OPINION

Blaming a fickle Parliament

The pain from the austerity measures has just begun to be felt but the public’s fury is already playing a significant role. Many people are angry at the institutions which did not keep Greece from the brink of bankruptcy and which they now see as responsible for their slashed incomes and higher taxes. Parliament, the temple of our sloppy democracy, has become the chief target of anger, representing the whole political system and the legislature that is adopting the cost-cutting and major reforms agreed to with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. «Burn it down! Burn it down! The Parliament of whores!» members of the crowd shouted during the mass protest of May 5, as masked youths tried to storm the building and were pushed back by riot squads. Apart from the organized anti-establishment groups which led the attack on Parliament’s guards (and some of whose members probably carried out the firebomb attack which killed three workers in a bank), most demonstrators were normal citizens who would, at other times, rush to defend the symbol of democracy. But it is not only protesters who are attacking the political system as a whole. On Tuesday, the head of the industrialists’ union, Dimitris Daskalopoulos, had his say, laying into the country’s political leadership in a speech which they attended at the general meeting of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV). He claimed that the political parties do not want to see the country’s failed economic and social model changing. «Today it is plain to see the reluctance of all parties to saw off the branch on which they sit,» he argued, adding, «They feel that the shrinking of the state and the unhindered growth of private initiative would decrease their power and hence their privileges.» These remarks raised a furious response from all parties, with the justice minister going so far as to compare the head of SEV to an uppity louse. The chairman of the biggest employers’ association had done nothing more than express the anger that most people feel against a political system that has failed most spectacularly. Typically, every party believes that it is the exception. The two main parties – PASOK and New Democracy – have alternated in power over the past 36 years, taking turns to blame each other for the country’s woes, whereas the smaller parties – including the Communists – claim that they are innocent because they never governed. Their condemnation of Daskalopoulos’s comments was the only thing that they could all agree on. The left-wing parties even boycotted a meeting of party leaders chaired by President Karolos Papoulias, which was aimed at appeasing public anger by adopting anti-corruption reforms. A further irony is that all parties are responsible for the mess: The major parties kept giving in to workers’ demands because they feared losing votes to smaller, more extreme groups on their left and right. Now it seems as if most Greeks are angry at the politicians who allowed Greece to reach the dead end and, at the same time, resentful of the effort to cut their incomes and benefits so as to reboot the country. Many feel that others lied and cheated and stole in their name and that they must now pay the bill in the form of lower incomes and higher taxes. People realize that they can no longer tolerate corruption and incompetence. They blame their institutions – forgetting that it was they who voted for political parties who promised them the most benefits and state jobs, who tolerated unions blocking any effort to reform the labor market and social security system, who did not differentiate between news media which warned of the slide toward bankruptcy and those which reveled in Greece’s borrowed bounty, who tolerated a judiciary and police force that did not seek out or punish the guilty. In their fury against Parliament, some Greeks rage against the dependence that crippled them and their country, others because the teat on which they suckled has gone dry. The future depends on which of the two angry factions will lead the way.