Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Athens in Pieces: The Art of Memory

by Simon Critchley

New York Times

January 30, 2019

There is an ancient tradition relating to the art of memory, which legend says began with the poet Simonides of Ceos (556-468 B.C.E.). Simonides was giving a recitation in the dining hall of the house of Scopas, a Thessalian nobleman, when he was called outside because two strangers wanted to speak to him.

When the poet exited, the strangers were nowhere to be found, and the dining hall suddenly and violently collapsed. Scopas and his guests were crushed to death and disfigured beyond recognition. But Simonides was able to identify each of the corpses by remembering the precise place where they were sitting or lounging before the calamity.

With this association of memory with place, or “topos,” the idea of mnemotechnics, or the art of memory, came into being. In order to recall something, one has to identify a locus either in the interior palace of one’s memory or by constructing an exterior, physical memory theater. Various attempts to build such memory theaters punctuate antiquity. It is a practice picked up again in the Italian Renaissance and continued into the architecture of Elizabethan theater — like Shakespeare’s Globe — and beyond.


Monday, January 28, 2019

Greece plots return to debt market with new bond issue

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

January 28, 2019

Greece plans to tap the international bond market for the first time since emerging last August from its third bailout programme, it was announced on Monday.

The country revealed plans to issue a five-year syndicated bond following a sharp fall in yields on the country’s debt. The bullish performance has come after the minority Syriza government ratified a deal to change Macedonia’s name, ending a 28-year dispute with its Balkan neighbour.

Yields on the benchmark 10-year bond declined to a four-month low on Monday, trading at 4.07 per cent. The five-year bond was trading at 2.85 per cent, just above a six-month low of 2.83 per cent last week.

“This issue was hanging in the balance last week while the government was scraping up extra votes to push the Macedonia deal through parliament, but the timing now looks good,” said one analyst in Athens.


Friday, January 25, 2019

The Greek parliament votes to end the Macedonian dispute

January 25, 2019

Despite demonstrations and riots, the Greek parliament on January 25th voted to ratify a deal with Macedonia that ends a 27-year-old dispute over its name. “We are one step before a historic event,” said Alexis Tsipras, the embattled Greek prime minister, who has been accused of treachery by the opposition. “Nationalism in the Balkans has led to disasters...I believe the time has come to escape nationalism.” His plea succeeded. The change was approved by 153 of the 300 members of parliament, two more than needed.

The vote means that only technicalities remain before Macedonia formally changes its name to North Macedonia. One step is the formal ratification of a protocol by Greece by which it assents to its northern neighbour joining NATO, though this is not expected to cause any problems. The deal that brought all this about, which was signed in June by the Greek and Macedonian prime ministers, has already seen Greece lift its objection to Macedonia opening negotiations on EU accession. The agreement is a compromise. Macedonia has to change its name to suit Greece but its people will still be known as Macedonians and their language Macedonian, without the addition of the word “North”.


Thursday, January 24, 2019

How Greece’s Alexis Tsipras went from firebrand to statesman

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

January 24, 2018

Alexis Tsipras, Nobel laureate? The idea being touted for Greece’s prime minister by some of his senior officials might seem far-fetched. But Mr Tsipras can certainly expect international acclaim if, as expected, Greek MPs ratify a deal to end one of Europe’s longest bilateral disputes.

In a knife-edge vote, Greece is poised to sign off on Thursday on a plan for its neighbour, officially the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, to change its name to “North Macedonia”. Zoran Zaev, the Macedonian premier, has already won his parliament’s approval for the arrangement, which satisfies Athens by dropping an implied claim on the Greek region of the same name. The deal is strongly backed by the EU and Nato, which want to bring Macedonia into the western orbit.

Even if the Nobel committee does not consider Mr Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart, the 44-year-old Greek prime minister is barely recognisable as the leftwing firebrand who threatened to denounce Greece’s eurozone bailout, ban German politicians from visiting Athens and pull the country out of the euro if its creditors rejected his demands for debt forgiveness.


Monday, January 21, 2019

Greece seeks to ratify Macedonia deal despite protests

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

January 21, 2019

Greece’s minority government kicks off its bid to ratify a historic accord with its neighbour, the Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia, on Monday as the two states seek to put one of the Balkans’ longstanding disputes to rest.

Ratification for the deal to rename the country “North Macedonia” would pave the way for Skopje’s accession to the EU and Nato.

Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s prime minister, faces deep opposition over a compromise that many of his compatriots think endangers the territorial and cultural integrity of their own country. But he is expected to scrape together a slim majority on Friday at the end of a mammoth five-day parliamentary debate.

The government, which controls only 146 seats in the 300-member parliament, now appears to have the support of at least six lawmakers from several small parties, including two rebels from Mr Tsipras’s former coalition partner, the rightwing Independent Greeks party, which opposes the agreement with Skopje.


Sunday, January 20, 2019

Macedonian solution is a positive step for Europe

Financial Times
January 20, 2019

A deal to settle a 27-year-old dispute between Greece and Macedonia that comes to the Greek parliament for ratification this week provides a rare achievement to celebrate in the Western Balkans. Macedonia has been stuck in an economic and geopolitical no man’s land since it was carved out of a collapsing Yugoslavia in 1991. Many Greeks suspected a new nation calling itself Macedonia harboured territorial ambitions over parts of the northern Greek region of the same name. Spurred by frequent public protests, Greek politicians have long thwarted Skopje’s ambitions to join Nato and the EU for refusing to drop the name, leaving Macedonia’s 2m people with little prospect of economic improvement and no guarantee of its security.

Macedonia’s nationalist leader for a decade from 2006, Nikola Gruevski, tried to put pressure on Athens by manufacturing a spurious ancient Macedonian heritage for his nation, renaming airports and stations and erecting statues of Alexander the Great and Phillip II of Macedon. This crude exercise in nation-building further infuriated Greeks while helping distract Macedonians’ attention from official corruption and mismanagement.


Saturday, January 19, 2019

Tsipras’ ANEL Breakup Gambit Didn’t Impress Disbelievers

by Andy Dabilis

National Herald

January 19, 2019

Like many Greeks worn down by more than 8 ½ years of an economic and austerity crisis that has decimated so many lives, Efrossini, a 56-year-old private class English teacher, was less than interested in the breakup of the country’s coalition and what elections this year might bring.

“It doesn’t matter to me anymore because whatever the promises that have come from SYRIZA it has never come true,” she told The National Herald, sounding the kind of apathy that seems to have settled like a shroud over so many who believe their lives won’t get better no matter who wins.

The ruling Radical Left SYRIZA came to power in January, 2015 on the back of anti-austerity promises only to see Prime Minister promptly renege and bring in an ideological enemy, the far-right Independent Greeks (ANEL) to have enough votes to control Parliament.

That blew up when ANEL leader Panos Kammenos stepped down as Defense Minister and took his party out of the government in apparent protest over a deal the anti-nationalist made with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), giving away the name of an ancient Greek province.


Thursday, January 17, 2019

Tsipras Wins Greece Confidence Vote, Prepares for Next Challenge

by Eleni Chrepa and Sotiris Nikas


January 17, 2018

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras saw off the latest challenge to his government, winning the fourth confidence vote of his term in office. Now comes the hard part.

After surviving a confidence motion late Wednesday with 151 votes in Greece’s 300-seat chamber, the 44-year-old premier needs to figure out how to ratify a landmark accord with the neighboring Republic of Macedonia, after his coalition partner pulled out of the government in protest over the deal.

While the vote allows Tsipras to extend his stay in power until September, when his term ends, he may find it difficult to legislate with a minority government. He will again need support from 151 lawmakers to approve the so-called Prespes agreement, which ends a decade-long dispute by allowing Greece’s northern neighbor to call itself Republic of North Macedonia.

“This is a Pyrrhic victory for the government,” said Aristides Hatzis, a professor of law and economics at the University of Athens. “The good thing is that before its fall, the government majority will pass the Prespes agreement. It is an agreement which has been justly criticized, has many weaknesses, however, it is a rather decent and fair compromise which will benefit Greece in the long run.”


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Can Greece’s Prime Minister Survive the Upcoming Confidence Vote?

by Eleni Chrepa


January 15, 2019

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who’s survived multiple elections, a disastrous referendum and previous confidence votes, will put his resilience to the test in a new confidence motion in parliament Wednesday, after his coalition partner withdrew support over a deal with the Republic of Macedonia to resolve a dispute about its name.

1. Will Tsipras survive the confidence vote?

Tsipras needs 151 votes in Greece’s 300-seat chamber to assure his government’s survival. With his Syriza party’s 145 seats, plus four likely votes from rebel members of ex-coalition partner Independent Greeks, one from independent lawmaker Katerina Papakosta and one from Potami lawmaker Spyros Danellis, it looks like Tsipras has the numbers, barely, to keep his administration going.

2. What happens if he loses?

If Tsipras fails to garner enough support, the pressure will be on to call new elections, though a new vote is not triggered automatically in the event of a defeat on a confidence measure. Tsipras maintains that he won’t call a new election before the government passes legislation including protections for homeowners and a higher minimum wage.


Monday, January 14, 2019

Greece faces €200M fine for failing to stop Chinese fraud network

by Simon Marks


January 14, 2019

EU anti-fraud investigators are demanding that Greek customs pay more than €200 million for failing to act against a major Chinese fraud network dumping ultra-cheap clothing and footwear in Europe.

An investigation by the EU’s anti-fraud office, OLAF, focused on the Chinese-owned Piraeus port in Athens — part of Beijing's huge Belt and Road infrastructure project. Customs officials there failed to stop a sophisticated network of cross-border criminals fraudulently avoiding import duties and value-added tax on large amounts of footwear and clothing items such as T-shirts and trousers, investigators told POLITICO.

The findings, conveyed to the European Commission at the end of December, are the latest chapter in a campaign by OLAF to crack down on a criminal network that has avoided paying at least €2.5 billion in customs duties alone in six counties since 2015. Financial losses in VAT payments, which would be due to both national budgets and the EU budget, are of an even greater amount, investigators say.

"OLAF can confirm that it has concluded an investigation concerning the fraudulent import of undervalued textiles and shoes into Greece in the period 1 January 2015 to 31 May 2018," OLAF said in a statement when asked about the investigation.

"Based on its findings, OLAF has issued a Financial Recommendation to Greek Customs to recover the sum of €202.3 million in lost customs duties related to the fraudulently under-declared values for such products."


Sunday, January 13, 2019

Greece's Tsipras on the Brink as Confidence Vote Looms This Week

by Eleni Chrepa & Sotiris Nikas


January 13, 2019

Greece’s government unraveled, prompting Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to call a confidence vote that could trigger an early election and end the leftist leader’s four years in power.

In the euro area’s latest sign of political instability, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos withdrew his party from the governing coalition on Sunday over a name dispute with neighboring Macedonia. Lawmakers in Athens tentatively planned to hold the confidence vote on Wednesday, months before regular elections are due in September.

“An early election is good news for investors,” said Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of London-based consultants Teneo Intelligence. “The country has been in a election campaign mode for weeks, and the sooner the elections take place the better.”

The survival of Tsipras, who led Greece through high-drama moments of Greece’s bailouts and forged an unlikely bond with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, may depend on whether Kammenos’s Independent Greeks lawmakers stay united against him. Tsipras, 44, may also seek support from other parties and independent lawmakers to avoid an early vote.


Greece PM faces confidence vote after coalition partner quits

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

January 13, 2019

Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, faces a confidence vote in parliament next week after the ruling Syriza party’s coalition partner announced it was pulling out of the government.

The move by Independent Greeks (Anel), a small rightwing nationalist party, had been expected since Panos Kammenos, the defence minister and Anel leader, declared his opposition to Greece’s naming deal with neighbouring Macedonia.

Mr Kammenos’s decision to leave the four-year-old coalition came after the Skopje parliament voted on Friday to approve constitutional changes renaming the country North Macedonia and opening the way for it to begin talks this year on joining Nato and the EU. The deal has still to be ratified by the Greek parliament.

“The issue of Macedonia is such that I can’t avoid stepping down from my cabinet post,” Mr Kammenos said after meeting with Mr Tsipras at the premier’s office on Sunday.


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Greece’s Great Hemorrhaging

by Nikos Konstandaras

New York Times

January 10, 2019

Greece’s government, a coalition of a radical left-wing movement and a nationalist right-wing party in power since 2015, celebrated the end of the country’s third bailout agreement last August as a “return to normalcy.” Our European Union partners and creditors, who disbursed 288.7 billion euros in loans over the previous years, also rushed to declare victory in the crisis that began in 2010.

Everyone wants to see an end to the Greek crisis — not least the Greek people, who have been exhausted by the long and deep recession, by the continued austerity and reforms whose benefits they have not seen.

But Greece is a long way from “normalcy.” Much has been done to make the economy viable, but the country needs an explosion of confidence and business activity: Recovery would take major new investments, political stability and further reforms to the public administration. But not only is the public debt greater than it was in 2009; citizens’ incomes have been slashed, their assets devalued, their property lost, their debts multiplied.

National elections must be held by the fall. Polls show the center-right opposition New Democracy party leading Syriza, the ruling coalition’s senior partner, in a contest that is already worsening the polarization of our politics. The government, which was always halfhearted about austerity and reforms, promises handouts; the opposition vows to overturn policies and decisions with which it disagrees.


Thursday, January 3, 2019

The EU and Euro Keep Defying the Doomsayers

by Alan Crawford


January 3, 2019

The Hotel Grande Bretagne is an Athens institution. The opulent 19th century mansion on Syntagma Square has been the backdrop to key episodes in modern European history: The first International Olympic Committee convened here in 1896; Adolf Hitler and Field Marshal Erwin Rommel bunked here after the Nazis seized the hotel in 1941 at the start of the wartime occupation. More recently, it was witness to the most existential threat yet to Europe’s experiment in unification.

The debt crisis that emerged in Greece in late 2009 and rippled through the euro region played out on the hotel’s doorstep. Rioters protesting successive waves of austerity measures—and the international auditors who imposed them—smashed the hotel’s marble steps, hurling fist-size lumps at police guarding the adjacent Greek Parliament. The shock of percussion grenades and the bitter taste of tear gas underscored divisions within the 28-member European Union and the failings of the euro, the signature project intended to bind the bloc more closely together.

Of course, the doomsayers were proved wrong. The single European currency survives to mark its 20th year in 2019, and predictions of the EU’s demise have gone unfulfilled. But lately the pessimists have resurfaced. They point to the U.K.’s imminent departure from the EU, the populist Italian government’s attacks on Brussels, and the spread of nationalism in the bloc’s east as evidence that the European project is again in mortal danger. With Germany’s Angela Merkel in the final years of a chancellorship that began in 2005 and France reeling from popular protests against President Emmanuel Macron, the EU’s center looks more vulnerable than ever to forces tearing at its fabric.