To what do we say ‘No’?

October 28, 1940, is the touchstone of national unity, the day that all Greeks can be proud of because their fathers and grandfathers set aside their many differences and fought with self-sacrifice and success against a more powerful foe. Seventy years later, in the era of the memorandum and just a few days before the local elections, on the anniversary of that date we again heard calls for resistance and a new war of liberation. In 1940 the enemy was clear and war inevitable. However much Greece tried to avoid picking up the challenge of an Italian submarine’s sinking of the warship Elli off Tinos in August 1940, the ultimatum for unconditional surrender two months later made it impossible for any Greek (politician or citizen) to avoid war. Today there is no national unanimity. Today we cannot even agree on the most basic factor of the crisis: Who is the enemy? For the uncompromising among us, the super patriots – whether in the centrist New Democracy party or on the Left – the enemy is the «foreign force,» our creditors in the European Union and International Monetary Fund who have forced us into fiscal slavery on behalf of foreign bankers. For others – including the «official» PASOK (as opposed to those conducting a policy of resistance) and the extreme right-wing populist LAOS party – the enemy is the danger of bankruptcy and the poverty and unrest that would follow. The government must enforce a painful austerity policy, so it is on the defensive, frightened of the political cost it may pay in Sunday’s elections. New Democracy has wagered on its anti-memorandum rhetoric, claiming that the people needed an alternative to the 110-billion-euro loan that came with demands for austerity and reform. When the country’s second party (and a center right one, at that) invests in an «alternative solution,» it is natural that there will be no unity on the need for painful sacrifices. The Communist Party and Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) on the other hand, have no need to abandon the castle from which they endlessly hurl abuse at reality, nor will they give up the populism that costs nothing but also leads nowhere. PASOK, though, carries the greatest responsibility for the Greeks’ equivocal stance. Even though they knew the economy was sinking fast long before last year’s elections, George Papandreou and his aides chose to pretend that they would carry out their pre-election promises before taking measures to save the economy. The result was an unprecedented attack on Greek bonds, which drove up the price of Greek borrowing to the point where, had the EU and IMF not stepped in, we would have been unable to borrow any longer. We would have been forced to close up shop. But a country is not a shop whose employees will just go home if they lose their jobs, it is their home itself, so chaos would have ensued. The government had to seek aid and to accept our creditors’ conditions. It appeared unprepared for the magnitude of the crisis. In 1940, dictator Ioannis Metaxas did not want war, but he had prepared the country for it. This allowed citizens to believe in victory, to pursue it, and to even taste it until Germany invaded. PASOK, on the other hand, showed that it was being dragged to a battle it did not want, without ammunition, without faith, without negotiations. The bailout was made to look like surrender. In the first days after last October’s elections, when the depth of the crisis became apparent, there was a sudden wave of self-criticism across Greece. It was as if we suddenly discovered that we had built on rotten foundations and the time had come to rebuild. As time passed, though, and the unsolved problems in the economy and public administration came to resemble holes in the bucket that had to be filled by the sacrifices of citizens, it was natural for people to start complaining. The fact that they have no faith, though, is the result of our politicians’ superficial and immature behavior. Citizens cannot dare to believe in victory, not only because no one is promising it but, seeing their politicians behaving as if it were business as usual, they are convinced only that every sacrifice will go to waste. And so it is easy for us to know why we say «No,» and difficult for us to believe in anything.