With his back to the wall

A short time ago, it would have sounded sarcastic if anyone had said that Costas Karamanlis is, in the end, a lucky man. Like a captain on a burning deck, surrounded by confusion as deck hands and officers run wildly in different directions, it would be difficult to think that Karamanlis might find a way out of the crisis. The problems are numerous and complicated, a combination of the global economic crisis and chronic weaknesses capable of rocking the Greek ship of state on their own. Where does one begin to list the problems? The economy is burdened by ballooning deficits and the dysfunctions that choke every effort to help the country move forward. In foreign policy, we remain – against our will, it must be said – trapped in an endless conflict with an unpredictable Turkey and a delusional Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, ignoring the need to develop strong relations with the other countries of the Balkan hinterland, the Black Sea region and the Middle East – all areas where Greeks traditionally did very well. Domestically, citizens have to wage daily battle with a bureaucracy that will not budge and with the sense of a general lawlessness, convinced that all their efforts are in vain, that only those who exploit their position or their contacts get ahead. In our education, health and social security systems (everywhere, in fact), citizens see that their taxes and dues are lost in a black hole. So, after handing over 50 percent of their income to the insatiable beast of our dysfunctional public administration, they still have to pay extra for better education or healthcare. The country is divided – no longer along ideological and party lines but between those who have and have not; between those who work in conditions of great security in the public sector and those in the private sector who find themselves far worse off than their parents’ generation in terms of security; between those who are part of the black economy and can enjoy the benefits of ready cash and those who are taxed mercilessly and then, when the state runs short, have to contribute even more money. In politics, the government keeps tripping up on scandals – big and small, of its own doing or not. Usually, it does not handle them well, managing to make a minor scandal big and someone else’s problem its own. There is no capable team of staff members to make use of all the government and state resources to handle a crisis. Just like the rest of us, the government (and not just this one) improvises, without relying on institutions that should preclude amateurism. Indications of corruption make the atmosphere even worse. With all this, one could say that Karamanlis is either the unluckiest prime minister in recent memory or the one who did the least to prevent things from going awry. But here – perhaps – is a reason for optimism. Whether he is to blame or not, Karamanlis has shouldered the burden of running the country. It is he who must take initiatives that will improve the country’s outlook. With so many accumulated evils, citizens have learned not to expect miracles. At the same time, they have realized that something, at last, must be done. With his back to the wall, Karamanlis has no choice but to act. Whatever he does will appear positive when seen against the backdrop of all that is going wrong. If Karamanlis dares to take on the dark forces of corruption – no matter how high they are in the business or political firmament – then history will remember him as a leader who did not flinch at the moment of truth. It’s a rare chance for him to do something good for the country and for his legacy.