Unrequited hopes?

The government has settled the issue of bank workers’ social security funds, and its bill on labor relations was passed last Thursday by Parliament. Now it will turn its attention to growth, investments and increased productivity. In theory, at least. Spurring growth, investment and productivity requires a look at much bigger and more fundamental macroeconomic questions: Why is Greek capital being sent abroad, chiefly to the Balkans? Or, why is US and European capital going to China and India, where the labor market is clearly more attractive and will remain so for decades, no matter how many institutional reforms are introduced? It is midsummer, and the prevailing mood is laid back and escapist. Nevertheless, the political conflict caused by the advancement of «reforms» and the clash with workers has been very useful, since it revealed signs of fatigue in the political system and union movement, which are recycling the same old arguments, some of them obsolete. Consider Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, for example. In his persistent desire to be accepted by the Left, he went to the former penal colony on the island of Ai-Stratis in mid-June to pay tribute to «those who were persecuted and suffered in this place.» The New Democracy leader believes this is the way to build a «new political culture,» although he is probably wasting his time. Here’s why: Since the fall of the East European communist regimes, conflict between the bourgeois parties and the communist Left has waned. Karamanlis’s overtures to the Left are only confusing traditional conservative voters. Another example of this focus on the past occurred on July 24, when President Karolos Papoulias invited hundreds of people who had resisted the 1967-74 military junta to his residence for the annual reception marking the restoration of democracy. But he forgot the officers who had taken part in the resistance movement by the former king Constantine in December 1967, some of whom were arrested and tortured just like the others or were forced into exile for seven years. It is dislike of the monarchy that rallies the post-dictatorship political system. On the other hand, PASOK leader George Papandreou has not been seized by the same desire and appears to be attempting to shape a new political approach, albeit a nebulous one, since no one – not even his own party’s cadres – quite understand him. The disorganization is not surprising, given that political activity is restricted to an adaptation to rules laid down by the European Union. Greece’s leaders have ceased worrying about substance. During times of prosperity, the problem is not apparent, but when the European system is in crisis, as is the case now, the deficiency becomes clear. Now that Parliament has passed the new laws, the government feels it has done its best, but the people would like to know whether anything practical has been achieved, since they are reaching the limits of their endurance. That is unpleasant and extremely dangerous.