While Germans tend to take a lot of their national consciousness from economic achievements such as the “Wirtschaftswunder” (=“Economic Miracle”) in the 1960s or German engineering in general, Greeks always took their pride and self-esteem from greater goods such as the development of democracy by the ancient Greek demos instead. It is because of this trait that almost every Greek disapproved statements like the one from German Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble, who advised Greek voters to vote “accurately” in the recent parliamentary elections. When it came to the mantra-like repeated references to the “successful austerity and reform measures” which have to be continued for the benefit of the country, most Greeks only shook their heads in disbelief.
It was clearly visible for every Greek citizen that the previous conservative/socialist government of Nea Dimokratia and PASOK did not succeed in making Greece more competitive. The vast majority of structural reforms that were ultimately implemented during the last years served mainly to keep the inflow of European EFSF money running. At the same time, they provided European finance ministers with arguments to constantly continue the authorisation of new tranches. In the end, most of the reforms turned out to be mere tax increases or rigid cuts to the basic state provision. With regard to profound economic and administrative reforms, the government of Prime Minister Samaras simply failed to deliver. The fact that the “troika” allowed the Greek government to compensate for necessary structural reforms by fiscal measures of the same financial volume clearly exposes the primacy of “stability” over “progress”.
Against this background, one can at least understand Greece’s longing for a change of government. It is a mere hope that the political feudalism which has paralysed the country’s political system for decades will be removed as well. It is, and will remain the irony of recent Greek history, that is was up to Nea Dimokratia and PASOK – the two parties which have alternately ruled Greece since 1974 and lead it to political and financial bankruptcy – to lead the country out of this self-inflicted misery. That the two former people’s parties, which comfortably arranged themselves within the clientelistic system, did little to implement profound reforms and change the established system, is not a real surprise. That all of this happened in tacit agreement with the European national governments which basically enabled Greece during the last years to uphold the status quo is all the more surprising.
Ever since the end of World War II, the Hellenic Republic has only known the political (and militant) conflict between statist conservatives and statist socialists alone. It is unfortunate, not only from a pluralistic point of view, that there is no political alternative to statist beliefs. Countless Greeks who want their country to thrive and reform itself out of self-interest have a feeling of not being politically represented, and this dates back to even before the crisis erupted.
However, it seems that in the dogmatic confrontation between supporters and opponents of the “memorandum” there is no room for finely nuanced voices and alternatives which address the need for reforms for the common good even in those hard times. Therefore, the new left-wing SYRIZA government, which sees public expenditure as a means to counterbalance the lack of competitiveness, is all but a solution to the Greek problem. If anything, the pro-European and cosmopolitan young Greek generation – which is fed up with the “Greek way” of policy-making of the past – can make a difference. In a conference in Thessaloniki in September 2014, more than 70 young, liberal-minded Greeks put forward a declaration demanding for profound reforms. Especially the young people, who have been hit the hardest by the current crisis, have realized that this is the only way ahead.
Greece finally needs an end to the encrustations which have held the country captive for decades. Turning a blind eye to this and propagating an equally dogmatic “business as usual” helps neither Greece nor Europe.