The man who wasn’t there

Cartoon by Ilias Makris

Cartoon by Ilias Makris

Since he began his political career at the unusually young age of 28, Panos Kammenos has made a name for himself by being involved in high-decibel attacks on opposition politicians. For years, he was one of New Democracy’s attack dogs, poised to bite the necks of any passing detractor. Now a party leader, Kammenos finds himself struggling for political survival as his propensity for blood and bluster proves his very undoing.

His failure on Monday to respond to complaints from Independent Greeks MPs about his leadership prompted the kind of furious ranting that Kammenos, usually with the aid of a sheen of sweat, has made his trademark. “He is a coward,” barked Yiannis Manolis, another politician who has shunned the sotto voce school of oratory.

Manolis, not a deputy but responsible for the party’s dealings with unions, leveled a grave accusation against Kammenos, accusing the Independent Greeks leader of lying when he claimed he did not submit a document setting out the preconditions for his party to join a coalition government to President Karolos Papoulias following May elections.

Leaked details at the time suggested that Kammenos was demanding the post of defense minister for himself and the option to pick several members of the board of the public company that would manage Greece’s hydrocarbons. Kammenos claimed that he had been set up, either by associates or by the president’s office. The latter was an unprecedented accusation, even by the questionable standards of Greek politics. Kammenos’s assertion that he would take the matter to court never materialized.

In fact, not a lot materialized with the Independent Greeks. Founded in February, the nationalist party capitalized on the growing anti-austerity and euroskeptic mood. Kammenos also tapped into the antagonistic feeling toward Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel by sprinkling his speeches with ample references to the Second World War, occupiers and traitors. In fact, he launched his movement in Distomo, the village where more than 200 Greeks were killed by Nazi troops in 1944 – as if its residents hadn’t suffered enough already.

However, the Independent Greeks, made up mostly of politicians who quit New Democracy because they refused to approve Greece’s bailouts, harnessed the public’s discontent and with the use of social media managed to create the impression that the party carried weight and wasn’t just a beach ball to be knocked about for fun over the summer months.

The party’s showing in the May elections, when it gathered 10.6 percent of the vote, was remarkable given the short time it had been in existence. But Kammenos appeared like a little boy lost at the negotiations to form a coalition government, which were chaired by Papoulias. The minutes from those meetings show the right-wing politician with nothing to offer. The fiasco over his so-called “non paper” to Papoulias emphasized how out of his depth Kammenos was.

Support for the Independent Greeks dropped to 7.5 percent in the June elections and the party has since been unraveling faster than a ball of yarn rolling down a hill. As the government prepared a bill to end nepotism in Parliament, Kammenos – who had claimed he would fight the establishment – was forced to defend his decision to make his cousin a parliamentary employee.

The party’s mix of wishful thinking, which saw Greece solving all its problems thanks to untold mineral wealth, and conspiracy theories, focussed on an international conspiracy to destabilize the country, proved woefully inadequate for the political and economic agenda that emerged after the elections.

As Parliament prepared in October to vote on the latest austerity package, Kammenos called on SYRIZA to join forces with the Independent Greeks and have both parties’ MPs resign in order to trigger new elections. Constitutional experts quickly pointed out that there was no legal basis for Kammenos’s strategy. His constitutional faux pas is one of the criticisms the MPs, who say they were not consulted, leveled at their party leader this week.

Apart from Manolis, Independent Greeks spokesman Christos Zois also quit the party, which looks set to lose more in the coming days. Kammenos, who has been a parliamentarian for the last 19 years, had the temerity to label Manolis and Zois “professional politicians.” But his claims of being an outsider who will bring down the establishment ring hollow now. The only thing in danger of collapsing is his party. His bombast will not be enough to keep it together.

The question, though, is where will its members and supporters go if it dissapears. The drift of this 7.5 percent one way or another could prove decisive in any new elections. New Democracy, SYRIZA and even Golden Dawn are likely to stake a claim to some of this support. It might be Kammenos’s parting gift to Greek politics that he becomes more influential in his absence than he ever was when he was present.

Nick Malkoutzis

9 responses to “The man who wasn’t there

  1. I like this fiery Nick Malkoutzis style of writing. Of course Kammenos lied and as such he is unfit for Greek politics. Case closed. Next one please.

  2. Unfortunately for you Dean, Panos Kammenos is the only politic in Greece that he isn’t lying. He is the only politic that doesn’t change his views. He is steady as rock. All new liberal politics are afraid of him.

    • Why is this unfortunate for me?

      Do you mean to say that he didn’t lie that he explicitly sought to become Minister of Defense, plus exert influence through appointments in the hydrocarbons committee?

  3. Marvelously written!
    If only this was a novel – !

  4. Always a good and enjoyable read, Nick! Your insights and wry commentaries on aspects of Greek political and economic life are greatly appreciated by this Belgrade resident.

  5. Isidoros Diakides

    May be you’re right. May be he’s not up to it and may be he lied. Since his key messages were defending national sovereignty and stopping the fire sale of the country’s oil and minerals wealth, he sought the positions that would enable him to be effective on these subjects. Or may be he is the victim of a dirty trycks conspiracy.
    Whatever the case, he is the Independent Greeks and the demise of the IGs would be bad news at this stage. The main positive of the current crisis is the fundamental change in the political scene with the old political order in tatters. Whether some of his support moves to Syriza or not, his demise will lead to the regrouping of the old order with only Syriza replacing PASOK ie back in business.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s