Monday, 7 May 2012

At Least The Flag Has Returned

Well, at least the weather is good and the flag on Andros is flying again. A group of private Andros citizens, with no help from any official sources, decided on its own to buy a new flag and hoist it up the flag pole next to the ruins of a Venetian fort guarding the harbour. The rubbish, however, remains in the same sorry state as Greek politics. In rubbish as in national politics and economic matters the people are united in what they don’t want, but completely disunited on exactly how to achieve what they say they do want.

The Flag Is Once Again Flying

 Voters in the general elections completely rejected the two traditional forces of the so-called left and so-called right that had dominated Greek politics since 1974. Many would say that the families and groups dominating those parties have actually ruled Greece for much of the last 100  years. Antonis Samaras, leader of the conservative New Democracy, badly misjudged the mood of Greek electorate when he demanded an early general election before any benefits of the structural reform package filtered down to the people. He had hoped to use the widespread discontent with the Socialist party PASOK to catapult his party into a leadership position. This narrow political calculation backfired badly.  Instead of attaining a leadership position he has plunged Greece into a prolonged period of uncertainty. Both the main parties were severely punished at the polls, and the new Greek parliament will include parties, from the neo-Nazis to the old-line Stalinist communists. It is doubtful that any party will be able to form a government. Therefore, the country will have to go through the entire general election process again sometime this summer. Well done, Mr. Samaras.

Assuming you can even get these diverse parties to sit in the same room, finding something – anything - for them to agree upon will require more skill and statecraft than any Greek politician seems to possess. More than 60% of the votes were cast for parties that rejected the tough structural reform program that has made austerity a four-letter word in Greece. Voters demonstrated that they were shocked, Shocked at the levels of cronyism, corruption and sheer administrative inefficiency that had brought the Greek economy to its knees. Millions of those same voters, however, conveniently ignored the extent to which they had benefitted handsomely from the same pattern of cronyism, corruption and inefficiency that would make any self-respecting banana republic blush.

Poll after poll has shown that Greeks by an overwhelming majority want to retain the Euro and remain anchored in the European Union. So far, so good. But, as yesterday’s election clearly shows, those same voters are unwilling to take the steps required to remain a member of the Euro club. The parties they voted for reject completely the reform package laboriously arranged with the Troika of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank. They blithely talk about ‘renegotiating’ the program. If the Troika, as expected, rejects any talk of renegotiation then these political parties advocate defaulting on the mountain of Greek debt, leaving the Euro and returning to the drachma. These steps are supposed to bring prosperity back to Greece and enable the hard-pressed voters once again to fill their pockets with freebies from the Generous State. The only problem with this scenario is that the Generous State no longer has any money.

Now, thanks to Mr. Samaras’s insistence on early elections, Greece is at a point where default and return to the drachma are no longer inconceivable. The Greek stock market greeted this election outcome by falling 7% on Monday. Bank stocks were down an incredible 19%. Further time will be wasted while the parties fruitlessly try to form a government with ever more unlikely coalitions. When it becomes clear that it is impossible to find a coalition with enough power actually to run the country the whole process will begin again with another election. In the meantime, nothing will get done. This is a luxury Greece can not afford.

This national indecisiveness is reflected even in local issues like the rubbish on Andros. Everyone wants it to go away. But you ask three people just how this should be accomplished and you get at least five opinions. There’s vague talk of a modern treatment plant. But where to put it? Everyone thinks such a plant is a good idea – as long as it is far away from their land. Greece is by no means the only country to suffer from the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome, but unfortunately Greek institutions are not strong enough to overcome this problem and force a compromise. Elected officials on the island don’t want to offend anyone by taking difficult decisions on issues like treatment plants for rubbish and sewage. One is reminded of Charles Dickens’ character Mr. Micawber who lived on the faith that ‘something would turn up.’ Unless they take those difficult decisions, however, the only things that are going to ‘turn up’ are overflowing rubbish bins and a severely polluted harbour.

1 comment:

A Seasonal Cook in Turkey said...

You are ideally placed to comment on the Greek situation! Sounds pretty dire to me...