Antonis Samaras became prime minister of Greece one year ago. That was when the world assumed the battered country would be forced to leave the eurozone. European leaders have cautiously embraced Samaras, but at home his reception has been less welcoming. Many Greeks find him hard to stomach.

Joanna Kakissis has our story from Athens.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The night Antonis Samaras and his conservative New Democracy Party won a close election last year, he had a message for Europe.


PRIME MINISTER ANTONIS SAMARAS: Today the Greek people express the will to stay anchored with the euro, remain an integral part of the eurozone. This is a victory for all Europe.

KAKISSIS: European leaders believe the U.S.-educated economist would tow the line on eurozone belt-tightening. But back home, the new prime minister was known as a loose cannon, says political analyst, Thanos Veremis.

THANOS VEREMIS: He always leapt into the unknown and usually fell in the crevice.

KAKISSIS: As a young foreign minister in the early 1990s, Samaras took a leap that brought down the very government he was serving. He ignited a diplomatic crisis by refusing to let a newly independent Balkan country call itself Macedonia. The name, he declared, was historically Greek.

He believed nationalist outrage over protecting this special Greek identity would sweep him into power, Veremis says.

VEREMIS: He thought he was riding a wave of patriotism which emerged at that time, but, you know, such waves are, don't last forever. They're here today, gone tomorrow.

KAKISSIS: That wave ended up sweeping Samaras out of politics for years.

When he returned as opposition leader in 2010, he rode a wave of popular outrage over austerity measures to unseat former Prime Minister George Papandreou. The two men had shared a dormitory at Amherst College in the early 1970s.

Papandreou had asked for the billions in bailout loans that came with painful budget cuts and tax hikes. Samaras accused him of destroying the country.

Here's Aristos Doxiadis, an economist who went to high school with Samaras.

ARISTOS DOXIADIS: During the first year of the bailout, he really stoked the fires of populism and was not constructive at all. So when he took over government and started actually implementing, with some zeal, the measures that needed to be implemented, yes, I was pleasantly surprised, like quite a few people.

KAKISSIS: But some see Samaras as a hypocrite for supporting the austerity policies he used to blame for killing the Greek economy.


KAKISSIS: Tens of thousands of businesses have gone under in the last three years. Among the latest is Katselis, a well-known producer of baked goods. Nearly a thousand people are set to lose their jobs - including Olga Dimitriadou, who's worked here for 13 years.

OLGA DIMITRIADOU: (Through Translator) Politicians protect the public sector and let the private sector flounder. They only care about staying in power.

KAKISSIS: She says politicians give their friends jobs in the public sector, where until recently, the constitution forbade layoffs.

So earlier this month, Samaras hoped to appeal to reformers by abruptly shutting down the state-run public broadcasting corporation and firing its staff of more than 2,600 civil servants.

SAMARAS: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: Samaras complained that the network never broadcast good news about his government because the staff was always on strike.

SAMARAS: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: Instead of embracing the shutdown, many Greeks saw it as dictatorial. They joined the laid-off broadcast workers, who still occupied the network's suburban headquarters at protest concerts.

Samaras says he'll reopen the broadcast network with a much small staff hired on merit. But his plan sounded vague, as if he had hatched it over a weekend, says Veremis, the political analyst.

VEREMIS: His shortcoming is that he's a man of checkers rather than chess. I mean, he makes a move, which is interesting, but there's no follow-up. And that is Samaras' personality.

KAKISSIS: Samaras appointed a new cabinet of party loyalists last week after some members of his government resigned. And as he takes his latest leap into the unknown, he vows to stay in office. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.

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