School for scandal
The debts run up by the parties that governed Greece over the past four decades highlight the grave illness of our political system, which is at the root of the country?s economic impasse. Over the past decade, New Democracy received 271 million euros in government funds, while PASOK got 254 million, according to the Interior Ministry. And yet they are each 130 million in debt. How can two parties have spent 525 million euros in 10 years, owe another 260 million, be unable to pay their bills and have the task of guiding Greece out of the crisis?
The funding of political parties is a major issue all over the world, with donors always looking for an opportunity to buy influence. But it is difficult to imagine a country which, like ours, gives so much to its parties in the form of state funds while so much remains murky in the way they handle their finances and exercise power. (And it?s not as if only the big parties are in on the fun: From 2000 to 2011, the Communist Party received 64 million euros, leftist SYRIZA got 48 million and far-right LAOS 39 million).
If we add the state funding to whatever amounts were revealed unwittingly, as in the Siemens slush fund scandal, along with what we suspect was raised via the custom of influence peddling between politicians, businessmen and news media owners, we can begin to understand the magnitude of the mismanagement of party finances. Our political leaders believed that party funding would never dry up, because they controlled its sources in the state and private sector (in Parliament they could always vote themselves new funds, state banks were subservient and there were always willing benefactors in the business world). So they never played by the rules of sound management. Without internal discipline, the greed spread to every facet of political activity — especially in buying votes and peace in the labor market.
That?s how our politicians governed, in the belief they could offer everything to everyone, taking out new loans to pay for previous ones, without the need to balance their accounts. As their own finances were such a mess, party leaders felt no need to impose frugality on state accounts and public spending. They never felt they owed anything — neither in terms of money nor morally.
For years we lived with the myth that real problems could be solved ?politically? — i.e. by writing off debts. Now our political problems demand real solutions. Arrogance and irresponsibility have resulted in parties that cannot repay their debts nor pay their rent, and in policies that demand more and more sacrifices from citizens who have less and less to give.