On my way to the hotel in Athens to join a seminar between Turkish and Greek
journalists, I heard a group of Turks approaching me. On a cruise trip around the Aegean islands, they were spending a day in Athens.
“I’m going to see the Greek
tourism minister. Do you want me to pass on a message,” I said jokingly.
I went to Athens several times in the 1990s. The likelihood of hearing Turkish was always very low. Last Friday I twice came across Turkish tourists. For me this is one of the most concrete signs of Turkish–Greek reconciliation.
Following an interview with Loukas Tsoukaris, the head of a prominent Greek
think tank, who complained about the state being the biggest obstacle to economic development, I headed towards the tourism ministry, to meet with Minister Olga Kefalogianni. When I arrived at the address I had been given, I thought I was in the wrong place. The ministry looked just like any chic building in any posh neighborhood. There was just one security officer at the entrance. I just wanted to check whether this really was the ministry, or a separate annex building to the main one - I was told that it was “the ministry itself.” After having my passport checked, I was asked to go up to the sixth floor. Just as I was heading to the elevator, I saw an attractive young woman entering the building followed by two casually dressed young men.
On the sixth floor I somehow came face to face with her, since she must have taken another elevator to the floor. There was basically no one on the floor and I just said to her, “Hi, I am here for the interview.” She replied that I was a bit early. “I’ll wait, it’s better to be early than late,” I said. As she walked away, I looked at the two men in jeans following her. They really didn’t look like bodyguards to me. Where were the headphones I was used to seeing? I saw a woman sitting at one of the two tables on the floor. “Is she the advisor?” I asked. “She is the minister herself,” the woman replied.
I had done my homework and had seen her pictures from the internet. I confess that I have a bad facial memory, but the problem was that I am used to seeing ministers walking in a crowd - there should have been a dozen advisors lined up to make themselves available.
I just smiled, and couldn’t help but remember Tsoukaris’ complaints about the Greek
state. I know how Turkish ministries look. I had an urge to say to my Greek
friends: “Hey guys, you should come and see a minister’s office in Turkey. Then have a rethink about state spending and state excess.”
Obviously, this simple observation does not justify all the mismanagement of the Greek
state apparatus. But one cannot but make comparison and see the difference in scale between Turkey and Greece.
After listening to the editor-in-chief of a prominent Greek
newspaper critisize not only the state but over all the whole system, I later observed that he had come to the restaurant with his motorbike to join us for dinner. “Don’t you have a car with a driver?” I asked him, knowing that Greeks are asked for budget cuts for excess spending. “I have a car but no driver,” he replied. “In Turkey every editor-in-chief has a car with a driver!” I said.
Greece and Turkey, I said to myself, many similarities as well as differences!