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Vera J. Frantzh | 06.07.2017
Panos Dodis | 05.07.2017
Georgia Drakaki | 05.07.2017
Nicolas Androulakis | 05.07.2017
Another nail-biter in parliament
Something old, something new
William Blackstone | 14.05.2014 | 01:50
The last couple of Prime Ministers, Kostas Caramanlis and George Papandreou, when they felt they had reached the halfway mark of their tenure, re-shuffled their governments and made preparations for the inevitable transition to no power. (Their personal finances were never overlooked.) The current Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, does not have the luxury of a reshuffle in his coalition government, but is planning a constitutional revision instead. Without a doubt, he is a man with an agenda.
 
Samaras is a strange hybrid in Greek politics. Coming from a wealthy and influential family, he was groomed for the Premiership from an early age, and developed his own brand of gung-ho nationalism which combined the liberal principles of his great-grandmother Penelope Delta with the right-wing practices of his electoral constituency in Messenia, in the Peloponnese. He served as Foreign Minister in the ill-fated Mitsotakis government of 1990 but was removed in 1992 over his hard-line stance in the issue of FYROMacedonia. He formed his own party, Political Spring, and was instrumental in the 1993 fall of Mitsotakis from power, since one of Mitsotakis’ deputies defected to Samaras’ party.
 
Samaras’ party enjoyed a brief spell of popularity, but soon was marginalized and left out of parliament. Samaras was mired in political limbo. By his own admission, for months he would keep office hours only to go to his office and stare at the wall until it was time to go home. It was during this time that he forged friendships and alliances with several extreme right-wing lessers, such as the lawyer Takis Baltakos (also from the Peloponnese) who became his right-hand man, until recently.
 
Samaras’ return to the New Democracy party and his subsequent election to its leadership in 2009 is a long, improbable and bizzare tale of political infighting, dogged determination and sheer luck. Baltakos became both the Alberto Gonzales and Scooter Libby of Samaras’ George W. Bush. He was the legal masternind behind Samaras’ every move, serving nominally as the cabinet’s secretary, until he fell from grace in a most public and spectacular fashion last month.
 
Baltakos was friendly with the members of the fascist Golden Dawn party, and for good reason: little separated them ideologically. He would often go to their offices to talk politics, but unbeknownst to him the fascists would tape their conversations with a concealed camera. When Samaras cracked down on the Golden Dawn party, labeling it (quite correctly but with minimal evidence) a criminal organization, the alleged criminals fought back: they posted edited videos of Baltakos being extremely friendly and disparaging everyone else on YouTube. Baltakos resigned (or so the government claims) or was removed (as Baltakos claims).
 
Samaras was left to push through with his agenda without his point man. Two very weird bills with very weird language were prepared, one essentially declassifying forest areas and renaming them as pastures according to various nefarious criteria including their “pastureability” (the bill passed) and another which would redefine the seashore and permit commercial buildings to be erected pretty much into the sea (this bill stalled, for now).
 
These were not the first instances of linguistic warfare passing as legalese this year. Earlier on, there was a proposal to extend the shelf life of locally produced fresh milk. It seemed a fairly straightforward proposal, but there is nothing straightforward in Greek politics. Special interest groups (farmers’ unions, super-market chains etc.) immediately started arguing that if this proposal passed the entire economy would certainly collapse, and if it did not pass the economy would most surely collapse. The paranoia spread to the parliament and reached ontological levels, since deputies attempted to define what is fresh, what is milk, and what is the combination thereof.
 
Now Samaras’ agenda has moved past dairy products, generic drugs (another hotly debated issue), pastures and shorelines to the Constitution. Granted, it needs some amendments, since it is an imperfect adaptation of the French Constitution made to measure for Constantine Caramanlis in 1974 and has been heavily modified by Andreas Papandreou (never a good sign, this), but Samaras has outlined his intentions in very broad terms without specifying exactly how the changes would come about, or how they will be worded. There is no cause for alarm, really, since Baltakos may be gone but there is never a shortage of ambitious young lawyers eager to please the Prime Minister. Which is exactly the worst-case scenario.
 
All this has been put on hold for the moment, because we are in the middle of the campaign for municipal elections (May 18) an Euroelections (May 24). Samaras is fighting the rise of the left-wing SYRIZA party under Alexis Tsipras, who is a keen student of Andreas Papandreou and has attracted most of Papandreou’s old party (and voters). Tsipras has claimed that his party will win all upcoming elections and will force premature national elections, in order to forge a "New Hellas". Samaras was indignant, since he had been promising a "New Hellas" for some time now. They both seem to forget that the Modern Greek state which was founded in 1830 was originally called the New Hellenic state, making the New Hellas concept at least 184 years old – or new, as the case is.