Out with the old, but where is the new?

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY ALEXIS PAPACHELAS

I won­der some­times who will have the courage to fi­nally ex­plain to the peo­ple just how much needs to change in or­der for Greece to be­come a nor­mal coun­try. The lies started as soon as we en­tered the sov­er­eign debt cri­sis and the mem­o­ran­dum. The en­tire po­lit­i­cal sys­tem re­fused to ac­cept the need for re­forms. It could hardly do oth­er­wise: In the minds of mod­ern Greek politi­cians re­forms mean sui­cide, end­ing clien­telism, as­sign­ing man­age­ment to pro­fes­sion­als rather than failed politi­cos and wear­ing a strait­jacket as a means of keep­ing away from po­lit­i­cal fa­vors and wast­ing pub­lic funds. So we ended with half-hearted re­forms, which in some cases were not im­ple­mented or were erad­i­cated after be­ing ap­proved. The big­gest crime of all was that the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem re­lin­quished re­form own­er­ship and blamed ev­ery­thing on the mem­o­ran­dum and the troika. Greeks de­spised the troika and the mem­o­ran­dum as they saw their salaries and pen­sions be­ing slashed while taxes sky­rock­eted. There was lit­tle, how­ever, in terms of re­forms. Schools, univer­si­ties, hos­pi­tals, red tape and jus­tice, among oth­ers, re­mained more or less the same. Fis­cal re­form was car­ried out in the same way in which a den­tist pulls out a tooth with­out us­ing anes­the­sia. In the ab­sence of other poli­cies, low­er­ing la­bor costs be­came the easy way to in­crease com­pet­i­tive­ness. This failed to trans­late into ex­ports and real pro­duc­tion, how­ever, as the en­tire sys­tem is anti-en­trepreneur­ship. Greece’s part­ners re­al­ized rel­a­tively early on that this was not a sim­ple case of fis­cal cri­sis, but a chal­lenge to re­build a coun­try on mod­ern foun­da­tions. They started ex­per­i­ment­ing by in­volv­ing the troika, the task force and a string of ad­vis­ers. Seek­ing out easy so­lu­tions they ended up deal­ing with taxi and milk is­sues, only to re­al­ize that noth­ing would change with­out con­sti­tu­tional re­form and rad­i­cal re­con­struc­tion. To­day peo­ple are tired and in despair, while our cred­i­tors fear we might ask for more money. On Oc­to­ber 16 the mar­kets showed us what would hap­pen if we were left to our own de­vices. Op­po­si­tion SYRIZA is un­der the il­lu­sion that its leader will head to Berlin and get it all: money, a debt write- off as well as a growth deal. Prior to the Euro-elec­tion, the gov­ern­ment cre­ated ex­pec­ta­tions of out­side mon­i­tor­ing com­ing to an end, an ex­pec­ta­tion it could not live up to. When will we exit to­day’s im­passe? Only when a crit­i­cal mass of Greek cit­i­zens throw their support be­hind a brave, large-scale re­form of the kind that only hap­pens ev­ery 40 or 50 years. We have yet to re­al­ize what has hap­pened and that is why lead­ing per­son­al­i­ties ca­pa­ble of ex­press­ing this his­tor­i­cal need have yet to emerge. It might take one or two elec­tion rounds, a few more gov­ern­ments and sev­eral “ad­ven­tures” be­fore we come up with a so­lu­tion. In the words of a friend, the old is dy­ing but the new is tak­ing too long to be born.

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