DEMOCRACY is like a bicycle: if you don’t keep pedaling, you fall. Unfortunately, the bicycle of Greek democracy has long been broken. After the military junta collapsed in 1974, Greece created only a hybrid, diluted form of democracy. You can vote, belong to a party and protest. In essence, however, a small clique exercises all meaningful political power.
For all that has been said about the Greek crisis, much has been left unsaid. The crisis has become a battleground of interests and ideologies. At stake is the role of the public sector and the welfare state. Yes, in Greece we have a dysfunctional public sector; for the past 40 years the ruling parties handed out government jobs to their supporters, regardless of their qualifications.
But the real problem with the public sector is the tiny elite of business people who live off the Greek state while passing themselves off as “entrepreneurs.” They bribe politicians to get fat government contracts, usually at inflated prices. They also own many of the country’s media outlets, and thus manage to ensure that their actions are clothed in silence. Sometimes they’ll even buy a soccer team in order to drum up popular support and shield their crimes behind popular protection, as the drug lord Pablo Escobar did in Colombia, and as the paramilitary leader Arkan did in Serbia.
In 2011, Evangelos Venizelos, who was then the finance minister and is now the leader of the socialist party, Pasok, instituted a new property-tax law. But for properties larger than 2,000 square meters — about 21,000 square feet — the tax was reduced by 60 percent. Mr. Venizelos thus carved out a big exemption for the only people who could afford to pay the tax: the rich. (Mr. Venizelos is also the man responsible for a law granting broad immunity to government ministers.)It seems to me that I also heard that the property tax law only applied to land with buildings on it -- it was collected via electric utility bills! Thus, vacant land, even in choice locations, seemed to be excluded.
Such shenanigans have gone on for decades. The public is deprived of real information, as television stations, newspapers and online news sites are controlled by the economic and political elite.
This is all unfolding at a time when Greece is walking a tightrope above the abyss of bankruptcy, while the coalition government is instituting new taxes on the lower classes. Half of young Greeks are unemployed. The economy is shrinking at an annual rate of 6.9 percent. People are scrounging for food. And a neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn, is on the rise, exploiting the resentment and rage toward the ruling class.The Greek people must remount their bicycle of democracy by demanding an end to deception and corruption. Journalists need to resist manipulation and rediscover their journalistic duties. And the government should revive Greece’s ancient democratic heritage — instead of killing the messenger.