OPINION

Will we make it?

The question on everyone’s mind in Greece is: «Will we make it?» Will the Greeks cope with rising unemployment, higher taxes and lower incomes? Will businesses manage to stay afloat? Will the state put its house in order and begin to function rationally, effectively and fairly? Everyone has his or her own estimate of how we are doing. Gradually, everyone has begun to understand the magnitude of the problem we face; it is impossible to conclude when we will come out of the crisis and at what cost. The first signs are mixed. It is encouraging that we have a government adopting reforms which had been delayed for decades, and that citizens have shown great understanding of the need for changes and spending cuts, giving the government time to apply its plan. Less encouraging is the long delay in adopting development programs that will give life to the market and hope to citizens. On the contrary, heavier taxes and reduced incomes are leading to decreased economic activity and, consequently, lower tax revenues. It is one thing to rein in a wayward horse and another to pull the reins so hard as to interfere with its breathing. Now, because of the revenue shortfall, the government is planning to reduce the public investment program even further. Without spending by the state, businesses or consumers, who will keep the economy going? The austerity program is absolutely necessary: It shows that we are taking seriously – on both a personal and national level – the need to change course and mentality; depriving all of us of part of our income makes us all party to the effort to revive the country and less tolerant of corruption; tidying up state spending is aimed at reforming the public administration and the economy, ostensibly wiping out many injustices and sources of waste. But the austerity program so far merely resembles an attempt to fill a bucket that’s riddled with holes: If those who have stolen are not punished, if tax evasion and corruption are not stamped out, if the state does not stop subsidizing small, privileged groups, then whatever has been cut from wages and pensions will be wasted. When we see that despite our sacrifices we have still not managed to stave off the state’s and society’s bankruptcy, then a sense of injustice will prevail. The danger signs are already clear: We do not know if our already problematic schools will have enough teachers this year, the ranks of the unemployed keep swelling, businesses are closing or reducing their activities, thousands of retail premises and homes remain empty of tenants, many people are working for pitifully low wages and without social security, municipalities are at a dead end (which will be evident soon in the form of canceled social programs and crumbling infrastructure). When the number of poor and desperate people becomes noticeable, it will be very difficult to control the sense of injustice and rage. Every reform effort will be derailed. We are still far from such a collapse. Our foreign «supervisors» appear pleased with our progress. But what we see, and which disturbs us, they do not see: the marks of poverty and lack of opportunities. Beyond satisfying the EU, the IMF and our lenders, the state has to take immediate measures to end wasteful spending and to introduce strict criteria for evaluating activity in every sphere, whether it be economic, academic, political or whatever. Waste and corruption stem from the lack of credible evaluation within the sphere of public life. That is why we have to pay such a high price for such a useless state and economic system. As a member of the eurozone, and with its debt burden, Greece cannot be a «cheap» country. That is why it has to work on providing high-quality products and services. The word «Greek» has to become synonymous with «excellence.» Education is the key to such a revolution. But some results in this year’s university and technical college exams (in which some students got in with an average mark below 5 percent) show that the battle to improve standards has still not begun. And only when it does will we truly be able to begin hoping for a national revival.