ATHENS – Greece’s crushing economic crisis has largely seen politicians, the rich and privileged escape sacrifice while hammering workers, elderly and the poor with punishing austerity measures – and it seems like that will always be the case.
While the country’s international lenders, the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) have insisted on big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings, it has been less adamant about breaking the system of patronage and bribery that have dominated Greek politics for four decades.
Alternating administrations of the now-ruling New Democracy Conservatives of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his coalition partner, the PASOK Socialists, have taken turns plundering Greece in a different way: packing public payrolls with hundreds of thousands of needless workers in return for votes, leading the country four years ago to seek what turned into two bailouts of 240 billion euros ($317 billion) from the Troika.
They also ignored runaway corruption that still persists – along with patronage during a time when thousands of workers without political protection are being fired.
In an analysis, Tony Barber of the Financial Times indicated that nothing much will change in those arenas because the plutocrats of Greece have almost always had their way and probably will, even after the Troika leaves.
Samaras wants the lenders out fast now, and is seeking an early exit from the deals Greece made with them, because the austerity measures have decimated support for the government and he has responded with promises of tax cuts and giveaways – without consulting them.
That’s because the government, with only 154 votes in the 300-member Parliament, needs 180 votes in February to elect its choice of the next Greek President for a symbolic office that largely consists of whomever is holding the position sitting for photo opportunities and smiling.
Samaras is in a rush, the piece said, because he hopes that gaining an early exit from the Troika will give his government a position of strength to deal with the Presidential election and try to thwart the poll-leading Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) which said it will try block the ruling parties candidate and force an early election before the next scheduled polls in 2016.
That’s why, as puzzling as it seems, Samaras is content to push Greece back into the markets and pay 7-9 percent for borrowing money, almost twice as much as the Troika charges. Most of the bailout monies run out this year but IMF funds are scheduled to be disbursed for two more years, but Samaras is fearful the lenders will push for more reforms, including pension cuts, he want to avoid at all costs.
For Samaras, the report said, “This is not primarily a financial matter. It is about national dignity and, as is to be expected in a democracy, political calculation.”
Underpinning the whole battle over a President though is the backdrop of patronage and bribery in Greece, which has the worst record for corruption in Europe, despite constant promises of reform that haven’t been delivered, apart from a few high-level political prosecutions – which were followed in some cases by drastically reduced sentences.
“The crisis dealt a blow to the time-hallowed system of clientelism, bribery and self-enrichment that gained fresh life in Greece from the early 1980s under PASOK, the Socialist party, and New Democracy,” the Financial Times piece said.
But it added, “It is pointless to deny that public sector corruption and patronage networks persist. In the private sector, meanwhile, rich Greeks made no sacrifices to help their nation in its moment of need, ensuring the crisis hammered the middle classes and poor instead.”
It added: “Greek clientelism, and the selfishness of the rich, survived everything the 20th Century threw at them – two world wars, foreign occupation, a civil war and a domestic military dictatorship. Do not be surprised if they outlive the Troika, too, after Greece’s latest foreign overlords take their leave.”
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