A torturous process

The wrongs or rights of torture have been the subject of much debate over the past few days. But sometimes it does not take a person being shackled, dressed in an orange jumpsuit and then «waterboarded» to feel that they are being tortured. The last few weeks, which have seen a series of political/economic scandals reappear or come to the boil, have been a form of very uniquely Greek torture. At a time of economic crisis, this country’s citizens find themselves being drip-fed the details of under-the-table payments, property purchases and Swiss bank accounts. In fact, the process is very much like Chinese water torture, where victims are strapped down and cold water is randomly dripped on their forehead until a hole opens up or they are driven insane. Investigations that should be wrapped up within weeks or months take years. This means that that every now and then there is a new development, such as a prosecutor calling more witnesses or a bank account being frozen. This, in turn, sparks a new round of political sparring and speculation, which dominates the agenda while other issues, perhaps of more substance and more immediate impact, slip down the running order. The drip-drip of information also means that the party in power is perpetually on tenterhooks with ministers waiting for the next big development, which could lead to a reshuffle or early elections, rather than focusing on their jobs. Across the divide, rather than coming up with viable policies and alternative ideas about how to govern Greece, the opposition party has become obsessed with the minutiae of who gave what to whom and when, in the hope that this will help chip away at the government. All this leaves the average voter confused, weary and, like the Chinese water-torture victim, with a major headache. By the time judicial and, sometimes, parliamentary probes come to an end, most people have forgotten what they were investigating in the first place. A case in point is the collection of scandals that are currently dominating the political debate and which Athens Plus tries to unravel in this edition. Even the ones that appear straightforward affairs have been under investigation for at least two years. But nothing is straightforward in Greece. So, instead of a focused, incisive probe, we get teetering piles of case files being wheeled between prosecutor, magistrates and Parliament. And while pieces of paper are endlessly exchanging hands, citizens get the growing impression that there is scheming going on behind the scenes to ensure the affairs are swept under the carpet. A failure by the judiciary to safeguard the process means that, like the Church, government and opposition parties, it is another of the country’s institutions in which people’s faith is dwindling. A twist of fate or fiendishly good timing means that the scandals involving Siemens, an overpriced bond, a land exchange between the state and a Mount Athos monastery and the way an ex-minister awarded state contracts have all come to the fore just over a month before European Parliamentary elections. The latter case could yet force Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to call a general election on June 7 as well. This would see the party political machines go into overdrive and speculation about who is guilty or not reach fever pitch. Four scandals and two elections: Greeks need that like a hole in the head.

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