OPINION

Our only hope

Greece?s healthy middle class is a victim of its own decency and silence. It does not have a spokesperson in the style of Nikos Fotopoulos (the outspoken president of the union representing employees at the Public Power Corporation, GENOP) who has the power to threaten, blackmail and impose terms on its behalf.

Middle-class people pay taxes and abide by the law, and in the end they are — as always — the ones who have to foot the bill. They feel powerless to act against their tax-dodging neighbor or colleague who does not hesitate to flout the law as they just take care of their own interests.

It?s like the feeling you get when you queue at a left-turn light signal. There you are, patiently waiting for the light to turn green — and there he comes. Our fellow citizen — surely the smartest of us all — cuts off every car in the queue and places himself first in line for the glorious privilege of driving off before everybody else.

For the first time, they are even flirting with the idea of pointing a finger at the well-known tax evaders or stopping paying the tax on ERT — the wasteful state-owned TV broadcaster that helps sustain an extravagant patron-client system. They are feeling some sympathy for the ?Won?t pay? movement, but at the same time they know well that this is only a step closer to the end of our democracy.

Middle-class Greeks feel they have been betrayed too many times. It was a dynamic middle class that enabled the reformist Costas Simitis to climb to power, only to see the old PASOK demolish him following his defeat on the issue of social security reform.

The same people put their hopes in the conservative Costas Karamanlis who spoke correctly on most things — but never really managed to implement any of his promises. Again, they put faith in the postmodern vision of the current premier, George Papandreou. Soon it was killed by the contradictions of the Socialist party and Papandreou?s own incompetence.

And there?s more. All these years, the middle class has surrendered the nation to populism and a peculiar kind of left-wing discourse. Either because of fear or self-indulgence, the children of Greece?s middle class never had the courage to take on youth party leaders of all stripes in the country?s universities.

It seems like the middle class is starting to wake up. There is no other choice. They cannot afford to pay extra taxes because the political system does not dare take on its own cronies. They are angry at the incompetence, the corruption, and the code of honor among corrupt leaders and state functionaries. For the first time, the middle class is showing an increased interest in politics — even though they are repulsed by old-style politicians.

Take a look at universities. Students are getting together; they are reacting to the dictatorship of mediocrity, the absurdity of endless sit-in demos. These people may belong to different youth party organizations, or none at all, but they are all fighting to keep universities open. Through this process and the crisis there will emerge a new generation that has nothing to do with party stereotypes. Our hope — our only hope — is that the 30-year-olds of today will take things into their own hands and take apart a culture that was built on making a quick buck, acting with impunity and espousing pseudo-leftism.

It?s hard to see the day after, because the beast of populism is raging wild. But the Greeks, self-destructive as they may sometimes be, have the charisma of surviving and correcting their own mistakes.