Reporting from the epicenter

It might seem way too early to evaluate a government after only eight months in power but since PASOK won the October 4 elections, developments have been piling up at what feels to be the speed of light. Greece, its place in the world and the personal story of each of its people have changed radically. We are living through changes that we never expected to see, with incomes severely reduced and with great insecurity for the future. Greece has become synonymous with great economic system failure, its debt and deficit debacle setting off the first fears that a member of the eurozone might go bankrupt, leading to contagion across the region and fears not only for the common currency but the European project itself. The 110-billion-euro bailout from EU countries and the International Monetary Fund is unprecedented, as is the extremely harsh austerity package which accompanies it and which seems likely to cause a deep recession – and great pain. The sweeping reforms to the social security system and labor market come after decades in which very few politicians dared break the taboo of taking back privileges and benefits (no matter how much the gifts to a few might cost the majority in the long run). Everything is different now. So what grades can a government get when (after a slow start) it is trying to prevent economic collapse, when it has to gain support abroad in the face of populist attacks by foreign politicians and news media, when it faces the unremitting wrath of opposition parties and when its own ranks – including Cabinet members – are not all sold on the reforms? We can base our provisional verdict on the scale of the problem in each sector and on the effort that has been made to deal with it, considering the difficulties that have arisen in the meantime. In October, Athens Plus named 10 sectors that it saw as priorities for the new government: the economy, transparency/corruption, the environment, social security, foreign policy, education, immigration, citizens’ protection, health and justice. These remain the biggest challenges, with many at the core of the country’s problems and also the key to a better Greece if the government manages to set the right goals and reach them. There are already great developments in some sectors, while in others very little has been achieved. In both cases an update is warranted, describing what has been done and what remains to be done. All this is happening while the economy is heading into uncharted waters, unemployment is growing rapidly and the political system is in turmoil. Two parliamentary investigations into alleged scandals have named former ministers of both PASOK and New Democracy for further investigation. Former prime ministers Constantine Mitsotakis, Costas Simitis and Costas Karamanlis may be called before parliamentary investigations to explain the actions of subordinates. ND has seen a powerful former contender for its leadership, Dora Bakoyannis, leave (possibly to form her own party), while four of SYRIZA’s 13 MPs resigned because the party is veering hard to the left. Prime Minister George Papandreou’s PASOK is still leading in opinion polls as people hope for a way out of the crisis but there is no doubt that the political scene is extremely fluid. When the effects of lower incomes, greater unemployment and higher prices begin to bite, things will become even more unpredictable. Greece is being set up on new foundations but the ground on which it stands is shaken by doubt, by the habits and partisan divisions of a defunct system and fear of the future. Grading the government’s handling of the issues at the epicenter of this earthquake is an act of faith – an appreciation of what has been achieved and an expression of hope for what remains to be done. The overall assessment: We must try harder. Together.