Tag Archives: foreign journalists

The honest truth about dishonesty… and tax evasion

I recently watched this short animated video on Dishonesty.

I immediately started drawing parallelisms between the video and the whole Greek tax-evasion story. In many discussions with foreign journalists I have been asked to give my opinion on tax-evasion in Greece. It’s true that Greek citizens were inclined to evading as many taxes as they could and, to tell you the truth, they were feeling pretty fine with that. Why? Because the model was coming from above, from the political establishment and the business elite. They were and still are setting the example. The international press has only recently discovered the laters’ responsibility, hence the amount of articles and features on the lives of rich Greeks.

The RSA video gives an example of how the overall damage by numerous small cheaters can sometimes be bigger than the total damage of a handful of big cheaters. I sincerely believe that this is not the case for Greece. Credible data are not available to demonstrate that the amounts lost by the political establishment and the business elite’s practices are much bigger than the amounts lost by buying something without a receipt. And, in addition, many of the cases are much more complicated and at some point we are talking about a sort of a “double entry” to our tax-evasion database. For example, where do you categorize the damage of a lost public income from an unpaid tax fine? Under the citizen who did all he could to avoid paying (small cheater)? Under the tax officer who accepted the bribe (medium cheater)? Or under the politician who intervened to the local tax office so that the citizen, a friend (i.e. a potential voter) gets treated with preference (and yes, he is a big cheater because he is hoping for thousands of votes to get re-elected)?

In September 2010, the then vice-chairman of the Greek government, Theodoros Pangalos, has given the following speech at the Parliament.

Translation: The answer to the people’s angry question that is directed against the politicians of the country “how did you eat [spend] the money?” is this: We hired you. We ate [spent] them all together. In the framework of a relationship of political clientelism, corruption, buying and ridiculing the very sense of Politics itself.

Speaking about the responsibility of political clientelism in the Greek crisis, though true, he unashamedly blamed the small cheaters (i.e. voters) in order to cover the big cheaters’ (i.e. politicians) damage. Paradoxically he fell in his own trap by admitting that he is a big cheater. It was such an unashamed statement that he even created a website where people would input their own stories. And in the end he turned the whole story in a book which is sold on the website.

In what society do leaders depend on individuals to set a prudent example for the politicians?

It’s this unanswered puzzle, that will never be answered in consensus, that has prevented any move forward to be fully legitimised, especially when the move forward is driven by the same people who brought us here. Society was, is and will be strongly divided among these things, left or right, cheater or honest, public sector employees or private sector employees, clean or dirty means of accumulating wealth, what did you or your father do during the good years, etc (the duos’ list is almost infinte).

It seems that these divisions are here to stay. There are few attempts, and certainly not from the politicians’ side, to ease them (see the recent strike of the Athens Metro employees where it was attempted to turn passengers against strikers). They actually take advantage of these natural and artificial divisions, turning one part of society against another, which explains why the traditionally angry rioting Greeks have not been able to form a common front in order to create a “new page” as the video suggests. And we so desperately need a “new page” in order to re-start writing our history. Looking at some international examples, nations with a dirty past opened a “new page” with the creation of a Truth Commission (e.g. South Africa). We, in Greece, haven’t even dared to launch an independent audit about our public debt. The former-communist countries had another tactic. A process that was called “lustration“, i.e. a cleansing.

Well, we need one too in order to inspire people to become honest again. Like their politicians.

PS. Funnily the RSA video refers to the financial crisis at the end too.

A military coup in Greece: conspiracy or real threat?

I ‘ve just got an email from by Leonardo Bianchi, an Italian journalist and author of La Privata Repubblica, who has been reading this blog for quite some time. His question was whether all those references to a possible coup d’ etat in Greece are a real threat or simply a conspiracy chit-chat. After replying to him, I thought that more readers could have the same question so I decided to explain.

An important detail is to see who is the source of the reference to a military coup.

In Greece the majority of the mainstream media have been aligned with the government in this 2 year course of crisis & EU/IMF driven reforms. Since the beginning, decisions were taking only at the last minute and usually after some form of psychological blackmail to the public, which the mainstream media dutily reproduced in headlines. Greeks have a sad past with military dictatorships and the mere mentioning of the word shocks a lot of people (only 35 years ago there were people, now in their 50s or 60s, who suffered a lot because of our last dictatorship). So when the mainstream media mention such scenarios, I believe that their goal is to terrorize people, to shock them and make them accept anything (example, “if we get kicked out of eurozone, there will be chaos and possibly a dictatorship, so accept these new round of measures and save ourselves”). This methodology has worked repeatedly around the world (read The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein) and particularly during the past 2 years in Greece.

Foreign journalists of course have no reason to be part of this game. When they write of coups and tanks in the streets, I think they just want to write an interesting story and since it has been mentioned before as a possibility, they are legitimized (I guess) to reproduce it. Some of them have no clue of the seriousness of this claim (some have never visited Greece) but still, it’s catchy.
Now, whether I believe if it is a real threat, well, not really. I think we have a lot of crazy people in our military who might have thought it but the public today is more mature than in 1967 and it wouldn’t be so popular as then (back then, it was the cold war, the communist “threat” was something serious and the social mass could be controlled more easily). Plus, if an EU country would become a dictatorship, it would be immediately expelled from the EU with wider repercussions, not just for the country but also for the rest of the EU. For example, read about the British Army preparations for military action because of the eurozone crisis.
This is why I think it’s impossible (unless the wanna be dictators have the illusion that we need no one else in the world and that we can do it on our own for ever)

Why I am writing this blog

A couple of years ago I was discussing with a colleague about the nonexistent interest in Greece concerning foreign journalists. At an international level, our country was just a holiday destination. Our politics and especially our economy could not provide anything interesting, apart from laughter and occasional vague criticism on corruption. But that was it.

Shipwreck at a beach of Zante island

During the past 1,5 year this has changed dramatically, since the Greek boat hit the shore. I have never seen so many articles in the foreign (i.e. non-Greek) press about what’s happening in Greece. And in the streets too, never before could I see so many foreign tv crews trying to grasp the pulse here in Athens. I’m not naive, Athens did not suddenly become the decision-making center of Europe. It merely became the testing site of a new era of EU policies. If you are working in the news though, this is enough to make it interesting.

After speaking with many foreign colleagues, and occasionally after having worked with them, I have realized that they had formed a distorted idea about what has been and is happening here. It wasn’t their fault. I quickly noticed that the main source of information was a couple of news agencies’ wires and a handful of articles, half of which were written by journalists who never came to Athens. Oh yes, almost everybody had read Michael Lewis’ “Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds” story at Vanity Fair.

So I thought, hey, why don’t I create a blog and try to translate anything that could be interesting but doesn’t make it to the English-language reporting about Greece? I am sure that some of the posts you will find here will surely contribute to a better, or fuller, idea of what is happening in Greece.

Before I begin, let me just clarify a couple of things:

  • This blog is written out of personal interest to fill the information gap which, I think, exists concerning the foreign reporting of what is happening in Greece.
  • Almost all of the information written here is not the product of my own research. It is merely a translation of reports made by journalists in the Greek press. I shall reference all the articles by providing links or by mentioning the names of the editors/newspapers.
  • All the articles that are expressing my own view of things, can be found under the category Personal Views.
  • There is no one else behind this blog. Nobody tells me what to write or not.
  • All comments are welcome but if obscenity is something you can’t avoid, please prefer to email me than offend others too.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.