'Buy Greek' Campaign Launched to Cut Down Flow of Luxury Imports

Associated Press

The Socialist government, seeking to reduce unemployment and a worrisome trade deficit, is pushing a "Buy Greek" campaign to persuade Greeks to cut down on imported luxury items in favor of local products.

A press and television campaign launched by the Greek Goods Promotional Board was followed up by special discount offers in stores selling Greek-made consumer goods--often clothes and footwear.

"Greeks have been brainwashed into believing that anything made in Greece is shoddy. We've got to educate the consumer into shopping for quality and price, not the language on the label," said Michalis Paleokostas, president of the board.

In recent years, Greeks have developed a taste for Scotch whisky, French cheese, Italian jeans and bathroom fixtures, American cigarettes and even U.S.-made shoes.

Many import tariffs were abolished when Greece joined the European Common Market in 1981, unleashing a flood of foreign goods on the Greek market.

Greek enthusiasm for imported consumer goods over locally manufactured products has even coined a new word--"xenomania," or a craze for anything foreign.

Greece's deficit in its current account--the measure of its international transactions in goods and services--rose from $1.9 billion in 1979 to an estimated $2.2 billion in 1984.

Unemployment has shot up from an estimated 4% in 1981 to almost 10% in 1984, according to figures from the National Manpower Organization.

Foreign borrowing requirements for Greece grew from $629 million in 1982 to more than $1.9 billion in the first 10 months of last year.

"The sum needed to service Greece's foreign debt has shot up from 13.9% of total foreign currency earnings in 1981 to 25.3% in 1984," said a senior Greek banking official, who agreed to discuss the matter only on condition he not be quoted by name.

A 45-second television spot for the "Buy Greek" campaign showed an unknown Greek actor praising imported goods and then lining up for unemployment benefits.

The spot quickly became a national joke and the actor, 38-year-old Nikos Papanastassiou, became a star overnight in a revue and a comedy film called "I'm Lalakis and I'm Imported."

But some Greeks took the campaign seriously.

A high school principal in the northern Greek town of Xanthi failed three students in end of semester examinations because they came to school wearing foreign-made shoes.

"These same youngsters who think it's fashionable to wear foreign shoes will be unemployed tomorrow and wondering why," Panos Ioannides, 48, told the disciplinary board investigating his decision.

There are few reliable statistics on youth unemployment in Greece but conservative opposition economists claim it is close to 24%.

Meanwhile, Greek officials tried to restrict booming sales of Scotch without breaking the Common Market's free-trade rules by drastically cutting profit margins for wholesalers in April, 1984.

"There's a time and a place for everything, but Greeks have been drinking Scotch when ouzo is available for too long and smoking imported American cigarettes when there are excellent local brands," said Paleokostas, at the promotional board.

Conservative commentators dismiss the "Buy Greek" campaign as economically unworkable.

"This effort to brainwash Greeks into buying local goods simply won't work because, on the whole, goods imported from the West are cheaper and of superior quality to locally manufactured products," said Constantine Collmer, a financial columnist.

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