Politics is the art of the possible, which means knowing how far you can or cannot go. In Greece, an attitude of defeatism, the School of Denial, has taken root for many years now. “You can’t do such things,” “You’re mad to get involved,” are phrases beloved by the champions of inertia who want nothing to change in this land. It is an attitude that is evident in every political party. They put the political cost on the scales and often rationalize their own inadequacy in living up to current demands by defending the status quo.
Greece went bankrupt because of these people, this attitude. No one had the courage to reform the social security, justice and education systems, and the problems piled up. The government today faces some very tough dilemmas, and it also has to contend with an opposition that relies on riling populist sentiment. But the prime minister has created his own brand with an agenda of reforms.
Increasing the entrance grades for university and closing defunct departments was an important step, but both measures will come at a cost. When a society has been fed the idea that their children must go to university to get a job it is hard to convince them that there are other career paths. It requires a cultural shift that has already taken place in most parts of Europe. Local communities will also react to the closing of university faculties – which sprang up like mushrooms under SYRIZA – because they will lose business and tenants.
But that is the problem with reforms. There’s a nice guy who leads voters down the garden path and into a dead end, and the bad guy who tries to to undo the damage and takes the blame. You can argue against reforms forever, blaming conditions, the pandemic and on and on. You will never find enough insiders to agree to change because the culture of bartering and mediocrity is their bread and butter.
It goes without saying that the government must explain what it’s doing and why. Youngsters who do not make the cut and get into university this year will feel frustrated and stranded. It is the state’s duty, therefore, to ensure that technical colleges, for example, are in a position to give them practical career solutions.
The coming fall will not be easy. There’s a lot of pent-up frustration, especially among young people. If there is one area the government can ease up on – for now at least – it’s on the issue of campus security, which may become the match that sets off the powder keg. How universities will protect themselves from thugs and crime is important, but progress has been made. It is important not to add emotions and poll performance to the mix, because lasting and meaningful reforms are what matter most.