Success is the only way out

Because we did not take measures to save our economy, we will have to take them now under the stewardship of the international community and with funds put up by unwilling partners – with all the tension that this creates both inside Greece and in our international relations. Reading the text of the agreement between Greece, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union when it was made public last Tuesday, I felt that I was reading about another country. Among the many demands that the memorandum makes regarding spending cuts and tax increases (for a total of 36.4 billion euros by 2014), are details regarding the radical reform of our economy, labor market and social security system. The agreement is a revolution – it adopts all the measures that the political leadership of the past few decades did not dare touch. It sets out the actions that must be taken to achieve fiscal viability, stressing stricter supervision of banks, structural reforms in the transport sector, in the labor market, healthcare, the social security funds, closed-shop professions and so on. It demands the simplification of procedures throughout the public administration, from the payrolls of civil servants to state procurements, as well as the prosecution of tax evaders. It consolidates dozens of social security funds into a total of three and sets 65 as the retirement age for all, with retirement being allowed no earlier than age 60 (with severe cuts for every year before age 65). In all, the plan aims to wipe out many injustices in Greek society at the same time that it cuts incomes and benefits. If it succeeds, we will be a poorer but perhaps more just society. The success of the whole thing, though, depends on how quickly reforms aimed at increasing growth and productivity come into effect, to counter the cuts that threaten development and our social fabric itself. It will depend on the credibility of the government and other political forces as well as how much the people will accept such a great reversal in their lives. The program is already causing huge waves of discontent, without the true effect of wiping out such a large portion of people’s incomes being evident yet. What is certain is that nothing is as it was before. However painful the measures may be, though, they may have unexpected, positive consequences. Maybe they will make us more demanding – more active – citizens. Maybe we will no longer be willing to accept the unacceptable, deciding instead to demand our rights and fulfill our obligations. However simplistic and dangerous the cries of «Thieves!» that we now hear in our streets may be, along with insults hurled at the Parliament building, they indicate that tolerance of corruption – big and small – has been exhausted. The pain of the spending cuts and lost benefits has made us realize that our neighbor’s corruption or indifference is, after all, our problem – because, in the end, it is we who pay the bill for the deficits and lost productivity. At the same time, maybe those who did not do their work satisfactorily will wake up to the fact that they cannot work for themselves alone, that they must contribute to the well-being of the social whole, otherwise everyone loses. This applies to workers and owners, to judges and police officers. To everyone. These days will determine our future. The government and the people are called upon to face the difficulties of an economic and social adjustment that is unprecedented in its scale and the violence of the speed with which it is coming about. And this at a time when New Democracy, the conservative opposition party, voted against the legislation and the two left-wing parties in Parliament are investing in street protests. Even within ruling PASOK, there is great tension, as the rescue mechanism goes against the very DNA of a party that established itself on foundations of populism and handouts. This is what makes Prime Minister George Papandreou’s struggle that much more difficult and that much more crucial. Whether we voted for him or not, and even as we disagree with some of his choices and his mistakes, we have to support him. At the same time, we will demand that his government be serious and alert. This is what we must demand of our fellow citizens and ourselves as well. The only way out is for us to succeed. We are the ones who will decide whether we will create a new country or slip further into the nightmare.

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