A new opinion poll published today shows one more time that Greek people are still in denial after five years of harsh recession. According to the results, 52 percent of us want to stay in the euro zone at any cost, while at the same time 70 percent of us don’t want any of the reforms required in order to avoid default and a subsequent rift with Europe.
For some reason that has to do with our unique Greek reasoning, we don’t owe anyone anything. In fact we seem to believe that lenders owe us. Hey, we are the cradle of western civilization, what’s a few hundred billion euros. Give us a hundred more and leave us alone to bask in our bubble.
It is true that austerity has not worked for the European Union and economic strategies have to change. But Greece has to change as well. All this senseless spending has to stop and we should kickstart the economy. Our European partners tell us that, while they are starting to admit that austerity must end. But when they tell us we need to change, we consider it blackmail, Or at least that’s what the government does.
With state coffers practically empty and with our palms extended, we refuse to admit that we are begging for more aid. Instead, our government tells us that we are a proud nation and “we won’t be blackmailed.” In the last few days, the walls of Athens were plastered with a surreal poster by SYRIZA declaring “We won’t be blackmailed.” Why don’t they put posters up saying, “Leave us alone, we don’t want to change.”
The Prime Minister of Malta said in a Eurogroup that “we want to help the Greeks, but they act like we owe them. It is like we speak a different language.” Yes, even little Malta (sorry, Malta) has lent Greece 50 million euros in a bilateral loan and 138 million as guarantees to the European Financial Stability Facility.
Yet, we are still in denial that the cheap money we were borrowing senselessly all these years will continue to flow our way. Our government is asking for more money from Europe, while at home they refer to European country leaders as loan sharks. At the same time they promise to spend more in Greece: in rehiring public servants, in securing early pensions, in reopening the national broadcaster, in maintaining state organizations that lose money.
It would be great if all these welfare policies promised were accompanied by measures and reforms that would help the economy. But, unfortunately, there is not a single proposal for growth. We keep hearing about development, growth, healthy economy when all the measures proposed have to do with getting more taxes from the rich (and the almost poor). Of course it is not SYRIZA’s fault that we pay 43.4 percent of our income in taxes, the highest in the European Union. But we don’t see any policies alleviating that horrid figure. Instead, we hear about new taxes, higher VAT, levies in bank withdrawals and luxury taxes.
Just like the previous conservative government, the SYRIZA administration seems like its striving to continue the legacy of a big, inflated, all-powerful state where taxes is the main state revenue and nepotism and clientelism rule. One of the first “achievements” of the new government was to give raises to the Public Power Company employees, a state entity famous for its strong unions established by PASOK. The raises were their reward. Now electricity bills will go up, but we are used to that.
Clientelism has changed face but remains all-powerful. As previous governments hired left and right in order to secure votes in future elections, so does SYRIZA now. The new “future clients” are those who will be rehired in the public sector and the hundreds of thousands who get the humanitarian crisis benefits. Their future vote will be their “thank you.”
Also, the good old Greek nepotism is back. Family members of the prime minister, of cabinet members and other key SYRIZA politicians are “taken care of.” From the brother of Alexis Tsipras to the mother of House Speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou, many relatives have now high government positions with equally high salaries. Maybe this is the strategy of SYRIZA to fight unemployment.
Ministers hire girlfriends and relatives, special committees are formed in order to include SYRIZA members, young people with or without degrees get positions as consultants in ministries, special positions are created in state organizations to accommodate “our people.” When the question came to the House from New Democracy and PASOK MPs, the answer was typical of Greek politics: “When you were in power, you were doing the same.” Corruption remains the same, it just has a new face now.
The harsh truth is that the new government, like the ones before them, is actually fighting to preserve the old political system. To perpetuate statism, this time under the cloak of leftism. To stay in power as long as possible, by all means. Just as New Democracy sided with arch enemies PASOK in order to form government, now SYRIZA is in power in coalition with populist extreme rightists Independent Greeks. The end justifies the means.
It may be too early to judge the new government since it is barely 100 days old. But we can judge intentions. So far, what we have seen are policies that try to reward leftist voters. With the economy plunging in chaos, the government’s priorities have been so far to shut down high security prisons, release illegal migrants from detention centers, change education laws to secure the 180,000 “eternal students,” or having a deputy sports minister who wants to act as a dictator of Greek sports defying international regulations. Nothing that has to do with the economy, other than the 100 installments for repaying debts to the state, something that the previous government was trying to implement as well.
In everyday life everything is still the same. The university sit-ins continue, street riots are equally destructive, soccer violence is alive and well, Athens is full of illegal migrants, endless protest rallies paralyze the capital, hospitals are understaffed, prostitution is on the rise, people still evade taxes and sidewalks are still occupied by illegally parked cars or newspaper kiosk merchandise.
In the kiosks, the newspaper headlines scream, “Agreement with Lenders.”