Wasted time

I often look back with nostalgia at the 2004 Olympic Games with its mood of euphoria, the sense of an overall purpose, and the army of volunteers projecting the image of a different Greece. Whatever happened to all that? Around me I see only pessimism and cynicism. It seems to me that the Games had some very negative consequences. International experience shows that the first days of a government are extremely important. Nicolas Sarkozy recently unveiled a 100-day action plan. Ronald Reagan became famous for passing 10 bills in the first 10 weeks of his presidency. Its in your first days in power that you have a strong public mandate and a high level of public and media tolerance. In other words, it’s the best time to break some eggs. In the spring of 2004, Costas Karamanlis had nothing to worry about, as he enjoyed an unfettered political hegemony. When the conservatives came to power they had no action plan, only great anxiety to bring the Games to a successful finish. That concern eclipsed any desire for radical change. Failure to deal with Olympic Airways, the embattled state air carrier, before the Games (most of the premier’s aides advised him against closing it down ahead of the Games) meant the problem would be around for quite some time. «Keep in mind that since we failed to solve the issue this time, we are never going to do so,» Karamanlis said at the time, sounding like the Delphic Oracle. The Games worked as an excuse for shelving reforms while creating the impression «that everything is just fine.» The truth was that the state was on full throttle under the watchful eye of foreign supervisors. Much of the time before and after the Games was wasted. The government enjoyed a prolonged grace period but allowed precious political time to be lost.