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Emerging out of Greece’s dark days

Deputy foreign minister say his country will not fall into financial chaos


The light at the end of the tunnel for the Hellenic state seems very far away, but throughout its long history, the land that has given us some of the most important free thinkers has overcome some of its darkest periods.

That is the message that Deputy Foreign Minister Demetri Dollis had during an exclusive interview with The Korea Herald.

“The light at the end of the tunnel comes bit by bit everyday; you cannot live in darkness,” he said.

“As far as the economic light is concerned, we’ve seen the first figures of positive growth this year, we expect a good quarter this summer because of tourism, and despite what you see on TV, people are coming,” he said.

Dollis was in town recently to promote Greece’s business opportunities and to drum up investments. After initial meetings, Korean banks are shining a positive light on future prospects for partnership.
Greece Deputy Minister Foreign Affairs Demetri Dollis. (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)
Greece Deputy Minister Foreign Affairs Demetri Dollis. (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)

One local investment banker, who wished to remain anonymous, explained that he understands Greece’s predicament, considering that Korea went through tough times in 1997, and is looking to arrange fair, win-win situations for both parties.

To ensure assistance from the rest of the world, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou proposed $20 billion worth of cuts in public spending while raising a further $20 billion through taxes and privatization.

This means that spending cuts will see heavy public sector job losses, school closures and restrictions on welfare benefits.

“We’re a country that reduced its debt by 5 percent last year,” he noted. “Miracles do not happen everyday and we are close to performing a miracle. A lot of people don’t like it, a lot of people want more, but the reality is that we got a bad deal and that deal has to become a good deal.”

Greece is also planning to sell off state assets and ventures including the postal service and key ports, plans that concern many Greeks.

Tourism is an important part of Greece’s recovery; hence the government will not approve measures that make it difficult for people to visit.

“We’re privatizing what is essential to privatize and redefining the role of government,” he said. “In the current situation, we have to find some money, we are going to make sure that essential services will be delivered at the best possible price.”

Dollis added that livability, affordability and safety are the greatest concerns when it comes to pricing.

“Bold and brave is the person that guarantees particular prices either now or in the future,” said Dollis. “What I can guarantee is that our priority is to make the country competitive, and a country cannot be competitive with high prices.”

With all their debts, many economists feared or suggested that Greece default on its loans or even leave the eurozone.

Dollis strongly reiterated that both these situations would not be an option.

First of all, if Greece defaults, it would have severe ramifications on the country’s economy and threaten the eurozone and the rest of the world.

International investors would take flight, leaving the country in economic ruin.

Just like at the battles of Plataea and Marathon, Greece will not fall.

“Greeks have always been very good with the difficult things, and we have always done the impossible thing,” he said. “This time it’s not the impossible that we will do, it’s the right thing for the sake of our children.”

The reason why Greece has found itself in this predicament is due to years of mismanagement by politicians who failed to produce a balanced budget, businesspeople and corruption.

Under Papandreou’s government, every political and economic measure undertaken by his administration will be immediately available online, ready for scrutiny and discussion.

“Economies that are not transparent are economies that do not move forward,” pointed Dollis.

As for alternatives, Dollis strongly noted that there was no Plan B. “The question of failure does not exist in our vocabulary.”

With the summer season upon us, Greece is ready to welcome the world once again but this time Dollis is transforming Greece from a summertime destination to a destination for all seasons.

“There is a lot of history, religion, culture and nature to visit,” he said. “Give incentives that attracts people and at the end of the day, if you deliver good service with a good price, and market that under the Greek word ‘Filoxinia,’ which welcomes people, making them feel at home, then you have the recipe for success.”

By Yoav Cerralbo (yoav@heraldcorp.com)
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