Weeding out the small-timers

One of Greece’s biggest problems is the fact that small-timers made it into crucial positions with major responsibilities that affect society as a whole. Academics who were mediocre at best were elected as rectors of major higher education institutions, not because they had a brilliant resume but because they had the support of student branches of political parties, of union-affiliated staff members who enjoy permanent posts and of good public relations. These are people who are skittish and scared. They just want their tenure to come to an end without problems, without conflicts and, better yet, without any changes to Greek tertiary education.

Small-time, mediocre lawyers or people who had never done a proper say’s work other than putting in an appearance at their university’s lecture theater have also found themselves sitting in ministerial posts. The only thing that they ever cared about was promoting someone from within their own circle of allies to stand near them, to play nice with the unionists, to share a bit of political gossip with some rag or other and to pray that nothing goes seriously wrong while they’re in the chair.

Such small-timers, however, have also found their way into top positions in other sectors, such as the military and the police force, the heart, that is, of the state, posts where there can be no cutting of corners or subpar performances. I still remember, with a chill running down my spine, the tremulous admission of one top army official who played some role in the Imia crisis in 1996: «I don’t even know how I got into the post I had then, that was PASOK for you.» Things had gone so far down the spiral that to get a promotion it didn’t matter whether you spoke any English or had tried to get some further education, but only whether you were cronies with one high-ranking government official or another.

These small-timers share one common characteristic. They are all «good guys» and they don’t really feel that they are small-timers in terms of what is demanded of them. I suppose it’s like being the sixth of the seven dwarves; you wouldn’t really feel small, would you?

Another trait they certainly share is that when things get tough they fall apart. They don’t know how to react, what to do. All they want is peace and quiet. They don’t want any trouble. It is physically impossible for them to make any decision that may have negative repercussions, to muster up the courage to rise to any occasion demanded by their position. The small-timer are so addicted to intrigue, to entangled interests and to playing the PR game, that they simply cannot think, even for a second, like the leader of a well-composed state.

On the other hand, there are many shining examples, hundreds of unsung heroes who do their jobs, show respect for their position and keep this country on its feet. They may be the pilots who fly whatever the weather, for little money, over Farmakonissi when Turkish fighter jets appear. They may be university rectors and professors who protect their universities from the gangs and extortionists without kicking up a fuss. They may be police officers who sleep at their desks, get paid 1,300 euros a month, and insist on protecting society from the dead-heads and lunatics who want to burn down everything in their wake. Last, but not least, they may be capable and honest public employees who are keeping their entire department running while their colleagues play computer games and the political leadership thinks up of new ways to make a deal in exchange for a favor.

There are many people out there who are doing their jobs and getting paid a pittance, but who allow us to say that Greece still has a state mechanism. The issue is how we will change, forever and irrevocably, the mechanisms and institutions that allow these ridiculous small-timers to reach the top at so many institutions. The truth is that in many cases, such as in the police or the military, we are seeing fewer and fewer clowns and more and more professionals who know their jobs and have courage. It’s a shame that the same cannot be said of the university system.