ECONOMY

Social rebellions may be no more than a storm in a teacup

In all societies, the classes, pressure groups, professions, unions, political parties, lobbies and local associations that comprise it put forth demands and goals that may occasionally be transparent, sometimes unclear and often divergent, and undertake action accordingly. In Greece, this action is carried out in a paradoxical fashion with equally paradoxical consequences for society and the economy. A further characteristic is that the activities of all these segments of society are particularly anarchic, often unsupported by any arguments, provocatively lacking in common sense, and without any effort to link them to current realities or ideology. The problem is growing and becoming a thorny one. Greece’s political system does not seem to possess the necessary instruments for discussion and resolution of issues, nor the procedures for debate and compromise among the different, conflicting demands. It is not, of course, that we do not possess a Parliament, government, Ombudsman, regulatory authorities, municipal councils, security forces, lawyers, politicians and trade unionists, professionals and their respective bodies. It is rather that the members, representatives and functionaries of all these bodies, departments and associations do not abide by the most basic democratic principles. The most characteristic road to self-defeat is when the claim is aired nationwide. It is then, when the assistance of the media is sought, that the issue is wholly debased and everything sinks into total confusion. Shouting takes the place of thought, and any justice in the claim evaporates. Only a faint outline remains. Things are done in haste, to strict time limits. In the end, nobody remembers what all the fuss was about. Equally characteristic is the powerlessness of authority – so falsely perceived as omnipotent – in the face of such situations. After three months of whispers, the country went to early elections in 2000 and got a stable government – which, however, preferred to go on vacation rather than work hard after this stroke of luck. When, at long last, it had the opportunity to tackle the hot potato of social security reform in January 2001, the government sat around and waited for the national trade union conference in March in order not to upset the election chances of its own majority of affiliated unionists. When the cards were finally on the table, the so-called majority of unionists (assisted by ministers and deputies) hastened to sabotage the dialogue. The government became nervous and, in June, called a special party congress to clear up the issue. After the necessary summer vacations, party equilibrium was restored in a climate of depressing – and suspect – unanimity. But this did not prove enough, either. Thus we waited for the Cabinet reshuffle. This took place after the party congress, in October, only to prove that it was the occasion for a new round of disputes, confrontations and a revealing lack of preparedness – in other words, inertia. And let us not forget what lies ahead: municipal elections in the autumn, the rotating presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2003, preparations for the Olympic Games and – why not – early elections. Everything indicates that some inhabitants of this country prefer to remain passive spectators. We are constantly witnessing pseudo-rebellions by various social groups. Small or minute, the interests of well-connected groups are always prevalent. They undermine the social fabric, drain huge resources from the economy, are a constant and pernicious factor in politics and project to friends and foes abroad the image of an odd and incomprehensible country. Confronted with rebellion, the majority of politicians succumb. They are often trapped in the fog of lies which they themselves produce – such as when they claim that «the people are to blame» because they will not accept priorities, have no stomach for challenges and do not wish to work harder for a better future. But they forget their primary task: to clarify, urge, persuade, lead and, above all, to change the flow of events.