Greece’s large diaspora pool of scientists and technocrats, higher than the EU average, has meant that in times of crisis such scientists and technocrats achieve prominent roles as government advisors, leaders of state advisory bodies and agencies or public advocates of particular policy responses. The enactment of such roles is facilitated by features of modern life, commonly associated with globalisation, such as flexible career structures, zero cost of communication, cheap air transport and a deterritorialised public discourse structured by social media, email correspondence and digitally available mass media.

We identify three mutually reinforcing features of diaspora technocrats and scientists that are particularly pertinent to their crises roles in Greece: relative independence from power structures dominant in Greece, prestige established through their research output and/or non-Greek institutional affiliation and domain expertise.

We synthesise these features of the diaspora technocrat and scientist with two core elements of major, international crises, be they imported from the external environment to Greece or exported by Greece to the external environment. First, the management of such crises, as they involve large, highly developed states, creates regimes by these states’ policy makers and/or by institutions domiciled in their jurisdictions, such as multilateral organisations or universities and research institutes [1]. In such a situation, a country like Greece, of relatively small size and a middling OECD performer across a wide range of indicators, would tend to be a regime taker as opposed to a regime shaper. Second, the management of such crises in Greece would inevitably entail policy decisions that are highly disruptive and thus politically costly. These two elements of major crises play to the strengths of Greece’s scientific and technocratic diaspora identified above. Distinguished members of this diaspora partake or observe from privileged vantage points the process of regime-creation under crisis due to their domain expertise. They can also advocate, with all the authority of their internationally established prestige, for radical, painful policies in Greece, which are compatible with the regime created by a crisis - and to do so from a position of relative, if not absolute, career safety.

Not surprisingly, in each crisis episode one or more diaspora scientists and technocrats comes to personify such diaspora prominence as well as to exert meaningful influence in Greece’s crisis response. During Greece’s fiscal crisis, we would argue that Andreas Georgiou, the ex-IMF technocrat appointed to head Greece’s statistical agency, HELSTAT, was this person. By establishing in the eyes of Greece’s creditors the credibility of Greece’s economic statistics, he was instrumental in the attainment and constitution of Greece’s agreement with its creditors. During the current coronavirus pandemic crisis, this person we would argue has been Professor Elias Mossialos, Director of LSE’s Public Health, by virtue of his early advocacy to the Greek government of adopting comprehensive social distancing measures. Looking beyond such personalities we can identify the features that they embody as distinguished members of Greece’s scientific and technocratic diaspora: credibility due to institutional affiliation, the ability to grasp and represent internationally established practice, the willingness to argue for or take decisions that are controversial in Greece at least partly due to their relative personal immunity from the controversy that such decisions generate.

That being said, when we compare the fiscal crisis with the first phase of the pandemic crisis, we can also identify a crucial difference. The fiscal crisis generated severe contestability within Greece, thus integrating the roles assumed by diaspora technocrats and scientists in this contestability. The fiscal crisis was mediated via the creditor - debtor relationship with competing political forces and their supporters either rendering legitimate or illegitimate this relationship. Depending on which side of the divide Greeks and their political representatives fell, diaspora scholars and technocrats were either seen as critical allies, against destructive populism, in the fight to maintain Greece’s membership in the EU, or Quislings aligned with the enemy in the attempt to make Greece a debt colony.

There has been no such controversy attached to Professor Mossialos or other notable Greek scientists who have vigorously endorsed the ND government’s early implementation of comprehensive social distancing measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic, measures it should be noted that are already having severe economic consequences.

This should come as no surprise. First, public policies designed to contain the pandemic worldwide are essentially shaped by rapidly developed and exchanged scientific knowledge on a global scale and make no distinction between creditors and debtors. Second, this nexus of scientific knowledge and public policies forms a consensus on policy protocols with initial outliers eventually toeing the line, and only one highly developed European country, Sweden, sticking with its determination to pursue an unorthodox policy response. Thirdly, the decision to put a premium on the preservation of life regardless of the cost to the economy seems to accord with prevailing cultural norms in the European South, and certainly in Greece [2]. Consequently, there is no controversy in Greece over the adoption of the internationally dominant regime of managing the coronavirus pandemic. Nor is any calumny attached to the institution crystallising and propagating this regime, namely the World Health Organisation (WHO). The fact that the Greek government has appointed Professor Mossialos its representative to the WHO nicely captures the role of the diaspora scientists and technocrats as Greece’s interface between global standards and their adoption in Greece under the pandemic.

Peering into the future, we would argue however that this stark difference from contestation to consensus, when we compare the fiscal with the pandemic crisis, might well be eliminated. The Greek government’s coronavirus-specific response in public health terms, namely the increase in the number and the upgrade in the quality of Intensive Care Units, is universally welcomed, as it mostly involves increased allocations in equipment and personnel. Any wider public health reform, however, spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, will be sure to generate significant political contestation. In the field of the economy this will be even more the case. In this policy domain the ND government has also privileged diaspora technocrats, by entrusting the leadership of the Commission for the National Economic Growth Plan to the distinguished diaspora economist, Nobel-prize winner Professor Pissarides. It is fairly safe to assume that any proposals by the Commission for a radical revamping of the Greek economy considered even more necessary due to the shock inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic, will return diaspora technocrats and scientists to their more familiar identity, originating in the country’s fiscal crisis: as integral actors to Greece’s political contestation.

Antonis Kamaras is a SEESOX Diaspora Associate


[1] Although it must be noted that in the case of the coronavirus pandemic, political leaderships at the UK and the US failed to make effective use, for their own benefit, of their powerful scientific and policy apparatuses.  

[2] Indicatively Professor Mossialos himself has defended his advocacy of adoption of social distancing measures also on the grounds that no other policy option would be politically feasible in Greece, the implication being that failure to adopt such policies would be politically destabilising, see his relevant comment in