Spinning our wheels

As time passes, we sink deeper into crisis and nowhere do we see any light, any hope for an end to our drama -- which is both national and very personal. Why, after two years, are we still trapped in a social, political and economic dead end? Why has there been no new political proposal that would inspire people, that would lead us to believe that out of the ashes and ruins green shoots will rise, some of which will offer new hope and dynamism to the country?

It's not because the Greeks have stopped thinking, of analyzing what brought us here, of imagining a better future. Countless public discussions, demonstrations, private conversations, aphoristic tweets, newspaper articles and blogs debate how we got here and how we could escape. “We spent it all together... Or did we?” The politicians are to blame -- or do we perhaps share the blame? It's Merkel's fault -- or is Germany the only force keeping us alive? The memorandum is to blame for the recession -- or should we blame the fact that it was never applied (at least with regard to the development that it called for)? What is the “green economy” that we hear so much about and which could jump-start our stalled economy? Can the eurozone save itself? Will this save us as well? When does this torture end? Will it end?

The debate is taking place on many levels. At some point, something may come out of the ferment. But why has so much time passed without our seeing any improvement to our situation? Citizens have made many sacrifices and the PASOK government has borne a huge political cost -- so we cannot stick to the dogma that our parties don't dare change anything. Also, socialist PASOK, right-wing New Democracy and the extreme right-wing LAOS party have joined in a coalition government whose aim is to make further changes to the public administration and the economy.

But these changes also highlight the deeper problem that our country faces: the inability to change. The political parties, unions and other players in our public life have either been forced to act against their own nature or persist with attitudes and behavior that belong to the past. The parties that joined the government of Prime Minister Lucas Papademos govern with a heavy heart, while those that stayed outside give free rein to the populist rejection of all change, demanding a return to a past that proved catastrophic. The question now is: As we see no progress with the coalition of the wary, nor can we expect anything from the rejectionist front, why have no new political and social forces come to to the fore?

Although there are several (still disjointed) movements and tentative initiatives looking for support, political life remains trapped in the mechanisms of past decades. The main parties, relying on the force of inertia and the structures they developed over decades, act as they did before; and citizens who appear to persist in supporting them probably do so because they need to hold on to something familiar in today's uncertainty. It is very difficult for party officials to leave in order to create new parties; it is also difficult to form new parties that will achieve the name recognition and national structures of established parties when elections must be held within a couple of months. And so our political system is like a car that's stuck in the mud: The more the driver steps on the gas, the more noise we hear, the deeper the vehicle sinks. No one wants to get out and push and then be left behind.

Politicians' systematic sabotage of institutions, through repeated interventions that undermined every sense of objective justice, have left us with a deep emotional dependance on parties that we already know, even as we trust neither them, nor our institutions nor our fellow citizens. We do not trust our institutions because we know that they are staffed not by the responsible officials who would make them independent and effective, but by the clients of politicians. The weakness of our institutions (the judiciary, the police, the state, the news media, and so on) allowed our politicians to get away with the irresponsible actions (and inaction) that brought us to this mess. The same weakness and inertia hinder us from moving away from the old parties that are now bankrupt -- literally and metaphorically.

3 σχόλια:

  1. The refusal of Greek politicians to take a hard look at reality and the magnitude of the mess the country is in is almost impressive. We see some of them demanding that university administrators be exempt from the staff cuts being made across the public sector. Others are resisting the liberalization of public transportation and other sectors, or busy protecting the interests of certain groups.

    With their words and actions, they are showing us that they don’t believe in the reform process and that they are not ready to shoulder any of the political cost that comes with change, even if their stance ultimately leads the country to destruction. Even some young politicians who entered the political arena with fervent support for change now appear apprehensive at the political cost.

    This cowardice is why the country constantly finds itself at breaking point, why things are done -- when they’re done -- as they are, in a rushed and half-baked manner, and only when the troika is forced to put a gun to the country’s head. Given the behavior of our politicians, we will probably end up squeezing the trigger ourselves.

  2. Some 20 months have passed since May 2009, when then Prime Minister George Papandreou and Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou adopted the memorandum drafted by Greece’s international creditors, and today the country is sinking in debt -- and its residents in penury -- without any sign that things will turn around.

    The appointment of Lucas Papademos as interim prime minister and Evangelos Venizelos as finance minister has done nothing to reverse the situation. The Greek system -- politically and economically speaking -- is operating on the delusion that it is fighting to save the country from bankruptcy when in fact it is already bankrupt. The reason it hasn’t frozen payments is because it continues to borrow money, chiefly to cover its responsibilities toward its creditors so the European banking system is not threatened.

    The politicians who are running the country today pretend to have introduced business logic to the management of Greece’s fiscal affairs. They are sorely mistaken if they believe that they have fooled the average Greek citizen, because a business trying to hide its bankruptcy simply increases the cost and pain of the final downfall.

    It would have been preferable if, in May 2010, Papandreou and Papaconstantinou, instead of linking the “salvation” of Greece to satisfying its creditors, had negotiated a restructuring of the Greek debt, in the same way that any business would do if it owed such an enormous sum to a bank. They refused to act according to the prevailing logic in the real economy and ever since the country has been paying the price for the folly and ineptitude of the PASOK leadership.

    Most importantly, PASOK’s leaders do not want to admit that the process they chose, for better or for worse, presupposes the annihilation of the existing system. They are trying to save the country’s ailing state-owned companies, the tax evaders of the middle class, the management of Greek credit institutions, public sector heads and the business players who are dependent on government handouts. This at a time when the situation dictates the eradication of the very same.

    They are trying to avoid complete disaster, which by definition would lead to a new state of affairs. They want to remain within the European Union, yet they defy Germany, hoping that Berlin will come around and agree to issue a Eurobond, as well as a restructuring Greece’s debt without guarantees.

    The holidays are upon us, so for now, at least, let us share their optimism.

  3. A massive 99 percent of Greeks say the country’s economic situation is bad, while 76 percent believe that the worst is still to come, according to a Eurobarometer survey published in Brussels Thursday.

    This puts Greeks among the most pessimistic people in the 27-member European Union, along with the Irish, the Spanish and the Bulgarians.

    The survey found serious disaffection also with the political situation, with only 8 percent of Greeks saying they trust their government. Twelve percent said they trust the Parliament. Both figures were down from the previous survey.

    The EU, which is involved in Greece’s bailout loan, is seen as a more effective actor, with 29 percent of the country’s respondents saying they trust the bloc.

    The Autumn 2011 Standard Eurobarometer was conducted between November 5 and 20. Former central banker Lucas Papademos replaced George Papandreou as premier on November 11.