The wrath of a people

After a year of austerity, George Papandreou’s government is still facing the risk of bankruptcy, sceptical financial markets and a dwindling sense of solidarity in other European countries. An editorialist expresses his concern over the upsurge in political anger among the Greek people.

Published on 11 March 2011 at 16:26
Street in Athens after a demonstration, 23 February 2011. Slogan on wall : "General strike".

Most Greeks are angry. They are angry with the politicians who ran the country into the ground using public money to protect nepotism and their corrupt interests: the ones "who don’t give a damn about us." They are angry with the politicians, who sat back and watched while their colleagues were implicated in scandal after scandal, without ever being successfully prosecuted: it was as though they belonged to a special club that guaranteed their immunity. They are angry with the politicians who failed to reform an economy that made life easy for sellers of snake oil and parasites on the state, but did not reward the real producers of wealth.

They are angry with the government which, in this period of crisis, has failed to meet people’s expectations or to explain the extent of the problem. They are angry with PASOK [the ruling socialist party], whose members spend their time squabbling with each other and are completely overwhelmed by the issues they are supposed to resolve.

Our inability to modernise our political system

They are angry with the conservative opposition which, at a time when the country is on the brink of disaster, chooses to collapse in a frenzy of irresponsibility and false promises. They may also be angry with the left, which has taken the easy path of saying “No” to everything without ever proposing alternative solutions. But perhaps we should ask ourselves why, since we are so angry, have we not changed our politicians?

Unfortunately, reality does not work that way. In recent years, the one abiding and wholly stable principle has been our inability to modernise our political system, which has led to the endless reiteration of the same problems and the same aberrant behaviour. At the same time, we have held on to our anger, which is a poor source of political inspiration. Although most of us understand that sacrifices are inevitable, we continue to cling to the hope that justice will be done, and those who are responsible will pay for their actions [in particular the former prime minister Costas Karamanlis]. Whether we like it or not, these two competing sentiments have come to define our politics, and we would do well to ensure that one does not serve as a pretext for overlooking the other.

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