“I’m here with a genuine desire to help. There are a lot of solutions available, but I think Greece is lacking in leadership, and when you don’t want to be helped, nobody can help you.”

This quote, coming from George Koukis, founder and chairman of the Temenos Group, based in Switzerland, concluded my recent article on day one of the Greek Power Summit.  It is also indicative of the Greek government and media presence—or lack thereof—at the Greek Power Summit, and is therefore a fitting way to begin this piece.

Empty meeting room

What if a summit was held, and no one came?

The Greek Power Summit, held at the Hotel Grande Bretagne, just across the street from the Greek Parliament and close to numerous government ministries, was a two-day event which brought together distinguished members of the business community of the Greek diaspora along with marquee personalities such as Steve Forbes, for candid discussions on how Greece could recover from its economic crisis.  The summit’s participants were a veritable who’s who of the business elite of the Greek diaspora, including John Calamos, Nick Gouletas, Nick Lazares, and others.  They were joined by well-known ambassadors of Greek culture such as renowned food critic and chef Diane Kochilas, and by marquee representatives of the international community, such as Forbes and Krzysztof Walenczak, Poland’s Minister of Treasury, whose country presently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Such a gathering of marquee personalities would be expected to attract the attention of the government and from representatives from the political parties in Greece, especially when considering the Greek government’s recent plans to privatize numerous state-owned assets and to attract outside investors into the country.  Therefore it came as no surprise that the list of summit participants, in addition to the aforementioned personalities, also included numerous members of the Greek government and Greek political establishment, including former Finance Minister and current Minister for the Environment, Energy and Climate Change George Papakonstantinou.  And indeed, representatives of the Greek government and the major political parties did make their presence felt at the summit in a truly unmistakable way: they were conspicuous in their absence from the summit.  Throughout the two-day summit, not one member of government or of any of the opposition parties made an appearance.  Nor were any representatives or even interns sent in their place.  Their absence was complete, absolute—and striking.

And indeed, representatives of the Greek government and the major political parties did make their presence felt at the summit in a truly unmistakable way: they were conspicuous in their absence from the summit.

Forbes, in an interview with Yahoo! Finance, noted that no government representatives were present at the Greek Power Summit, and characterized the Greek government as “feckless” and “making a bungle of things.”  Ironically, these same characterizations are also made by many ordinary Greeks about their government on a daily basis.  More ironically still, this absence comes while many members of the Greek government, in addition to privatization, have floated the idea of issuing diaspora bonds to assist in the country’s economic recovery, while state agencies such as Invest in Greece (who met with the members of the Reinventing Greece Fellowship) consistently outline the important role that members of the Greek diaspora can play in Greece’s emergence from the crisis.

Should the absence of government representatives from the Greek Power Summit really come as a surprise, though?  Members of the Greek government have, in recent weeks and months, demonstrated an astonishingly arrogant and apathetic attitude towards a number of important issues facing Greek society.  The large-scale and peaceful protests of the Greek “indignants” have largely been ignored by the government, while at other times, the protests have been described by members of parliament as a mere collection of troublemakers who oppose democracy (Justice Minister Miltiadis Papaioannou recently extended this characterization to anonymous bloggers as well).  The unfairly negative coverage that Greece has received in much of the international media has resulted in barely any response on the part of the government, despite the harm such coverage causes to the country’s reputation as a destination for tourism—or investors.  And, at a time where trust in government institutions and in political figures is at record low levels, the vice-president of the Greek government, Theodoros Pangalos, has made a series of insensitive and uncouth statements claiming that “we ate it together” (referring to the European Union funds Greece has received since 1981, not all of which were used for their intended purpose) and that there are “no honest Greeks.”  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that government representatives completely ignored a summit which was organized with the explicit purpose of helping the country during a difficult time.

Should the absence of government representatives from the Greek Power Summit really come as a surprise, though?  Members of the Greek government have, in recent weeks and months, demonstrated an astonishingly arrogant and apathetic attitude towards a number of important issues facing Greek society.

In sharp contrast to the Greek Power Summit, the 8th General Assembly of the World Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Association, which was also held in Athens recently, attracted about 70 members of parliament.  Why the contrast?  One can only speculate.  The World Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Association brought together elected representatives of Greek descent from countries all over the world.  Certainly, one could argue that Greek politicians naturally saw this as an opportunity to flock to a gathering of “their own” and that political alliances could have played a role in the interest and subsequent governmental turnout.  And indeed, while many laudable resolutions came out of the General Assembly, including a proposal for an annual event similar to the World Economic Forum to be established and held in Greece, it is quite possible that the overall tone of the General Assembly was not viewed as being as “hostile” towards the government and its policies as the Greek Power Summit.  This “hostility” was evident at the summit, as the participants expressed their disagreement with most of the economic measures which have been undertaken and doubts that the current government would be successfully able to turn the situation around.  Notably, only 32 out of the 100 diaspora MPs who were invited to the Assembly were actually present, yet the attracted considerably more attention (not to mention financial support) from the Greek government.

Before concluding this piece, however, a dishonorable mention must also be made to the Greek media, whose coverage of the Greek Power Summit was minimal at best.  While the journalists who were present at the press conference which opened the summit represented some of the largest newspapers in Greece (Ta Nea, To Vima) as well as major financial publications (Imerissia, Capital.gr), and the international press, coverage of the summit was incredibly limited.  Channel Nine, a television station based in Athens which focuses on financial news, provided the most extensive coverage, but most newspapers, including the financial press in its entirety, simply ignored the summit and what the participants had to say.  Ditto the major television networks, including public broadcaster ERT.  This ensured that most of the Greek public remained completely unaware that such a summit even took place, or that members of the business community of the Greek diaspora had even come to Greece to express an interest in investing in the country.  One has to wonder whether coverage would have been more extensive had the participants espoused a more pro-government message…

— By Michael Nevradakis

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