Unfulfilled pledge

“Good morning from Lamia. Was just with Fthiotida bishop Nicolaos. We discussed shortage of clerics in the country’s churches, because of the memorandum.” The tweet from Deputy Minister of State for Coordinating Government Operations Terence Quick was clear. The memorandum has drained Greece’s parishes. But we mustn’t worry; as Education Minister Aristides Baltas recently told Kathimerini, “more clerics will be hired as there is a significant shortage.”

SYRIZA and Independent Greeks have not always shared the same views. More precisely, before becoming prime minister, Alexis Tsipras was a keen advocate of separating church and state and changing the relationship to one of “mutual respect.” Back in 2012, the leader of the main opposition was talking about scrapping tax breaks on revenue from real estate owned by the Church, using the same criteria to tax the Church as private individuals, disconnecting religious issues from the Education Ministry, legalizing cremation, and terminating compulsory church attendance and morning prayers at schools.

Since then, we have read reports that 500 million euros will be spent on upgrading military aircraft. But there has been no news on raising revenue from taxes on church property.

The government’s economic performance has been disappointing. Few people, I think, have any doubt that the country is on the verge of bankruptcy. In foreign policy matters, we are more isolated than ever. Our failure, over three months, to set up a list of serious proposals – together with a cost-benefit analysis – has tarnished our credibility inside the European Union. Our diplomatic flirtation with Moscow is seen as having undermined our position further. In the area of citizens’ protection, it is hard for a party which has in the past defended acts of violence (such as sit-in demos and acts of resistance to “state violence”) to inspire security among the public. Even on policy areas where the left has a supposed advantage (immigration, education, justice and so on) over other parties, the administration has been dogged by inconsistency and foot-dragging.

The relationship between the state and the Church is one of the areas in which SYRIZA could in fact make a difference and demonstrate what the slogan “left for the first time” means for people’s everyday lives. It seems that the political cost of clashing with the Church and the potential impact on the cohesion of the coalition is too big for the new government to shoulder.

After all, opinion polls carried out after the outbreak of the financial crisis show that people’s trust in the Church (as well as the army and the police) has increased.

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