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.
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.