OPINION

Rules and institutions

rules-and-institutions

There are moments when the country looks like it is only just governable, when, for example, the prime minister – or any prime minister for that matter – starts looking like a Wild West sheriff trying to break up a brawl in a saloon. This has happened a lot in recent decades, with different prime ministers and protagonists.

Looking at us from the outside causes nothing but despair and comparisons with the most anarchic states. Those who believed that Greece could be reformed are worried that some structural failures and habits are too deeply ingrained in Greek society to be fixed. They were under the misapprehension that this would change when leftist SYRIZA came to power but were disappointed by the former administration's happy symbiosis with certain powerful vested interests, a policy that was even presented as a successful way of managing them.

We are winning some battles, however, and while they may seem minor when looking at the big picture, we shouldn't underestimate these victories. Key among these right now is the battle against public smoking, which is being won. This is saying something because it touches upon what is a deeply cultural issue. It concerns the line that separates Greece from behaving completely like a Balkan country and an almost European one. It also shows that when the leadership is adamant, citizens not only abide by the rules but respect them as well. The are many cynics who believe that the issue of the smoking ban only concerns the elite living in ivory towers in privileged parts of the country. Reality disagrees. Sure, some nightclubs may flout the law after 3 or 4 a.m., but this is not the rule.

So, can we have strong institutions and rules that are respected by everyone? Can we stop seeing people, in various areas of our society and economy, flouting them blatantly without worrying about the consequences? It's a tough task because we're not talking about smoke but gunpowder. Such an effort takes guts, and political officials and associates who have nothing to fear and are sincere with society. The risks are huge.

Our democracy – democracy everywhere, in fact – is looking increasingly vulnerable and the trust of citizens is badly shaken. One of the greatest tests of trust has to do with how powerful people feel their leaders to be. If they lose hope they will become cynical and start coming to terms with extreme and paradoxical situations.