Sunday, May 02, 2010

Judgement day for Greece

May Day in Greece

Today Greek prime minister will announce the full details of the deal that it has negotiated with the EU-IMF-ECB over the conditions of the bailout package. So far the media here have been coy about saying what exactly the agreement contains but the general consensus is that it will include painful cuts across the board in terms of pay and conditions in both the private and public sector. In addition there are likely to be large job cuts as many civil service positions are axed.The most likely tactic will be a change from permanent contract to fixed term ones which when they run out will not be renewed.

As well as cuts in income Greeks are also going to be hit by yet another round of rises in VAT and other indirect taxes (the second in six months). Already the local public tranport authority here in Thessaloniki has announced 20-100% increase in bus ticket prices.

As you can imagine there is a lot of popular anger from people affected by these measures and this is likely to fuel a wave of protests and strikes in the coming months. Already the Greek communist party (KKE), which is the third largest has delared that it will fight the austerity package and is calling on workers to raise up. Other groups are also oganising different ways to try and fight against the government's plans with direct action and protests which have been scheduled for the coming week.

While everyone in Greece agrrees that the present situation is dire and things cannot continue as before they are bitter and angry that the very same politicians who failed to avert the present economic crisis either due to incompetence, corruption or indifference are now calling upon ordinary Greeks to make sacrifices. This would be a steep order for any country even in the best of circumstances but giving the extreme corruption of Greece's ruling political and economic nomenclenture none of country's leaders retains the moral stature necessary to convince people to take the difficult steps that lay ahead.

THe ruling PASOK party headed by Giorgos Papandreou has done little to clean up ts own house when it comes to graft and influence peddling and despite court cases in Germany and the UK, the scandals its senior members were involved in during their last term in power have yet to result in any criminal charges being brought against those involved here. On the other hand the newly elected leader of the defeated New Democracy, Antonis Samaras heads a party whose members presided other one of the worst periods of corruption in Greek history yet few have even been fired let alone been the subject of a court trial.

What people are enraged about is that such incompetence and corruption is likely to be repeated since no one is in a position to put a stop to the pevious abuses of power. The judiciary is little more than an extension of whoever is in power and can be ignored at will while the media is suppine in the face of the temptation of rewards from those in power in the form of state jobs, contracts and advertising revenue. Sometimes it seems that the news here is a choice between a Hellenic version of Fox News or Pravda, with very little objective reporting.

The clashes witnessed in Athens during May Day are likely to be repeated in the following days as the general strike this week is going to a catatlyst for people's rage and frustration.

1 comment:

JB said...

The more I think about this, the more I wonder how Greeks could've been so naive not to see this coming. Everyone knew tax evasion was rampant - and that the public sector was bloated. Where did people think the money for the latter was coming from, in light of the former? It should've been clear to anyone that no fiscal good would come of this.

Your analysis of the political class's failures are spot-on, but as I've said previously, Greece's people must share the blame. Nearly everyone was in on this system in some way.

Most previous attempts at starting new political parties that would behave differently (remember the Fileleftheroi? Or Political Spring? Or Stefanos Manos's party?) have failed, because no one voted for them.

And all previous attempts at reform by either of the two main parties met with resistance and disorder; thus, successive gutless governments backed down and took the path of least resistance every time.

There has never been a mature political discourse in Greece such as would engender a consensus to enable root-and-branch reform. Greeks have never sorted out in their own minds what kind of country they want to be. In the absence of that conversation, it's been every man for himself, to the detriment of civic society.

The current system has been rotten for decades and everyone knew it, deep down. They carried on for as long as they could get away with it. At every election, the electorate would say "we want change", but they didn't mean it. They only wanted change if it didn't adversely impact them personally, which any meaningful change would have had to.

Some of the latest austerity measures will hurt deeply, but others - such as the removal of spurious benefits - should've happened ages ago. Which government would have dared, though?

People get the governments they deserve, I'm afraid.