COMMENT

The perennial question

By Pantelis Boukalas

It may sound cliche, but it’s true: You cannot change the past. You can’t cajole or damn it into becoming something that it is not. You can’t call back the presses to make retroactive corrections and delayed hypotheses. But the human mind is built in such a way as to ponder all things, be they big or small, and form new possibilities and make new speculations in hindsight. So the cold winds that blew in from Berlin and Washington uttering “if,” snuffing the usual fervent post-election promises, in this case an end to austerity, seem reasonable when seen through this prism.

If, for example, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble had said what he did about a third austerity package for Greece a few days before the country’s citizens went to the polls rather than after, how would that have influenced the elections and to what extent? Would voters have been angered by the German minister’s revival of speculation regarding Greece’s future in the eurozone – and especially at a time when everyone seemed convinced that an exit was out of the question due to the great, constant sacrifices made by the Greek people? And what of the people’s wounded pride, the result of a widely admitted loss of sovereignty, which weighs if not less then just as heavily as economic sacrifice? Finally, how strong would the political earthquake have been if the International Monetary Fund had released its report on the progress of the Greek economy, foreseeing the need for new measures, before the elections instead of now?

These are scenarios for the film industry, not for history. Nevertheless, they seem inevitable. If voters had chosen which way they would go 20 or 30 days before the polls based mainly on their ideological approach and their fixed opinions, they would hardly be influenced by Schaeuble reopening an issue that they had believed firmly shut. However, public opinion polls showed that a significant part of the population – the “undecideds,” who played a decisive role in how the popular mandate panned out – weighed their feelings, ideas and the parties’ programs all the way to the final hour, waking up on election Sunday wondering who they should vote for.

Of course it is right to assume that had Schaeuble and the IMF come out with their announcements ahead of the elections, the government would have staunchly denied everything that was said after the polls. This is where another “if” arises. If citizens trusted the government more than the often-cynical lenders-supervisors, then they would completely disregard anything said by IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde or German Chancellor Angela Merkel whenever they said it. If this were the case, of course, the two governing parties would not have shed around 13 percent of their support.

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