On ‘Who are they trying to save?’

I read Alexis Papachelas’ commentary published on Wednesday, June 1, 2011 (“What are they trying to save?”) with a mixture of amusement and indignation. Does he really believe that the European technocrats who are ordering the Greek government to give them oversight authority and veto power over the actions of a sovereign government are nothing more than a benevolent humanitarian force focused on the altruistic mission of rebuilding Greece and the Greeks for the natives? own good? Apparently he does. How else can one explain statements such as this one:

“Let us look at our state straight on and accept all the help we can get in order to rebuild it properly. Even now things are getting better in some crucial sectors, with a lot of blood, sweat and tears.”

Leaving aside the obvious question of which sector exactly is «getting better» and how exactly this «gain» is being measured, one is tempted to point out that this kind of rhetoric is reminiscent of the kind to be found in the mouths of a portion of the population living in so-called banana republics. This self-proclaimed «enlightened» portion of the community constantly denigrates the ability of the natives to make decisions for themselves and persistently calls for foreign intervention to help the locals reach objectives that their limited intellectual capabilities cannot possibly achieve without the altruistic and benign intervention of a foreign agency.

In the eyes of these «saviors» of the homeland, national sovereignty can therefore be nothing more than a «rigamarole.» In fact, how can anyone even use such hollow abstractions as self-determination and independence? How can these outdated concepts measure up against the future benefits that will eventually be bestowed upon us by our foreign saviors? To be frank, such is the tone of Papachelas’s article that I’m surprised he hasn’t called for the public execution of those who dare argue that a government should be accountable to its electorate and not to its foreign masters. But then Papachelas probably wants to dispense with all pretence of basic democratic norms and principles in favor of economic efficiency, and I suspect that under that term hides another of the other central tenets that underlie a banana republic’s economy, namely that profits are to be privatized while all debts incurred are first and foremost the public’s responsibility.

One might be able to swallow this insipid soup if the remedy proposed by Papachelas could be shown to have borne fruit elsewhere. But there is scant evidence to that effect. Similar «solutions,» whether implemented through the IMF or the World Bank, have brought most of the developing world to its knees under the burden of an ever-increasing debt. And the German Treuhandanstalt that sold off East German enterprises in the 1990s is another example of a national privatization agency that worked largely for the benefits of banks and foreign creditors to the detriment of the people of East Germany.

But why should that stop us? Let’s keep asking the same technocrats to implement the same tired, old solutions regardless of whether these have been successful or not in the past. After all, they are meant to help Greece «remain solvent,? whatever that means. One suspects that what it does mean is to help a caretaker government working for those European institution put in place the mechanisms that will help the Greek state avoid taxing wealth and help it roll back wages while obliging labor to pay more in taxes while it sells off public land and enterprises to bail out foreign banks and bondholders even as it’s slashing social spending, industrial subsidies and public infrastructure investment.

That, Mr Papachelas, is the definition of a banana republic. And obviously you would prefer to see Greece become one even if (and one is tempted to say in your case: especially if) it means doing away with such pesky little things like any pretense of democracy. After all, why should an elected government be accountable to its own people when European financial authorities come calling?

Stephanos Charitos, Columbia University

Mr Papachelas,

You are officially my favorite writer on Kathimerini’s Comment section. Well said, sir.

Nick Kanellos

All my credits go out to Alexis Papachelas who fully understands the urgent need for change. And who also describes the fear reactions and failure of the present civil servants at the top who categorically deny all wrongdoing and don’t want to be judged by their failures. These civil servants have to ask themselves why they were put there in the first place; to serve the Greek people instead of keeping their own privileges on costs by the taxpayers. I strongly hope the Greek people can make a strong social solidarity gesture and be proud enough to demand a proper functioning public sector.

Petros Papadopoulos

I agree with what this gentleman says about accepting help from outside technocrats.

We all feel patriotism for our country but there are times when objective help is the way forward. It would enable Greece to handle things without the fear of reprisals from any factions fearful of the demise of nepotism and to get the job done. I think most honest Greeks would welcome the help in a sensible way.

It is the old story of people wanting to stick to the old ways. If there are better ways of doing things it is not as well to learn and be able to continue without outside help when the systems change to accommodate these new methods. If it helps to bring in new revenue then why not? There are still massive opportunities in the area of tourism in Greece. British and Germans and now Eastern Europeans all love their holidays in the sun and would flock back to places like Cassiope in Corfu. All-inclusive hotels mostly help the tour operators. There is massive scope for development there now and many existing apartments which could be upgraded and made less basic. All the natural attributes are still there. It just needs a makeover and some local incentives to attract businesses back. There are many beautiful picturesque resorts just wasting away on Corfu. They are investments which could not and would not fail if only the bureaucrats would accommodate the change. And wouldn’t it be wonderful to prove all the Doubting Thomases wrong by making money instead of having to borrow more and more? As long as the taxing of these enterprises was sorted out the country could only prosper from them.

Brenda Braithwaite

This is the best editorial I have every read. He is so right. What are they trying to save? Something so rotten and dysfunctional that it reeks to high heaven. No wonder we’ve had so many thunderstorms. Zeus can’t stand the smell of corruption that wafts up to Mt Olympus.

Renee Pappas

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