The new Greek government seems to be well on its way; it has made some mistakes but they appear to be of secondary importance. To be sure, there are many challenges ahead. Behind the euphoria and optimism there are dangers such as a downturn of the world economy, just as the Greek economy needs to take off, the major challenge of the refugee/irregular migrant issue, and the unpredictable and increasingly bellicose actions of Turkey. Nevertheless, those are dangers which are beyond the powers of the Greek government.
What the Greek government can and should do is to legislate in ways that will improve the life of citizens, attract foreign investment, and repair some of the long-term structural shortcomings of the Greek state. This will require hard work and planning but also judgment in order to avoid creating more problems than are solved. For example, while improving conditions for foreign investment, the state should not weaken environmental regulations to the point of causing long-term negative effects.
Above everything else though, Greece needs a new social consensus among its people. While we might not agree politically, agreeing that laws, once passed, should be obeyed must not be an issue. This is important because many Greeks seem to believe that “we are different,” and what works well all over the world will not – according to the above view – work in Greece because we are more “freedom-loving” etc.
Anti-smoking laws in Greece have been the victims of the above mind-set. While most of Europe, the US, and Canada have gone completely smoke-free in public areas, many Greeks seem unwilling to comply. Greece has had anti-smoking laws in the books for years now but in my visits to the country I failed to observe results. Taxi drivers and cafe owners and patrons continue to smoke. Complaints are brushed aside with the common excuse that the Greeks are somehow unique people who cannot be brought in line. I even hear the argument that anti-smoking laws violate smokers’ rights. This is of course nothing but an excuse; for starters, smoking is not a right, people do not have the right to smoke any more than they have the right to consume alcohol. Additionally, there is no right to subject others to the harmful effects of second-hand smoking. As to the claim that Greeks are “freedom-loving etc,” I submit the following story for readers’ consideration.
A few years ago I was visiting Belfast and went into a pub with an Irish friend. He told me that this particular pub was known in the pre-Good Friday Agreement days as an IRA meeting place and noted that most of the patrons were members of the IRA at one time or another and many of them had spent time in jail and been questioned by the British authorities (I have no way of verifying such claims). As I looked around, I mentioned that whatever else those people had been, or still were, they seemed to obey the law as many of them left the pub to smoke outside.
Now I know we Greeks are freedom-loving and cantankerous, but can anyone claim that IRA members are any less so? If they understand that everyday laws which make our lives easier should be obeyed, what is our excuse not to?
Disclosure: I was a smoker for nine years but have been a non-smoker again since 1987.
John A. Mazis is a history professor at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota.