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Mountain lobsters and the fall of Karamanlis
by Thanos Kalamidas
2009-09-11 09:16:55
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Reading in the news about the Greek Prime Minister’s resignation, and call for national elections, I was fascinated to find out that everybody connected the early resignation with the summer wildfires and the disastrous way the government dealt with them. Kostas Karamanlis didn’t call for national elections because of the fires, but the wildfires are the perfect example of what’s going on in Greece.

The mistake with the summer wildfires – this was not the first time Greece suffered from uncontrollable fires, as I mentioned in another article last month here in Ovi magazine – is that the whole mechanism, political and executive – meaning fire departments and the army - is not there to prevent problems, but to deal with them. And anything outside of this plan brings the disaster. It is as simple as that, and it has worked like that about everything since 1974, when the dictators made their short walk to the prison cells, and the uncle of today’s PM returned to Greece from seven years of self-exile to lead the new Greek Democracy.

On his return to Greece after the dictatorship, Konstantinos Karamanlis – despite public demand for a total cleanup – decided to keep a certain balance between a part of the society that kept quiet in front of crimes, of the torturing and murders of the dictators, and another part of society that, blinded by their anticommunism, supported the dictators. Then there were the people who had suffered, who had seen their family members tortured and forced into exile; these were people who wanted a different future. The conservative Karamanlis decided that his way was somewhere in the middle, because he needed the help and support of the strong financers who during the dictatorship had supported the dictators or kept quiet – their excuse was always the communist fear from the north.

As a result he relied on a hydrocephalus bureaucracy that controlled the state; a series of interests that were not always for the common good, but mostly good for their pockets. This made ordinary people disappointed and frustrated. Frustrated because after WWII and an extended and bloody civil war, the Greek people had had a chance to taste real democracy, where they felt represented and heard. Then the king and later the dictators unfortunately did everything they could to strangle it. After the dictatorship, most Greeks were asking for justice, which they didn’t get. But on the horizon was somebody who promised justice; Andreas Papandreou. In the meantime, Karamanlis had to cope with his balancing reality, by dealing with the problems as they appeared. And no doubt this balance brought a lot of problems, mainly a country destroyed by the dictators’ economy.

Andreas – he was known to the Greeks by his first name and this showed the familiarity which the people felt for him – promised change, justice and punishment. This led him to the PM’s seat in 1981, while Karamanlis became president. Andreas had to deal with a new reality; while it was not easy to move the old bureaucracy, a new one was pushing its way in. Papandreou’s socialist green bureaucracy forced its way inside the blue conservative bureaucracy. This was a violent procedure, and it gradually built up to a series of scandals and discriminations. Again, the new prime minister had no time to prevent things from happening. He barely had time to deal with the problems and with a change so huge in the making, the problems piled up quickly. This was a period when the distance between the people and the politicians started to get bigger. The socialists felt that they knew what was best for the people, and started acting in the name of the people, all while ignoring the people.

The next thing Andreas had to deal with was something the last PM said very well in an interview last week: to choose your cooperators by their CV is one thing, but when it comes to work it is another thing all together. This is exactly what happened to Andreas. His cooperators had perfect CVs, but when they became ministers, they proved to be a dangerous liability that gradually led him to his fall. Again, the government was busy dealing with problems and not preventing them, all while the economy was getting worse, unemployment higher, poor people poorer. The new frustration was growing bigger.

The thing of dealing with but not preventing problems gradually became a trap for the whole Greek political life. This included the media; instead of helping as they should, they provocatively supported it, and as a result the media soon became another part of the problem. Except for a three year gap – with and without Papandreou – the socialists ruled Greek political life for nearly twenty years. For the Greek people, after the frustration, disappointment followed, plus a series of scandals that shook the Greek society. While following the example of most European socialist parties, after the fall of the wall, the Greek socialist party became more social-democratic in theory and conservative in practice, and people started talking about the good old days. Then the conservative party gave them the good old days back, by bringing in the nephew of the late Konstantinos Karamanlis – who even had the same name – to lead them.

Kostas Karamanlis, the nephew, had no practice behind him and on his CV was only one thing: he was the …nephew! One of the older leaders of the conservative party has said about Karamanlis that he would have put him in a ministry as a secretary just because of the name, but otherwise he wouldn’t trust him with anything. However the Greek people trusted him with the PM seat. Twice even, since the first time he said “sorry I made some mistakes, please give me a second chance. It wasn’t me; it was the twenty years of socialists!” In his case, it wasn’t only him who was inefficient, but his cooperators were marching with him and his nonexistent talents. Of course he was the worst possible choice to prevent problems – in fact he has proved to have a talent for creating new ones. Economic scandals, which included even ministers of the government, soon became a daily issue, adding sex just to give it some Mediterranean colour, and lot of food. The only thing that history will remember this Greek PM for, were his huge meals and his endless appetite for lamb ribs; he calls them the …mountain lobster!

In his speech calling for national election, Karamanlis warned that this time he was going to have a new attitude. He’s not going to promise anything or mislead the people – in contrast with the opposition as he emphasized – and he’s going to tell the truth. Which to start with raises the question if he was lying till now? He said that there will be no raise in salaries for the next two years, no more expenses in the government, and better tax control on the rich, who will be taxed and he might have to raise some taxes for everybody. He emphasized better security measures towards illegal immigrants and better control of the health and education system. According to him that’s the truth! I could not agree more, but that was also part of his job description for the last six years as a PM; the question is why didn’t he do it and what’s the guarantee that he will do it now?

Of course since the opposition is represented by another …family member – at least this one has been minister a couple of times so he has something to show on his CV – there is a lot of doubt. This makes the gap between the people and the politicians even bigger. In the summer Euro-elections, many Greeks abstained from voting.  This made politicians and parties react with anger – one more time they are trying to deal with the problem and not prevent it. And this raises one more question, are the people going to vote?

Anyway, we have over a month to follow what’s going on until the election – and I’m going to. I want to see if the politicians are going to do something to reach out to the people, instead of making the gap even bigger. I think this is the most critical election since 1974, because this time people can see what the politicians have missed for so long, and people will react! The Greek society is changing, leaving the political system behind!


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Anastasios2009-09-11 21:26:01
Thano, I find your article very good. I agree on the importance of the upcoming elections. However I am sure you agree that people are already disgusted. I do not see how an even more disgusted electorate can shake things up, because of a self-serving political apparatus.

alexandra pereira2009-09-11 21:34:34
Thank you for the insightful article.

Thanos2009-09-12 09:44:32
As last years' events shown things are a bit different this time and people start reacting. Let's see!

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