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Anna Triandafyllidou- Is Greece a modern country? An explanation to Greece’s current economic crisis (blog post)

This article was published in http://blogs.eliamep.gr/en/ on April 23, 2010. The views expressed here are those of the author Anna Triandafyllidou.

It was already in the early 1990s when Nikiforos Diamandouros and Nikos Mouzelis, two eminent Greek scholars, were writing about the conflict between two dominant political cultures in Greece: the ‘underdog’ culture (notably a pre-democratic culture favouring clientelistic networks of power, bearing a strong imprint of the Orthodox Church and its anti-Western world view, with a powerful statist orientation, and rather ambivalent towards capitalism and its market forces) and the ‘modernising’ culture (which promotes rationalization in society and politics along the lines of liberalism, secularism, democracy and capitalism, and privileges the exercise of power through modern political parties, rather than clientelistic personalized networks of power). Both Diamandouros and Mouzelis noted that elements of either culture were to be found in both the left- and right-wing forces of the political system.

Looking back at the 20 years since this analysis was written it becomes clear that even if the ‘underdog’ culture has not fully dominated Greek society and politics, it has generally managed to undermine the forces that promoted institutional and economic rationalization along the main lines of Western capitalism. Although capitalist social and economic relations did establish themselves in the country, they did not manage to equally promote modern behavioural norms that would bind individuals to notions of collective rationality and to abstract codes of citizen behaviour. Communal networks based on reciprocity and on personalized instrumental understandings of rationality survived and remained strong leading to free rider behaviours and undermining any emerging collective social project in the country.

Fifteen years ago Tsoukalas noted that Greece had been characterized by a model of growth without development. The post-1974 period to this day has been marked by a growing level of per capita consumption and a growing per capita GDP rate, while the country’s main socio-economic structure has remained largely pre-modern both in cultural and in economic terms. Citizens kept their free rider economic and social behaviour without espousing a labour ethos, impersonal market honesty, personal reliability, compliance to collective norms of efficiency and performance and dedication to the notion of citizenship as values per se.  The public domain and by extension the state were (and still are) seen as resources available for any individual or corporatist ‘taking’ without the citizen owing something to the collectivity and the state in return. It is indeed the overwhelming majority of Greek citizens that is ‘guilty’ of such a behaviour, not only a small governing elite.

This situation is at the root of the current crisis and of the inability of the Greek society and state to face up to the EU requirements for a rational management of public finances.

 It was in 1995 when Mouzelis noted, rather optimistically in my view, that Greece’s prospect for change in the twenty-first century could come from below (from the anti-party mood of the electorate in the 1990s and the student movement), from within (the loosening class divide, the reshuffling of party structures and the emergence of modernizing political forces), or, last but not least, from above (notably from the rules imposed by the EC and later the EU on Greece’ economy and society).

It seems to me that none of these three prospects has materialised so far. The anti-party mood or the student movement of the 1990s and the 2000s have not yet led to any radical changes in the political system. On the contrary, any innovative forces among the student population have been bended to party clientelism.

The dominant political parties and their elites have not been challenged even at the face of massive economic and co-ethnic immigration that has marked the 1990s and 2000s (with a current immigrant stock of approximately 10% of the total resident population). The inability of any new political formations to emerge is testified by the failure of three new political formations that emerged in the last 15 years (Politiki Anoixi of Antonis Samaras founded in 1993, of DHANA by Dimitris Tsovolas or indeed the more recent party founded and quickly dissolved by Dimitris Avramopoulos). Indeed, it is unfortunately not even surprising that Samaras and Avramopoulos are now the leaders of the old conservative party New Democracy.

Moreover, as the current problems show, compliance with European rules and directives has had only a limited impact on social and economic reform. The measures taken either by the Simitis government in the mid-1990s or by the Karamanlis government in the period 2004-2007 only managed to bring indices in line with EU requirements but did not create the conditions for a lasting change in the economic and social structures in the country and for growth with development.

Expecting for externally imposed constraints to effect structural changes in society and economy only testifies to the inability or unwillingness of the domestic forces to effect economic and social reform. More than 25 years of unmediated imposition of modern economic and social rules by the European Communities and later the European Union has managed to keep the Greek economy more or less on track and has given Greece the possibility to participate in the Euro zone but has not led to substantial structural changes in the economy or society. Rather we partly witness the bending of rules and requirements to the populistic and clientelistic networks of power.

Neither the working nor the middle class nor the intellectuals of Greece have been able to stir the country into an effective even if painful path towards social and economic modernization. They were not able to support governments that would effect structural economic reform, limit the public sector’s growth, promote the normal functioning of market forces, allow for genuine competition to develop, break up personalized clientelistic forms of governance, and promote impersonalized values such as trust, obedience to the law, loyalty to the collectivity and the state.

These are the roots of the current crisis and this is why the effort of the current Greek government to face it must not stop at face-lifting measures providing much needed cash to the state and improving its credibility to foreign investors. The change must be long lasting and profound getting eventually the message through to Greek citizens and Greek elites that we need to develop a strong sense of civic responsibility which would unleash and the same time tame the market and the political elites. It is only in this perspective that, in my view, the economic sacrifice required by all Greek citizens today  is justified.

 
 
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