The Greek Government Triad:
The current Greek drama started back in 1981 in a threefold form: Moral decay, incapacity, a rape of institutions and an attack on excellence. The first signs of the drama appeared in the early 60s when the Royal Family clashed with Karamanlis, whose government had just signed the first Association Treaty with the EEC. Karamanlis left the country. Papandreou’s Union of the Centre, won the elections, but following King’s Paul death, relations with the Palace rapidly deteriorated until Papandreou’s son Andreas was instrumental in producing a crisis with the new King Constantine. The way for the Junta opened in April 1967, when new elections were called.
The Triad of dictatorship, lack of sound policies, and confused government performance started showing its ugly face. An abortive attempt by the Junta, in July 1974, to seize power from Archbishop Makarios, who had become the first President of the newly independent Republic of Cyprus, brought about the Turkish invasion of the northern part of the island and, together with it, the downfall of the Junta in Greece.
Karamanlis was invited to return from his self-exile in Paris and restore democracy at the end of the same month, but Andreas Papandreou followed suite in August, establishing his anti-NATO, anti-EEC, Panhellenic Socialist Movement and his eventual claim to power. Karamanlis won with an impressive majority the first post-junta parliamentary elections and few days later, in a clear referendum, confirmed the end of Royalty in Greece, which had been ousted by the junta in 1968. But his 11-year absence from Greece showed. Karamanlis formed a government consisting mainly of his former Ministers ignoring the wear and tear of 11 years and consequent loss of touch with reality. He allowed, or even conceded, an orchestrated vindication of the Left against the junta, which they quickly branded as an expression of the Right, cunningly involving even New Democracy, the new party which Karamanlis had just established.
Karamanlis wisely focused exclusively on getting Greece into the EEC, which he adeptly achieved in less than 4 years. In his view this was a modern “alchemist’s stone”, which would produce a triple Greek miracle: stabilise the democracy, modernise the economy and ensure external security. He then moved to the Presidency to safeguard it.
But, he underestimated Andreas’ power to wrought evil. In his first 8 years as Prime Minister he turned one of EEC’s better economies (with a public debt of 28% of gdp and a budget deficit of 2,7% in 1981) into a marginal, debt-ridden, uncompetitive economy, despite the influx of huge EEC farm and infrastructure investment subsidies. He corrupted the Greek people into believing that they could live beyond their means, without hard work and consciously removed any incentive for productivity or excellence, especially in education and the public sector, which he purposefully inflated to accommodate party cronies in well-paid civil service jobs.
The sequence of the drama was unavoidable. In 1990, the Mitsotakis government, checked the imminent bankruptcy, carried out an extensive programme of privatisations and reforms, produced in two years a primary surplus of 1,7% of gdp out of a PASOK deficit of 17,6% but was not allowed to complete its term, through an internal split led by Samaras, who formed his own populist, right-wing party. From then onwards, New Democracy, under successive new leaders was gradually transformed into a conservative copy of populist PASOK, equally supportive of a large Public Sector.
PASOK governed for the next decade mainly under the more conservative leadership of Simitis, who checked the public debt de-railment and eventually secured Greece’s entry into the Eurozone in 2001. But the PASOK party base, consisting primarily of trade unionists, remained stable in its attachment to a large, corrupt State, run by party appointees. Simitis lost the 2004 spring elections, against cries of “corruption”, despite his just profile of a “serious and honest politician”.
He lost to junior Karamanlis’s (a nephew of the old Statesman) New Democracy, which was by now acclimatised to PASOK’s populist, public spending, voter-pampering policies. His main accomplishment, during his 5 years in power, was inaction. His government was reconciled with corruption and PASOK’s populist practices, ever-borrowing to maintain a false image of prosperity. The bubble burst in George Papandreou (Andreas’ son) hands, as he won the 2009 elections with a clear majority. He could have avoided it, had he introduced an immediate pack of measures, but instead he played around until it was too late.
The current story is well-known. All Greek political parties, in turn, have denounced the EU-IMF salvage programmes when in opposition, only to sign them obligingly when they come into the responsibility of Government. The case of the last SYRIZANEL government that rules Greece since January 2015 is typical. They were elected on the express platform of “tearing up all EU-IMF salvage programmes”. After 6 months of inaction covered under the publicised myth of “hard negotiations” they proclaimed and won a referendum that rejected the EU proposal on the table; only to somersault within one week and sign a “Third Programme” worse than the one they had on the table of negotiations.
Ever since, the drama continues: Capital controls are in force for over 2 years strangling the banking system and the economy. The Greek people have lost more than 100 billion euros, in straight loss of income and pensions, successive bank recapitalisations, reduced exports, not to speak of the loss of national and personal dignity.
The only sign of “government policy” is a series of populist non-papers issued by the Prime-Ministers Office, each cancelling the previous one as soon as it is proven a lie. They have a standard policy of extending the “performance reviews” foreseen in the Programme from one to seven or eight months, to convey an image of “hard negotiations”.
The current Government has proven its complete incapacity to handle even small things, such as setting up refugee “hotspots” and repatriating back to Turkey few hundreds of illegal immigrants, because they cannot process asylum applications. The central areas of Athens and Thessalloniki are burned and broken down by anarchists every other night and the police – on Government orders – simply refrain from any intervention. They could not even repair the houses and school demolished by an earthquake in a small island village, so that Pope Francis intervened and sent in the necessary money.
To manipulate public outcry, they carefully launch with vulgar funfair various “pivotal” actions, such as cutting down the number of national TV channels from 9 to 4, or converting seasonal labour into permanent civil servants, which are then declared unconstitutional by Supreme Court decisions. Their latest about-face was the much advertised demand for concrete and effective debt-restructuring, before we would agree to the latest programme evaluation. This, in face of a curt Eurozone rejection, was replaced by our “imminent sortie” into the financial markets, which hung-out for 10 days, before it was swallowed back, following the IMF Council decision three days ago.
A “decoy” for the multi-betrayed public opinion had to be discovered. It was none less, than a general assault on Greek justice, triggered by a second Appeal Court decision not to allow the release from prison of a 28-year old girl, sentenced to 13 years imprisonment for her participation in a terrorist organisation. The Minister of Justice himself, several other Ministers, even the Prime Minister himself said it was unacceptable. Several spokesmen of professional organisations of Judges came out with sharp responses criticising such action as undermining the independence of Justice, as one of the three pylons of Democracy.
It is obvious that the SYRIZANEL government is trying to pick out its way through a minefield. It is a matter of time before someone treads on a mine. The problem is that the minefield and what lies around it is not their own backyard. It is Greece and its Institutions. Blowing it up is much worse than 100 formal financial bankruptcies. Again we are treading very treacherous waters for the survival of Greece as a democratic, modern nation. Enough is enough!
By Maximos 24 July 2017