All take and no give

While the sight of riot police preventing protesters from attacking a tax inspector doing his job was embarrassing for the island of Hydra and for the country as a whole, it did reveal the reality of extensive tax evasion to those who refuse to believe how rife it is in Greece.

The incident also provoked a reaction from citizens, from parts of the media that usually takes sides with people and groups claiming to have been wronged, as well as from political parties, with the exception, of course, of the Communist Party (KKE) and Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), which would like to see the current state of lawlessness be allowed to continue so that they can fish for votes in its murky waters.

The truth is that tax evasion is deeply rooted and has swelled in the past three decades thanks to massive cash injections from loans and European Union funds, which benefited a large portion of the population. The country?s politicians strengthened and at the same time put themselves at the mercy of clientelist relationships. The state mechanism proved inadequate and corrupt, while decades went by without any effort to create an efficient monitoring system. It is also true that the large number of self-employed people in Greece made tackling tax evasion that much harder.

There is no denying that tax evasion is rife, whatever its cause. We see it in our most mundane transactions and in the financial data. Incidents similar to that on Hydra have taken place on the other islands as well. On Lemnos in 2009, outraged business owners tried to push a group of tax inspectors into the sea, obviously in an effort to terrorize them into not running another inspection on the island. The practice has manifested itself in a variety of forms over the years, with a rich array of excuses presented as to why certain people should be allowed to get away with not paying taxes. You?ll even see representatives of professional sectors appearing on television, arguing that value-added tax basically comes out of their own pockets, which is why they withhold it. But VAT is paid by consumers so that it can then be handed over to the state. Salary earners, pensioners and the self-employed who abide by the law must see that many of the unpleasant measures we are having to suffer today would not have been necessary if tax evasion had been curbed.

Tax dodgers demand and enjoy all of the services that the state is obliged to provide to its citizens, but they also demand that others pay for this. In this sense, the weight of the country?s ills rests heavily on their shoulders.