The suspended step of Greece
“We do not want politicians here! They should leave the place! This place is for culture,” angry voices were heard saying last Friday among the thick, somber crowd gathered at the Central Cemetery in Athens to attend the funeral of Greece’s best-known cinema director, Theo Angelopoulos, who died in a traffic accident last week.
Only a few government politicians had risked showing themselves in public. These days, any public sighting of a mainstream politician comes with a high possibility of a verbal or even physical assault by furious citizens. The funeral was indeed an impressive occasion that had brought together most of Greece’s intelligentsia, all admirers of that internationally acclaimed director who revealed Greece’s tormented contemporary history in a unique cinematic style. He was killed while he was shooting his last film, which was dealing with the current crisis in his country.
Ironically, it was the deepening economic crisis of Greece that the coalition government under the appointed prime minister, Lucas Papademos, was discussing with representatives of its official lenders – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – in Athens, last Friday, not far from the cemetery. During those “very dense, difficult and crucial” talks, as described by a Greek Finance Ministry official quoted by Reuters, the Greek side tried hard to appease the “troika that it is doing everything it can to implement steps to improve the effectiveness of the public administration and a closer monitoring of the efforts to achieve fiscal targets,” as officially stated.
But this has not been the view of the “troikans.” They think that Athens is dragging its feet in reforming its economy and public administration. For them, Greece is an overspending, mismanaged clientelist state and an overspending society in bad need of discipline. In order for Greece to receive the next tranche of funds from its first bailout, an agreement on “new reforms” has to be agreed upon.
Few Greeks would view the things the troika is pushing through as “reforms.” For most, this is an attempt to destroy the fundamental framework of labor relations in their country. Under the pretext of reducing the country’s huge, 350 billion-euro debt, they say, the “troika” is pushing through a plan to make Greek labor sufficiently cheap to be attractive to big foreign investment. The recent collapse of the center-left government of George Papandreou was really due to the public anger that it surrendered to its lenders instead of negotiating a more viable aid package.
With the continuing crisis in the eurozone having weakened the European Union decision-making institutions even more and having strengthened the role of Germany as the paymaster of the European Union even further, Greeks were not really surprised when a German proposal asked for the fiscal surrender of Greece.
According to a document distributed to the Eurogroup and leaked to the Financial Times, Berlin is asking for the appointment of a special commissioner who would take control over Greek government budget policy and make sure that the country’s debt is being paid. “Given the disappointing compliance so far, Greece has to accept shifting budgetary sovereignty to the European level for a certain period of time,” the Financial Times reported the document as saying.
These are crucial times for Greece. Its capacity to avoid an uncontrolled default is at stake. It is now being asked to surrender its fiscal autonomy while its position in the eurozone seems in suspension.
For the moment, it feels as if, to paraphrase the words of one of the characters in Angelopoulos’ 1991 movie: “Greece has one leg suspended in mid air, like a stork. If it takes one more step, it is … somewhere else, or … it dies.”