OPINION

Utter confusion

Given the changes that have been brought about by the Greek bailout program, we would expect some kind of change in the prevalent political rhetoric, an adaptation to the new state of affairs.

The main opposition party, however, functions on the terms of a head-on confrontation, as has mostly been the case not just since the return of democracy to Greece following the fall of the junta, but ever since the very founding of the Greek state, bar a handful of exceptions. SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras is promising civil servants who have been fired or placed in a labor mobility scheme that they will be given back their jobs if he is elected to government, that things will go back to how they were. It is clear that he has his eye on the premiership, something that was not apparent in last year’s elections. And those who passionately pursue the top post normally succeed.

As far as the coalition government is concerned, the need for New Democracy and PASOK to coexist – following decades of bitter rivalry – has compelled the two parties to come together with the aim of forming a barrier against SYRIZA. Having clinched the support of the European establishment, the government possibly thought that it could marginalize the main opposition.

There is no doubt that some progress has been made since Greece signed the first bailout deal but the failures have been much more marked. Instead of assessing the results – positive and negative – of reforms so far, the coalition instead has chosen to limit its role to managing public sentiment.

It assures the public that no more austerity measures will be adopted even though the numbers show huge shortfalls at the country’s social security funds, which will inevitably lead to more pension cuts. The rise in new hirings in the month of August was announced as though it were some sort of miracle, despite the fact that unemployment climbed even higher. What’s more, expectations for a primary surplus prompted the government to make assurances that it will take measures to help the weaker members of society.

There are two sides to the brand of populism we are experiencing today: that practiced by the government and that of SYRIZA. Yet despite what the government says, come late 2014, Greece will have to borrow between 4.5 and 10 billion euros to cover its financing gap, and that means new austerity measures. Meanwhile SYRIZA has rejected every policy in the memorandum, while at the same time successive governments have undermined all liberalization efforts.

The result, in short, is a society in a state of catatonic schizophrenia.