The burden of fear
The government has to achieve a most difficult task – it must act decisively to implement harsh measures but must also show that it is not ignoring the human cost of this violent economic adjustment. For the past three years, the Greek people have been called on to accept ever harsher austerity; they are continually deprived, in exchange for loans that keep the economy on life support. And yet citizens have shown great patience and tolerance (however much opposition parties huff and puff, however the governing coalition shakes and tarries). Now, so that the great battle is not lost, the government and the troika of international creditors must prove that austerity, reforms and the daily management of the country are not based solely on sacrifices but are accompanied by justice and by measures aimed at easing the citizens’ lot.
This government and its predecessors have managed to keep Greece in the eurozone. They have not succeeded in persuading people that their hardships will end in the foreseeable future. On the contrary, people see that those who always paid taxes must keep paying more and more, while the struggle against tax evasion has not shown any significant result, incomes keep falling while costs rise, and unemployment is rocketing, along with the number of people without social security. Everyone is cutting down on spending – both those who are out of money and those who hold on to theirs because they don’t know what the future holds.
Past experience and fear of tomorrow are causing despair today. When citizens spend hours in a queue for free fruit and vegetables, we see their need, the fear born of deprivation and uncertainty. Fortunately, various organizations, the Church, municipalities and private individuals have stepped up to help those in need. But insecurity cannot end unless the state steps in to ensure the welfare of citizens, as only it has the size and continuity to guarantee anything. Because very few people know what they are entitled to, for every pawn shop that opens to exploit their needs, the state should open three offices to provide information on rights, on subsidies, on loan renegotiations, on EU programs, and on whatever can help citizens navigate the crisis. At the same time, hospitals, tax offices, mass transportation and every other public service must (at last) function in a way that no longer torments people.
This may all seem utopian and expensive. But it pales in comparison to what each citizen has to deal with on his or her own. And the stakes are huge: If the government does not change the state so that it serves the people, they will not show confidence in the reforms and the roots of today’s failure will continue to undermine the future.