We often wonder what went wrong, look for the reasons behind the country’s decline. Again and again we have analyzed the phenomenon of populism, the poverty of Greece’s political personnel and the erosion of its institutions. However, behind many of the country’s modern shortcomings lies a very fundamental problem: the absence of a solid middle class, driven by firm principles and self-confidence.
Some might counter-argue that Greece never really had a bourgeoisie. This is not quite true. It was an enlightened bourgeoisie that modernized the country and doubled its territory under Eleftherios Venizelos. It was a responsible class that made all the right choices about the country’s direction, putting its immediate interests aside.
In the years that followed the end of the military dictatorship, the Greek middle class was forced into an unruly retreat before it was replaced by an army of nouveau riche, state-dependent free-loaders. Instead of insisting on equality before the law, this class sought to impose tailor-made rules or violate existing rules with impunity. The ideal of entrepreneurship with risk and an open mind was replaced by the deification of convenience, easy profit and subsidies. Its behavior legitimized the spread of corruption on the basis of “everybody does it, why can’t we?”
The Greek education system was neglected because those who were affluent enough sent their children to private schools and then abroad to study. So, who cared about state schools and universities? Meanwhile, the mass media – potentially a great civilizing and educational tool – resembled a stage show fueled by nouveau riche-ness and populism. Their only interests were to have high ratings and to promote their friends.
In other words, for years Greece was not being governed by what you would call the middle class.
Of course, there were exceptions. Some people and organizations had a vision and drive. They warned that the undermining of values would eventually carry a big price. Now that we have been through this crisis, can we see anywhere on the horizon a more enlightened and dynamic group of people that can help the country? Yes and no.
Yes, because there are a lot of people in a lot of fields that work hard and are not involved the kind of jaded practices of the past. They are not few in number and society depends on them.
No, because a new class of rich people is emerging who are a little worse than the ones we became familiar with in previous years and who have a hegemonic role in the public domain. If the first group does not rise up from the comfort of their sofas to play the role of a genuine middle class we will not get out of the mire easily and we will probably go bankrupt again in a few years.