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Trapped in Greek bureaucracy: jobless father of 3 attempts to set himself on fire

Don’t ever mess with the Greek bureaucracy, especially when it comes to ask from the state something that you have the right to receive as a citizen. Health care? Benefits? Allowances? Tax return? You find yourself running from department to department,  from different floors to different buildings in different suburbs and city districts, submitting a bunch of unnecessary documents, collecting signatures and stamps and when you think you got all papers and approvals collected… ops! there is still something missing! In best case, you will spend 3 to 5 working days climbing up stairs, rushing down with elevators, calling phone numbers that hardly someone picks up, knocking on locked doors, trying to meet absent civil servants or retired and not replaced supervisors, crawling from desk to desk full of mind-numbed people. And when you have submitted your file full and correct with all the superfluous “necessities”,  you go home awaiting for several months for the much desired and expected “decision” for your case.

And this is the best scenario. The worse scenario is that you find yourself trapped into a winding  and continuously widening spiral of rules and intricate corridors of regulations that they might even conflict themselves and you see no way out.

Got in the red tapes of the Greek bureaucracy and in desperate need of children allowance, a jobless father of 3 attempted to set himself on fire in the local office of Farmers’ Social Security Fund (OGA) in Patras, Peloponnese.

Dionyssis has been reportedly trying for six months to collect all the necessary documents to submit his request for allowance for his three underage children. The money will help him feed his children and pay obligations like rent and utilities. In EU-member country Greece, unemployed receive a monthly support of just 385 euro and for the duration of only one year.


     “I bought petrol to set myself on fire.”

So, Dionyssis collected all necessary documents and stamps and filled his request form, some civil servant assured him that his file was complete and correct. But then, the officialdom jumped in and asked him for more papers, for extra documents.

Last Tuesday, the desperate father took a can full of petrol and went to the OGA office that has been troubling him for a long time. “I will set myself on fire, I resent!” Dionyssis shouted in front of the OGA staff that was forced to interrupt the neurotically monotonous stamping of documents.

One of his friends had happened to be there too and persuaded the man in outrage to give up his hazardous plans.

“What shall I do? To commit suicide? To go jump from somewhere? Yesterday I bought a petrol can and said I will set myself on fire. They have been cheating me every two months, I am in outrage,” Dionyssis told local OPR TV.

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The man explained that the OGa has been asking again and again additional documents, even some that there were already submitted in the file since February.

“We were supposed to receive the children allowance on Wednesday before Easter, but we were informed the day before that we will not be paid out. They said that I had not write down each year my wife was uninsured,” the man explained.
When this requirement was fulfilled, Dionyssis was informed that he would receive the children allowance on May 25th. But instead of money he received a letter saying that he is not entitled to allowance. He contacted the office and heard he needed another document, although he had already a notice by OGA assuring him that he had submitted all the needed papers. Dionyssis went buying the petrol can…

“With this act, I want someone in charge to listen!” he said.

The child allowance is 40 euro per month and child. 120 euro per month for Dionyssis’ family to cover basic needs, pay rent and electricity bill that has reached meanwhile 1,200 euro.

Dionyssis is not the only victim of bureaucracy.
A friend was telling me recently that he had to come and go to two different Primary Health Care offices (IKA/PEDY) in Athens in order to get approval by an IKA supervisor for ten physical therapy exercises prescripted by a hospital doctor where he was operated for his broken leg. The day he was discharged from the hospital, there was no supervisor to approve the prescription. The hospital administration assured him that he can get the approval at any IKA office. The prescription was  rejected in both IKA offices he visited with each supervisor claiming different obstacles. He had to went back to the 15km away hospital to get the approval. The approval procedure lasted one and a half minute. Total cost for insurance fund for the physiotherapy: 120 euro.
Yes, it looks like bureaucracy prevails when it comes that citizens claim amounts of 120 euro. In a country with a series of scandals for fake allowances and benefits to blinds who can drive and deaf who can hear.
A taxi driver, a jobless with a diploma in Engineering,  was telling me his horror experience with bureaucracy with the health services, his comings and goings from department to department in what it seemed to be a deadlock, a Kafka-situation of rules and regulations. I commented that the civil servants seem to have no thorough knowledge of rules and regulations. But he answered that this was not the case. “On the contrary,” he claimed “they know very well but it is the bureaucracy that justifies the high number of civil servants.”
And a high cost to citizens and the state.
Tackling bureaucracy and saving distraught citizens from desperate actions is something that the SYRIZA government could solve even without the approval of the Troika. (Huh? “The Institutions,” I mean…). It is a matter of political will.
PS There is also the worst bureaucracy scenario! You suffer a nervous breakdown and give up. Bureaucracy can start cheering for having successfully discouraged you to claim your rights.

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  1. Giaourti Giaourtaki

    Just write “Troika-Institutions”, if you do so everybody will start to copy it and in a few weeks they all will be too lazy to write more than 5 letters.


  3. The one thing Syriza could do and should have been made an absolute priority when coming to power, was to get to grips with the ludicrous Greek bureaucracy. This would have earned them valuable points when demonstrating to their lenders that they have the ambition and will to get off their backsides and drag Greece into the twenty first century. I live in Greece for a few months each year and am grieved that the “jobs for the boys” attitude is still crippling any momentum Greece might have aspired to with a new government. Shame on you.

  4. Tell me Jim Pratt is mistaken. It can’t be true. I know this is not fair, but millions of europeans have high hopes for Syriza; Podemos, in Spain, is already in strugle.
    I would like to know something more about current affairs in Greece, not just this financial mess. In spite of that, something can be done, with imagination and at low cost. How are the reforms going? What about the bureaucracy? Portugal, my country, is hardly an example, but we do have a modern e-goverment sistem, implemented by a left government, by the way.

    • Giaourti Giaourtaki

      There are lots of reforms, f.i. prison-reform, hoodie-law canceled 4 years after Papandreou forgot to do so, citizenship-reform presented yesterday, electricity, food-cards, health-care free for the poor, aso

  5. The downside of having too many (redundant) civil servants (that are paid even if they do not create any value) is the rat-race that is triggered by those trying justify their position and extend the role.

    All of a sudden, one of those “servants” becomes the bigger pain in the a.. than the other and the economy is crushed by them.

    Fighting this bureaucracy to help the economy back on its feet again is then denounced as “neo-liberalism” by the despised Troika.

    Who is denouncing? – The bureaucrats and their party: Syriza.

    • You seem to have a near-monopoly on garbage. May I suggest that you go into business collecting and recycling all of this rubbish? Oh wait, that is exactly what you are doing! Picking up all the stale rotting German propaganda and recycling it onto Greek sites. Very green of you: I hope it is not too well paid though.

      The lack of any sound economics in your statement is quite remarkable — which is how we know where it comes from. Greece does not have an excess of civil servants (and never did, actually, in comparison with northern Europe). It has a problem that the staffing of the civil service in the past was patronage based, especially in the 1980s, for political stability reasons. This led to a lot of unqualified and useless staff in certain ministries and agencies.

      The economic argument that should be made is that Greece actually needs MORE and more competent civil servants, with specific skills that can support the private sector and general population. This the Troika refuses to hear, because all they are interested in doing is cutting state expsnditure. Of course, the result of losing more jobs in the state sector will be a dual hit to the economy of reducing the potential services to the economy along with a negative multiplier effect caused by reduced household incomes of the sacked civil servants.

      So, even someone with your feeble grasp of reality may be able to perceive that cutting state jobs (as opposed to improving the quality and training of state personnel) provides no economic benefit to anyone, but is of financial benefit to Greece’s creditors. In vulgar language, “bugger the economy, we wants our money”. (loose translation of weasel words uttered by Schaeuble)

  6. Sure.

    Greece needs more civil servants. Best another 5 million. Would have the benefit of a 0 unemployment rate, right?

    Only thing remaining: somebody has to pay for that right? – This is the responsibility of the European Union, what else do have it for?

    The Greek voter has dragged for generations way more out of the state than he has contributed to. – Now they try to Milk the European Union the same way.

    Know what? – Won’t happen!

    • More garbage? You must love the smell of rotting low-quality thinking. I tried to explain to you that Greece needs a better civil service, and does not actually have a very large one. (It used to have a large state sector generally, but much of that has gone now).

      Instead of addressing the real issue, which is what the civil service is there for and how it should function, you make stupid sarcastic comments. Your arguments are of the same quality as idiots in Pasok or ND, pushing their own agendas. I have noticed that the low quality of German arguments these days can be compared with the very worst we have ever heard from Greek politicians of the past.

  7. Sure.

    Whoever is not swallowing your Syriza Propaganda unreflected is a German, a Nazi or a troll.

    Looking at Xenos’ “arguments” one wonders, why Greece is broke and not the rest of the Eurozone which consists of idiots compared to the brilliant economists in Greece.

    Simply get out of the Euro and prove that you can maintain your living standard without constant funding of the EU. – But you don’t want this, because you know that you are not able to stand on your own feet.

    • Giaourti Giaourtaki

      That reminds of a cartoon where some tourists in a rent car argue about all the waste of money in Greece while riding on a shiny black fresh tarnac from Turkey to Albania.
      Guess what? If the government would decide to create 300.000 jobs by producing all needed electricity free of profits with wooden framed windmills that would be against any law or so because no greedy capitalist gets the chance to make more money, the chance he deserves because he gots money; or if Greece would decide to throw out every ship that isn’t run by wind-turbines.

    • Most of the eurozone is also broke, in case you didn’t notice. Only Germany has a current account surplus, but a very demand deficient domestic economy. This was achieved on the back of the eurozone and the lower value of the euro for German exports (in other words, on the backs of the Greeks, Spanish and others).

      The fact that you write this nonsense in this way is what proves you are German: your views are not normal, they are Germanic propaganda. There is a big difference between not supporting “Syriza propaganda” as you put it, and promoting the German propaganda.

      And do you not think that the Greeks regret joining the euro and would love to find a way to exit that was not suicidal? Nobody has to prove anything to you or to Germany: what you have to prove to the rest of the world, as a German, is that you have enough humanity and civilised values to be taken seriously after 1945. History does not forgive.