Letter from Athens: Crisisgate – Samaras and Venizelos, Hypothetically, on Tape

They are ideological opposites, but Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who runs the New Democracy Capitalist party, and Evangelos Venizelos, the head of the PASOK Anti-Socialists who serves as his Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, speak the same language: real politiki.

Samaras, who opposed austerity measures when he was out of power, accepted them to get into a brief coalition, then embraced them when he became Premier in 2012, has since then been both for and against them.

That’s the kind of language that Venizelos aka The Big Opportunist, understands. He’d be both for and against war if it suited his purposes because his only interests are his interests.

But facing new social unrest as their coalition said it would follow the orders of international lenders and fire as many as 40,000 public workers, which is a smidgeon of those hired by both their parties for four decades in return for votes, they decided to put their heads together recently.

It was a little difficult for Venizelos as carpenters had to widen the door to fit his in Samaras’ office for a sit-down to talk about growing pressure from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) to impose more austerity if Greece needs more loans, which it will: on both counts.

That presented just a little problem for Samaras, who’d crushed his fellow Greeks, apart from the rich, politicians, tax cheats, and the privileged, with more of the same pay cuts, tax hikes, and slashed pensions that a few years ago he said would destroy the country. He was right but never mind that.

Sensing he’d be have to go back on his word again, Samaras invited Venizelos for the big talk in private, but The National Herald got its hands on a copy of a transcript taken off an infallible Rose Mary Woods tape recording device. It’s a revealing look at the inside tactics of Greek politics, apart from 18 ½ minutes that’s missing, apparently wiped out by the same culprit who misplaced the Lagarde List of Greeks with secret Swiss bank accounts.

SAMARAS: “Hey big guy, how are you doing?”

VENIZELOS: “Don’t call me big guy, smart aleck!”

SAMARAS: Don’t call me smart aleck, big guy.”

(audible laughter)

SAMARAS: “Listen, the Troika is squeezing my (expletive deleted) to make more cuts and we’ve got to find a way to blame someone else or come up with the kind of clever language you use to disguise ineptitude and lying. What you got?”

VENIZELOS: “This isn’t as hard as it seems. First, we need another fall guy. You already wiped out two of my guys, Papaconstantinou on the Lagarde List and Tsochatzopoulos for money laundering, so what you’ve got to do is start setting up Stournaras. (Ed note: Finance Minister who Venizelos doesn’t like because he’s smarter).

SAMARAS: “That’s doable, he’s been busting my (expletive deleted) all the time and I can’t understand half of what he’s talking about. You know how those technocrats are. They don’t understand politics is give and take. Mostly take.”

VENIZELOS: “Then we have to find some way to say ‘We-really-didn’t-want-to do-this-but-our-hands-are-tied. They made us do it.’ That always works. And then when you announce there actually will be more austerity measures, you can pull a Nixon and say, ‘I know nothing about austerity,’ and leak it to the press that it’s all Stournaras’ doing. Then when you dump him it won’t look so bad.”

SAMARAS: “You’re good at duplicity and you watch Game of Thrones. Can you help set this up for me? I’ll give you another title (pause in the tape) … how about Underassistant Promo Man? Or Minister of Ministers to show how important you are?”

VENIZELOS: “I was really hoping for Prime Minister but you beat me to it.” (audible laughter.) What you do is when the stories come out in the paper and you’re asked to comment you just deny everything and say, ‘I was miles away from that discussion,’ and then call one of your buddies in the media and say Stournaras is behind everything. You have newspapermen who might like a story like that, right?”

SAMARAS: Well … (inaudible) would do it. We’ve been paying him for years to push our agenda just like you’ve been paying your guys on newspapers to push your agenda.”

VENIZELOS: “You could make some self-serving statements. You’re even better at that than I am. But you don’t want to get caught because the embarrassment for you would be that you knew what was going on with the Troika and didn’t tell Stournaras to stand up to it.”

SAMARAS: “Okay, I’ll call (inaudible) and drop a dime on Stournaras. But what do I say if I’m asked how come I didn’t know the Troika wanted more austerity when I’m the Prime Minister?”

VENIZELOS: “Say you’re too busy making trips abroad to get investors and you leave the numbers game in his hands. Whatever you do, don’t mention my name unless to praise me.”

(Ed note: Within days, the Greek government said there would have to be 500 million euros more in cuts, from pensioners, who can’t fight back, and tax cheats were not mentioned. Venizelos and Samaras said nothing, while Stournaras was left to twist in the wind.)