The news of the tragic train accident last week found me at a Greek restaurant in Astoria.
“There are 16 dead in an accident in Greece,” my interlocutor on the phone informed me.
“In Greece?” I asked incredulously. Usually these things happen here in the United States. The latest example is the tragic accident in East Palestine, OH – a freight train derailed and the authorities burned its load of vinyl chloride to prevent an explosion.
This has caused serious health problems for local residents and there has been a strong reaction, of course.
“Yes in Greece,” he confirmed.
Apart from the sadness I felt, I was shaken up. I thought, could this be a terrorist attack?
These things don’t happen in today’s Greece. And yet, here we are.
In the days that have passed since then, we have learned a lot – and the magnitude of the disaster has changed us.
But in addition to the immense sadness from the tragedy we are experiencing, we have also learned a lot about the sad state of the railways and trains.
These revelations open a window into a part of Greece that remains tragically stuck in the past and that is fighting tooth and nail to keep it that way.
In other words, it seems that while Greece is making significant progress in various areas, especially in new technologies, a part of the population is not only stuck – but it is striving to continue keeping things as they were in the previous century, in areas such as the railways and elsewhere.
Of course there is no shortage of smart, educated people. On the contrary. One is impressed by the intelligence of many of them.
They literally ‘rise and shine’ when they are in a different environment. In a different country, with strong institutions and a different mentality, they would do wonders – as do many of the Hellenes Abroad.
So, since it is not possible – and should not be – for so many people to go somewhere else, to a foreign environment, in order to change their mindsets, can another way be found? Should we set a goal and place a national bet – similar to the ‘Project Apollo’, which was announced by John F. Kennedy and within 10 years, Americans were on the moon?
Someday the professional mindset will change, but it will be many years – much later than the countries we are competing with.
And now we arrive at the issue of relations between Hellenes abroad and Greece.
One way, perhaps the quickest way, for Greece to ‘go to the moon’ would be an infusion of new blood, expatriate professionals, of all categories, into Greece.
Expatriate Hellenes – and their children and grandchildren, with perhaps the Greek-American community leading the way – include executives who run or are in positions of high responsibility in companies in many sectors.
It is not easy for them to respond to Greece’s call if they are not offered the right terms and guaranteed certain conditions. One of them is the salary. Someone who earns $1,000,000 a year in the United States will not go to Greece for 100,000 euros. But he will not expect to be rewarded with $1,000,000 either.
And a key condition is the assurance of lack of partisan and political interference. Decisions should be made on professional criteria, recruitment should be merit-based, without nepotism, corruption, etc.
Of course, not all Hellenes abroad are angels. Here too, care must be taken. However, the vast majority – the overwhelming majority – have been nurtured in a positive, productive, and ethical environment that they will carry over to Greece, despite the strong influence of the environment over there to ‘adapt’ them.
And this is where the issue of voting comes in.
The deeper significance of granting expatriates the vote is the addition of another incentive to strengthen their ties with Greece.
If this initiative moves forward by removing the obstacles that have been created, if a serious program of closer relations is drawn up and implemented – i.e. large-scale children’s summer camps, conferences, student exchanges, the resolution of the issue of jurisdiction in the matter of Greek education, etc. – then the number of professionals who will want to work in Greece will also increase.
And this will contribute to a change of mentality.
In other words, such a ‘jump start’ is needed to change the mindset.
And then the station masters will do their jobs properly.