Minister of Education George Rallis leaves his home at 6:30 every morning, hoping to elude the would-be favor-seekers who, in another hour, will have assembled outside his door.
"But, people are still waiting," said the 58-year-old minister, whose family has held political power for three generations here, "especially during the university examination period. They refuse to accept that the minister just cannot interfere."
As the man who acted as parliamentary whip for the Constantine Kara manlis government and ran the premier's campaign during the 1974 elections, Rallis, who also serves as minister to the prime minister, has been charged with streamlining Greece's antiquated bureaucracy. In effect, he has been told to eliminate rousfeti - the political patronage or favoritism thalt has run rampant here for centuries.
Determined to stamp out many of Greece's time-honored, Oriental customs, and hoist this nation of 9 million into the modern European age, Karamanlis' goal is for Greece to become the 10th member of the Common Market. He has forbidden ministers to make any more personal appointments and has vowed tat rousfeti , which he calls the "curse of favorltism that has plagued the nation," will be buried once and for all.
Although the move has met with widespread public approval, except among the old-time political crowd, there are many who privately smirk at the premier's gesture. They recall that one of this predecessors called rousfeti the "lubricating oil of the system," the only thing that allowed it to work.
Althou the 12,000-job Greek civil service is relativey small in number, it is without question one of the most overwhelming, inefficient European bureaucracies. Until it is reformed, there will be title incentive for eliminating rousfeti .
Paying a parking ticket requires 11 stops on four floors of police headquarters. Obtaining a residency permit takes six stops for a series of multi-colored stamps, seals and signatures. The old and enfeebled toil up and down flights of stairs in the social security office, hassling for hours to complete their documentation.
"Rousfeti is different in this country," said the American wife of a ranking Greek offical. "It's not corruption. It's not simple favoritism. It's a necessity to maintain your sanity here."
Determined that she was going to rise above the system, she finally gave in one day. Applying for a driver's license, she was told that, since she was not born in the country, she needed a Greek identity card. To get an identity card, she needed a voter's permit . . . which of course, she was unable to get without an identity card. She then went to her local politican who, as an inducement to get her vote, gave her an illegal voting permit. Her identity card and driver's license were thereby assured.
Frustrated and embittered by such absurdities and living within a partiarchal society where the father figure symbolizes state power, citizens descend upon ministries and parliamentary offices by the thousands.
"There's no doubt that the sick man of Greece is its administration," said opposition member of Parliament Virginia Tsouderou. "This, coupled with an outdated educational system, creates great pressure on every citizen. So, members of Parliment have got to assist their constituents in getting through the muddle. Although some curry favor in the universal sense of a position, more often those who seek rousfeti are simply asking for the realization of their very just and reasonable rights."
"You thus become a social worker," she said, "a psychiatrist every day. The old-timers have always used it as a fiefdom for power . . . Some spend more time dispensing favors than doing their parliamentary work. But the majority of politicians, especially the new ones, are campaigning against rousfeti . But before that can be accomplished, the entire system must change."
Rallis has begun the laborious effort of reorganizing the ministries, setting up a school for public employees and dispensing with much of the country's paperwork, seals and stamps.
"At the Ministry of Commerce, you previously had to go to 20 or 25 offices to get an export permit," said the minister. "Now the whole process can be finished in five or six hours . . . as opposed to five or six days. Previously only a minister or secretary general could sign a document. Now lower level employees have been given that right."
"But it's difficult for me to impose my will on other departments," he conceded. "I can't say I've met with even 80 per cent success. The figure's actually much lower. We're trying to change a system that's been deeply embedded for 150 years."
In the meantime, constituents continue to line up outside parliamentary offices, at an average of 20 to 30 a day. Many simply want to circumvent the bureaucracy. Others, products of the old-time system, request a donkey to plow the farmlands or, in the case of one constituent, "a few steaks" from Athens each time his deputy comes back home.