The lists: Names but no substance

The lists: Names but no substance

We must come to terms with the fact that as far as Greece is concerned, the only thing that the publication of lists unearths is memories. Remember the heyday of once successful, now defunct local companies such as department store Minion, textile specialist Peiraiki-Patraiki and Olympic Airlines? The way we were, our friends, our city?

A list of Greece’s biggest debtors to the state that was revealed on Thursday, featuring the names of 13,730 individuals and companies, was ripe with “skeletons,” as the businesses pages of Kathimerini put it. It is estimated that, altogether, they owe the Greek state about 83 billion euros, but that only about 15 percent of this amount can actually be collected.

And let’s not forget that the list was in fact based on a previous list originally published in 2012, and that nothing came of that.

Over the last six years, the publication of lists has been associated with the notion of a cleansing of the system and each government’s decisiveness to crack down on tax evasion, corruption and the shadow economy.

Every so often, the names of well-known doctors, lawyers, artists and public figures in general are exposed following inspections by members of the Financial Crime Squad (SDOE), offering society a temporary sense of release and that things are finally being put right.

This practice reached a peak with the so-called Lagarde list of Greek depositors at a Geneva branch of HSBC and the turbulence following its publication.

The lists, like popular novels, our era’s version of Classics Illustrated, ultimately confirm the exact opposite of what they set out to do in the first place: the existence of government protegees’ powerful networks, the inefficiency of administrative services and the kind of despair that those in the top echelons of local politics find themselves getting into each time.

Any initial hope that something could change and that for once those responsible will end up paying (in all the various meanings of the term) is replaced, every time, by the disappointment that both punishers and punished are members of the same system who keep changing roles.

The networks are recycled at a speed dictated by the needs of each situation. In the end, groups of friends – inadvertently helped by the practical inability of those departments in charge – create a strong wall where one would have to pull aside many “skeletons” to reach – if at all – the active debtors from whom the state could collect.

The idea of lists as a publicity stunt has run its course. Let’s see what the next gimmick will be.

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