Αρχείο κατηγορίας MAIN ARTICLES IN ENGLISH

HOW CAN THE CONTINUOUS DECREASE OF POPULATION IN RURAL AREAS, AND SPECIFICALLY IN MANI, BE ABATED

The first statistics of the modern Greek state show that Mani was overpopulated, with a population higher than 30.000 inhabitants. Two hundred years later, migration, mainly for economic reasons, combined with low birth rates, have resulted in population much less than half of that! If we look at the age demographics, the conclusion is disheartening, because of the very advanced age of most of Mani’s permanent population. Low birth rates and migration are fully justified social phenomena, since both usually happen when people cannot satisfy basic needs. Unfortunately, in Greece we have not had coordinated state policies aiming at retaining the existing population and increasing the low birth rates of rural areas, and particularly of Mani. We believe that many areas in the countryside, particularly areas like Mani which have low production, but are endowed with desirable geophysical, climatic and cultural characteristics, could contribute to the increase of the population and the wealth of our country, if the state showed more interest and implemented area-specific development programs.

It is certain that in recent decades Mani has attracted many visitors and that the income of its permanent residents has increased. It is also certain that the tourist needs of the summer are such, that the local workforce does not suffice and it has to be strengthened with workers coming from the neighbouring urban areas and even foreigners. However, this staff is seasonal, and in winter even the seaside resort towns are sparsely populated. The increased value of real estate is very beneficial to its owners, however, it is a deterrent for the permanent settlement of the seasonally employed. If real estate were cheaper, the seasonally employed staff could potentially settle in the area, have families and increase the population of Mani.

If we do not want our country to be weakened in terms of population, we need efficient general measures and complete development problems that will have as a goal the strengthening of its population. These measures should be area-specific, with an emphasis on areas which have growth potential in critical areas, such as tourism. The characteristics of these programs should be the strengthening of public education from day care centres and kindergarten to High School, subsidised low-interest loans so that those who cultivate the land could buy it, and financial support of small year-round tourist units, the operations of which will be coordinated through a specialised “chamber” service run by the state. Of course, all of these integrated programs should be supported by state infrastructure, with the emphasis on roads, so that products and services can be moved quickly and efficiently to their final destinations.

The development policies applied so far have led to the creation of a hydrocephalic urban center, the capital Athens, and 5 or 6 other big urban centres of smaller population. Ιn these urban centres is concentrated the secondary sector (handicraft, industry etc.), assisted by the service sector. The potential for employment in these sectors leads to the gradual movement of persons from the countryside to the cities, and weakens the population of rural areas. What should really be happening instead is that area-specific state programs should promote the establishment and operation of industrial units for the processing of local agricultural products in each of the production areas. These programs should also connect the local industrial units with the export trade network, so that the part of the production that is not absorbed inland can be exported to other countries.

Α popular Greek proverb says: if a child does not cry, his mother does not give him food. It seems that in the area of active promotion of “substantiated proposals”, rural areas fall behind. There has been a lack of the necessary “good pipelines” that will present the needs of the residents of the countryside to the central administration, so that priorities can be established and appropriate political decisions can be taken. The weakening of the rural population has resulted in its under-represenation at both central and regional level. Consequently, the few representatives remaining in each place are overwhelmed with multiple obligations. This situation requires a particularly high level of coordination of residents in each sub-region, in order to strengthen the conditions for submission and promotion of the substantiated proposals to those state and regional institutions which are responsible for making critical decisions for the future of the country.

                                                               THE COORDINATING COMMITTEE

THE CONTINUOUS PRODUCTION AND HUMAN TRANSFORMATIONS OF MANI

From the texts that have been published in MANIOT SOLIDARITY, we can conclude with certainty that there is a continuous change in the productive activities in the region and consequently a corresponding transformation of the perceptions of its inhabitants. All these changes are happening in the same geophysical and climatic background, the characteristics of which are shaping the new transformations. These changes depend on the prevailing trends in the fields of economy and employment on an international scale. Below we will refer to the two transformations which preceded the third one that is currently underway.

The first transformation was in the lives and activities of the inhabitants of Mani, as they evolved in the 18th century until the national uprising of 1821 and the founding of the modern Greek state. Its main characteristics were militancy and the tendency for autonomy, in a social environment devoid of authoritarian powers to restrain them. Βecause it was difficult to secure sufficient family finances due to the limited agricultural productivity, it was necessary to secure the financial resources needed through piracy or armed incursions into neighbouring fertile areas.

The second transformation introduced the model of living and acting that developed during the 200 years that have passed since the founding of the modern Greek state. Since the previous model could not be continued, as it was not allowed by the legal order of the new state, it was necessary to find new ways of economic balance. The new conditions led to migrations to other places where living and working conditions ensured financial family balance. These migrations created dense Maniot communities in Kalamata, sparser in the neighbouring Messinian towns, and even denser in the neighbouring provinces of Lacedaemon and Epidaurus Limira, as well as in the city of Sparta, in Laconia. Migrations were also frequent, initially in the mining area of ​​Lavrion and denser ones in Piraeus. There was also immigration to other countries, to industrial areas of the United States during the first decades of the last century, and to Australia and Germany during the first decades after the middle of the last century. With the gradual expansion of the educational system of the modern Greek state in the areas of Mani, it was possible to transform the traditional warfare into brilliant careers for Maniots in the areas of the National Armed Forces, but also in journalism and politics. This constant migratory flow reduced the domestic population and, combined with the strengthening of the financial resources of seasonally employed families in neighbouring rural areas during the growing or harvesting seasons, ultimately created a family financial balance.  

The opening of the markets and the possibility for fast transfer of products, capital and people gave tourism, both external and internal, the possibility to grow year by year. Mani, with its unique geophysical, climatic and cultural characteristics, has become one of the areas with increased demand for buying land. These characteristics have resulted in larger numbers of tourists in our area, but also in visitors purchasing plots of land or houses and becoming permanent residents. These facts have also been highlighted by international organisations, specialised in measuring the trends of traffic in the various regions, and have led to Mani receiving many international awards. From these starting points, in recent decades, a new, third, transformation has begun to take shape, at the heart of which is the tourism “industry” and construction activity. The conditions are now favourable for the restoration of a stable family economic balance, both for Greek citizens and for the many foreign owners of houses and properties in our area. This transformation is in an evolutionary course, and in order for it to stabilise and to achieve dynamic growth at higher levels, it is necessary to improve the characteristics that make our region so attractive. As geophysical and climatic characteristics change little over time, little remains to be done in order to maintain and develop our tourism traffic, but there are still two things that we could do in this regard: a) preserve and promote our cultural monuments and b) connect our visitors with the local agricultural production in order to form model agrotourism operations highlighting Mani food products. These two goals, in addition to the improvement of public infrastructure (roads, squares, ports, water and sewerage networks, etc.), can be achieved only through joint actions by all Maniots who need to understand the new trends and mobilise accordingly. 

The circumstances are favourable, given that at the regional and state level there is positive interest in our area. It is up to our local representatives to document these needs and to promote them through joint proposals. Let us hope that this will be achieved, albeit belatedly, and that the third transformation of Mani in modern times will also bring the expected permanent economic balance.

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

REFLECTIONS ON THE AFTERMATH OF THE CELEBRATIONS FOR THE 200th ANNIVERSARY OF 1821

The anniversary year 2021 and the celebratory events organised during it are now over. In the difficult times of the coronavirus pandemic, the planning of events was mοderated and the final celebrations were reduced. Nonetheless, a revival of historical memory has taken place and further opportunities for reflection have been created. Let us hope that we will use this anniversary in order to reflect deeper on the origins of the fighting spirit for freedom of our long-enslaved ancestors and also that we will draw essential messages for the future course of our country. Ιn the following paragraphs, we will present some of our own reflections.

            The strongest message of 1821, as already identified by the first National Assemblies and promoted throughout the revolution, was the demand for the creation of a Greek state independent of the Ottoman Empire. This demand gradually upset the balance of power between the mighty countries of Europe and the Ottoman Empire. Τhe Greek demand was finally accepted in 1828 thanks to the diplomatic initiatives of Governor Ioannis Kapodistrias. The modern Greek state, crammed into a few of the Greek regions, was constantly looking for opportunities to expand into territories which were still subjugated. It finally succeeded not only in its expansion into a sizeable geographical area, but also in its homogenisation. The modern Greek state was founded on democratic principles, as they had been determined by the decisions of the National Assemblies of the revolution (such as citizen rights, universal suffrage and non-recognition of nobility titles). However, the way that today’s Greek citizens treat their own state is a cause for concern. Since the citizens are the ones who elect the government, it is self-evident that they have an obligation to accept and observe the laws that are voted in Parliament by their representatives, the members of Parliament. The right of personal choice in the observance or not of state laws or their misinterpretation cannot be justified. These obligations are becoming particularly relevant in the present difficult phase of the pandemic, in which a significant part of the population objects to the implementation of the legislative measures for protection against the pandemic.

            The modern Greek state was finally founded thanks to the pressure, military and political, exerted by the three great powers (England, France, Russia) on the weakened Ottoman Empire, in recognition of the great sacrifices of the Greeks during their long revolution. Consequently, Greece was ruled for many decades by politicians belonging to one of the three parties. The first rulers of the modern Greek state were largely dependent on the three great powers and were promoting some of these countries’ policies without, of course, dismissing national ideals. The introduction of a Constitution by King Otto, after the uprising of the Greek people on September 3, 1843, significantly mitigated these dependencies. Finally, in the place of the three foreign parties that were ruling until then, gradually and little by little, personal parties were created. Politicians provided services to their local representatives who in turn influenced significant groups of voters. Despite the modernisations imposed by the ideological currents that flooded the European continent during the last century, in Greece we have not been able to create parties of principle with substantial and active participation of the party members in the selection of their executives and leaders. This applies not only to the parliamentary parties but also to all the groups that are active in the self-governing structures of the state.

            The above-mentioned reflections lead us to the following conclusions and proposals: The democratic operation of the parties, without of course being a panacea, can significantly reduce the disobedience of the citizens to the institutions of the state. The more directly citizens participate in political events, the more they feel consciously obliged to implement what is decided at a higher level. The distancing of governments from their pre-election promises and the autonomy of their members of Parliament fuel the voters’ distrust and the tendency for disobedience.

            In our area of ​​Mani, these situations are more promiment, mainly in the few existing structures of the wider public sector. The traditional patriarchal family compositions and the local military and political rallies that prevailed before the revolution of 1821, have evolved over time and have left strong imprints throughout the two centuries of the modern Greek state. Some of these characteristics keep appearing to this day and do not easily allow the synthesis of needs on a unified, reliable and universal basis, a condition that is a prerequisite for successfully moving to a higher -executive- political level. The homogenisation of demands and the democratic and meritocratic election of local representatives could be a safe path to the effectiveness and prosperity of the region, as our heroic ancestors/fighters of 1821 would have wished.

                                                                                               THE EDITORIAL BOARD

DEVELOPMENT AND THE DISTRIBUTION OF BENEFITS

Government officials have announced some very good news: increased growth rates for the Greek economy during the year 2021 and the following years, something which is also being confirmed by statistics. There is more good news about the estimates for the optimal utilisation of the financial resources that have been allocated to Greece by two European Union programs: a) by the Community Development and Stability Pact (funding projects and their implementation over the next three years) and b) by the Community Support Framework (funding projects and their implementation over the next seven years). Now that these positive prospects have been announced, the questions are a) how close to the original plans will the actual implementation of these projects be, and b) to what extent will the results of the expected growth of the Greek economy be fairly distributed in society? Transparency will be a very important criterion for the fair evaluation of the expected positive results. Transparent data should be available in all phases of implementation of the projects that will be funded by the above European Community programs; this data should be presented in a simple, popularised language, and in a form accessible and easily understood by the average citizen. Let us not forget that the recent financial packages allocated to our country by the EU are unprecedentedly large.

As a starting point, we must mention here that the financial management of the pandemic, i.e., the replacement by government aid of the income losses caused to the citizens by the imposed COVID restrictions, was positive. This fact has contributed significantly to the increased growth rates of the economy for 2021 and 2022. The observation that these relief packages also benefited to some extent people who were not entitled to them does not invalidate what we just said at the beginning of this paragraph, but encourages us to work towards better digitisation of recording procedures, fairer distribution of benefits, as well as better management of similar situations in the future.

From the data disclosed so far, it appears that the Greek citizens need more detailed information regarding the choice of the projects that so far have been included in the above European Community programs, i.e., information with simplified technical terminology that will be easily understood by the average citizen. It is important that the information given to the public justifies the choice of specific public works for each category as well as the individual projects for each one of them, the strict conditions set by the invitation to tender regarding completion within the specified time frames and most important, why are they necessary and what are the social benefits that will be created with the completion of these projects. If the disclosure of all this data is transparent, it will lead to the citizens responding positively to the government development plans and will not give rise to opposition criticism.

The road from the initial design to the final implementation of any public work (even small development projects) is long. This fact justifies, to some extent, small deviations and additions to the original design. However, what has been observed in many cases in the past can be characterised as a complete reversal of the initial project plans. We have witnessed a complete reversal occurring in several cases, such as when the original budget turns out to be insufficient and needs to be doubled or when a project, completely funded until completion by a Community Support Framework, is left incomplete and requires as much funding from the next Community Support Framework. Phenomena of this kind that have been often recorded in the past, in addition to wasting scarce financial resources, also produce social parasitism, satisfy micropolitical interests and generally express phenomena of social decline.

If the whole path, from design to full completion of the projects, is shielded with efficient procedures, institutional rules and competent people who possess effective administration and good management skills, it is certain that the foundations will have been laid for the reliable integration of our country in the advanced states of the European family. Then, we might be able to rationalise and deal with the huge public debt that our leaders’ micropolitical and selfish political choices have created. If we do all this, then we can hope to be forgiven by our children and grandchildren, who will be subject to increased tax charges for its repayment, for several more decades.

Let us hope that our homeland Mani will also benefit from these large financial packages, although no reliable studies have been prepared for infrastructure projects that our region so desperately needs, now that the dynamic tourism development has stimulated the creation of quality investments in the private sector. It is never too late for all of us to mobilise in this direction, with the help of our compatriots who are active in large urban centers, and especially those in political offices.

                                                                                                          THE EDITORIAL BOARD

GREECE: 200 YEARS OF DEEP DIVISIONS DUE TO SMALL AND OFTEN UNCLEAR CAUSES

Εvery time timeliness required it, we presented in the articles of our newspaper “MANIOT SOLIDARITY”, the divisions that were manifested during the 200 years of life of the modern Greek state. Many of these divisions were explosive and lasted decades. If we examine their duration and intensity, in combination with the external circumstances and their effects on the internal affairs of our country, we cannot, unfortunately, conclude that these divisions are decreasing in intensity and duration as the years go by. They seem to be fed by some form of genetic character, which is not eliminated over time.

Of course, behind the divisions are the interests of individuals and groups, who believe that with the divisions they promote, they will eventually emerge victorious and benefit from the conflict. Despite the fact that national slogans are mixed in with the theoretical background on which these groups attempt to base their divisive arguments, the results, in most cases, bring national losses! Let us remember just two such disasters: the loss of the Great Idea as a result of the division of the 1910s and the loss of any positive development on the Cyprus issue as a result of the division of the 1940s.

Could the 1975 Constitution, whose provisions have been described as groundbreaking for the time it was voted, be a framework of common acceptance for citizens and politicians? This constitution stabilises, in a balanced way, the rights and obligations of citizens and forms a commonly accepted framework for the political debate on the policies to be applied in the governance of the country. Its provisions are broad enough to accommodate all political debates, which can be carried out within the specified framework and can be relaxed before they become deep, thus leading to divisions.

No conscientious citizen wishes to impose his opinion on any issue on a fellow citizen who has a different opinion from him/her. Persuasion and dialogue, either directly or through modern discussion forums, are the best methods to bridge differences. At the end of the exchange of arguments and the formulation of improvements to the initial positions, it is necessary to have a final position, the one that emerges from the views of most citizens on the basis of the common course agreed, through the constitution.

The divisions of the last decade have ultimately resulted in the escalation of the economic crisis and the deterioration of the financial situation of all citizens, and especially of many of the social groups that have played a leading role in divisive actions. The outcome, of course, would be even worse for the country and the citizens, if the majority tendency formed on the basis of theoretical approaches was applied in practice. It seems, however, that a tendency towards divisions is a permanent characteristic of some social groups, those that are formed on the basis of common beliefs which are completely disconnected from the prevailing beliefs of society.

The latest split in pro-vaccination / anti-vaccination groups for protection against the novel coronavirus, is evolving in much the same way. Anti-vaccination groups, each with a different starting point, focus on the individual rights of citizens, which are of course protected by the constitution, but not in an absolute way. Individual rights are related to the general interests of the society to which the constitution refers, thus shaping the interests of society as a whole in relation to the views or interests of minority groups, especially when the context of the conflict is about health and the lives of citizens. In other words, the decision of each citizen, which concerns his/her personal attitude and decision on an issue, cannot be disconnected from the damage that this attitude can cause to the wider society.

What constitutes, in addition to the constitutional requirement, common sense in the context of the voluntary coexistence of social groups, came to be confirmed by the decisions of the courts. These courts were called to rule on the constitutionality of government measures, related to the mandatory vaccination of social groups in close contact with large groups of citizens. Let us respect these decisions, avoiding another pointless division…

In Mani, it seems that the situation has somewhat improved. The old divisions, culminating in the vendettas, have disappeared as the population thinned out and tourism invaded. There are still low-intensity conflicts, mainly of a local nature, which are far from being divisive. Let us hope that these too will be eliminated soon.

                                THE EDITORIAL BOARD

AT THE 200TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE 1821 GREEK UPRISING, HOMOGENISATION OF PERCEPTIONS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT MESSAGE

It seems that anniversary celebrations of the national uprising of 1821 in our country have always been unlucky. There was one exception: the 50th anniversary, which was celebrated during the fourth inaugural term of the Maniot prime minister Alexandros Koumoundouros, and which brought not only strong emotions, but also substantial national achievements inspired by the Greek Revolution. All subsequent anniversaries were met with obstacles in achieving their goals of restoring historical memory and shaping future prospects through planned celebratory events. The 100th anniversary coincided with the unlucky outcome of the Greek Army campaign in Asia Minor and, as a result, the celebrations were postponed for 10 years, only to coincide again with the impact of the American financial crisis of 1929 on Europe and Greece. The 150th anniversary, on the other hand, coincided with the first four years of the dictatorship (imposed in 1967), a period when the messages of liberation were inconsistent with the prevailing political situation. More misfortunes apply to the present 200th anniversary: the pandemic, the immigration crisis and the rampant wildfires. Nevertheless, because historical memory is not promoted only through representation of events in the places where they took place in 1821, but through reflection on situations of that period, the1821 uprising continues to inspire and teach…

            The cohesive factor of all the individual societal groups that participated in the preparation of the uprising of 1821 and in the actual war, both in the fields of battle with the Ottomans but also in the subsequent diplomatic arena, was the assurance of free life in a nation state that would guarantee the security of all its citizens. Papaflessas, the hero who set all Greek hearts on fire,  managed to use this factor with ingenuity and courage to light the wick of the uprising and to push the revolutionary events on an irreversible path. The social groups that eventually took part in the Revolution differed both in their wealth and in their views on the political system that should be implemented in the new nation state. The economically powerful wanted to retain most of their privileges, the expatriates who belonged to the upper echelons of the Ottoman administration of Istanbul wanted to be the backbone of the political governance of the emerging state, the leaders of the military groups wanted to control and direct the government. The ordinary citizens, city professionals, and landowners sought to get rid of the heavy taxes that were forcing them to lose their jobs and property. If we add to all this the linguistic pluralism and the significant differentiation in the prevailing customs and traditions of the individual regions, the homogenisation on a common basis of a single nation state was a difficult task and it took time to complete. Significant progress in this direction was achieved during the four-year rule of Ioannis Kapodistrias, who with patience and diplomacy, managed to soften the aspirations of individual societal groups by undertaking policies that raised the living standards of ordinary citizens. To a significant degree, this policy was continued by King Otto’s Regents during the three-year term of office that had been assigned to them. However, in the following decades, the standardisation process lost momentum and, in combination with international developments, found new obstacles on the path to full integration, which remain until today.

            We, the descendants of the 1821 heroes, upon reflecting, 200 years later, on their sacrifices that led to the stable state we live in, have an obligation to redouble our efforts in order to shape our country as coherently as possible towards a future that is, unfortunately, predicted to be increasingly uncertain. We need to honour those politicians who, either by exploiting international circumstances and forming beneficial alliances, or by inspiring the armed forces in times of war, have succeeded in enlarging small Greece, a state which was first formed in 1832, in both population and territory. At the same time, however, we also have an obligation to remember the causes that led to national tragedies and disasters. The disagreements, which from time to time appeared in a heightened form, were not ideological confrontations, but were based on the gaps in the formation of a standardised perception of the citizens about the path towards the future of our country. These gaps, to some extent, still exist. It seems that the gaps in the path to standardisation do not arise from social controversies, but are mainly due to different perceptions and therefore can be addressed, both on a political and on an individual level, through dialogue and good faith. If we continue towards filling the gaps of standardisation, it is certain that the messages of 1821, on the occasion of the 200-year anniversary celebrations, will have been successfully transferred to the present period, as the protagonists of 1821, and especially the most fervent of them all, Papaflessas, would have liked.

THE HOMOGENISATION OF SOCIETIES IS DIFFICULT, ΒUT THERE IS HOPE

If we examine the evolution of different societies, we can see how difficult the path towards homogenisation is. Social homogenisation is defined as the assimilation of many specific characteristics of individuals and societal groups and their harmonious fusion into a single framework, which is commonly accepted and decisive for a peaceful path into the future. Τhe slogan “Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood” of the 1789 French Revolution, which was accepted (at least in theory) by large groups of citizens, was a major boost towards the process of future homogenisation. However, it is certain that today there are still several groups of people who do not agree with this these ideas. A careful analysis of situations in modern societies shows that only long-term and conscious actions can guide various societal groups towards homogenised results. Significant homogenised results can be achieved only if there is coordinated common action; unfortunately, this is not always the case, and often actions towards the right direction are undertaken in isolation or are later reversed.

            In Western Europe, the ideals of the French Revolution (even in cases when they were simply slogans or failed attempts at stable governance) promoted the creation of the “nation states” and they strengthened these states. Homogenisation, based on commonly accepted long-term policies, on democracy and on parliamentarism, brought tangible economic results, which helped convince skeptical citizens of the benefits of integration. In these countries, even the challenge of social homogenisation between populations of different cultures of origin has been significantly addressed, i.e., the homogenisation of the native population with people originating from the colonies and with immigrants. It is certain that this type of homogenisation will become even more successful in future generations.

            In our country, the obstacles towards homogenisation have deeper roots. We lack the kind of progress that was achieved in Western Europe during the centuries of Renaissance; at that time Western European feudal societies became acquainted with new ideas about culture and politics. In our country, Ottoman tyrants prohibited the circulation of these European ideas that could harm their authoritarian rule. Here, our ancestors could not expect anything greater than simply maintaining their biological survival. In the 200 years of the modern Greek state, some measures towards homogenisation have been taken, but this happened relatively late. The first such attempts towards homogenisation of the culturally different populations that lived in Greece at that time took place during the governance of our county by Capodistrias (1827-1831). We need, however, to keep in mind that at that time Greece was a very small country, extending to the north only to Arta and the Pagasitic Gulf and possessing only the islands of the Saronic Gulf and the Cyclades. Ηοmogenisation was attempted through the peer-learning school system and through the consistent and strict application of the administration rules.

            In a few Greek areas, such as Mani, where the rocky and mostly infertile terrain was the main impetus towards freedom, homogenisation happened at a faster pace, although the different population groups of the area were more in number and more heterogeneous in their origin than they were in other Greek areas. In fact, to a certain extent, many aspects of the characteristics of the system of small-scale war feudalism that prevailed in most of the regions of Mani were mitigated, and conditions were created to reduce the size of social inequalities between the members of each micro-society. Before 1821, in Mani, from the slogans of the French Revolution, the slogan of Brotherhood was limited only to the members of each patriarchal family; however, during the two centuries of the Modern Greek State that followed, it has been promoted to a significant degree, especially in the societies created by the Maniots outside Mani, at sites inside Greece and abroad where Maniots settled.

It seems that the path towards the homogenisation of societies will be achieved through the process of merging individuality with sociability. The conscious realisation that the individual interest, as a qualitative and quantitative upgrade of the starting point, is often linked to the promotion of common interests, may be the best way to relativise the instinct of self-preservation, which drives towards narrowly self-serving behaviours. Another encouraging element is the increasingly accepted realisation that individuals are mortal, but societies, if not immortal, are at least long-lived.

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY AND ITS WEAKNESSES

Over the past two centuries, representative democracy, which started on the European continent, has gradually prevailed as the preferred form of governance in most countries. Universal voting is the best form of democratic expression. Over time, however, during the implementation of representative democracy, not only the strengths of this political system, but also its weaknesses have become obvious. Most weaknesses can be addressed by imposing regulations, but for some weaknesses no solutions have been found so far…

            The main reason for the deviations between the theoretical background of representative democracy and its practical application, i.e., the exercise of power by persons elected for a term by universal voting, is due to the very characteristics of representation. In other words, during the exercise of power by the elected politicians, new aspirations are formed that differ to a degree from the aspirations of their electorate. The predominant reason for these deviations is due to the generalities and ambiguities of the programs on the basis of which the election takes place, and also to the new realities that arise during the term of office of the elected politician. An additional reason for the occasional malfunctioning of the institutions of representative democracy is the poor observance of the established rules in the struggle for power between those who hold it and those who seek to seize it. The above applies to all forms of representative democracy, i.e., parliaments, self-governing organisations and associations. The closer representative expressions approach direct democracy, the less are the weaknesses and deviations of this political system.

            The main weakness of the institutions of representative democracy is the strong pursuit of prolonged tenure by the elected politicians. Motivated by this pursuit, those elected in the representative institutions make choices that serve specialised interests, that is, interests that do not benefit all the societal groups of the electorate, but only a limited number of individuals. The individuals thus benefitted are either already very powerful or they have previously provided services to the elected politicians. These choices lead to the allocation of most available financial resources to projects that do not address generalised social needs, and they drastically reduce the effectiveness of the institutions of representative democracy. At the same time, they cause the economy to become less competitive. When the institutions of representative democracy operate under this logic, they cannot fulfill their purpose of competent governance, and societies are led to decline. An extreme version of the pursuit of prolonged tenure in the positions of the elected representatives in this political system are the phenomena of populism which, in addition to negative economic outcomes, also undermine the foundations of the representative democratic institutions, while at the same time creating a great risk for the complete collapse of their democratic character and leading to authoritarian ways of governing.

            Typical examples of the theoretical analyses given above are the situations which we have experienced in our country during the last decade. The strong desire of politicians to prolong their tenure led to granting favourite groups benefits, for which they paid through borrowing. This, in combination with catchy populist slogans, led to their electoral success. But deviating from the laws of sound financial management led to ever-increasing public financial deficits that ultimately overturned the political goals of those who pursued these policies. On the other hand, populism with its arrogant and unrealistic slogans can create some temporary enthusiasm due to the use of emotional language, but the huge gap between unatainable promises and hard reality becomes quickly obvious.

            The above-described weaknesses of representative democracy become more obvious in lower-level institutions (municipal governments, local associations). For example, the returns of self-governing higher education institutions depend on maximizing the proper use of their financial resources. The discrepancies in the performance and returns between the educational institutions of our country are obvious: some educational institutions produce remarkable research and teaching results as well as good employment opportunities, while others produce degrees that do not help their holders to perform well when writing competitive job placement exams.

            The same applies to municipalities and regions. Here, the distinction between populist rhetoric and substantial results is more obvious than in large areas due to their limited territory and the ability of voters to observe, evaluate and relate politicians’ rhetoric to work performed. In small regions it is easier for citizens to measure the positive or negative impact of public initiatives on their quality of life. Of course, when politicians do not choose to invest in projects of generalised social benefit, or when they prefer to allocate their budgets to projects and initiatives that serve groups of citizens who will provide them with future electoral support, their effectiveness is drastically reduced. Eventually, the average voter will see through all this and will vote against those politicians who apply this kind of micropolitics…

HERD IMMUNITY AND THE NEED FOR SOLIDARITY BETWEEN MEMBERS OF DIFFERENT SOCIETAL GROUPS

The long duration of the corona virus pandemic, in addition to the pain and sadness that it has brought upon us, has caused the surge of various social phenomena, which academic research would find difficult to foresee and record. The range of the reactions of the public to the disease has been very wide, feelings of fear and self-protection were mixed, and the results were in many cases unpredictable. People’s behaviour during the first cycle of the pandemic was compliant and disciplined, but became very unpredictable during the later stages of the disease. To a large extent, the outbreaks of the disease that occurred in the later stages were fuelled by some of these later behaviours, creating in several areas problems of inadequacy in the treatment of those who became ill with the coronavirus.

            A year ago, we were all hoping for the production of coronavirus vaccines as soon as possible. When this became possible and the vaccines started to be distributed to the general public with the goal to vaccinate the entire population in a short period of time, divergent attitudes arose in a significant number of the population. These different mentalities, created another reason for the slowdown in the resolution of the pandemic situation, which could have been controlled through generalised immunity. There are mainly two categories of people who refuse vaccinations. Those who do so because of ideological beliefs are the easier to understand. The other vaccine deniers who base their denial on conspiracy theories, i.e. those who believe that a spying device is introduced into the body through the vaccine, are most likely influenced by the widely-spread science fiction films. In both of these categories of vaccine deniers, the main negative element is their lack of sociability. Cooperation and sociability are qualities that are  normally expected in cases of great common danger. In these situations, all societal groups are expected to follow a common course as directed by the state. The behaviour of those groups that avoid vaccinations is, in a way, understandable, since people are discouraged by the post-vaccinaton side effects that have in a few cases occurred. Fear for one’s life is an extension of the instinct of self-preservation, and such manifestations are, in principle, understandable behaviours.

            There is, however, a significant number of vaccine deniers whose denial lacks any ideological basis. They are those who are waiting for the rest of the people to acquire immunity in order to form that percentage of the population, about 80% of the total, which creates generalised natural immunity, the so-called “herd immunity”. This category thinks and acts on the basis of absolute selfishness. They want to avoid the (unlikely) vaccination side effects by acquiring immunity through the vaccination of others. This attitude, which, as an individual choice, is neither fair nor ethical, suffers from absolute antisociality. This mentality is not legitimate and demonstrates no will to conform with the norms of society or to cooperate with the rest of the people, while at the same time benefitting in many areas from the discipline and the efforts of the others. Antisociality becomes particularly dangerous if the percentage of the unvaccinated is high, as persistent mutations increase the risk of the new coronavirus strains. Due to the mutations, even those who have already been vaccinated are at risk of becoming ill, as well as the vaccine deniers, who, as unvaccinated, are subject to increased risks of the disease.

            The new universal experiences of an unprecedented nature gained in the past fourteen months, strongly reiterate the demand for SOLIDARITY. Recent developments in the disease caused by coronavirus have shown that there can be no absolute individual protection without generalised protection for all societal groups. All human societies, in addition to finding a commonly accepted way of life within themselves, are de facto obliged to pursue, and succeed in implementing, joint activities and policies of common necessity. The obligation to work towards this kind of initiative has become urgent after having experienced emergencies with devasting developments, such as the one that preceded the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and which is still in progress for an undetermined period of time. If, starting immediately, we implement policies of mutual cooperation on a general level and on a large number of issues of common interest, something good will emerge in the midst of the evils that are happening right now. Then the ancient Greek saying “there is no evil that does not contain something good” will come true in this case as well.

REFLECTIONS IN THE AGE OF GLOBALISATION – GOOD AND BAD EFFECTS

Globalisation or internationalisation is the expansion of all those parameters (economy, communication, etc.), which until a few decades ago were exercised restrictively within states. The parameters that tend to be projected beyond the borders of each state following globalisation include communication, social structure, technology, culture, political system, knowledge, etc. After the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, which has brought the whole planet to a state of emergency, a new dimension of globalisation has emerged: the spread of epidemic diseases. Individual states now need to concern themselves with global pandemics. Thus, the pros of globalisation are now mixed with the cons. Since we cannot reverse the conditions that have led to the present disastrous situation, constructive reflection needs to be directed to a way of managing the already existing crisis in all its dimensions.

                Why have we been unable to better manage this global crisis so far? The reason is the following: while globalisation is accompanied by generalised situations, the actions undertaken to address the pandemic were fragmentary and unilateral. This fragmentation and one-sidedness delays, and in many cases hinders, the implementation of solutions on a global level. An ideal solution for the rapid and effective response to the negative consequences of globalisation would be the management of the crisis by a single efficient body or, at least, the universal acceptance of the same strict rules of conduct enforced by all states and citizens. It is clear, however, that the institutions established after the two world wars, the League of Nations after WW1 and the United Nations after WW2, were equipped with minimal decision-making powers and meager financial means. This is why the global interventions of these institutions so far have brought few positive results. It seems that humanity is still far from fully integrating individual and societal interests and even further from integrating national and transnational aspirations. For this reason, under the present circumstances, we can only reflect on the defective management of the negative situations created by globalisation.

                Since the founding of the League of Nations in 1920 and the United Nations in 1945, several organisations of supranational activity have been gradually formed, closely or loosely associated with each other: the World Health Organisation (WHO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, UNICEF (an organisation for children), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). If one wants to delve into their goals and areas of activity by studying their founding acts, one will find that the potential for effective interventions is weak and that the possibilities for generalised actions are very limited. The limitation of their potential for action is exacerbated even more by their meagre or selective funding, which is usually associated with terms and conditions that serve their sponsors. There are many reasons that limit the capability of these organisations to undertake universal interventions which would benefit the whole human race: the pathogenesis associated with their founding acts, their limited and selective funding and the rigidity caused by their bureaucratic structure and operation, designed mainly for the benefit of their high-level executives. Under these circumstances, the practical possibilities for generalised emergency assistance that could be provided to countries in times of need, such as the new pandemic, are significantly reduced.

                To this defective mode of operation of the international organisations has now been added a global (hence the name “pandemic”) threat to the health of all human societies on the planet: the new corona virus. If an independent observer analyses the actions taken so far in order to combat the pandemic, he/she will clearly see their fragmentary and closely micromanaged nature. With this new virus, which in the course of its spread and mutation does not recognise barriers and state borders, the control policies undertaken so far are limited to maximizing the protection measures within the internal borders of each state. International economic organisations and multinational industries are moving quickly in order to maintain their own rights and maximise their profits from the growing need for measures to tackle the pandemic. But are such behaviours acceptable? Should those who profit the most from the generalised benefits of globalisation refuse to contribute to tackling global misfortunes? Or, more specifically, should health industries ultimately benefit by increasing their profits with the new forms of vaccines required by emerging new coronavirus mutations, which are mainly due to the limited number of vaccinated citizens in third world countries?

                Let us hope that the long-term traumatic experience of humanity from the current new pandemic will help improve the conditions for the creation of a globalised efficient structure, with the sole purpose of preventing and protecting the health of the members of the human society as a whole, from any pandemics that may occur in the future.