OPINION

War on the citizens

A war ends when one of the two sides defeats the other or when both are exhausted to the point where they embrace the compromises which they could not accept. In Greece we are at the point where some are exhausted while others are still in the trenches — some fighting for changes they believe must be made while most are trying to avoid change. It is a war with many fronts, without clear lines, fought by organized armies, irregular militias and solitary citizens. We are disoriented and afraid, following a defeat that we have not quite understood. The only thing that is certain is that the lack of leadership which brought us here maintains the confusion which obstructs our exit from the crisis. This lack of leadership applies to both Greece and Europe, not only in politics but also at the economic and social levels.

In war we usually know who is on one side and who on the other. We know also that the permanent victims, on both sides, are the citizens. It is the same today. Greek citizens have suffered one blow after another. They are obliged to live with lower incomes and higher costs; internationally they are derided for their national failure and at home they are plagued daily by the excesses of their fellow citizens.

The citizen finds himself face to face with the taxpayer of other European countries, where anger is rising at the Greek bailouts, and at the same time he is unprotected from the frivolity of Greece?s politicians and the panic of its businessmen. Domestically, the government is alone in shouldering the weight of its promises to its foreign partners, while internationally it is isolated because it cannot keep these promises. It acts haphazardly, it raises taxes and fails to foster growth, it does not convince citizens that it believes in its own policy, that it is capable of leading the nation out of the wilderness. Therefore, the people have no faith. As long as the government hesitates, the greater the criticism from abroad.

Because few Greeks believe that the reforms will lead to salvation, anyone who can resist them does so. Understanding that the government has neither the will nor the way to press on, organized groups do what they have been doing for so many years: They put pressure on the majority — with strikes and demonstrations — so that they may achieve their goals. Used to such behavior, society does not react; it endures, it hopes that it will survive, that something will happen and it will wake as if from a bad dream.

Things will change when each one of us understands where his interests lie or when he can no longer tolerate the cost of the current situation. For example, in education, sit-ins and delays in examinations have already begun — for the umpteenth time. The difference this time is that the economic crisis does not allow students to keep losing semesters as they did until now, as their families cannot continue to subsidize their studies for ever. Similarly, merchants cannot keep losing money each time a demonstration closes the streets of the city center, they cannot compete with the unimpeded flow of contraband goods and they cannot tolerate an endless series of government mistakes. The climate of ?injustice? that is cultivated at all levels of society works against the government measures and provides an excuse for all those who resist change. This is further supported by the simplistic policies of the opposition parties, who, by definition, oppose anything the government claims to support. All this undermines any effort at reform and revival. It creates conditions of social conflict. A simple example: From businessmen to pensioners of the IKA fund, citizens find that in the past year their dealings with the state machinery have become even more difficult. Civil servants who feel that they are bearing the brunt of government policy feel that they are justified in behaving badly toward people whom they should be helping. In such instances, we tend to forget that our reactions do not punish a faceless state (or the troika) but our fellow citizens, ourselves. One injustice brings another.

Citizens see this. They see the anxiety of foreign governments to protect their banks from Greek debt before allowing Greece to sink on its own. They feel hopelessly alone. If the leaders of Greece and of the EU as a whole do not take seriously the needs and fears of citizens, if they do not persuade them as to the right policy, then the future will be even more difficult than it looks today.