In difficult times, Mikis Theodorakis, more than any other Greek public figure, commands a moral authority and enjoys a level of public trust that allow him to guide the nation, instruct it, reassure it, give it a boost. The octogenarian composer sought to steer Greece in a different direction when, earlier this month, he proposed that the country withdraw from the European Union and NATO, and cut itself off from the International Monetary Fund, while taking actions to pay off its public debt. Those actions included selling off public and church property and taxing the rich. People may have liked his ideas in the abstract, but there has been no indication that anyone took him seriously.
The ruling PASOK party had already had the idea of tapping Church coffers, although it had not dared to propose an all out appropriation of ecclesiastical property. Months ago, the government had proposed a 20% tax on income that the Church of Greece earns from real estate, as well as a 10% tax on cash donations and a 5% tax on gifts of real estate. The Church was furious and said that it would seek to block the proposed measures in court. A few weeks later, the Church expressed a desired to “support the state in its efforts,” but by that time the proposed taxes had been reduced to nearly nothing. The salaries of Church employees were declared tax deductible and were subtracted from real estate income, which was further minimized as depreciation of real assets was factored in to the tax equation. The proposed taxes on cash and real estate donations were reduced to 0.1% and 0.5% respectively.
Not long after that great sacrifice, a Church spokeswoman declared: “As a church, we need to bring hope to the people. But we also are preparing to supply food, clothes and other relief items, as well as to care for the needs of the people who lose their jobs, assist them with pastoral and psychological attention. The church will stand by the people as it always has.”