There is genuine bewilderment in the voices of English, Swedish, Dutch, Canadian, German and other Fiscally Solid journalists and clients, who ask me why Greeks don’t want to pay taxes, and whether I think that their attitude will ever change. I have great sympathy for these questions, (especially from the Germans who are doing the paying,) as there is a huge gap in understanding separating the cultures, rather like in the old Greek and Chinese fairy tales, where two tragic lovers are transformed after death into two bright stars, destined to gaze forlornly at each other across the Milky Way throughout eternity, but allowed a meeting once a year when the heavens wheel into the right position. The Fiscally Solid and the Greeks are two such stars, yearning but unable to touch. The heavens do seem to have been yanked into position though, and what is perhaps going to be an annual meeting between the bright stars of the IMF/ECB and the Greek government is taking place. Perhaps it would be useful to share here my explanation.
As always, one has to look to history – for 400 years during the period of Greece’s history from the fall of Byzantium in 1453 to the Greek war of Independence in 1832, taxation to the Greeks was quite simply a wholesale rape by foreign overlords in exchange for nothing. It was a forcible confiscation of life and livelihood, crops, animals, harvests, and sometimes even wife and children, by Ottoman or Venetian masters merely in return for being allowed to live, and with absolutely no pretence at being justified by the provision to the taxed people of services or even security. A similarity could be drawn with medieval England under the Normans, (Robin Hood and all that, ) where anything that was grown or made was taken to line the pockets of the foreign overlords, and nothing was given in exchange, except for nominal military protection by feudal armies under those overlords. Not even this was the case in Greece’s Ottoman days –
400 years is a long soaking in a marinade of negativity for a little word like Tax, and it is no wonder that the default setting for Greek attitude differs from that of a society like the UK, Sweden, Canada and Germany. Time will correct this – as it did in England over the centuries under progressively enlightened governments, but the climate needed for people to voluntarily pay tax can only be created through a few years of positive experience with a benevolent overlord; good governance, leading by example by the political and economic elite, and trust in the politicians’ competence and integrity, all of which are luxuries that poor little Greece has not yet had. Give us time!