A parable for the memorandum

It’s been centuries, in political time at least, since the circulation of an urban myth stating that Greece’s entry into the then-European Economic Community would mean, among other things, that Greeks would, like its new European counterparts, not pay road tolls. And, of course, Greeks have continued to pay road tolls ever since. However, they haven’t stopped risking their very lives every time they venture onto the country’s national highways. The dangers of driving in Greece are not just about the lousy attitude of the majority of drivers. They are also about the poor state of the country’s roads that boils down to shoddy construction from the very start and shoddy maintenance projects that lined the pockets a few select contractors and politicians. Our highways are not just perilous, they are also expensive and becoming even more so as toll prices continue to climb while the quality of service continues to decline. The situation with Greece’s toll charges has a lot in common with that of the imposition of the bailout agreement Athens signed with Brussels and the International Monetary Fund. The first similarity is that we are being called on, and will continue to be called on for decades, to keep paying in the hope that things will get better at some point in the future. Secondly, as the situation (on our highways and in our economy) is not getting any better because our «managers» seem to have their minds focused elsewhere, we are being called upon to pay more, much more, whether we like it or not. Thirdly, every promise made by a minister that toll prices will not be raised has been followed by an increase, just like government assurances that no more austerity measures will be imposed are followed by a new round of austerity measures. Next, in both the case of the tolls and the economy, we are told that it will take longer than initially assumed, but this will work to our benefit. It is for our benefit (to continue paying and be at risk) that construction consortiums delay handing over projects and it is for our benefit that the state is given an extension on its repayment plan, albeit at prohibitive interest rates. The memorandum is much like the Athens-Patra highway: We pay not to ensure safe passage, but for the right to put ourselves at risk while others grow rich on our troubles.