The New Democracy “Truth Team” made its appearance before the national elections of 2012. Its official mission is stated as “political analysis”. In reality, it is devoted to political propaganda on behalf of New Democracy, the main party in Greece’s government coalition, aiming at the defamation of the party’s rivals, systematically distorting facts and fabricating so-called “evidence”. Based at New Democracy party offices, and formed by close associates of the Prime Minister, the “Truth Team” enjoys his unequivocal support. Scarier still, a former participant in the team currently heads Greece’s National Intelligence Service.
Although there has been and there still is an attempt to present the “Truth Team”, as these people call themselves, as a group of New Democracy sympathisers with no formal relationship to the party, this is an ill-concealed lie: The “Truth Team” operates in the offices of the party and it was formed by very close associates of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, first among which is George Mouroutis, Head of the Press Office of the General Secretariat of the Prime Minister.
THE ADJUTANT Mr. MOUROUTIS
“Everyone else left. The only one who stayed was George Mouroutis”
When Antonis Samaras left New Democracy and founded his own party, Politiki Anixi (literally: Political Spring), in June 1993, among others who followed him was an unknown young man, named George Mouroutis. The very short lifespan of Politiki Anixi was an opportunity for George Mouroutis to find his life task. In the elections of 1996, Politiki Anixi failed to get into Parliament and, although it continued to nominally exist until 2004, it disappeared from the political map – along with its leader, Antonis Samaras.
“They had an office at that time in Patision Avenue, near the building of The General Workers Union of Greece”, says an interlocutor from the old circle of A. Samaras. “Everyone else left. The only one who stayed was Mouroutis”.
“What for?” we asked. “What did they do?”
“I don’t know” he replied. “Maybe they were just massaging each other psychologically. There was no political activity, there was nothing. They were saying to each other that they will come back into the political arena. That’s all.”
Everyone who knows the environment of Samaras – which was never particularly large – has the same story to tell: Everyone left and the only one stayed was G. Mouroutis. All this period between the failure of Politiki Anixi and the return of Samaras to New Democracy in 2004, George Mouroutis remained at his side, even without a specific job.
“It was impossible for a piece of information to arrive to the Minister, if Mouroutis didn’t want it to”
Beyond his capacity as a “psychological masseur”, G. Mouroutis took on more tasks after 2004. Since then and until 2007, he was spokesperson for Antonis Samaras through his stint as MEP. In 2009 Samaras was appointed Minister of Culture in the last months of the government of Costas Karamanlis. George Mouroutis followed him there, too. Those who got to know him in the Ministry got a glimpse of the way he conceived of his position: “It was impossible for a piece of information to arrive to the Minister, if Mouroutis didn’t want it to” he says. During the same period, however, G. Mouroutis appeared as a member of the executive board of OPAP, the state owned sports gampling company (February-November 2009), and then as a member of the executive board of another company that belonged to OPAP, OPAP Services (until December 2009). In June 2012, the newly elected Prime Minister Antonis Samaras appointed G. Mouroutis as Head of the Press Office of the General Secretariat of the Prime Minister.
G. Mouroutis has said that in the past he had worked in the “private sector”. In general, he remains enigmatic about his resumé, as one would expect from somebody who has built his career as an adjutant, but there is one element where he seems to be accurate: “Yes, he owned a communication company,” an interlocutor from the private sector told us. “He was the only person who managed to bankrupt a communication company. Due to incompetence. Let me remind you that before the crisis, if you owned a communication company, you collected money from everywhere”.
But it was obvious that G. Mouroutis wasn’t interested in this kind of communication. His idea was simple: A closed group that would monitor political opponents and discredit their political message, as well disseminate the message of New Democracy. In simpler words, a propaganda team.
MEMBERS OF THE PARTY OR “FRIENDS OF THE PARTY”?
The “Truth Team” made its appearance before the 2012 national elections. However, it suspended its operations after the party’s victory in the elections and re-launched last November. Its intention to deceive is obvious even from the mission statement that can be found on its website: “‘Truth Team’ is a political analysis team that supports New Democracy, without expressing the official views of the party. Texts published on its website represent the opinions of the ‘Truth Team’ opinion and not New Democracy”.
A team of volunteers would not be set up by people who comprise the party’s closest circle of Antonis Samaras of the last few years.
Well, “supports” without “expressing its official views”. After some research made by certain bloggers, especially the blogger gerogriniaris, it became apparent that the “Truth Team” website was sharing the same server of the pre-election website of New Democracy, where in fact, the “Truth Team” had also registered an online domain for the Secretariat of New Technologies, Research and Innovation of the party.
It became obvious that the stakeholders of the “Team” were annoyed by this research, not only because they attacked the blogger via social media, but also by the fact that since that time they have been deleting websites of New Democracy and have removed the original server. Even the advertising banners of the “Team” were removed after the elections, after a warning by Takis Baltakos –the current General Secretary of the Government– in order for the Party to avoid litigation (they were at least removed from the home page, but if you search thoroughly you will find them here and there). Up to the time of writing this report, they haven’t had the chance to delete them all: if you go to the bottom of the website of the “Truth Team” and plac the cursor over the copyright statement, the message “ekloges.nd.gr / truthteam” will appear. (“Ekloges” means “elections” in Greek and “nd” is short for New Democracy. This was the party’s pre-election server.)
The “Truth Team” was arguing since the beginning – even to circles that are friendly to the Party – that it is solely comprised of technically profficient young individuals who offered their services voluntarily. A team of volunteers, however, would not use an online domain of the party, nor would it be housed in the offices of New Democracy in Sygrou Avenue. Neither of course would it be set up by people who comprise the party’s closest circle of Antonis Samaras of the last few years.
WHO ARE THE “TRUTH TEAM”?
George Mouroutis has always directed the “Truth Team”. Although powerful, the Head of the Press Office of the General Secretariat of the Prime Minister owes his power solely to the favor of A. Samaras. The people but also the apparatus of New Democracy do not accept him, not only because he doesn’t originate from the party, but rather from Politiki Anixi, but also because he manages to constantly create conflicts even with friends and followers of New Democracy. This is indicated for instance by the fact that G. Mouroutis has characterised as “instruments of SYRIZA”, the left-wing main opposition party, even journalists who have years of experience in covering news related to New Democracy, while there are many who have clashed with him due to the practices of the “Truth Team”.
Particularly irritating is the persistence of G. Mouroutis’ use of twitter, where he supposedly “confutes” political opponents of New Democracy. In fact, he simply accuses everybody, even voters of New Democracy, of being supporters of SYRIZA; he sometimes throws unsubstantiated accusations and threats, and generally fights with everyone. Circles of New Democracy complain that he is jacking around all day in social media, without doing anything else.
G. Mouroutis is joined by close associates of Antonis Samaras. Dimitris Ptochos is responsible for the configuration and technical support of the “Truth Team”. A. Samaras imposed D. Ptochos on the New Democracy apparatus by assigning him an institutional position in 2011, namely the Head of the Secretariat of New Technologies, Research and Innovation of the party – yes, the same one whose address figured in the ‘Truth Team’, as we discussed before. D. Ptohos was responsible for moving the offices of the Party to Sygrou Avenue, where the “Truth Team” is based; he was also responsible for the update of the logo of New Democracy and for the creation, as he has stated, of a “modern, interactive web portal”. Soon after the assumption of power, the Cabinet placed D. Ptohos in the Committee of Coordination of e-government.
Another contributor to the “Truth Team” is the journalist Spyros Capralos, who was assigned the Press Office of the New Democracy after the elections and the transfer of G. Mouroutis to the office of the Prime Minister. G. Mouroutis did not hide his enthusiasm for his close partner in the well-known, delusional, extreme right-wing blog antinews: “I want to congratulate Mr. Spyros Capralos. Excellent journalist with morals (rare nowadays), who has been since the beginning until now consistent with his views and has an excellent curriculum”. Speaking about morals, one can easily form an opinion about the morality, not so much of Sp. Kapralos, but of the “Truth Team” and the party and the government that runs it, if one takes into consideration its association with yet another close partner of the Prime Minister: Theodore Dravillas. Significantly, Th. Dravillas had been associated with the “Truth Team” before the elections, but has now been promoted: he is the Director General of the National Intelligence Service (EYP).
THE TECHNOCRAT Mr. DRAVILLAS
Theodore Dravillas is considered to be a “technocrat” with experience in the IT market and digital communications as a business executive. In 2005 he was appointed vice president of the Hellenic Telecommunications and Post Commission. Subsequently, he was appointed General Secretary of the Ministry of Culture when the minister was Michalis Liapis, after his predecessor Christos Zachopoulos attempted to commit suicide following a sex scandal; a position in which he remained when Antonis Samaras succeded M. Liapis. He was then appointed deputy managing director of New Democracy party.
The association of the Director General of the National Intelligence Service with the propaganda team of the ruling party is a very dangerous issue…
In July 2012, Theodore Dravillas was appointed Director General of the National Intelligence Service. Both PASOK and Dimokratiki Aristera, the two smaller parties that form the government coalition together with New Democracy, expressed their discontent about somebody being placed in such an important position, having as the only essential qualification his closeness to the Prime Minister. Apart from this, however, it is easy to understand that the association of the Director General of the National Intelligence Service with the propaganda team of the ruling party is a very dangerous issue.
THE TACTICS OF THE “TRUTH TEAM”
Despite the assertion of using volunteers, the “Truth Team”, under the direction of G. Mouroutis and D. Ptohos, has a 20-member paid staff that monitors everything – internet, TV, radio, press.
The “Truth Team” edited the video in a way that presents the MP inciting violence against The Mall
Indicative of the way the team operates is the case of a video involving alleged statements by the MP of SYRIZA Vangelis Diamantopoulos, concerning the shopping complex The Mall. While the original video included statements of the MP about the legal problems involved in the shopping mall’s construction and permits, the “Truth Team” edited the video in a way that presents the MP inciting violence against The Mall. The team distributed the forged video online immediately after the bombing that took place at The Mall, slandering the MP as an accessory before the fact for terrorism. Neither the “Truth Team” nor G. Mouroutis, nor anybody else from New Democracy, has ever denied that the video was forged at Sygrou Avenue offices.
After the distribution of the video by the “Truth Team”, the Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou took the whole thing up and said: “The statement by the anarchist and pro-terrorist, by his own admission, Vangelis Diamantopoulos, who remains even now MP of SYRIZA, is targeting the Mall, four days before the terrorist attack and openly calls his comrades to take up arms”.
V. Diamantopoulos, who of course had said nothing of the sort, is in the process of filing a lawsuit against S. Kedikoglou. There were reports, meanwhile, that as soon as S. Kedikoglou realized that the video was forged by the “Truth Team”, he went to the Prime Minister and complained angrily about G. Mouroutis. The Prime Minister limited attention to the complaints, assigning the design of the communication strategy to his close adviser Chrysanthos Lazaridis, a veteran of the famous right-wing think tank “Network 21”. (Ch. Lazaridis’s partner in “Network 21” was Failos Kranidiotis, a notorious extreme right-wing columnist, an unofficial adviser to the Prime Minister, and a lawyer of magnates such Dimitris Melissanidis. Significantly, F. Kranidiotis was the first person who Ch. Lazaridis met at the Prime Minister’s office, soon after he assumed his new duties.) The placement of Ch. Lazaridis as responsible for the communication strategy, however, doesn’t mean that A. Samaras disbanded the “Truth Team”. The only thing that is different now is that the Prime Minister’s office receives two updates daily: the institutional one and the one by the “Truth Team”.
ABSOLUTE APPROVAL OF THE PARTY LEADER
The strategy of the “Truth Team” is the cultivation of civil-war atmosphere in order to present anybody that opposes the policies of New Democracy as belonging to the left-wing party SYRIZA
The strategy of the “Truth Team” is simple and terrifying: a systematic cultivation of civil-war atmosphere in order to present anybody that opposes the policies of New Democracy as belonging to the left-wing party SYRIZA, counting on waking “anticommunist memories” in the electoral public. This strategy will increase in importance as the government allocates more and more sovereign rights to the troika. That is because, although they are afraid of losing the next elections to SYRIZA, their greatest fear is in fact that one day their own side will be calling them “traitors”, as only a true right-wing party can. Therefore, while meting out sovereign rights, they assert their role as guardians of the nation by building on the “communist danger”.
Let us not make the mistake, however, to assume that “strategy” means that they do not believe what they say. That’s why we asked a former New Democracy member a sincere question: “Well, even if G. Mouroutis and the ‘Truth Team’ believe in all this, does A. Samaras believe it, too?”.
“Absolutely” he says. “Everything happens with the knowledge and full approval of the leader. All this discussion about center-right is misleading. Samaras does not feel comfortable at all with center-right politics or with liberals. Whereas with all the these people he feels completely comfortable. Samaras has a hard right-wing ideology, just as the members of Politiki Anixi used to have.”
However, one may wonder, since so many people of New Democracy disagree with the practices of both the “Truth Team” and G. Mouroutis, why don’t they react? Commentators who know about the New Democracy environment provide two answers: First, it is not within the culture of the party to question the “leader”, regardless of the extent of disagreement about his choices. Second, the A. Samaras environment is known for its “vengefulness” and they are all afraid of this.
What the commentators also point out, though, is that A. Samaras is a politician who cares only for his own survival. Which means that even if he is sympathetic to all those who supported him in difficult years of his political hibernation, it is not unlikely at all that this currently powerful entourage might disappear overnight.
Adapted from a report by Mariniki Alevizopoulou and Augustine Zenakos that appeared in issue 16 of UNFOLLOW magazine. The translation published here with few additions was provided by Dimitris Tsapogas, PhD candidate at the Department of Communication, University of Vienna, to whom we are very grateful.