Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas Mr Papandreou


As I write this Greece is getting ready to celebrate the Christmas season and as might be expected the central shopping areas are full of stores sporting decorations. Yet behind the festive fascade the reality of the situation is that this is going to be one of the worst Christmases in decades. With over 2 million Greeks (in a nation of 11 million) living below the poverty line and unemployment rising remorselessly many have little to feel merry about.

To make things even worse the current package of austerity measures has yet to take full effect, promising to make 2011 even more difficult than the year about to end and in this climate of uncertainty people feel angry and afraid. They are deeply outraged with their political rulers who once again have led the country into crisis, though in this case on a scale unprecedented in modern greek history.

Ex - government minister Kostis Hatzidakis was on the receiving end of popular outrage during last week's demonstration outside parliament and was beaten by an enraged mob who pursued him and his police guards lashing out with a level of violence not witnessed in decades.

However, as many Greek commentators have argued the target of the mob's rage was not Hatzidakis himself but rather the political system in general which is currently in a state of crisis, a victim of the massive economic cuts being imposed by Greece's creditors in return for the 110 billion euro bailout package.

Following prime minister's Giorgos Papandreou's second policy u - turn since gaining power in Septemer 2009 voters are feeling betrayed by their leaders who swore in pre - election campaigns that there would be no further cuts in wages and then within weeks slashed pay and lowered the mimimum wage.

Greeks have long since ceased to believe the endless stream of statements from government spokesmen talking up suggestions that the economy will round a corner in the coming year as they have been lied to far too often for such ideas to be given much credence. Giorgos Papandreou has burnt through virtually all his political capital in less than 14 months, a feat unprecedented even in Greek politics and all that is left are a series of PR moves that convince an ever dwindling segment of the electorate.

Last night the Greek parliament passed the 2011 budget which will see swingeing cuts in public spending and promises little or no help to the country's poor. For them the coming year is set to be a bare knuckle fight for survival in which many will be given no assistance at all by the state. Already here in Thessaloniki the signs of the coming social crisis are evident with pensioners rooting through rubbish bins and every set of traffic lights manned by beggers. On the other hand coaches full of riot police are now a permanent fixture in the centre, a vivid reminder of the threat of a resurgence of the violence that swept the nation in 2008.

The danger is that with a political system so compromised by its rich history of corruption and incompetence Greeks will turn their back on the present set up and seek solutions elsewhere. Already many MP's, especially members of the ruling socialist PASOK party are worried aout the reception they will receive back in their constituencies over the Christmas break.

The fact that despite days of intense political confrontation within PASOK over the budget not one of their MPs voted against it is likely to lower even further voters opinion of their parliamentary representatives and raise questions about just how democratic a country Greece is.

When the party leadsership can ride roughshod over backbenchers and introduce legislation that the vast majority of voters do not support then what exactly is the role of parliament in representing the popular will?

However, in Greece, more than most European countries the political arena is not just limited to parliament and passing a law is not the same as making it a reality.

1 comment:

ioannis said...

Craig,
Merry Christmas..hope to see you and Lydia at some point,
Seasond greetings.
Juliex