Stefanos Manos: If people let me, I would do a lot more

An independent member of Parliament affiliated with the PASOK party since 2004, Stefanos Manos is a graduate of Zurich University’s school of mechanical engineering and has an MBA from Harvard. After a career in business, he was elected to Parliament in 1977 with the New Democracy (ND) party and has held portfolios in Public Works, Industry and Energy, Environment and Town Planning, Economy and Finance. He was ousted from ND in 1998 and the next year founded the Liberals party. In the 2000 elections, he was an independent affiliated with ND. Talking to Manos, one has the impression that he has always walked a lonely road, remaining consistent in his beliefs and personal visions, indifferent to the political costs. Perhaps for those reasons, friends and political rivals alike recognize not only his good intentions but the important work he has done. Why politics? I don’t imagine you will give the usual answer – that you wanted to do something for the country. My answer is precisely that. The difference being that, as far as I am concerned, I mean it. I have said things aren’t going well. I want to do something to change that. How did you come to make your decision? I thought about joining either ND or the Center Union and eventually, in 1977, I decided to go with (the late Constantine) Karamanlis. It’s funny but I had to use influence to get on the list of candidates. I was voted in and immediately was made deputy minister for public works. The first two-and-a-half years in that job were very productive. I believe that many things really did change and I would have done much more if the people, who were against me at every turn, had let me. You give the impression of walking a lonely road. That is true. Have you ever regretted entering politics? I probably should because in the 1981 elections, people decided not to vote for me again. But no, I don’t regret it. I think I did a lot to improve people’s everyday lives. How does that make you feel? I feel useful, a mixture of satisfaction and creativity. In retrospect, I don’t think there is anyone who disagrees with what I did. Such as? They are the only large-scale projects that have been carried out – the Stavros-Elefsina road, the new airport, the Rio-Antirio Bridge. Looking back, I can say that I have left those footprints. Do you need that? It was the reason I went into politics. What is the point of going through life without having done anything? Do you feel accepted by people? What I did has not met with much approval. Of course, I am pleased when my work is recognized. When have you felt insecure? When I was voted out in two elections. That made me bitter because I didn’t understand what I had done that was so wrong. That is incomprehensible to me because I am a very active parliamentary deputy. People’s behavior is strange. Are you insecure outside politics? I don’t think so. I have a strong feeling that when I am right about something, I have to go ahead. How can you be sure that you are right about things? Because I don’t take decisions lightly. I have often been told, «You’re right, but those things aren’t done in Greece.» That drives me mad. Whatever I ask you about, your answer is about politics. The reason I am in politics is that I still believe I have something to offer, even though I am now outside the parties, therefore not able to exercise power. Do you feel you don’t fit in a political party? I believe they don’t want me. ND had me and got rid of me. With PASOK, it was clear we didn’t suit each other, although I must say that I owe a debt of gratitude to George Papandreou because he was honest enough to say, «I don’t want you to agree with me, but I want you in Parliament.» That is unusual for Greece and very brave. I am in Parliament because George Papandreou wants me there. Why do you say they don’t want you? Let me remind you that (Prime Minister Costas) Karamanlis got rid of me. Perhaps that is seen as self-evident in Greek political life, but for me it was a politically dishonest act and there is nothing that will dispel that impression. What is your greatest dream? I feel that I can still do 10 more things in politics. The sum of what I have done is more important that the sum of what many other politicians have done. Have you ever felt insulted? Once, when there were five people who expelled me from ND. When they carried out Karamanlis’s wishes, I was deeply insulted by Achilleas Karamanlis, Yiannis Varvitsiotis, Alexandros Papadongonas, Yiannis Kefaloyiannis and Giorgos Tzitzicostas. What do you think about young people’s abhorrence for politics? In feeling like that, they are making sure that the country is ruled by mediocre people… That makes me furious. You can’t imagine how mad it makes me that people aren’t concerned about what is happening. How do you explain it? Mithridatism. We get used to it and no one reacts… I can’t help being pessimistic. I predict that as a piece of property, nothing will happen to Greece, but the most able Greeks will emigrate in increasing numbers. People need to make use of their knowledge… Elsewhere there are opportunities to make use of what you have; here you are stifled. How many people will stand for that? The political class doesn’t seem to realize what is happening. Either that or they don’t care. Perhaps because it has nothing to do with votes. Everyone minds his own business. The political system has made people look after themselves. For example, the complete lack of honesty in the taxation system. What could wake them up? Not much in the short term. Perhaps in the long term. If we decide that we have to work, starting with the education system. However, I think that no wants to do Is that realism or defeatism? Realism. Defeatism is when you don’t try. I do try. Unfortunately, the themes today are decided by television. It’s not my business to say what television should be saying. But I am worried about those who watch television. Isn’t that a result of the free market? It has to do with people’s educational level. I prefer the free market to something regulated by a few civil servants. Are you talking about social groups regulating the market? Yes I am. In a free market, someone has to regulate it. Higher education is monitored by the state, but what is the state? The sum of all civil servants led by politicians. In Greece, the state is the party that happens to be in power. Isn’t that politically backward? Of course it is. So the market lets the people decide. Here we allow the party to regulate matters, but in practice that is interpreted by various civil servants who have the same lack of education. Who should regulate the market then? Better social forces than the ruling party. I am wary of regulators. Take the university, for example, where the law says the state is responsible. If the university wants to do something, it has to get permission from the (Education) ministry, which will give that permission as soon as its civil servants decide to. I would much prefer the university to decide for itself. That is more important than the current debate about private universities. Are the political parties in crisis? They aren’t in crisis; they rule, and are continually strengthening their position, and in fact becoming strongly authoritarian. Why do you think that? Because it is authoritarian to mobilize the unemployed. Both ND and PASOK have done that. Mobilization means What do you suggest instead? I would not mobilize, but neither would I give in. I would create conditions of competition to get rid of the monopoly that the state has given to organizations where strikers work. In no other state in Europe is there such interventionism. Maybe that interventionism is due to the need for capital. There is no capital in Greece. It has gone, just as the most able of our young people will go. What is your view of the future? Not optimistic. Greece is always behind in the world’s estimation. I don’t see that politicians have any desire to fight, to change anything. What about younger politicians? It is mostly the younger ones who are disappointing. There are many younger members in the current government, and it is a sorry sight. It has done very little; we are living in a state of utter lawlessness. Everyone does whatever they like. The endless tax evasion shows the lack of accountability. Can it be dealt with? Of course, but the government doesn’t want to… (due to) a lack of will and often because of incompetence. Karamanlis and (Economy Minister Giorgos) Alogoskoufis can’t be ignorant of the fact that the main source of corruption is undeclared funds. When all money has to be declared, that is a strike at corruption. Lack of will is also a provocation when it comes from people who are always complaining about corruption.

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