Furious inertia

Even after so many years of crisis and forced landings in our harsh new reality, our public dialogue is still being conducted with the same fury, the same hyperbole and the same confrontational methods that precluded the normal evolution of our society, our economy and our politics in previous years. It is as if we have developed techniques whose sole aim is confusion, so that no one knows what is being discussed, what is happening, what we aim to achieve and which dangers we face. Those charged with implementing reforms do not have the strength to act decisively, while those who resist know that their determination will triumph.

The government’s decision to move a number of university administration staff members into the “labor reserve,” where they will either be moved elsewhere or dismissed at a later stage, is a bright example of the tactic “pretend to change everything so that you change nothing.” The government’s loudly proclaimed determination to deal with a group whom it described as the beneficiaries of outrageous favoritism and nepotism provoked the absolute refusal of the lambs to accept their slaughter. It also mobilized every anti-government, anti-troika, anti-systemic, anti-everything group in a common front which, henceforth, would not allow any compromise.

The result: Athens University and Athens Polytechnic have been shut for 12 weeks, the number of (ostensibly) “reserve” employees has shrunk to about 100 from the several hundred that were announced, university reforms in principle have been torn to tatters (along with whatever remained of the state’s and government’s credibility); as if this were not enough, the employees continue to keep the universities closed. The government provoked the greatest possible reaction, at the greatest possible cost to students and society, and achieved nothing. The cost of failure is measured not only in terms of reforms not implemented but also in the strengthening of the forces of inertia. Whether or not a minister planned the measures well, whether or not he or she wanted to succeed, many a minister has found it a convenient excuse to say that the strong reactions did not allow the reforms to succeed.

This technique, which we could call “the furious inertia method,” was not invented by Education Minister Constantinos Arvanitopoulos. It is tried and true. Every government in the past few decades has managed to provoke the greatest possible reaction, with the greatest cost, and then left things as they were. Remember years of efforts to restructure Olympic Airways, or pension reform, or, more recently, the attempt to open up closed professions. The opposition parties and television channels make as much noise as they can, throwing about hyperbole and lies, dizzying everyone as to what is happening. Parties, news media and interest groups conspire to create a climate of confusion and insecurity, reinforcing fears of reform. Inertia, our default position, is very comforting – until the moment when everyone is punished, as the Greeks are being punished today.

When the country has had its back to the wall for so many years, we have to ask a tough question: Are these repeated failures the product of chronic, systemic incompetence or of political expedience?

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