Would you have your car fixed by the same mechanics that gave it back to you before, with more problems than when you brought it in to them in the first place? Would you trust those who lied to you over and over again, giving unfulfilled promises? Would you judge your politicians solely by what they say in front of foreign delegations and not by what they do after the delegates leave the country?
The Greek drama entered its 3rd phase. Memorandum #3 – the more the merrier – has been signed and a sigh of relief was heard throughout the world…except in Greece. The three-party government, led by centre-right politician Antonis Samaras, seems to be losing its pace less than five months after its formation. For those with short memory, Samaras strongly opposed memorandum #1, ‘co-signed’ #2 and is a champion of its third and harsher version. There is a fine line between being an acrobat and a charlatan in politics, but not in Greek politics.
A daily struggle
In Greece, one sees more and more empty stores for rent, more and more homeless families, more and more people who line up for free meals, more and more people who search in the garbage for food leftovers. With an unemployment rate that has surpassed 25%, many young educated unemployed have started migrating followed by many ‘better off’ immigrants who also leave the country. Hundreds of thousands of employees continue working without pay for the sixth, seventh or eighth month in a row.
The health ‘system’ is deteriorating, creating a humanitarian crisis beyond manageable proportions. Just to give you an example: two years ago I had to pay nothing to my regular yearly visit to my endocrinologist. Last year, I was asked to pay 5 euro. This time the co-payment was 20 euro, even though I am fully insured. While at a nearby hospital to have another exam I was informed that the next available date would be in October 2014. In a recent freakish development the president of a hospital asked authorities to arrest an ‘illegal foreigner’ and took action against the medical doctors who had the audacity to treat this woman who is suffering from cancer. We all had thought it was Hippocratic Oath and not hypocritical oath.
Home owners are asked to pay double tax over their property. Considering the fact that Greeks own at least one house at a rate of 75-80%, this is a direct strike against ownership that make us Greeks wonder whether capitalism’s next stage will be to confiscate property en masse, as was the fear with the communists back in the 1940s. The long expected new income tax law hasn’t come out yet but certain of its articles seem to go on the same direction. Tax evaders remain untouched as the usual victims – salary earners and pensioners – continue supporting the state’s treasury. Those Greeks who profited a great deal during the ‘party years’, those who stroke the big deals with the state, media and construction companies’ tycoons, state suppliers, arms dealers as well as those who set up and profited from the whole network of practically tax-free oil continue enjoying their off shore accounts in exotic islands’ banks or remain protected under the anonymity of other countries’ bank systems. Along with the big fish, a number of Greek professionals, such as plumbers and electricians continue working by offering prices “with or without a receipt”, that is with a 23% increase on the final price and a receipt or without a receipt. What would you choose with an average 40% less income and an empty refrigerator?
There is a fine line between being an acrobat and a charlatan in politics, but not in Greek politics.
A generation neglected
Young people see the burden that is bestowed upon their shoulders by the older generations remaining at awe. These young people lack any memory of hardship but are used to the glamorous prosperity that ‘bubble gum development’ brought them up in. And while family was always there to help each other in the past, now families cannot serve as a safety net since all possible bread earners within a given family unit are hit simultaneously without the prospect of hope. No wonder more than 400,000 children are malnourished in the country nowadays.
Our newest memorandum is like a call to the funeral of what has been left of the middle class, this backbone of stability and cohesion in today’s democracies. It is the failure of the democratic process as technocrats, specialists of all sorts and consultants passed the baton to the police and to fearful politicians. The latter care more for their own families, cronies and business friends than for those whose interests they were supposed to defend in the first place. In a society with limited moral reasons to ‘do the right thing’, cynicism is on the rise.
It comes as no surprise that the power vacuum is filled by extreme and fundamentally undemocratic voices such as those of the neonazi party of Chryssi Avghi (Golden Dawn). This militaristic, nationalistic, xenophobic and violent organisation has successfully created an amalgam of criminals, thugs, bouncers and narcissistic caricatures that would call for laughter if they were not stabbing immigrants, stopping theatre plays with ‘anti-Christian content’ or threatening to disturb anti-junta celebrations in public schools. Faced up with a crumbling state that cannot serve its most basic reasons of existence such as security, health and education, many ordinary people seem to support Golden Dawn at growing rates as this party’ organisation and offered ‘services’ give answers to everyday life and not the year 2020, when Greece’s public debt might be below 124% and therefore of a more manageable nature.
In Greece, one needs not be a nationalist to be bothered by the way troika runs the show. One can still be sympathetic to Germans and be bothered by the influx of German specialists who flood the country.
False Friends in Europe
And this is the crucial point as economists, politicians and bankers alike have lost touch with reality. All their miscalculations in the past three years are automatically forgotten and more of the same drug that has led the patient to his knees is prescribed over and over again in a melodramatic and punitive manner. The symbolic significance of Greece’s disaster is turned into an example to be avoided throughout Europe and North America, while at the same time no one can explain why other countries which were not run by the same ‘careless politicians and lazy citizens’ face similar if not worse problems. And how come the majority of the eurozone area member states call for support and solidarity, only to hear that they need to suffer before resurrection comes, sometime in the future and definitely after the German federal elections.
In Greece, one needs not be a nationalist to be bothered by the way troika runs the show. One can still be sympathetic to Germans and be bothered by the influx of German specialists who flood the country. In the final analysis the place of German construction and telecommunication companies has been filled by German local government and taxation specialists this time. In a similar manner it was French companies who were selling arms to the Greek state before and this time it is French specialists who help evaluate and restructure the Greek public sector and its notorious bureaucracy.
One needs not be a scientist to understand that the Greek economy has stagnated and lives in the third year of a unique comma. The specialists around the patient expect him to ‘get well’ and give him the bill for the medical costs that will definitely cause him a heart attack sometime in the near future. The three-party government is seeing its support deteriorating. Those who support the three political parties do not support their policies. Opinion polls give the socialists approximately 5%. The radical left SYRIZA is leading the polls with over 30% and is in the process of forming a unitary party from a coalition of many parties and political organisations while at the same time is preparing itself for the time when it will lead a Government. Some suggest that it is high time for the Greek radical left to mature and reshape itself from a protest party into a European-oriented and realistic political force that looks for allies wherever they actually are and not in the minds of its leaders.
What sort of Federalism?
As the future remains unknown, one needs to plan in order to be on top of things. The history of the European Union had so far been a series of endless efforts to discuss and compromise. The success story of the post-World War II peaceful Europe is not based on ultimatums or dictates from its stronger players. What is more, this current shift in the way ‘we do business’ in our continent is identified with the quest for a more unified Europe, a continent that continues its way to federalism. One wonders though to what extent we can build a federal Europe by driving its peoples into poverty. One asks him or herself whether we can achieve a federal Europe without the ‘European content’. Democracy, human rights, social welfare state, solidarity, openness are some of the cornerstones of our European home. If we do away with the cornerstones will our European home still seem European? The Mediterranean recipe has been a disastrous one. With or without feta don’t fool yourselves, it is an unhealthy one.