Monday, July 23, 2012

Aristotle Onassis on Greek Democracy

July 19, 2012, 8:30 AM
Dear Diary:

Aristotle Onassis, 1970.Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesAristotle Onassis, 1970.
In the early 1970s, I attended a small dinner party at Mrs. Jacqueline Onassis’ Fifth Avenue apartment.
There were 10 of us, including our hosts, Jacqueline and Aristotle; Ari’s Greek godson and his wife; Jackie’s cousin Nina Steers; Gianni Agnelli and his sister Susanna Rattazzi; and my date, David Frost.
After dinner, as we sat around gabbing about all sorts of things, we eventually landed on the subject of Greece, which was at the time going through one of its never-ending paroxysms of government crises, and seemed a subject that made Ari somewhat annoyed.
Nevertheless, he told some very interesting and amusing stories about the trials and perils of doing business in Greece, seconded and commented on by the godson. The government, he said, like all Greek governments, was essentially useless, as they knew nothing about business or the financial world. In fact, he said, they knew nothing about democracy.
Then, he said, “The Greeks aren’t ready for democracy.”
There was a moment of silent surprise.
I then commented that since I was under the impression that the Greeks had invented it, if the Greeks weren’t ready to govern themselves, who on earth was ready?
There was another silent moment.
Then Jackie, being the good hostess, smiled. Gianni, being a good and knowledgeable Italian, roared. And we all — except Ari — began to laugh.
Nowadays, every time I listen to talk about Greek finances, Greek elections and Greek governments, I see Ari’s good-looking, serious, almost dour face before me and hear him saying, “Greeks, they know nothing about business or finance,” and “the Greeks aren’t ready for democracy.”
Ari loved his country. He always wore two watches, one set to the time wherever he was present physically and the other always on Athens time. But I can’t help think he’d be deeply concerned about his country’s current situation, and I have a guess at what he’d expect the outcome to be.

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