It’s been a while since I’ve ventured to comment on what I see as happening in Greece. Perhaps it’s because I’m rooting as hard as anyone for the country to regain it’s footing and I think it unfair to toss what some might perceive as gravel under a struggling runner’s feet.
But lordy, lordy, there’s good news to report! A corrupt politician, the former mayor of Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki, has been sentenced to life in prison for embezzling some eighteen million euros from city hall, and other mayors and municipal officials facing similar charges are rumored to be having sleepless nights.
And once in prison, folks are finding it harder to escape. Helicopters landing in prison courtyards have been a staple escape route for major crime bosses, but an attempt last week ended up with the helicopter shot down, and its intended passenger back in custody…after falling sixteen feet to the ground off a rope ladder dangling from his ride.
If the government continues to put bad guys away and keep them there, the people will notice. And that is important. Why? Well let me tell you. Better yet, let the managing editor of Ekathimerini, Athens daily newspaper of record, tell you.
I don’t agree with all that Alexis Papachelas has to say in his columns, but this one (“Averting a Social Explosion”), published last Saturday, I couldn’t agree with more. It lays out the current, prevalent mindset of the Greek people and what must be done for the runner to prevail in the race. Here are Mr. Papachelas’ words:
The risk of an out-of-control social explosion is tangible. No one should be fooled by the fact that the number of Greeks participating in mass protest rallies has dropped and most are keeping away from union campaigns and other calls for some kind of “uprising.” A very large portion of society is unable to make ends meet, and this includes people who have, over the years, respected the rule of law. When you hear educated and once well-off people say that they are near breaking point, you can be sure that the coming months will be very difficult. It is this kind of despair – unrelated to ideology and political affiliations – that makes the situation particularly volatile.
That said, we must acknowledge that the majority of Greeks have been very mature and patient. They have suffered a great deal more than the Italians and yet voters here did not cast their ballots en masse for a comedian nor did they dust off one of their most worn politicians. In the Greek elections voters expressed their disillusionment with the system but kept the country on its feet.
Now people are in survival mode. They overcame the early stage of denial, when they thought that all this was no more than a passing storm. They also passed the second stage of shock and anger, when they thought it was all some anti-Greek conspiracy. They eventually went through the stage of indignation against the political system and now they are just trying to make sure that they will make it to the other side of the river.
What is it that keeps Greek society from exploding? First of all, the hope that things will start to change after the summer. They see the prime minister making a serious effort, the state starting to pay back its debts and the European establishment acknowledging that there is no more room for cuts. They also see that the authorities are finally acting on big corruption cases and that the crisis is not just affecting Greece, but all of southern Europe.
In other words, the average Greek knows there are no easy solutions and that no politician can possibly guarantee that things will change overnight.
At the same time, though, people are angry. They see a big chunk of public administration broken down, making things impossible in one’s dealings with the state. They see politicians continuing to cling to their bad habits. They see that cash flow has completely dried up.
The coming months will be crucial and it would present a huge risk if the troika pushed things too far. Unless liquidity is restored soon healthy companies will collapse. We are at a turning point and it will take a great deal of maturity and a clear head to overcome the last leg of the obstacle race.
Thank you, Mr. Papachelas. And let us pray.