Whilst attending the World Conference of Science Journalists in Doha I fell ill with a cold and a fever. It was that terrible air-conditioning at the Conference Centre that did me in, and as a result I ended up spending a good time of my stay in my hotel room, in front of the television, watching events unfolding in Greece as the Parliament debated the new austerity measures.
During the last thirty years, the Greek political system – which includes every party in the Parliament, left right and centre – has created a bizarre, corrupt and quasi-socialist society in Greece, where small special-interest groups exercise disproportionate influence on the political process. Worse, at least two generations of young Greeks have been raised to believe it is their “right” to find secure and well-paid employment, low-cost but high-standard housing, free heath, etc. This childish illusion that somehow “money exists” was vividly, and ironically, articulated by the incumbent Prime Minister Mr. Papandreou during his election campaign. Mr. Papandreou believed that then, and he still believes now. How could he? Is he mad? No he is not. Read on.
The political system ofGreece, faced with a national catastrophe, has managed to turn the tables by cleverly manipulating Eurozone’s weaknesses. The new finance minister bragged to his European colleagues that “Greeceneeds Europe as much as Europe needs Greece”. Did they send him off with a kick up his fat butt? No sir. He was sent away with another 12 billion Euros of bailout money. This money, just like the previous one, will be used so that the minimum of change, or reform, takes place. Don’t bee fooled to imagine, or hope, that any of the laws passed in the Greek Parliament will be enacted. Apart from increasing taxes and lowering salaries things will remain the same.
Greece can only change if the Greek State and its crony statism are dismantled and reduced to the absolute minimum. Nothing less will have any significant effect. Alas, very few inGreeceget that, and even fewer support it. The political elite will not do it because this will mean the end of them. But the majority of the people cannot contemplate a free marketGreeceeither. As said, generations of young Greeks have been raised in the “Greek dream” of laidback and secure jobs in the public sector, long holidays and early retirements. If you can believe it, students at technical universities hated research because it created wealth! So they went and destroyed labs on a systematic basis. When you figure that out send me an email.
The masses of protestors who gather in Syntagma Square shout for everything except reform. In fact, they shout for all the blessings of Greek socialist utopia to return. For the bad dream to end and for every Greek to awake in the good old times. They want to pressure the government to make a deal with Greece’s creditors so that the huge debt is forgiven. So that Greece may start anew, i.e. to borrow money at low interest rates in order to feed its vast armies of public servants and thus grow an equally unbearable debt ten years down the line. They need not worry. Their government thinks the same way and is trying exactly that.
Greece will never change unless it bears the burden of default. The obvious problem with that is that all bets are off when government cannot pay salaries and bank runs make money disappear and prices soar. Given the political immaturity of Greeks and the lack of credible political alternatives it is not impossible to imagine anarchy, a failed state in the Med, a Somalia of the Aegean.
Caught between Scylla and Charybde Greece could have benefited from visionary and truly reformist leadership at the helm of Pasok or New Democracy. Someone with the guts and intelligence to go against his/hers survival instincts; a self-destructive constructivist who would dear to bring down the statist monster that sucks every bit of creativity and talent that this country has. Short-lived hope: the current leadership of the two parties does not fit this description, not by a very long shot.
So what will happen? I am not a prophet but I know that one: nothing will be decided inAthens, neither inside nor outside the Parliament. As always, decisions forGreecewill be taken abroad.