A New Greece? Sign Me Up!
Thanos Tzimeros Speech
Imagine a stretch of land, dry and barren after a long drought, parched to its core. Suddenly a group of clouds appear overhead and the first raindrops begin to fall, dampening the air and filling it with the scent of life. As the raindrops fall they form little brooks that start flowing, timidly at first, then gain momentum as their paths converge, and the skies open up and it becomes evident that a new season has dawned. And where there was death before there is now rejuvenation and where there was a desert before plants are starting to bud, along with creativity and hope and joy. This is how we too set out, coming together slowly, drawing upon the reserves within our soul, to find ourselves here at our first group meeting, so that we can become a river and send a rippling message that will be heard from this auditorium all over the world:
Because “another” Greece exists. That of thought and reason; of effort and productivity; of culture and dignity. And there are many of us who believe this. More than may be obvious.
We were moved, and surprised at the same time, when we saw our group grow in number and realized how many of us Greeks think along the same lines, how many of us believe in the same values. Like members of a race who dispersed after being pursued by barbarians and have now come together to reunite. There were always many of us. But, we did not have a voice that was heard, because we didn’t set up roadblocks or seal off ports, we didn’t organize sit-ins, we didn’t tear up sidewalks and smash marble, we didn’t yell like fanatics on the news and evening talk shows, nor did we engage in business dealings with those in power.
But then again, dignity always had its disadvantages because how do you confront vulgarity without mimicking its methods? How do you make a case for communication and solidarity when the only thing one hears in the marketplace is the battle cries of the foolish and the chicane speeches of con-artists? How – and this is the hard part – do you or I or the next guy confront a system that operates like the MAFIA and of course, has the financial resources to match?
What we’re setting out to do is not easy. But there is no alternative. Our country is in a coma. And the Greek people – desperate, exhausted, with their gaze cast downwards like a beaten dog, divided into factions that are ready to tear each other apart in order to hold on to whatever they can of the profits they have reaped until now. It is the epitome of complete and utter decay.
Today, Europe’s powerful leaders are making decisions for us without our input. Their verdict carries little significance at this point. Whether they call it a haircut, color and highlights, default or a credit event, Greece once again will become a humbled protectorate that will depend on international supervision for its day-to-day survival. History repeats itself not as farce but as a greater tragedy.
And though every single resident in this country is frozen by fear in the face of what is to come, our leaders out-do each other in foolishness and pettiness. “Yiorgakis” [“Little-George”, refers to Prime Minister and head of the governing Panhellenic Socialist Party (PASOK) George Papandreou] and “Antonakis” [“Little Antony” refers to main opposition leader of New Democracy (ND) Antonis Samaras]- the diminutives, which the Greek people have designated for their leaders are not a form of endearment but a way to devalue them – are inadequate, small-minded and petty; they are the sad figures history will associate with our long and steep downfall. Joining them are the talking skeletons of the Stalin Museum, the professional revolutionaries who rebel from a safe distance, those who create chaos in Parliament, the most extreme conservatives who have fought tooth and nail all these years against any attempt at reform.
There is no way that the bipartisan gang which ruins anything that a segment of Greek society produces will reform itself.
On the contrary, it knows too well that the more it debases itself the more it fortifies its interests.
Because what inspired and capable person can breathe within the musty corridors of the political parties? Who can stand to associate with fools, interact with con-artists, or join forces with the sad group of crooks who, with very few exceptions, make up the political party machine?
They have transformed even the ultimate act of democratic responsibility and control – the elections – into a three-ring circus. We have been watching the same clowns perform the same act for the past 35 years. Grand plans printed on expensive paper, fancy TV commercials – all paid for by us.
Only to hear the same line in the end: “We inherited a wasteland,” which, miraculously enough turns into the land of plenty for the goombah, the buddies, the sons and daughters of those in office. For the rest there is only ashes and charred earth. And even though they hear the applause fading, they see the audience walking out, the bleachers emptying and the cries of protest becoming louder, they insist on performing the same nauseating shtick of: It’s your fault- No, your fault – No, your fault – No, your fault.
The electorate, always more mature than its leaders, sends out its own messages: Nobody is fit to be prime minister! Voter turnout plummets! We don’t want you! Get lost! And the response? There is none. No sound wave of protest and objection can get through the thick skulls of the politicians. So what do we do?
That’s why we’re here. To defeat them. Greece, the version created under the reign of the post-1974 Mafia, has to be leveled and in its place we must build a productive and respectable Western European nation.
Is it difficult? Very. However, for the first time, circumstances are on our side. The European Union can no longer tolerate a festering wound in its soft underbelly. The scams carried out by the gangsters of PASOK and New Democracy are known all over the world; “Greek statistics” has become part of the international terminology, and the “people”, who for many years waved their little party flags in the hopes of landing a job in the public sector, have realized, to a great extent, how we’ve arrived at this tragic state.
If people representing the productive forces of the economy do not start a movement now, then when?
Everything has to change and it has to change quickly in order to achieve two main objectives: justice and growth. Justice represents a society’s immune system. Ours suffers from “AIDS” and has been in a coma for years. And because nature does not like voids, the “place” of Justice has been filled by a lawlessness that at this point has become an institution, on every level. Our moral bankruptcy preceded our economic bankruptcy. What caused this moral bankruptcy? I’d like to elaborate on this point because the reasons that led a proud people to disgrace are not metaphysical.
Morality or ethics is nothing more than a regulatory framework within which a society operates and has a long-term perspective. Immorality, on the other hand, is short-sighted. However, every human being is genetically programmed for survival thus seeking to get the maximum result with the least amount of effort. And here is where we come across the concept of the state again, as panderer. The state cuts and deals the cards; it makes up the rules of the game.
You want to find a job. Which of the following courses of action entail the least amount of energy? Going to college, doing post-graduate studies, sending out resumes and going through interviews. And then you get hired only to worry every day about performing, meeting your targets, keeping your skills up to date, competing with your colleagues and worrying about the possibility of being fired or laid off? Or do you go to your MP and tell him that he can count on five votes from your family – including grandma even though she suffers from Alzheimer’s – in exchange for a job in the public sector? Obviously, the latter route is less taxing. No contest.
Of the following scenarios, which one requires less effort? Cultivating your land for a year with all the hard work and risks that that entails or setting up roadblocks for five days on the National Road while you barbeque and drink ouzo on the side of the highway?
[Theodoros] Pangalos [Deputy Prime Minister] is the master of distorting meanings. If you remember, while speaking at a British college, he said: “What do you think, that MPs go around to cafes asking who wants a job in the public sector? No, it is the corrupted citizens who go and beg MPs for a job!” Yes, that’s true. But, why have you left out the best part? Why don’t you tell us how MPs respond? Do they cut people off and say “that is out of the question!” or do they consent? The deputies you oversee, how do they respond? How did you personally respond to such requests during your many years of ….contribution to this country?
Only now did our political hot-shots realize that the patronage state is to blame for everything. And they say this so matter-of-factly!
What is a patronage state? Is it a form of government? Do we have a Presidential Democracy, a Parliamentary Democracy and a Patronage Democracy? The patronage state is BLATANT THIEVERY! You take my tax money to provide me with services but instead you use to buy your re-election. That is a crime, a violation of the penal code! So, you admit that a patronage state existed? Well then, give us names! Who was handing out jobs and to whom? All should be held accountable, in court!
Moral decadence, which we blame society for, is just another government byproduct. The spreading of lawlessness is facilitated by the fact that all illegal or immoral acts can be justified to a certain degree. If you speak to a police officer who is paid off to look the other way, he will give you a whole list of reasons as to why he’s doing it: his low salary, the dangerous nature of his job, the swear words every couch activist throws his way, the conviction that everyone else is on the take so why should he be left out? And to an extent, he’s right!
If you talk to the tax evader, the person who’s built illegally, the employee how is paid under the table, the employer who pays the employee under the table, the doctor who accepts “the little envelope” (a reference to doctors working in the public health care system who are paid by patients illegally) but performs surgeries 12 hours a day and has a lower salary than a railroad conductor. All these people are partially justified in their behavior.
But justice cannot exist like this. There is nothing you can rely on. Right now, as we speak, we are certain that a group of people somewhere, somehow are planning the next wave of looting of public funds; some are planning to illegally hire their sister-in-laws, their wives, their children as part of the bankrupt public sector workforce– as we speak! That constant feeling of living in a lawless country, where a certain segment of society is always living it up and I’m the idiot left out in the cold, wears down our resistance, it makes the case for lawlessness and leads to moral and economic deterioration.
There is no pre-election campaign speech that doesn’t make reference to the need for stomping out tax evasion. Does anyone really believe that if everyone paid their taxes as they should have all these years we wouldn’t be in trouble now? We would, and it would be a lot worse! Because we would have 10,000 members in Parliament who would earn double what they earn now, Akis [Tsohatzopoulos, member of PASOK who had held numerous ministerial posts] would have bought the Acropolis and the trade unionists of the Public Power Corporation would be vacationing in Bora-Bora with their personal masseuse - all paid for with taxpayers’ money.
A tax conscience evolves when citizens and the state have a relationship based on mutual respect and honesty.
Corruption fosters tax evasion so that there is a black economy that can bankroll the corrupted civil servants. The vicious cycle is broken only when the state stops nurturing it; when it learns to respect people’s efforts and labor, when it makes the most of every single euro it collects, and when it accounts for the way in which it has managed our money. Only then can the state say: “I’ve kept my end of the bargain. Have you?”
Living in Germany in the late 80s, it would surprise me to see how Greek immigrants religiously obeyed the traffic code. They’d come to a complete standstill at pedestrian crosswalks, they wouldn’t beep their horns the second the light turned green, and they wouldn’t cut off other drivers in the turning lane. But, the minute they crossed the Greek border, they’d make 100 violations every kilometer. It was at that time that the Berlin Wall fell and many from East Germany came to the West and we would wonder how these Germans who had been disciplined for centuries could adopt, in just 40 years, the “Greek “ mentality of slacking, subsidies, allowances, and scams. The West Germans were appalled. The explanation was simple: This is how they had learned to survive under [Erich] Honecker’s corrupt regime.
Basically, people dance to whatever tune is being played. Aside from those cases of systematic and gross illegal acts, we are all guilty to some extent of breaking the law. It is impossible to be a law-abiding citizen in Greece. However, we don’t all share the same level of responsibility. And here, I must once again, refer to the master of distorting meanings [Theodoros Pangalos]. His notorious statement: “We spent it together”, contains two lies and one truth. [Translated literally, he said: “We ate it together,” referring to Greece’s overspending that has resulted in the current crisis.] The first lie is “together,” which implies collaboration, mutual agreement, complicity. I did not consent to this. The second lie is “spent [ate]” which means to squander, scatter to the winds, waste. I didn’t. The statement, does however, contain a truth and that is that we all benefitted. We all received a portion of the money that resulted from the bubble of over-borrowing whether in the form of salaries, pensions, benefits or freelancers’ rates that exceeded the productivity level of our economy.
And what becomes apparent here is not only the extent of the problem but also its moral dimension. The spreading of corruption created passive accomplices.
For example, I know that the 40 year-old guy who frequents my café is falsely claiming disability benefits. So what do I do? Do I report him? But then I will lose him as a customer. And who do I report him to? To the doctor who determined he was disabled? To the employee at the prefecture who approved his application? Or to the political figure who made it all possible? The trouble is that everyone is in on it. So, I just curse the government and get on with my life.
Thus, a relationship of hate has evolved between Greeks and their country, something westerners cannot understand because in their country the government is the guardian of social values and when the rules are broken immediate and harsh measures are taken.
One example is Britain’s Defense Minister, Liam Fox, who resigned after it was revealed a close friend of his accompanied him on official trips. Another example is Germany’s Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (must be an unlucky ministry!) resigned because he copied and pasted a few paragraphs in his doctorate thesis.
“Small details” like that are capable of bringing down political careers in the countries of “dumb foreigners”! We, on the other hand, are “clever”. We write down corruption the way we write down debt. Something gets in our way, we snip it, or we add an article 86 to the Constitution, courtesy of Evangelos Venizelos [Finance Minister] let’s not forget, and so we move on with a clean slate, an unblemished record and unpunished so that we can proceed with the next round of looting.
Can this deeply damaged relationship between the people and the state be restored? Quicker than you would think. Because our country is our mother and as much as we may fight with our mother we always want to reconcile and make peace.
This is why we’re here: To rebuild our collectiveness; to rejoin all the pieces of our shattered society. Because what we want is not some distant vision. It’s what could start happening right now if the right people were in the right posts and if instead of looking out for our own interests, our friends’ interests, our clique’s interests we acted with the aim of saving our country.
How many people like that exist and where do we find them? In order to run the country you need 2,000 high-level and experienced people who will assume the task of pushing through reforms. Can we find these people in the political parties? Absolutely not! Can we find them in public administration? Don’t rush to answer ‘no.’ We think they exist and they far exceed the 2,000 mark. They are those people who went to university, who have skills and who passed exams to become civil servants. They’re graduates of the School of Public Administration. They are those employees who offer their help in a low voice when you go to a public agency and are frustrated by the irrationality of all the bureaucracy. They are also those people who win distinctions abroad but who are marginalized at home. Who, for example, knows that this year’s International Public Administration Award, which is given out by the American Society of Public Administration, will go to Panagiotis Karkatsoulis, professor at the Hellenic School of Public Administration?
The worthy Public Administration employees who refuse to take on the load of the slackers and envision a state based on meritocracy and progress as means of achieving growth, are also on our side and some of the warmest supporters of “Dimiourgia Xana!” After all, what does dimiourgo (create) mean in the Greek Language? It means serving the people; producing to benefit others and the common good.
We are eager to create. We have ideas, knowledge, experience. Millions of Greeks possess these skills. But we’re at a standstill, waiting for growth as if we were waiting for Godot. We were supposed to see economic growth in 2012, then they told us 2013, now the latest forecast is 2014. The closer we get, the more economic growth seems to be out of reach. It’s like a mirage. And it absolutely stands to reason, because 35 years now, the country has, in essence, been in recession. What statistics had termed as growth was effectively an artificial bubble created by borrowed money, not by an increase in productivity or exports.
So when will this economic growth come about? With the existing government. NEVER! With the proposals that “Dimiourgia Xana” has drafted and that other serious political groups have put together it could happen tomorrow. Looking forward there are two possible scenarios: the first is difficult; the second is terrifying.
All discussion about what will happen in the future is completely pointless if this current ‘vampire’ state remains in place. The country has been losing steam in terms of productivity for the past 35 years; it is now on its knees.
There is no future with the current political model – none! The difficult scenario – which we can make less difficult – is to accept the obvious: Riches do not fall from the sky because some people took to the streets throwing their fists in the air and carrying banners; nor because there was blood shed. It’s hard work and sweat that brings about wealth and prosperity, in an environment that rewards hard work and sweat.
Is it easy to boost our productivity? Like you couldn’t imagine! As long as, for the first time in our political history, we think in simple terms. Countries that did – and among them I include Turkey under Erdogan – were successful. They created an economic environment that was fast, simple, transparent and stable.
We can pursue investors in Dubai, China or Antarctica! It doesn’t matter. They won’t come.
For the past two years, the government has spent an enormous amount of money on sending officials to various countries in pursuit of foreign investment while at the same time Greek tax law changes every five days and no one knows what tomorrow will bring.
Are we serious? Who, with the slightest bit of intelligence, is going to throw away their capital into this black hole of ineffectiveness and corruption?
And I’m not just talking about foreigners; the Greeks too. Greeks possess an entrepreneurial spirit. And if we want to increase productivity we first have to rely on ourselves, on the small- and medium-sized, innovative, Greek production unit. But can any one of us be productive in this prison?
This is why we’re here. Because we believe that Greek creativity has been so grossly suppressed that if you let it free it will spring to life. We live in the most beautiful country in Europe. We have in abundance what other countries have in small doses: sun, sea, wind, beaches, mineral wealth, biodiversity, plants and herbs that do not grow anywhere else, wine, olive oil, fruit, culture, history, entrepreneurs and world-renowned scientists, companies that are conquering international markets and a proud shipping sector.
We have a lot to offer – or to sell, if you prefer. And most of all we have our Greekness. Not in the small-minded, xenophobic, nationalist sense but that rare balance between rationalism and imagination, practical thought and poetry, action and daydreaming. It is with reflection and dreams that we will move forward.
Homer provided a concise description of the traits that characterize someone as Greek. In the opening verses of The Odyssey, after calling upon his muse for inspiration to narrate the life of the ingenious Odysseus, Homer says:” And many were the men whose towns he saw and whose mind he learnt…. “ [Robert Fitzgerald translation]. That’s what the Greek spirit is about. In order to understand someone else’s way thinking you need to not be afraid of his or her point of view, but to consider how their view can enrich your perspective. When was the last time you witnessed any evidence of the Greek spirit in politics?
This is why we’re here - to prove that the genuine Greek spirit never abandoned this place. We know that we may not always agree and we’ll have a difference of opinion, but we know how to engage in dialogue, we know how to arrive at conclusions, we know how to evaluate, we know what we don’t know but we know where to look for it – all of the basics that our political system never learned to do.
In this effort we can use all the help we can get. There is room for everyone; even those who, in the past, may have found themselves stuck in the political party trap. “Dimiourgia Xana!” has room for anyone who wants to live in a modern, European, civilized and productive country.
We are not just another think tank. We are a political movement whose aim is to evolve quickly into a political force – notice how I consistently avoid using the word ‘party’, it nauseates me – that will run for office in the next election so that we can put an end – once and for all – to the monster that is the “political party-tocracy”.
It is up to us, right here in this auditorium, to ensure that this “other” Greece is not just another unfulfilled wish, but rather something we can create, we can experience. A Greece that will once again make us and future generations proud!
For more information see Recreate Greece