself, and several of his ministers issuing Trumpian denunciations of any court decisions that run counter government policy or pet political causes (I use that epithet descriptively, even though the US president was rather late to the populist party compared to our guys or some of the less scrupulous European leaders). In his most recent TV interview, the prime minister rather pompously intoned that “separation of powers is one thing, and powers of separation is another” – demonstrating that he hasn’t outgrown the kind of nonsensical word game that scores top grades in the stilted style of essay-writing that is drilled into us in Greek high school. But that wasn’t as bad as his interviewer, who at one point, addressing the question Turkish violations of Greek airspace, tripped himself up on another Tsipras metaphor with surreal results: “So this dog comes into our garden and approaches our plants, to put this allegorically, this dog comes into the Aegean, flies over our islands, this dog overflies inhabited islands…” The threat of Turkish canine airborne divisions trained to micturate on our gardenias may not have occurred to anyone previously, but some will be sleeping more uneasily this summer.

Thankfully, everyone loves sporting success, and when the national junior basketball team won the European cup (or, “the who won the what?” as most people would have asked just a few days ago), politicians lined up hoping that some of that magical victory dust would rub off on them. But here’s a hint to politicians: standing next to a whole team of basketball players is virtually guaranteed to make you look like a midget with bad posture. Tsipras went all out by putting on a team jersey over his shirt, and then fumbling the autographed ball.


Somewhere, a little boy named after a mythical bard and an iconic Marxist guerrilla cringed as he anticipated the fresh bullying possibilities his dad had just exposed him to. Meanwhile, the man who would be PM, ND’s Kyriakos Mitsotakis, managed an even more embarrassing attempt at sports banter (he is notorious for jinxing the teams he supports), despite bringing along the token retired basketball player in his shadow cabinet.

A reminder that to win, it is not enough for the other guys to fail in defence, you also need to be able to score. If you don’t have a shot at winning and are not averse to looking like a cougar, perhaps it’s best to emulate PASOK leader Fofi Gennimata and strike a poolside pose with the water polo team.


Meanwhile, several major news outlets reported that the government was rushing through legislation to introduce a rubber stamp bonus for civil servants. One editor apologised for reproducing the hoax, which originated in a publication which advertises its own content as “quality political disinformation since 1867”, blaming the heat.

PHOTOS: Slim Aarons/Getty photo of the Canellopoulos penthouse pool, 1961, via, Robert E. Snodgrass cicada via,



Summer in the city

A load of rubbish


Any archaeologist will tell you that rubbish is a great source of information. The more of it, the better. How else would we have a hope of understanding what makes societies tick if they didn’t leave the detritus of their daily lives lying about the place? We know from digging through our own landfills and battling the paparazzi and the identity thieves to go through household rubbish bins that we humans are unreliable witnesses of what we consume, and how much of it. Nothing speaks more directly than actual rubbish.

Unfortunately, what it is telling us at this precise time stinks.

As the result of a nationwide strike by municipal sanitation workers, the rubbish is piling up on the street corners across Greece.

As one newspaper report pointed out this is hardly the first time the bin men have summoned up their command of the smelly stuff to protest over their working conditions. Over the last forty years, they have taken this particularly potent form of industrial action over a dozen times (and this is not counting more frequent local protests and work stoppages which can last for months), the result of successive governments’ reluctance to address the chronic misallocation of resources in local government. Over the years, it had been common practice to keep the number of permanent local authority employees low and supplement them with seasonal contractors. The fixed-term contracts were then routinely converted to permanent positions as a way of bestowing political patronage. This latest strike was sparked by a ruling by Greece’s Court of Audit, which declared such contract conversions unconstitutional, contradicting ministerial assurances to the workers, who number 6,000 in total, that a healthy portion of them would be hired through the “traditional” channels.


The archaeologist of the future might conclude that there is something ritualistic about this periodic build-up of domestic waste within the urban space, this cyclical departure from the routine purification of the demos of its rubbish and its deposition outside the city walls. There is certainly some form of non-verbal communication evident in the accumulation of putrid piles of the stuff, a material call and response that never seems to reach resolution.

Given the time of year, it is not just the bad odour and the potential health hazards that are creating distress. As news crews station themselves by the most spectacular accumulations, we are also starting to hear the seasonal cry of “What will the tourists think?”

Well, the foreign media are always quick to seize on an exotic photo opportunity, especially when it can used to enliven a boilerplate “anti-austerity protest” story. But we now know that even celebrity visitors cruising by our remote beauty spots in their superyachts can’t get away from the rubbish. Unrelated to the strikes, Willow (alliterative offspring of Hollywood actor Will) Smith sent this holiday snap from the Ionian islands to the world on her Instagram.

Fortunately, other foreign visitors were less perturbed. The EU’s Environment Commissioner showed a gift for timing, paying a scheduled visit to the Athens just as the strike was coming to a head, with rubbish high on the agenda. Hosting him, the head of the regional authority of Attica dutifully recited the latest European statistics which show that Greece sends a disappointing 81% of its waste to landfill, compared to a European average of 31%. She could easily have added that Greece has racked up tens of millions of Euros in fines for breaking EU regulations on waste management over the years by allowing dozens of illegal landfills to continue operating, while only the financial crisis has had a serious impact on reducing the amount of waste sent to them – a reduction of up to a third according to one recent estimate.

According to the Greek state news agency, the Commissioner praised the the new waste management strategy designed to encourage recycling, leaving us to ponder whether to admire his steadfast focus on the big picture – or to question whether he ever left the airport.

IMAGES: Photo by Eleftherios Ellis, AFP/Getty Images via The Guardian; infographic from Kathimerini.

A load of rubbish