Shattered trust

Former Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou spearheaded the reformist revolution which, under the leadership of former Prime Minister George Papandreou, set out to save Greece from default. Or so his cheerleaders, who actually included a section of conservative New Democracy, would have it.

An arrogant Papaconstantinou treated his fellow ministers, deputies and citizens with disrespect. He tried to demonize Costas Karamanlis’s conservative administrations.

Also, he attempted to elevate himself and Papandreou to symbols of Greece’s transformation into a modern European nation. And he ended up suffering nothing less than total humiliation.

I shall not put forward an opinion as to whether Papaconstantinou is guilty or innocent in the alleged tampering with the so-called Lagarde list of people and firms that held accounts at an HSBC branch in Geneva. Nor shall I empathize with the once-powerful minister who went on to delude himself into believing that he was part of the hard core of a nascent political establishment, only to find out that he was in fact completely dispensable.

Of course there’s no such thing as a new political establishment. The ruling political class has no desire to rescue either Papaconstantinou or the political and economic elite of the previous decades. This is evident in reports from the most respected international news agencies, newspapers and journals.

To be sure, a campaign is under way to portray the Papaconstantinou affair as an isolated case of political corruption. This policy is mandated by the survival of the system. In effect, the three partners in Greece’s coalition government submitted a proposal for setting up a committee that will not probe the role of Evangelos Venizelos, who succeeded Papaconstantinou as finance chief, in the handling of the Lagarde list. In doing so, however, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras appears to be throwing his weight behind the effort to save the Socialists and their current leader, Venizelos.

Some might interpret the prime minister’s decision as a manifestation of political pragmatism; others might say it serves his desire to stay at the helm of the country.

None of the above really matters anymore. People’s trust in the political class has once again been seriously damaged, only perhaps this time irreversibly.