(Journalist based in Athens. His work has appeared in The Times Literary Supplement and The National Interest)
The strange saga of a Greek-Russian tobacco tycoon shows how crisis-era Greece has regressed into a post-Soviet-style oligarchy.
Ivan Ignatyevich Savvidis has played many unusual roles in his life—one of the great tobacco tycoons of Eurasia, a member of Russia’s Duma, a confidante of Vladimir Putin —but it is his latest one that is now sounding off alarm bells throughout Europe. Savvidis is the parvenu of Greece’s oligarchic scene. Since the onset of the economic crisis, he has effectively seized personal ownership over vast sectors of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city and its maritime gateway to the Balkans. The fire sale of old state assets—an auctioning process ordained by the European Union as part of its enforcement of economic austerity, but which has become overwhelmingly rigged by vested political interests within Greece—has given Savvidis a rare opportunity to invest hundreds of millions of euros into his ancestral homeland. A soccer team, a grand luxury hotel, a tobacco conglomerate, a water-bottling company, a fleet of beach resorts, a television station, a trio of newspapers, great stretches of coastline and blocs of Thessaloniki real estate, the port of Salonika and its industrial warehouses: these are but a few of the holdings that Savvidis has quietly acquired in the last eight years. The buying spree has lately given rise to a strange new coinage across the newspaper headlines and streets of his adopted city: Ivanaptiksi, “prosperity emanating from Ivan.” Read more