A democracy for the few

One of the most popular theories among the champions of self-serving inertia is that Greece has reached the point where it cannot take any more changes or reforms, a theory trumpeted mainly by those who are deeply embroiled in party mechanisms or accustomed to living off the state. Is there any truth in the theory, or is it just convenient?

Greece is not being swept away in a reformist tide by any means, as denial, conspiracy theories and naysaying continue to dominate the public dialogue. There is only a handful of politicians who are willing to discuss reforms and even fewer who are actually implementing them, and the worst thing is that reforms have become indelibly linked to the memorandum, thereby decreasing their chances of success even further. People hear the word reform and check their wallets to see how much it will cost them.

The reason why the idea of reforms is so unpopular, therefore, is that citizens simply don’t trust the politicians to make the changes that are needed. There is also no one preaching that reforms are actually good, while the majority of Greeks have developed a knee-jerk negative reaction to anything that is seen as being imposed from outside.

Outsiders looking in must wonder whether Greece actually has the capability to make the changes necessary to get up to date. They see our politicians’ poor management skills and the ineptitude of the state on issues such as tackling tax evasion and liberalizing closed-shop professions. They also see a business community that is sitting on the bench and not clear about its vision of the country’s future. And it is on these observations that the debate over whether Greece belongs in the eurozone or not always hinges. This is the question for leading officials in Brussels, Berlin and Washington: Does Greece have what it takes for the next phase of real European integration?

This is the real issue, and this should be the question that all of Greece ought to be discussing. We are the ones who need to clarify our goals, say how far we are willing to go and assess our strengths and weaknesses. We need to stop fooling ourselves and others. Maybe we are content to stay where we are today, without rocking the boat with reforms and changes. Maybe we’re hoping to scrape by and stay in the euro, leaving our options open.

I cannot accept this, whether it comes from within Greece or from outside. In Greece we have a governing class, including from the left-wing intelligentsia and politicians of all stripes, who believe that we are OK where we are. Outside, there are many who overlook the hundreds of thousands of Greeks who work hard – in the civil service and in the private sector. If we were to give these people the opportunity to set up and run private businesses or manage state services, they would most likely do an excellent job and show the troika a thing or two about the country’s potential. The sad fact is that they don’t have the opportunity because the healthy private sector is being suffocated by a malignant state and by the underhand practices of the few. Arrogant politicians and unionists, aided by ratings-hungry media, have sucked the life out of everyone in the civil service who has a good idea and is ready to get down to work.

Greece deserves better. It would be a real shame for it to succumb to those who think that democracy is a privilege to be enjoyed exclusively by themselves and their cronies.

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