The recent history of Greece has revealed the incompetence of its political system to provide a clear vision that could attract the support of a parliamentary majority (which would include the support of part of the opposition) and help the country get back on its feet. The fact that six general elections have been held since 2004 is a typical example for the failure of the political forces to find a common ground and put forward measures that could restore normality. It seems that when Greek governments come to the point to plan and adhere to unpopular policies, which in some cases can be beneficial in the long run, or make tough decisions, they resort to elections thereby hindering prosperity since they create an unstable environment both within and outside the country.
Although the aforementioned democratic malfunction is not a new phenomenon, its consequences, especially after 2010 when Greece received the first bailout programme from the Troika, have caused greater damage than ever before and left the country struggling to escape from a devastating crisis. Before proceeding to the main reason why a common and well-structured vision is necessary (i.e. the role of trust in the political system), it is worthwhile to look at some facts that picture the grim situation of a country suffering from a deep crisis. According to the 2015 Fragile States Index, provided by the Fund for Peace, the Greek economy has shrunk by 6% per year (this number goes up to 10% when adjusted for inflation), GDP has decreased by over 25%, unemployment has soared to 26% and youth unemployment has fallen from 60% in 2013 to 50% in 2014. Furthermore, homelessness has increased by 25% in the years 2009-2011 and suicide rates by 35.5% in 2012. Budget changes have also led to poor public hospital services, since funding has diminished by 25% while, at the same time, drug prevention centres and psychiatric clinics have ceased operation.
Even though, judging from the above, stability is needed today more than ever before, the government, according to local news media, is preparing elections in autumn in case Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras fails to moderate the stance of and come into line with the opposing voices within his party; especially with those belonging to the so-called left platform. This turmoil would probably result in further deterioration of public trust in the political system, since once again the latter will show its inability to steer Greece safely into the harbour. To further solidify this argument, a press release of the Hellenic Statistical Authority, which was made available to the public last November, revealed that 45% of the people do not trust the political system at all. Taking into consideration the transformations in society after SYRIZA took office six months ago, (e.g. the elevated levels of uncertainty and anxiety of the population, the disappointed expectations and broken promises) one could expect a higher percentage of disillusioned citizens if there will be no positive and tangible changes in the near future.
Without a shared vision that needs to be adopted and implemented by as many political actors as possible in order to create a climate of actual (and not only perceived) trust, the country is likely to face difficulties in bolstering its capacity to revitalise and flourish again. Generally, trust in the political system is seen as a factor that could guarantee the success of policies, especially if the latter require the compliance of citizens. Apart from that, trust enhances cooperation among the different stakeholders in society which in turn can play a vital role in achieving sustainable development; not only in economic, but also in social terms. Unfortunately, the documented low levels of trust along with the persistent problems of Greek reality, such as the corrupt and bureaucratic civil services, the established clientelistic networks and political nepotism have eroded hopes for the creation of a modern state that will respect and protect its people.
Therefore, Alexis Tsipras has the responsibility and ─ according to some commentators ─ because of his lasting popularity a unique opportunity to unite political opponents and friends in order to provide a clear vision. This would open more chances for the country to recover from what the international community has declared a humanitarian crisis. And yet, even though SYRIZA, according to recent opinion polls, holds a strong lead over the main opposition party New Democracy, history has shown that voting intentions can vanish when citizens feel betrayed. Finally, there is another issue that also relates to the aforementioned climate of distrust, which we certainly should not forget when looking at the extremely critical situation in Greece; this is the significant popularity of the radical right-wing party Golden Dawn, a popularity which endures even after the prosecution of many of its prominent members. It looks like Greece needs a clear vision in order to avoid that its politicians end up acting like what George Santayana calls fanatics, i.e. those who redouble their effort when they have forgotten their aim. If that happens, Greece will just continue to struggle to solve the same old structural problems.
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Andreas Dafnos is a Junior Research Scholar at the Greek think tank Strategy International. Holding a double Master’s Degree from the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance and the United Nations University in Public Policy and Human Development, with a specialisation in Risk and Vulnerability, he will, in October, start a PhD in Politics at the University of Sheffield. His main publications are: ‘Narratives as a Means of Countering the Radical Right; Looking into the Trojan T-shirt Project’ and ‘Lone Wolf Terrorism as Category: Learning from the Breivik Case’ published by the Journal EXIT Deutschland. His academic interests cover the fields of radicalisation, extremism and violence and migration.