OPINION

A great loneliness

The sudden, mass reduction in incomes has created an unprecedented challenge for every Greek and for society as a whole. We all expect tomorrow to be worse than yesterday, whether we be businessmen or employees, students or pensioners. Because the pressure does not come from some foreign cause but from the bankruptcy of our economic and political model itself, we can look only to our own resources for a way out of the crisis. We are forced to examine ourselves carefully, to see who we are, what we have to offer, what we can use to secure our survival. The crisis has shaken everyone’s life to the core and will lead to a new understanding of ourselves and our position in society. We are going through an identity crisis on the personal and national level. Employees live in fear of being laid off or of suffering such a cut in wages that they will not be able to fulfill basic needs, such as paying rent or mortgages. They know nothing about tomorrow, whether they will get a pension and if this will be enough for them to live in dignity. Whoever owns property knows that today it cannot be sold for the price it would have brought last year; yet owners keep prices high, even though they fear that next year prices will be even lower. Everyone remains frozen, waiting for the fall, trapped between the lost familiarity of the past and the heavy clouds of the future. We are paying impossibly high installments for things that have lost their value… Anyone who has his own business and employees faces his own drama, not knowing whether there will be a recovery, wondering whether he should liquidate his business in order to limit its losses. He has to take risks in deciding whether to lay off people, to guess how long the market will stay frozen, to seek ways to survive. At the same time, the government and the state conspire against him. The state owes private companies more than 10 billion euros, is withholding value-added tax returns and demanding extra taxes, strangling the market further as banks have slashed their loans. The only government proposal aimed at helping companies is to make dismissals easier. No wonder that employers and employees alike feel abandoned. This mutual problem, though, does not unite them: on the contrary, it heightens the sense of justified anger and despair on both sides and leads to ever greater suspicion between them. The government – along with the memorandum that it has signed with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union – does not help growth. It creates rifts at a time when it should be uniting all of society’s members. Citizens see the representatives of all the institutions worrying only about their own interests: politicians clash, not in order to create a healthy new political system but to win points against each other and keep things unchanged; the Church pretends it has no role to play in the situation; judges, journalists and all the unions care only about their own privileges and not the common good; members of the armed forces are rushing to early retirement to beat the consequences of social security reform and people with money are stashing it abroad. Whoever has achieved something is afraid of losing it, while the rest are denied the right to dream of achievement. Fear of the future, fear of our fellow citizens, is everywhere. Beyond our borders, we see that we are more isolated than ever, having no competitive advantage over other countries in the region (as when Greece was the richest country in the neighborhood and the only member of both NATO and the EU). Furthermore, our economic disaster has made Greeks the laughing stock and whipping boy of the international community. We have nowhere to turn but to each other. Instead of uniting us, though, this loneliness alienates us even further. We remain the victims of weak institutions, the lack of personal discipline and the lawlessness which brought us to this mess.