NEWS

Smashing the glass barrier between people and power in a country run by coteries

Aprominent minister recently recounted the drama of some fishermen on a remote Greek island who attempted to get subsidies from a European Union program to repair or replace their fishing boats. The minister said that each fisherman was required to collect 12 different certificates. «Why should they collect more paperwork than they’ll need in a lifetime?» he wondered. «They might need one to get married, another when their child is born, another for a legacy; 10 at the most in a lifetime.» This example might seem exaggerated, if there weren’t other financial matters, involving far greater sums of money, where documentation, certificates and state controls are sidestepped with the greatest ease and tolerance. We have all witnessed cases where even the Constitution was violated, or a public works contractor was also a media owner. Other highly profitable activities exceed the bounds of illegality and go unpunished, while poor fishermen or even poorer professionals or businessmen have no option but to obey the taxation department or some other state service. There are endless examples where principles and rules have been trampled and others where the rules have been applied with such severity that they prove that our political and economic system is highly conservative, with an oligarchic structure which assists the few and excludes the many. More and more people feel that they are on the margins, that they cannot get through the doorway to development, that they cannot break the hidden bonds that restrict Greece, imprisoning people and not allowing new creative ideas and endeavors to flourish. As a banker commented just a few days ago: «There have been no new ideas here for some time. It’s always the same old thing: recycled people, stereotyped notions and commonplace talk as if everything had been settled.» So what is going on? What is Greece today? «Unfortunately,» says an experienced politician, «Greece is set up around three or four big political families, another 50 entrepreneurs and about 1,000 small and large coteries scattered about the center and provinces and intertwined with each other, who control everything. If you can’t get in one of those doors, you have to fight the monsters of bureaucracy, corruption, and kickbacks on your own; you risk being excluded and sidelined, and eventually pressured into compromising or submitting to the tax inspector, the banker or the party official waiting in the corner.» (It is not by accident that the tax officials and bankers who stood as candidates in the recent local elections won the highest number of votes.) So the creative elements in society – young scientists, young people with fresh knowledge and promising individuals from the provinces – exhaust their creativity in interminable, wearisome procedures. They waste their time, suffer disappointment, give up the effort and become isolated. Greece suffers and declines. Inequalities increase, aggression emerges, and the country will fall prey to the first demagogue who comes along, making unrealizable promises. More and more people in the field of politics realize that conditions in this country are problematic. They feel the current system applies to the fashionable Kolonaki district and has nothing to do with the concerns and expectations of ordinary people, but they feel unable to take the initiative and openly lock horns with the system that controls the media, manipulates public opinion and fixes the game according to its own interests. But who will try to break through the glass barrier? Who will assume the responsibility of fighting the political-economic complex and the dictatorial media regime which has been imposed on the people and to establish direct contact with the people? Who will dare throw off the bonds of interdependence? New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis has the means. He has established a good relationship with the public and kept his distance from various interests which continue to oppose him, but his party’s forces have remained tied up to a large extent. Many ND officials have dependent relations with the regime, but what is more important is that the opposition party has not managed to establish an effective mechanism for generating policies and new ideas capable of stimulating the public to break the bonds of the media dictatorship. Prime Minister Costas Simitis had opportunities to disengage but did not take advantage of them. He preferred to perform a balancing act between minor conflicts and settlements, which brought benefits to the party but eventually allowed the main group of interests to expand and grow more powerful. Now he cannot handle an outright conflict, though his party is still under pressure and has lost touch with its grass roots. As time passes and society finds no solutions, people will find a way to break the glass barrier. They will come up with a coherent proposal based on rules and principles that will mobilize, but not exclude, that will overwhelm established forces, forging new paths for workers and intellectuals, and creating the conditions for a modern Greek dream. And they will win, proving the truth of the saying that whatever seems revolutionary today will be the natural order of tomorrow.