Despite all its problems, Greece is no failed state. It is, however, in a state of failure. It is paralyzed, like a patient lying in an induced coma as his doctors experiment with treatments. For the past two years, since the country collapsed into the hands of its partners and the International Monetary Fund, we Greeks have been frozen. Our people, our institutions, the economy, the political system wait for everything to come from outside — we wait to hear what they will give us and what they demand in exchange, before we see where we stand and try to work out what we will do.
We are on the borderline between failure and survival. We should not forget, though, that however difficult these days are, however dark the road ahead, Greece has been through greater difficulties — in times when we did not have the institutions that we have today, nor the opportunities that technology provides, nor did our people have such a high level of training and education. Nor, of course, did we have the support that we enjoy from our partners. However cynical we may be, believing that our partners are doing what they do only in order to save the euro and their own economies and banks, how many Greeks can claim sincerely that our economy would survive without our creditors’ assistance? The fact that current economic policy has resulted in a deep recession has brought about the unfortunate complication that we Greeks are forced to put our faith in a therapy whose outcome appears unpredictable. We have no option.
One of the main reasons for the freeze in society and the economy, then, is the lack of faith in our politicians and in the demands of our creditors. A second is the fact that we are in such danger of a disorderly default that everything (from daily life to our foreign policy) revolves around the memorandum, which determines the field of politics. Most citizens cannot align themselves unthinkingly either with those who say that Greece has no option but to depend on its creditors and therefore has to give in to their every demand, or with those who claim that our rescuers are frauds who are simply trying to entrap and exploit the Sleeping Beauty that is Greece. The center is frozen.
A third cause for paralysis is the long subversion of institutions, the product of our tradition of nepotism and client-patron politics. Now — their influence disappearing — the main parties are fighting for survival and the institutions may be able to stand on their own at last. They have been inactive but they do exist.
A fourth and perhaps decisive cause of Greece’s dysfunction is the public administration’s chronic incompetence. We don’t need to discuss the causes of this once again; it is enough to note that the problems were worsened by the horizontal cuts in wages and personnel in recent years — cuts that preceded any effort to reconstruct frameworks and to evaluate employees and services. The already weak structures of public administration were weakened further, leaving employees with a sense of injustice and insecurity — with the result that they provided even worse services to citizens in crucial areas such as hospitals, social security funds, transport and so on. Organizing the public administration and evaluating it will lead to eventual revival. This must be a priority.
The public services were not improved, and so they have not offset that which citizens have lost in terms of revenues. Citizens have been abandoned to privation and insecurity, without any assurance that their sacrifices will lead to salvation. Because we know that austerity and reforms can be fruitful only if the state is capable and effective, it is disheartening to see that state services have weakened over the past two years, that the confidence of citizens and businesses is even lower.
So, let’s not forget that there are reasons for the big freeze in society and the economy. Let’s not forget that beyond the weaknesses which we know but did not correct, we have an established democracy, we have institutions and a people who will survive — one way or another. Our country may appear paralyzed, comatose, frozen, but it is not finished. It is up to us to wake it.