It was November 8, 2011, in the wake of the disastrous G20 summit in Cannes and then Greek prime minister George Papandreou’s incomprehensible decision to request a confidence vote in Parliament before stepping down. Media speculation was rife about who would succeed Papandreou, with Apostolos Kaklamanis and Filippos Petsalnikos listed as likely candidates. Prompted by the news, Giorgos Prokopakis posted a message on Facebook that same evening: “Meet in one hour at Syntagma to protest this absurdity.”
His reaction was the preamble to the pro-European Union Menoume Evropi (We Are Staying in Europe) movement. Twelve people showed up in front of the Greek Parliament that day, including Prokopakis.
“A few months later, I made another effort,” the former Columbia professor who served as CEO of NERIT, the short-lived successor to public broadcaster ERT, told Kathimerini.
In early 2012, the New Democracy-led coalition government of the time came close to wrecking negotiations with the country’s foreign lenders over a difference of 322 million euros.
“Let’s all go to Maximos Mansion to demand that they finally reach an agreement,” Prokopakis wrote on his Facebook page. “It was funny, it was a group of about 40 people, and the police – who were surprised to see ordinary people holding euros in their hands in a symbolic gesture rather than the usual shouting – began to direct us toward Vassilissis Sofias Avenue and Zappeion Hall.”
Prokopakis and another four or five citizens who took to the streets to actively defend the country’s right to remain in the EU opened the path for a silent majority. The Greek left tried to discredit them by labeling them “bourgeois,” which in a way served as a taunt toward the (silent) majority of Greeks who – regardless of what they would later vote for in the bailout referendum – deemed that the country’s place in Europe was non-negotiable.
It is interesting to know the details behind the first Menoume Evropi rally, which marked a shift in the human geography of Greek protests. People who were until then strangers to street protest action started attending rallies at Syntagma.
“It was June 2015, and the country was in deadlock following the antics of [former finance minister Yanis] Varoufakis,” Prokopakis said. This time, the call for a Menoume Evropi demo attracted hundreds of positive comments. The early organizers, Fotis Sarantopoulos, a chemist, Alexandros Fragopoulos, a pensioner, Ypsilantis Tzouros, a business consultant, Elli Boga, a nurse, and Aggelos Barbalios, a civil engineer, had never met before.
“The whole thing cost 100 euros. That’s how much we paid for the whistles we handed out,” said Prokopakis, who came up with the Menoume Evropi slogan.
Few people will recall that the first and second Menoume Evropi rallies were organized before the bailout referendum was even called by the leftist-led government in July 2015. A third, which the country’s pro-Europe parties rather petulantly tried to prevent in light of the subsequent “Yes” rally, attracted more than 50,000 people during heavy downpours.
Asked what the secret is to organizing a successful rally, Prokopakis said: “It’s not just your demand that matters; it’s also a matter of timing. There must be some development that really matters to people.”
Are we likely to see a Menoume Evropi rally anytime soon?
“I hope not, but I’m afraid that conditions may warrant one,” he said.