The ideology of centralism

The ideology of centralism

Citizen Protection Minister Giannis Oikonomou has a point when he says that his role is not that of a “policeman, an operational official, to draw up plans for dealing with hooligans, or to explain the self-evident – that is, that they [the hooligans involved in the killing of a 29-year-old soccer fan in Athens] should not have been allowed to cross half of Greece without being stopped somewhere.” That’s how it should be. But then again, is it the job of the finance minister to order the removal of illegal sunbeds from island beaches? How many times have we heard that some infringement was dealt with “by order” of the prime minister?

As the proverb goes, “success has many fathers, failure is an orphan.” But if good decisions are the result of an order from the prime minister or minister, so should the failures be attributed to them. Either the state can act decisively without political intervention or we must realize that inaction, due to the absence of intervention from above, is a major political problem.

Let’s not forget that we have a long history of political and other backsliding in our recent history

This problem is not only the fault of a prime minister or minister, regardless of how willing they are to take the bait of ephemeral publicity using the line that a beach was cleaned “on their order.” There is also the pervasive ideology of centralization in public affairs. For Greeks, everything must be done by the central state. They believe the others cannot do it or are corrupt. As for the civil service, everything must go through the office of the minister or prime minister. The prime minister is the Almighty, all-knowing authority. The ministers simply rubber-stamp his orders. Isn’t this how the previous citizen protection minister, Notis Mitarakis, messed up?

There is a widespread perception that all the Greek state needs to function properly is “crazy” and scrupulous officials, as the executive editor of Kathimerini, Alexis Papachelas, described them recently in a commentary published in the paper. These people, of course, are necessary to mobilize the inherently sluggish state bureaucracy but they are not sufficient. The state also needs institutional memory, because the crazy and scrupulous at some point depart, leaving the “sane” and sometimes “corrupt” in their place. 

Let’s not forget that we have a long history of political and other backsliding in our recent history. Ten years after the economic miracle of joining the European Monetary Union, Greece went bankrupt. Six years after the “miracle” of dismantling the allegedly “uncatchable” terrorist organization November 17, serious riots devastated parts central Athens and nobody was arrested. A year later, former PASOK education minister Anna Diamantopoulou’s emblematic law overhauling education and universities began to unravel.

Therefore, however excellent the crazy and scrupulous may be, they have an expiration date. Never mind that the prime minister or minister may forget to issue the orders, which means that services without institutional memory will remain idle until they receive them.

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