Don’t stir the hornets’ nest

Many foreign journalists and academics visiting Greece wonder how it is that the country has not seen widespread unrest in reaction to the austerity measures that have crippled society. Every model analysing economic crises shows that after so many years of recession and with unemployment steadily at high levels, a popular uprising is almost inevitable. Repeated calls by the left and by unions and other political forces to stir up the people have failed to mobilize the masses. But does this mean that the country’s mainstream political class can be complacent? I think not.

Neither the parties in favor of an uprising nor the leaderships of the country’s unions have the status or power to persuade the people to revolt, and their constant calls to this end have fallen flat despite their regularity and fervor. This may explain the fact that most mass demonstrations today are middling compared to the populous and passionate rallies that marked the first few years after Greece’s return to democracy or similar mass protests in other countries of Europe’s south.

Analysts and experts all agree that a popular uprising in Greece will not come from the bowels of political parties and unions but, rather, would more likely be triggered by some random event. Such an uprising may not even star the usual protagonists of mass rallies but may instead be led people who would never have considered such action in the past. As one wise veteran of politics recently said to me: “Beware of the desperate common folk who feel they are losing everything.”

The anger of the Greek people is growing and spreading. The country, meanwhile, finds itself in the last 200-meter stretch of an exhausting marathon, running out of breath as a society and as a political system. There are politicians who are making the mistake of believing that what the people who surround them feel is what everyone else is feeling as well. Things that seem obvious and sensible to them may seem like lies or irrelevant nonsense to people who are desperate and feel that they are the only ones making sacrifices.

The danger of a social explosion is also aggravated by those who keep stoking the flames, who want to see the country descend into chaos, as well as by the simple fact that the people do not see a political leadership that is inspiring and that can convince them it has the answers to the current deadlock.

If all goes well for the next few months Greece will continue to walk along the edge of the precipice, but it will be walking, albeit gingerly. Greeks are by and large conservative and cautious, and they see that things are not going too well in Europe as a whole. If our international lenders don’t push us too hard – as though they wanted us to fall – there is every reason to believe that Greece will be able to pick up the pace and walk away from the cliff.

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