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Daniel Howden: Greek elections were the last tantrum of a spoilt child


“Breathe Hellenes, breathe,” the morning show host implored. Greece was waking up to the election results and Real FM was telling its listeners what had happened.

The Hellenes had sent a message to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that the country was not for sale and that its German occupiers must “board the next Lufthansa” out of Athens. Two-and-a-half years of financial blackmail by “hidden interests” were over and Greeks could breathe again. Despite the triumphalist tone it was appropriate that the DJ was telling his countrymen to breathe as you usually give the same instructions to a hysterical child.

Far from a patriotic rebellion against foreign occupiers Sunday's elections were actually the last tantrum of a spoilt child. Greece's last elections were won by a party which ran on the slogan “there is money” when everyone knew that there wasn't. Since then the full extent of the country's bankruptcy has emerged, the full consequences of which have been avoided by a massive package of conditional aid and debt restructuring led by the IMF, the EU and the European Central Bank.

The conditions demanded in return for that aid were structural reforms aimed at untangling some parts of the economy from a state that over time had come to resemble a combination of a Soviet Republic and Mubarak's Egypt.

Those reforms, known to Greeks as the “memorandum”, have subsequently been sabotaged by rent-seeking political parties who were never willing or able to implement them. And now in popular parlance it's the memorandum itself which is to blame for everything.

Rather than take any responsibility for the crisis, the civil servants who took bribes to do their jobs, the businesses that ran in closed shops that they staunchly defended, the middle class that exploited cheap migrant labour and the unions who looted state utilities all took out their rage on the political class.

The elections revealed that an enormous number of Greeks had taken refuge in absurd conspiracy theories, wishful thinking and racism. The results punished moderates who refused to lie to the people about the dilemma they faced and rewarded extremists on the right and left who wilfully ignored reality and responsibility.

There is real suffering in the European south and legitimate questions over the makeup of austerity programmes. Europe is now set for a debate over the balance between growth and austerity in meeting the debt crisis but Greece, which preferred a tantrum to any attempt at reform, will not be in a position to benefit.