Archive for February 15th, 2005

There's been an interesting story circulating the Greek blogs the past couple of days, and I was going to write about it here in English, but I've discovered that Academia Nervosa and Histologion have already done a fine job of it, so I'll direct you to them in a minute.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Greek (un)reality, let me give you a brief introduction.

Nothing in Russian literature and Kafka can compare with the absurdities of Greek bureaucracy. To give you an example, I once saw a documentary about a guy who, in the 1970s, had invented a car that ran — albeit somewhat slowly — on hydrogen. He lived on Paros or Naxos, and it was perfect for life on the island. He went to the government for support and there the whole thing ran aground because in Greece you're taxed on your car, based on the size of the motor. (They figure you're lying about your income, so they'll get you on something else.) Since this car didn't have a motor, or at least not the same kind as other cars, the government refused to go any further because they didn't know how to tax it. The entrepreneur ended up selling about 700 models of his car to England for experiments, though apparently nothing ever came of it there either.

The dream for many people in Greece is to get a job in the public sector. Civil servants are more difficult to fire than tenured professors, so they can sit on their asses all day, drink coffee, dangle cigarettes from their lips as they stamp papers right underneath a no smoking sign, and be as rude and incommunicative as they want — all with total impunity. The pay isn't always great, but they retire early and get a good pension.

These positions are usually obtained through an uncle, whose best friend's dentist plays cards with a guy who went to school with some Member of Parliament, and the positions are an easy way for politicians to get votes and to fill the public sector with "their people".

When the conservative New Democracy party was elected last year for the first time in twenty years (with the exception of a three-year term in the early 1990s, and a brief minority government in 1989) they began, of course, to plant "their people". Since you can't fire supporters of the other, socialist, party, the most you can do is transfer them to some God-forsaken corner of the country, or some island without running water. Also, a few children of newly-elected officials had managed to get transferred from universities in places like Crete to the central campus in Athens, closer to mumsie and daddy. At least one official had to resign when this came out.

Recently, a sculptor named Dimitrios Fotiou put up a satirical webpage which offered to find people good positions in the civil service, or to get them favourable transfers.

Now, for the rest of this unbelievable story, check out Academia Nervosa and Histologion. (The latter also provides links to English-language coverage of this story in the Greek media.)

This sort of over-reaction reminds me of when, a few years ago, the government passed a law to prohibit gambling video games in cafes and such. For some reason, internet chess servers came under this law, which made Greece the laughing stock of chess players the world over. Histologion also provides a BBC link about this.

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