Slip­ping stan­dards

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY ALEXIS PAPACHELAS

An im­age can of­ten help you re­al­ize a lot of things all at once. Hav­ing stopped re­cently at a traf­fic light, I no­ticed the bus be­side me, where the driver was smok­ing a cig­a­rette, tap­ping the ash ev­ery cou­ple of drags onto the street from a small open win­dow. It shouldn’t have surprised me be­cause I’ve of­ten seen bus driv­ers smok­ing or talk­ing on cell phones. But the fact that we tol­er­ate it – and even more so are no longer shocked – shows that we are slid­ing back again. Such signs of un­pro­fes­sional be­hav­ior have be­come a daily oc­cur­rence in the broader pub­lic sec­tor. Since its birth as a mod­ern state, Greece has al­ways had one foot in the West and the other in the East, with the im­age of the smok­ing bus driver ob­vi­ously be­ing more suit­able to the lat­ter. Right now, the coun­try is lean­ing fur­ther in that di­rec­tion, and the rea­son is that when Greeks start to “re­lax” or get lax, there’s no stop­ping them. With­out rules or a lead­er­ship that sets a good ex­am­ple by work­ing hard and fol­low­ing the rules, Greeks can sink very, very low. We are ca­pa­ble of the best, but also the worst. I am sure that that same driver wouldn’t have been smok­ing on the job in 2004, ei­ther out of fear or per­haps be­cause of a col­lec­tive de­sire to be our bet­ter selves. When I be­come de­spon­dent about where the coun- try is head­ing, I think back to the 1980s. I have a mem­ory from that era that re­mains deeply im­printed: I was in the ar­rivals hall of the old air­port, where there was no air-con­di­tion­ing and the bag­gage carousel was not work­ing (ei­ther be­cause the bag­gage han­dlers were on strike or no one had re­paired it), sur­rounded by smok­ing cab driv­ers of­fer­ing rides to Athens at ex­or­bi­tant prices. If you were to switch off the sound to the mem­ory, you’d have no idea in which hemi­sphere it took place. To­day this is a bad mem­ory that helps me stay pos­i­tive about the progress we’ve made. But we musn’t for­get that we live in a com­pet­i­tive world where there’s lit­tle room to re­lax. Our neigh­bors Bul­garia, Ro­ma­nia, Ser­bia and oth­ers are mak­ing great strides as they try to reach our level. Greece needs na­tional tar­gets, stricter rules and more dis­ci­pline, but also a lead­er­ship that ceases to con­done lax­ness and wrong­do­ing in gen­eral. The ad­verse ef­fects of this men­tal­ity with be long-last­ing and may not be fully felt for sev­eral years. The sad truth is that the Greek state sur­vives thanks to around 20-30 per­cent of work­ers who do their jobs prop­erly and ef­fi­ciently – at no small per­sonal cost – but this won’t con­tinue for­ever. The real night­mare is that one day you’ll take off from the cur­rent air­port and re­turn to old one, that you’ll go to sleep with the euro and wake up with the drachma.

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