Generally speaking, Andreas Georgiou, an ex IMF official who served as the first head of the reconstituted in 2010 Greek Statistical Agency, Elstat, from 2010 to 2015, is seen by Greece’s creditors, international media, his international peers and associations of statisticians, as a person of unimpeachable integrity who was instrumental in rendering Greek statistics credible, a sine qua non for Greece’s continued membership in the Eurozone and a foundation of Greece’s agreed rescue programs.
Within Greece Andreas Georgiou is either seen as (a) a Greek Dreyfus, a patriotic public servant who, as non-Greeks claim, rendered credible Greek statistics and is maligned and persecuted by a populist/nationalist cabal because not despite of this achievement or (b) a Trojan Horse of Greece’s international creditors who purposefully inflated the Greek deficit as head of Elstat so that Greece would fall under their dominion (for the record Andreas Georgiou assumed his duties at Elstat three months after the Greek government signed the first MoU with the country’s creditors).
As argued above, the Georgiou affair demonstrates a wider trend, accelerated but not created by Greece’s fiscal crisis. The forces propelling this trend are multiple:
- The global fall in transport costs and the elimination of communication costs facilitating engagement of a Greek living and working abroad with his homeland affairs. It is possible to participate as a non-executive member of a board in a Greek organization, while living abroad, through regular teleconferences. Visits to Greece from Europe and North America are affordable on a middle class budget.
- The internet and social media which greatly facilitate interaction between diaspora scholars and the Greek mass media and have created a discursive space on Greek public affairs which is deterritorialised.
- Greece’s adoption of EU mandated, standards and processes, ranging from the Bologna process in higher education to ECB supervised financial sector reform, which render valuable and relevant diaspora expertise.
- The institutional autonomy of the Greek diaspora scholar and technocrat which means that he or she can articulate, adopt, implement and propagate positions that are opposed by powerful vested groups in Greece with no fallout in career and / or financial terms.
- The creation over several decades, of a large pool of Greek scholars and technocrats working and living abroad. Paradoxically Greece’s institutional failings have helped create outside Greece, through brain drain effects, the intellectual resources and expertise needed to remedy these failings.
Indicatively from 2005 onwards a professor of chemistry at City College of New York, Themis Lazaridis, started publicizing the citations records of Greek university deans, exposing the lack of distinction of Greece’s then academic leadership as well as cases of academic plagiarism by faculty of Greek state universities which went unpunished. Another case is that of University of Yale Professor Stathis Kalyvas who has popularized through his op-eds in the Greek press, from 2003 onwards, his research on the Greek civil war, research which is widely seen by both friend and foe as undermining the left wing’s narrative of that seminal era in Greek history, a narrative with instrumental value in terms of the left’s current political legitimacy and influence in Greece.
In institutional terms two seminal events were the creation of the higher education quality assurance agency, ADIP, in 2006 by ND and the creation of the management boards of universities in 2011, by ND and PASOK respectively. Both of these reforms drew in the governance of Greece’s higher education numerous diaspora scholars. Both reforms have been fiercely resisted by vested groups, with ADIP reviewers from abroad often been terrorized by radical students while on on-site campus visits and the boards being abolished by subsequent legislation of the SYRIZA/ANEL ruling coalition this August after having attracted in their ranks more than a hundred diaspora academics.
The crisis has acted as an accelerant, although not an originator, of the trend in the rise of the diaspora scholar and technocrat because (a) successive MoUs have mandated a thorough overhaul of the Greek state machinery and have thus created demand for technocratic expertise often not available in Greece (b) creditors have also mandated a preference in non-state activities, as in banking, for the appointments of personnel without any previous connection to the Greek politico-economic nexus, a preference privileging Diaspora Greeks (c) the severity of the crisis and the comprehensiveness of the creditors’ prescriptions across all key policy areas has engendered a commensurate policy debate from diaspora scholars, incentivized and enabled by these crisis conditions.
The diaspora technocrat and scholar possesses a number of characteristics that differentiates him from a non-Greek scholar and technocrat engaged with Greece. He has a circle of associates and friends resident in Greece with whom he can strategize. Reputational concerns and commitment to the country - Andreas Georgiou typically has spoken of his desire to ‘clear his name’ , in Greece of course, as his court travails in Greece have turned him into the rock star of government statisticians the world over - means that engagement can be long lasting with a lesser incentive to cut ones losses due to local opposition and controversy. Engagement by the Greek diaspora actor is often provided at no or little financial cost to Greek entities, with little regard for the opportunity cost of forfeiting engagement with more important jurisdictions. This is the ‘patriotic discount’ effected observed in the diaspora studies literature, as patriotic and / or reputational motives propelling engagement with the home country are often overwhelmingly compelling for many diaspora scholars and technocrats.
Engagement is also driven by the pull factor of local actors actively soliciting the diaspora scholar’s and technocrat’s engagement with Greece, appealing to his obligation to his mother country, granting him a venue and / or position through which he can exercise his influence and so on. These local actors also utilise the rhetoric of the ‘diaspora coming to Greece’s help in the country’s hour of need’, a powerful trope considering that Greece since even before its foundation as an independent nation-state, and long after that, has received support from its affluent and highly educated diaspora communities. The counter rhetoric is, as noted with the Andreas Georgiou affair, that of the traitor, the ‘Trojan Horse’, the agent of foreign powers and so on.
It is worth addressing the issue of whether diaspora scholars and actors demonstrate an ideological and policy preference or not. My speculative comment would be that diaspora actors in Greece would tend to represent what is, rightly or wrongly, perceived as best practice, appropriate methodological approach, settled or fairly robust, peer-respected preferences in policy related matters. Moreover such practices, methodological approaches and policy preferences are seen as meriting adoption on a global scale, undercutting claims to Greek exceptionalism. Many of these Greek diaspora scholars and technocrats are accomplished and widely recognized professionals in those western societies and institutions that tend to create, on such a global scale, dominant outlooks, perspectives and policies. Indicatively, Andreas Georgiou, as deputy division chief in the IMF Statistics Department, led the work of the IMF’s statistical program for the methodological development and dissemination globally of new indicators of stability of financial systems. Elias Mossialos, another emblematic diaspora scholar and technocrat, has been very active in efforts to revamp the Greek health system, and in Greek politics at large, while also advising numerous countries, most prominently China, on how to reconfigure their health systems though his leadership of LSE Health.
This is not to say that diaspora actors do not count among their ranks influential voices from what we might call the non-orthodox camp. Costas Douzinas from Birckbeck, Costas Lapavitsas from SOAS and Dimitris Papadimitriou from the Levy Institute in New York have been three very high profile leftists scholars who have vigorously advocated, respectively, extra-parliamentary resistance to creditors demands, the return to the drachma and the creation of a parallel currency. Their views have been articulated in such globally influential media outfits as the Guardian, the FT and Bloomberg and they have either been elected MPs and / or become ministers for the ruling Syriza party.
In conclusion, I would argue for the reasons expounded above that now and in the future the Greek diaspora technocrat and scholar will constitute a structural element in the contestability and direction of the reform process in Greece. The centrality of Andreas Georgiou’s task, managing national statistics, as much as the controversy engendered by his doing so, is as good a starting point as any to test this proposition.
Antonis Kamaras (SEESOX Diaspora Project Coordinator in Greece)