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Survival Guide
Greek Edition
Delusions in the face of danger

By Nikos Konstandaras

Greece's politicians are in a desperate battle in Parliament, debating harsh austerity measures and other changes that our creditors' demand. Society stands in fear of the new wave of deprivation that it will face. Greece is at a critical juncture. If the government fails to pass the measures, the country will not get the next tranche of an international bailout and will be carried away on an unpredictable torrent; if the bill is passed, the cuts will test the limits of society. Whatever the outcome, in a few days Greece will be in another era, facing new difficulties, new challenges. How will we deal with this?

A basic rule of survival is to know the danger we face, to know our resources, the possible ways we can escape, and our final target. Unfortunately, in Greece today we still refuse to agree on the reality of our situation. Divided, suspicious of each other, we do not cooperate and while we like to believe that others are responsible for our ills, we demand solutions from others. This stems from our political culture, in which, for many years, our main parties did nothing but lay into each other with the harshest language, even though their policies did not differ much. This created a spirit of all or nothing and the understanding that if we do not kick up a mighty fuss we don't get what we want. In short, there is no culture of discussion and compromise.

Because our client-patron system was structured on the principle that political will can solve all problems, we are still influenced by the feeling that the individual citizen does not have to deal with reality as long as he negotiates with it through his political party, his trade union, or any other group to which he belongs. The parties which present reality as they wish it to be, in order to win votes, feed this social paranoia. The result is that governments have always found it difficult to make people believe that reforms are essential, whereas opposition parties have the easiest time undermining every proposed change. Now the coalition government's parties warn of impending doom while the opposition parties claim that it is all a bluff, that the austerity is unnecessary.

Addicted to division, our inability to agree on what is real stretches to our inability to trust anything that we hear, whether it be from foreign governments and organizations or from our own government, as well as local and foreign media. This suspicion can be explained by promises that were not kept, by failed policies and by institutions' long-term lack of interest in the well-being of citizens. For this mentality to change, for the citizens to gain a sense of trust, they must see specific changes: With the reforms being adopted in Greece, our partners must, at last, guarantee that our country will remain in the eurozone; the state must pay its debts to companies and individuals, which will total 10 billion euros by the end of this year; investment programs and bank loans must provide money for the market. For years now, the lack of liquidity has multiplied the already terrible problems of unemployment, lower incomes and higher taxes.

To establish a sense of security and stability throughout the EU, the member states must move quickly toward banking and fiscal union, and, ideally, guarantee a minimum health and medical system for all of Europe's people. The Greeks, who have been on the edge of the abyss for so long, who are deeply disillusioned, have the right to hear something positive, to be given some hope, so that they can pursue their difficult targets. Because other people will find themselves in similar difficulty while Europe looks for new ways to promote growth and achieve new social balances, if the EU takes measures for all Europe, it will ease tensions in other countries and allow some time for reforms and the successful deepening of union. Managing the Greek problem is a crucial test for Europe, and a stronger Europe will be Greece's salvation.

When the European framework is secured, when Greek institutions begin to function effectively and without discrimination, when money flows back into the economy, maybe the Greeks will feel that their country and Europe are on their side. When they are allowed to hope that they have a destination, they will be able to face their difficult reality, make their choices, and start again. The road, whichever one we follow, will be difficult. Let it be the right one, then.

ekathimerini.com , Tuesday November 6, 2012 (22:10)  
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