Saturday 15 June 2013

Εμείς ενώνουμε τους Έλληνες, δεν τους διχάζουμε.

Εμείς ενώνουμε τους Έλληνες, δεν τους διχάζουμε.
“We unify the Greeks, we do not divide them."
 Antonis Samaras, ONNED Conference, 14 June 2013

One would have thought that in a time of extreme tension in Greece, the burden of proof would be on the government to show that:

a.     If it did shut down ERT, making accusations of corruption and incompetence, then it would have the good sense to have a detailed replacement plan proving that it has a better and more organised alternative. Instead, the government provided a draft law for NERIT, the successor to ERT, which looks as if it was written by a first year journalism student.

b.     That if it makes incendiary statements, such as those made by Prime Minister Samaras tonight, then he should at least get the basic numbers right on issues such as how many concerts per year the Symphony Orchestra plays, particularly as he used to be Minister of Culture and thus should know better.

c.     That when a Prime Minister who, as Minister of Culture, staffed the Acropolis Museum almost entirely with political appointees from his home prefecture of Messineia, and who recently placed unqualified political cronies in charge of the Special Tax Police and in other sensitive posts, then the issue of staffing the new ERT should be carefully prepared to remove doubts of nepotism and political patronage (which has been the trademark of his political party for generations now).

Instead we have a “bait-and-switch” act which goes like this:

1.     We are the political party which, together with our partners, led this country to bankruptcy between 2004 and 2010 and saw epic acts of corruption take place.

2.     We have tried to “reform” ERT and failed. (There is absolutely no evidence to back this claim, particularly when one considers how many political appointments both parties have made, how much corrupt external procurement was implemented at the behest of these political appointees, and how unprepared their average policy preparation is).

3.    ERT is corrupt and incompetent. (It’s all the unions’ fault – we had nothing to do with it).

4.     We have a plan to do things better. And we will publish this plan soon. Trust us.

This is a deeply demeaning spectacle, which is simply impossible to accept. And it is regrettable just how many foreign media channels and ordinary Greeks have bought this line.

Over the past three days, the ERT debacle is taking on an even more surreal turn thanks to the vindictive behaviour of the government.

Television and internet access to the ERT building was apparently cut off on Thursday. The central ERT building in Aghia Paraskevi has been surrounded by supporters for days now, forming a human barrier against the police intervention “to guard ERT property”, which has been openly planned.

This is both tragic and ironic. Tragic, because it recalls nothing so much more as the 1973 intervention by the Greek military dictatorship on the Polytechnic University. Ironic, because already the first moves have been made to sell off ERT’s broadcast rights and other assets to private TV channels, for a pittance.

Yesterday, an official letter from the Minister of Economy Ioannis Stournaras was published by various media. In it, Minister Stournaras threatens any and all television channels with legal action unless they stopped re-transmitting ERT broadcasts. If Mr. Stournaras were to show the same alacrity towards investigating tax evasion and auditing public works contracts, Greece might be in a different situation today.

On the same day, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) started streaming ERT live on its website: I wonder when Minister Stournaras will take legal action against them.

The Council of Europe, the OSCE, the International Press Associations, and many other organisations expressed their opposition to the manner in which ERT was closed, and the principles behind it. This includes 50 Directors General of European public broadcasters, who sent the following letter:


“We, as Directors General of Europe’s public broadcasters, express our profound dismay at the action taken by the Greek Government on Tuesday, 11 June in shutting down ERT with immediate effect.

This undemocratic and unprofessional action of the Greek government undermines the existence of public service media in Greece and its independence from the government.

For that reason, we strongly urge the Greek Prime Minister to immediately reverse this decision, allowing ERT to go back on the air in Greece and we wholeheartedly support the open letter sent by the EBU President and Director General on 11 June 2013.”

This evening (Friday, 14 June), Prime Minister Antonis Samaras gave a speech to the New Democracy Youth Organisation (ONNED). With his left arm jerking up and down in a manner reminiscent of another politician from history, he made a series of statements which can only call into question his understanding of reality. Here are a few:

Έχει ήδη κατατεθεί από την κυβέρνηση στη Βουλή νομοσχέδιο για την ίδρυση νέου φορέα δημόσιας τηλεόρασης. Το νομοσχέδιο αυτό μπορεί να ψηφιστεί αμέσως την επόμενη εβδομάδα.

The government has already submitted to the Parliament a law for the foundation of a new public broadcaster. This law can be voted immediately in the following week.

This draft law is so simplistic, it was probably written by a first year journalism student. It contains any number of dangerous areas, notably the duration of the governing council (seven members for a nine year term). If Mr. Samaras’ previous staffing choices are any indication, he will lock down this council with political cronies from Messinia, all talk of “transparency and professionalism“ notwithstanding.

Another little rhetorical gem:

«Δεν διαπραγματευόμαστε τη λαϊκή εντολή για τη νέα Ελλάδα»
“We do not negotiate the popular vote for a new Greece.“

Does Mr. Samaras recall that he won the last election with 30% oft the popular vote, and that he is only in power because he is in a 3-way coalition government? What popular vote for a new Greece is he referring to?

Εμείς ενώνουμε τους Έλληνες, δεν τους διχάζουμε.
“We unify the Greeks, we do not divide them.“

His very words: I wish I could say I was making this up.

I suppose in a way this is correct: the thousands of people gathered outside ERT to prevent it from being seized are there because the Prime Minister has united them. Only he has united them against him.

Another phenomenal statement was made (on June 13th) by none other than Government spokesperson Simos Kedikoglou:

«Όταν είσαι υποχρεωμένος να ανοικοδομήσεις εκ θεμελίων μια επιχείρηση οφείλεις να την κλείσεις»
“When you are required to fundamentally restructure a company, you must close it.“

To my knowledge, Mr. Kedikoglou has never worked in a real job in his life. He was born into political aristocracy (his father and cousin are both MPs), and his only professional employment has been in what can be called gutter journalism. He has never successfully led, let alone restructured, an enterprise, let alone one with 3,000 employees, and has absolutely no qualification in this area.

I have been writing about this case because for me it illustrates the stunning lack of basic common sense and preparedness is carrying out complex political, social and economic reforms in Greece. It should be clear to any objective, disinterested observer that

a.     ERT needs reform

b.     The main reason it needs reform is because 33 years of alternating governments between PASOK and New Democracy have resulted in corruption and nepotism at ERT

c.     Despite this, ERT fulfils a vital social and democratic function

d.     The government has behaved not only in an undemocratic way, but one which betrays is fundamental lack of planning, and one which raises grave doubts as to its motivations and methods. It has not presented any serious alternative for the organisational structure of the New ERT.

e.     The government has not reassured anyone that the New ERT will not be staffed by the same political flunkeys—leading to the same corruption and nepotism--that Mr. Samaras and his ilk have appointed in the past.

I want to reiterate a basic point: the burden of proof and of preparation is on the government. It has failed. No one with any understanding of how the Greek public sector or media sector, or how Mr. Samaras and his party have behaved in the past, can possibly take any grand promises at face value.

To round everything off, the ERT National Symphony Orchestra is currently playing Mozart’s Requiem, which I am listening to streaming from the EBU site. You couldn’t get more surreal if you tried. 

A happy weekend to all.

© Philip Ammerman, 2013

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