Challenge for new mayors

One taverna owner in the faraway village of Samarina in northern Greece bade us farewell with a comment of hope that the new mayors of Thessaloniki and Athens, businessman and oenologist Yiannis Boutaris and former Ombudsman Giorgos Kaminis respectively, would be able to change things in the country’s two largest cities for the better. His wish made an impression on me because he made it clear that beyond the kind of rubbish we hear coming out of the mouths of certain television presenters, there are people in Greece who have not given up, who continue to hope for a better tomorrow and who are happy to see new faces in the political arena. The two mayors, however, are facing rough times ahead and there is a lot for them to lose. They are standing in the shadows of hardcore unionists, of corruption and of various nefarious forces that have become accustomed to doing their dirty business without compunction. In one sense, the election to office of Kaminis and Boutaris represented a revolution, a reaction from middle-class Greeks who was fed up with decadence of their cities. Very few of those who voted for them cared whether they represented or had the support of the ruling PASOK party or main opposition New Democracy. What they did want to see was dignity and ability combined successfully for once. This magic recipe has become such a rarity due to the fact that most of us believe that good people should never become involved in politics because they will be eaten alive by the less high-minded proponents of the current system. Fans of the existing status quo are more numerous than we imagine and they will be delighted to see Kaminis and Boutaris drowning in piles of garbage and unable to change a single paving stone in their cities. These are the people who revel in Greece’s identity as a slightly backward country, who believe that any sign of change toward modernization will amount to nothing more than a short-lived chimera. Hopefully, the new mayors of Greece’s biggest cities will prove to be tough enough to meet the challenges that lie ahead. Should they show that they have what it takes, they may also serve as a source of inspiration to active and diligent people who don’t while away their time behind political party desks to take an active role in bringing about the changes this country so desperately needs.