During Tuesday’s debate in Parliament on the state of justice in Greece, Justice Minister Nikos Paraskevopoulos noted correctly that anyone observing the issue from a distance would reach the conclusion that “the government says that justice’s greatest problem at this time is the need for a just solution to corruption, while the opposition sees intervention in the justice system as the biggest issue.”
Indeed, the government is focusing on charges that its political rivals are involved in corruption and cronyism while the opposition parties fire the same charges at those who are now in power. Citizens – whether they watched the debate or not – have their own thoughts: They have high expectations, wanting the justice system to be independent and objective, and feel disappointment that this is not so. The parliamentary debate did not change this. It was yet another burst of sound and fury signifying nothing.
At the root of our national malaise is a sense of injustice, a feeling that we are continually being cheated, that everyone conspires against our country, against our soccer team, against every one of us. This world view invades our consciousness from an early age, as it is the air that we breathe, and is perhaps the most serious obstacle to our maturing as individuals and as a nation. When we believe that the game is rigged, when we can complain that others are cheating, others are doped, others are evading taxes, we have no reason to do our best to succeed: We will either cheat or walk away in protest, demanding that we be given what we think we deserve. This is a generalization, of course, but if we look at Greeks who have succeeded – in sports, academia, business and so on – we see that they managed to escape the trap of self-righteous anger and dedicated themselves to reaching their goals.
Those who succeed in Greece are doubly deserving, as they have to compete in quicksand, knowing that even if the game is not rigged the rules and conditions will keep changing, that government decisions will be spasmodic and harmful. We have seen what businesses have had to deal with in the past few years, with taxation changing continually, with capital controls, with roads blocked by farmers and rail links cut by protesting refugees and migrants. The framework in which we live and work is unstable, institutions are not immune to intervention. We know that some may act illegally while others will pay the bill for them. Our political parties play a leading role in undermining institutions and frameworks, while accusing their rivals of doing this. This is a sure way to win votes but creates and maintains a climate of polarization, trapping everyone in a vicious cycle in which they expect the worst of each other. And there are always the actions, the suspicions and the accusations that confirm the most pessimistic expectations.
Our justice system’s weaknesses are a basic cause of our woes. Strengthening it, building trust among citizens, is imperative for recovery.