Since 2010, the debate on Greece's reforms lay only on whether austerity should be used as a plan to treat the Greek state from its inherent troubles. Yet there was hardly any talk about how corruption had to be confronted. Through a historical lens, this article will show how corruption and ideology shaped the political world of Greece in the last seventy years up to the 5 July referendum.
The Civil War (1944-1949)
Until 1944, Greece was under the occupation of Nazi Germany. The collapse of the Eastern Front forced German troops to leave Greece. Hitherto Greece hosted a strong resistance movement. Despite various resistance factions, the by far largest resistance group was influenced by the Left and especially by the Communists, who held large chunks of the countryside and even some districts of Athens.
The Communists regarded themselves as liberators and they saw their chance in creating a socialist utopia, most likely in the Marxist-Leninst example of Russia. Of course, there was a Greek government in exile with the King, situated in Cairo under British protection throughout the Occupation, along with the remaining Greek army. When British and Greek troops came to Greece, the Communists saw them as a replacement of occupant powers, given also the fact that the King was the head of the pre-war authoritarian regime.
The Resistance and British troops clashed; they even fought in central Athens. Although an agreement was made and many of the former leftwing affiliates participated in the next general elections, the Communists did not partake. They withdrew in the mountains continuing their insurgency, until their final defeat by the Greek National Army in 1949, with the large support of Britain and the US (after 1948).
The Post-War Years (1949-1974)
The Greek Civil War is useful because it allows us to understand the underlying division of ideology that has separated political life in Greece until today. The defeated Communists were persecuted, exiled, executed and tortured, while they saw rightwing elements -even collaborators with the Nazis- take positions of power. On the other hand, given the violence of the Civil War, the Communists were seen as mountain bandits, who wanted to establish a totalitarian regime in a country that returned with gradual steps to (bourgeois) democracy and stability.
The gradual rise of prosperity that followed helped Greece forget its past troubles. The Marshall and Truman plans assisted the Greek economy. Greece enjoyed the post war boom of the 1960s and it was culturally and economically well tied with Western Europe. Still as a poorer country, guest workers emigrated to Benelux countries and massively to Germany, where they generally made a good living and sent substantial remittance to their relatives who stayed back. (In the 1980s they would even return to Greece and make businesses there). Greece was massively modernised and was turning into a modern consumer society, while a construction boom made its urban centres grow into sprawling concrete jungles crowded with motor cars and expanded suburbs.
At the same time, the expansion and inexpensiveness of massive tourism brought Greece into the forefront. Luxury island destinations such as Hydra, Mykonos and Santorini already hot spot destination for wealthy socialites, entered the consciousness of masses of young Europeans who could now easily visit Greece. Films were made in Greece and the masses were becoming more aware of its cultural role as the cradle of the West. Despite its political troubles and the seven-year dictatorship, Greece kept its cosmopolitan, European society largely intact, although always behind and underdeveloped, in comparison to the heavily industrialised North.
The dictatorship that came in 1967 intensified the post-war anti-leftwing repression attacking civil liberties and introducing tighter forms of censorship.
In many ways, this built up the pent-up resentment of the Left against the state and many who were not classified as socialists or communists followed their subcultural movement as a means of expressing their sympathy on democracy and liberty.
The Third Republic (after 1974)
The bipartisan system that came after the dictatorship, although it reinstated liberties and democratic parliamentarianism, it also brought back clientelist politics, where politicians made under-the-table deals with voters to get reelected. As a result, each party had its cronies holding significant positions of power, while the role of the public sector increased to support the hiring of these cronies. Cronies paid by loans borrowed by the state.
Although undoubtedly both post-dictatorship parties operated this way, the Socialists played more role in it for two reasons: they were bound by their ideological rhetoric and they were in power for significantly longer. Supported by those previously repressed, their policies were seen as justice against a repressive regime that would be re-born by democratic socialism; it turned out to lead to an anti-entrepreneurial populist statism. In turn, the Conservatives followed similar tactics to follow their own troops in line.
On top of this, corruption was rampant. It was a common secret that, even in the higher echelons of power, ministers, bureaucrats and businessmen were mixed up in deals involving tax money entering “black holes” of appointing or appeasing cronies and -even worse- straight to politicians' pockets as kickbacks. Kickback paid by the innocent taxpayer or by burdensome loans borrowed by the respective government.
Bearing that in mind as well as the dysfunctional and irrational bureaucracy of the state (which also had its own lower-echelon type of corruption and bribery), the citizens had lost their trust to the state. Corruption also entered the bureaucracy. Tax dodging -possibly inspired by those in higher positions- was also seen as an act of defiance, dignity or even survival, if not as greed. Many times the taxman promised cancellation of one's debts to the state, if he was paid a fee for it. As a result, in many ways, people were unofficially encouraged to disobey the law to reach the top or to enter a clique. And if one wanted to run for official positions, he had to act this way to have an impact.
Entering the Euro, Greece saw its economy flourishing enjoying the credit rating of Germany. It was a great opportunity, because Greece could have the funds to create a new, cleaner state machine. On the other hand, it was used as an excuse to over load the state with more cronies, debt and corruption than ever before, bringing the country to the point of collapse.But those in power did not want to lose the privileges they had enjoyed all these years and it would be political suicide to plug off the line of support to their cronies, as they were their voters.
When the Socialists had to do some of it, they were completely replaced by their more radical, anti-austerity alter ego Syriza.
The common critique to Syriza, a party which represented a large shift in the forty-year bipartisanism, was its futile attempt to restore the dirigisme that previous governments supported. Without making reforms to cleanse the state from its long tradition of corruption, the state would still nourish the “black holes” of deficit. In act of symbolic defiance to austerity, Syriza rehired state employees sacked by the austerity governments.
Arguably, this provoked resentment and mistrust amongst reformists within Greece and in Europe, as the country was negotiating terms of a bailout agreement with the troika. In the end, negotiations collapsed and the Syriza government announced a referendum would take place so that the people would decide if the agreement for austerity is accepted. The paradox was that the agreement was later withdrawn by the EU, leaving uncertainties on what the “yes” or “no” vote actually are for; a serious unnecessary dilemma that implies Greece's exit from the Eurozone.
It is obvious that Greek governments have had the main responsibility for the Crisis. Yet, although the EU institutions pressed for economic reforms, they did not intervene as hard to combat its corruption. Of course, rules of national sovereignty cannot allow for much interference, but the interference does take place with the memoranda of economic reform anyway. Politicians and businessmen from other European countries were also part and aware of Greek corruption.
Germany sold defected submarines to Greece; the Greek defence minister then in charge is now in gaol. German company Siemens used to bribe Greek politicians of both parties. And so on.
In a way, it is not a surprise that Greece has entered this Crisis.
Yet on 5 July 2015 Greeks are forced to give an answer to a question on an expired agreement.
The implied question seems to be whether Greece should stay or not in the Eurozone.
It would be better if the question were more explicit and straightforward.
But the final verdict is with the people now. Let's see what it is going to be...