The Greek Gucci controversy: right decision, wrong handling.

By Nikolas Katsimpras, HALC Senior Fellow

A couple days ago, Gucci submitted a request to hold a fashion show on the Acropolis. The Central Archaeological Council (CAS) rightfully refused and that decision has dominated Greek social media all week, dividing people into two camps — pro and against the CAS refusal.

It is very interesting how a decision of a state institution such as the CAS became viral. At a time when the Greek ego is seriously wounded, such decisions can turn into soothing balm. Perhaps that’s the case because the dysfunctions of the Greek state have set such a low threshold of expectations that people feel ecstatic even with a modicum of reason and effectiveness.

However, it is equally important to listen to the arguments of those who criticize the decision. They, too, are patriots. And their own national pride is also full of scars. For them, however, this decision may be an example of all the pathologies of the Greek modern state or the perplexed relationship we have with our past. For them, that relationship often becomes an obstacle to the development of the country.

While I do not agree with the second approach, I respect the need that birthed it, embrace the agony that triggered it and choose to find value in its existence.

The difficulty in finding value in the opposite opinion is related to our irresistible attraction to conflict. During such a period of historic upheaval, even the slightest issue becomes viral, magnified and divisive. The problem is that substance is lost in such an environment and any opportunity for identifying value in the differing views vanishes.

So, what does this mean in this case? Quite simply, while the correct -in my opinion- decision was to indeed reject the Gucci proposal, the question that seems to be lost has to do with the follow up. Apparently, while CAS responded negatively — correctly but always within the narrow limits of its jurisdiction — there was no follow up by other state institutions responsible for a broader context that could benefit from Gucci’s initiative.

It is wrong to see the Gucci request as a simple bureaucratic procedure which ends with CAS. Their request was a window for a negotiation. We have something that they want and they have something that we want. In a negotiation, the first ‘no’ is the beginning and not the end of the road. After CAS decided ‘no’, the next step should have been for the appropriate ministries, e.g. Culture and Tourism, to work together in order to prepare other alternatives before announcing the CAS decision officially to Gucci.

The strategy should look something like this: Thank you for the proposal; we are sure that we can figure something out; Parthenon is not an option due to these reasons (in order for them to understand the rationale of the decision and therefore protect the business relationship) and present alternative options and propose next steps. If this was not done, then the handling was amateurish and another opportunity for Greece might have been lost.

Nothing can, of course, guarantee that the result of such a strategy would be positive. However, there is no excuse for not trying. The lack of appropriate follow up might have cost us yet another opportunity. This is not new. It is the product of the stagnant culture of the public sector, and a constant barrier to development. Behind the correct “no”, one can find the three plagues that strangle all development illusions in Greece: the utter lack of initiative, creativity and entrepreneurial thinking. No one can ever put a price on national pride, but at the same time one should never use it to cover his incompetency.

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