The level of skepticism with which the government’s announcement of a widespread ban on smoking in public places has been met is truly incredible – everyone is sneering at something. A measure that has been successfully implemented in Turkey already seems impossible to enforce here. The Greek state’s credibility as far as its ability to impose the laws it passes has sunk to an all-time low.
This skepticism is indeed rooted in something: We see hundreds of laws passed on the fly and then revised simply because they were inapplicable or the mechanisms to impose them were lacking. Even the amended Constitution of 2000 was revised in 2006 because some of the articles – the product of populist-driven pressure by the media – did more harm than good. Other laws are passed with great fanfare, imposed for a spell and then ignored. The state seems to be good at spending, but not much else.
The problem is that this skepticism is not just fueled by the state’s ineptitude but also by leftist-inspired populism, which sees every measure supporting progress as a capitalist assault on the people, and the black-and-white opinions set out by some media in TV journalism that shrinks the complexity of each issue down to a simplistic conclusion. In other countries, newscasts actually contain news. Here, they are little more than bullhorns repeating the kind of comments shared by a group of friends at the coffee shop. The difference with cafe talk, however, is that the cynicism that defines it is both justified and lacking in malice.
The other, bigger problem is that this kind of skepticism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When everyone is certain that a law will not be imposed, no one bothers to abide by it. What you get is an informal wave of disobedience that no state apparatus can possibly hope to curb. And so the law is not imposed, the state tolerates this and the cycle of skepticism just keeps going.
Especially in light of the difficult reforms the government will have to impose within the next few months, it is important that the laws are seen to be imposed just as they are, without loopholes or prevarication. The state’s credibility does not just need to be reinstated on international markets but also in the minds of the Greek people. They need to believe that change is possible and that their sacrifices will not be in vain.
Published in "Kathimerini" newspaper 31.8.2010