As politcal campaigning ratchets up in Greece, the language gets more interesting. In anticipation of the forthcoming TV debates, here is a guide to some of this season’s more popular terms:
Νταβατζήδες (davatzídes): (lit.) pimps. An apocryphal statement attribued to to former Prime Minister, Costas Karamanlis in a moment of cholesterol-induced candor is that “five pimps run this country.” Himself not exactly a political “clean skin”, Karamanlis is believed to have been referring to the large family-owned business conglomerates that monopolise state contracts and own large sections of the private media (the three corners of the so-called “triangle of power“). Also known as βαρόνοι (barons, on the model of the “robber barons” of the American industrial age), or ολιγάρχες (oligarchs: originally a Greek word meaning government by the few, but reappropriated recently via analogy with the Russian shadow elite). Many miss the subtlety of the pimp analogy, which is that a pimp has no loyalties (let alone ideological commitments) – his favourte girl is always the one who will bring him the most money, which in political terms would be the incumbent.
Λαμόγιο (lamógio) : (lit.) the lookout guy in a three card monty game. Now commonly used to describe a serial crook who gets away with it. Lamógia are generally lower in the food chain than the above. Examples may include: the minister who takes bribes for contracts; the mayor who embezzles public funds; the banker who gives loans on preferential terms to his cronies; the bankrupt who absconds to start a new business leaving a trail of unpaid bills/loans/wages/social security bills; even the likeable local rogue who squats the public seafront with an illegal beach bar.
Διαπλοκή (diaplokí): (lit.) entanglement, implying corruption. A more politically correct version of the pimp reference, deployed by those across the political spectrum wishing to distinguish themselves from the old political establishment. Heavy users include: leftists Syriza (voted into government in January on an anti-diaploki platform, but ineffectual or selective in implementing it in their admittedly brief term in goverment, their leader Alexis Tsipras recently presented their manifesto in an exclusive interview on a private TV channel, owned by one of the most notorious alleged instances of the above); centre-left Potami (whose campaign platform appears to be heavily based on their stated disinterest in governing, and by extension ever putting themselves in a position to confront corruption); Golden Dawn (themselves on trial for organised crime); and Centrists Union (cranks). In the heat of electioneering, the charge of diaplokí seems to enjoy almost hex-like powers to silence one’s political opponents. But like a game of “it” (or μουτζούρης in Greek), play the diaplokí card long enough without follow-through and everyone ends up smeared. The one thing we can predict with near certainty is that once the elections are over the political currency of the “diaplokí” charge will devalue quicker than a new drachma – unless one of the “girls” decides to give up the game and testify against her pimp, which as we all know from gritty cop dramas takes a brave girl (particularly if there is a bent policeman or compromised judge in the cast of characters).
Αυτοφωράκιας (aftoforákias): (lit.) the “front”; the person employed to act as nightclub manager whose main duty is to spend a night in the cells and attend court when the establishment fails a tax inspection or police raid. Most Greeks needed help with this one too. It was recently used by ND leader Vangelis Meimarakis, who actively enjoys lowering the tone, to accuse ex-PM Tsipras of looking for a political fall guy for the unpopular measures about to be introduced.
It is no doubt interesting from an anthropological perspective that the dominant organising metaphor for Greek political life is the sex trade and its associated businesses, and that even those who claim to battle it end up perpetuating it. A world view framed in these terms is profoundly disempowering and anti-democratic. The notion that shadowy forces pull the strings that determine our fate mentally absolves the public (the voters) from assuming individual and collective responsibility and breeds an eminently exploitable, fatalistic victim mentality.
If all bad outcomes can be ascribed to a ξένος δάχτυλος (lit. foreign finger, outside intervention) why take responsibility for your own poor choices? If the pimps and their fall guys run the country, why bother to vote? If we’re being sprayed with mind-altering substances (μας ψεκάζουν), which one third of Greeks apparently believe, why bother to think?
Something to ponder as you hear the debaters flatter the voting public by extolling the power of the people and the virtues of democratic choice while calling one another names…
CORRECTION: We have been asked to issue the following correction to this post.