Looking back on the years since the start of the financial crisis, I feel like we have achieved nothing. I also can’t help feeling a bit naive because, for a moment, I thought we could change.
I did not take into account that some things just don’t change. Our political class was shaped in an environment defined by corruption, partisanship, vested interests and mediocrity. It created a pervasive mentality. On one hand you had Diavgeia (the online public registry of activities relating to public procurements) and, on the other, you had the good old deep PASOK fighting public sector reform. New Democracy followed the same pattern, as it went on to vote and implement the bailout agreements while at the same time clinging to old partisan methods. (I shall not delve here into the absence of consensus that cost the country so dearly.)
And then came SYRIZA, which won the elections on the back of a pledge to combat corruption. Its rule has proved to be a mix of deep PASOK and the old-school cronyist right. Greece is inevitably moving backwards at great speed.
I also failed to account for the fact that the country’s elite is either negligible or is happy to do business with whoever is in power. Nor could I have imagined that the Greek crisis would coincide with the spread of fake news, which hijacked the brains of frustrated Greeks with conspiracy theories and false hopes.
I also could not have foreseen the skill shown by Greek institutions, from the judiciary to the public administration, to fend off every reformist effort.
So what has changed? The bailouts brought severe cuts to wages and pensions. A “solution” was found to the social security problem. Banks are operating differently and certain undeniable cases of entanglement and corruption were busted. The state finally has an idea of what it collects and what it spends.
But I am afraid of tomorrow. We have reached a fiscal balance after much effort and pain. But the country’s foundations, its institutions, are still rotten.
The political culture of the overwhelming majority of our politicians remains unchanged. The vast majority of the public still has no idea why the country went bankrupt. Foreign governments are fed up with the Greek problem; they do not want to hear talk of fresh loans.
A rather conservative friend of mine often says I should abandon what he regards as lofty expectations and get used to the idea that Greece has always been like it is and will never change. I refuse to believe this is the case. The country simply has too much untapped potential for this to be true.