OPINION

Labyrinth or dead end?

These days, wherever we turn we run into walls. The farmers’ roadblocks and the rockfall that closed the Vale of Tempe are just the visible result of the lack of infrastructure projects and the very Greek enmity between different groups of citizens. Everyone feels that he is a victim, that he will lose what he has, that the present is bad and the future worse. Public servants will be at the center of whatever serious cost-cutting measures are taken; private sector employees have already felt the merciless lash of the market and are paying the price of their employers’ struggles; merchants are losing their customers and financing because of the lack of liquidity; the unemployed face the specter of not getting their benefits; and banks – until now the economy’s fortresses – are forced to borrow at ever higher costs, at great expense to themselves and their clients. The pie is getting smaller, at a time when everyone needs a larger slice. It is very difficult to find anything to be optimistic about in Greece these days. The only hope is that we may have eventually reached rock bottom and that from now on things can only get better, that everyone has now understood how dangerous things are and that we all need to make personal sacrifices in a collective effort to get up again. An expression of this new understanding could be the statement by Prime Minister George Papandreou in Parliament last Friday, when he told farmers that they would be getting no money. «There is no more room for us to keep hurting each other,» he said. If the prime minister and his aides were to show with deeds that they fully understand how critical times are, and that they will stop putting their pre-election promises above the need for serious economic reforms, then we might start to see a recovery. Because only when the government is prepared to change our society’s structure and impose fairness at all levels will citizens show the faith that will allow them to make sacrifices for the common good. Today we are experiencing the apogee of social groups’ alienation from each other – each person feels that the injustice done to him allows him to do the same to others. Farmers block roads because they feel their livelihood is at stake, indifferent to the harm this does to other farmers, to businesses, to society as a whole; public servants who face losing their privileges are preparing demonstrations which will serve only to worsen the lot of businesses and private sector employees. At some point, the government will have to open up the «closed professions,» prompting reactions from groups like truck drivers, notaries public and so on. A dramatic expression of this «feeding frenzy» in which everyone is against everyone else is the way in which banks are starving clients of funds in order to save themselves. In today’s complicated world, though, saving oneself does not lead to salvation. When the government tries to win points with debtors by passing a law that skews the relationship between debtors and creditors, this leads banks to become overly cautious with their lending, which will result not only in the destruction of the banks’ customers but also the end of the banks themselves. Whenever any group puts its own interests and fears above those of others, failure is certain. The high cost of borrowing is the most immediate and merciless proof of the dangers Greece faces. Those who should be first to change are those who led the country into this mess: politicians. Those in parties that governed with a mixture of cynicism and spinelessness that allowed citizens to believe they could get maximum benefits with minimal effort and those in opposition parties who always set utopian targets the country could never meet. The decisions the government will make and the reactions of the opposition parties and citizens will determine whether we can hope that we are in a labyrinth and not at a dead end.