CW: mentions of child sexual abuse.
Two parallel stories are escalating in the Greek news these days.
Both are of historical significance, but with very different volume of coverage.
They are stories of two very different men, who share no resemblance but their first name.
The men are Dimitris Lignadis and Dimitris Koufontinas,
and their trajectories, already connected by means of sheer timing, could end up affecting each other, in the vilest manner.
The former was until two weeks ago the Director of the National Theatre and is as of three days ago (20/2/21) arrested under multiple accusations of rape, paedophilia and child rape.
This is the story that is dominating the news cycle.
The latter is a former leading member, prime executioner and main political defender of the urban guerilla group 17th November. He is on hunger strike since the 8th of January, and thirst strike as of yesterday.
This story is being covered sporadically. For now…
On one hand, both are somehow connected to PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his family.
And on the other hand, they are conntected with the corrupted function of the Greek justice system.
But first, some background context for the international audience.
Sea, islands, and hereditary rule
There is a particularity about Greek mainstream politics -and Greek capitalism too, for that matter. Greece has a strong tradition of political dynasties. We often refer to those as “tzakia”, which means fireplaces, implying a rich, powerful family. Since the liberation from Nazi occupation on October 12, 1944, there have been three most notable such political “clans”, whose members keep coming up in the lists of Prime Ministers, ministers, MP’s and Athens Mayors. They are the Papandreou family, the Karamanlis family and the Mitsotakis family. The most recently established “fireplace” of those three, is the latter, the one of the Current Prime Minister. Since the ’90s, the Cretan Dynasty of Mitsotakis has had two PM’s, two Mayors of Athens, and several Minister and MP positions between four people of three generations. And these are just the political positions. Try to imagine for a second, the kind of arrogance that stems from such an obscene amount of consolidated privilege. Currently, Kyriakos Mitsotakis is the PM and his nephew Kostas Mpakogiannis is the Mayor of Athens, both elected with the right-wing party of Nea Dimokratia (New Democracy).
As aforementioned, Greek capitalism is considered somewhat particular as well. It has long been labelled (from Greek people themselves mostly, but not only), as the most “state-funded” in the Western World. Amusingly, the Greek word “kratikodietos” would literally translate as “on a State diet”. This relates, among other things, to the age-old tradition, going all the way back to the days of the Ottoman Empire, of the political class forming codependent relations of corruption with rich and powerful families, businesses and interest groups.
Obviously, none of this is unique to Greece, in fact, it’s the very nature of our global system, but perhaps in Greece, it is done in such a crudely brazen and unapologetically blatant manner, that it can seem somewhat “unfamiliar” to the eye of the Western audience. What is rather distinct to Greece though, is that the most powerful section of the capital is shipping capital. Many Greek ship-owners are included in lists of the richest people in the world. While many of them are mostly citizens of the global elite, not bothering too much with their small country of origin, certain shipping families wield enormous power over Greek society, economy and politics.
Now let’s identify some of the other key players in our main story.
Vangelis Marinakis: Born and bred in Pireas, Greece’s largest international port, he inherited a vast fortune from his father, a Cretan ship-owner and politician. Apart from founder and owner of Capital Maritime & Trading Corp., he’s also the owner and (technically former) president of Olympiakos F.C. and owner of Alter Ego Media, a vast media conglomerate. He has been accused in major corruption and criminal cases, in regards to fixing games in the Greek football championship, but most notoriously in the shady case of Noor1, a ship carrying 2,1 tons of heroin. A remarkably dubious case, where an unprecedented 9 witnesses have died, 3 judicial investigators have refused to take on the case and another 3 have quitted. Most notably Kaliopi Mantaka, who was considered to have made the furthest progress in the case, suddenly quit her job entirely, and moved with her whole family to the USA! Finally, Vangelis Marinakis, who has infamously been paying rent and equipment costs for Nea Dimokratia offices, is also the best man (in her wedding) of Ntora Mpakogianni, a Nea Dimokratia MP, sister of the PM and mother of the Mayor of Athens, and is widely considered one of the most ardent supporters and sponsors of the current government and ruling party.
Giannis Alafouzos: Born in the island of Santorini into a shipping family, he also inherited a vast fortune from his ship-owning father. He took over the family business Glafki (Hellas) Maritime Company and founded Ermis Maritime Corporation. He is administering Panathinaikos FC as its major shareholder, and president of SKAI media group and the newspaper Kathimerini. You might have noticed a tiny bit of a pattern so far. He has been prosecuted for petrol smuggling in 1992, and eventually acquitted. He was convicted in 2001 to 5 years imprisonment for debts, and later won the appeal. In 2016, the district attorney for Financial Crimes ordered the freezing of all of his assets of over 50 million Euro tax-dodging affair. Alafouzos later paid, and regained control of his assets. SKAI TV could be described as the FOX news of Greece, while Kathimerini tries to maintain a more serious bourgeois profile. Both, however, fervently support right-wing (and occasionally far right) politics, with hardly any pretence of objectivity.
Vardis Vardinogiannis and Family: The Vardinogiannis family is one of the most powerful in the country. Their business groups and conglomerates form a colossal network of power and wealth that includes shipping, petrol (refining and distribution), real estate & hotels, banking, media and others. Vardis, who is acknowledged as the leader of the clan, and the director of the big bulk of the family businesses, was targeted in 1990 by 17th November group, who fired 3 RPG rockets at his car. At least one hit the target, but the tycoon survived due to the car’s remarkably robust armour. The Cretan family has had a tradition of centrist politics, and specifically amical relations with the Papandreou political clan. Since 2007, however, Vardis’s niece, Olga Kefalogianni, has been a Nea Dimokratia MP, and the Minister of Tourism (2012-2015). She is the daughter of Eleni Vardinogianni, Vardis’s sister, and Giannis Kegfalogiannis, a prominent Nea Dimokratia politician. Also, another niece of Vardis, Chrysi Vardinogianni is married to actor Konstantinos Markoulakis, one of the closest friends and associates of the child rapist Dimitris Lignadis.
Two worlds collide, a war of old and new media, and a timeline of disgrace
Nea Dimokratia waged an ultimately successful election campaign with a hardline “Law and Order” rhetoric (among other things, such as lower taxes). It especially targeted the anarchists as a paradigmatic, collective personification of lawlessness, promising to eradicate them as a movement. After electoral victory, they set out to gradually bring unprecedented neoliberal and authoritarian legislation that was aiming to reshape the country in a long-lasting way. They started implementing the heavily advertised “law and order” agenda by waging war against the anarchists, evicting squats –starting with the ones that hosted refugees- and various other means of repression. When the Covid19 pandemic reached Greece and the lockdowns started, the party found a golden opportunity to accelerate their plans by bringing legislation that would have been unthinkable for previous governments, and in any case, would guarantee massive turmoil on the streets.
Most notably, the recently voted through the Parliament, and likely to never be implemented education reform, that includes introducing police forces and surveillance networks inside universities, penalizing all kinds of sociopolitical activities for students, and drastically cutting down the admissions; to create clientele for the private universities, that they are attempting to equate with the public ones in the same legislation.
An important note of context about this government is that it controls a staggering percentage of the mainstream media. It is commonly estimated that 80% of media are, not just on their side, but blindly praising them, to the point of ridicule. To mention one infamous (and rather amusing) example, Mitsotakis has been likened to Moses, who will lead the nation out of the desert of the current crisis. This has been achieved, not only by the eagerness of the business interests that control the media to support deregulation but also through literal bribes, given in broad daylight. The government has repeatedly issued special grants of public money, to a spectrum of their favourite news outlets, for “raising Covid19 awareness”.
This overwhelming rigging of public discourse in the traditional channels has shifted more power towards the new media of the internet, and especially social networking platforms. This is where anger and disdain have been brewing. Given that the Greek language has been hardly any priority for the central administrations of the tech giants that control platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and the old school, low tech repression capacities of the Greek State, the suppression of speech hasn’t caught up with what is going on in the English speaking world. In fact, if anything, this could be right now, the pivotal point of transition towards more comprehensive internet censorship. The timeline below will –among all else- manifest why.
August 7, 2020
One month after the election, the new Minister of Culture, Lina Mendoni, changes the laws about the positions of art directors, thus allowing for direct appointments without tender notice. Six days later she appointed Dimitris Lignadis as the new Art Director of the Greek National Theatre, the highest position in the industry. Dimitris Lignadis is considered to have a personal relationship with the PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis. According to prominent journalists, he has given him private tutoring in elocution.
January 8, 2021
After many years of vindictive treatment by the justice system, and the legislations blatantly passed with the sole purpose to deny him his prisoner rights, Dimitris Koufontinas starts a hunger strike. His demand is merely to stop the bold violation of the law (4760/2020, article 3) so that he can return to his original cell in Korydalos prison in Athens.
As a prime executioner of the Revolutionary Organization 17th November, Koufontinas was the person who executed Mitsotakis’s brother in law and the husband of the aforementioned Ntora Mpakogianni: Pavlos Mpakogiannis. More and more references in social media, begin to criticize the Mitsotakis clan for brazenly weaponizing the justice system, and handling Koufontinas in the manner of the Cretan Vendetta tradition.
January 20, 2021
Olympic Medalist and sailing champion Sofia Mpekatorou testifies to the District Attorney over her accusation of the 1998 sexual assault against a powerful sports manager. It was the official launch of the Greek #MeToo movement. The wave quickly starts sweeping the world of Greek theatre, with multiple accusations of sexual abuse surfacing.
February 2, 2021
As rumors about Dimitris Lignadis start circulating widely on social media, journalist Elena Akrita makes a post saying he is about to resign. The Ministry of Culture issues a scathing response, dismissing the claim and fully defending the director. During the next days, and while social outcry was raging, Lignadis took legal measures to prevent his name from being mentioned in public discourse in relation to such allegations. He is from then on referred to in the media as “the famous actor and director”. This is the first and only time this happened for anybody since the Greek #MeToo started.
February 6, 2021
The 20/20 Mag news website publishes an interview with Nikos S., where he describes his traumatic experience of being raped by “the famous actor and director” when he was 19 years old. The crime cannot be prosecuted, due to the statute of limitations (15 years). Although Nikos S didn’t name the director, his narration contains elements that directly identify Lignadis, who resignes the same day.
February 8, 2021
Nikos S. files a lawsuit against the director. On that day, Giorgos Kalaitzidis, a prominent member of the notorious anarchist group Rouvikonas, makes the following post on Facebook: “The paedophile rapist Dimitris Lignadis is using his connections to get people to make phone calls, and threaten people to not move against him legally. This scum should know that more of us have entered this game. (…)” The post goes semi-viral.
February 10, 2021
Tens of thousands of people all over Greece come out to protest, amid the pandemic, against the education reform. The crowds are unexpectedly large, and it is regarded as a response to the government’s effort to take advantage of the lockdown. Many of those demonstrations are attacked by the police with multiple arrests, and the overall tension is growing.
February 11, 2021
The anarchist group Masovka makes an activist intervention at the political bureau of the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, where they throw leaflets and graffiti the walls in solidarity with Dimitris Koufontinas –among others. The next day, two of the group’s members are arrested/abducted right outside their homes. Soon after, in an egregious series of creative legal “innovations”, the whole group is facing prosecution as a “criminal organization”.
February 12-13, 2021
In an evidently coordinated manner, all the media outlets of the three aforementioned tycoons (see above) launch a shocking campaign of misinformation and propaganda in defence of Dimitris Lignadis, casting doubts or entirely dismissing the accusations. STAR TV, owned by the Vardinogiannis family, takes it the furthest. During the evening news on 12/02, they proclaim they will uncover “the whole truth” about the case, and broadcast a report titled “Famous director in the eye of the storm, over… nothing”. The still image of this title promptly goes viral, and triggers one of the biggest backlashes ever in Greek social media and the wider internet. So strong is the pushback, that STAR TV was forced to issue a public apology the next day. It appears the mainstream media have thoroughly lost this battle.
February 15, 2021
While more and more news surface about multiple further testimonies against the “famous actor and director”, and the internet is roaring with outrage, the spokesperson for the government gives a press conference. He makes some statements about the resignation of the “art director” -without mentioning his name- and goes on to explain that it was “for personal reasons”, while being so visibly awkward about it, that makes it, admittedly, hilarious to watch.
February 16 , 2021
The actor Christos Perros gives a TV interview, accusing the “famous actor and director” of sexual harassment when Perros was 14 years old. The crime, again, cannot be prosecuted due to the statute of limitations. An anarchist demo in solidarity with Dimitris Koufontinas manages to take the streets and march through the city of Thessaloniki. Every similar attempt in Athens has been met with an overwhelming police force and brutality. Generally, throughout the whole month of February, there are activist actions and demos in several cities in Greece in solidarity with the hunger striker, which are heavily repressed more often than not.
February 17 , 2021
A 40-year-old man called Vasilis gives another interview on television, describing how “the famous actor and director” sexually abused him when he was 15 years old. He had filed a lawsuit against him on February 5, but the crime cannot be prosecuted due to the statute of limitations.
February 18 , 2021
A crowd of anarchists stages an intervention at the Ministry of Health in Athens, with banner drop and leaflets, in solidarity with Dimitris Koufontinas. 65 people are swiftly arrested and taken to the central police headquarters. They are later attacked by riot police inside the courts, after being released. That evening, the anarchist Giorgos Kalaitzidis of Rouvikonas posts on Facebook: “Christos Perros received a call after the [interview] broadcast where he accused Lignadis, and was told ‘You will die’. The Vice Minister of contemporary culture N.Giatromanolakis, instead of calling the lawyers of the victims, is calling the Actors Union every day, asking for information (to inform who?) Same with the District Attorney. Nikos S. (who also accused Lignadis) was stopped and searched by police outside his house. The gangsters are striking back. You will get steamrolled.” That post gets more than 500 shares.
February 19, 2021
More rallies in multiple cities in solidarity with Dimitris Koufontinas take place. The one in Athens is once again brutally attacked by the police. A third lawsuit is filed against Dimitris Lignadis for raping a 14-year-old boy. This time it’s within the statute of limitations. The Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni gives a press conference, where she says that she spoke with Lignadis and asked him persistently if the “rumours” were true, but he vehemently denied it. Then she goes on to say that he deceived her with his “profound acting”…True story!!
February 20 , 2021
A surprise anarchist demo in solidarity with Dimitris Koufontinas reaches the headquarters of Nea Dimokratia party. The police attack the anarchists at the train station on their way back and arrest about 100 people. Dimitris Lignadis is finally arrested. The internet is flooding with commentary pointing out that he had two whole weeks since he was publicly accused of child rape -and resigned over it-, to destroy all possible evidence from hard drives, sim cards etc, that would further incriminate him, or even more so, possibly incriminate other prominent members of the country’s elite.
Today, the Nea Dimokratia government is on the ropes. Things were already going south for them before all this blew up. The handling of the pandemic has long escaped the appearance of control that they managed to project last spring. There is growing discontent on various layers of society for several different reasons. And now, they are taking more damage day by day from this scandal.
At the same time, there is growing concern that elements within the government may be considering a favourable to them scenario, in which Koufontinas death could provide the ideal exit strategy for them. Possibly the same elements who might advocate that such an eventuality will consolidate their far-right audience: the precious votes of the Golden Dawn. Hopefully, the more reasonable side will prevail. The one that understands that the consequences will be tremendous and long term.
The conclusion/synopsis of this complicated and nefarious story is that Greece is a kind of “The Banana Republic” within the EU that is ruled by Feudal Gangsters, and the shade of the Acropolis cannot hide that. That the Greek state is degrading its own justice system in order to vindictively exterminate an already imprisoned guerilla fighter, in the same breath that it is degrading its own justice system in order to protect a child rapist. That if Dimitris Koufontinas becomes the first hunger striker to die in Europe since the IRA militants in 1981, it will be partially in order to create a distraction from an Epstein-level scandal that has “touched” the Prime Minister himself.
And finally, most importantly, if the worst happens, you should prepare to voice your anger about all this towards your local Greek Embassy, Consulate, or any other target of Greek interests. There is a day of solidarity called for tomorrow, February 24.
P.S. “I am not ashamed, I do not repent, I am proud to have taken part in this great struggle for the freedom of humankind.”
Dimitris Koufontinas (towards the court, 15/1/2007)
Featured image (of a 17th November grafitti) via Dimitris Koufontinas blog.