Greece suddenly finds itself in the throes of a major political crisis with the collapse of its centrist coalition government in the middle of a major economic reconstruction program and with extremist factions of the left and right surging in the polls. With the country dependent on foreign loans, and obliged to meet the strict conditions set by its creditors, it finds itself in midair, with the troika having warned that funding will stop if the government cannot carry out the necessary reforms. If this is not suicide it is self-mutilation of a kind that will leave the political system chronically unstable – whether Prime Minister Antonis Samaras calls elections or tries to limp on.
In the sound and fury it is difficult to comprehend that this implosion is the result not of some great conflict between left and right, between republicans and monarchists, between democrats and authoritarians, or the result of defeat in war, as were the causes of the great crises that rocked the country throughout the 20th century. The underlying reason for this crisis is the bankruptcy of the political system, the inability of the entire system to handle even the most basic problems. After three years of support from its international partners, Greece has not been able to carry out reforms that would ensure that it would get the tranches of the loans that it needs to stay afloat but would also make its public administration and economy more efficient, to the point that the country could eventually be weaned off loans.
This would have entailed the firing of at least 2,000 employees in the public sector and more layoffs and transfers later. With a 27 percent jobless rate reflecting the catastrophic consequences of the crisis on the private sector, the three-party coalition has been unable to fire even one public sector employee. This, it would appear, prompted Samaras to take the radical and irrational step of shutting down the public broadcaster ERT in order to found a new company. This triggered a reaction by the whole political system, including Samaras’s junior partners, leading them to raise the issue of democratic legitimacy and to demand the immediate reversal of the prime minister’s decision.
The opposition parties of the left and right, of course, made the most of the opportunity to play on people’s emotions and to press for the government’s resignation. This in turn made the position of the smallest coalition partner, Democratic Left, even more difficult, prompting it to take an uncompromising position in the talks aimed at saving the government. With all this, it is clear that the peace and stability of the years from 1974 until this crisis were an exception, an exception based on Greece’s accession to what is now the European Union in 1981. We can only hope that the political system’s weakness will not undermine that membership, nor any other relationships that have helped Greece in the past few decades.