Citizen ordeal

Kathimerini’s front page yesterday featured a reader’s letter as a case study/testimony of everyday inconvenience (or, perhaps, the inconvenience of the everyday). Mr Giorgos Koutsikos said that when he visited a police station to report that his son had been robbed by a knife-wielding man he was told to «come back tomorrow»; that another police station did not have any stamps to attest that his signature was genuine; that it takes up to 10 days to get a birth certificate requested by phone. The State, concluded the writer, seems to be interested only in collecting fines. Koutsikos’s laconic account of his troubles and his expression of mistrust toward the authorities met with much response among State officials and readers. The reaction of the latter was normal, considering their own everyday ordeal. That of the former was belated but still welcome, as long as it leads to serious measures and not random transfers of hapless police officers to somewhere else. Because it is clear to everyone that the essence of the letter does not lie with the specific incidents described, but with the related parameters – from understaffed services to the apathy of certain officials, or even the random yet regular shortages. At the same time, signs of the State’s retributive attitude are everywhere: Athenian streets are full of no-parking signs, even when there is no special reason, so that the authorities can stage an onslaught and impose fines when needed. It would be unfair to overlook the progress in some public services. The phone system is one sign of this and, although Koutsikos lamented an unfortunate event, another reader recently praised the fact that a requested certificate had been sent from Nafplion to Kranidi in one day. In other cases, you simply can’t beat the spirit of tardiness and indifference, most obviously in police stations or tax offices. In some cases, like when the police systematically impose fines for speeding safely on wide-open highways, or when heavy taxes are threatened against dissenters, the State raises its despotic head. In others, things may be different. The police officer who says, «Come back tomorrow» may simply know that whether he does take note of the report or not, conditions do not allow an immediate investigation. Everyday problems are not solved by introducing the Internet into schools, nor with legislative bills. It takes hard work, mobilization of staff, and a change of mentality – not the transfer of a police officer to some remote posting.

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