Op-ed by Akis Kalaitzidis
In the past week or so hardy a day goes by without someone asking me about the situation in Greece, the Greek elections and its consequences. As much as I love talking politics I’m really not satisfied answering with the stereotypical political science answer: “it all depends,” so I went ahead and undertook some seriously scientific divination and witchcraft and came up with the results of the Greek elections of January 25, 2015.
SYRIZA 38% (Leftist coalition)
New Democracy 31% (Conservatives)
To Potami 7% (New party left of center)
Chrisi Avgi 7% (Neo-Nazi nationalists)
KKE 5,5 % (Communists)
PASOK 5% (Socialists)
ANEL 2.5% (Right wing conservatives)
KIDHSO 2% (New Socialist party under former PM Papandreou)
What does this mean?
It all depends… some habits are very hard to break.
While I assume that SYRIZA will have the necessary numbers to govern and will be able to elect a president for the republic in the long run there are only very few additional consequences for the Greek public. One that is hotly debated is the future of Greece as a European Union member. The departing governing parties tried their best to highlight the possibility of a “Grexit” and the eventual loss of membership that will lead economic armageddon. Let’s not kid ourselves, it is a real possibility, despite the best intentions of the politicians in charge. Yet, the people of Greece seem to not believe it. They are tired of being broke and paying taxes and having the highest unemployment rates in Europe. Even in the scariest scenario, that of Grexit, they seem to fear nothing much will change for them personally, so they will massively vote for the left. The Europeans are reaping what they sowed when they decided to make Greece the receptacle of their anger for the crisis of sovereign debt which started in 2008.
The more likely scenarios are that after intense negotiations Greece will remain the sick man of Europe. It will because the underlying causes of the crisis in Greece, have not and will not be dealt with because the Greeks have not reached the stage of acceptance, they are hopelessly stuck at the stage of anger! The blame game remained in full swing until the late 2014, several politicians but mostly the media blamed Europe and more specifically Germany for four years of intense austerity and Great Depression like conditions. Very few the government itself included did much to attract attention to the institutional malaise in the country and if they did they focused on the epidermic analysis of pensioners who received pensions illegally, and people mooching of the state. Very few people talked about the inefficiency of a state which refused to acknowledge the number of employees it employed or the necessity to restructure the budgetary process. Yes, some political activities in the last 4 years became much more centralized and efficient such as tax collection and labor force statistics but none attempted to contextualize the numbers that are revealed through these processes. If they did, they drew the wrong conclusions. SYRIZA’s answer to high unemployment is to hire more public employees, despite the whole that would create in public finances, and the government’s approach to the crisis was, instead of restructuring the state and tearing at the most inefficient and extractive institutions, to just spread the pain to the entire population by cutting salaries and raising taxes across the board.
None of the internal problems facing Greece in the near future are about to be solved and thus whether the country stays or leaves the Eurozone is more of an academic exercise. Even if the new government negotiates better terms they are going to be linked to specific targets, the same ones that the coalition government failed to reach so far. If they withdraw the country from the Eurozone, whether intentionally or not, the state will revert to its former paternalistic clientelistic self. From the two scenarios I would prefer the first, albeit reluctantly, since the second one includes political and maybe foreign policy pitfalls. It is not at all certain that the death, Professor of economics Ioannis Varoufakis, candidate for office with SYRIZA, is advocating by saying “in the absence of debt forgiveness and restructuring death is preferable,” will be merciful.
Akis Kalaitzidis, is Professor of Political Science at the University of Central Missouri, Department of Government, International Studies and Languages. You can reach him at his e-mail at email@example.com.