“No enemy is worse than bad advice,” according to Sophocles. Truly, many leaders have been undone by the misguided counsel of their advisors, which often places ideological ankyloses, or worse yet, personal gain, over the greater good of the nation. Greece is no exception to this rule, and contemporary Greek politicians could in fact be said to embody it. Of course, this begets the question whether advisers are really to blame or the leaders themselves, who heeded them – especially in instances when they provoke public opinion and oppose the general mood of the people.
In recent years, foolhardy advisers have made quite a name for themselves, while at the same time making a mockery of the institutions that they serve. Hellenes all across the world have cringed at some of the unconscionable statements they have made, including supporting the selling out of the Macedonian name to Greece’s identityless northern neighbor Skopje, the de jure justification of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus being advanced via the various versions of the Annan Plan, the denial of the Greek Genocide in Asia Minor and Pontus, the division of the Aegean and surrendering of Greece’s economic and territorial rights in the area to Turkey, etc.
Unfortunately, it appears that the present administration is not immune to influence of such advisers either. Former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras may have outraged many citizens through the appointment of his longtime friend Nikos Karanikas to an advisory post, even though the latter clearly lacked the necessary qualifications or experience, however, in retrospect, the harm from this appointment was relatively miniscule. If you discount the financial harm caused to the Greek people from the salary of yet another crony occupying a post he had no business holding, Tsipras sustained more damage than perhaps anyone else from that appointment, because it further damaged his credibility. Nonetheless, because the appointment smacked of cronyism, this “adviser’s” influence in shaping public opinion was virtually non-existent.
The same cannot be said for some of the current Prime Minister’s advisers. For example, most recently, his deputy National Security Adviser Thanos Dokos, former Director General of ELIAMEP (Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy), caused an uproar during an interview in a Cypriot newspaper, when he suggested that in the interests of peace, Greece and Turkey might engage in a “coexploitation” of the vast hydrocarbons found beneath Greece’s territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone. Despite the fallout from his statement, the Premier allowed Dokos, who tendered his resignation, to retain his post. Similarly, the ruling New Democracy party sent another academician and ELIAMEP associate, Dimitris Keridis, to Parliament despite his crude denial of the Pontian Genocide, which he characterized as a “myth.” Incidentally, former Turkish Finance Minister Kemal Dervis has been serving as one of ELIAMEP’s advisers for the past decade (as well as an adviser to ex-PM George Papandreou when he was running the country!)
The problem with these “counselors” is that unlike Mr. Tsipras’ teenage buddy, they possess credentials. Sadly, their studies and degrees make it all too easy for the media to pick up their statements, blindly echo their sentiments, and influence public opinion. It’s not enough that Greek television is filled with Turkish soap operas peddling a dolled up image of a nation that has been the blight of Hellenism for hundreds of years – practically wiping out any remnants of it from its ancestral homeland of Asia Minor and currently seeking to infringe upon the Aegean and Western Thrace; now it is employing the services of academia to complete the onslaught of misinformation.
Naturally, it’s not that academic dialogue is bad or that pluralistic viewpoints are dangerous. The open-minded person does well to hear arguments from all sides. It’s just that in today’s Greece the balance between patriots and ethno-nihilists seems to be overwhelmingly tipped in favor the latter. This becomes dangerous because both politicians and the public become overexposed to one viewpoint, thus distorting reality. While it’s true that Turkey is a very formidable adversary, it certainly has its own share of vulnerabilities that can be exploited, just as Greece has unique strengths it can leverage. Unfortunately, you’d hardly know it, from all the fatalism and helplessness being promoted in the media.
This is a far cry from the spirit of 1821, when a group of fearless patriots successfully rose up against an empire that had kept them subjugated for over four centuries and changed the course of history. Of course, the reference to 1821 and the rapidly approaching bicentennial brings up yet another problematic paradigm. The committee appointed by the Government to organize the national celebrations recently released the bicentennial logo, which was conspicuously missing both the national colors, and the cross – something that was a sine qua non in every banner associated with the struggle for the National Rebirth. This is yet another sign of the growing disconnect between the ruling class and the citizenry, between elitist advisers and the will of the people, who carry with them the empirical wisdom and survival skills of their ancestors.
There is a Greek folk proverb that says show me your friend and I’ll tell you who you are. It should be updated to include the political version: “show me your adviser, and I’ll tell you who you are.”
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