Chinese investors might offer challenge to the frustrating way Greeks do business

A ‘non-existent’ set of recordings was offered for sale on Ebay

The latest tranche of payments were delayed because of a reluctance to end the restrictive practices of about 130 protected professions; these problems are part of the overall systemic crisis of who actually runs Greece.Photograph: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

The latest tranche of payments were delayed because of a reluctance to end the restrictive practices of about 130 protected professions; these problems are part of the overall systemic crisis of who actually runs Greece.Photograph: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Tue, Apr 8, 2014, 01:00

Kalos , meaning “good”, is used in many situations, often as a greeting or well-wishing, as in kalimera (“good day”), kalos ilthate (“welcome”), kalo taxidi (“safe journey”), kalos orexi (“bon appetit”). I came across a new one recently, courtesy of American poet and Athens resident AE Stallings: kala cheberdemata – “good disentanglements”, a forlorn wish for someone about to plunge into the labyrinth of bureaucracy. Stallings was hoping to renew her residence permit. Dream on.

I dislike bureaucracy. That’s why I no longer have a Greek bank account. I operate on the principle that if you ignore bureaucracy, it will go away. But there are situations where you have no option, and you have to at least give it a try.

My sorry story is one where I gave it my best shot, and failed. Failed because the situation defies all reason or explanation. My story goes like this.

Once upon a time (well, 10 years ago actually), the cultural wing of the 2004 Athens Olympics produced a 12-CD set of Works of Greek Composers from the 19th and 20th centuries. No Zorba’s Dance , oh no. These were classical composers, whose work had almost never been recorded. Five discs were of symphonic music, two of opera, the rest chamber and vocal music, accompanied by a 230-page booklet. The symphonic music was performed by, among others, the now disbanded National Radio Orchestra (Greece’s equivalent of our RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra) – but that’s another story.

No evidence
These CDs were presented to visiting dignitaries, but a large number remained, which are reputedly stored in the basement of the ministry of culture, which commissioned the recordings (from an independent production company, now out of business).

Hearing about this from a colleague who had written parts of the booklet, I innocently inquired about their availability but was told the ministry had no evidence whatever of their existence. I took my inquiry to the ministry of information, who contacted the ministry of culture on my behalf. Zilch. The official reply was “the ministry claim they have no knowledge of such a set of CDs”. Could I please give them more information? Certainly. I sent a full list of contents, along with evidence that they did exist, since they were offered for sale on Amazon (but listed as “not available”) and Ebay (where I eventually obtained a second-hand set). More silence. As a consolation prize, I was offered a DVD of the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics. No thanks.

The bit that defies reason is that the booklet has a foreword by the then secretary general of the ministry of culture. How come, if his underlings knew nothing about it?

The most likely explanation is that no one in the ministry can be bothered to either look for the stored CDs or to dig out the file which surely must exist.

It isn’t so much my personal frustration, as the fact that this is a unique resource. Very few recordings exist of works by these composers, some of whom, such as Nikolaos Mantzaros (author of the national anthem) and Pavlos Karrer, created the school of Greek composition. These CDs are a national asset, providing a key to Greece’s cultural heritage. There should be a copy in every school in the country. To neglect this is tantamount to secrecy and wilful disregard for education. But you can’t distribute what doesn’t exist.

Remake
The existence – or non-existence – of these CDs is like a lost city of the Incas, an El Dorado which is known to have existed but can no longer be located. Even if all sets of the CDs were given away to VIPs, it must be possible to remake them from the master tapes. Greece badly needs a better image, culturally speaking. This important music should be promulgated worldwide through the Greek embassies, so it can be appreciated both at home and abroad.

It may seem a big jump from these CDs to Greece’s dealings with the bailout troika, but the latest tranche of payments were delayed because of a reluctance to end the restrictive practices of about 130 protected professions, ranging from lawyers to hairdressers. These problems are part of the overall systemic crisis of who actually runs Greece.

The Chinese have bought the major port of Piraeus and revolutionised the way it operates. They now want to buy a controlling interest in Athens airport. Their motivation may be nothing other than maximising profit. But they offer a challenge to the way the Greeks do business. I’m sure there is bureaucracy in China, but I bet if I inquired in Beijing about Chinese composers, I’d get a more helpful answer.

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