I have come across the following phenomenon enough times to know it’s no coincidence: Once someone you know enters politics they become unrecognizable. It’s as if their brain starts functioning differently as soon as they enter the political arena. There are numerous examples of this. In one case, private sector professionals hailed the appointment to a key administrative post in the public sector of an individual who was known as a successful businessman. “He understands how the market operates; he will bring results,” they said. They couldn’t have been more wrong. This particular individual stopped meeting with private sector representatives out of fear of being accused of bowing to pressure from them and forgot his real-world experiences only to be swept away by a system of unionists, priests, mayors and political cronies that transformed him into something quite different.
Another example is that of a decent and serious academic who agreed with everyone – particularly with those who criticized him. As soon as he entered politics and the election race he turned into a caricature. It’s not that he sold his soul to the political devil the way people do when they become obsessed with getting elected. In this case he appeared to have lost the ability to see the difference between right and wrong. Is the allure of corruption and power so strong? Is there no other way for these people to survive? Or is it the air that people breath in Parliament and at ministries?
The truth is that those involved in politics begin to suffer from a syndrome that former PM Costas Simitis defined as the “expansion of consciousness.” In other words, the constant exposure to scheming and corruption makes them immune to it. They think that’s how political and public life ought to be conducted and so behave just like everyone else.
Could the system of power ever change so as to attract capable people who will maintain their standards and ethics? It’ a tough question to answer. Greek politicians do everything in their power to keep control of policy and the public administration. They lower public sector salaries and then wonder why qualified people would never work for this kind of money. They appoint qualified people to responsible positions and then demand that they spend their time expediting political favors instead of solving problems. Making it illegal for MPs to hold ministerial posts may be one solution to the problem. Surely a person who is not anxious to be elected would prove a better minister.
Meanwhile, the mystery of the effect of politics persists and I’m eager to see whether the number of capable people who are not changed by the system will ever be more than a few dozen.