The Upcoming Greek Presidential Election

It’s no fun to check my “Greek crisis” tag yet again for a blog post. I had hoped that the worst was over for the country, yet events to come may demonstrate that these hopes were mere wishful thinking on my part.

The ruling coalition (ND-PASOK) announced a snap presidential election on Monday. On Tuesday, Athens’ stock market plunged 13% (the worst collapse since the 1987 global stock market crash), and the yield on 10-year government bonds jumped to over 8%. The president’s role is largely ceremonial. Nevertheless, he must be elected with 180 votes by the Parliament. If that threshold cannot be reached, then snap elections must be called. In this scenario, it seems that Greece’s ragtag amalgamation of left wing parties, SYRIZA, would come out on top (they lead in polls now). This has spooked investors because Alexis Tsipras, the SYRIZA leader, has promised to throw out the austerity program, implement wide-ranging leftist reforms/policies, and force Greece’s lenders to restructure the country’s debt. Tsipras and SYRIZA make valid points when they critique the austerity program. The policies were misguided from the start and we have IMF critiques and concerns that demonstrate this; targets and projections concerning growth and debt have been wrong time and time again; and it has resulted in the widespread impoverishment of Greek society (ca. 26% unemployment rate; 1/3 of the economy has evaporated – think US Great Depression and you’re on the mark). It is also undeniable – though many continue to deny it – that Greece’s debt will need to be restructured. It’s unsustainable and cannot be repaid. To think otherwise is nothing more than wishful, arrogant thinking. Yet I simply cannot see in Tsipras and SYRIZA the type of political party that Greece needs right now. The entire political culture needs to change, and a bold structural reform program introduced (the latter has not been achieved via the austerity program, no matter what the Eurocrats say). Tsipras came up in the student factions in the universities and he’s simply too steeped in the old political culture. And when you look at the details of the SYRIZA platform (outside of debt restructuring, which every Greek party supports) it’s hard to see how these policies could provide Greece with the new foundations that it needs. Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be a political party on the scene right now which espouses an agenda of true (political) cultural and structural reform. Perhaps something will come of Potami, but it’s too early to tell.

In any case, SYRIZA polls only around 28-30%, so they’d need a governing partner, and it’s not at all clear who that would be. ND and PASOK won’t do so, and neither will KKE (the latter is too pure to associate with the “New Left”). All of this would seem to call into doubt Greece’s political stability at the worst possible time. The country has only recently experienced even a modicum of economic growth (ca. 1%) and there was real hope that next year would bring more.

The first round of the presidential election is December 17 (it’s a 3 round process – 200 votes are needed in the first two rounds and 180 in the third). For more on this story see The EconomistThe Financial Times, and Bloomberg.

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Hamid Khezri on Dotar

The dotar is a two-stringed Iranian instrument, part of the long-necked lute family. Its sound is somewhat similar to that of the Turkish saz, though it’s played in a very different way.

Hamid Khezri “is renowned as a versatile musician equally at home in a wide range of musical styles ranging from the folk music of his North Khorassan home, the Sufi music of the South Khorassan deserts and the troubadour traditions of the mountains of North Khorassan to original compositions and a variety of cross-over projects.”


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Graffiti Art in Athens

Some nice pictures from The Guardian. Some of the descriptions/interpretations offered in the captions are quite vague, or clearly wrong, but nevertheless the pictures here of Athens’ vibrant graffiti art scene are well worth perusing. There’s even one of Loukanikos, Greece’s “Riot Dog.” Now, that was a dog who knew what side to take.


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Taxim Zeibekiko

Markos Vamvakaris, 1935. Here, his son, Stelios, plays the tune. Well worth listening to – this is perhaps the best taxim in the rebetika corpus. The taxim ends at 1:40 and then a traditional melody follows.

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Sherita is a NYC-based band that explores “the acoustic traditions of the Balkans and Near East.” I had the opportunity to see them play at Barbes, in Park Slope, when I lived in NYC. They’re really outstanding – in all respects. And they’ve just released their first 5-track EP. It contains a mix of traditional Sephardic and original music. I recommend it highly.

Listen (and purchase) at Bandcamp.

The band’s website.

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On Vassilis Paleokostas

The BBC has an excellent long form story on Vassilis Paleokostas, Greece’s notorious “Robin Hood” figure. He’s escaped from Korydallos prison twice – by helicopter – and remains at large today, despite the sizable bounty placed on his head.

Take a look here.

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The Amphipolis Tomb

An enormous tomb is currently under excavation at Amfipoli, Greece. It’s been all over the news, so you may have read about it already. But if not, here’s a website that collects information about the ongoing work:

The Amphipolis Tomb

Current thinking dates the complex to the Hellenistic period, just after Alexander (ca. end of the fourth century BC). But much remains unknown and conclusions, at present, are tentative.


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