Tuesday 22 November 2011

Is Greece a failed state?

Let me explain the rather sensationalist title of this note. Most Greek citizens living in Greece, spend a disproportionate amount of their time dealing with the state. It is not uncommon to hear them talking in desperation about their failed public services, their failed political system and sometimes their failed state. When it comes to the every day dealings with the state their only consolation is the sunny weather and their eternal hope for change. As most of them say, proving that you are “not an elephant” is the norm rather than the exception.
Is this the sign of a failed state, or just normal moaning? What is a failed state? Can we measure somehow the degree of failure? Fortunately social scientists have done this, so we can apply their criteria and see how they fare.
Broadly speaking there are three main indicator categories:  
  •   Social
  • Economic                       
  •   Political

In this category we have 
  • Mounting demographic pressures 
  •  Movements of refugees or internally displaced persons
  • Legacy of vengeance seeking or group paranoia
  • Chronic and sustained human flight
Greece does not have a demographic pressure or a population explosion. Quite the opposite it is a country with a declining birth rate. Thus there are no social pressures deriving from high density or limited food or resource supply. However, Greece is a hub for illegal human trafficking and does suffer from high influx of economic and political refugees without having the necessary infrastructure to deal with the issue. Moreover, there is a growing resentment and aggression towards these immigrants mainly stemming from the state’s failure to deal with the situation and the racist views of many Greeks.
Although Greece on paper is a very homogeneous country with more than 90% of citizens declaring themselves to be Greek orthodox (religion), Greek speaking (Language), Hellenes (Ethnicity), there are very deep divisions along political lines and affiliations. These deep divisions have caused in the past a civil war, a military junta and endless years of persecution for many. The recent financial crisis is partly caused by these divisive politics and the legacy of vengeance that exists in the main political parties. Greece is a highly divided country and this division along with the partisan politics is a major obstacle to the development of democratic institutions and of democratic political heritage. Greece may have been the cradle of democracy but as with most good things it was “for export only”. Finally, Greece is a regular supplier of brain drain professionals and intellectuals. There have been at least three major mass immigrations by Greeks in the 20th century and we are currently witnessing the 1st of the 21st century.
In this category we have:  
  •  Uneven development 
  • Sharp or severe economic decline 
Greece does not have a uniform economic development. According to surveys close to 30% of the population lives close or under the poverty line. The past 30 years, the years Greece has been an EU member, saw the creation of a class of oligarchs that control the construction and the media industry and have an undue influence in the political life.Needles to say that the second criterion of sharp economic decline is currently in full swing. The total decline of the GDP might top the 20% from its peak in the years ahead. And this is an estimation that assumes Greece would not exit the Eurozone or the EU. 
In this category we have: 
  1. Criminalization of the state.  Corruption in the Greek state and in particular in the public sector is rife. Greece is 78th in the transparency and corruption index, the lowest in Europe. Many call the ruling elite a kleptocracy and there is evident resistance to transparency and accountability.There is widespread loss of popular confidence in state institutions and processes. 
  2. Progressive deterioration of public services: The Greek state’s responsibility to protect citizens from violence (including terrorism) and to provide essential services, such as health and education, are rapidly declining. The inefficient and bureaucratic state of soviet proportions is mostly to blame. Many believe, rightly or wrongly, that the state serves the ruling political elite or political families. 
  3. Widespread violation of human rights: There is no significant violation of human rights in Greece when it comes to citizens. The situation apparently is different for illegal immigrants and refugees. 
  4. Security apparatus as ‘state within a state’: Greece does not have a state within a state apparatus. Accusations do fly in from time to time but mostly for political expediency. 
  5.  Rise of factionalised elites: Greece has had for many years’ two main political factions. The “patriots” or nationalist right and the “democrats” or left. They have fought not just an ideological war but also a real one. The problem is that even new politicians use this polarization in order to get elected, thus perpetuating the populist divisive politics. 
  6. Intervention of other states or external factors: Currently, there are no foreign interventions or military actions. However, geographically Greece is located in an area that has seen many conflicts as recently as mid 90’s (Yugoslavia) and has open issues with more than one of its neighbours. 

Although many of the defining characteristics of a failed state are present in Greece, it would be imprudent to classify Greece as a failed state. The main problem is however, the increasing trend and intensity of some of these characteristics that point to a very dangerous path and future ahead. If Greece decides to abandon the Euro then it is highly possible that even more of the abovementioned characteristics of a failed state would be fulfilled, making Greece the first a truly failed European state of the 21st century.