Faced with the "Greek contagion," and the real possibility of the euro suffering a life-threatening crisis, European governments, not to mention the White House, have rushed to give the thumbs up to Mr. Papandreou's PASOK socialist government in the role of much-needed firefighters.
With few exceptions, most notably Germany's, the Greek prime minister and his cabinet have been approached with noted outward sympathy, even acclamation, for taking it upon themselves to disembowel Greece in order to save her.
In the early days of the new administration, elected in October 2009, for example, an enthusiastic foreign correspondent rushed to tell her readers how "modern" the Papandreou government is by highlighting the key behavioral fact of one of the new PM's ministers arriving at cabinet meetings with her papers in a backpack! Much has been made of similar, inconsequential drivel, during private conversations with foreign diplomats and other foreign guests, in order to stress how the Papandreou government is "determined" to push Greece in the right direction because of its "reformist frame of mind."
Similarly, foreign reports miss no opportunity to paint Mr. Papandreou himself as the next best thing to ice cream and apple pie. It is a common secret that Mr. Papandreou's entourage leave no opportunity for good press unexploited. The exercise -- unabashed, focused, well funded, and relentless -- has produced above average PR results among the foreign contingent. Many less keen foreign diplomats in Athens miss no opportunity to rhapsodize on how "visionary" and "strategic minded" the Greek prime minister is. In a recent conversation with a "great power" visitor, we patiently endured a long diatribe on how men like Mr. Papandreou can change the flow of history (it wasn't made clear whether it was world history or merely Greek). Academic "analyses," introducing Mr. Papandreou as a pioneer pathfinder, tradition-breaker, brave explorer, and unbending champion of real change, are frequently quite prominent, with effusion and approval running strong, as in this example:
George Papandreou is determined not to repeat the tactics of the past. As Foreign Minister, he showed a rare capacity to exercise diplomatic power boldly and successfully. As a modern man, fluent in Swedish, educated in America, his style eschews the tub-thumping rhetoric favoured by Greek politicians. Initially reluctant to enter politics, his project is to put Greece on the path to becoming a contemporary, non-corrupt polity.
Now, onto reality from a purely Greek angle, that is to say, from the angle of those directly affected by Mr. Papandreou's allegedly rare talents and his claimed determination to shoot us into orbit en route to a better future.
1. In the months leading up to the October 2009 election that brought the Greek socialists to power, Mr. Papandreou and his entourage carved their names in stone as the most energetic and persistent detractors of their own country and government in living memory. Eager to cast himself and his party in the role of the sole saviors of Greece, Mr. Papandreou missed no turn and no bus stop, here and abroad, to declare in the most emphatic terms that Greece was bankrupt and effectively un-salvageable because of misconduct, dereliction of duty, corruption, and downright waste and mismanagement, calamities he attributed, not unexpectedly, to Greece's then hapless conservative government. Soon after the election, Mr. Papandreou's own finance minister rushed to the microphones with the now notorious declaration that the Greek economy resembled "the Titanic" and was in imminent danger of crushing to the depths with no hope of rescue. This "visionary" propaganda of the most treacherous and unspeakable kind on the part of the "path finder" and his confederates, it is now widely accepted, was instrumental in setting the fuse for the credibility crisis that quickly shut Greece out the markets and transformed Greek government paper into junk (in mid-November 2009, about a month plus after the socialists' election victory, the spread between 10-year Greek securities and benchmark German bunds stood at 156 basis points; before of the end of first quarter 2010, the spreads had skyrocketed past 1,000 basis points, effectively sending Greece to the landfill).
2. It is also now abundantly clear that Mr. Papandreou, despite his pre-election loud promises, not to mention his public reassurances after the election, that Greece "would aim to escape its debt crisis on its own," was determined to take Hellas straight to the International Monetary Fund in order to, again, save it! The IMF team of experts, arriving in Athens to review the situation and propose measures, discovered the Papandreou administration waiting, ready, willing, and with the harshest plan imaginable fresh off the baking pan at hand, something that has led the Number Two at IMF, Mr. John Lipsky, to remind the media the IMF did not have to propose any measures but, rather, to pick up the "Greek program," an 800-pound gorilla of a "stability and growth plan," prepared by the PASOK socialists, apparently in secret and away from any form of democratic debate, and simply endorse it -- thus making Mr. Papandreou and all of his "visionaries" co-responsible for imposing on Greece "...the coercive rules of the IMF, which protect not the nations, but the banks," to use the words of Étienne Balibar. So much for "modern man" Mr. Papandreou's reported obsession with "transparency" and all of his government's antics with online "dialogue" and letting "the people know" what awaits them via "publishing everything" on the Web, so all computer-savvy Greeks can weigh in with their two bits worth of wisdom.
3. It was obvious from the opening bell, and remains so today, that Mr. Papandreou is literally obsessed with making his immediate predecessors the sole culprits for Greece's dead-end predicament. Even freshmen economists though would tell us that the current catastrophe has one of the longest tails in history, reaching back to the first ever socialist government in this country, which, coincidentally, was headed by Mr. Papandreou's now late father, Andreas, and which assumed power in 1981. Nevertheless, Mr. Papandreou monotonously repeats his accusations against the previous conservative administration that, according to socialist propaganda, must be responsible for all 20th century world calamities, here and abroad, save the Holocaust. This obsession is closely tied to the equally obvious inability of the socialist administration to articulate alternatives to "salvation" by the IMF, given the undeniable fact that the IMF- EU "support mechanism" route offers not even slender hope of allowing the Greek economy to bounce back. Mr. Papandreou's IMF "solution" has been already shot out of the sky by serious analysts, who prove with facts that a debt re-structuring for Greece, i.e. default, is inevitable (see, for example, an early report in this vein here and one of the latest here). So, where is the "renaissance man" quality that so many abroad assign to "modern man" Mr. Papandreou and his current cabinet colleagues? Where are the rich ideas, the innovative thinking, the brilliant assessment of the problem? Why have we not heard anything about alternatives to the current deep sea wreck of a "solution," which has been touted from the outset by our socialist governors as the sole and inescapable exit from the crisis? Even otherwise well meaning supporters of the PASOK party in power are beginning to wonder now that the extent and depth of the catastrophe ushered in by the "salvation" preached by Mr. Papandreou, have become visible.
4. It is apparent with the naked eye that Mr. Papandreou's "bold" march forward is neither so bold nor so forward or imaginative after all but, rather, chooses to carpet bomb the great majority of the Greek people, the easy victims on salaries and pensions, instead of going toe-to-toe with the real culprits. The relentlessly advertised "opening" of protected occupations has yet to take any concrete form, for example. A lifting of cabotage laws, announced with great fanfare by the PM himself, has been all but withdrawn under pressure from a communist-led seamens' union. This same seamen's union has laid siege on the port of Piraeus and denies tourists, arriving by cruise ship the union does not approve, to move freely to and from their boats, with the police and coast guards nowhere to be seen. Still in Piraeus, a handful of port workers nearly scuttled a management deal with the Chinese Cosco corporation, paralyzed the port for weeks, causing a minimum €2 billion of damage to the economy, and extracted a massive pay-and-benefits package from Mr. Papandreou's government, which, at the same time, is impoverishing millions of single-income people. The deregulation of trucking, whose ancient guild practices greatly add to runaway consumer prices in this country, has similarly stalled for fear of truck armies taking to the motorways and choking the country.
5. In a thoroughly populist and, some say, dangerous move, "modern man" Mr. Papandreou has given the go ahead to his finance ministry to release lists of names of alleged significant tax evaders, publish them in the papers, and make them available to every last willing taker. After weeks of threats to "bloody" those who habitually not pay taxes according to their real income, a catalog of largely medical doctors, dubbed "mega doctors" by the propaganda machine, was released alongside the announcement that the tax authorities will now "dissect" these grand thieves and pulverize them for good for having hurt the motherland. Irrespective of whether the "mega doctors" are guilty or not, a fact that should be decided in a court of law after a proper investigation, such Stalinist practices of publicly denouncing persons presumed innocent until found guilty, threatening them with severe punishment, and surrendering them to the "open people's court" and the media wolf pack are shameful and thoroughly unconstitutional, to say the least. What has happened to the "new" socialist party's high democratic and moral ideals? Is this a harbinger of more such "active measures" to come? Already, unconfirmed reports speak of "average" people confronting drivers of expensive cars in the street to wave fists in their faces and harangue them, with less than polite intentions, for "having brought us all where we are today." Does "modern man" Mr. Papandreou encourage "people's revolutionary violence" in the streets? The citoyen against the "aristocrats?"
6. Only this past week, a former PASOK cabinet minister nonchalantly admitted before a parliamentary committee investigating corruption that, yes, he had received 200,000 old Deutschmarks as a "gift" from Siemens, the German conglomerate with a long and convoluted past of allegedly bribing Greek politicians in order to get fat government contracts. The "gift" receiver let other allegations float: he also spoke of a €10 million "gift" finding its way to "other," presumably PASOK, politicians, whom he refused to name. He did mention though that ten million is a cut not for the lowly, but for "prime ministers." This surprise torpedo attack from one of PASOK's own (this ex minister was one of the closest advisers of PASOK prime minister Simitis, who ruled from 1996 to 2004) rattled Mr. Papandreou's government, which is currently involved in a series of parliamentary hearings targeting its conservative predecessor, and now main opposition, New Democracy party. But Mr. Simitis, the obvious next witness to be subpoenaed in order to explain to parliament how did members of his inner cabinet kept the door, and the Swiss bank accounts, open for "gratuities" in cash, won't suffer any such inconvenience "modern man" Mr. Papandreou let it be known, through his advisers and government spokesman. So much, then, for one of Mr. Papandreou's most cherished mantras hammering home that "we [Greeks] must bleed" in order to combat corruption "wherever it may originate." Bleeding, apparently, is for others (like the 'mega doctors') but never for one of the top members of the PASOK famiglia.
In the first six months of 2010, Greece has sunk in deep black waters.
Her domestic market is in the throes of death. Unemployment is rising fast. Prices are rising faster. Hope is diminishing twice as fast. And the only thing the Papandreou administration has to offer is a mix of elementary school essays dubbed "policy statements" read during morose cabinet meetings; a steady stream of threats in every direction against everybody and anybody over taxes and levies, promising relentless persecution, prison, and confiscation of assets; haphazard talk, exchanged between numbed cabinet ministers with little of substance to say and even less to offer in terms of even small relief in the presence of enormous problems; and a "modern man" prime minister, who excels primarily in logging thousands of frequent flier miles without aim, reason, or concrete outcome, and then returns again to announce that we've got to "bleed" some more so that our "salvation" through destruction may go through.
This schizophrenic setting is the truth for Greece today.
This is the truth behind the "truth" produced by foreign correspondents, "fact finding" visitors, inane diplomats, and eager sycophants working for a government that nicely dovetails with the expectations of varied many abroad, but fails to observe, first and foremost, and as it is bound by the constitution, the welfare of those who elected it.
This is the truth so viciously fought by "authoritative" public opinion polls, bought with "black" funds, suggesting so naturally that, verily, millions of people actually agree with their own demise through brutal taxation, bankruptcy of businesses, invasion and confiscation of family assets, and curtailment of free speech so that the government may claim, falsely and deliberately, it is riding a wave of approval unprecedented in recent memory.
This is the truth foreign investors have discovered and won't be showing up any time soon to test it themselves.
This is the truth we, in Greece, have to struggle with daily.
This is the truth behind the "truth."