τα μπάνια του λαού (ta bánia tou laoú): translates into English inelegantly as “the people’s swims.” The traditionally sacrosanct August holiday season; part of the modern equivalent of “bread and circuses.”
The phrase made a comeback in a recent tweet by a Syriza MEP in which he, somewhat sardonically, outlined this summer’s unofficial political schedule:
“first agreement (with Greece’s creditors) and the “μπάνια του λαού,” then beginning of implementation, debt relief, conference of the “social” (faction of) Syriza, and, if needed, elections.”
Most Greeks associate the expression τα μπάνια του λαού with Socialist former Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, who famously used it as a pretext to avoid calling snap elections in the summer of 1987 – as in, “we won’t ruin the people’s holidays.” In fact the concern with working peoples’ right to refresh themselves on the beach first became a strong feature of populist politics in the interwar period. In Italy, Mussolini’s championing of “i bagni del popolo” was aided by his much-lauded ability to make the public transport run promptly.
Who isn’t going to the beach this summer:
- the technocrats and select Greek ministers involved in ongoing bailout negotiations aiming to conclude by the 20th August;
- anyone eyeing elections in the autumn;
- former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis caused outrage when he absented himself from a crucial parliamentary vote last month to take a break at his holiday home on the island of Aegina; however, he is known to prefer his private swimming pool to the public beach;
- 7 out of 10 small business owners in Greece, according to a recent survey.
Who is going to the beach this summer:
- several frontline government ministers and opposition shadow ministers, including (briefly) PM Alexis Tsipras;
- the “A-team” of every Greek news gathering organisation – you know everything’s OK when a good portion of the news bulletin on any channel is using the thinnest of pretexts (weather? lifeguard skills? tourism flourishing or failing?) to show ladies in Brazilian thongs frolicking on the beach;
- over 1,000 refugees and migrants per day, totalling over 124,000 since the beginning of the year, the vast majority war refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Sub-Saharan Africa, who made Greece their top European destination over Italy this summer. They are greeted by a national and European policy vacuum.
Image: Screen grab of the results of a Google image search for “μπάνια του λαού” on Thursday 6th July 2015.