Crimes of omission

A special court in Reykjavik on Monday began hearings on whether former Prime Minister Geir Haarde will be tried on charges of gross negligence, for allegedly not taking measures to prevent Iceland?s economic collapse in 2008. The Independence Party?s ex-leader is the only person charged, a fact which supports his claim that he is the victim of a political vendetta; it is inconceivable that one person can be held responsible for an economy?s collapse.

In Greece we have bitter experience of the unholy relationship between politics and the judiciary, as well as the passions and dead ends that are borne of it. A past full of ?political trials? contributes to a mentality of conflict, to the inability of our political forces to forge consensus and work for the national good rather than petty political gains. Because we have been down this road, we can see that Iceland?s story will not end well: If the effort to assign blame is abandoned, citizens will feel that no one is held accountable, while if only the former prime minister is forced to pay the price, it will be a blatant injustice.

The significance of the matter, though, is not so much Haarde?s judicial problems, but the idea that a politician can be held accountable for what he did not do. Usually we judge people for what they do, for their decisions. Here we are dealing with someone who is accused not of corruption or some other crime, but for inactivity, for apathy that allowed evil to bloom. It is clear that the defendant was part of something much bigger, where the cogs were turning whether he was part of them or not. Haarde is accused of not doing anything while others were committing crimes, so by definition he cannot be the only one responsible. And yet he has the greatest share of the blame because while others were ruining the country (in this case the freewheeling bankers), he was in a position to stop them and he did not.

Could such a trial be held in Greece? Theoretically, yes, because we could claim that the indifference of PASOK and New Democracy to the country?s burgeoning debt brought us to a state where we cannot live without new loans but are unable to pay for previous ones. If we consider each of our prime ministers separately, we can see which ones made some effort to turn back the river of debt, which ones let the current carry them away without a fight, and which ones wasted so much time that when they had to do something it was too little, too late. They are not responsible only for what they did not do, but also for making us accomplices. They did not wake us, they did not show that we had to fight the sweet, deadly current of dependence and defeat. So who will judge whom?

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