Professor Stamatios Krimigis was well aware that Greece is second almost to none in its shocking lack of meritocracy. He knew that there are pockets of excellence at universities and institutions, people working in extremely unfavorable conditions, who, however, don’t seek any kind of acknowledgment, partly because they are afraid that someone will come along to wreck it all.
The respected Greek-American space scientist had responded to an invitation from the “homeland” in 2010 to take over as chief of the National Council for Research and Technology. “We all acted with great enthusiasm and compassion, we saw that the country needed help, and no one was getting paid,” he had said of the organization’s team at the time. That team of “excellence,” as then education minister Anna Diamantopoulou called it, was pioneering in several areas. It used absolutely transparent and fair methods to choose the heads of the different centers under its jurisdiction and it created programs to help bolster research in Greece. In the meantime, though, a change in government saw the whole project become “tied up in red tape.” “The head researchers, true gems, gave up. Meritocracy went belly-up. It was hopeless,” Krimigis had said in interview with Kathimerini in the summer of 2016.
This year, the astrophysicist again tried to serve his native country by responding to an invitation from Digital Policy Minister Nikos Pappas. Again, though, he couldn’t tolerate the situation, and stepped down from the post of president of the board of the Hellenic Space Agency. His resignation prompted a flurry of letters, statements, reactions and suchlike. All of it has its own importance and all of it has contributed to a growing sense of desperation that has nothing to do with the performance of the economy or with political scandals.
When selflessness clashes with brashness, when a desire to give comes up against cold exploitation, when knowledge faces ignorance and integrity vies with vulgarity, we expect the latter to be defeated. But when this clash has to do with public affairs and issues of politics, the outcome is unpredictable.
The government’s attempt to appear as though it had changed tack by choosing someone like Krimigis to head the newly established agency was not just exposed by the scientist with his resignation, but even the government itself wasn’t able to keep up the pretense any longer – it went right back to the good old boys, as usual. As Krimigis’s replacement, Christodoulos Protopapas, would have it: “Greece and Greekness will never die, you European scumbags.”
Maybe that’s true, but it sure is being put to the test.