[MGSA-L] Greece’s Rotten Oligarchy

June Samaras june.samaras at gmail.com
Mon Jan 7 15:25:38 PST 2013


Greece’s Rotten Oligarchy
Published: January 6, 2013

DEMOCRACY is like a bicycle: if you don’t keep pedaling, you fall.
Unfortunately, the bicycle of Greek democracy has long been broken.
After the military junta collapsed in 1974, Greece created only a
hybrid, diluted form of democracy. You can vote, belong to a party and
protest. In essence, however, a small clique exercises all meaningful
political power.

For all that has been said about the Greek crisis, much has been left
unsaid. The crisis has become a battleground of interests and
ideologies. At stake is the role of the public sector and the welfare
state. Yes, in Greece we have a dysfunctional public sector; for the
past 40 years the ruling parties handed out government jobs to their
supporters, regardless of their qualifications.

But the real problem with the public sector is the tiny elite of
business people who live off the Greek state while passing themselves
off as “entrepreneurs.” They bribe politicians to get fat government
contracts, usually at inflated prices. They also own many of the
country’s media outlets, and thus manage to ensure that their actions
are clothed in silence. Sometimes they’ll even buy a soccer team in
order to drum up popular support and shield their crimes behind
popular protection, as the drug lord Pablo Escobar did in Colombia,
and as the paramilitary leader Arkan did in Serbia.

In 2011, Evangelos Venizelos, who was then the finance minister and is
now the leader of the socialist party, Pasok, instituted a new
property-tax law. But for properties larger than 2,000 square meters —
about 21,000 square feet — the tax was reduced by 60 percent. Mr.
Venizelos thus carved out a big exemption for the only people who
could afford to pay the tax: the rich. (Mr. Venizelos is also the man
responsible for a law granting broad immunity to government

Such shenanigans have gone on for decades. The public is deprived of
real information, as television stations, newspapers and online news
sites are controlled by the economic and political elite.

Another scandal involves the so-called Lagarde List. In 2010,
Christine Lagarde, then the French finance minister (and now the head
of the International Monetary Fund), gave the Greek government a list
of roughly 2,000 Greek citizens with Swiss bank accounts, to help
uncover tax fraud. Greek officials did virtually nothing with the
list; two former finance ministers, George Papaconstantinou and his
successor, Mr. Venizelos, reportedly even told Parliament they did not
know where it was. Meanwhile, several media outlets falsely accused
some politicians and business figures of being on the list in order to
conceal the ugly reality: rich people were evading taxes while their
desperate fellow citizens were searching the trash for food.

When Hot Doc, the monthly magazine I edit and publish, made the list
public in October, I was arrested and charged with violating personal
privacy, but was acquitted. The result didn’t please those in power.
So I am being brought back for a second trial (a date has yet to be
set) on similarly vague allegations. Throughout the entire process —
the publication of the list, my arrest, my acquittal — the Greek media
were absent. The case was a top story in the international press, but
not in the country where it took place.

The reason is simple. The Lagarde list implicates a corrupt group that
answers to the name of democracy even as it casually nullifies it:
officials with offshore companies, friends and relatives of government
ministers, bankers, publishers and those involved in the black market.

After my magazine released the list, the Greek government made not a
single statement about the case.

When Mr. Venizelos left the Finance Ministry last March, he failed to
turn the CD with the list over to his successor. He took it with him.
Only when his successor, Yannis Stournaras, told The Financial Times
in October that he had never received the list did Mr. Venizelos turn
it over to the prime minister’s office. He was never asked about the
delay, and leaders of the three parties in the coalition government
have not referred his conduct to Parliament’s investigatory committee.

Meanwhile, a newly released version of the list made clear that
someone had removed the names of three relatives of Mr.
Papaconstantinou, who was the finance minister from 2009 to 2011,
before Mr. Venizelos. Last month, Mr. Papaconstantinou was expelled
from Pasok. He now faces a Parliamentary investigation, the potential
lifting of his immunity from prosecution as a former minister, and
charges of tampering with the data. It appears that he may become a
new Iphigenia, a scapegoat sacrificed so that the corrupt political
system can survive.

This is all unfolding at a time when Greece is walking a tightrope
above the abyss of bankruptcy, while the coalition government is
instituting new taxes on the lower classes. Half of young Greeks are
unemployed. The economy is shrinking at an annual rate of 6.9 percent.
People are scrounging for food. And a neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn, is
on the rise, exploiting the resentment and rage toward the ruling

The Greek people must remount their bicycle of democracy by demanding
an end to deception and corruption. Journalists need to resist
manipulation and rediscover their journalistic duties. And the
government should revive Greece’s ancient democratic heritage —
instead of killing the messenger.

Kostas Vaxevanis is a magazine publisher and television journalist.
This essay was translated by Karen Emmerich from the Greek.
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on January 7, 2013, on page
A19 of the New York edition with the headline: Greece’s Rotten

June Samaras
2020 Old Station Rd
Canada L5M 2V1
Tel : 905-542-1877
E-mail : june.samaras at gmail.com

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