Wanted: A Greece-first model

Many political officials in Thessaloniki have over the past few years been engaged in a parochial game, festering an antagonism between the north and south that harms national unity. Ironically, the campaign is spearheaded by politicians who like to style themselves as guardians of national interest. The tirades by Thessaloniki Mayor Vassilis Papageorgopoulos were the latest addition to a lexicon that has found many a receptive ear in the local community. Criticism of the «Athens-centered state» is essentially criticism of centralization. It does not refer to the north-south divide. After all, Athens is to Greece what Thessaloniki would like to be for Macedonia and beyond. We are essentially facing the consequences of wrongly directed development whose implications are not limited to the provinces. Athens, and more recently Thessaloniki, are suffering the consequences. No government has ever made any systematic effort to favor the south over the north. Sure, the Attica basin has in previous years absorbed most of investment. But that was mainly due to the hosting of the Olympic Games and the future distribution of funds must take this into consideration. The problem with Thessaloniki is that despite its size and geographical position any success in the economy, culture or sports has been short-lived. It would be unfair to put all the blame on the local elites. After all, the centralizing model does not leave much space to maneuver. But that is true for all provincial towns. Because of the city’s size, tradition and myth, Thessaloniki residents are finding their side-lined role hard to swallow. Hence the inferiority complex manifested in matters from soccer to political events. But cultivating an unproductive and dangerous competition with Athens is no solution. The only solution lies in abandoning the Athens-first state model in favor of more balanced development. Athens would be the first to benefit.