OPINION

Disgrace

When will our political system stop being held hostage by the revelations of people caught up in corruption scandals? The Siemens case is just the most recent such instance. A scandal may weigh more on one of our two major political parties than the other, but scandals always provide both with a chance for a slanging match as to who is responsible for all the country’s ills. Developments are dictated by the information that leaks out at the discretion of the leading players and the news media. Usually there is so much noise and confusion that no one learns the truth and no one is held accountable. So, people can only believe that «everyone’s the same, everyone’s on the take.» The Siemens case is so big that it will either cement the Greeks’ convictions regarding their politicians or it will lead to a radical change in the behavior of our politicians, our parties and our state officials. The investigation of the scandal by the German authorities and an American legal firm brought to light evidence that we may not have seen otherwise. Obviously we cannot take at face value the «revelations,» knowing that the protagonists in the scandal are tough, experienced players who know all the moves regarding ways to create such confusion that no one will be held accountable for criminal acts. But one does not have to believe the claims made by former Siemens Hellas chief Michalis Christoforakos to understand that the ruling of the German court that convicted him of bribing state officials is an accurate description of the way political bribery works in Greece. According to this, companies give money illegally to the two major parties so that they will then oblige civil servants who are their members to take decisions that may not be in the public’s interest. In the preamble to its decision, the Munich court noted: «in Greece, the financing of political parties in the past functioned in such a way that a significant part of this was in the form of payment from companies.» «From the time that such payments were made a crime, it was customary in Greece for such payments to political parties to be made in order to ‘shape the political climate.’» It added: From the «end of the 90s» Siemens executives decided «Siemens should also make such payments to strengthen the company’s ties with Greek politicians, like those made by other big Greek firms.» Christoforakos will do all he can to clear his name, to avoid being labeled a bribe giver. PASOK MP Costas Geitonas, named in the German court’s ruling as a recipient of money on behalf of the Socialists, denies any involvement. Similarly, the family of the late Yiannis Vartholomaios, who was in charge of New Democracy’s finances at the time, also says that he received nothing. New Democracy and PASOK deny that they were funded by Siemens. It is possible that no evidence will be found, that no one will be convicted of bribery, despite the public’s conviction to the contrary. The two main parties will be able to continue their slanging matches unhindered, ignoring the huge problems that the country faces. In the whirlwind of self-serving «revelations» and the confusion cultivated by the news media, it is very likely that the scandal will take its place on the shelf alongside other stories that rocked Greece but for which no one was held culpable. But the issue is greater than this. Who will defend the honor of Greece’s political system – of Greece itself – which has been badly tarnished by the German court decision? Who will apologize to every citizen who does not take bribes, who has no reason to be ashamed in his or her personal life but is repeatedly shamed by the politicians who (ostensibly) represent them? Who will absolve Greek students and academics abroad, Greek migrants, of the shadow of corruption, when in Greece «everyone’s on the take»? The only thing that’s certain is that not many citizens will be prepared to defend the honor of our political system. Catharsis must come from the politicians themselves – with deeds, with transparency, with new faces. Things cannot go on like this.