Running out of time

The people of ancient Sparta, an old story has it, were one day called upon to vote on a certain issue. A citizen who was much disliked among his fellow Spartans came up with a reasonable and quite convincing proposal. It was rejected, but two months later the same proposal was put forward, this time by a different person. It met with comfortable approval.

The same principle applies to the changes and reforms laid out in Greece?s new bailout deal with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, which was voted in the country?s Parliament last Sunday.

A large proportion of the public — most probably the majority — remain unconvinced by the political status quo and the pundits who dominate public debate. People are naturally frustrated. They see party officials rushing to protect their political cronies in the public sector against layoffs or early retirement. They have experienced the extent of incompetence and corruption of party officials who use the familiar tricks to navigate their way around the relics of a bankrupt state mechanism. Watching Greek politicians stage the same old play is comical and frustrating.

There is no one out there to inspire confidence, who can guide the nation out of the current misery, who can lift the nation out of this state of humiliation to a new national confidence, and from poverty to a robust production and economy.

Some older, more experienced pundits say: ?Don?t bother. Inspiring hope is up to those who win the next general election.?

Maybe they are right. But can we really afford to wait until then? Europeans will be better prepared for a Greek default in two to three months. The most likely scenario is that we will make it to June before we stand for the final judgment.

Can Greece?s main political parties carry out the many necessary reforms using those tired old tools? Will they finally realize that unless they join hands, they will never be able to live up to the seriousness of the situation? It?s a tough wager. Barring some exceptions, Greeks have responded to crises with maturity and prudence.

It?s hard to predict how they will react this time, because of their unchecked anger. It will take time, a spectacular improvement in the economy, and an end to uncertainty to restore calm and moderation.

But there is very little time for this at home or abroad.