Hyperactive by nature, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras will be visiting the Thessaloniki International Fair for a just a few hours on Saturday. He will not be delivering the traditional keynote address about the state of the Greek economy, nor will he be giving the usual press conference to outline government policy, as prime ministers have done over the last few decades.
Of course the reason he will not be following in his predecessors? footsteps is not that he is on a very tight schedule and faces an enormous workload. At a critical time like the present, a leader needs to be seen defending his government?s choices in front of an audience, even if it is a hostile one. But Samaras has decided to act differently and we ought to respect his choice.
The government is in an extremely difficult position. During George Papandreou?s two years at the helm, Greece?s international credibility hit rock bottom. This is widely acknowledged, but it is believed that the country is now beginning to gain back some of the stature it had lost among its European peers. The greatest loss during Papandreou?s two-year period as premier, however, was the trust of the Greek people. This was followed by a battle of false promises — from the three partners that form the coalition government — in two consecutive electoral campaigns that were immediately reneged, putting society in a much more rejectionist mood.
The fact that Samaras?s visit to Thessaloniki will be brief will not stop SYRIZA and the Greek Communist Party from organizing protest rallies, even though this form of action has lost its significance as an action in the eyes of the people.
The most important issue in the government?s current predicament is that it has come under fire from civil servants, the pillars of any regime. When judges, police officers, armed forces personnel and the academic community are badly hit by cutbacks, the political leadership is left hanging. Civil servants in these sectors will obviously never break the vows they have taken to serve their state and country, but their faith in the system can be shaken, and, taken together with the gradual demise of the middle class, this creates a dangerous imbalance in the system.
Inevitably, under such circumstances, public discourse will begin to flirt with the extremes. The strength of SYRIZA and the growing influence of Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) are proof of the slide toward a situation that could get out of hand. And all this because for less that three years consecutive governments refused to broaden the tax base.