Aunt Cassandra’s tough love: How not to pitch for business

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Dear Alexander,

I hope you don’t mind that I drop the “Che” nonsense now that you’re a grown man with responsibilities. I know you didn’t come to me for advice, but I feel the need to tell you a few unvarnished truths. Your aunt Gianna came and told me she pulled some strings with her friend Mr Clinton at the Lions Club and arranged for you to pitch to him and his friends for business, and I understand it wasn’t the greatest success*. There I go, being diplomatic again! She is so embarrassed, she doesn’t know if she’ll have the nerve to attend their fundraiser tonight.

First of all, let me tell you, I’m amazed he gave you the time of day, especially given your friends’ tradition of having a loud party outside his house in Athens on an annual basis and calling his friends imperialist murderers (if he was a few eggs at Halloween he would understand, but mid-November?). It must say something about your aunt’s skills of persuasion, or maybe Mr Clinton remembers he was once a charming young rascal himself, who knows? What matters is, he didn’t owe you an invitation, you didn’t earn it, and yet by the sounds of it you managed to squander it. Not saying you should tug your forelock, but opportunities like this don’t grow on trees.

Let’s start from the basics. I know you are going to say that English isn’t your first language. You’re very good at excuses but that is not a real one. Your Italian friend Matteo is also deficient in his language skills, but somehow he manages to make it sound charming because he actually has something to say. He doesn’t just sit there fidgeting with his notes, looking shifty. He gives them a run for their money.

Did anyone tell you you were there to pitch for an investment? I’m sure your auntie will have mentioned this, she’s no fool. More to the point, do you actually know the difference between an investment and a loan, or (heaven forbid) a handout? Doesn’t sound like it, to hear your aunt describe it. Now I may just be a housewife but I watched your uncle Aristos build his used car dealership from scratch, so I think I can say I have more experience in business than you do. When the customer looks you in the eye and asks you “will this car still be running in a year?” you don’t giggle nervously and look at your shifty associates. You don’t say “that is a good question” to buy time to think up an answer, oh no. If you can’t answer that question straigthaway you have lost the customer.

Now, to the more advanced stuff. When an investor asks you if your business is sound, you don’t into a long spiel about how your cousins are crooks and layabouts and left the books in a mess, or how the bank manager is on your back for a bad loan. The man gave you an out, he said he knew the business had seen better days, he even gave a wink that the previous management (your cousins) weren’t to be trusted. Now he wants to hear what you are going to do about it. He wants you to look him in they eye and give him a straight story. So, when he asks you what the business is good at, you don’t say “this and that”, you don’t say your employees are talented and deserving. Do you even know what a business plan is? Mr Clinton sounds like he knows the business better than you do, because he actually did his homework. And he’s a proper grown-up. Imagine. I know you were able to wing it at school, but this is for real. Read my lips. He knows it’s a mess, he doesn’t want to hear excuses, he is giving you a chance to redeem yourself.

By the way, I don’t know if you realised what you were saying, but Mr Clinton got you to commit in front of his friends to put some of your own money in the business**. They don’t call him Slick Willy for nothing.

What can I say, my boy? The only blessing is there weren’t more people there to see. You are young, you will have more opportunities, that’s why I’m giving you the tough love. But I would hate to see your father’s business go under because you weren’t man enough to face up to your responsibilities.

One last thing, Alexander. I understand that these days not wearing a tie is OK (Koula says her son who has a fancy job at JP Morgan is allowed to unbutton his shirt on Fridays) but for goodness’ sake remember your upbringing and please don’t slouch!

Much love,

Your aunt Cassandra.


* On the 27th September 2015 Greek PM Alexis Tsipras participated in a Q&A with former President Bill Clinton as part of the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. The full 30 minute video is available here and is recommended viewing as a companion to this post.

** In the course of the Q&A, Clinton prompted Tsipras to commit to creating a public investment fund for startup businesses. This did not get widely reported, but was clearly intended to be on record.

More synoptic reports can be found here and here.

Image from ekathimerini.com

Aunt Cassandra’s tough love: How not to pitch for business

The Carringtons and the Colbys and the rest of us

Dynasty

The leadership election in Nea Demokratia following their defeat in the September 2015 elections has got everyone talking once again about οικογενειοκρατία (ikogeniokratía – with such a tongue-twister it is not surprising that the latin-derived “nepotism” prevailed in English to describe favouritism granted to family members). Having been consigned to the opposition by a (relatively new) party led by a young leader who placed great emphasis on ousting the “old” political establishment, the question for many is, will ND be able to field a candidate to whom the charge of the “old” won’t stick? The first candidate to throw his hat in the ring is Kyriakos Mitsotakis, son of honorary party leader and former Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis, who publicly backed his candidacy. Which makes for tricky family politics, because Kyriakos’s big sister, Dora Bakoyanni, has long led a faction within the party, and her son, Kostas Bakoyannis, has also been mooted as a leadership candidate. It has the makings of a primetime soap opera, if not a Greek tragedy. Meanwhile, another wing of the party are jostling to kiss the ring of Kostas Karamanlis, former Prime Minister and nephew of Konstantinos Karamanlis, the party founder.

If you have just joined us, I know how you feel: I once tried to speed-read One Hundred Years of Solitude in two days. The point is, Kyriakos (as he prefers to be called, unsurprisingly) is already finding it hard to escape his family name, despite having shown signs of being a progressive and intelligent politician. Poor Kyriakos may be a decent and capable chap with the country’s best interests at heart but he is in a catch-22 situation: his surname is a selling point within the party, but electoral poison for the new voters that they need so badly to attract.

Nea Demokratia are not the only ones with a problem. The last power struggle in PASOK, once the other pillar in Greece’s pre-crisis two-party system, was between factions headed by the man who many saw as the rightful heir to the founder’s dynasty (George Papandreou, son of PASOK founder Andreas and grandson of Georgios Papandreou the Elder who also led his own party and served as Prime Minister) and the daughter of the man who was once his father’s heir apparent (Fofi Gennimata, daughter of Georgios Gennimatas). In the event, having left PASOK to form his own party, Papandreou was unable to run in the last elections due to lack of funds, making this the first election without a candidate from the Papandreou family in almost a century.

The prevalence of political dynasties is a fact of life in Greece that was thrown into sharp relief by the crisis, as it became yet another Greek peculiarity on which to pin the country’s decline. A widely quoted article in Der Spiegel blamed three political families for “ruining the country” through their nepotistic practices, and there are several lists and accounts one can turn to for more detailed and nuanced background. The leading families are often referred to as τζάκια (tzákia, literally fireplaces or family hearths) or σόγια (sóya, a Turkish word meaning clans, singular σóι – sói). The truth is that the phenomenon is more pervasive than the top three or five families, and extends across the political spectrum. In 2007 it was estimated that one in five parliamentary candidates came from a political dynasty (in Eleftherotypia newspaper, article no longer available online). Newer political constellations are not immune to it, as the meteoric rise of former Speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou (daughter of Nikos Konstantopoulos, leader of the new-defunct Synaspismos party that was absorbed into Syriza) demonstrates.

Professional politics is not the only arena in Greece where family ties prevail. Traditionally, voting preference has flowed along family lines. But then so has career and business, from the family-owned SMEs (shops and small manufacturing businesses) and professional service businesses (law firms, construction firms and private medical practices) that dominate Greece’s economy, to the family-owned conglomerates in the larger industrial sectors. Many areas of life are effectively a “closed shop”. It is hard to get a job in Greece, especially a first job, without a connection that often comes from family ties. How often have you heard of a talented, well-qualified person who applies for a job or bids for a contract only to find out that it has been awarded to someone’s (often totally unqualified) cousin? Even in the go-go days of the 1990s and 2000s when my age group entered the job market, most of my peer group had to persist for up to a decade before finding a job that matched their qualifications. Even as the economy superficially boomed, lack of opportunities for the young (the “€700 generation” as they were dubbed then after the typical entry-level monthly income) was blamed for recurring riots in the city centres and around the universities. It is no wonder that since the bubble burst, the young have found themselves at the sharp end; youth unemployment hovers in the mid-50%, and €700 now looks like a sweet deal if you can get it. And of course this exacerbates big future issues like the pensions time-bomb which politicians are only now reluctantly starting to wrestle with.

It is in these conditions that you can also see the flip side of family ties, and possibly start to understand how they come to undermine “the greater good”. The family is the most resilient institution in Greece. In a country that is marked by weakness in its political and civil institutions, the family offers the most reliable refuge and inter-generational safety net. We all like to joke about the Greek boys who can’t leave their mothers; over half of Greek adults of both sexes up to the age of 34 live with their parents compared to around 14% in the US and the UK and single digits in the Nordic countries. Moving in with the parents as a result of unemployment (for those who had moved out) was less of a culture shock and less stigmatising for Greeks than it was for the Americans and the Brits who had to return to the nest in the aftermath of 2008. Family networks extend back to the ancestral villages that Greeks left in droves in the post-war era, and they have also provided support ranging from olive oil to childcare to a newly rediscovered rural life for families finding themselves without income and roots in the big city. It has long been the norm in Greece for retired parents and grandparents to care and be cared for by the extended family, and only enter retirement homes in extremis. Now it is not uncommon for them to share their pensions with their unemployed children and their young families – indeed, the Greek social security system seems to be designed around the assumption that pensions will “trickle down” to support the unemployed and the needy in later generations.

You may think that I have strayed too far from the subject of nepotism into “motherhood and apple pie” territory, but my point is, it is all connected. When the crisis hit, many of us were optimistic that it would act as a catalyst to weaken some of the old structures and create new opportunities where they had previously been stifled. Now that seems less likely. Times of crisis strengthen family ties rather than pulling them apart, and if it is so at the bottom why imagine that it’s any different at the top? We like to think that politicians are a different species, especially when it comes to apportioning blame, but really they are flesh from our flesh. As the Greek lawyer or doctor might encourage their son or daughter to follow them in the profession and inherit not just the office space and the brass plaque but also the clientele, so the politician.

The biggest concern with nepotism in political life is not so much the lack of meritocracy (the quality of our elected representatives is an issue more broadly speaking) but the perpetuation of the inherited patronage system by the “politico-familial” complex. It is lazy thinking to believe that by diluting the gene pool in parliament the problem of political patronage will instantly be solved. A much more effective remedy would be to strengthen the social and political institutions that can provide the checks and balances, and step in when family support bleeds into discrimination and clientelism. Principles such as transparency, competition, performance assessment, management of conflicts of interest, are resisted as alien to the “native” culture precisely because they challenge pervasive vested interests. Closed professions and unrepresentative unions react to them in much the same way, like a vampire to garlic, and that can only be a good sign.

The Carringtons and the Colbys and the rest of us

CONFIDENTIAL: Kremlin Calling

putin-tsipras

23 SEPT 2015 05:03am EST

FM AMEMBASSY ATHENS

TO REHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE

C O N F I D E N T I A L  ATHENS

TAGS: GR RS

SUBJECT: INTERCEPTED CALL BETWEEN GREEK PM AND RUSSIAN PM

The following is a transcript from an intercepted call received at the Megaro Maximou, Wednesday 23rd September 2015, 7:32am Athens time (GMT+1).

The caller identifies himself as Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation. The call recipient is Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic. Only the caller’s side of the conversation has been recorded.

Supporting information is hyperlinked.

This transcript should be treated with utmost caution (see analyst’s note).

VP: Good morning, Aleksei… Vladimir here. I hope you don’t mind that I say your name the Russian way, I feel that we are like family now…

AT: [inaudible]

VP: I thought you would like it. Listen, my friend, now you have my official congratulations I wanted to call you for a little man-to-man chat.

AT: [inaudible]

VP: First of all, I am pleased to see you have teamed up with Fatty again. He is a good guy, he understands how we do biznes. And his cousin, great appointment. Excellent knowledge of chernyi piar. Shame he had to shut down his Twitter account but don’t worry, my friend, I have a thousand trolls that can take his place.

AT: [inaudible]

VP: Oh, you didn’t know about that? Yes, great talent… Listen, my friend, tinkering with poll numbers is for our dear friends in liberal democracies who care about the niceties, but nice job blaming the opposition. No, I am talking about good internet and cheap non-union labour. Really effective, very democratic, totally non-traceable. And, hey, I see you appointed my good friend the cabbage patch kid again to talk to the foreigners. I like him, too. Maybe next time instead of doing karaoke for NATO he can come and be my opening act?

AT: [inaudible]

VP: And by the way, were the Americans in touch about the “double” plot? Nice one, eh, the old double bluff? I had half the CIA waterboarding the other half for weeks looking for a rogue agent. Amateurs!

AT: [inaudible]

VP: I knew you would get it Aleksei. Great men like us, we are above ideology. We leave that to the masses who take the bus to work, ha ha ha. Now listen, Aleksei, I want to be serious for a minute.

AT: [inaudible]

VP: You understand, I am sorry we embarrassed you over a few roubles but I think you appreciate, we cannot afford to leave, how you say, audit trail. And besides, how dare you embarrass ME by sending that washed-up Bolshevist bootlick to the Kremlin?

AT: [inaudible]

VP: No no, I am not upset. Listen, Aleksei, I know you are going to talk to the fishwife and all your deviant friends in Brussels today. I want you to keep them off our friend Bashar in Syria. You understand? No more embargoes, no questioning my humanitarian missions, no bombings.

AT: [inaudible]

VP: Well as you say, my friend, that is “European problem”.

AT: [inaudible]

VP: We can talk about that another time. Just keep them off Bashar for now. And if you get in to trouble, remind them of the pipeline.

AT: [inaudible]

VP: Yes I know, just say “South Stream” if you want to see grown men cry, right? Oh, and by the way you can tell Cameron OUR embargo on British pork is permanent, heh heh.

AT: [inaudible]

VP: Now Aleksei you know I can’t get my friends at Gazprom to front you the money. No audit trail, remember? But I can have word with some of my close friends here to make sure your football teams stay in business. We don’t want the masses to lose track of priorities now, do we?

AT: [inaudible]

VP: And do give my warmest regards to your Red Betty. You know, she reminds me of the kind of sexy little firebrand I used to [inaudible] with at the Communist Youth Camps back in the day. Very passionate. Are you sure we haven’t met before?

AT: [inaudible]

VP: Ha ha, no my friend, of course I did not mean to offend you. She is too old for me anyway. Listen, when is Fatty back in Crimea? We need to organize “Big Fat Greek Wedding” ha ha ha, know what I mean?

AT: [inaudible]

VP: I knew you would like that. And next time I see you, I want to give you good workout in dojo, like real men. I see you pile on the pounds, you need to stay how you say fighting trim for the ladies. OK comrade, as we used to say here, we will talk soon.

[CALL ENDS]

Analyst note: We would advise enhanced verification procedures of the contents of this intercept, in light of recent instances of impersonation.

Stories, tweets and Facebook posts linked to or reproduced are genuine. Everything in between is a fabrication.

Images: kyivpost.com, thetoc.gr

CONFIDENTIAL: Kremlin Calling

Greek elections 2015, round 2: Observations by an American innocent abroad

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Even as a veteran operative of several US presidential campaigns, I still find myself struggling at times to come to grips with the many flavors of parliamentary democracy found in Europe. Greece’s system has its own idiosyncrasies, on full display this past weekend. One significant quirk that may surprise fans of representative people’s assemblies is that whichever party comes out ahead in Greek national elections, by however slender a margin, automatically receives 50 additional seats of the 300 total up for grabs in the Voulí (Parliament). Thus in order to govern without need for a coalition, a political party need only actually win 101 of the 250 seats up for election, a whisker above 40%.

In the case of SYRIZA, they failed (again) to achieve such a ‘mandate’, only winning 95 seats – four down from January – plus the ‘bonus’ 50. Although to hear them tell it (yet again), this triumph of the people’s will (to do what exactly, we’re not sure) is but a harbinger of the days just over the horizon when schoolchildren across Europe will start their mornings singing Bella Ciao. The balance will be made up by reviving the coalition originally entered between SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left) and the far right, nationalist, anti-Europe ANEL (Independent Greeks), whose ten seats (3.69% of total votes cast), give the new (old) government a less than confidence-inspiring five seat majority (seven seats less than in the last elections). How winning an election, in January, calling a referendum in July and getting the public to vote as you asked them, then doing exactly the opposite (complete, abject capitulation, however you spin it), then resigning and causing another round of elections in September can be seen as a sign of serious, thoughtful leadership is something of a mystery. In any event, the leader of the otherwise tiny, fringe ragtag collection that is ANEL, the fleshy and oleaginous king of veiled threats and demagoguery Panos Kammenos, will doubtless be rewarded for his loyalty with reinstatement to his political-patronage and propaganda-friendly post of Defense Minister.

One could argue that the Greek ‘bonus’ system at least means that someone can govern, albeit with 50 stragglers and failed candidates, as opposed to MPs elected directly by the much-lauded ‘laós’ (the people). Especially in a country where voting is mandatory for everyone over the age of 18. Except that it isn’t, really, as there are no penalties for non-voting. It would be hard to enforce penalties as, like so many public records in Greece, the electoral rolls are not regularly updated, let alone policed, and are regularly found to include long-dead people. Turnout for this (third) vote (2x elections, 1x referendum) in nine months was predictably poor, hovering around 53% versus the 63% turnout in January, although perhaps not as bad as feared. SYRIZA’s 35.5% of the total vote tally (down from 36.3% in January, amounting to four seats lost) means that Tsipras can still claim a ‘clean victory’ (katharí níki) based on a paltry 18.5% of the eligible electorate casting votes for his party.

The low turnout is certainly attributable to apathy and a sense of futility, and broadly speaking low turnouts favor incumbents who rely less on inspiring undecideds to come over to their side than simply getting their base out to the polls. Whoever won this election was going to face the choice of either finally implementing even tougher reforms, spending cuts and tax rises than any previous government (all of whom paid with their political lives), or tearing the agreement up and rehashing the daily European crisis, talks of Grexit, and such that brought Greece to the global center stage (for all the wrong reasons) for the first half of this year. Only this time, with the EU facing a genuine existential crisis over how to respond to the hundreds of thousands fleeing the debacle that is Syria in a desperate gambit to make it to Germany or Sweden, it is safe to assume that Greece’s EU partners will show even less tolerance towards any attempt to reclaim the limelight by re-writing the last memorandum.

Still, with the fate of the country in the balance, you’d think Greeks would be motivated to vote. But there’s a catch: most Greeks do not transfer their voting rights from their place of birth, so in order to vote, they must return home to the ancestral village where their births are recorded. There is no concept of the ‘absentee ballot’ for Greeks who are out of the country on the date of the election (although given its rich potential for electoral fraud, it is surprising given the scale of the global Greek diaspora that the idea has never gained traction). What this means is that every election cycle concludes with a massive national migration, with a substantial percentage of the population of Athens taking to the roads in buses, trains, cars, motorbikes and scooters for the weekend in order to return to the chorió (village) to cast their ballot. Inevitably for many of the those dwindling few who remain employed, it means time off work. Given how many Greeks are either self-employed or own SMEs (late night kiosks, cafes, repair shops) it means lost income. Now that the political parties can no longer afford to bus voters to the polls en masse, add to that the eye-wateringly high price of fuel and cost of highway tolls (which can be waived at the discretion of the “oligarch” owners of highway consortia, but on this occasion were not), and the disincentives to head home for the third time in nine months are substantial. The uninspiring cast of characters running for office only further devalued any impetus to engage in this great spasm of democracy.

SYRIZA and Tsipras (and similarly ANEL and Kammenos) doubtless benefited from the low turnout. Having flushed out over 20% of his more wild-eyed radical MPs to the newly-formed LAE (Laikí Enótita or Popular Unity) with the promise of elections, Tsipras the pragmatist was able to whip his party organisation into full Get Out the Vote mode. This was aided by having stuffed the public sector with loyal appointees during his first seven months ‘at the helm’ in an orgy of reform-busting (and generally unreported in the foreign media) political patronage of the kind his predecessor occupants of the Megaro Maximou (the official prime ministerial residence) would be proud. While the average Antonis or Despina on the street couldn’t be bothered to vote, the party loyalists only recently ensconced in (or returned to) their civil service posts and whose jobs and salaries depended upon another SYRIZA/ANEL victory were motivated to get their friends and family – who benefit as well from trickle-down patronage – to the polls on the big day. Plus ça change … This ploy was aided by the timing by Tsipras of his resignation so as to hold elections prior to the first pension cuts and tax rises hitting the ever-excitable pensioner demographic and the freshly-taxed home-owners whose outrage cost Nea Demokratia the last election.

What is striking about these election results is how un-striking they are: apart from the disappearance of the short-lived ‘un’-party of Potami (the River) and the punishing annihilation of LAE, voting percentages remained shockingly close to their January totals. In other words, there was no great SYRIZA consolidation of power, but also no great backlash against the Tsipras U-Turn on the third memorandum. The more loony shrill self-absorbed outspoken SYRIZA factions have left the building, and it remains to be seen who takes their place on the benches. Nea Demokratia, having exchanged its charisma-less would-be undertaker of a former leader for a very different sort of lifelong populist party hack seemingly more at home running a bouzouki dive than a nation, saw its vote share, er, ‘leap’ from 27.8% to 28.1%, with a net loss of exactly one seat. Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn), the currently-on-trial-for-murder-extortion-and-racketeering Neo-Nazis who only the other day publicly condoned murder as a political tactic, held solid in third place with 7% of the total vote, up from 6.3% in January, actually gaining them an additional seat for a total of 18. In other words, Chrysi Avgi hold nearly twice as many seats in parliament as SYRIZA’s xenophobic, Russophilic coalition partners ANEL, notwithstanding having been effectively blackballed from the television news talk circuit for the past year. A few irrelevant ex-PASOK centrist voices (Potami) were shown the door to be replaced by a few other irrelevant … PASOK centrists. A couple more fringe types gained seats.

Clearly (to the extent anything is ‘clear’ in Greek politics) voters, having grudgingly accepted the inevitability of the ‘memorandum’ and banished the specter of the drachma, continued in their quest for someone new and youthful to lead the country with a seemingly credible claim  to not being part of the ‘old machine’. Looking at the options on offer, it was still only Tsipras who, however implausibly in light of his actions over seven months, could fit the bill. Oh, and this guy.Those who still ‘believe’ cast their votes; those bored, angry and cynical at another year wasted, stayed home.

Tsipras may well drag his feet, especially while the refugee crisis continues unabated, hoping that the rise of friendly forces in Europe (Iglesias in Spain, Corbyn in the UK) will give him a political victory on debt relief before he has to impose anything too onerous that will hit his base. The can has simply been kicked down the road and another election cannot be far off. If so, maybe these guys will finally break out? Given the vapidity of ideas being offered by the mainstream parties, veganism, ecology and natural healing could well show the way forward.

Image: Appropriately, Tsipras on the left, Kammenos on the right. In Time News from iefimerida.gr

Greek elections 2015, round 2: Observations by an American innocent abroad

Who rigged the Greek opinion polls?

illuminati

The results of yesterday’s Greek national elections surprised pollsters, who for the weeks leading up to the vote predicted a very close contest between Syriza and Nea Demokratia. In the event, Syriza came first with a clear lead of 7.4% (35.5% of the vote compared to ND’s 28.1%).

The efficacy of traditional polling methodologies has been questioned in several recent contests, including the U.S. presidential election of 2012 and the U.K. national elections of 2015, both of which delivered clear winners after supposedly “too close to call” poll results. However, while in these instances the failure of polling to predict the result was met with a shrug, mild accusations of incompetence from the media, smugness from the candidates’ internal polling teams, and eventually some more nuanced and occasionally self-critical analyses, the Greek response was altogether more robust. Sensing that the outcome of elections in a country representing a colossal 2% of European GDP, and holding in its hands the geopolitical balance of the civilised world, was too important to be judged by the standards of “advanced” “Western” democracies, politicians were quick to cry foul.

Despite the leading parties experiencing the most significant upset, ironically, it was the smaller parties that appeared most outraged.

Panos Kammenos, leader of junior coalition partner ANEL (Independent Greeks), who made a surprise re-entry to the new Parliament and into government, used his victory speech to accuse pollsters of being “paid assassins and crooks of the metapolítefsi (the post-junta era)” (implying perhaps that in the “good old days” their dark arts were surplus to requirements). Earlier, as results were rolling in, he took to Twitter to accuse one specific polling organisation of being “on the take”.

Vassilis Leventis of the Centrists Union celebrated his first entry into Parliament after decades of trying in time-honoured style by attacking the pollsters for allegedly being in league with the larger parties to suppress the more resounding success he felt he deserved.

Sceptics might venture that the outrage of parties whose success consisted of polling 3.7% and 3.4% respectively (vs. the 3% threshold required to enter Parliament) is inversely proportionate to their understanding of statistics and the concept of “margin of error”. The aggrieved parties would simply point out that “”Mathematics” are the tools of the demagogue and the dictator, and their paymasters the pimps of the New World Order. Anyone who tries to hoodwink the sovereign people with concepts that require schooling beyond primary school level deserves to be found guilty by the peoples’ inquisition, burned at the stake, and fed to the giant lizards at the centre of the earth”.

Until more reliable polling methodologies can be devised, it is advisable to continue using more proven traditional empirical approaches, including the flitzáni and bird divination (always following the guidelines of the Humane Society). While not sensitive enough to deliver pin-point precision, the former method was able to accurately predict the overall winner (the mysterious Mr Kanenas as judged by the “big round ballot box”, who stole votes from all major political parties) and can thus be recommended for its robustness.

Disclaimer: No pigs were harmed during the Greek elections.

POSTSCRIPT: Worth reading a sober, non-conspiratorial analysis of the polls published a few weeks later.

Who rigged the Greek opinion polls?

Greeks flock to the “big round ballot box” in critical vote

garbage-can1

In a show of enthusiasm that has confounded even the most jaded students of the democratic process, today Greeks turned out in droves to cast their votes in what has come to be referred to as the καλάθι (kaláthi, which translates as basket, referred to colloquially as the “big round ballot box”).

Psephologists are still trying to get to grips with the record turnout (45% abstention despite compulsory voting), and how to interpret it, in a debate that will no doubt play out over the coming months and years. Some suggest that this phenomenon can be explained with reference to the “garbage can model of organisational choice“. The seminal 1970s theory of decision making viewed organisational systems as “a collection of choices looking for problems, issues and feelings looking for decision situations in which they might be aired, solutions looking for issues to which they might be the answer, and decision makers looking for work”, an eerily prescient description of Greek political life in the twenty-first century. According to the model, problems, solutions, participants, and choice opportunities flow in and out of a “garbage can”, and which problems get attached to solutions is largely due to chance. The model appears to provide a good fit for the current situation but further study is required.

Others, examining the contents of the ballot box, have discovered intriguing graffiti, which they claim alludes to much more ancient precedents. Crumpled images of leading politicians with phallic objects scrawled on them suggest to some ancient fertility rituals or good luck charms, intended to signal approval to the bearer and ward off evil. However, students of Classical antiquity point to a parallel in the “ostraka“, pieces of broken pottery on which Athenian citizens etched the name of the person they wanted banished from the city (hence the modern word “ostracism”). They suggest that this practice provided a last minute physical solution to Facebook’s failure to deliver on schedule the virtual “dislike” button in time for the Greek elections. A third interpretation links the graffiti to other modern expressions of evolved politico-moral discourse such as those favoured by celebrity gossip pioneer Perez Hilton (nsfw).

A third group of theories points to the calendrical coincidence of the Greek elections with the final of Eurobasket 2015, an international tournament of sporting prowess in which teams compete to pass balls through a hoop, also known as a basket, or καλάθι. While the Greek national team failed to make the final four in the tournament, most Greek males in particular would claim a greater attachment to the outcome of the Lithuania vs. Spain match than the result of the elections.

As usual, we will continue to report developments in this ongoing debate on this blog.

Greeks flock to the “big round ballot box” in critical vote

Two years and counting: Golden Dawn still with us

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Today marks the second anniversary of the murder of hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas by a member of Golden Dawn. The murder of a young Greek man marked the tipping point at which the Greek political and judicial establishment stopped pussy-footing around the Neo-Nazi organisation and its leadership in Parliament, after years of massing evidence of organised criminal violence and racketeering (a good account of the history of the case has just been published in English). Tomorrow will be two years since criminal proceedings were initiated against them on these charges. And yet what was once shocking to a large majority of Greeks and foreigners alike has become just another mundane reality for a weary public, scarcely reported by a foreign press once filled with shocking reports on the rise of the neighbourhood Nazis.

So where are Golden Dawn now? Here’s a handy catch-up guide if you haven’t been watching:

First of all, they are not in prison. The trial of the few dozen members against whom charges were filed started in April of this year, after the 18 month maximum for preventative detention under Greek law had lapsed. We have commented elsewhere on the chronic delays which plague the Greek justice system – this trial is no exception. This means that the political leadership are free to take their benches in Parliament, and have been doing so with great enthusiasm to vote “no” in the last three crucial votes on the latest bailout package, burnishing their “anti-austerity” “OXI” credentials (the legislation was in fact passed).

Secondly, they are running in Sunday’s general elections. They are doing so behind a cordon sanitaire of sorts, erected since their prosecution by a newly prudish media. They were not given a seat at last week’s televised debate, despite coming third in the January 2015 elections. They no longer receive invitations to panel shows where they could once be relied on to provide what our friends in the UK media refer to as “good telly” (i.e. reliably ‘sparky‘ guests that can be counted upon to instigate a good ‘ding-dong‘, in the parlance of British television news editors and producers, according to  BBC veteran koutofrangos). They are however using their full allocation of TV and radio time to air their campaign adverts. The first of these features their leader barking at the camera surrounded by the symbols of his beliefs including an icon of St George, patron saint of the army, and his military record. The second, much more sinister, enlists pester power: three children demand to “be taught their real history”, “not to become a minority in their own country”, “not to have their future sold off”, “Greece for the Greeks” (you can google these if you want, I don’t want to drive traffic to their site). Not quite in the league of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me“, the ads are out of focus (probably filmed on a smartphone) and even the kids are shouty, but you get the message: homemade authenticity for the disaffected and the gullible.

Thirdly, their voter base is solid. They are consistently polling 5.5-7%, retaining around 90% of their voters from the last elections to keep them in third place, while large portions of the electorate are shifting sands. That means that over a third of a million voters have not changed their opinion of Golden Dawn since 2012, in spite of the evidence presented against them.

Fourthly, they are unrepentant. It is true that their political leadership are more bashful about giving Nazi salutes or participating in raids these days; the recent dramatic influx of refugees to the Greek islands that would once have been manna from heaven to their hate campaigns has thankfully not been the subject of quite the amount of grandstanding that it once would have been; only isolated attacks have been recorded against the temporary encampments, and very targeted statements aimed at the local populations. However, yesterday, as Fyssas’s family were preparing to testify against Golden Dawn in court when the trial resumes at the end of the month, Golden Dawn’s leader was given a platform by a well known talk radio host. In the interview he assumed “political responsibility” for Fyssas’s murder on behalf of his party, while, in a distinction of dubious legality, foisted all criminal responsibility on the junior party member who has confessed to wielding the knife.

It is unclear how the elections will turn out, but it is widely predicted that the results will hinge on large numbers of undecided voters, disillusioned by the abandonment of the “OXI” cause by the larger parties (Syriza in particular), a protest vote looking for a home. Golden Dawn are aiming for double digits this time, but just by standing still they could still end up as the official opposition in a “grand coalition scenario”.

So that’s all good then.

Image: Golden Dawn leader in happier (for us) times. AP PHOTO/FOSPHOTOS/ANGELIKI PANAGIOTOU

Two years and counting: Golden Dawn still with us