OPINION

The year of the citizen

This will be a watershed year. Not only because it will determine whether Greece will remain in the club of privileged countries that share the common European currency but because the citizens will decide their country?s fate, at a time when all the old political, economic and social structures are collapsing. The elections which are expected to be held sometime in April (barring surprises), will be contested by the shadows of the old parties, but it is clear that the old power relationships, mind-sets and party formations will not survive the challenges of 2012.

We are living through the twilight of illusions that shaped our lives for so many years. The Greeks have realized that they built their castles on treacherous sand. They have been betrayed by politicians who did not take the difficult decisions needed to keep the country on a safe course; they were betrayed by unionists who placed their demands above the capabilities of their companies and the country; they were betrayed by bankers, businessmen and merchants who placed their interests above those of the common good; they were betrayed by fellow citizens who cheated on their taxes or found other ways to exploit the weaknesses of the state machinery. The frauds and cheats were never a majority but their deeds became such a burden on the ship that it listed dangerously and we cannot right it.

Above all, our citizens were betrayed by the sense of security that had been cultivated for decades — that they need not worry, that when the time came, the state would come to the rescue. Even as we discovered repeatedly that this was an illusion — that the state was either incompetent or cruel or indifferent — we maintained the hope that some kind god would protect us. Now we fear everything: that neither our health system, nor our pensions, nor our deposits are safe. The old social contract does not apply. On the issue of pensions alone, we see that those who paid dutifully all their lives are those who are suffering the greatest losses. Everyone expects the worst. We realize that we had left the wolves to guard the sheep — a little because we believed that the wolves were so sated that they would not harm us, a little because we felt that we were a little like wolves ourselves, thinking that even if we did not gain something from the situation ourselves at least we would not be harmed by it. Cocooned in the delusion of plenty, we avoided involvement in public life, we tolerated the dominance of the sly and the incompetent. We neither controlled them nor did we create citizens? movements that would push for improvements to our lives.

Now, with the realization of our deprivation and our insecurity, and with the rise of various ?indignant? movements, we understand that only citizens have the power and the responsibility to work for a better future. Our society has suffered serious injury: Not only those who are on the margins but also those at its core are being pushed toward poverty. Unemployment is rising, neighborhoods are decaying, people suddenly find themselves outside the health and pension systems, because the state did not manage to organize itself in a way that would cover the most needs with the least funds. Now, citizens? movements, municipalities, the Church and private companies have begun to complement the incapable state. With the support of ?old? and new news media and social networks, society is reacting to the deprivation through the search for new social bonds between those in need and those who can help.

Volunteer work and new bonds of solidarity will help us survive the crisis, but they can only assist and not replace political and state power. We need responsible political representatives, inspired and daring national strategies in all sectors and the reformation of the public administration. Through life?s difficulties we discover our weaknesses — but also the strength with which we can win. This power comes from the serious analysis of problems, an understanding of the potential outcomes of various choices, knowledge of our resources, and genuine cooperation. However dark the night, however frightened or desperate we feel, we have already taken the first steps toward tomorrow.