One of the many Zoi themed memes: “Miss, could I go to the bathrooom?” Source: Luben.TV
This article was written for the German news outlet N-TV. You can read their translated German version of it here. I am uploading the original English version here at the request of non-German speakers (myself included) and hope you’ll enjoy the read.
If one had to come up with three words to describe Zoi Konstantopoulou, they would certainly not be demure, quiet and timid. The brash, outspoken Speaker of the Greece’s Parliament has caused controversy almost since the day she was appointed.
It seems like a lifetime away now, but on 6 February 2015, Zoi Konstantopoulou was appointed her to her latest post with a record 235 of 300 votes in parliament. Aged 39, she became one of the youngest people to take on the role, and the first from left wing ranks.
The daughter of legendary Syriza chairman Nikos Konstantopoulos and journalist Lina Alexiou, she studied law at the University of Athens, where she was active politically and a member of the European Union of law students.
In her latest role, she has quickly found her stride and never misses the opportunity to voice her opinions.
Her numerous outbursts in five short months would be enough to easily compile a list longer than the 972 page document of new measures that Greece’s parliament debated over on Wednesday night, but controversy is not something new to Konstantinopoulou.
In her past role, Konstantinopoulou has most notably attracted attention as defence lawyer for the so called “cheese pie rapist” case. The case centred around a man accused of drugging cheese pies, offering them to unsuspecting female tourists and raping them. Several of the victims, travelling to Greece from overseas for the trial at their own expense, accused Konstantopoulou of deliberately delaying the trial for trivial reasons.
In parliament, her style is withering. She wastes no time in going after her victims, often coming down on them like a ton of bricks with petty comebacks, sometimes muting their mics, and is famous for her monotone, droning style of speech. She takes no prisoners when it comes to attacking her opponents, including accusing EC President Jean-Claude Juncker of wanting to “subjugate the Greek people.”
Considered a political oddity, abrasive but otherwise harmless, it wasn’t until Alexis Tsipras was forced to do a U-turn and come back from Brussels with some of the harshest austerity measures Greece has ever faced that the star he had helped raise to the top threatened to come crashing down on his head. That’s when the already strained relationship – they had had major disagreements about the government’s basic position for several months – threatened to fall apart completely.
To say that Konstantopoulou was not happy about the bailout is an understatement. She left Tsipras guessing about how she would vote right up until she took the floor during the parliamentary debate preceding the vote last Wednesday and launched into a furious tirade against the new measures. She called the bailout deal “a coup, a crime against humanity and which could lead to social genocide.”
Referring to the recent referendum results against which the Syriza government was now acting, she added “We don’t have the right to turn the public’s No into a Yes.”
Her open defiance was both an embarrassment and a challenge to Tsipras. In the aftermath, he managed to partially reshuffle his cabinet to sideline Syriza members who voted against the bailout. But Konstantopoulou stayed in her position, determined to oppose every step of the new bailout and insisting that she will neither give up her post nor be ousted from it. A growing number of Syriza MPs and left leaning political groups which oppose the bailout back her stance, creating a real headache for Tsipras.
In her latest act of defiance, she penned a letter to Alexis Tsipras and the president of Greece declaring that she would vote against the latest measures which included changes to the country’s code of Civil Procedure. Stating that she would not vote in favour of the new measures on Wednesday night’s vote, her letter said “This violent attack against democracy cannot happen in the context of the European Union. And it definitely cannot happen silently.” Tsipras has summoned Konstantopoulou on Thursday to discuss the letter’s content.
Love her or hate her, she’s one of the main reasons many in Greece now watch the country’s live parliamentary channel, grateful for how unintentionally entertaining her vituperative remarks are. Countless jokes and memes circulate online about her ball-breaking style, and in a country whose politics are so often dominated by men in suits making boring speeches, her biting comments and utter refusal to fall in line have singled her out as a woman who knows her mind and a force to be reckoned with.
Tsipras, however, who nominated her for her post based on those very characteristics might not be so grateful for the small rebellion she is now leading.