Opinion: Greece′s political elite must turn over a new leaf | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 06.05.2010
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Opinion: Greece's political elite must turn over a new leaf

Despite bloody protests in Athens, the head of Deutsche Welle's Greek department, Spiros Moskovou, thinks most Greeks will support economic reform. He says it's Greece's political leaders who must change their ways.

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Shocking images from the city center in Athens: angry demonstrators, clouds of smoke, tear gas. And then the tragic upshot of Wednesday's major demonstration against the government's strict austerity measures: three people killed in an arson attack on a private bank.

Does all this mean that Greece is slipping towards chaos and anarchy, as so many people fear? Before answering this question, the images must be disentangled, the facts explained.

Of the four million people in the city of Athens, roughly 100,000 protested on Wednesday against the tough cutbacks in the government's austerity plan. These savings have undoubtedly become necessary, in order to avoid a situation where the country defaults on its debts. But at the same time, these cuts represent a loss of income of up to 30 percent for many citizens. Angry at having to swallow this bitter pill, a small portion of the population of Athens has followed the trade unions' call, and taken to the streets.

Alongside these protests, as is so often the case in many major European cities, the left-wing anarchist scene has used the opportunity to stir up more chaos. Disguised vandals used Molotov cocktails to set a bank on fire; three employees were killed as they tried to save themselves from the flames. But this dramatic escalation should not create the impression that residents of this incorrigible land of milk and honey would be prepared to reduce everything to rubble and ashes, just to prevent necessary change.

Spiros Moskovou

DW's Spiros Moskovou

It is true that a part of Greek society has lived all too flamboyantly during the 20 years since the country entered the EU. It is also true that some politicians and other civil servants have lined their own pockets with European Union funds. However, these developments were neither a product of some Greek national mentality, nor were they predestined by history, as many reports - even here in Germany - have implied. An austere and frugal Greek way of life has a far longer tradition than this corruption among the nouveau-riche elite.

Admittedly, simply returning to old-fashioned virtues and traditions will not suffice, if Greece is really to turn a corner. The land must undergo an unprecedented spring-cleaning of its finances and its politics. The trade unions' rather half-hearted participation in the protests of the past four months seem to show that the majority of the population have recognized the seriousness of the situation, and the need for action.

Real, nationwide gestures of good sense and justice are now required in order to get the public fully on board, as the country seeks economic recovery. Greece's political elite should form a coalition government including all political parties, so they can pull the Greek economy out of trouble together. Otherwise, any attempt will just disintegrate - as has happened so often before - into partisan point-scoring.

Such a government of national unity might also create sufficient strength and confidence to bring to justice at least a few of the most prominent people guilty of embezzlement and tax evasion.

Is the Greek elite now mature enough to take such steps? As yet, we can but hope.

Spiros Moskovou leads Deutsche Welle's Greek language department. (msh)

Editor: Holly Fox

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