The coalition government stitched together by Lucas Papademos has successfully concluded its mandate and, as agreed, the Greek political system is headed for a snap election on 6 May.
These are being described as the most important elections in Greece in the last thirty years, whose results may determine not only Greece’s place in Europe but perhaps even the fate of the Eurozone itself.
It seems that the Greek people are faced with a truly rotten dilemma. For after two years of unprecedented hardship, there are being presented with stark choice: either support the euro rescue packages and thus continued hardship or face expulsion from the euro and absolute chaos.
My reference to the bailout packages as euro packages is not accidental: while they are customarily described as the Greek bailout packages, it is clear that the Greek people and their well being, in terms of priority ranking, probably figure at the very, very bottom of the list. This had been first and foremost a rescue package for the euro and its banking system, designed to preserve the stability of the zone at the expense (as it has turned out) of the Greek people.
For the toll has been truly devastating. Greece is entering its 5th consecutive year of recession. Its accumulated drop in GDP is expected to reach the levels of 20%, compared to less than 10% predicted in the initial bailout package. Salaries and benefits have been slashed by up to 32%, general unemployment is at 21% and youth unemployment has reached the astronomical 50%. And this is not the end, for the troika, has requested further cuts by June.
Against this grim background, the Greek people are being told, by the establishment parties and their creditors, that the bailout package agreed earlier this year is still their best chance of getting out of the crisis. Should everything go according to plan, the Greek debt should be reduced to 120% of GDP by 2020, i.e. the same levels as 2009!!!!
Those appealing to the logic of the voters seem to forget one very important element, i.e. that humans being are indeed human: which means that there is only so much pain that they can take in the short-run in exchange for long term gratification. Trying to appeal to someone’s logic after you have stripped him of all dignity and asking him to take even more pain for the foreseeable future, will not work. It is like trying to explain to a child that beating him is good for him and that in the long-term, he will see the benefits of this short-term necessity.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that a large number of voters is not buying in. Support for the two establishment parties is predicted to drop to all time historical low, from 80% of the votes in 2009 to less than 40%. Some analysts even predict that the two main parties would not be able to muster enough MPs to form a coalition government.
Naturally, those benefiting are the parties that have are opposed to the continuation of the current economic policy. Left and right anti-bailout out parties of all shades and nuances have been gaining ground so rapidly, forcing analysts to consider, what was previously unimaginable, as a distant possibility: in other words, that elections may produce a majority of forces opposed to the bail-out package.
In my previous column, I had made a strong case for Germany and the economic and moral model it espouses. Moreover, I am under no illusion as to the scale of transformation Greece needs to undergo should it wish to ever become a truly modern and meritocratic.
Yet, even after having factored everything and applied all layers of rationality possible, I still find myself unable to vote for the two pro-bailout parties. Two reasons dominate this choice: first, these are the parties who have been primarily responsible for the crisis; and second, judging from the hardship it has caused, it is no longer possible to justify from a moral point of view the path being followed. Greeks are now being joined by millions of Italians, Spaniards and Portuguese who, in the name of financial stability, are being deprived of any meaning or hope. If saving a currency means destroying the livelihood of so many people, then we should either question the merits of this currency or find a better way of living within it.
The true irony is that there has always been a different path to follow in this Eurozone crisis, which can be summed up as Eurobonds. If the ECB can provide to banks 1 trillion of short term loans at an interest rate 1% (!), then surely it can also provide similar loans to governments to help them implement successfully the tough, albeit necessary, reforms at home, while preserving an element of social cohesion.
Voters in Greece should reject the blackmails being presented by the pro-bailout parties and our creditors and choose human dignity over currency stability. Should a coalition of forces that opposes that current bailout terms arises, they should call our creditors bluff and see if indeed they make good on their threats.
Call this extreme brinkmanship, yet I am convinced that, should they have been able to, the Germans would have kicked Greece out of the Eurozone a long time ago. For better or for worst, we are in this together, and in a symbiosis, respect for the other’s dignity and well-being works better than chastisement and threats.
Europe needs to rediscover the word solidarity and give hope to its people. In a weird turn of events, a strong protest vote tomorrow, instead of unleashing the Armageddon predicted, may be remembered as the day that gave ordinary Europeans hope.
Author : Konstandinos Diamandouros