Greek Politics: The Worst Show on Earth



circusfreaks1As political freak shows go, you just can’t beat Greece, especially when the Three-Ring Circus known as the Parliament in session, if only to see workers paid thousands of euros a month walking around handing out glasses of water and threatening to strike and shut down debate if they’re not exempted from big pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions being imposed on just about everyone except the rich and politicians.

As Thomas Jefferson said: “Ridicule is the only weapon you can use against unintelligible propositions,” but even that fails when it comes to trying to describe how asinine and pathetic the shootout-in-the-lifeboats is when the 300 Greek lawmakers are in session, which isn’t often, thank Zeus.

What happened when the Parliament decided to pillory an easy target, former finance minister George Papaconstantinou, and vote to investigate only him for his mishandling of a list of 2,062 Greeks with $1.95 billion in secret accounts in the Geneva, Switzerland branch of HSBC Bank is beyond even ridicule, if sadly expected.

It’s a wonder we didn’t see these snakes in seats and suits shed their skins while they were talking and you could almost hear the carnival barker bellowing, “He walks, he talks, he crawls on his belly like a reptile,” when PASOK Anti-Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos was thundering like a one-man herd of elephants to protest (methinks too much) his innocence and deny any wrongdoing for not checking for tax cheats when he had the list as a previous finance minister. That was at a time when he was doubling income and property taxes, taxing the poor, and exempting mansions from tax hikes. As talking pachyderms go though, it was a pretty good show.

It was surpassed though by the spectacle of Boy Politician Alexis Tsipras, leader of the major opposition party Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) and his mock outrage that Venizelos – who should have been investigated because he had the bank list in his hands – go before a parliamentary committee and ‘splain himself.

Tsipras, apparently still recovering from a failed charisma transplant, tried to convince everyone his interest was justice when it was really just trying to bring down Venizelos. The PASOK leader, who could slide off sandpaper, deserves a fall, but not pushed by a political pygmy like Tsipras – whose Che Guevara undershirt was almost visible when he was trying to be clever with quips. Watching him and Venizelos go at it proved that it’s hard to joust on high horses.

They should have called this 16-hour debate about nothing The Fall Guy because the fix was in before it even began. With so much fury still being directed against the coalition government led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the head of the New Democracy Uber-Capitalist Banker party, for imposing more pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions, and rage against tax cheats, somebody had to be a patsy and be sacrificed and it was the easy target.

Papaconstantinou fit the bill if only because he’s so disliked for being almost as arrogant as Venizelos, who immediately ejected his buddy from PASOK, but not until Papaconstantinou was smeared in blood and the wolves were baying for meat.

DON’T BOOK ‘EM, DAN-O

So eager was Samaras to get this sordid affair behind him, and to protect Venizelos, who in other times would be his enemy, that they made Papaconstantinou the escapegoat. Even a member of CSI Athens: Clueless could figure out that if you’re going to protect your relatives and erase their names from the bank list that you make sure you take out a bunch of others too. And once investigators determined that Papaconstantinou’s relatives had declared their income and paid their taxes, the jig was up for the frame against Papaconstantinou.

There were sideshows aplenty. Former prime minister George Papandreou, who appointed both Papaconstantinou and Venizelos, escaped being investigated too and shamelessly sat in a front row seat a few feet from a ballot box with his name on it until he just kind of vanished like the Invisible Man, one of the biggest attractions under the Big Top of the Greek Parliament.

American white-collar criminals could try using the Venizelos Defense when the FBI comes knocking and just proclaim their innocence and hope the G-Men will say, “Okay thanks a lot, now we don’t have to investigate even though you had possibly incriminating evidence in your possession and never admitted it until someone else outed you.” That might play in Athens, where politicians protect themselves at all costs, even if it means throwing one of their own kind overboard.

This affair was almost as long as the opening to a Theo Angelopoulos movie, God rest his soul, and as predictable as a bad formulaic movie or one of those French films if can stay awake long enough to watch them. Papaconstantinou was The Dead Man from the get-go, just like in the Jim Jarmusch movie that made you want to shoot the director or flog yourself as punishment for watching it.

Venizelos said the predictable whitewash to protect him was “a watershed,” and “not just because SYRIZA’s scheming was exposed … but mainly because public life has been relieved of the noose that they have tried to put on it at the expense of the truth, stability and the country’s prospects.” Spoken like a man who has nothing to hide, and since he’s not going to be investigated, who can prove otherwise?

He said Tsipras wanted to bring down the government, which was correct, but that didn’t excuse Greek lawmakers for not having the testicular fortitude to investigate a man who had a critical piece of evidence in his hands and didn’t turn it over until he was exposed for hiding it for more than a year.

If nothing else, Venizelos was derelict in his duty to probe the list for tax cheats. His lame excuse that the names came from stolen data fell apart when Christine Lagarde, the former French finance minister and now head of the International Monetary Fund, one of Greece’s international lenders and the person who gave the original to Papaconstantinou in 2010, said other countries had used a larger list to chase tax cheats. But how would Venizelos know that because he’s only a Constitutional Law professor.

Papaconstantinou has nothing to fear however because the Parliament will some time down the road find there’s no evidence that he removed the names of his relatives and declare it’s a mystery that belongs in Eleufsina.

The story will end like the version of Medea proffered in the movie Never on Sunday, by Melina Mercouri’s character, a prostitute, one of the requirements for being a politician. At the end, she pronounced with all the self-deceit she could muster that Medea didn’t kill her children but they all went to to seashore and nobody got hurt. Now that’s a good show, and more believable.