OPINION

A time of uncertainty

Every Greek has learned two things in the last few months: One, that it is impossible to know what life in this country will be like in six or 12 or 60 months; two, whatever bad things happen, they will all fall hard on the shoulders of the common people, the majority of whom do their work and pay their taxes and abide by the law and try to do no more and no less than raise their children to be good citizens and compassionate human beings. These people have suffered one blow after another, they have been showered with bad news and even worse predictions. They have paid one-off taxes and higher duties and will continue to do so. These are the people who will save this country, they will put down their heads and pick up the yoke, taking home less pay for more work and living with the hope that just as their parents and grandparents made it through wars, famine and dictatorships, they will triumph against today’s challenges. Although in the majority, these days these people are very much alone, with only their uncertainty for company. The government, the political parties, the trade unions, all are looking for ways to earn points against each other in this crisis. The opposition parties and trade unions are trying to outdo each other in populist opportunism, in an effort to convince the people that no effort needs to be made to right the economy, whereas great efforts have to go into preventing any reforms that will make the economy more viable and the public administration more efficient. When citizens, however, know that something needs to be done – and they see only the government trying to do anything – they are way ahead of the parties and unions which seem to offer nothing other than the false security of an outdated mentality. Citizens who have looked at the situation seriously may not agree fully with the government and its policies but it is impossible not to see that the PASOK government is the only political force looking for a way out of the morass. This in itself is cause for uncertainty. Prime Minister George Papandreou may be the most energetic national leader in memory but this is reassuring only up to a point. It is good to see the premier dashing across the globe, making the intricacies of Greece’s debt problem known to the world and presenting it as partly the result of a berserk, unregulated global financial system; on the other, everyone knows that Greece’s problems are local and that they will be solved locally, so his peripatetic protestations, if they do not stop, are themselves cause for concern. The real questions are: What is the true extent of the problem? Why do we still not know how it will be solved – through continued borrowing on the international markets, through bilateral loans from EU partners, with a plea for help to the International Monetary Fund? How is this going to affect our daily lives? Will we be poorer? Will society get worse or better? Will we be better off in the end? A further cause of insecurity is the fact that the government repeatedly appears to be several steps behind the markets and Greece’s partners, leading to ever greater difficulties in borrowing. First, right after the October elections, it sent a disturbing message to investors when it gave in to striking Piraeus dockworkers who disagreed with the 4-billion-euro investment by the Chinese giant Cosco Pacific. The bombshell regarding Greece’s budget deficit (putting it at 12.7 percent, way above the original estimate of 4 percent) changed the landscape completely, frightening the markets while giving them a great opportunity to make a killing by raising the premium on Greek borrowing. Then, again, instead of taking rapid steps to introduce austerity measures and structural reforms, Greece dithered for months. When the government did take measures – which were unprecedented in their ambition – it did not move to exploit the easing of pressure but, instead, stoked the fire of uncertainty in Greece and among its creditors, with all the talk that the country might seek assistance from the IMF. It then took forever to unveil its new tax legislation, which will have a direct effect on citizens’ lives. Even now, it is dithering about taking on the power of the so-called «closed» professions which function as bottlenecks in the economy and society. Citizens’ questions keep multiplying. Let’s hope that soon we will have some answers so that we can all begin the long hard slog to recovery.