The Greek state is being severely tested. Some people say it is still standing as if by magic. Others attribute its perseverance to a combination of generosity (or what the Greeks like to call “filotimo”) and persistence.
The handling of the refugee and migration crisis certainly gives the impression Greece is a failed state. The situation has exposed the government’s complete lack of professionalism, forward planning and responsibility. One does not want to think what the response would be in the event of a major natural disaster.
Much of the blame certainly lies with the government. People from the fringes of the political system were suddenly catapulted to center stage, having to deal with crucial issues without any substantial training. We used to say that this or that politician is good enough to run an NGO but not skilled enough to run the state. Now this too has been overcome by developments.
The ineptitude of the current political leadership would be less of a concern if Greece had a solid and disciplined state apparatus. But that is not the case. Asked whether the security drills held ahead the 2004 Athens Olympic Games were continuing in any way, an experienced official said, “Of course not.” Most of the people who at that time received special missions training have since either been moved to different posts or retired.
Luckily, there are still individuals in key posts who know how to make the best of a bad situation. They are driven by a sense of duty and, in some cases, pride in their work. After all, the Greek political system never took care to protect the core of the state apparatus from the tsunami of horizontal cuts. The combination of ineptitude and populism have resulted in the chief of National Defense General Staff (GEETHA) receiving a monthly salary of 2,800 euros.
The people in charge of more delicate tasks are in despair. Driven by dignity and concern about the national interest, they often try to disguise the true extent of the problem. In the era of satellite communication and free information, facts cannot be suppressed.
The convenient solution is to blame all this on the evil memorandums and austerity policies. But the truth is that Greek politicians chose to chop off a precious chunk of the state apparatus rather than trim the unnecessary fat.
Amateur and ideologically obsessed politicians, a dysfunctional state, far-reaching crises in all sectors. It’s a perfect storm. This is the history of a country which manages to survive despite textbook theory.