Correspondence from Syntagma Square. - I.
Walk around and you know why the crowd is there.
Disappointment. Disillusionment. Stories, narratives, they all manifest the same feelings of mistrust and anger. People feel they are the losers in a game played by others in their name, a game in which they did not participate. Nobody has explained to them why they are now suffering. They are angered with all political parties. The story that comes out of this is that people feel cheated. People past their prime speak about how things evolved. Their narrative is : When the junta fell Constantine Karamanlis returned from his self-exile and founded a true Democracy which functioned well. Greece moved forward and became part of the EU, despite the opposition of Andreas Papandreou : In the opinion of many, in the square, the country’s decay started with Andreas Papandreou, the father of the Prime Minister because, as they claim, he turned the State and the entire Public sector to an extension of the PASOK party. He made political favors and cronyism an acceptable practice. He made bribery a standard practice, in every part and at all levels of the Public sector, he all but legalized it. He employed hundreds of thousands of people in the Public sector to secure their and their families votes. He encouraged and established the dominance of Trade Unionism in Greek politics. The Unions became political entities whose chiefs almost dictated policies and of course endeavored to increase their influence so much so that some Public Enterprises are, in effect, Co-managed by them, not necessarily for the benefit of the tax payers. He did away with Meritocracy. He divided the Greeks to Green (pro PASOK) and Blue (pro NEW DEMOCRACY). He established the “Green Guards” to promote his party’s dominance everywhere. He burdened Greece with heavy borrowing increasing the National Debt 300% and wasted the EU financial aid, like the “Delor packages” aimed at helping Greece develop economically. Instead of directing the funds to wealth generating projects, to increasing and modernizing Greek “production” to make Greece competitive, he threw the money at the people, expanding demand whose beneficiaries were imports. This way he bought the votes. He elevated politics to “religion” so that it permeated the entire society even disorienting the Students Unions which made politics the prerequisite to everything. Today the Students Unions, according to what one hears, determine the curriculum, have a say in the appointment of the Professors and the decisions of the Senate, ensure that University education and degrees are easy to have, with students taking even three times as long to complete the courses, all of the above accounting for the fact that the value of a Greek University degree is appallingly low. He brought politics even to the Greek School System encouraging the set up of the so called MAKI, unions of teen age school children which bred the spirit of “least effort” and of school children “rights”. The results are seen in the sorry state of Greek State schools.
He recklessly destroyed every sense of values the Greeks had and, according to claims one hears, examples abound. Everything became acceptable, however crooked . His support from the Media, in exchange for favors, enabled him to sell his stories to the country, unabashedly lying about many issues. The scandals attributed to him were not “political warfare” as he claimed. Facts, people claim, evidence the truth. It is really amazing that many in the crowd attribute to him the all pervasive current political climate of Greece and that they talk about him the way they do.
The Simitis PASOK Governments talked about modernizing Greece, but simply continued the polity of Andreas.
As for the NEW DEMOCRACY Government which succeeded that of Simitis, it turned out to be “some more of the same”, although Constantine Karamanlis, the nephew of the founder of the party, had won the election with the promise of re-institution of the state. The only tangible difference was the increase of the National debt by nearly 50%, with people wandering where did all this money go. And then came George Papandreou. How do people talk about him? … “like father like son”.
He came to power using the very same tactics of negation his father had used. His policy was a standard NO to everything. He was against curtailing public expenditures, against every measure which he now must take. He won the election with lies, assuring the Greeks that the party would go on, but now that it is over and the Greeks have to pay the bill he refrains from coming out with the truth. It seems that it is in the Papandreou DNA to treat everything as a game of communications. Sell them stories. Ignore facts. Politics is talk not management, he demonstrably believes. Days after coming to power and fully appraised of the appalling state of Greek finances off he went to the other side of the Globe to discharge his duty as Chairman of the Socialist International and most of the time he is away speaking about this and that cultivating the image of a politician of Global stature, obviously his primary concern. In his spare time he also doubles as Prime Minister of Greece, telling his Ministers what to do and carrying on as if all is under control, instead of rolling up his sleeves and going to work checking, supervising, leading.
He heads a Government most of whose members boycott the compliance to the terms and stipulations of the Memorandum which rescued Greece. The ensuing delays in the compliance have brought Greece to the brink of disaster and are testing the limits of the patience of her saviors. Like him, his Ministers’ priority is the safeguard of their socialist profile, the votes. Undoing a socialist system with all its complex regulations, restrictions and impediments to free enterprise is a curse, ergo the non compliance to the Memorandum and the hesitation of the Eurozone partners to leave the task of privatization of Public assets to this Government. The time of reckoning has come for Papandreou. He must confront the Unions who oppose privatization for their own reasons (loss of privileges).
The Unions remind him of his support for all their demands (even the most outrageous). He must also confront the voters. For years he convinced them that the State must retain control of everything it owns, the fact not withstanding that his father had privatized several Public assets (and so had his PASOK predecessor). He even stated, only weeks ago, that he will pass legislation forbidding the sale of Public assets, hours after he had agreed with the “troika” that Public assets will be used to pay down debt. Lying is very evidently in the Papandreou DNA, people say. Now his lies will make his life very difficult, but they will also render difficult for him to gain the support he needs to carry out the stipulations of the Memorandum, a sine qua non for the continuation of the financial support from the Eurozone. If this support comes to a halt the ensuing catastrophy will make it impossible for him to continue living in Greece. He will likely be lifted away by helicopter if he has time for that, people say, but then luck seems to be in his favor.
Given the mistakes and laxity that would have been doom for others he is still here carrying on as if something for which he is not responsible has “happened”, but crowds are gathering outside the Parliament and they are fed up. They want change, not the kind of “allagi” his father had promised (and delivered) but a peaceful, radical, deep change of the state of affairs. People do not only talk about what, in their mind, are the causes of Greek misery. Ideas circulate in the crowd. Some are interesting because in the crowd one meets many scientists and many people with developed intellect. Who knows, something may conceivably come out of this peaceful demonstration of anger and impatience with all political parties and politicians.