The same old story, in a worse version
As August approaches, with the much-desired “end of the memorandums” unlikely to mean the end of foreign supervision and anxiety, we can count the plagues in Greece’s politics, economy, society and diplomacy which, instead of improving, are only getting worse. Even when one front appears calm, there is always an ember glowing under the surface that will flare up at the slightest provocation and the fires will once again rage out of control.
In the economy, we may be seeing the end of the third bailout agreement but the plan now is for Greece to put aside enough money so as to be able to cover its most pressing obligations over the next two-or-so years, pretending to be a “normal country” while still living off borrowed funds. Regardless of any agreement with our creditors for public debt reduction, supervision will continue. Greece needs political and economic stability, much significant investment and access to the markets so as to achieve the necessary growth. In the current climate (inside Greece and internationally) all of these targets appear out of reach. Excessive taxation, obstructive bureaucracy, an uneven playing field in the economy and the general lack of opportunities have driven some 500,000 young university graduates abroad. Greece has, however, managed to remain in the eurozone and has fulfilled its commitments in terms of paying (albeit lower) wages and pensions and has also managed to keep up payments to creditors. It has also turned massive primary deficits into surpluses. But the general situation has not improved. Public debt is greater than it was in 2010, whereas private individuals now owe more than 100 billion euros in delinquent debts to the tax office, another 100-or-so billion in overdue loans to banks, and more than 20 billion in overdue fees to social security funds. After eight years of bailout agreements, reforms and austerity, we still don’t know when and how our country will stand on its feet.
With regard to violence, 16 years after the “revolutionary organization” November 17 was broken open, we would have expected its protagonists to be consigned to the footnotes of history. Instead, the gang’s chief murderer still draws the attention of front pages and causes leading lights of the ruling SYRIZA party to break into cold sweats – not because the killer and his groupies mock the families of his victims, but in case he causes himself any harm through a self-imposed hunger strike. At the same time, activists inspired by November 17 carry out almost daily interventions in public life, with impunity, even as so-called “low level” violence becomes ever more dangerous, as the recent attack with Molotov cocktails on a bus full of police officers in Thessaloniki showed. Neither has extreme-right-wing violence suffered a political defeat, despite the ongoing marathon trial of Golden Dawn members; the party maintains its electoral strength. Justice is plagued by its own many weaknesses, the universities groan under the weight of accumulated problems, the mass media and social networks express fanaticism and encourage it. The situation is worse than it was in 2010 when the crisis broke.
In foreign policy, Turkey’s behavior is increasingly dangerous. Greece cannot be blamed for this, but it is clear that we allowed better periods to pass without doing enough to solve problems between the two countries. Turkey’s unacceptable behavior (where Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rivals for the presidency appear to be even more dangerous than him, with regard to Greece and Cyprus) is a matter for the international community to intervene. But this is a time in which the international community itself is caught up in a Trumpian whirlwind. On another diplomatic front, progress in the efforts to reach a deal with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on a final name, after years of inaction at the diplomatic level, are crashing into difficulties in both countries, stoking passions. The price of procrastination is that when everyone is used to maximum demands, compromise looks like defeat.
It’s difficult to tell whether a tendency for fanaticism, populism and division causes our problems or vice versa. We are in a vicious cycle now. It is a deeply ingrained habit for political careers to be built on exploiting division and protest. But in the volatile mix of crisis and anger since 2010, this caused all of the country’s problems to get worse at the same time. Those who invested successfully in strife will soon be looking anxiously for a way out. And the rest? We will try to get through this trouble, too.