Unfortunately, this is not the case. While the majority of the political parties directly or indirectly continue to employ the sterile, preterit and dangerous rhetoric of the past two or three decades by giving unrealistic promises, the people are once again ready to follow them.
Some necessary reformsThe greek economy has always been state controlled even when right-wing governments ruled the country. All private business could not survive unless they had business dealings with the state. The notion of pure entrepreneurship without state interventions never existed in the country of Greece, a country whose economy is basically a byzantine copy. Greece has never managed to escape from the “eastern roman” ways of conducting business as reforms are viewed as something “evil” and have never been welcomed by the great majority of the people.
“In Greece, the real power is the power of resistance, the power of inertia”, said a former politician who received the hostility of the people for daring to suggest some innovations. Greeceʼs main power centers (political parties, professional guilds, public sector unions, business leaders, and the media moguls) have never stopped fighting against every attempt to reform the country because they want to preserve their privileges. They show an extreme determination to block any structural changes that would help the economy be more functional. With corruption being woven into the fabric of the greek state, any reforms seem like “mission impossible”.
The majority of public servants were not appointed through a meritocratic system that evaluated their true credentials and working experience but through a system based on political connections. Millions of votes were given to the politicians who placed people in their civil posts.
Besides being unwilling to work hard and serve the citizens, most public servants “invented” numerous ways of making an extra buck. They directly or indirectly received smaller or larger bribes (depending on the case) to process a civilianʼs request. The practice of “feathering their own beds” has not decreased a bit even now where the whole country is collapsing. In the past, most civil servants were handsomely paid by the state by receiving financial “allowances” that were “tailor made” by the politicians who appointed them just to keep their voters happy. Since most of the money that the country borrows is headed towards the payment of the public servants, it is rather obvious that the only means of rescuing Greece from a complete state of disaster is simply to fire at least half of the public servants.
How can this be done? Will matters get even worse if half of the public servants are fired since they will add up to 1,5 million of people who are already unemployed? Undoubtedly, this wonʼt be an easy task. However, the state could either give them a compensation for a small period of time that would total 1/3 of their salary accompanied by financial incentives to start their own business or even better, encourage them to move to the countryside and be involved in the agricultural sector. One might say that this easier said than done but I donʼt think that this sort of mentality will lead the country anywhere. The country doesnʼt need any more “thinkers”. It is in need of “doers”, people who would undertake the political risk of improving the economy by getting rid of the state-run practices that have led Greece to this chaos.
The state surely needs to be substantially decreased by entering the phase of a healthy privatization process. Many counterproductive and heavily bureaucratic agencies should be sold to the private sector. In addition, numerous public agencies that were formed to house counterproductive public servants and have no actual role to play in terms of serving the public should be immediately abolished. Otherwise, no matter how many loans Greece gets, the end result will be always the same.
Greece is in need of a better, fairer and more effective tax collecting system. It is true that the greek people have always been negative to paying taxes. However, the “art” of tax evasion is deeply rooted in the history of Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire that succeeded it. The church became the tax collector, a role that granted it with tremendous privileges. So, paying taxes has never been viewed as the necessary process that will benefit the citizenry as a whole but as a means of making richer the stateʼs corrupted mandarins.
The countryʼs tax collecting mechanism also needs some heavy reforms. Greece has 286 tax offices a huge per capita figure by OECD standards, created in the past two decades to serve the voting clientele. During the 80ʼs the 90ʼs and right after 2007 many civil servants were transferred to tax collection departments from other parts of the civil service without having the necessary skills or training. Why? Because being in charge of collecting taxes allows every public servant to benefit himself by receiving kickbacks. As long as no reforms take place, the ones who undertake the burden of paying taxes are the pensioners, the low salary earners and the small-medium size businesses many of which are forced to abandon Greece to avoid the heavy tax burden. Big businesses which have strong political connections end up paying very little simply because they finance the political campaigns of the corrupted political parties.
Greeceʼs “heavy industry”
The notion of planning ahead has always been the missing factor regarding the greek state. Many political historians have concluded that matters would have been substantially better if Ioannis Kapodistrias had not been assassinated by the clans that continue to rule the land even these days. Serious attempts to reform the way the state functions have never been popular to the people of this country. Greeceʼs heavy industry is undoubtedly tourism. However, the services offered to the foreign visitors were not only overpriced but also of inferior quality in most cases. Another underestimated factor is the countryʼs small enterprises which could help give economy a substantial boost. The greek shoe and jewellery makers as well as some many other craftsmen and small business owners were never given the proper attention so as to develop their exporting potentials. Moreover, Greece has a great number of scientists who were educated abroad and could significantly contribute to the increase of industrial innovations and applications and thus give the economy a further competitive advantage.
Unfortunately, Greeceʼs private sector is collapsing due to heavy taxation and bureaucracy. The private sector is sacrificed just to rescue the state mandarins. The only surviving private businesses are the ones which had unethically and illegally interlaced with the corrupted public sector.
Dealing with illegal immigrants
When somebody is forced to immigrate, it unquestionably means that he is doing so to seek better employment opportunities and/or to avoid political/religious persecution. The issue of immigration is a very complex and delicate social phenomenon that needs to be tackled with extreme care.
It is true that Greece has transformed itself over the past 30 years. It used to be an immigrant exporting country and now itʼs an immigrant importing one. Although no exact estimates are available regarding the number of illegal aliens that live in the country, itʼs quite obvious that the number of people who have sought refuge here are more than the country can support especially during its financial crisis. Having in mind the high unemployment rate of Greece, the increase of criminality is somewhat expected since most of the illegal immigrants can barely survive and thus, will employ every possible means (including committing crimes) just to feed themselves. Greeceʼs geographical borders are hard to guard and control. In addition, Europeʼs attitude towards Greeceʼs immigration problem is treated as an unimportant issue since Europe considers Greece as its “toilet” in terms of controlling the constant flow of immigrants. Most of the immigrants who have come to Greece, never wished to reside in this country permanently. How could this be remedied?
Instead of forcing those individuals to leave the country, the country of Greece could provide them with all the necessary travelling documents that would enable the immigrants to go to other european countries. That would be perhaps one of the biggest nightmares of Berlin, but it could teach Europe a useful lesson for not implementing a solid based and realistic immigration policy.
The geopolitical environment and the unfriendly neighbors
Greece is a balkan country both geographically and culturally. The balkans once were a part of the Ottoman Empire before their struggles to free themselves and become independent states. That may partially justify the degree of ethnocentricity that exists among those states even today.
Terms like the “Great Albania”, “Great Bulgaria”, “Great Serbia”, “the “Great Macedonia” (one of the most successful historical jokes that started in Titoʼs times by Tito himself) are an inseparable part of the Balkan mentality which has also been infested by theocracy. Instead of getting rid of their corrupted politicians and find a formula of cooperating among themselves so as to improve their economies, the balkan states exhaust themselves in their attempt to be linked to Alexander the Great. Neither Alexander nor his ancient macedonians exist today. Nobody in the Balkans can claim that he is genetically linked to them after so many intermixtures of tribes that took place there. It would be a great joke if somebody truly claimed that he is a direct and pure descendant of Alexander.
On the other hand, the territorial disputes with Turkey, have forced Greece to be involved in a never ending armaments race that has cost both countries a serious misallocation of resources. In general, the only one who benefits out of this race is the armament industry which is neither greek nor turkish. It is really sad to see countries that share borders to exhibit such a high degree of hostility towards each other.
The lack of european leadership
The European Union along with the concept of having a common currency (Euro) was never based on solid foundations. The countries that comprise Europe have tremendous differences regarding their mentality, their economy, their demographics, their culture and their border threats. The Maastricht Treaty never took into account the above mentioned differences and that led to the turmoil that exists today. A german has very few things in common with an Italian not to mention with a greek, a spaniard with an austrian, a belgian with an englishman and so on. When the plan for a united Europe was concocted, all those factors were not taken into account.
The fate of Euro undoubtedly depends heavily on these great cultural differences but Berlin pretends to ignore them because that serves its economic dominance better. Nowadays, Germany is the key player in the european matters. All other states are either German satellites or “small potatoes”. Germany seems to have benefited from the crisis of the european South and that is the main reason why it insists on the implementation of the heavy austerity reforms that it has proposed. However, in the long run, Germany may be forced to pay a heavy price in its attempt to “germanize” Europe. In the meantime, Greece will continue to be Berlinʼs guinea pig in terms of testing the effectiveness of german-made austerity measures that the country is forced to implement.
As a conclusion
It would be unfair to say that Europe and its demands for austerity measures have solely triggered Greeceʼs miserable financial condition. The uniqueness as well as the roots of Greeceʼs financial burden can be found in the socio-cultural roots of the modern Greek state and the way it was formed as well as the mentality of the people who are fond of electing corrupted politicians for a post in the public sector. (Read: The socio-cultural roots of the greek economic crisis). Furthermore, Europe as an entity and euro as a common currency seem to have an expiration date that doesnʼt seem to be far away. What Greece experiences now is extremely serious and may cause even more serious socio-political repercussions that will have a tremendous international impact. What will happen in the years if not months that will follow will eventually darken not only the history of Europe but also the history of humanity as a whole.