Beware the ‘friends of the people’

It would be the ultimate irony — and tragedy — if those who led the country to the memorandum in the first place end up being rewarded on a political level. Allow me to explain.

A large portion of responsibility evidently lies with George Papandreou and his team: They deceived the voters before the elections, failed to prepare themselves for governing under harsh conditions, were terribly late in realizing where things were headed in the final months of 2009 and, lastly, because they resorted to tax hikes and across-the-board wage and pension cuts instead of tackling the real problems in our wasteful public sector. Even when the dust eventually settles, responsibility for all of the above will be mercilessly imprinted by history itself.

Nevertheless it would be hugely unfair for another two categories of politicians, who also contributed in a major way to the fateful signing of the memorandum, to be rewarded at election time. The first category includes all those irresponsible politicians who went on spending sprees as if budgets never existed, appointed as many and as quickly as possible, advised the government to ease off financial policy before every election and adhered to the idea that every administration could and should borrow a little bit extra. These PASOK and New Democracy gentlemen are now adding insult to injury. They are directing accusations at the troika and fabricating some sort of ?treason,? as if the debt reached its current level all by itself. They are also nurturing the particularly dangerous illusion that the debt crisis could have been avoided with a couple of tricks. Of course no one ought to be surprised by their tactics; members of the Costas Karamanlis government behaved just as irresponsibly with regard to handing out money when Karamanlis openly warned about the danger of going bankrupt. What will be rather surprising is if they turn out to be particularly popular in the next elections as the ?friends of the people.?

The next category includes all the amazing politicians who for weeks blocked any decision involving any kind of strict fiscal measures until early 2010. These ?friends of the people? also contributed to the country?s destruction. They also destroyed Papandreou — though this is of interest only to future historians — by arguing that if he didn?t deliver on his pre-election promises he would come across as unreliable. We are all aware of the populist bloc which assisted Papandreou in making the criminal mistake of ignoring the markets and the need for reforms until the very last minute.

These politicians are now asking for our vote because they supposedly protected the interests of the weakest members of society. The truth is that, ultimately, they have a huge share of responsibility for the poverty and ordeals that a large portion of the country finds itself experiencing right now. They have the same amount of responsibility as the ones who torpedoed Tassos Yiannitsis?s attempts to implement social security reforms and led to pensions being reduced more violently and more dramatically today. Hopefully we have all matured during this crisis, even though right now the prevailing emotions are uncontrolled anger and populism.

However, we should not reach the wrong conclusions and fall into the vote-hunting trap of those who for years led the country to the rocks: the populist and fiscally irresponsible wing of New Democracy or the deeply populist section of PASOK, which in fact was responsible for the original sin.

If after all that this country has been through, we place our trust in those who brought us to this point in the first place, it will mean that we still have a long way to go before we mature politically as a society.