It has already been a year since, after 35 years of national profligacy, our country became a ward of the EU. The draconian contract we signed with our partners to obtain a conditionally extended lease on life was at bottom a wager with ourselves: We made a commitment to change drastically so we could stay on our European course. We said we were ready to raze the bankrupt, patronage-ridden state in order to avoid collective bankruptcy. We accepted the dire necessity of our becoming poorer as a people – temporarily – to avoid utter destitution as a nation.
The path we walked during this year was a painful one. Wages and pensions fell, taxes increased, emergency taxes were levied, enterprises closed or downsized; the ranks of the unemployed grew. And yet, there is now a prevailing sense that we are exactly where we started: a step away from the precipice; there is a prevailing sense of failure in our society. The sacrifices appear to have been made in vain. There is no end in sight. We continue to founder, while we are supposedly striving to change.
The silent majority continue to turn their backs on those who promise rose-strewn paths or preach supposedly progressive gospels of isolationism for the country. But at the same time, this silent majority rightly questions the expediency and the point of their sacrifices, watching the dynamic of change evaporate in the face of reactionary attitudes and entrenched interests. They are confused by today, uncertain about tomorrow, unwilling or unable to contribute to any effort.
Where did we go wrong? What’s to blame?
The answer is at once complex and very simple. We failed because we are using cotton rather than the scalpel to treat the cancer responsible for the crisis and its perpetuation: the mighty patronage-ridden state.
Bloated and parasitic, it misappropriates the loans our partners give us so we can change, thus cancelling out any change. Fronted by labour leaders and special interest [group]s, with a rear guard of reactionary bureaucracy, it sabotages any attempt at rationalization and modernization. Demagogically, it identifies its interests with the “good of the people” to convince the people that everyone else is the enemy.
This system is one of unrelenting trench warfare. Every cut in scandalous bonuses, every reshuffling of sinecures, every attempt to abolish useless state organizations, agencies and services is a battle in a holy war between the populist rhetoricians of the political parties and the union leaders. Meanwhile, the thousands of defunct businesses and hundreds of thousands of unemployed are treated indifferently as statistical data. The professional friends of the people are unmoved by the legions of young unemployed.
The productive economy has paid and continues to pay dearly for the crisis. It is struggling on its own to survive. Uncomplainingly, it is paying its fair share, but it is not prepared to suffer uncomplainingly through even more emergency levies, additional taxes, further burdens, when it sees them going to maintain this state of party patronage, which misappropriates citizens taxes, redistributing the national wealth to the chosen and shrewd. The productive citizens are no longer willing to work just to keep those who don’t.
This patronage state is dragging civil society into bankruptcy with it. But the party system persists in coddling the patronage state, taking care of its patrons and indifferent to its citizens. The party system thinks that if it abolishes the patronage state, it will also be abolishing itself. Essentially, it is our political system itself that refuses to be decoupled from the state. It avoids radical reforms to the state because, deep down, it doesn’t really want to reform itself.
That’s why I say the crisis is economic, but our problem is political – it is a party problem; and social at the same time. The dominance of the parties has managed to transform our society into a society of patrons rather than of citizens.
The system of the symbiotic state-party relationship has reared a large number of Greeks who made dependence on the state their ideology, easy money their god. They identified growth with state funding and entrepreneurship with the parties’ permission to plunder. They called public money their own. These sly patrons of the party-ocracy gradually pushed out or alienated the country’s creative citizens and shaped a Greece that suits them: a country of reduced efforts and reduced competition, accustomed to living off loans rather than its own exertions; a country posing complacently as the chosen people to hide its inability to gain recognition economically and nationally in the modern world.
There was something like a flicker of conscience a year ago, when this system collapsed financially – and morally – under the weight of its own profligacy.
We committed ourselves to a common effort to change, because our conscience itself would no longer allow us to consider bribes and easy money a viable attitude to life; to accept lawlessness and impunity as a social reality. We saw that if we continue to ask everything of the state and nothing of ourselves, we will never see prosperity again.
Unfortunately, the effort didn’t last long. The opposition of anachronism and the addiction to patronage proved stronger than the fear of national collapse. Easy demagoguery displaced substantial concern. In a sense, the help we got from our partners was a double-edged sword: It kept our heads above water, but it also bought time for the forces against change.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In spite of all this, we still haven’t lost our wager – we can still change.
The silent majority have shown remarkable stamina and tolerance, belying the panels of prosecutors on our TVs and the Cassandras on the party balconies. The silent majority have proven more mature than the activists, more responsible than the populists who attempt to soothe them with dead-end roadmaps to salvation. An instinct for self-preservation makes them suspicious of anyone who says that all we need to do to get back to the rosy days is burn that scarecrow, the Memorandum.
But a major strategic error was made at the very outset. We didn’t make the people privy to the whole truth. We didn’t explain thoroughly enough how tragically difficult the situation is, how painful the necessary measures would be, how far we have to go before the country gets back on its feet.
We covered up the truth with inter-party sabre rattling, the truth being that there simply isn’t any money. And that cursing the Memorandum is no substitute for the loans we need to survive from month to month.
We didn’t tell the public how misleading the various scenarios are, portraying the restructuring of our debt as a painless way out of the crisis. The restructuring, if and when it comes, whatever form it takes, will be a solution only if we have first cauterized the sources of the deficits and debts; only if we have first laid new, sustainable foundations for our economy. And that is the only way we will convince the markets and our partners that we have really changed. Otherwise, any restructuring will be tantamount to national bankruptcy.
We didn’t explain to the public that there is no going back to the growth bubble of yesteryear. “Growth” will not come like manna from heaven to refill our pockets and shops. It will return only if we engage with the open markets, the open fields of action, with open mindedness. To see growth again in this country, we will first have to implement all of the reforms currently lagging behind, all the reforms that are thus far only on paper. We will have to accelerate the reforms that are set to be carried out –and, of course, drastically change the structures, institutions and entrenched attitudes. And today, this is a challenge that is pre-eminently political, and on a second level economic.
The hardest truth today is that we have to suffer a further drop in our standard of living. We have to show much greater patience and persistence. We have to lower our expectations. And fortify ourselves morally and spiritually, because it’s a long road ahead. But we have no choice. There is a treacherous uphill struggle in front of us, but a precipice behind. If we don’t make it, we’ll go hungry.
An equally hard truth is that we are out of time. The measures that have to be taken have to be taken now; whatever the cost. All the structural changes must move ahead now; in spite of any reactions. Every day that is lost adds gloom to our future. If we don’t do what we have to do without further hesitation, hell awaits us. And today, which we complain about so much, may well seem like paradise in comparison to tomorrow.
As long as we tolerate public enterprises as playgrounds for the political parties, as long as we are scared by the political hooliganism of certain trade unionists and labour unions, as long as we sacrifice privatizations to the resistance of the obsessed, as long as we tax work to protect sinecures, change will not come and this land will be ravaged.
The circumstances demand a strong government, unswerving in the pursuit of its goals, firm in its intentions. Determined to show the international community – and first and foremost our partners – that Greece is changing, has already changed. That we are finally converging on the level of structures, institutions and attitudes.
Our people need a strong government, capable of inspiring society and firmly guiding citizens, step by step, along the difficult path.
We are still at the beginning of our national trials. We still need to do a lot of work before we see the light at the end of the tunnel. This needs to be explained to the Greek citizens; without glossing and fairy tales. Because if they cling to groundless expectations of a quick exit from the crisis without further sacrifices, at some point their stamina and tolerance will give out. At some point, if this illusion is maintained, the people will want to “get their own back” from whomever they see in front of them, without regard to given parties and without acquitting given individuals of blame. We need to tell the naked truth so that our citizens can come to terms with it and decide on the future they want.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,
A whole year after wagering on salvation with money from the Memorandum, the country is once again suspended in mid-air. We will need to borrow more, we are asking for more time from a Europe that has lost its confidence in us.
The situation is not just an impasse, it borders on being a matter of our nation’s very existence.
I would like to hope, even at this late hour, that it were possible for there to be understanding amongst the country’s most responsible forces; convergence on the main goals, changes and measures for exiting the impasse. For there to be a consensus based not on party compromise, but on national inspiration. This is not a realistic hope right now. Political consensus of that order was feasible and should have been reached a year ago, when the country had recourse to the Memorandum to save itself. Today, I’m afraid consensus is out of the question, and without political consensus we cannot rally the nation.
Since the political system cannot provide a way out, we have to appeal to the people. To re-programme the necessary changes and move ahead. Right now, the people themselves have to have a say.
But not indirectly, through elections. The way things are, the only sure thing is that elections will exacerbate the impasse to which the party system has come, rather than giving society a way out. Elections will perpetuate party divisions and citizens’ confusion. The predictable results will be neither clear nor politically viable.
So there is only one solution that is politically healthy and offers a measure of national dignity: To call on the people to express a direct opinion on the national course being followed –through a referendum. A referendum that will set before our society what is now the only thing at stake for our nation:
DO WE MOVE AHEAD on the path made imperative by our country’s European perspective, on the terms and with the sacrifices required for our remaining in the Eurozone? Are we prepared to pay the cost of the changes necessary for us to stay on the European train?
OR DO WE WITHDRAW and go it alone, without conditions, but also without our partners’ billions? Does the social majority want to choose a path to marginalization and proud national misery?
This, I repeat, is what is really at stake. The question put to the people must contain, with absolute clarity, the critical crossroads at which we stand; because if we fail, we are doomed to be put off the European train.
A referendum will provide society as a whole with the most direct way to take step up to its responsibilities. And I am convinced that society will reject, once and for all, the obsessions, the opportunism and the selfishness that undermine every effort to modernize the country.
I am aware, of course, that there are polls showing a majority held by those against: Popular discontent lashing out at a Memorandum undermined politically and morally by the party system.
The average citizen blames our partners for not rushing to save us with ‘loans we don’t have to repay’. The average citizen is afraid of changes, but these changes will hurt only those exploiting the patronage state. The polls reflect the confusion and misinformation cultivated by sterile party bickering.
Nevertheless, a referendum will leave no room for evasion, no alibi for the political system. It will give political and social entities the opportunity to make crystal clear their stance on this land’s future; our tomorrow. They will be called upon to explain their loud YES or their loud NO, unequivocally setting out the repercussions for the people and the nation.
Because it is an imperative and self-evident prerequisite for such a referendum that the people be informed sincerely and clearly about the consequences of their choice; the impact of their choice on their income, their life, day-to-day existence, the prospects for each and every one of us. Only if our people are fully informed and aware of the consequences of their vote, will a referendum have a point and be valid.
Of course, I have no doubt that the party, media, financial and ideological godfathers of post-1974 Greece will wage a fierce battle to keep things to their liking. You see, they prefer bankruptcy, which they think will not inconvenience them, to progress, which goes against their interests.
But I nevertheless have faith in the healthy forces in our society, forces pursuing and guaranteeing a better future. I have faith
- in the broad working class – of both the private and public sectors – who want to make progress through work, in spite of those who exploit them through demonstrating.
- in modern private initiative, which proves itself through boldness, productive effort, creative ability; which has cut its umbilical cord to the state and seeks new fields and new horizons for growth.
- in the younger generation – our children with so many qualifications – to whom the current system denies any prospect, pushing them to find another homeland – one with more opportunities – while they have so much that they want to offer Greece.
- in the many worthy people who are overcome by worries about survival, but who want to act, suffocating on the side-lines to which they have been relegated by those who have been ‘sorted out’.
- in all the creative citizens of this country, the large number of Greeks who are not to blame, who did not steal, but who relied on their abilities and make their way by their own worth and hard work, shutting out the siren songs of easy money and lawlessness.
To win the wager of national rebirth from the ashes of the post-1974 political system, we now need to shape a conscious and dynamic movement in favour of necessary change. This land’s real forces for renewal have to be alerted and rallied, with the aim of getting Greece out of quarantine. So that Greece can resolutely pursue getting back on the map of modern countries which have a role to play.
I propose a referendum in the hope, in the conviction, that these forces exist and are capable of winning the battle, creating with their aspirations a new economy, a new society, a new Greece.