Sacrifice requires assurances

Just five years after the euphoria of the Olympic Games in 2004, fear of a disaster of national proportions has cast its shadow over Greece: the fear of bankruptcy. Prime Minister George Papandreou’s dramatic announcement concerning the ballooning public debt as a threat to the country’s sovereignty tells us that the political establishment is incapable of handling the crisis on its own. The premier, who still enjoys public support, felt the need to address the people directly, asking them to strengthen his legitimacy. The legitimacy he seeks is social and moral, and goes beyond the formal legitimacy of Parliament. The prime minister is asking the people to understand, to support him and to rally behind the government. He is asking for sacrifices on a scale not seen in the country’s modern history – over these past decades of prosperity that have been riding on credit and progress that has been taken for granted. To earn this kind of solidarity, the government needs to realize that the people are still outraged over a succession of financial scandals; they are sickened by deep-rooted corruption and deeply scarred by what they perceive as betrayal by the elite. In this uncertain financial climate, society is gripped by fear, suspicion and loathing for the state mechanism. In the eyes of many, and of the country’s young people especially, the state has lost all legitimacy. The political leadership should ask the people for their support, but is also has a duty to convince them that this support will be honored. It needs to convince people that the state too will make sacrifices. It needs to guarantee justice and equality before the law and to ensure that the nation’s sovereignty will not be up for negotiation. The people will agree to sacrifices, but only if everyone else makes them too and provided that major pending national issues that are not sold down the river. The people will accept the state selling its silver to some extent, but not mortgaging the property.