Farewell to arms?


What leaving gift do you give the man who has everything? Outgoing Defence Minister Panos Kammenos is a man of expensive tastes, as his bills from the Knightsbridge Mandarin Oriental can attest.. One can well imagine him having a Geneva shop front’s worth of gold watches in the closet behind his collection of plus-size military uniforms accumulated during his four years in the post – none of them earned in military service. This morning, Kammenos got the chicken-hawk’s wet dream of a send-off: a parade attended by top military brass, complete with a fighter jet fly-past. In order to allow him his pomp and ceremony, parliament delayed by two hours the debate on a vote of confidence in the government, triggered by Kammenos’s well-signposted but still rather inconvenient departure.

The ceremony was ostensibly staged in honour of his successor, but then Kammenos is not known for his aversion to military spectacle, having laid wreaths for every military event since the Battle of Salamis (480 BC) and never passed up on an opportunity to don camouflage or a Top Gun-style flying jacket. He spent the 48 hours since resigning from the government flaunting the trappings of his office in a valedictory tour: first taking a military helicopter to drop a wreath over the site of the 1996 dispute with Turkey at the islet of Imia, then using his office in the ministry as the setting for a TV interview in which he accused proponents of the Prespes deal of being in the pay of George Soros. Prior to that he posted a video of the raising of the flat on the Albanian border, and made sure the cameras captured him taking Sunday communion.

On an earlier occasion, laying a wreath at the site of the Battle of Salamis (480 BC).

Kammenos’s successor in the post is the now former head of the Greek armed forces, Admiral Apostolakis – a man unknown to the general pubic until a couple of weeks ago, when he threatened Turkey that if they dared send forces to any disputed islet he would raze it.  While a (figurative) army of talking heads struggled to rationalise his bellicose eruption in geostrategic terms, it now seems that this was merely his debut into political society. Like any traditional pantomime worth its salt, the handover featured a cross-dressing act: the admiral donned a suit, a nod to the rule that a serving army officer is not allowed to take political office. It is not known whether the outgoing minister gets to keep his G.I.-Joe wardrobe as a souvenir of his time in office. It is more than likely, given how many rules have been bent to keep the junior coalition partner’s toys in his pram.

And what a time it has been. Aside from getting to play with some pretty powerful toys and make friends with the boys who wield them, Kammenos has enjoyed what has traditionally been one of the most lucrative public offices in the country. Without a hint of irony as the jet fuel burned overhead, he praised his successor for his stewardship of a much-reduced armed forces budget “paid for by the Greek people out of their sacrifices”. It is true that under the current belt-tightening Defence offers fewer opportunities for enrichment that it once did – one former holder of the post has only just been released from prison on compassionate grounds after funding a lavish lifestyle on kickbacks linked to procurement contracts, while another recently did the perp walk on similar charges. To give him is due, Kammenos has made the best of the poor hand he was dealt. His ministry is implicated in skimming from the EU refugee aid funds managed by the army, while he also tried to flog surplus missiles to Saudi Arabia, of the type that regularly rain down on Yemen, in a morally and legally dubious deal involving a shady middleman. One would like to think that someone is presently conducting an inventory of all the doorknobs in the Ministry, along the lines of a popular Greek saying, but it is unlikely that anyone in the government is minded to spoil his leaving do.

And so, the somewhat unconventional marriage of convenience between left- and right-wing populism (or the progressive forces and the traditional centre-right as they prefer to style themselves respectively) has come to an end, at least for now. But Kammenos has made it clear that he intends to stay in politics. Backed up against his last remaining “red line”, the refusal to let our northern neighbours call themselves “Macedonians”, he finds himself once again on the side of popular outrage. He will now ensure that opposition New Democracy aren’t tempted to waver from the “patriotic” line they have taken, albeit with a large dose of opportunism, on the subject. This is a worrying development. Having demonstrated that he is content to be the tail wagging a much bigger dog, this Tinpot Trump (or Puny Putin – he is a great admirer of both men) appeared doomed to the political oblivion that is the fate of junior coalition partners until this gift of a cause landed in his lap and gave him a new lease on life.

It has become commonplace in Greece in the years of a crisis for people to throw around words like “junta” and “coup” to casually describe governments or policies they disagree with. It is still a shock to wake up to such a spectacular deployment of the trappings of totalitarianism in plain view, using public funds, with consent at the highest level. Kammenos now returns to the political fray weakened but unfettered in the pursuit of his less progressive beliefs (he has abstained from every significant vote on social issues including citizenship and civil partnerships), leaving in his chair a man who – as he was ominously reminded at the handover ceremony – may owe his health to a religious dedication made by his trophy fishing buddy, the outgoing minister himself.





Farewell to arms?

Authentic Greek taxi ride to get protected status


ATHENS, 19 March 2018. The authentic Greek taxi ride is to be granted protected status alongside feta cheese and Kalamata olives, under government plans aimed at safeguarding what it being called “an essential part of our national heritage that is under attack.”

The government has launched the initiative under pressure from the powerful taxi drivers’ union which has been organising protests against the incursion of ride-sharing apps.

Taxi drivers attacking an Uber car in Athens during a protest.

The Greek parliament is currently debating a transport bill that would force ride-booking platforms to hire full-time drivers on long-term contracts. Defending the traditional taxi sector in the debate, the president of the taxi driver’s union accused platforms like Uber and the home-grown Beat (formerly Taxibeat) of “using innovation to rip off not only professional drivers but our country.” Meanwhile, in an ongoing court case, drivers for Uber Hellas, who in a typically Greek exercise in rule-bending are actually employed by tour operators, are being tried for breaking the rules governing the leasing of private vehicles. Beat, which works with licensed taxi drivers, is being attacked primarily on the (very dubious) grounds of alleged tax evasion, with the Transport Minister suggesting that “SDOE (the financial crime agency) will have a lot of work on its hands.”

Representatives of the Greek taxi drivers’ union at last week’s committee hearing on the draft transport bill.

There are other aspects of ride-booking platforms that old-school cabbies appear to object to, including the ability of customers to rate their driver’s performance. On a previous occasion, a spokesman for the taxi drivers accused the founder of Beat, aka. “the man who enriched himself from the sweat of taxi drivers” (let that olfactory image sink in for a moment), of “putting drivers on display for the client to chose, as if they were whores in the windows of Amsterdam’s red light district.”

Meanwhile, the local chapter of the Travis Bickle Appreciation Society, whose members are not-so-affectionately known as “tarifes” (sing. tarifas, m.), complain that they are the victims of a black propaganda campaign sponsored by offshore multinationals. Galvanised by their battle against the troika‘s attempt to open up the profession, they see the protected designation as their best defence against the malign foreign forces bent on the destruction of the hard-working cabbie, guardian of the last remaining honourable profession, last bastion of true Greekness.

To qualify as an “authentic Greek taxi ride” under the terms of the proposed designation, the customer experience will need to include all of the following elements:

  • passive smoking: driver may make a token offer to open the window and drive with his smoke dangling out – if you’re going to be such a stickler about it, you know the police should get after all those motorcyclists who cut between lanes, those guys are a real danger, smoking is a human right etc.
  • talk radio, themed on sports, politics or religion, played at a loud volume with additional commentary from the driver, or loud skyladiko music with vocal accompaniment and/or wistful sighing.
  • a sped-up meter and/or a “broken” (or genuinely non-functioning) receipt dispenser.
  • a minimum of one (1) non-functioning seat belt.
  • a request for directions to the passenger’s destination and/or unneccesary detour.
  • an unsolicited educational lecture drawn from the Approved List of Private Transportation Drivers’ Topics of Discourse, including but not limited to: the evils of motorcyclists/delivery drivers/women drivers/immigrants/taxi platforms who employ all of the above,the miracles of Saint Paisios, why this country needs a junta, why Vladimir Putin’s patronage is the next best thing, the latest snake-oil miracle cure bought off the internet that “actually works”, doctors are all quacks they’re just after your money.
  • a loud conversation on a mobile phone with a buddy/colleague/dispatch centre, liberally peppered with excess personal detail/obscenity/references to the incumbent customer in the third person.
  • minimum of one (1) sexist comment, either in “appreciation” of a female pedestrian or in condemnation of a female driver.
  • absence of means for the passenger to evaluate the ride, other than slamming the door on exit and yelling “I’ve got your registration number and I’m going to sue you,” as the vehicle speeds off belching black smoke.

Connoisseurs, meanwhile, bemoan the fact that many of the essential features of the Greek taxi ride have already been rendered obsolete by interventionist government policies and “those namby-pamby metropolitan killjoys who want to appear more ‘European'”. They point to the involuntary rideshare, once a staple of the Greek cab experience, which was all but eradicated by driver “re-education” programmes in the run-up to the 2004 Olympics.

“Look at what happened there,” rages Menios, a 30-year veteran tarifas. “They tell us ‘don’t do it, the foreigners don’t like it.’ Next thing you know, some smartass capitalist in America ‘invents’ the ‘ride-share’. Those capitalists, my friend, they come here and rip off our best inventions and make a fortune. Just like computers and space travel, which were invented by the ancient Greeks, but will you see that in any of the history books? That is why this country will never get ahead.”

IMAGES: vice.gr, news.gr, twitter.

DISCLAIMER: For the avoidance of doubt, the above is #fakenews, however all external links are 100% genuine.

Authentic Greek taxi ride to get protected status

Carnival justice


The separation of powers (legislative, executive, judiciary) is, like democracy, an invention attributed to the ancient Greeks. As such, the descendants of Aristotle reserve the right, by virtue of their inherited intellectual ownership, to interpret it as they please. Inspired by the Novartis affair, some of the giants of contemporary Greek politics have been competing to deliver a masterclass in this cornerstone concept of just government. Students of law and political science would do well to watch and learn.

It all started when, at the height of the carnival season, the Greek parliament was handed a file on the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis, implicating ten former Ministers and Prime Ministers in corruption and money laundering. The allegations contained in the case are that the company’s Greek subsidiary paid senior officials up to €50 million in bribes to favour their products, a practice which cost the Greek state an estimated €3 billion between 2010 and 2015. This is just the latest in a string of corruption charges which the company has faced around the world (including China, South Korea, and most recently Turkey). The Greek investigation was initiated when the U.S. authorities passed information resulting from their own case to the Greek prosecutors.

Somewhere along the way, things took a distinctly Greek turn.

The government adopted a characteristically low-key approach to the affair, with the Deputy Justice Minister soon hailing it as “the biggest scandal since the establishment of the Greek state”. One of the more enduring refrains of the governing SYRIZA-ANEL coalition has been its pledge to expose the corruption of their predecessors at every turn, and they have been hinting at revelations in the Novartis case for at least a year. The government spokesman made sure he was seen leaving the prosecutors’ office on the day the file was handed to parliament, and studiously avoided giving a consistent explanation for his visit.

The opposition quickly took the bait, accusing the government of a political smear campaign.

First out of the gate was Evaggelos Venizelos, former leader of PASOK, Deputy Prime Minister in the Nea Demokratia-PASOK government of 2012-2014, and professor of constitutinal law, no less. “We will deal with the Prime Minister and the members of his government after the elections,” he thundered on the evening news. “But right now we will deal with the false witnesses. I am not threatening anyone, suing someone for perjury is not a threat, but how must political assassination or character assassination be dealth with?”

The target of his ire was the testimony of three witnesses which implicated him and the nine other opposition politicians in bribe-taking.


“I’m not saying something bad might happen to you and your dearest ones, but please take extra good care of the little ones on their way to school, knowwhaddimean?”

OK, he didn’t say that last bit, but you get the picture.

But it’s not just the accused that seem intent on exposing the protected witnesses.

Deputy Health Minister, walking Cretan hard-man stereotype and full-time professional smoker Pavlos Polakis went on morning TV the next day to tease viewers with a blind item worthy of the trashiest gossip rag: the protected witnesses, he said, are Novartis executives who were caught with the proceeds of illegal enrichment and have been “singing like canaries” (sic). They are not “innocent children” in this, he added for good measure. Perhaps from the vertiginous elevation of the moral high ground it was hard for the Minister to discern the damage he might be inflicting on the people involved or on any court case arising from their testimony – or maybe these are just the sort of legal niceties that get in the way of dispensing his particular brand of rough justice.


This cheery morning TV show has a history of pandering to the toxic macho side of our political culture – the “money shot” in one memorable June 2012 edition was a Golden Dawn MP repeatedly punching a female colleague from the Communist Party. His party went on to win 18 seats in parliament in the elections a few days later. “Good morning Greece,” indeed!

But I digress.

Heavy-handed hints were not enough for Andreas Loverdos, Health Minister under the Nea Demokratia-PASOK coaltion, who went one step further, threatening that “I will be the one to rip their hoods off.”


At this point, many were reminded of another of Loverdos’s radical transparency initiatives. During his tenure at the Ministry of Health in 2012, eleven HIV-positive women were publicly named and shamed, their mugshots splashed across the evening news, accused of intentionally infecting people with the disease while allegedly working as prostitutes. With their customary delay, the courts eventually found no evidence that the women were prostitutes, or that they had had unprotected sex (with one exception). Only eight women survived to hear the verdict in December 2016.

Next to this, the deperate 24-hour rolling protestations of New Demokratia deputy leader Adonis Georgiadis seemed merely quaint. Answering to witness allegations that he used kickbacks from pharmaceutical contracts to refubish his house, he invited the media to visit him and document the damp patches in his sitting room.


Already, though, the trial-by-media was well and truly on for the less publicity-hungry witnesses in the case. One notorious tabloid hack bragged of knowing the identity of one of the protected witnesses, and went on to publish her name and professional history, along with several photos of the blonde “deep throat” (sic) dreged from social media.


It appears that the prosecutors had neglected to fully redact her name from the documents passed on to parliament, several pages of which were also leaked to the media.

Then came the parade of almost comically pointless lawsuits.

Former PM Antonis Samaras was obviously put out by the accusations. Having just emerged from his crypt once again to flog the rotting carcass of Bucephalus to victory over the usurpers of Alexander the Great, he was enjoying an unexpected moment of relevance. He promptly sued the current PM Alexis Tsipras, his Justice Minister, the prosecutors in the case, and the witnesses who had named him.


Former New Democracy Health Minister and current EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos was next. In his customary modest, self-effacing style, he not held a verbose press conferend to announce his own lawsuit against the witnesses, but took the opportunity to throw some serious shade on the elected representatives of the people to whom it falls to determine the course of the investigation. His letter to to the Speaker of the Vouli states – and I paraphrase only very slightly – “I would simply love to attend your little hearing, but my long-standing commitments with the College of Commissioners in Brussels and the Secretary General of the United Nations in New York sadly prevent me from doing so. Kindly convey my message to the plenary, there’s a good chap!”


Others named in the case have also threatened to sue but have not yet followed through.

Many wondered what Avramopoulos’s former boss, Kostas Karamanlis, had to say about the case, which stated that as PM he had been “led astray” by his Health Minister into approving lavish healthcare budgets. Extracting a statement from Karamanlis these days seems to involve getting a circle of his close associates to chew on mytle leaves while inhaling the smoke of his favourite souvlaki joint at his holiday retreat in Rafina. But it appears that through them he backed up parts of Avramopoulos’s account.

What of the current leadership of the party? As surely as Achilles is “fleet of foot” in Homer’s epics, Nea Demokratia leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis is invariably “reformist, Harvard-educated” in the adoring foreign press. These seemingly impeccable credentials did not prevent him from pondering aloud, in the manner of the honest family businessman in a Mario Puzo novel, “What exactly are these three hooded ones afraid of? That they will be murdered by [former caretaker PM] Mr Pikrammenos or Mr Samaras, or that they will be beaten by Mr Georgiadis or [Governor of the Bank of Greece and former Finance Minister] Mr Stournaras?”

What are they afraid of, ideed? Perhaps they have the same liking for extreme sports as one former Novartis brand manager, who was so elated at the prospect of an internal investigation that he had to be talked down from the parapet of the Athens Hilton on New Year’s eve last year.


The incident was described in loving detail in the article above, published in Kathimerini newspaper, which surely contravenes every single guideline on the reporting of such desperate incidents.

But that is nitpicking compared to the accusations levelled at the media covering the Novartis affair. Here is Polakis again, berating the host of a talk show on state broadcaster ERT for not being robust enough in prosecuting the case against his opponents: “Is it perhaps to do with the fact that in 2014 YOU also took a cool fifty-five thousand euros in advertising from KEELPNO [the Greek authority for disease control]?????? (it may have been more but I can’t quite recall at the moment).”


Of course, everyone has their own style of communicating and we can perhaps allow for a bit of political bluster, but surely we can rely on the presumption of innocence to ensure that justice is served? Not according to Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias. A consummate multi-tasker who has spent the last few weeks fending off a compromise assault from our former Yugoslav neighbours to the north, while viciously nipping at Turkey’s ankes in the Aegean to the east, he still found time to opine on this issue: “There certainly is a scandal,” he said, “let them prove that they are innocent.”


The grotesquery of carnival is now behind us and we have entered Lent. It can only be hoped that when parliament reconvenes to vote on the course of the investigation, the proceedings will be characterised by the restraint and solemnity that the season, and the case, demand.

This, however, is unlikely. The histrionics and flagrant disregard for due process on both sides suggest that the last thing on their mind is seeing through a thorough investigation. For the opposition, it is almost certain to dredge up some embarrassing facts about their past management of the healthcare sector, even if they fall short of the sensational accusations of wheelie bags of cash ushered through the back door of the prime ministerial mansion – the best they can do is obstruct and sabotage. For the government, which has already shown a much greater love of tactics than the nitty gritty of implementation, this is the golden moment of chaos in the opposition that they hope the electorate will savour – the moment before the tabloid sensation fizzles into a dull procedural.

There will amost certainly be collateral damage. There will be a direct human cost for those ill-advised enough to volunteer information in such a politically charged case, however tainted or unsympathetic their characters may turn out to be. The pressure to deliver big name political scalps is also likely to deflect from an investigation into the very real questions surrounding the explosion in healthcare spending, which extends well outside the historical time frame of the investigation. Finally, the casual disregard shown towards the justice system by people in the highest political offices has already inflicted a damaging blow to any remaining public trust in the institution.

MAIN IMAGE: Novartis-themed float at the Rethymno carnival, featuring drugs named after the politicians in the Novartis affair (Source: @spasmenoPar).

Carnival justice

Sunday in Syntagma

IMAGES @atlantishost


Sunday in Syntagma

On the march with the sisters in Salonica


THESSALONIKI, 21 January 2018, from our Airbnb correspondent. Not a pussy hat in sight but plenty of raw passion! On a clear January day the seafront of the beautiful northern port of Thessaloniki, or Salonika to those in the know, was bursting with enthusiasm as we took to the street for the second Womens’ March of the #resistance. Having been in Washington for the original march, and witnessed the thousands of angry, joyful, strong, beautiful women marching against the patriarchy, I can tell you the Greeks really know how to do it!

For a start, this was the only women’s march where I saw men come out in equal or large numbers. They came out in solidarity with their sisters, wives, daughters, but mainly, apparently, their grandmothers.

Women of all ages respected and venerated at the Salonica march.

There were men everywhere. And I’m not talking about suburban dads chaperoning their teenage daughers or browbeaten liberal husbands trudging dutifully along, but macho men not afraid to brandish their masculinity while respecting their women.

“You look at my sister and you’ll feel the sharp end of my #metoo,” was the Cretan macho man’s response when I took this photo.

Slogans were everywhere. Proud, defiant slogans unlike any I have seen before. “Macedonia is Greek”, “Hands off our Macedonia” – with my limited Greek I deduced from the context that “Macedonia” must be regional slang for the female anatomy. It was fairly clear to me, no one would dare grab any of these marchers by the Macedonia!

The local twist on the pussy hat – “Hands off my Macedonia!”

In the midst of the carnivalesque atmosphere, it was so heartening to see the LGBT community out and proud, lending their support. Clergy in their flowing robes and heavy jewellery happily posing for photos with the local “bears”, dozens of men camping it up in historical costume, some on horseback, army veterans in fatigues singing patriotic songs.

A picturesque Greek priest embracing the local “bear” community.
Men are not afraid to dress up in skirts and embrace here.

There were rousing speeches, mostly by men, about the need to defend “Macedonia” and keep it out of foreign hands. Away from the main rally, I am told a delegation decorated the local Holocaust memorial and lit bonfires in a celebration of inclusiveness.

Back on the seafront the crowd dispersed peacefully, but a sense of expectation filled the air. There was even talk of starting a political party to take the fight to Athens. Maybe this is the spark that will ignite the bonfire of change?

Brunch on stylish pink plastic stools the seafront – the perfect end to a day of protest and celebration.

IMAGES: parallaxi.gr, iefimerida.gr

On the march with the sisters in Salonica

2017 in Atlantis


Big shout-out to everyone who has continued to visit this blog for insight, entertainment, or their own dark reasons. Your visits were all the more meaningful in a year when reality gave us some stiff competition in the sheer volume and magnitude of fake (and wish-it-were-fake) news disgorged on a daily basis.

History will record that the most-read posts on Dateline Atlantis in the year 2017 of the Gregorian calendar (1483228800 – 1514764799 Unix time) were as follows:

  1. In March, a Calvinist apparatchik on the fast track to political oblivion tried to lecture the Greeks on profligacy, and got a very predictable comeuppance: “Drink and women: it’s a culture thang”
  2. With the Greek wedding industry in the doldrums, some provincial caterers reinvented their business model – skimming from the aid budget for refugee meals. A sordid tale of opportunity in crisis, as reported by insidestory.gr: “Feeding the invisible refugees”
  3. In February, we donned our green-tinted spectacles to travel back in time to the utopian heyday of the “Old PASOK”, the latest manifestation of our national nostalgia epidemic. Why is it so hard to say, “Good bye, Andrea?”
  4. In January, a cold snap prompted some thoughts on the Cold War calculus of heating a Greek apartment: “The polykatoikia-dweller’s dilemma”
  5. Another summer, another round of forest fires. Last year’s post about the politics of natural disasters found a new audience. We look forward to the year when this is no longer topical: “The best cure?”

IMAGE: The “controversial” Christmas tree of Ioannina, possibly an hommage to Meccano – via protothema.gr

2017 in Atlantis

Oh, what a lovely media war!


Among the plethora of explanations put forward for the Greek crisis, one of the most prominent has been the cosy relationship between the country’s media ownership and the financial and political establishment. Some observers have gone so far as to claim that this so-called “triangle of corruption” is the chief cause of Greece’s ills, while SYRIZA, currently the lead partner in the country’s governing coalition, named tackling the country’s “oligarchs” through their media interests as one of their first priorities on the eve of their coming to power in 2015.

Whether a weak and interest-led media can be made to shoulder such an overwhelming burden of blame for the country’s economic collapse is open to question (if only because this view, championed enthusiastically by the foreign media, seems itself suspiciously, ahem, media-centric). That said, there is no doubt that the fourth estate is a crucial part of the democratic anatomy, so when looking for signs of a turnaround it is one of the places to check for vital signs. It has to be said (SPOILER ALERT!) that things are not looking good for the patient.

Sure enough, SYRIZA made good on their promise to go after the “anarchic” broadcast licensing regime, and we gave our take on their efforts here and here. About a year ago, with a new – supposedly more transparent and incorruptible – legal framework in place, the government set out to allocate new broadcast licenses. What happened from that point on is instructive.

When it came to the allocation, the government devised a devilishly complex auction procedure, seemingly designed to humiliate the bidders by subjecting them to an extended sleepover in a heavily guarded office block, complete with camp beds and invigilated toiled breaks. Perversely, the private TV channels, whose proprietors were personally involved in most cases, lapped it up. The spectacle gifted them a reality TV format which they didn’t have to pay to license (as they do when they copy gameshows like “Survivor” or “X Factor”) – in essence hours of free entertainment, with plenty of occasion for anti-government invective. Indeed, the Greek Union of Journalists, faced with hundreds of job losses whatever the outcome, wrote the advertising copy, describing the contest as a “badly written reality show” (translation: ratings gold!).

The outcome of the auction was equally entertaining to observe (though no doubt very stressful for anyone with a personal stake in it). The lowest successful bidder was Skai TV, which had been singled out as the coalition’s bête noir for its hostile coverage. Another incumbent, Antenna TV, also won one of the new licenses, ensuring that at least 50% of the allocated spectrum remained firmly in the hands of the old “oligarchic” regime.

What of the new entrants? One license was awarded to Ioannis Kalogritsas, a government-friendly public works contractor, who supported his bid with a highly favourable loan from a government-friendly bank, guaranteed on a piece of vastly overvalued real estate – thus squaring the “triangle of corruption” that the governing coalition had vowed to shatter, and illustrating precisely how short the new licensing regime fell of the political hype that had surrounded it. Kalogritas was forced to pull out only when the borrowed money failed to materialise by the deadline, and his license passed to the next runner-up.

Born in Russia of Pontic Greek descent, Ivan Savvidis is a relatively recent transplant on the local political scene: a minor oligarch who made his fortune in the de-nationalised tobacco industry, erstwhile friend of Vladimir Putin and former MP with his United Russia party, he is best known in Greece as the owner of PAOK FC (a purchase sweetened by a not insignificant tax write-off passed by the current government). Savvidis is held dear by the Russophile wings on both sides of the political spectrum in Greece as a back-channel to Moscow. He has since made the connection more overt by comparing prime minister Tsipras favourably to Putin, while he is also behind one of the rag-tag consortium of bidders who recently won the tender for the de-nationalised Thessaloniki Port Authority, a key piece of national infrastructure.

The final license of the original four was awarded to Evangelos Marinakis, a shipowner, also well-known to Greek football fans as the owner of Piraeus team Olympiakos FC, and now to English footie fans as well through his recent purchase of a majority stake in Nottingham Forest. He has been tried and acquitted in one major match-fixing case, and remains accused in another case which is still ongoing, while his name has been linked to a major drug-smuggling case with potential political implications. All of which has not stopped him from leveraging his football-based popularity to gain election to the Piraeus city council, where his newly formed party including the new mayor opposed the privatisation of the port – unsuccessfully as it turned out.

Despite being on the same side of that particular battle, a senior SYRIZA candidate and opponent of privatisation (now a senior member of the cabinet closely connected to the privatisation agenda) commented at the time with a straight face that, “This is a new kind of fruit in our politics and it’s a very dangerous one.” The battle lines between Marinakis and SYRIZA remain drawn, as do the ones between Marinakis and Yiannis Alafouzos, owner of Skai TV and traditional football rival Panathinaikos FC (are we spotting a pattern here?), who at one time was his business partner – on any given day, Skai TV can be trusted to run a regular bulletin on Marinakis’s court room battles and alleged criminal entanglements.

All in all, the state stood to make €246 million from the licenses; but the euphoria in government circles was short-lived. After banking the first instalment, the Council of State, Greece’s top administrative court, declared the auction unconstitutional. This prompted the then government spokesperson to accuse the court of depriving 15,000 children of primary school places and the health system of 4,000 sorely needed new staff. Neither claim stood up to serious scrutiny, but the message was crystal clear – the courts were taking public funds away from the young and the infirm and using them to pad the bank accounts of a bunch of rich guys.

The rhetorical kids and hospital patients were not the only casualties of the aborted auction. For snatching defeat out of the jaws of a much-vaunted PR victory, Minister of State Nikos Pappas who had fronted the whole initiative was demoted to the custom-made Ministry of Digital Policy, where he is subjected to jokes about “the Greek NASA” for celebrating the launch of a commercial satellite, while he plots his return to the frontline.

Government spokesperson Olga Gerovasili, to whom the previous statement belongs, was banished to the Ministry of Administrative Reconstruction where she is charged with the unenviable task of forcing unpopular reforms in the teeth of recalcitrant civil servants.

There were further attempts to shatter the “triangle.” A special parliamentary committee launched to investigate bad bank loans to media companies and political parties gave plenty of occasion for show-boating over its nine months of hearings. The outcome, however, was so equivocal as to allow both government and opposition to claim victory, yielding not a hint of impropriety on the part of politicians, and no incriminating evidence on bankers or media magnates. A small step towards transparency was taken when a SYRIZA lawmaker got a law passed requiring banks to file quarterly reports on their advertising and sponsorship budget.

So far, so disappointing on the TV front. At a recent meeting of the SYRIZA central committee, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos is reported to have said that “given the outcome, it would have been better if the whole story hadn’t been started.”

Greek television remains as bad as ever, if not worse. The whole nation soon began to receive a nightly injection of opioids through the eyeballs in the form of a new series of “Survivor,” which buried most public discourse under a tidal wave of celebrity six-packs and self-absorbption.

Meanwhile, having acquired a taste for the media business, the also-rans of the license auction have been trying other routes. The dead tree press was an obvious play for anyone concerned with profile but unconcerned with financial viability – and the pickings here have been rich. So what if sales have halved since the start of the crisis and newspapers are trusted less than any news source, in a country already low in newspaper readership? Everyone scans the font pages as they are strung outside the kiosks like dirty laundry hung out to dry, even if they don’t fork out for a copy. For the proprietor, owning a masthead still confers a veneer of old-fashioned respectability. And, unlike TV stations which broadcast on a regulated public frequency, no government agency or regulator has a say (even theoretically) in who gets to print a paper.

Within months, Kalogritsas launched Documento, a new pro-government weekly, while continuing to bid successfully for government contracts – despite a terrible record of delivery and a long series of complaints from unpaid employees.

But there was bigger game to be had out there. Like exhausted wildebeest around a dry watering hole, two of the country’s biggest news organisations, the Lambrakis Group and Pegasus, owners of prestigious titles including Ta Nea, To Vima and Ethnos, have been slowly collapsing under the weight of bad loans, political pressure and inter-oligarchical strife. Within the last few weeks, the distressed carcass of the former has been acquired at auction by Marinakis, and the latter by Savvidis. Through those same routes, both have acquired stakes in Mega TV, and Savvidis has also bought Epsilon TV, giving prominent public platforms to two highly partisan interests.

On their relaunch Ta Nea and To Vima, historically venerable bastions of the centre-left, carried a message from the new proprietor, in which Marinakis pledged to uphold the values of “Democracy, Freedom and Social Justice” (sic) that made the Lambrakis titles great, and to meet the readers’ demand for “authoritative, independent information with historical weight, opinion and proposition.”

A couple of days later, Ta Nea went to press with an eye-catching front page, featuring the unmistakable silhouette of Uncle Joe with his trademark moustache under the headline “Stalinism in Power.” There is, of course, a back story, but in terms of nailing the new owner’s colours to the mast there couldn’t be a clearer signal of the editorial line.

Ta Nea returns with “timely” coverage of the Prague Spring.

No doubt Ethnos, when it returns to the kiosks, will respond in kind.

[to be continued, no doubt]

IMAGES: AP via telegraph.co.uk; Ta Nea.


Oh, what a lovely media war!