Farewell, Aristea

We used to call her journalism’s bloodhound. No document remained unearthed, no budget undeciphered. Aristea Bougatsou, who died of cancer on Saturday at the age of 48, worked with the industriousness of an ant on all the big stories of financial and political scandal that have rocked Greece for the past 20 years long before they emerged at the forefront of today’s news: Scandalous procurements, kickbacks on defense contracts, wiretaps, the Siemens scandal and the Lavrentis Lavrentiadis case were but some of the stories she investigated.

Those of us who knew her during her dynamic 14-year presence at Kathimerini, even those of us who clashed or disagreed with her, were in awe of the passion she showed in her quest for the essence of a story, for the right interpretation of the evidence and for the fearless and undaunting way she jumped into the fire. She made friends and enemies along the way.

“Don’t consume yourself so much with the story, Aristea. You’ll burn out,” we’d tell her. She never heeded such advice. “Don’t spend so much time on your mobile. It’s unhealthy.” Nothing could sway her, not even when she overshot her deadline by going over every last detail of the information she had from her sources with a fine-toothed comb, making sure that everything was right. We always backed down, because we knew that ‘Bougatsa,’ as she was fondly nicknamed, had the scoop. She was a stunt woman, the person to call when things got tough; a tough person herself.

No, Aristea Bougatsou was by no means a straightforward person.

It was not easy to resist repeating things parrot fashion as a business reporter during the stock market bubble, but she managed it. Her work for Kathimerini’s financial supplement raised the bar for how we evaluated our own work, as she devoted herself to independent financial reporting, eschewing other subjects. Aristea, the curly-haired girl from the village of Gargalianoi in the Peloponnese and a brilliant graduate of the Athens University of Economics and Business, had no time for the simple and beautiful things in her private life. The scoop stood above all else.

She hid her sensitivities behind words that could be sharp as nails. Tolerant and a champion of the weak, tough with the powers-that-be, critical of the cliques of journalism, over the top in all things human, from anger to joy, she leaves behind a wealth of investigative material and a method that should be part of the curriculum taught to the new generation entering the profession with the same aspirations that she had when, as a young woman, she first walked into the offices of Ependytis newspaper and later of Kathimerini.

Solitary in her suffering as she was in her life, she only allowed a handful of people to hold her hand during the struggle against her illness during the last three years. Steadfast in everything she put her mind to, she died as unconventionally as she had lived.

Farewell, Aristea. I wish you knew how well the words of poet Manolis Anagnostakis were suited to you: “Words have to be hammered like nails / If they’re not to be lost in the wind.”

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