Collapse does not equal catharsis

Does the political system that got us into the crisis have what it takes to get us out? I keep hearing the same question from people who feel frustrated and trapped between two poles that do not really represent them: the systemic parties in power and the anti-systemic, anti-bailout parties.

They are put off by the former because, barring a few exceptions, they are to a large extent responsible for the present crisis. The latter scare them because behind the exterior sheen of newness lie old ideas and materials – not to mention the lack of administrative skills and experience.

Different people play different roles in history. Some rebuild nations while others are catalysts for changes that will only come later. Others again oversee difficult, transitional periods.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is one of the latter. Greece has managed to stay on its feet since last summer when its membership of the euro area appeared to be at stake. His governing style is reminiscent of the late statesman Constantine Karamanlis, a style which might be necessary in a country where the state apparatus and institutions are malfunctioning. A great effort is being made to shape up the state sector. The country has recovered much of its international credibility and the investment climate has clearly improved.

Does this administration inspire hope that it can rebuild the country and leave a legacy similar to that of Eleftherios Venizelos or Constantine Karamanlis? Highly unlikely. There is no such thing as a great vision, fresh and credible faces, a grand narrative and, above all, that necessary break with the bad political habits of yesteryear.

Sure, Venizelos and Karamanlis had significant weaknesses; they too sometimes gave in to personal fixations and partisan politicking. Every great leader would tell you survival often depends on knowing how to play the game.

Still, there is no sign of any leaders out there who have the power to inspire and see through the major reforms Greece needs today. Leftist SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras never quite matured as a politician. He has not managed to shed his ideological and political fixations.

Nevertheless, a large section of society – far bigger that we often suspect – wants to see a new generation of politicians and a new narrative. In fact, many of the protest voters of today would turn their backs on the anti-systemic parties for a fresh and convincing alternative.

We must be pragmatic. Greece must stay on its feet. Anyone who claims that it would perhaps be better for the nation to reach the bottom before it can rise up again is naive and oblivious to the lessons of history.