Talk of the kafeneio

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This week the kafeneio was abuzz with lively debate on the national legacy of one Chrysostomos (Makis) Psomiadis (aka. “Makaros”, aka. “Big Mac”, aka. “Agapoulas”), who died last week of natural causes shortly after being released from prison.

If you read the press or watched the news (examples here and here), you would see that pride of place was given to the deceased’s prominent role in organised sport since the late 1908s (as chairman of AEK Athens basketball and football teams, Ethnikos, Atromitos and Kavala football teams), followed by brief references to his recent convictions for match-fixing and embezzling €21.7 million from AEK Athens, and only discreet allusions to involvement in “business”, “society” and “behind-the-scenes”. The language was respectful, even fond and reverential (his death was “tragic”, “his heart betrayed him”, his passing “mourned” by the sports community).

In the kafeneio, the sentiment was altogether more divided. For some, the deceased should be left to rest in peace. God should be his judge, as he was the son of a priest, and known to be religious. He may have broken the law, but he lived by his own code and only harmed those who crossed him. God bless him, he cared about his teams, taking one of them up two divisions in three years, even if he plundered some and sunk others in the leagues. Whatever you think of him, he was a colourful larger-than-life character, his self-consciously argot-laden and often profane one-liners repeated with fondness (some semi-respectable media outlets even anthologised them for easy reference). Many of his former players, along with A-list performers from his nightclub days and high-profile criminal lawyers who attended his funeral presumably felt the same. The swindled AEK Athens sent a wreath and a lengthy defence of their rationale (presumably some form of corporate Stockholm syndrome?).

Others recalled that he had supported the junta regime torturers at their trials and is accused of enthusiastically joining in the torture himself in a borrowed cassock. That he made his fortune running a protection racket. That in addition to his recent convictions he had been accused of and tried for numerous other crimes (fraud, counterfeiting, kidnapping) in each case being acquitted or released on technicalities (most of these allegations were presented in an ERT documentary broadcast while he was on the run in 2011). That his love of his teams extended to personally threatening and blackmailing his players (a rare account in the English language press comes courtesy of a former NBA transfer to AEK). That his financial affairs (no known assets, cash payments only, black bin liners full of notes in the changing rooms) would make him too obvious a case study for even a beginner’s guide to money laundering. Many recalled listening to a graphic audio recording purporting to be of the deceased torturing a former associate.

And of course there is the political dimension, the kafeneio regulars never missing an opportunity to revive the left-right rifts of the dictatorship era and the civil war. His supporters inevitably accuse his detractors of politically-motivated character assassination (in the words of one shock-jock tabloid site, “Stalinist scum who were too afraid to write these things while he was alive”). The latter then accuse the former of lionising a fascist and a psychopath emblematic of the criminality and corruption that has brought the country to its knees, when they should be lining up the next lamógio for prison instead. There is only one mode of conflict avoidance: the obligatory onslaught of queasy jokes about the new boy on the Devil’s turf, bribes in St Peter’s pocket, the commemorative fixed match. For a moment there is a moratorium on the usual (and more than ever topical) actuarial dissection of pensions. But then they do say that psychological distance has something to do with why everybody loves a mobster.

This is all hearsay of course; I take after Aunt Cassandra who would never venture into the den which she blames for Uncle Aristo’s moral decline, but instead divides her time between the crochet circle and the literary salon. Anyone who wishes to delve into the moral maze of the internet kafeneio is welcome to Google “#RIP_Makaros”, stand back and marvel at the fine discourse.

I was going to write something classy and ever-so-slightly ponderous like “the nation held a mirror up to itself,” but upon reflection I think “barium enema” would be more appropriate to describe the process one uses to look for abnormalities in the nether regions.

Easily confused with:

“Agapoulas”, The central character in a series of humorous mobile phone ads at the height of the deceased’s notoriety, partly responsible for promoting his personal mythology: the similarity of the fictional president of the football team with his use of the trademark phrase “agapoula” (“sweetheart”) and the allusions to legal entanglements and mafia tactics is so close that it’s amazing the deceased did not claim royalties (or maybe he did?).

Not to be confused with: 

Vangelas “Meymar” Meimarakis: despite the superficial resemblance in facial furniture and the similarity in personal style and vocabulary, the frontrunner in Sunday’s leadership elections in opposition party Nea Demokratia is no relation to the deceased.

Panagiotis “Panikos” Psomiadis: despite sharing a surname and a disregard for financial probity, the convicted serial fraudster, Nea Demokratia hanger-on and latterly infomercial shoe salesman, is no relation to the deceased.

 

Image: via makeleio.gr

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Talk of the kafeneio

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