OPINION

It must be something in the water…

Consider a country in which its people are still trying to organize the public administration in a way that will impose order and help to serve citizens at a time when the system is so bloated and disorganized that there are too many people doing too little, where there are neither any incentives to work hard nor any penalties for not working at all. At the same time, a new class of rich people is rising in wealth and social status through the exploitation of illegal activities, such as illicit gambling, the exploitation of foreign-born women in the sex trade, and the usurious lending of these ill-gained riches. But it is not just the up-and-coming ruling class that is a threat; the government is also trying to find the measures needed to curb the power of the established rich, who use their wealth and influence to win favors from politicians in exchange for supporting them. Furthermore, the government is still so insecure about the form of the political system that it has been trying to demonize and exorcise the former king to such an extent that the European Court of Human Rights is close to awarding him somewhere in the region of 300 million euros in compensation for confiscated property. The national inferiority complex is still so strong that citizens and political parties suspect an international conspiracy (rather than an oversight) when the name of one of its most famous sons is not mentioned as the author of a piece of music played at the Winter Olympics’ opening ceremonies in Salt Lake City. To top it all, various vigilante journalists become the prosecutor, judge and jury of everything that they choose, the arbiters of social justice, because, in effect, institutions are not working. If crime and corruption were prosecuted doggedly by the police and the judiciary, the titillation of the yellow press would be limited, as in America, to gossip and fistfighting families. And all along, behind the lights of public life lurk various dangerous individuals, the terrorists who, like the brigands of old, pick foreigners or illustrious natives as their victims, raising anger and concern about security among members of the international community. Some countries wonder whether it will be safe to allow their citizens to travel to this precarious place. This, in turn, heightens the sense of inferiority and causes a reaction among the population in the form of antipathy toward any person or country that expresses anything less than awe and admiration for it. This is not a description of a nation emerging from decades of war and destruction, trying to find its feet by adopting new (and mostly imported) forms of governance while still having to deal with the very strong presence of the old order responsible for the many plagues that still beset the country. This is not Afghanistan. It is Greece of mid-February in the good year 2002. Perhaps it is a blessing that we always live in interesting times. Perhaps it is a curse that makes us react so often to events as if we were discovering old problems for the first time, as if we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past without the benefit of the wisdom of that past. As if our curse is that each generation, like Sisyphus, is given the same rock to labor under on an endless hill. This makes us feel not only that we are continually making a great effort, but also that we are not really getting anywhere. Aside from feeling exhausted from the effort, we are always angry. It is as if every Greek is upset because he or she is either not doing the work that God placed them on this earth to do or irate because, doing that work, they are not accorded the recognition that they believe they deserve. What better example of this could there be than that of Mikis Theodorakis? Few people in the world can have enjoyed the adulation and glory that Greeks have showered on their best-known living composer. Mikis is a symbol, a river that comes down in full flood all year long, bringing with it great music and wisdom but also, as rivers do, the bloated corpses of dead ideas or mistaken obsessions. So it was on Sunday when Theodorakis launched his full weight into an attack on the state broadcasting agency (ERT) for its alleged plot to deprive him of the authorship of a piece of music that the organizers of the Salt Lake City Olympics had asked Theodorakis to provide for the opening ceremony the previous day. Theodorakis, noting that he had been blacklisted by ERT periodically since the 1960s, claimed that he was the victim of the «forces of darkness that have nine lives.» When ERT, apologizing profusely, said that the organizers had not mentioned the author of the Canto Olympico, Theodorakis, and his former friends in the Communist Party, suspected something more sinister, a command «from higher up» in America, allegedly because of Theodorakis’s anti-American stand during the wars in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. Theodorakis made so much noise that not only did the ministers of press and culture get involved in trying to soothe his suffering ego but also that Prime Minister Costas Simitis himself felt the need to phone Theodorakis and assure him that he would try to find those responsible for this grave offense. Perhaps the fact that we can all be obsessed over the insignificant is a sign that the problems we face are not so serious. Is it that our trivial pursuits have made us blind? Or is it a blessing that every day we see the world with new eyes, and remain forever a young country?