We are a strange country, working ourselves into a lather for a few weeks or even months over one scandal or another – real or assumed. For that time, the political system, the media and coffee-shop analysts dedicate all their energies to Siemens, then to Novartis and then to some organized crime racket caught on tape by the intelligence services. Then the noise dies down and the public is left wondering what just happened. Answers are either never given or given with such delay that no one remembers what the issue was to begin with.
The bulk of responsibility obviously lies with the justice system. Greece must be the only country in the world – in the West at least – where it can take 10 or even 15 years to investigate and try a major case. It is nothing short of shameful. The innocent end up paying the price. They’re ashamed to be seen out in public, they have trouble finding work, their anguish is both theoretical and real as they spend day after day agonizing over whether another postponement or continuance will be granted.
And when they are eventually exonerated, they’re lucky to see 10 lines of print somewhere in the middle pages of a newspaper. The others, the wise guys, bide their time, waiting for the opportunity to take care of business when some government passes new, favorable laws. The innocent are hung out to dry, while the guilty who know how to work the system stay in the shadows and get off.
The media is also to blame. We rarely follow up on major cases, arguing that no one cares anymore and chasing after the latest big news items.
Another share of the blame rests with the political system. It has created an enormous amount of confusion with its laws on politicians’ immunity from prosecution, to a disastrous degree.
When there is no institutional filter standing between an anonymous accusation and a parliamentary investigation, legislation for expedited procedures allows any politician to throw mud at his rivals at no cost to himself, with the despicable claim that “someone, somewhere heard that X is involved in this case.”
The worst part, though, is that at the end of the day, the public interest is not being protected even though that is what courts and politicians are supposed to ensure.
Siemens and Novartis are typical examples. There was a great brouhaha and much mudslinging over both cases and some people were found guilty of taking bribes. In the Siemens case, a few OTE telecom executives and a couple of political officials were convicted. During the preliminary hearing, though, it was found that all the governing parties at the time in question took a certain percentage from every deal, but this was soon forgotten.
Even worse, in their mania to besmirch their rivals, our politicians forgot to do the most important thing: to seek an out-of-court settlement with the guilty parties that would put money in public coffers. When such settlements have been suggested most politicians were cowed by the idea that they’d be accused of being paid off. Yet Nigeria, the United States and others managed.
If the Greek justice system is not fixed, the country will remain institutionally unsound, the innocent will be subjected to tribulations, and society will be, justifiably, angry.