POLITICS FOR THE COMMON GOOD VERSUS POLITICAL OPPORTUNISM
It seems as if a new epoch may be starting. The balance and harmony between different social trends is in the process of being lost. Positive relations between states are being threatened because of the different mentality of the citizens of individual states. What is worse, these new trends also permeate small municipalities. Upon deeper reflection, we cannot but wonder if the above global tendency is in effect an individual trait that is becoming public at this point in time. Since it is difficult to give a definite answer to this question, we can hypothesise that the individual way of thinking and acting affects the public mentalities and actions that we have been observing.
Political opportunism, i.e. exercising power with the main goal of getting the politicians who are already in power reelected, seems to be the dominant trend in contemporary politics. This trend is even more dominant in countries where political culture is unsophisticated and social institutions are weak. In countries where democracy is well established and universal suffrage is a long-established principle, political opportunism takes different shapes, corresponding to the mentality of different societal groups. In the USA for example, the last election was won by promoting a political agenda aiming at protecting American local production from international trade! In Western Europe there are parties that hope to seize power by promoting a political agenda aiming at restricting the movement of foreigners! In our country, because of the politics that were exercised during the last two centuries of the modern Greek state, there is homogenisation, so political opportunism has shaped itself in different forms.
In Greece, the mentality that the governing party needs to remain in power at all costs has almost been “legitimised” and therefore has become more important than the party’s obligation to promote the long-term interests of the country. Since this goal cannot be put forth in a blatant manner, many devious ways have been invented in order to conceal it; one such way is to promote various false causes, appearing as beneficial to the national interests. To this end, measures of economic usefulness to many societal groups are being passed, without however revealing which other societal groups have been hit with additional taxation, in order to fund the above false causes. Corrupt politicians expect that funding false causes will bring them multiple benefits, including reelection. It seems that Greece is unique in having invented and exercising this kind of political opportunism.
This political opportunism ressembles wading through a swamp: all it does is stirring muddy waters. States and societies in general can only benefit through production and fair distribution of new wealth. The exploitation of wealth-producing natural resources and the utilisation of new inventions are the main ways of producing new wealth. If this happens collaboratively, then the new wealth is distributed evenly throughout the society. In democratic societies, everyone benefits, although some citizens more and others less, and social progress occurs. All states are obliged towards their electorate to maximise the utilisation of their resources and distribute the wealth in a fair manner to all their citizens. This process not only leads to sustainable development and fulfillment of the goals of individual states, it also fosters cooperation among different states according to the inter-state statutory provisions that have been agreed upon.
Mani, our area, suffers from acute political opportunism, which is being exercised at many levels. The Greek state appears distant and not appreciative of the highly divided citizens of this remote corner of our land. Unfortunately, our epoch is a time of anti-heroes, and while we, as individuals and as Maniots, might find comfort in the heroism of our ancestors, the central government politicians in Athens do not have any such sensitivities. In addition, the tacit approval of the governing politicians by the societal groups which benefit from political opportunism undermine the efforts of the other citizens and prevents them from putting forth and promoting the local needs of our area. We can lift ourselves out of this stagnation only if we remember the heritage received from our ancestors : their biggest accomplishments happened when they made a conscious decision to sing from the same hymn sheet, and to cooperate with conviction and selflessness.
FROM THE “STREET FORUM” AND THE “ELDERS’ COUNCIL” TO SOCIAL MEDIA
Until recently the street forum (ρούγα) and the elders’ council (γεροντική) were two very important institutions in Mani. Their importance came from their structure and their mode of operation. At the street forum, everyday events relating to the members of the community as well as other events were analysed, opinions were exhanged and objections were raised. Usually at the end, after the sythesis of all points of view, an agreement was reached. At the elders’ council more important affairs were discussed, i.e. those which affected the balance of the community as a whole. The elders’ council consisted of representatives from each family in the community, usually the older members, and was a form of governance within the autonomous system of Mani. As at the street forum, at the elders’ council decisions were also made after the synthesis of all viewpoints, however, this institution also had executive powers. These two institutions (the street forum and the elders’ council) were practised for centuries, because they operated in the following integrated way: expressing opinions – objections – broad debate – comprehensive decision.
Immigration and technology were the reasons why these two traditional institutions gradually became weakened and eventually ceased to exist. As a result of immigration, the number of people who participated in the street forum of each village became smaller and smaller and decisions became less and less comprehensive in nature. New technology, such as radio first and television later, meant that people moved from the street to the coffee house (καφενείο) and later, once they had their own radio or television, to their own home. Τhe elders’ council declined and was gradually replaced by municipal government and the first courts of the modern Greek state. However, some elements of the street forum and the elders’ council survived in later years in the social relations between various Maniot municipalities.
The coup de grâce to these two long-standing institutions came a few years ago. Internet became the absolute tool of multi-information, not only for current, but also for past events. Social media, and in particular Facebook, established new communications on many levels among their users. We are now at the phase of building multi-communication through new technology. However, these new technologies lack some basic elements of the older “social media” (the street forum and the elders’ council). We believe that these missing elements cannot be addressed by new technology, and this is why no comprehensive results can be achieved.
Communication through the modern social media means lack of immediacy – the participants are not physically present, and they communicate in isolation, usually in their home. Technology can only partially and poorly replace the sound and movement or the local atmosphere of the area, the local problems of which are debated upon. Of course, in the future new advancements in technology might achieve a closer personal approach, however, we believe that they will never be able to entirely reach the effectiveness of face-to-face communication.
The above-mentioned differences between old and new social media have a profound impact on today’s society. They bring about social isolation, they decrease the desire for undertaking joint actions, and they replace quality with quantity of human interaction. They lead to tendencies that eventually weaken long-standing institutions that were established as a result of complicated, lengthy and painful procedures. This weakening starts at the lower social institution, the family, and it permeates through all the higher ones: it affects the common interests of the local municipality, the common interests of citizens with common ethnic roots and origin, and finally the common interests of the members of alliances between countries.
Unfortunately, these tendencies have also appeared in the cradle of the time-honoured social media, our area Mani. It is easy to observe today’s laxity here, because Mani is a small area. Of course, there are other reasons for this slackness, except for those given above. However, here the danger of weakening long-standing institutions is greater because of the sparse population. In our region, effectively responding to these problems can only happen through a very strong desire for social clustering and co-operation. Our ancestors were able to find effective solutions every time there was a need. Are we able to find effective solutions and carry them through?
 at the beginning there was only one radio (and later one television) at the village καφενείο
TOURIST DEVELOPMENT IN MANI
Now that the peek tourist season has passed, it is the right time to examine all sides of the tourist development issue in our area. We need to look at the reasons why tourist development has become a necessity and why it needs to continue in the long term. We also need to look at the dangers that undermine the growth of tourist development.
Ever since the name “Mani” appeared in history as a self-governed area, there has been a production deficit. The yields on the land have always been poor, and were never sufficient to support its inhabitants, who were as a result forced to find other means of survival. At different times there have been different ways to supplement family income. In the past, some Maniots made the extra money necessary for their family’s survival by becoming members of mercenary armies and plundering. Others became pirates who profited from looting and charging ransoms for the release of prisoners.
After the creation of the modern Greek state and the transition from war to peace, the production deficit was dealt with by finding other means for survival, the most common being the temporary move during spring or summer to the neighbouring regions of Messinia and Laconia. There the Maniots worked as seasonal workers, cultivating, collecting and packaging various agricultural products. (It is worth mentioning here that the massive immigration to the USA at the beginning of the 20th century was caused mainly because of the disruption in the exports of raisins and by the subsequent negative impact on viniculture). In addition, the preferential appointment of Maniots to Armed Forces positions, which had started already during the reign of King Otto (see article on p. 2 of our current issue) continued for many decades and became not only a way of diverting the warfare skills of the Maniots to the military needs of the modern Greek state, but also a means of relieving the population surplus of our area.
At the end of the 1940-50 decade, after ten years of foreign occupation and civil war, Mani was exhausted and overwhelmed. The population had diminished and the production deficit became even worse, because the land had been neglected during the years of war. A new immigration wave started towards Australia and Western Europe, to countries that needed to satisfy the labour needs of their industries. The depletion of Mani’s population became so severe, that many people believed that the Maniot agglomerations would be deserted. It was during the decades of 1980 and 1990 that a few people started to believe that Mani’s resources had not been exhausted, and that the nature, the climate and the cultural monuments of the region could attract visitors and create a new source of wealth for our area. These characteristics of Mani,as well as the increase in the living standard of the European and American middle class, attracted more and more visitors and led to the tourist development of Mani. After basic improvements in the road and water infrastructures of our area, private initiative was awakened. Small businessmen started to invest in tourism in order to respond to increasing interest in Mani by tourist agents. (It would have been much better if the political leaders of the time had passed strict legislation regarding the usage of land, so that the private tourist infrastructure of that time had been of better quality).
In a final analysis, it was the tourist development that gave the younger generations of Maniots the opportunity to supplement their agricultural income and to stay at their place of birth, without immigrating to a foreign land. These young people have become today the keepers of the Maniot traditions and the guardians of our cultural monuments. They introduce our philo-Maniot visitors to the way of life of our ancestors. However, at an epoch of globalisation, competition and volatility of the international financial balance, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. We need to find ways, so that the public investment in infrastructure will reach the corresponding high level of the private investment in our area. This can only be achieved in one way: with common goals, common planning and cooperation. If we are successful in this, then we will also succeed in improving the financial balance in our region.
PUBLIC FINANCES: WHY IS THERE AN IMBALANCE BETWEEN REVENUE AND EXPENDITURE?
In Mathematics, an equation is the equality of two quantities, whereby the first value consists of known data, and the second consists of data that needs to be defined. An equation is a mathematical expression that defines the equality of two sides. The term “equation” is used widely and can be applied to any problem that needs to be solved. In order for an equation to be successfully solved, it is necessary to define the unknown variables, after careful processing of the known variables. It is very important that both the given data of the first part of the equation and the requested data of the second part are very clear.
In public finances, the most common equation is the one that refers to equality of revenue and expenditure. If the state revenue and spending are not equal, a new variable enters the equation: debt. What makes the equation more specific is the kind of revenue and expenses, which is defined by government policies. These policies define the kind of taxes and the societal groups that will be paying them, as well as the kind of state expenditure and the societal groups that will benefit from this public spending. Our description of the above public finance equation might sound complicated, however, the equation is workable, and we believe that it can be an effective model of managing state finances, as long as there is clarity of the equation data, which is in direct correlation with the clarity of the government policies.
Now comes the question: “how do we clearly define the data for both the state revenue and the state expenditure?” At first glance, the answer is simple: the first part of the equation (the state revenue) can be stabilised by the clarity and transparency of the government decisions. Two other factors are equally important: a) coherent and comprehensive legislation and b) an effective enforcement mechanism of the government decisions. However, as far as these two factors are concerned, our country is far behind other European countries, and the end result is that government spending exceeds revenue. At first glance, the fragmented and confusing legislation can be attributed to lack of knowledge and lack of competence on the part of our political leaders; however, upon closer examination, it can also be attributed to ulterior motives, since political leaders can use this ambiguous legislation in order to benefit persons or societal groups of their liking.
The answer to the second part of the equation (the state expenditure) is also simple: government expenditures should provide the most benefit to the society as a whole. Many mathematical models can be developed to represent this idea in mathematical terms, however, our political leaders need to provide us with figures that are reliable, objective and precise. Public spending should be defined by transparency, and the distribution of funds should be geared towards investment and not consumption; this kind of spending truly benefits as many individuals and societal groups as possible. If, however, public spending is done for ulterior motives (i.e., if our political leaders spend the state funds on those people who have voted for them, so that they can get re-elected during the next term), then an imbalance between public revenue and expenditure is created, and this imbalance affects the whole political system. We have experienced this imbalance for many years, and many individuals and groups have suffered financial ruin as a result. The relation between achieved results and money spent is extremely disappointing. The inflation of public spending, without any real benefit to the Greek people as a whole, has led our country to a huge debt, which all citizens are asked to repay. This is extremely unfair to those who did not benefit from this extreme public spending. Unfortunately, with few exceptions, our political leaders continue to waste money and to follow policies which have created a huge imbalance in the equation between revenue and state expenditures.
In our editorials, we have many times showcased the formula which was applied by families in Mani for a very long time: first, they made full use of their land and animal resources and they limited their expenses to the absolutely necessary. When they could not balance their income and their expenses, they worked as “day labourers”, tending the land and taking care of the animals of farmers in the neighbouring villages. In this way, not only they achieved balance of the family budget, but were also able to finance the studies of their children who wanted to continue their education. This could be a good model to our political leaders, so that they can also achieve balance between public revenue and expenses; it is their obligation to keep their promise to their electorate.
FORESTRY TROUBLES IN MANI:
A REASONABLE PROPOSAL AND THE CONDITIONS FOR ITS REALISATION
A few years ago, the Women’s Association of Mani – Kalamata Chapter had invited one of the most respected experts on civil law and eminent academic, Apostolos Georgiades, Professsor at the Law School of the University of Athens, to speak about forestry issues in Mani.
That was five years ago, a time of euphoria in Mani about a recent law that was passed by the Parliament, according to which in (cases of) legal processes between a citizen and the Forestry Department, both parties have the same rights in supporting their claims, i.e. the State will not have the presumption of ownership. In his speech, the distinguished professor stressed that this law is favourable for the Maniot landowners, however, it does not solve the existing problem. Professor Georgiades was right, because the recent compilation and display of (the?) forestry maps at administrative departments and the pending validation of these maps has only compounded the problem and has aggravated the conflict between Maniot landowners and the Forestry Department. The law that was passed five years ago strengthened the ownership claims of the Maniots on some lots that seemed to wrongly belong to the state, but did nothing to determine whether an area was forest or not. This law also did nothing to improve the previous 1979 law regarding the status of forests and forest expanses.
At that time, our newspaper, MANIOT SOLIDARITY, fully supported the stance taken by Professor Georgiades and urged our compatriots to mobiblise so that the recent law also included the properties which turned into forests because the owners had stopped cultivating them. We supported the same line of thought in editorials and in detailed analyses in our issues after the publication of the forest maps in January 2017. Now that it seems that no extension will be given beyond the end of this month for landowners to repeal the labelling of their propery as forest land on the official forest maps, we feel the need to suggest the following solid proposal, which in our opinion might provide a way out of the current impasse. We also want to outline the conditions under which we might have a favourable evolution of the present deadlock situation.
In the two paragraphs below we are presenting an excerpt from Professor Georgiades’ speech, which contains the prosposal that we are putting forth (we have deliberately ommitted some information of secondary importance):
“1. A similar problem arose in 2003, as preparations were made for the compilation of the National Land Registry. In order to deal with problems relating to properties outside urban planning zones, the Minister of the Environment, Regional Planning and Public Works at that time convened a committee consisting of experts from different political parties, which after many meetings, it(?)developed and submitted to the Ministry a bill, which was proposing solutions similar to those for properties within urban planning zones. This bill outlines the following: concerning real estate which is outside urban planning zones or an agglomeration which existed before 1923 or an agglomeration under 2000 people which has been properly defined, its “possessor” has the presumption of ownership, as long as before the applicability of this last law: a) he/she has been using this property in good faith and continuously for the past ten (10) years, having a legitimate deed of property or disposal/acquisition for a value in his name or in the name of a licensor; this deed of property needs to have been acquired and registered in a land registry after the applicability of the Civil Code or b) the “possessor” has been using this property in good faith and without interruption for thirty (30) continuous years.
- Unfortunately, this bill was never brought to the parliament and did not become a state law; this created many serious problems for properties outside urban planning zones, problems which remain unresloved today, and have hindered the completion of the National Land Registry, which still remains unfinished. These problems are particularly acute in Mani, because many Maniots do not have deeds of property for the lands that they own and use. A way out of this impasse for Maniot landowners would be the following: they should be given the right to sell / gift / transfer to their children a particular property, as long as they can provide two papers: a) a certificate from the mayor that the licensor/owner has been using the land for over 20 years and b) a certificate from the Forestry Department that according to the aerial photographs of 1945 or 1960 the land was at that time cultivated and unforested”.
It goes without saying that putting forth this proposal, which also includes reclaiming the forest expanses that used to be cultivated by our ancestors, needs strong political intervention. The only way for the few Maniots in our area to achieve this, is solidarity and unity. Unfortunately, until now, in our mobilisation efforts towards this goal, we have not been successful in displaying these two values. Maybe Professor Georgiades’ well-supported proposal, which we are presenting in this editorial, will give us the chance to display them. Only in this way, by internalising and displaying great unity and solidarity, can we achieve favourable results regarding the current issues regarding the forestry laws.
IS MANI ENTITLED TO A MODERN MAIN ROAD?
It is a fact that tourism is reaching every area of Mani. What can we do to facilitate the development of tourism even more? We believe that a prospective traveller will be attracted to our region, because of its geophysics, climate and culture. However, as this potential tourist looks into the possibility of a trip to Mani, he/she might have some reservations regarding the main road in Mani, the Kalamata-Kardamyli-Areopolis-Gytheion road. The state of this main road as well as the Sparta-Gytheion motorway (particularly after Krokees, where the road gets split into two destinations, those of Monemvasia and Gytheion), might negatively influence the potential traveller to Mani, as he/she is making the final decision.
The facts mentioned in the paragraph above about the state of the Mani main road should mobilise all those who love Mani, and particularly the politicians who represent our region. We are certain that all Maniots and philo-Maniots are worried about the poor state of our roads. We need therefore to find a way to improve the transportation, so that tourism continues to increase. We, the representatives of the Maniot Solidarity Association and the founders of this newspaper, have many times and in many ways expressed our views: we believe that we need solidarity and joint action so that we can drive forward the most urgent Maniot needs, the most important of which is probably the Mani main road. Unfortunately, in the past there has been no joint action or concerted effort in this regard.
Let us mention two public works that have improved the Mani main road: a) the detour of Gytheion and b) the road improvements in the areas near Passava and near Areopolis. These are both praiseworthy, but fragmented projects, that were undertaken by the corresponding prefectures before the year 2010. However, what is needed now is a full study of the road from Marathea (where the detour of Gytheion ends) to Areopolis, but this has not been approved as yet. After the completion of the two public works mentioned above, the travelling time from Mani to Sparta has been reduced somewhat. However, the study for the improvement of the Sparta-Gytheion road, which had been announced in 2006 and which would reduce travelling time even more, seems to have been abandoned! And it remains abandoned ten years later…
The new Koscaraga bridge and the new stretch of road from the Koscaraga bridge to Kriskios (a settlement of Sotirianika) are two of the few projects undertaken by the prefecture from the period before 2010. Yet the detour Kambos-Sotirianika, which had been pre-approved for EEC subsidy and which if completed, would reduce travelling time by 15 minutes, was abandoned in favour of other projects outside of Mani. This happened without any Maniots objecting! The study for the detour of Verga which would be the natural continuation of the Kalamata Peripheral Ring Road was announced in 2007, but it was also subsequently cancelled, because there was not enough support!
The trigger for writing this article has been the news that many politicians, municipal leaders and businessmen have been mobilised in order to secure a subsidy for the road Kalamata-Messini Rizomylou towards Pylos. There is no doubt that these people have more influence than us Maniots; they also know how to mobilise effectively. Today, mobilisation is a tool that can counteract the disadvantage of having a small population in areas such as Mani. By “mobilisation” we mean joint actions, conscious and well-coordinated solidarity efforts so that we can use to advantage every possibility for intervention and every chance to showcase our just request for an improved main road in Mani. The first people who should internalise this need and work towards this goal are those working in the tourist sector, because they will be the first ones to enjoy increased income and higher living standard for their families. But it is not only they who will benefit from an improved central road; all inhabitants of Mani will benefit from the tourist development of our area. The right people to coordinate these joint undertakings should of course be our local political leaders. If they coordinate and successfully foster the common actions that we mentioned above, they are the ones who will be credited with the beneficial results…
LET US CREATE HARMONY AMONG INDIVIDUAL – FAMILY – COMMUNITY – STATE
The four concepts Individual – Family – Community – State are full of nuances and semantics, which were acquired during the long journey in the development of societal groups. In some societies, these concepts co-exist harmoniously and complement each other, while in other societies the relationship between these concepts is either underdeveloped or exaggerated. According to the science of Sociology, only harmonious relations between people lead to strong states with prosperous citizens. In Greece, the lack of harmony between Individual – Family – Community and the State is one of the main causes of the present lengthy economic crisis. This means that the fundament of the crisis is basically sociological. If we could pinpoint what leads to co-operation or lack thereof between the above groups (Individual – Family – Community – State), then we could have a first understanding of how to plot a course out of the present economic crisis.
If we examine the social development of the other European countries, we notice that Greece missed the transition from Middle Ages to Renaissance, a transition very important to western European nations. Greece experienced the Middle Ages during the later years of the constantly declining Byzantine Empire, followed immediately by subjugation by a barbaric occupying power (the Turks). We did not experience the economic necessity that led the other European states from feudalism to monarchy, which is the first step towards the ethnogenic phase with the ultimate formation of separate independent states. Centuries of Renaissance and social revolutions, which followed the formation of social classes, strengthened the state administration, so that it could safeguard not only the external security but also the individual rights of its citizens. In this way, slowly and gradually, the harmonious rapport among Individual – Family – Community – State was forged, a formula that led to the prosperity of these states.
In our country, during the Turkish occupation the state was a foreign conqueror. Subjugation stifled social development and restricted the harmonious rapport among only three of the four groups in the title of this article (Individual – Family – Community). It is a blessing that the relation between Individual – Family – Community was strong. This is an advantage, when we compare our country to western European nations. Unfortunately, it is not enough of an advantage to reverse the existing poor rapport of the above three groups to the state. The fact that for the last 200 years our state is not foreign, but our own, has not reversed the mentality of the previous 400 years, which is still deeply rooted in Greek people. It is possible that the economic crisis with its ensuing hardship will finaly lead to a change in mentality.
In a strong state, the leaders are elected according to democratic processes, and the finances are based on economic activity as well as on fair taxation of the different social classes. Such a state provides security for its citizens and is able to deal with most external or internal problems. In such a state, the rapport between Individual – Family – Community – State is more harmonious. In case of conflict between the above groups, these states are able to revert to harmony in a relatively short time.
This is the kind of state that we need. We, its citizens, are the only ones who can achieve this goal; however, we need to internalise first that the state is not a foreign entity. It is ours, it belongs to us, since we are the ones who elect our leaders according to democratic processes. It is even more important for us to internalise that since the state is ours, we are obliged to obey to the laws. Even when our leaders do not act accordingly to their pre-election promises, we can criticise them, but we need to wait for the right time (the elections) to replace them and thus punish them.
In our region, Mani, from the time of our ancestors, the bonds between Individual – Family – Community were exceptionally close. In addition, our ancestors understood the necessity for the creation of an independent modern Greek state, and they willingly and selflessly led the struggle for indepenence. They did this, although occupation was not as hard in our area, since Mani had the privilege of local autonomy. In the present difficult times, we need to learn from our ancestors and finally develop a genuine rapport to our state. Harmony with the state can be achieved not only by careful selection of our representatives during election time, but also by our adherence to the laws. In this way, we too will contribute to fostering a harmonious rapport of Individual – Family – Community – State, which will be an important step in the development of our area.
IS THERE A FUTURE IN OUR COUNTRY FOR UPCOMING GENERATIONS?
The Greek generations that were in charge after the fall of the dictatorship in 1975 are those carrying considerable responsibility for the difficult financial situation in which we are today. Of course, we, the Greek voters, carry responsibility for the governance of the politicians that we elected; we are also responsible for the general mentality, the life goals and the everyday activities that gradually developed in our country. These ideas have been dominant for many years; they are automatically being transferred to future generations and have helped create negative role models. This mentality was the product of the false booming financial situation, which was due to extensive borrowing and the populist way of governing by the state. The false prosperity is still being promoted and it is considered by the newer generations as a given. The weaning of the Greek people, particularly of the young ones, from this mentality, is very slow and painful in spite of the economic crisis that has been plaguing our country for the past eight years.
The process of reversing the present difficult situation will be long and painful. Getting out of a long societal or economic crisis will require a drastic change in the mentality that we, the older ones, have transferred to the young generations. Since we are those who created this mentality, it is our responsibility to identify its characteristics as well as the negative societal archetypes that it has created for the young people.
We have given our youth exemplars that were characterised by fragmentation and reduced effort. These negative examples were promoted slowly but steadily by the political institutions as well as by the family and schools. Any effort to change these exemplars has to start in the way the country is governed, which unfortunately has largely remained the same during the eight years of the crisis. It is hard to foresee how many years the crisis will last, since this is not a crisis of numbers, but a crisis of mentality. We might have recently seen a ray of hope in the right direction…
As we mentioned, the responsibility for the mentality that we described above does not lie only with the political institutions. School institutions and the family are also partly responsible for it, and it is necessary that they too start promoting the opposite of the above negative societal archetypes. It is necessary that they promote instead the following values: solid and effective combined efforts on the part of all members of the society. When the society as a whole promotes this kind of steadfast effort and healthy mentality, and when these values are reinforced by the schools and the family, then we can hope to see an increase in our productivity and a recovery from the recession in the long term. It has been proven that for economic recovery to happen, we need a society that works with efficiency and conscientious collaboration. We, the older generations, have ignored these values. We need to own up to our responsibilities and promote the values of efficiency and collaboration to the new generations.
The negative societal archetypes that we mentioned, the fragmentation and reduced effort are generalised and are found everywhere in our country, and of course, in our area, Mani. However, we believe that here, in Mani, the recovery will be easier, because ours is an area that attracts a lot of tourists. The physical environment, the climate, our cultural heritage, they all contributed to increased tourism in Mani during the last decades. Income from tourism, in addition to income from agriculture, livestock farming and construction can provide a sufficient living for the young people of our area. It is important for our youth to understand that life becomes more meaningful and of better quality when it is based on a sound plan with combined and well-coordinated efforts. Sufficient proof to the thesis that it is still possible to achieve a decent living standard in Mani is the fact that hundreds of recent economic migrants, who remained here during the years of the economic crisis, have managed to achieve a respectable standard of living for their families and education for their children. It is important that the Maniot youth does not forget that the continuation of the heritage of our ancestors relies on them. The Maniot element in our area will continue to exist through the work endeavours, the family life and the cooperation of the Maniot youth within the small society of Mani.
FOREST REGISTRY, ECOLOGY AND POLITICS
Forest registry, ecology and politics are all concepts that can be emotionally charged, but nevertheless are all necessary elements of a modern democratic state. However, these concepts must be harmoniously integrated within the democratic political system. Plato said that when the procedural rules of the best political system (democracy) are not adhered to, then democracy diminishes in character and becomes the worst of all political forms. To paraphrase Plato, we can say in this case that when the three concepts, i.e. forest registry, ecology and politics, are not harmoniously integrated, then their mixing leads to confrontation, opposition and conflict of interests.
Since the beginning of history, the inhabitants of our planet tried to establish a harmonious relationship with nature. From gatherers who foraged wild plants and fruit, the first people progressed to become farmers who cultivated selected plants. It is certain that during this stage they cleared parcels of land. Later, in order to face hostile environment conditions, families grouped themselves together in larger units, formed societies and established different systems of government, culminating with democracy. In ancient times, the most perfect model of democratic governance was the Ancient Athenian Democracy of the 6th-5th centuries B.C. This was the period of the Greek golden rules, fine balance, harmony and moderation. After many ups and downs, after periods of peace and periods of crises, again in modern times we are called to find the “golden solution” to the issue of our harmonious relation with nature and to act in ways compatible to the concepts of fair balance and harmony; this is what European people did in the years that followed the Renaissance and their actions resulted in progress and well-being.
We believe that it is not possible to compile a forest registry without long and systematic foundation work. Before we can create such a document, we need to study not only the terrain, as it is depicted in geophysical maps of different periods, but also past centuries’ policies and regulations concerning the utilisation of the land. If we do not take the terrain and regulations into account, then any legislation will be useless, as it will conflict with the interests of many groups and will cause negative reactions on their part.
We will briefly refer to two policies regarding the utilisation of the land, which should be taken into account in establishing a forest registry in Mani. First, during the Venetian occupation of the Peloponnese (1685-1715), lands were leased to families living in certain areas on the basis of open-contract rentals. One of the tenants’ responsibilities was to clear forest areas and cultivate the land. After a few years of these indefinite-period rentals, the ownership of the land reverted to the tenants. Second, during the rule of King Otto (1832-1862), farmers who successfully grafted wild olive trees in areas belonging to the state would subsequently own the land they sat on. The Ministry of the Environment should have researched and codified the older legislation of each area, before proceeding with the compilation and publication of the forest maps. Instead, the forest maps were based exclusively on aerial photographs, many of which, particularly the older ones, are difficult to decipher. Aerial photographs are definitely the wrong starting point, but this way of proceeding is definitely the easiest and the one requiring the least effort on the part of those who compiled the forest maps. It is also the most profitable, because before bills of repeals can be submitted, they must be accompanied by a fee. These fees will of course increase the income of those who will review the repeals!
We respect those citizens who are environmentally aware and even more those landowners who place environmental awareness above their personal interests. We do not know how many Greeks belong to the second category, but we suspect that they are not many… The majority belong to the first category, citizens who are environmentally aware, and particularly our politicians, who always legislate according to their personal interests. We are certain that a walk through the “natural environment” of these politicians would be particularly pleasant, since it would lead us through some “wild” areas; whether the natural environment enjoyed by our politicians was aquired by adding to the “forest” maps non-cultivated properties of their fellow citizens, which subsequently turned into forests, is to them of no importance. This is an issue that does not particularly worry our politicians.
Forests, ecology and politics can again be harmoniously integrated, but under the condition that our Constitution protects the legitimate ownership of land which might be forested today, but used to be cultivated in former times. Development of agriculture and tourism can both flourish today within the harmonious integration of forests, ecology and politics, as described above.
CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS FOR ΤΗΕ PROTECTION OF ΟWNERSHIP AND THE PROTECTION OF FORESTS AND THEIR APPLICATION
The forest maps displayed at administrative departments, including Messinia, have created intense concern on the part of some land owners, who have seen their properties labelled as forestland there. Because of this, we will examine the relevant articles of our Constitution, as the Constitution is the document that defines the conditions of co-existence of citizens. We will also present our conclusions and some ideas for dealing with the situation, as it has developed.
We will be referring to the following two articles of the Greek Constitution:
Article 17, which refers to property, the essence of which is found in the first two paragraphs:
- Property is under the protection of the State; rights deriving therefrom, however, may not be exercised contrary to the public interest.
- No one shall be deprived of his property except for public benefit which must be duly proven, when and as specified by statute and always following full compensation corresponding to the value of the expropriated property at the time of the court hearing on the provisional determination of compensation. In cases in which a request for the final determination of compensation is made, the value at the time of the court hearing of the request shall be considered.
Article 24, which refers to the environment, the essence of which is found in the first paragraph as well as in the explanatory note:
- The protection of the natural and cultural environment constitutes a duty of the State. The State is bound to adopt special preventive or repressive measures for the preservation of the environment. Matters pertaining to the protection of forests and forest expanses in general shall be regulated by law. The State shall compile a forest registry. Alteration of the use of state forests and state forest expanses is prohibited, except where agricultural development or other uses imposed for the public interest prevail for the benefit of the national economy.
The forest or forest ecosystem is the combined total of wild plants with woody stems occuring in a particular region, which together with the co-existing flora and fauna and through interdependence and interaction form a special biocommunity (forest biocommunity) and a special natural environment (forest natural environment). When the wild plants with woody stems, high or low, of the above-mentioned biocommunity are sparse, then we have forestland.
From the Articles 17 and 24 above, and particularly from the second paragraph of Article 17, it is clear that citizens are protected by the Constitution and they cannot be arbitrarily deprived of their property. There is only one exception: “except for public benefit, which must be duly proven” and even then, only after full compensation of the owner.
Forests are also protected, as described in the Explanatory Note above. A crucial subject is the case of properties which turned into forests, because the owners had stopped cultivating them for various reasons. In this situation, the following two questions arise: First, does the turning of a property into forest mean that the owner can no longer use his/her property as he/she wishes? Does the Constitution allow this? Does the “forestation” of a property mean that the owner no longer has any rights on the particular property, although he/she did not receive any compensation?
Second, does the constitunional ban on the alteration of the use or purpose of forest and forest expanses, with the exception of agricultural development, apply to the turning of agriculturally developed land to its previous (before “forestation”) state, particularly in cases where the land is situated at the edge of a community or at the edge of cultivated fields?
We are of the opinion that the forestry laws that have been passed by the relevant Ministry subsequent to the Constitution of 1975 have not taken into account that the protection of property is enshrined in the Constitution, as described above. Of course, the need to protect the forests that existed at the time of the foundation of the modern Greek state is an obvious duty of the state and its ministries. However, contesting legitimate ownership due to laws that are not in agreement with ALL the articles of the Constitution means that these properties are in effect expropriated by the state, something that goes against not only the Constitution, but also against the national economy and development.
The ideas described above hold particularly true in our region, Mani, not only because of the geophysics of the area, but also because of the particular system of governance in the region before the Revolution of 1821. At the present time, when the development of Mani depends more than ever on its special landscape, climate and culture, there should not be any restraining policies of the state and its agencies, and in particular no arbitrary elimination of the ownership status of properties that Maniots owned for generations.
The misuse of the powers described in the previous paragraphs could be rectified if the three ministries of Environment, Agricultural Development and Tourism convened together and came up with new legislation, taking into account all the protective measures enshrined in the Constitution, and in particular the protection of property, which is a fundamental right in democracy.
 the translation of Articles 17 και 24 (with the exception of the Explanatory Note) was done by hir.org
REFLECTIONS ABOUT THE FUTURE AT THE BEGINNING OF 2017
We have suffered a lot during the seven years of the ongoing economic crisis. We have experienced austerity measures and harsh policies, which have been applied equally to everyone, no matter who deserved them and who did not. It is possible that we will have even worse experiences during the next few years, until our country is able to stand financially on its own. In spite of the crisis, we have managed to safeguard one very important right, which is the essence of democracy: Greek citizens still have the right to elect those who will govern them. Regardless of what happens in the future, we have the obligation to protect this right, even if we do not belong to the majority who saw their political candidates win. We should never abandon our efforts to influence the majority with our minority views.
The framework described above is the foundation of democracy, it is the confirmation that the “social contract” which we, the Greek citizens, decided on, and which expresses the common will of the people, is alive and above the selfish interests of individuals or societal groups. We should not forget that this common will was always the basis for the great moments of our nation during the 200 years since our struggle for independence began. We should also not forget that every time that we deviated from our common will and the corresponding actions that were dictated by it, we were led to national disasters with tragic consequences.
Unfortunately, in spite of the last seven years of the crisis, we still have not seriously reflected on the causes that led to the financial ruin of our state. The analysis given by the political parties did not help us to self-reflect. On the contrary, our politicians helped create among the people the mentality that has led us to the present predicament; the leaders of our political parties waived responsibility, fought among themselves and blamed each other. Unfortunately, this denial of responsibility has also been passed on to individuals and societal groups. Instead of a common will for rational actions, we continue to see selfish efforts of people who try to keep their privileges, acting in underground ways or in ways that are quasi-legitimate. We did not learn anything from the other European countries, which for various reasons were also led to financial crises, but were able to recover, when their leaders and their people formed a common will for resolving their economic problems. It seems that in our case, the crisis is not only economic, but also societal. This is why in our case, every Greek citizen needs to reflect in a very profound way on what should be the right way out of these dire straits.
It is not difficult to understand why our state is essentially bankrupt, while private deposits
in Greece and abroad are higher than the national debt. It is obvious that for some years, possibly for decades, there has been a hidden or half-hidden drain from the state into the private sector. Claiming compensations and payment for work not done, not only goes against the ethics of just governance, it also goes against universal financial laws. This financial drain from the state coffers to special interest individuals and groups, which was often done in quasi-legitimate ways, created a hostile climate, as the rest of the citizens, those who were excluded from this preferential treatment, immensely disliked both, the privileged groups and the state.
After a series of elections since the beginning of the economic crisis, and repeated disenchantment, we believe that Greek citizens have gradually developed some political maturity and constructive criticism skills, which will allow us to delve into the reasons which have led us to this predicament; self-criticism and self-reflection are critical in this process. If individuals apply this political maturity, which was acquired through traumatic experiences, to the political level, then we can draft common policies and undertake the necessary common actions that will allow us to end the present economic disaster. There are some decent politicians in every political party, and we believe that today it would be possible for them to come together and draft a common course of action. We hope that this will happen, bringing on a climate of optimism, which in turn will help private citizens take action.
It has been said that our area, Mani, because of the fierce love of its inhabitants for freedom and because of its sparse population, constitutes a “social lab”, an area where social phenomena can be studied. If we examine the history of our region, we observe that in most instances of grave danger, Maniots quickly and effectively developed a common plan of action and were successful in averting the danger. Similar action is what is needed today. Let us learn a lesson from the history of Mani during the years before the revolution of 1821.
BORROWING MONEY AND PAYING OFF DEBTS
Borrowing large amounts of money, disproportionate to the financial capabilities of a family or a business, rarely happens because of random or imponderable events. It usually happens because of poor management of family and business budgets. Those who get into default because of random or unforeseeable events deserve our sympathy; those who get into default because of poor financial management are usually dealt with sceptically. If we examine the financial management of family and business budgets and delve into the reasons for default, we will see that insolvency is usually due to undertaking extravagant projects and excessive spending that does not correspond to the financial capabilities of the borrowers. In these cases, it is certain that leniency and restructuring of the debt are not effective solutions.
What we described in the previous paragraph does not just apply to families and businesses, but to all societal groups. Similarly, the conclusions reached above, already well-known to most people, also apply to individual states, particularly to Greece. Unfortunately, poor financial management by our governments during the 200 years that we have been an independent state, has led our country to seven bankruptcies. Since 1824, when we first got our first loan, our country did not meet its financial obligations towards its foreign creditors seven times. It is obvious that the money borrowed each time was not managed in a productive way, but rather was distributed among supporters, so that corrupt leaders could stay in power and get reelected. The consequences were disastrous: new borrowing was required in order to pay off the previous debt, curtailing of the income of those citizens who were too weak to protest and new unfair taxation was imposed, usually directed towards the poor. Each time, between bankruptcies, there were periods of artificial (false) prosperity and unjustified optimism as well as overconsumption, usually of not-needed products, promoted by corrupt politicians. Thus, the next bankruptcies came very quickly…
We believe that the current proposal for paying off our country’s debt is the correct one: prolonging the pay-off deadline of our large debts. If we are successful in setting back the pay-off date, the tax burden imposed on the Greek citizens will be reduced. Of course, this measure alone is not enough, as it needs to be accompanied by additional long-term legislation. Other prerequisites for ending the present economic crisis are unanimity and consistency in the policies of the next governments as well as improved productivity. We need strong will, constructive criticism of our actions up to now, deep reflection, and of course reforms, with the most important one being the reform of our educational system. These reforms will slowly change the mentality of the Greek people, will help reduce parasitism and corruption, will help increase competitiveness and finally will bring improved productivity in work, businesss initiative and technical know-how.
Good governance is the key element in achieving the above goals. Greek citizens should elect those politicians who will be able to put into practice these aspirations and will bring meaningful reforms, by legislating the appropriate bills and enforcing them. Unfortunately, the electorate has so far not responded appropriately to the urgent need for reforms in order to end the economic crisis that has been plaguing our country for so many years. It is possible that something positive will finally come from this slow response of the Greek people: a deeper realisation of our obligations as citizens, which will steer us steadfastly towards realistic and achievable goals.
In Mani, the mountainous landscape has played a role in creating “closed” societies for many generations. Maniots were taught by their ancestors to avoid getting into debt at all costs; if an urgent, unforeseeable need left them with no alternative but to borrow money, the ideal was to pay off the debt as soon as possible. This mentality continues to the present time in Mani, although during the last few years of false prosperity we have seen isolated cases of irresponsible borrowing. Financial responsibility, a concept that our ancestors valued, is an ethical obligation, that should not only be practised by the newer generations of Maniots, but also guide us in electing the right politicians who can steer our country out of the present economic crisis.