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Anti-Greek comments at courthouse are a reminder of the need to fight stereotypes

Thursday, August 20, 2015  |   |  Tags:

“None of them ever pay taxes.”

That’s what Philedelphia judge Michael Coll said about Greeks as he presided over a child support case involving a Greek American. Here’s the transcript:

According to court transcripts, Coll asked Hartas, “Are you of Greek background sir?”

“Yes sir,” Hartas replied.

“Right, the Greeks never pay taxes,” Coll said.

As Hartas’ attorney objected, Coll then said, “That’s why their country is in bankruptcy.”

Kostas Hartas had the following reaction:

“If he said that about the Greeks that just means he’s a straight racist person,” Hartas said. “If he said that about us, you know he would’ve said that about anybody, blacks, Hispanics.”

Hartas also said the judge’s statements brought his mother, who brought him to the US from Greece when he was three-years-old, to tears.

Judge Coll apologized for his remarks, saying that his language “does not accurately reflect my feelings about the Greek community…I regret the language I used during the hearing.”

Tax evasion is a serious problem in Greece, one that been front and center during the debate on Greece’s bailout programs. What has been largely lost in the debate — and the reason why the “none of them ever pay taxes” myth has taken hold so much — is that the bulk of Greece’s tax evasion is committed by a small percentage of people/companies. From early on in the crisis, a 2011 analysis by Kathimerini’s  Nick Malkoutzis:

According to the Finance Ministry, some 900,000 people owe the state an estimated 41.1 billion euros in outstanding taxes. However, a mere 5 percent of tax dodgers owe 85 percent of the outstanding amount. Just 14,700 individuals, companies or organizations owe 37 billion euros, according to the ministry. Each of these owes more than 150,000 euros.

Serious tax evasion in Greece is the business of a relatively small number of people and enterprises that have taken advantage of an indifferent state sector. That’s not to say that smaller-scale avoidance by companies — the Social Insurance Foundation (IKA) estimates that 10 percent of firms don’t pay social security contributions — is not a problem. But when about half of the working population is employed in jobs where their income is taxed at source, thereby ensuring they cannot avoid paying their dues, it is unfair to tar the whole country with the same brush.

A broad brush has been used, however, since day one of this crisis, to paint all Greeks as the lazy, tax-evading leeches of Europe. It’s a cartoonish narrative, which is why it’s become so popular. The comments by Judge Coll are a reminder that it is our duty as members of the Hellenic diaspora to counter such stereotypes whenever we hear them, be it in a courthouse or a coffeehouse.

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