Thursday 8 April 2010

Mirages over the Corinthian Gulf

Our family vacation house sits on the northern shore of the Corinthian Gulf, about 20 km after the town of Galaxidi on the coastal road towards Nafpaktos. My parents bought a plot of land in 1976 or thereabouts, cleared it, and after great trouble, built a small, red tile-roofed house. Their dream was to have a house by the sea, and I remember the work we did, filling 40 liter plastic kanates by the village spring and bringing them by car to water the olive trees we had planted. Some 25 years later, those little spindly olive saplings that were whipped so mercilessly by the maestros wind have grown into large, green-silver trees that block the view the sea. But I still remember how we toiled to water them.

Nearly every day out here, we see 2- or 3-aircraft flights of the Hellenic Air Force, about 400 metres off the deck, practicing strike runs over the mountains. Aging A-7 Corsairs; Mirage 2000s, sometimes even F-16s. They streak up from the Corinthian Gulf, gain altitude to clear the peaks, and disappear somewhere to the north, towards Giona mountain.

Each time I see them, I stand a little taller. These are the flyboys on which the freedom of Greece literally depends. They hurtle through space on aging airframes, practicing for a day we hope will never come. They are paid a ridiculously low salary, put themselves at risk every time they strap a plane on their back, and are largely unrecognised by a society more concerned with the doings of Julia Alexandratou or Eleni Menegaki than by the real world.

Whenever the planes go by, I reflect as well on the meaning of patriotism, and the vast contrast between these men and women in uniform, and the politicians that purport to lead this country. I reflect on the party cadres from both PASOK and ND that have dealt with various weapons suppliers, and on the deals that have been made. I reflect on the fact that in Greece, our politicians have not just gotten kickbacks on weapons sales, but even on the issue of public debt to fund their purchase.

In the democracy we claim to have, I often wonder whether the chronic problem of political corruption and incompetence is a symptom or a cause. In other words, has the political class brought about a society where Eleni Menegaki’s divorce has become a dominant issue, or has this society created and tolerated a political class which reflects its true self?

In either case, a growing share of the population—particularly among those educated professionals that view the Greek government and its political elites as a source of Greece’s problems rather than its solution--do not have a real choice among political parties today. The tired slogans of PASOK or ND no longer conceal the moral bankruptcy of either party, or of the country itself. Fundamental questions, such as whether the state should be responsible for spending up to half of national GDP while Greece’s ranking in nearly every international benchmark continue to decline, are never asked, or never acted upon, by either major party.

Unless a fundamentally new political movement is started, we will be condemned to hearing the same rubbish and watching our economic position deteriorate, while social problems multiply. Such a movement should reflect and reinforce the fundamental values of the century we live in: transparency, mobility, volunteerism, entrepreneurship and involvement. It should be open to Greeks of the diaspora as well as citizens of other countries living in Greece. It should develop the tools needed for competitiveness and individual self-realisation in a globalised society. The politics of generational nepotism, of rural party barons delivering subsidies and government jobs, must be eliminated.

Perhaps this sounds unrealistic, or na├»ve. After all, who wants to go to the trouble of getting involved in Greek politics? I certainly don’t, and I can’t imagine many other people do either. But I see no other solution to the systemic problems that affect this country. If we take a systems analysis view of Greece, it’s clear that the problem starts with the political parties: how they are financed and governed; their impunity to prosecution while in Parliament; their inability to offer real solutions.

We are on the brink of national bankruptcy, which has been exacerbated by the fundamental, chronic inability of either political party to deal with the major social economic issues which count. We do not have Sweden for a neighbour, and where economic weakness leads us, the erosion of political sovereignty follows.

1 comment:

  1. I stumbled on your blog while googling for debt/gdp data for Greece.

    I couldn't agree more with your description of the situation and your feelings.

    One thing though when you say that you're not interested in politics: "The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men". Plato, 427-347 BC

    But you already know that... :-)