Follow by Email

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Feeling of slight - a national syndrome?

"Getting the Greeks to "yes" on difficult issues generally requires a good argument coupled with cajoling and schmoozing.  The Greeks are susceptible to flattery and quick to be offended by a perceived slight." 

So wrote an analyst from the US Embassy in Athens in June 2008 in a cable to Washington, published by Wikileaks.

All of us have gone through experiences where, in personal and/or professional life, we perceived slight, slight which an objective third-party observer would not have confirmed that it existed. When this becomes a more permanent condition, one is well advised to seek therapy. The therapist will probably think of ways how the person can improve his feeling of self-worth. He will probably try to explain to the person that feelings of slight have much to do with feelings of self-worth (or the absence thereof). However, the greatest challenge for the therapist will be to get the person to recognize and accept his problem in the first place.

What can be done when the feeling of slight is seemingly a national trait? Are there therapists for nations?

Yes, there are therapists for nations. They are called 'leaders' and their instrument is called 'leadership'. At the end of Jimmy Carter's Presidency, Americans seemed to have resigned themselves to being the losers of the world. After only a few years of Reagan, Americans were convinced that they were God's gift to the world.

An outside observer can't help but get the impression that the current Greek government has done quite a few things quite well in only six months. Latest predictions are that the economic turn-around might begin even this year. It may not be much of a turn-around but, at least, things may stop getting worse. One could actually make quite a story of that.

And what story are Greek politicians making? Well, they are acting like managers in a turn-around situation who report to the supervisory board. No enthusiasm, no emotions - just the facts, Ma'am. 

"The gap between what we could be producing and what we are producing is higher than 25 percent,” the Finance Minister is quoted by the Ekathimerini, adding that he expected “a significant recovery in 2014." 

A miracle may be happening next year and one is mentioning that just in passing? As though it was a footnote so something else? 

Propaganda is a term with negative connotations, rightfully so when it builds on illusions and when it manipulates people in the wrong directions. But some form of lifting emotions seems to be called for, particularly when an entire nation seems to have lost its feeling of self-worth

Two bricklayers were asked what they were doing. One said 'I am putting one brick on top of the other'. The other said 'I am building a cathedral!'

Putting one brick on top of the other, however expertly done, is not good enough. One also has to talk about the cathedral.


  1. Surely you don't expect Yannis Stournaras to take on a leadership role, he's there by appointment. He's an economics academic, policy wonk. He advised a number of Greek governments - including being part of the team that negotiated Greece's entry into the EMU.

    Athens News published a positive profile of him when he was appointed to FinMin in Jun 2012 - Yannis Stournaras

    He was one of the founders of political 'movement' called The Social Bond, I don't know if its still active - can't find a website. When Athens News published that item on it, no one would admit to be its leader.

    I was a bit surprised at Stouranas's answers to the question of Brexit - after saying Britain belongs to Europe every which way, he goes onto say the he would not countenance re-negotation of the UK's membership of the EU. Coming from him, an unelected Greek technocrat is a sure way to make some Brits feel "slighted" and vote for UKIP. Maybe he should attend "Diplomacy 101" lectures at the University of which he remains a professor.

    1. @ Canutely King
      Yannis Stournaras is a very able macroeconomist whose main career has been centred around Greece's convergence and harmonisation with the EU, with a secondary part in energy hydrocarbons.

      As Finance Minister he is in charge of administering the Troika program; so yes, it is up to Samaras to "lead" by supplying a vision of where we are headed, something that has not been articulated by any of the 3 last governments. But it would not be inappropriate line for Stournaras to do some explaining too, at least on the fiscal side. However nothing has been said.

      Meanwhile with his experience as a negotiator for Greece's admission into the eurozone, and given his present job, Stournaras does technically have a say in any UK bid for re-negotiation.

    2. Tsigantes

      That's really what I meant to say. I am not saying it has to be Stournaras or Samaras but SOMEONE has to convey leadership. Incidentally, during the German economic miracle of the 1950s, it was not the Chancellor but his Economy Minister instead (Erhard) who did the leading.

      Clearly, neither Stournaras nor Samaras seem to have the personal make-up for leadership. If forced to chose, it is better to have someone competent at the job than someone who only does 'leading' (Kennedy was a great leader but he achieved nothing politically; Johnson was a joke compared to Kennedy in terms of leadership but he got enormous new legislation on the road).

      If the elected leaders don't have the necessary leadership charisma, they can involve third parties to do the job (pardon the eomparison, but Hitler without Goebbels might not have become all that powerful). There are plenty of consultants who could give good advice as to how to do that. Perhaps involve artists, perhaps involve stars from sports. Perhaps involve famous Greeks from the diaspora. Whatever!

      Brains alone won't get a restructuring job done so easily. The hearts of people also need to be involved. What gets me is that the current leaders don't seem to pay much attention to the hearts of people (particularly when they can see all the time how Alexis Tsipras aims at the hearts of people).

  2. The government is unable to describe the 'Cathedral' because - like the rest of us - it cannot envisage it. None of us know if there will indeed be a Cathedral at the end of this blind-folded prescriptive process, and not a dungeon or prison.

    There is no architect's plan to guide the step-by-step bricklaying.
    The Troika has not supplied one either.
    At the moment we have 'means' only - no end.
    We are being driven to an unnamed destination in the dark with blindfolds on, by outside agencies, deprived of any choice in the matter.

    The price is enormous for the majority of greeks, but to what end? It is like being plunged into a war without being told who we are fighting. Including 'collateral' damage in which most healthy greek companies have been destroyed through preventable mistakes and mismanagement on the part of the Troika.

    So far we are informed that the enemy is us, the ordinary greeks. That we - greeks without any power - are solely responsible for where we are. (This is the propaganda.) Our government is not responsible, no country in the EU has any responsibility to contributing to our plight; nor the EU bureaucracy. Worse, if we attempt to allocate any responsibility to anyone other than ourselves, it only proves just how childish & irresponsible we are, how permanently incapable of driving our own affairs.

    So, in answer to your comment, I'd like to point out that it is not only a matter of lack of Greek leadership -true - but lack of leadership from the Troika.

    The IMF has already admitted that it made a terrible mistake. The greeks are paying for that mistake - no penalty has been applied to the IMF, nor an adjustment made for this mistake that would mitigate the consequences.

    In comparison to the IMF, the EU presents itself monolithically. They know the answers and we must follow. 'Where' is not said.

    Mr. Kastner, I suggest that Greece is trapped in a blind experiment where none of those in authority know where it will lead exactly. Furthermore, 11 million greek lives have been openly and without shame placed on the back-burner while Mrs. Merkel completes 9 months of campaigning for re-election. Worse, this is set against an economic backdrop in which the world seems headed for an unprecedented crash; and a political backdrop in which the sovereignty of the EU countries will be ceded irrevocably to an unelected EU bureaucracy.

    Leadership needs vision. The only vision today's greek government can supply the greeks is that of the Troika in whose hands the country lies. One part of the Troika admits to grossly harmful mistakes. The other talks about the end of sovereignty and nationhood, ie the tearing up of the Treaty of Westphalia.

    1. From what I have read, I gather that today's malaise of Greece started with the policies of Papandreou-father (which were then copied 1 to 1 by his opponents). Nevertheless, from what I have read, Papandreou-father must have been a real leader who oftentimes told the powers that be what they could do to themselves if they didn't comply with his wishes. I still meet people whose eyes get watery when they remember Papandreou-father as a leader.

      So the real question is: what would some leader like Papandreou-father have done in the last 3 years? What would he do today?

      Years ago, there was a movie about a big bad computer who could not be destroyed until one person came up with the question which the computer could not answer and which killed it: that question was 'why'? I guess the only answer to 'why' is 'because'.

      The only 'because's' which I have heard from Greek leadership so far are things like '...otherwise the Troika cuts funding' or '...otherwise we have to leave the Eurozone', etc.

      Reagan had his speech about that 'white city on the hill'; that 'beacon of liberty and justice' where happy Americans were making other Americans, and the rest of the world, happy. I recommend watching Reagan's farewell address.

      Maybe Greece needs an actor who can translate the government's policies into something which appears to people like a 'white city on the hill'.

  3. I had tried to add another comment, (below), when the double posting occurred. This may appear twice too, so feel free to delete! Please note that it was written on the heels of my first comment and before your reply ------

    Mr. Kastner,

    I have gone back and re-read your article, which starts with a quote from a US embassy cable about Greeks feeling slighted.I would suggest, in its relations with the US from 1967 onward, that greeks tended to be prickly rather than slighted.

    As a greek I bear no feelings of being slighted, nor have I noticed this amongst the people I know or in the media, whether mainstream or internet-based. The situation is too dire for such trivialities.

    As a greek I will say that I am GLAD that the corruption of our government / bureaucracy and oligopoly has been exposed, since this has been a cancer in Greek life for 40 years. It has been exposed, but sadly, it has also been left in place too, by the Troika.
    Second, like most private sector greeks I welcome a forced re-structuring of our civil service....provided that it is to the good.

    But more pertinent to me personally was your observation about the bricklayers. As an architect engineer with 30 years of experience in both small & large scale construction, I know very well that one mislaid brick has the capacity to spoil the
    final structure. No building goes on site for construction without a full specification document and full set of drawings specifying every detail of the building. These 2 sets of documents are signed off by the architects, structural and mechanical engineers, and if it is of any size, additional specialists such as acoustic and traffic engineers, quantity surveyors, landscape architects, soil and foundation specialists etc. In other words, each building BEFORE it enters the construction stage, is a product of anything between one to five years of work by a team of specialists, and this work is inspected and passed by the relevent government councils. The plans and specification form a legal document, on the basis of which any member of the team can be taken to court and if irresponsibility is proved, we lose our licenses and livelihood.

    When construction is underway, all members of the team are required to inspect the site. One misplaced brick leads to a misplaced brick course and eventually to an incorrect wall. Depending on the importance of the mistake the constructor will be asked to break down the wall and start again, and the cost of the mistake falls to the constructor. If we do not spot this mistake during construction the cost of the mistake falls to us, and depending on the importance, with the same possible dire consequences outlined above.

    I have to split this in half, part 2 follows -

  4. Part 2

    As an architect engineer & greek, I do not see a final set of plans or a clear specification document in this crisis. More important to my mind, nor do I see any contractual mechanism of responsibility/accountability set in place by the participating authorities. I acknowledge that to some degree recovery from the crisis has ad hoc elements due to pressures beyond any authority's control. ie risk. However in business, degrees of risk are normally reflected in contractual protection (to use my and your metaphor). In this case, the entire population of a country is being asked to carry the full cost and risk, without any insurance or protective clauses and without any responsibility allocated to the consultants and other contributory parties. Yet the economic experiment we are being forced to undertake has already proved disastrous at several key points.

    To justify this, we are told by the MSM (and participants in your column) that Greece's catastrophe is entirely our fault. Most of us agree - up to a point. At the same time there is total denial of government (for the sake of face), EU or any other external responsibility.

    Yet I have never once taken or been given a bribe. I walked out of the infamous Laliotis Ministry of Public Works on my own steam - through disgust. I have lost jobs because big clients here in Greece - yes, greek clients & construction companies! - refused to pay bribes. And most private sector business people I know are the same as me.

    Corruption is certainly not confined to Greece, and it is also a personal and professional choice. As a banker, overseeing businesses, you know that it is a negative choice in the private sector because corrupt and dishonest companies quickly go out of business. Corruption, dishonesty, theft - this is short-term-ism!

    It is also fair, given the one-way stream of allegations, to point out that I have personally lost public jobs awarded through EU competition processes, or at competition stage, in Belgium, the NL, Finland and Italy through corruption and preferment.

    I am placing several issues on the table here, I realise, but I am doing it from a business point of view.
    One, the end of this process has not been articulated. This is not only totally irresponsible - it is absurd.
    Two, no contractual protection has been set in place: allocation of responsibilities, penalty clauses, accountability to all parties & consultants, internal & external, in the case of mistakes - mistakes like the almost total destruction of healthy private sector businesses and the banks here in Greece, ie the healthy part of the economy.
    Third, the public sector / political parties who were in charge all these years and created a systemic horror show (which the private sector was forced to not only pay for but also endure at the cost of efficiency and profits), is being kept in place by outside authorities and forced to 'perform' - fine! - but without clearing out their Augean stables and with the continuance of the same old oligopoly.
    Fourth, the greek population has been - by design as much as default - designated as both recipient and sole responsible party (without legal recourse) to the human and financial cost of this 'contract'. Our government may one day fall, but the decisions of the outside experts instructing the government remain wholly unaccountable.

    You may agree or disagree with my points, but far from acting huffy and slighted, I would suggest that the greek people are showing, all things considered, considerable maturity and forbearance in the face of national catastrophe.

  5. What is characteristic for a good leader in Greece? If it is someone who really finds the hearts of people then it goes through the ears deep inside where it echoes that what is the most wanted, or the most to be feared. Some politicians know what is inside that heart and they manipulate it, they tease it with their words, and those words balm the ears of the people. Misleading. Taking away fears with illusions.
    The most of the people want to hear easy solutions. Impossible in Greece. The situation has become too complicated, too black.
    Is he, who creates dreams, a leader?
    No, just a popular party-mascot, not a leader. A true leader is he who is ON the battle field, not next to it. Or behind a microphone to tell hypnotizing stories, to spread around words in not logic sentences, confusing the people. Making them thinking that he is clever, intelligent, too clever for them to be understood really, so....: a good leader ..... (??!!)

    Those who ARE ruling/leading Greece already for a too long time, are the media.
    By changing the media the people will get better informed.
    The media are just broadcasting what the audience likes, to get more listeners, watchers.
    To be popular.

    "The media" is a plural form of "leader".

    Change the world, change the media.
    A new future for Greece by deleting all broadcasters.
    By firing its "leader" of the moment.
    Stopping the tower of Babel-Greece.

    That tower may be bombed, metaphorically, to liberate the Greeks from its chains.

  6. kleingut - Maybe Greece needs an actor who can translate the government's policies into something which appears to people like a 'white city on the hill'.

    But first Greece needs a training ground like California.

    There's a perception that Reagan was plucked off his horse from some movie lot in 1980 and parachuted into the White House 12 months later (I know KK knows better, but...)

    It just isn't so. Reagan was arguably the most seasoned politician to become President of the USA since Truman - and maybe before that. And IMO when he entered the White House he had more relevant experience than the combined total of the last 3 incumbents - Clinton, Bush II, and Obama.

    He was Governor of California (world's 11th biggest economy, 35 million people) between 1967-75. Before that his Presidency's (twice at least) of the Screen Actors Guild gave him a good grounding in 'hard nose' politics, the first being during the McCarthy years. He was a key supporter of the 1964 Goldwater campaign and he tried for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1968 and 1976.

    BTW He made his last movie in 1964, 16 years before he was elected President.

    Tsigantes That Stouranas is a very able economist I don't question. I would also think he is well suited to administering the Troika program, given the time he's spent consulting to Greek governments, the BoG etc - but a Ronald Reagan he ain't.

    Did you see his interview on the BBC, he made a lot of bold statements with not a lot of evidence, and I can't imagine anything he said would have given much comfort to the unemployed, pensioners etc - because he said nothing about jobs, prices, strikes or other real economy issues.

    Regarding Brexit: maybe Stouranas has some tangential say in the UK's renegotations with the EU Commission and EU Council (Heads of Government), but that's a pretty long bow. It'd be a bit like me claiming that the NZ AgriMin has a say in the T&C's of IMF loans to Greece.

    Stouranas went on mainstream BRITISH TV effectively saying that he would 'veto' any negotiations regarding the UK's continued EU membership. That's hardly a way to win friends and influence people, or get your marbles back. The Yanks might be able to get away with saying such things, but...

    The Treaty of Westphalia has been trashed so many times... Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, Clemenceau, Curzon etc... that its probably due for another one, hopefully this time they'll refrain from redrawing borders and ethnic cleansing.

    When I first read KK's post I had the idea that if a Greek bioscientist could gene splice Stouranas's left brain with Tsipras right brain and put the result into Nikos Zisis' skull then Greece might have the leader it needs and even wants.

    Regarding the Troika and its lack of a plan. Surely that is what the TFGR is about. It has plans covering 9 areas and it has teams of experts working with the Greek government to implement the plan for each area. IMO the best articulation of the plan is at the euBusiness website, alternatively there's the Barroso articulation for which Antoinette Jannsen created some videos and put them on Youtube. If the TFGR plans didn't come from the Troika then how come it's experts come mainly from the Troika?

    I am very wary of those who claim they have a detailed plan for a country. Lenin, Stalin, Mao, PolPot and others were fond of Five Year Plans - how many dead - tens of millions. And more recently there was a certain Paul Bremer - who had a plan for Iraq.

    Planning is a process that countries must do continuously, you can project a vision but its realization has to be done organically, otherwise you end up flogging dead horses and missing new opportunities. Even China's learnt this lesson.


    1. The above example of combining the brains of someone like Stournaras with someone like Tsipras is exactly what I meant. I have previously referred to this as 'looking for Tsipras' twin brother who has as much economic common sense as Alexis has populist talent'. I have watched his performance at the Brookings Institute. Well, that man handles himself coolly, what he says is easily understood and makes a lot of sense on the surface, etc. Personally, I think Tsipras would lead Greece into economic disaster but that doesn't mean that one should copy some of the things which he does well. Generally, the attitude of Continental European democracies seems to be to declare populists, from the left as well as from the right, as some of the most dangerous people in Europe. If I were in government and I saw that someone else is becoming a lot more popular than I am, I would study my competition day-in day-out and try to learn and copy his secrets. I would never call him 'bad' or 'dangerous'. In fact, I would compliment him for his success and shower so much love and respect upon him that he loses his bite with the audience.

    2. "If I were in government and I saw that someone else is becoming a lot more popular than I am, I would study my competition day-in day-out and try to learn and copy his secrets. I would never call him 'bad' or 'dangerous'. In fact, I would compliment him for his success and shower so much love and respect upon him that he loses his bite with the audience."

      This is making you not trustworthy. I prefer an (in your opinion or anybody's opinion) maybe "bad" but fair not copying leader, one who IS what he says, who is highly committed with all he says and proclaims. I reject somebody who tries to copy another one.

      It is not about acting as a John Wayne in a cowboy film, to act the cowboy, I want a true cowboy, the one who makes a living out of it, if I would search for a cowboy. This is an example.
      Not even Ronald Reagan. The smooth guy with Thatcher always in his shadow. But she was the leader, in fact.
      I am sorry, but it needs more on the C.V. than have been an actor (an unknown one by the way, even that, not even a good one), Ronald.

      I prefer a true Indian, not one who acts to be an Indian.
      I prefer a true lover, not one who is copying one.
      I prefer to be a good mother, instead of copying another mother, like Mother Teresa, to be popular in my children's eyes and hearts.
      I prefer to be here the stupid one here, than to copy a nice comment from somewhere else, where I see that many like what has been written there.
      I prefer to be Georgos Papandreou, instead of being Alexis Tsipras. I prefer Venizelos. Samaras.
      I prefer to be myself when I am presenting myself.
      I do not copy.
      I am not interested in pols nor in being popular.
      I had a lot of enemies, because I dared to be myself, but I changed more in my life than anybody else, also in other beings' lifes. In a very very positive way.
      I have proved that not trying to copy another mother, by being a leading one myself, daring to say no, but loving deeply, I was right. As myself. Otherwise even love is fake. I would have been a fake mother. Creating fake love in my wonderful children. I would not have been worthy to be named mother.

      It takes all your blood to dare to be, to present yourself as the true one.
      It is about the people, not about the leader. If the leader does not feel deep love for the people he is a bad one. To love the people does not give the guarantee to be beloved by the people as well. The people are his children. A good father is more than the one who only tells fairy tales when children are young. He dares to be strong, he HAS to educate, to show where he really stands for, or believes in. That needs more than only words.
      It takes all of a parent to raise children. But LOVE is the most important quality, and yes, Papandreou loved and loves the Greeks, as a true loving father, as the fair leader, more than popularity, more than money, more than success. Love is so much more than people can imagine. It goes so incredible deep. Sacrifice belongs to it. If Greeks love their country they will have to learn to sacrifice, to learn what love is really. For the sake of all.

  7. A lot of bad things came out of the network culture of PASOK, but yes, Papandreaou was undeniably a crafty and forceful negotiator.

    And it should not be forgotten that his chief legacy to Greece was in setting up the social welfare programs we have today - amongst which were the creation of public medicine (IKA), unemployment insurance, extending pensions to include women, and the most fair and protective laws for women in the EU.

    This brought Greece in line with the rest of the EU, though these programs were much less comprehensive than in the north.

  8. Certain comments about the above discussion:
    a) I agree with the point made by Herr Kastner. Greece suffers from a leadership vacuum. Unfortunately leadership cannot be produced to order.
    b)Feeling of slight. Well to quote from a Greek author "A Greek, when in front of the mirror in the morning, sees Alexander". This is pretty accurate and constitutes a substantial part of the Greek national myth. Of course then everything annoys you. I think the official name is cognitive dissonance. On the other hand all groups of people have their sensitive points that, if rubbed for long, produce a feeling of slight syndrome. Have you tried talking international politics with a US citizen(the type without passport) and contradict the so called Washington consensus (the consensus of the media, politicians etc that passes for sacred truth on US TV)? Then you see prickly.
    c) Mr Tsigantes as an engineer to an engineer, in order to have a blueprint you need an ergodic phenomenon. Politics and economics are not ergodic, hence often no real blueprint is possible. In the Greek situation I think that a blueprint probably exists, but it cannot be made public for serious political reasons. Think for example the reaction to the announcement of 200000 civil servants being fired. Given that Greece has more army generals than the US army, this number seems OK. If people are not really scarred then they might revolt and cause major mayhem.As for contractual obligations of other parties (consultants etc) this is a highly political operation. So nobody will put his money where his mouth is in the usual way. And most of these characters are just hacks pushing this or that position. Cynical but true.
    d) Brexit. Mr Sturnaras is what we call a machine hack. Maybe he just repeats the political consensus around him in the EU.
    Having lived in the UK for several years I have a personal opinion about how prickly some English can be about EC membership. My answer to such prickly characters( English,Greek or otherwise) is simple:Nobody cares and you will pay the price of your prickliness. Of course those that disagree but tolerate the prickly characters will also pay but this is a different story.

  9. e) Oops!! This was lost in the copy/paste. I think that the most important think about Wikileaks is that it proved that most state secrets are just stupid gossip. The author of the above cable cannot be taken seriously. He was just being manipulated by his Greek contacts. However several sections of the Greek population are prickly about the reforms and the subject needs to be addressed.
    f) Talking about the cathedral is good, assuming that people believe the cathedral is possible/desirable. In the Greek case this is not necessarily the case. Many Greeks have a different design in mind. This makes things tricky and creates the needs for top quality political leadership, which we are missing.