A Citizen’s Guide to Greece 2015


April 26, 2012

Crimes against ourselves

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Written by: iankehoe

Recently I read that a group of Greek anti-austerity campaigners want to bring the government on trial for ‘crimes against humanity’ at the International Criminal Court. Understandably, there is considerable anti-government sentiment at the moment. However I’d like to offer another perspective on what is going on, one that might not be popular.

The problem with locating all the blame for what has happened in the government is that it blinds us from our collective responsibility for what happened, and still is happening.

Greek governments have all been democratically elected – people chose them and chose each Member of Parliament. There is a tendency to keep splitting the government from the people and the people from the government as if they were not connected in any way – but the government develops out of the society it governs. In that sense the government does not create the political culture, it is a symptom of the culture many people create – even those who don’t want that culture accept it by being afraid to change it. For example, most MP’s start their political life in a local culture where many voters expect them to say what they want to hear and do favours for them rather than expect them to name unpleasant realities that need changing and work for the benefit of everyone. The politicians who make it to the top are often those who function best in that culture – who are most adept at saying what people want to hear and doing favours for the right people. The politicians that we really need don’t usually survive long in this culture. So, though the politicians share responsibility, it is really the culture they spring from and what many voters expect of them that is the problem.

This culture is one that everyone seems to think is outside them or ‘other’ to them – rather than co-created by them. The reality is that all of us living in Greece are partly responsible for creating Greece. If we avoid taxes, misuse EU funds, use politics to benefit ourselves or our family, take our money out of the Greek economy and deposit it in foreign banks, accept fake civil service jobs or just allow the powerful to misuse public money, then we have colluded with the problem. Indeed everything we do, and don’t do, plays a part in creating Greece every second of everyday, even in the simple things like choosing to ask for a receipt or not. We constantly say that ‘the people’ should ‘take their power’ but people have always had power, in bad times we just find it much easier to think that we don’t, because then we can blame someone else.

Greece, then, needs some truth and reconciliation – it needs us all to accept the role we played in what has happened in this country. Even if we did nothing, then we did nothing to stop others doing damage – this is not to say that people are not doing challenging, positive and transformative things. A process of truth and reconciliation between us all might go some way to heal the relationships in this society – a process of accepting that in reality corruption damages our relationships between each other, not some alien government, and most of all that the consequences of tax avoidance mostly affect the poor and those who depend on the state for education, healthcare and work. The heart of this problem lies in our inability to see being Greek as not just a nationality but as a citizen role, to see ourselves as the state, and to realise that the state is being formed everyday in how we interact and behave.

To conclude, the real blame for this crisis should be with hedge fund managers in anonymous offices in London and New York but the culture in Greece meant that we had little resilience in dealing with the crisis, and that’s what we need to fix. Bringing the Greek government to court now for ‘crimes against humanity’ just distracts us from dealing with each other. As long as blame keeps being located everywhere except amongst ourselves, no one will change their behaviour, and Greece will never heal.



  1. Anthony Montgomery

    Love your argument, totally agree with your viewpoint. However, I guess every society needs a little “crime” as this actually serves a useful function. I suppose the best thing for Greece is to insure that certain values are valorized.

  2. Stella

    perhaps the real problem is that we choose the wrong victim for our little crimes – and end up hurting ourselves – now if we could find a way to get at those hedge fund managers..!

  3. Costas

    It makes me think of the fall of Papandreou and the survival of Samaras..

  4. D W

    One gets what one deserves, wherever there is a democratic system in place. The US is no different from Greece or any other EU member state in this regard.

  5. Maria-Anna

    I absolutely agree that it’s up to the people to finally decide to change this situation by changing first and above all themselves (e.g. responsibility,morality etc should become part of their lives). However, we should never underestimate the HUGE role of propaganda and ignorance (apart from fear) that might affect a significant percentage of people and consequently their judgement and political choices.

  6. Brian Kennedy

    One way of looking at it is that politicians have ‘customers’ who pay for what they want with their vote. There was a demand for clientelism, so politicians supplied it. But this does not absolve politicians of their responsibility to *lead* and to have a vision.

  7. Maria

    I agree with Costas, Papandreou, whether you like him or not, fell because he tried to say things we didnt want to hear and give us responsibility through the referendum… but Samaras is just telling people whatever he thinks they want to hear and he is the one who has survived out of the crisis.. very sad..

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