If we really must see things in a positive light, we can always talk about how Greeks cannot bare to be oppressed. We might insist that the sharp drop in tax revenues from popular holiday resorts throughout the summer season is not due to our sleeping tax conscience, but rather to the resistant, guerrilla Greek spirit which passes, in its entirety, from one generation to the next. It must be so, if we choose to believe it is. Besides, the rise of value-added tax to 24 percent turned into a splendid occasion for the display of various witticisms, whose common trait is confusing the selfish, tough-guy posturing with a false, anti-establishment, anti-state stance: “Why should I pay them? I’m not a fool. What do I get in return?” and so on.
A belated, fragmentary reaction by the state, in the form of surprise inspections by Financial Crimes Squad teams – another summer custom – is not expected to yield any considerable results. Tax dodgers only catch their breath before going back to the kind of lawlessness which makes them feel free, dignified and proud.
What’s more, tax collecting technology consistently lags behind tax evading techniques, in the same way that doping methods are constantly ahead of those that detect doping. Greece is already inundated by card machines whose terminals are located at banks in Malta and Bulgaria. Here you are savoring your ouzo and mezedes on an Aegean island, using your credit card to pay (if you are allowed to do so), feeling like an advocate of the plastic money culture and, above all, a proud taxpayer. Nevertheless, your transactions are processed abroad.
When it comes to tourism, which in recent years has been the country’s strongest industry, we are more willing to turn a blind eye to transgressions. This belief is translated into countless forms of facilitation, whether legal or illegal, reasonable or disastrous. Laws do exist, in large numbers. They refer to how much of a beach must remain free of sunbeds, the distance between the sunbeds and the sea (as well as all kinds of illegal constructions), noise pollution, the protection of the loggerhead sea turtle and the Mediterranean monk seal, the protection of employees – everything really.
All of this, however, is reserved to the winter season. In the summer, often through major intervention by opportunists working at local authorities who believe that the law is always on the client’s side as a means of soliciting votes, the eyes of legality and honesty often develop blurred vision. Everything else fades when it comes to tolerance in the name of tourism. That’s when the country’s true values are left to the patriotism of fools. Fortunately they exist. Unfortunately they are not enough.