OPINION

The comfort of the grave

To be an optimist in Greece today is to be blind to what is going on. As time passes, we appear incapable of taking decisions that will avert disaster. This is probably how we can explain the inertia of the past years, as well as today?s mix of fatalism and misdirected rage that paralyses us, which makes us shout against change when we have no option but to adapt to this hard new world.

The breakdown in talks between the government and representatives of the troika late last Thursday is further confirmation that we are unable to chart a course that will lead us out of the swamp. The issue is not so much our relationship with our creditors (not that it is unimportant) but what we ourselves are doing to place our society on a more stable foundation. The government walks a tightrope between fear of the ?political cost? of any action and the impatience of our partners; at the same time, it has failed at the crucial task of persuading citizens that it is taking the right measures, that this austerity policy will end. The same set of circumstances brought us to the impasse.

But what is it that brought the government to such a point of exhaustion (including fights between ministers) that it is obliged to beg the troika for a ?political solution? rather than meet its obligations? The most important measures that it has taken are the reduction of pensions and public sector wages, and reform of the social security system. These changes affect a vast number of voters but citizens appeared to accept them almost without complaint. Other changes set out in the Memorandum signed with our creditors and the midterm program have either been ignored or were adopted by Parliament but never put into effect. The result: we are still at the level of declaring our intentions, we suffer the cost of reaction against the proposed measures but we do not gain the benefits of the change as the measures are simply not effected. This too is a pattern of behavior that we know all too well. The irony is that although the government does not shrink from reducing the incomes of the weaker members of society, and can do nothing to protect employees in the private sector, it sees the political cost only in its fear of touching sleeping dogs in other sectors. So, the vast majority pay for the government?s fear of the few.

What exactly did the troika demand that pushed the government into this default mode — paralysis? Was it for layoffs in the public sector? Further spending cuts in sensitive areas such as health and education? Another reduction of wages and pensions? The adoption of all that was agreed upon in the Memorandum and the midterm program? The collection of more taxes? Whatever the troika may have demanded with regard to the 2012 budget and structural reforms aimed at development (as it said in a joint statement on Friday), is it so difficult to face that the government has no way out but to test once again the patience of our partners and create even greater confusion among citizens?

The government?s paralysis and the troika?s pregnant silence deepen the mystery and increase citizens? concerns and international markets? suspicions. It is clear that the deficits and debt are not being cut. More effective efforts are needed. Citizens see their sacrifices going to waste, their wages and pensions in jeopardy. Surely the announcement of specific measures — whatever they are, whomever they concern — would be a lesser evil than this general insecurity?

At the same time, we see that one of the fundamental problems of our country — the abject failure of tax collection — remains unsolved. Instead of continually raising VAT and indirect taxes, the government should first have shown that it will collect VAT and other taxes at current rates, and that it will go after the capital that has been spirited abroad. It could also show that it is investigating the property of people whose tax declarations do not justify their possessions. At last, let it do something that will show that it cares about the creation of a more just society and does not only punish the honest, and those who are forever held hostage — salary earners and pensioners.

It is a crime that while so many people work very hard to meet their obligations, our politicians? inertia and the state?s institutional incompetence condemn the entire country to poverty and shame. As time passes it is increasingly evident that our politicians know only how to waste time between elections, as if the exercise of power were an end in itself and not a means to offer services to the nation; together — government, opposition, unions and others — show that they prefer the familiarity of the impasse, the comfort of inertia to the responsibility of the struggle to survive.