OPINION

Breaking the social contract

The so-called Lagarde list case has been a touchstone for the domestic political system. It severely exposed the country?s political class as irresponsible and unreliable in the eyes of Greek citizens and Athens?s international lenders.

Repeated calls by foreign leaders to their Greek counterparts to impose a more just tax system also lead to the same conclusion: Greek politicians are unwilling to pursue the common good and to undertake historic responsibilities. To be more precise, they are unwilling but also unable to do so.

The Lagarde list case ? involving a digital file with the names of 2,059 Greeks with accounts at a Swiss branch of HSBC ? was more scandalous than any other in recent history. That is not because it was impossible to conceal, or because it has cost a lot of money; but because Greek politicians behaved in a very crude fashion during the most crucial period.

The handling of the list by former finance ministers Giorgos Papaconstantinou and Evangelos Venizelos (who is now leader of PASOK, a member of Greece?s three-party coalition government) will one day be a case study for political history 101 students ? perhaps even the stuff of George Papandreou?s Harvard lectures.

It?s no longer that important how much money could be saved by making use of the list.

The scandalous efforts of former senior officials to hide the list, and their sorry excuses for doing so, have seriously damaged the social contract and shredded the remaining threads of the people?s trust in their leaders.

At times of crisis, a vulgar politician will almost automatically be identified with the institution he serves ? or, rather, with the institution he has betrayed. The frustrated, angry neo-plebeian will turn against the institution and against democracy.

The only way to curb the burgeoning wave of anti-democratic sentiment is to punish anti-democratic deeds, to punish any acts that turn against equality before the law and social justice. The executive, legislative and judicial powers have a joint historical responsibility to safeguard the country?s democracy.

Democracy has to be fair and open, but also strict and tough in every direction. The need is even stronger considering that the hyenas of neo-Nazism are already testing their brass knuckles on the heads of the weak.