We don’t need to come to the end of the bailout deal or to the election year of 2019 to “return to old habits,” as Alternate Finance Minister Giorgos Houliarakis so aptly warned during a book presentation on Thursday night. Unfortunately, we are always returning to those old habits.
Houliarakis also expressed the fear of every rational citizen when he warned against the risk of a “fresh fiscal lapse” and noted that Greece’s three bailout deals should not be viewed as the cause of the country’s woes, but as having been necessary to save the country from a complete meltdown. Were it not for the memorandums, Houliarakis stressed, Greece would have gone bankrupt, its fiscal adjustment would have been much more violent and its ejection from the eurozone would have been a certainty.
Sure, Houliarakis said what is already evident to most people, but his comments are important because they came from a leading official of the ostensibly “anti-memorandum” (the whole idea has become a joke) leftist-led government – even though he has been accused of cynicism and trying to shut the barn door after the horse has bolted.
Greece’s old habits have certainly not died; they are in mint condition. The lapse, meanwhile, is never an accident; it is part of a mentality, a belief that is deeply rooted in the country’s political history and society. Every new government attempts to take a small step of progress but its natural inclination is to go back to the tried and true recipe for re-election. The SYRIZA government is no different – despite the dire state of the country.
We now find ourselves at an interesting crossroads, as a rally planned for Sunday in the northern port city of Thessaloniki to protest ongoing name talks with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) will once more pit the backward against the rational. What makes this different from past rallies is that Archbishop Ieronymos has already said that what is needed right now is not loud voices of protest, but national consensus. It remains to be seen whether his appeal will take some of the wind out of the sails of the sundry nationalists rankling at the current diplomatic effort.
Houliarakis’s stance may also be seen as a sign of acceptance. When a politician says something real and true, we should acknowledge it regardless of the interests that dictated the comment. We are so completely under siege from backwardness, cheap political posturing, emotional blackmail and nationalist-religious intolerance, that reason, albeit delivered in small doses, is like a breath of fresh air. There comes a point when even people who have systematically cultivated irrational positions and behaviors will turn around and oppose them. Whether this is a curse, a cure or a dead end also remains to be seen.