By Sylvia Klimaki
Special to the National Herald
In the world of the characters of Dimitris Bourantas’ best-selling novel, I Taught You Everything But A Word, written only two years ago, a young Greek woman urges her professor at a university in Boston to return to Athens. Would she do so today, in Greece’s turbulent economic times? “No,” Bourantas, who teaches leadership at Athens University of Economics and Business said abruptly. “Why should she?”
And that’s the root of the Greek dilemma, as many young Greeks studying in the United States see little incentive to return to their homeland and struggle to find a job, or one that pays well, as the country teeters on the edge of bankruptcy, with strikes and protests and violence in the center of Athens and Thessaloniki, and worries about the future. Even with a college degree – and only those from Greek universities are recognized in Greece, limiting private school opportunities – many young Greeks face bleak prospects, heightening the fear of an exodus to the U.S. particularly, or of Greek students in America staying there.
A group of researchers at the University of Macedonia is worried about the brain drain and conducting a survey to find out why people like the characters in Bourantas’ novel are losing their faith and hope in Greece. “It is a relatively new phenomenon which has been intensified the past 10 years. Those talents’ absence from Greece seems to negatively impact the country on various levels (economic, social, cultural and political)” they wrote.
All you had to do – as 200,000 readers have so far – is read Bourantas’ work, in which he says there are two countries inside one that created a two-class system that has driven the country to near-bankruptcy and made so many students despondent about their opportunities. There is “Small Greece” where “extraordinary politicians, civil servants, journalists and entrepreneurs with integrity” strive to survive against the “Big Greece” of “corruption, of minor effort, of lack of credibility and bribery.” Bourantas said he foresees unemployment rates doubling in the next coming years and a massive wave of “forced immigration” taking place. He points out the difference between “choosing to leave your country to work abroad” and “being forced to do so due to a lack of alternatives,” especially if you’re a student armed with a fresh degree but no job. And if you’re a Greek student graduating from an American college – even with the US’ unemployment rate now – the prospects seem better.
Bourantas uses a novel with a common theme, that of a teacher-student relationship. The story, which takes place between Greece and Boston, touches upon the long-time obstacles and dilemmas modern Greeks face as they pursue their academic and professional career. According to the writer, the “rotten national culture” is Greece’s modern disease.
IT’S NOT MY FAULT
During an interview to the National Herald, Bourantas pointed to the prevailing “national culture” as the source of Greece’s current economic condition. He said, “Small Greece isn’t quantitatively smaller, it is simply less obvious.” The fallacy of the predominant national culture, he said, is that “small Greece” has been ostracized from the media and the chief political positions. Bourantas uses the term “other-ism” to describe “Big Greece’s” disease: the prevailing notion that Greek citizens and politicians are not responsible of their own acts. Instead, “There is always somebody else to blame – the others.” Even today, he adds, “Greek media, citizens and politicians” rarely take responsibility “for their own past acts.” Instead, they “blame the speculators and the markets.” He points out that there is “no sea without a storm” and it is the “captain’s responsibility to have a ship with a strong keel.” What “drives him crazy,” he said, is that much of Greece’s debt derives from policies and a corrupt mentality that has prevailed in the country for the last three decades.
He said his objective was to deliver to the public “the basic ideas of leadership” through story telling, and it’s caught on, at least in Greece, where it has been rated among the Greek best sellers for three consecutive years. He said he hopes it will be published in English and said he believes that “This book can teach leadership lessons to the whole world.” Professor Sofia Georgakopoulou of Northwestern University, urged him to do so: “This is a book President Obama should read,” she told him.
He said that for Greece, “The challenge is how the government will handle the social outbreak” that he said will be intensified once “the severe economic measures have been fully implemented.” Greek citizens will have to go through a personal disequilibrium for an indefinite period of time and “it is a matter of government tactics” of how the people will react. Unemployment benefits and stimulus measures “should be government’s next step,” he recommended.
He said that only by establishing aristocracy at all levels of political and public discourse will help Greece to achieve superior results. He defines aristocracy with the ancient Greek connotation, that of the “rule of the best and not necessarily of the elite.” The use of basic elements of management to re-engineer the national culture, to define “a new identity” and “values for a more human and prosperous Greek society” is where management science and leadership could play an important role. He said that “integrity and honesty is not a matter of being Leftist or Rightist, it is a matter of having social responsibility.” And, he added: “Common sense should become common practice,” while pure execution and a government with a clear vision and the political will to support it is imperative.
He is not optimistic. He is worried that there will be no radical changes in Greece, only restructuring of the current system. “What Greece needs to do is to come up with a new architecture, not just do the repairs,” he said. Otherwise, even he may look up and find his students gone.