NEW YORK – Rena Dourou, the new Governor of Greece’s Attica region, gave a presentation titled The Dawn of Another Attica on April 17 at New York University as part of the series of events sponsored by the University’s A.S. Onassis Program in Hellenic Studies called “Greece Strikes Back.”
Liana Theodoratou, the Onassis Program’s director, introduced Dourou and thanked the NYU Provost’s Global Research Initiatives program for supporting the event.
The talk presented an opportunity for some vital straight talk to fans of the drachma. “I am almost rude when I respond to people who want to go back to drachmas …it’s a good idea,” she said wryly “if you don’t need to eat for a few months, and for people with money in New York and Switzerland, but not for people on pensions. The Greek people did not vote for us to return to the drachma, but to negotiate with the European Union.”
Dourou spoke passionately about the practical and political challenges confronting Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and that she faces as the governor of the country’s largest region where 4 million of Greece’s 11 million people live.
The audience, comprised mainly of non-Greeks and dominated by students, heard Dourou emphasize that SYRIZA is fighting against stereotypes of the extreme left, that condemns foreign direct investment, as well as Greece’s political right, whom she said idea of investment is sweetheart deal and used the Ellinikon airport project as a notorious example.
Emphasizing that she supports legitimate reform that will modernize Greece, attract investment, and make government more effective for its people, Dourou said the real debate “is not whether we have money or not. If we continue to run the state the way it was run in the past, there is not enough money in the whole world to help.”
Investment is critical, but she said, “New Democracy told fairy tales about big investments from Saudi Arabia and America, and they did not try to create the and framework needed to create investments that will create jobs.”
She echoed the words Tsipras spoke during his visits to the United States, saying, “In Greece there are no real capitalists,” as in people who take risks and are creative, but rather there are oligarchs who trade on their influence with governments.
“You need democracy,” and transparent and credible governance, to attract serious investment in Europe, Dourou said.
To be elected, Dourou fought a “David versus Goliath” campaign against the mainstream parties and media and said she won because she reached out to people of all 65 municipalities of Attica and addressed their problems. “Without the support of people it is impossible to change things, and change and renewal are important to us,” she said.
And urgent. “Attica is the first region to be hit and is paying a very heavy price,” and is hobbled by a severe lack of infrastructure.
When she took office in September, her team acted on three levels: 1) response to the immediate humanitarian crisis; 2) creation of conditions for a new model of economic growth where markets do not impose their will on governments; and 3) creation of a new and more moral political paradigm to restore the credibility of politics.
Dourou noted that she gave up her seat in Parliament when she ran for governor to demonstrate that politicians should not be a privileged class.
“There is a lot to be done and you must set priorities,” she said. Drawing on the region’s funds, she increased social welfare spending for the needy from 1 to 13 million euro, funding food banks, healthcare and the restoration of electricity to all households shut off due to poverty.
She has also focused on practical changes, such as fighting waste caused by overlapping jurisdictions and cooperating with NGOs, educational institutions and the Church.
“We have worked hard and gotten green lights from the EU for a number our programs…we have proven that with hard work and serious planning we can achieve results.”
She sought to show what SYRIZA can do for development in the context of the neoliberal environment Dourou said now prevails in Europe. Their efforts include not only fighting corruption, but boosting the private sector, “especially with initiatives for young men and women who have chosen to not leave our country, a reality this government must grasp” because the country needs to retain its youth and they need jobs.
TNH asked Dourou what her administration was doing about making it easier for entrepreneurs, especially the young, to open and expand business in light of the failure of ND and PASOK to keep their promises about it.
Dourou noted that it is her “habit” not the criticize rival parties when she travels abroad, but she told TNH she has generated 32 initiatives in that area.
She concluded by talking about what is at stake not just for SYRIZA but for Greece.”If we fail to change the moral example in politics, that mean not just another political failure, but it will pave a path to the politics of hatred,” and referred to Golden Dawn. “The resurgence of Nazism is ironic in a country that put up such a valiant fight against it in WWII.”