I did not know much on a personal level about Dimitris Stefanou, Greece’s former administrative reform general secretary who died earlier this week at the age of 46. I did, however, have a sense of the man from the things I heard and read about him, and believe that he represented that rare type of state official that the country so desperately needs and which is now so close to extinction.
Stefanou had in-depth knowledge of the issues at hand, in the same way that the general secretaries of ministries serving in the years before the country’s 1967-1974 military dictatorship mastered the content of their departmental files inside and out.
Stefanou never kept his political preferences a secret. Nevertheless, he remained loyal to his ministry’s political administration regardless of the person in charge. After all, his political bosses knew, or soon found out, that Stefanou was a solid and sincere advisor – the kind of man they could rely on. In his negotiations with the troika, he limited his arguments to those based on evidence and data. He had no patience for vacuous populism.
Stefanou was a deeply educated man; professional and independent. He was obviously driven by a desire to make himself useful to this country even though his drive cannot be justified by his moderate wage nor by the long nights spent at his office on Vassilisis Sofias Avenue.
Sure, there are more people like Stefanou out there who have staffed key government posts at very difficult times. Regrettably, such individuals are usually met with skepticism from that narrow circle of high-level party officials. Stefanou would have made an excellent cabinet general secretary back at the start of the crisis but the team around former Prime Minister George Papandreou regarded him as a threat. Stefanou, you see, was not one of the inner circle, one of the ‘guys.’
And when conservative minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis decided to keep Stefanou at his post, he was attacked from inside New Democracy for “sticking with that guy from PASOK.”
This is the Greek disease. A disease that has killed every cell in this nation’s unbearably polarized body politic. Hopefully Greece will find more people like Stefanou along the way. Hopefully, we will one day reach a point where a government changeover will not automatically mean the replacement of ethical and hard-working professionals on the basis of ridiculous and outdated partisan criteria.