ATHENS – Former U.S. President Bill Clinton will reportedly come to Greece later this week at the behest of a group of influential Greek Americans who want to change the negative image of the country as it struggles through an economic crisis. The Hellenic Initiative program backed by Diaspora business executives, lawyers, scientists and others, including Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris; Washington attorney George Stamas; Chicago based money manager John Calamos, has a goal to raise $100 million that would be used to help Greek charity groups, try to help Greece make structural reforms including tax collections to raise revenues in a culture of rampant tax evasion, and promote foreign investment.
New Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is overseeing an uneasy coalition government of his New Democracy Conservatives, its rival PASOK Socialists and the tiny Democratic Left and is faced with trying to renegotiate terms of harsh austerity measures demanded by the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) that is putting up $152 billion in rescue loans and withholding a second for $173 billion more until the new government makes more reforms and cuts another $15 billion in spending.
Clinton will meet with Samaras and participate in a closed meeting with Greek-American leaders on July 22 to examine how the initiative can work. Diaspora leaders have for years tried to help Greece but been rebuffed. Clinton’s involvement and his work in global programs is expected to give this effort a critical boost. As President, Clinton came to Greece to apologize for America’s involvement with the military junta from 1967-74 and was in the country as well in 2007.
The initiative wants to gain international interest to show Greece is worthwhile of investment and change its image as a country of shiftless workers bogged down in an unsolvable crisis and who have taken to regular protests, strikes and riots against the pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions initially imposed by the former Administration of then PASOK-leader George Papandreou, who had a friendly relationship with Clinton. They are also expected to meet. Papandreou resigned as Prime Minister last year in the face of relentless protests, stepped down earlier this year as PASOK leader and will be a Visiting Fellow at Harvard in the fall.
“Hellenic Initiative is a non-profit organization which aims at improving the quality of life of the Greek people during the crisis,” the organizers said. They added, “We will focus on administering help to Greek families for medical treatment and social welfare and to organizations that fight poverty. Time is pressing, that is why we are immediately starting the humanistic campaign for Greece,” words that reflected the sentiments of Washington lawyer Manny Rouvelas to the newspaper Kathimerini. He said that, “Those people who are less responsible for the situation today have suffered the most and we have to help them.”
Hellenic Initiative said it would work only with groups with a proven record of responsibility as the country has a notoriously corrupt political system. The group leaders said they were coming “as pragmatists with feasible ideas, not as idealists with good intentions. ” They added, “Our involvement will not be passive. We will select and fund the best charity organizations, we will evaluate their needs and we will check their effectiveness, adopting the standards and practices that are followed in the United States.”
The organizers pointed out their close co-operation with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which has an office in New York, and which earlier this year offered $100 million in aid for Greece. “Now it is our turn,” the Hellenic Initiative leaders added. The program is based on an Irish effort to promote that country and is designed to override the rigidity of the public sector. The group said the country’s problems were not caused by the private sector, but a string of governments who failed Greece.
“The future of the country is in providing high-technology services,” the group said, an area in which young Greeks excel, although some 70 percent of whom said they want to leave Greece to seek a better life and future elsewhere as more than 50 percent of Greeks under 25 are out of work and facing the prospect of working for less than $1,000 a month – if they can find a job.
Greek Non-Governmental Organization (NGO’s) including medical services are struggling to help Greeks being pushed to the edge of poverty while the Greek Orthodox Church said it will add more soup kitchens to help people who do not have enough food to eat. Greek charities are being inundated with requests for assistance while tax evaders owing the country some $70 billion have gone largely unpunished, and the rich and politicians have mostly escaped sacrifices being demanded of workers, the poor and pensioners, the target group that Hellenic Initiative is hoping to help.