The failure of a modernizer

Widespread displeasure among voters, as recorded in a recent poll, shows the inevitability of the country’s future political course. Prime Minister Costas Simitis has come to the end of his cycle, and along with him the perception of modernization as expressed by a group of unbearably boring individuals who pursued the market and economic neo-liberalism with a dogmatic persistence akin to former apologists for state socialism. Simitis won two elections on the promise of economic strength and stability, seemingly ensured by the drachma’s replacement by the euro and by Greece’s joining the «hard core» of the European Union. But the Greek public’s experience with Simitis’s way of thinking was tragic, since all it did was to create the short-lived illusion of «people’s capitalism» during the stock market frenzy, which a swarm of government officials hyped as evidence of the dynamism of the economy and Greek companies. Now Greece moves to the tune of public works, as it did during the first postwar governments, the stock exchange has been brought low, companies are facing grave problems, public administration still awaits modernization (after seven years of waiting) and entangled interests and lack of transparency create an ill climate. But it would be wrong to think that either Simitis or PASOK – a remarkable political machine with many years of experience – will give up power without a fight. In contrast to the past, the government team can no longer credibly present a vision of development and prosperity. In response, it will try to attack the conservative party in three different ways, none of which is likely to bear fruit. One is by generating media support for a broad right-wing political formation to exploit conservative voters’ dissatisfaction with the neo-liberal positions of some New Democracy officials. A second is by giving Greek citizenship to more people and sowing anxiety that ND would introduce a discriminatory policy. And a third ruse would be to appoint tens of thousands of people to the civil service, who would then be led to fear of dismissal should PASOK be defeated. However, with the euro’s introduction, Simitis lost the sole advantage of any Greek premier: the mint at Holargos. He cannot flood the market with money, or resort to loans to channel the money into consumption, as Andreas Papandreou did, nor can he overburden the public sector with excessive staff appointments. All Simitis can do is suffer the consequences of the distorted modernization he hoped to introduce in Greece.