We have a habit that stretches way back in this country of crucifying anyone who tries to do something really big and really important. When they eventually leave an important legacy to the country, their contribution may be belatedly recognized, but rarely is an apology offered for all the opposition.
A recent discussion that has been making the rounds on social media in Greece about the Costa Navarino development in the southwestern Peloponnese made me think about its creator, Captain Vassilis Konstantakopoulos. Here was a self-made man who had reached the absolute top in shipping when he decided to do something great for the place of his birth. The technocrats warned him against getting involved; shipowners rarely succeeded on dry land, they said.
He came up against obstacle after obstacle, opposition upon opposition – from the bureaucracy showing its teeth and a section of the left that fought the project with vehemence, to a part of the local community, even, which viewed the development as a threat.
Conspiracy theories ran rampant – “he’s not using his own money; he’s being funded by the Jews” and “he’s building a tuberculosis sanatorium” being among the most popular. It was a relentless mill of rumor and innuendo, fed by bankrupt competitors accustomed to relying on state handouts. The only upside was that this was all happening before the cannibals took to the internet.
He succeeded. With a lot of hard work and commitment and not a little bit of Messinian diplomacy, he weathered the storm. And then, over the years, something happened that was against our usual custom: His efforts were applauded, not just by the local community but by society as a whole. Because what he accomplished was to pull an entire region out of the doldrums – and it was quite extraordinary. He gave it vision, a new identity and a plan to become better. The local businesspeople who once viewed him as a threat realized that they could only benefit from his complete overhaul of the local brand.
Very few people today remember the battle he faced or the hurdles he came up against, and no one has apologized for it, not even now that he is gone. Not that I think he cares as he looks down on Messinia, knowing how much he helped transform it. Why? Because anyone who achieves as much as he did is all about keeping their eye on the goal, being optimistic and ignoring the grinches and naysayers.
It is important, however, that we learn something from his experience. Think of how many great projects, like the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, for example, were passionately opposed when they started and have since been hailed by the overwhelming majority of society, regardless of ideology and social class, for their contribution. And just think where Greece could be today if the state and the enduring forces of extreme populism would just let us get on with doing what we know we can do as Greeks, as a country.