Ομιλία του Πρωθυπουργού Αντώνη Σαμαρά στην εκδήλωση «Athens FORUM 2014: Δημοκρατία υπό πίεση» που διοργανώνουν οι International New York Times και η Καθημερινή


Δευτέρα, 15 Σεπτεμβρίου 2014

Listening to those cicadas or crickets if you wish, your Excellences, allow me to say something that came to mind from a Greek poem, I will say it in Greek:

«Και πολλά τα τζιτζίκια που να μην τα νιώθεις

όπως δεν νιώθεις τους σφυγμούς στο χέρι σου».

Όπως είναι αυτονόητος ο σφυγμός στο χέρι, οι σφυγμοί στο χέρι μας, έτσι σε αυτόν εδώ τον ευλογημένο τόπο, είναι αυτονόητη η Δημοκρατία. Και κάπου εδώ θα τριγυρνούσε ο ποιητής όταν έγραψε αυτούς τους στίχους.


May I first congratulate the organizers for turning the ‘Democracy under pressure” forum into an international annual event, which will always have all the necessary support – obviously – from the Greek Government.

Dear friends,

We are living in “interesting times”, as the Chinese say…

Of course, in our case “interesting” is only an understatement, and the Chinese meant it in an ironic way, as a synonym for “crisis”.

But “Democracy under pressure” does not necessarily mean “crisis”.

Democracy is not just an institutional context of governance. It is the guarantee of Political Freedom, Social Justice, citizens’ responsibilities, human dignity, opportunities, therefore prosperity for all.

Democracy is about all of them. Not some of them.

It guarantees all of those features.

If one is missing, Democracy has corrective mechanisms to attain it back. It takes time, it does not happen momentarily, but democracy is a dynamic system; it works if people believe in themselves, individually and collectively;

It works, if they share common values, shaping up their common identity;

if they are willing and capable of assuming responsibilities;

if they do believe in their common future;

Indeed democracy works, if they have Hope as a society and if they base such a Hope on Truth, as well as on their collective determination to succeed as a society in the future.

* Dignity is of outmost importance. People can lose some of their wealth and still keep their dignity. If this is the case, then Democracy has no problem. Prosperity will soon come back.

* Freedom is also of outmost significance; and Social Cohesion, also.

–A democratic society does not sacrifice freedom to maintain its unity and does not sacrifice its unity to attain freedom. Those two are inseparable!

Freedom relies on citizens’ rights that are fully matched by citizens’ responsibilities. Responsibilities without rights lead to authoritarianism, and democracy starts falling apart. On the other hand, rights without responsibilities lead to social unrest and political collapse; and then both society and democracy fall apart.

* Common values are also essential. Only citizens sharing the same identity can form a “community” that can be self-governed. Democratic debate – and this is where the initial debates took place in History- can only take place and produce consensus results, if it is based on the common interest, so that everybody accepts the majority rule.

Because only if citizen share common values, can they debate on their common prospects.

–“Citizens” presuppose a “city”, in other words a “community” of people, sharing common values and common identity. Without this “sense of belonging”, people are just “individuals” trying either to impose themselves upon others or separate themselves from the others.

Whatever undermines or destroys this “sense of belonging”, is always very detrimental for democracy in the long run.

* And finally the two T’s: Trust and Truth!

–Trust of citizens to their common prospects as a community

–and Trust based on the Truth.

Societies can go through hardships, they can sail through rough waters, trying times and difficult moments, only if they believe in their common prospects and base this belief on the Truth: If they know where they stand, where they want to go, if they are aware of all obstacles lying ahead and are determined to do what it takes to achieve their goals…

If this is the case, democracies can release enormous potential out of the community and its people. No hardship will ever derail them.

But if they don’t believe in themselves, if they have no Trust to their common prospects, if they prefer “sweet lies” to hard truth, then they usually stumble from one disappointment to the next; and this generates public discontent, dividing the society, weakening the community bonds and eventually destroying democracy.

So Trust based on Truth is a necessary ingredient for citizens to assume responsibilities, sustain difficulties, thus making democracy to work…

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Indeed, Democracy is not just a set of legalistic rules. It is alive! It grows, it evolves, it can go through crises, but it possesses corrective mechanisms; it has its own antibodies; so most of the times it overcomes its problems, survives, recuperates and grows stronger than before.

Therefore “pressure” is not a problem for Democracy…

Democracies live through pressures and evolve under pressure.

The problem is when the corrective mechanisms of democracy fail one after the other; when the preconditions for its functioning are weakened; or when many different “pressures” coincide simultaneously…

In such a case, we don’t have ordinary “pressures” anymore; we are facing a real crisis then!

In periods of crisis, we have two different destabilizing factors, both being fed by the crisis, both being fed by each other, in other words both weakening the antibodies of democracy and destabilizing the social fabric and the democratic legitimacy:

These two “evils” are Populism and Extremism: They have different faces; sometimes they are distinct; sometimes they are mixed together; but they are always interrelated.

They destroy the community’s sense of belonging; they spread out fear and disillusionment; they invoke conspiracy theories and “doomsday scenaria”. They try to eliminate trust to common prospects; they are divisive; they comprise together the “perfect recipe” for social collapse: fear of the outside world and internal hate!

Lies and mistrust are their common base.

If they succeed, society gets paralyzed, democracy fails to produce any consensus, public order breaks down, public security is jeopardized, democratic legitimacy is weakened and violence erupts leading to a fracture of social cohesion and failure of democracy.

Populism relies mainly on “sweet lies”, on false promises of “easy solutions” and “quick fixes”, totally unsubstantiated but very “attractive”, leading, of course, to grave disappointments and to social unrest.

Extremism relies on hate and unmasked violence, widespread expectations of disaster and nihilist ideologies, leading to the complete breakdown of public order and democratic legitimacy.

Populism often feeds the fire of extremism and vice versa. The underlying crisis is their common breading ground and together they generate a vicious cycle, a devastating process, during which social cohesion and democracy usually fall apart.

So what do we do during such crisis to avert those twin evils of populism and extremism?

For starters, we fight the lies with the Truth.

–Fight politics of hate, by re-establishing dignity and fundamental belief in community values and common prospects.

–Re-establish Hope based on Truth, and Social Cohesion based on public security, democratic legitimacy and prospects of prosperity for all.

But how do we do that?

* With reforms! Sweeping reforms, well orchestrated reforms…

*By reinvigorating symbols that re-establish national unity and social cohesion.

* By addressing pressing issues of Social Justice and Public Order.

* By correcting long standing distortions, so that people can start believing in the reforms.

Remember that you cannot fix everything overnight.

But you cannot drag your feet, either…

You first have to give people a chance to realize the potential of the reforms, so they can sustain the “discomfort” of the initial stages.

Timing is very essential. You must go ahead with all the reforms necessary to bring society back on its feet and regenerate trust to its common prospects.

But at the same time, you must make your reform program compatible with the political cycle; because without democratic legitimacy no reform program can survive in the long run; and because reforms will only succeed, if they generate their own momentum in the society.

Otherwise, populism and extremism will eventually get the opportunity to derail reforms. And democracy for that matter…

So if anybody wants to talk about “democracy under extraordinary pressures”, Greece is the perfect place to look upon today.

Two years ago, Ladies and gentlemen, this country was falling apart!

It was running enormous budget deficits; its nominal debt was exploding; a long lasting recession was running deeper and unemployment was increasing to unprecedented levels. The world markets were closed for Greece and most of our partners, although still providing loans to us, were publically questioning whether we would be able to stay within the euro-area. At the same time, public order was in jeopardy, wild strikes were becoming an everyday routine, and capital was fleeing from the country…

Today the picture is completely different: We have already achieved a primary surplus in our budget for 2013, one year ahead of the Program! We are running a bigger primary surplus for 2014, better than the program target. We are expected to almost balance our overall budget by next year, 2015, covering on top of our primary balance interest payments on our debt, for the first time in many decades.

We are thus completing the largest fiscal adjustment in History, in the shortest time ever. And at the same time we have implemented structural reforms at an unprecedented scale.

Within two years we jumped from position 147th place to the 36th place in the world competitiveness rating, according to the World Bank survey! 111 positions up!

And at the same time, despite the painful austerity, we managed to put an end to recession. In the current third quarter of 2014, our GDP will be positive, for the first time in 24 quarters. After six years of recession, recovery is ante portas. Especially now, when our banks are becoming fully recapitalized…

Unemployment, incredible high, endurably high, has already started falling. Small portions, but falling. And our debt, still very high as a percentage of our GDP, has started nominally falling, for the first time in decades. Public order is steadily improving. Our tourism will post a new historical record in 2014 of more than 20 million visitors, after last year’s record of 18 million. 20 million! Two tourists for each Greek.

And finally, last April we got out in the markets, two years ahead of schedule. New Greek bonds have been very well received by the world financial community and have been constantly improving since.

We are grateful to our partners for all of their support, but we are moving fast to the point where we will be able to deal with our financial and fiscal problems on our own, as was the case with Ireland and Portugal.

Of course, the reforms will go on. The jump of 111 places in world competitiveness rating is remarkable, but we are going to move further up: to the real top places of world competitiveness! This is a truly solid and credible guarantee of long term sustainable growth. And speaking as an economist, I will say that this is the only guarantee for long term sustainable growth.

So populism and Extremism will loose their chance. During the most difficult moments of the crisis, they failed to gain new ground. Now that we will be getting out of the crisis, populism and extremism will steadily subside.

Indeed, many people suffered during the last years. We have completely reversed the downward trend of our society. But it was hard and painful. Very hard and very painful! And frankly speaking, I don’t know of many democratic societies which could sustain such seismic changes and incredible reforms in such a short time…

The important thing I want to stress, is that despite their legitimate grievances, the Greek people did not turn to Populism and Extremism!

They both got stronger – yes – but not strong enough to derail our reform process or our democracy for that matter.

Now that the worst is over, things are going to improve and liberal democracy along with European ideals will pull the country through its worst crisis in the post war decades. There will be no dreadful Weimar Republic scenario for Greece!

The numbers show it! The world markets know it. Our partners admit to it. The rating agencies are confirming it: Greece is back!

But our effort is not over yet. The enemies of reforms are launching their last campaign to derail what we have achieved so far. Lots of populist false promises, lots of petty politic “quick fixes” that if materialized would bring the country back to the worst moments of 2011. And I can foresee that they more they fail to present themselves as a credible alternative, the more false promises, the more fraudulent commitments will be spread around…

But Greece is coming successfully to the end of the Program.

And nobody is going to make our country a modern Sisyphus!

Two years ago we were the weakest link in Europe. Now we are becoming the most stable country in a destabilizing region.

Everybody realizes the huge geopolitical turbulence around us. Everybody understands that Greek stability and Greek growth prospects, so direly attained in the past two years, cannot be wasted, cannot be sacrificed on the altar of populism or extremism.

These days are over for good. Greece is back!

We are getting out of the crisis, because our democracy withstood the pressures.

And this painful experience will only make us better as an economy, stronger as a country, more united as a society and wiser as a people.

Thank you.