OPINION

A handy sense of injustice

The people of Greece suffer from a deep sense of grievance, from a lack of justice which leads to a lack of trust and to endless, unrelenting enmity. This probably explains the way in which our politicians turn everything into a major conflict between them, our more prominent journalists entertain the public by blowing hard on every issue, and our society (addicted to a mix of fear and cynicism) waits for the insult of the day. This sensitivity might help raise our awareness of the complications of some issues and may help prevent worse insults to us; on the other hand, it raises the risk of our not seeing clearly the parameters of problems, leading to the wrong decisions. Those who feel aggrieved will more easily do injustice to others. Those who say ?everyone does it? either suspend their sense of values and tolerate lawlessness or they take an active part in it.

When we feel that we are on our own against the rest (whether on a personal or national level) we cannot trust each other; faced with a crisis, the automatic response is to disagree, to rush to judge everyone else, and not to agree to a common effort. A recent example of this is the great noise that erupted over the representatives? of the EU, IMF and ECB premature (as it turned out) announcement last weekend on the privatization effort that they had agreed to with the government. The government lost control, the opposition parties lost all sense of proportion and the news media lost the story. The troika?s ?insult? became the main issue, not the fact that a privatization program from which we were expecting to gain perhaps 7 billion euros suddenly had to bring forth 50! Maybe it was too difficult for us to absorb the revelation that it is very unlikely we will get out of the woods and the fracas allowed us to swallow this unpalatable truth; but it was most likely unplanned, based as it was on the perennial premise that foreigners are pushing us around again, confirming (in our eyes, at least) that once again the world is unjust.

The sense of deprivation, followed by endless demands and rage, derive from everyone?s daily experience. We are forced to improvise all the time, in an environment in which laws and institutions do not protect us sufficiently, either because of the confusion of conflicting laws, or the failings of the necessary mechanisms, or the incompetence of those staffing them, or plain corruption. Or all these factors together. We see major thieves enjoying their gains while small guys go to jail, we see the privileged acting as if they are victims of injustice while those who do suffer injustice have no voice. We became accustomed to the fact that some workers, some professions and some social security funds were more privileged than others, so we are not surprised that those without such privileges feel cheated – but those whose privileges must now be curtailed also feel cheated. The result is a general lack of trust. This makes cooperation and consensus very unlikely. Even within the ruling party the conflicts lead to paralysis.

This is the ground on which populism and irresponsibility take root – whoever wants to be liked by the people, by fans, by his friends, has only to rub salt into real or imagined wounds, saying, for example, that our creditors are ?masters? and the government ?its servants? who sold all the ?silverware.? In this world, it is always someone else who is to blame, and so we are relieved of our own responsibilities.

Today Greece is sliding downhill. The money that we are borrowing simply allows us to stay on our feet – but we are still sliding. Gradually, though, we will have to start the long slog uphill. It is imperative that our politicians get serious and cooperate, that the public administration finally helps the citizen and the entrepreneur, that institutions take action and that laws are applied without fear or favor. We face a difficult period of national reconstruction. Whether or not we played a role in the country?s decline, from now on everyone has a personal responsibility. If we do not show trust in each other, if we do not demand justice at all levels, if we do not believe in a just country, we have no reason to fix our economy. Our lives will be difficult, lonely and joyless.