Civil society with teething problems

on . Posted in English texts


Strange as it may seem, the roots of the ills presently dogging Greece's state universities can be traced to a democratic overture made back in 1982.

It was a draft law aimed at strengthening democratic procedures in the country's university institutions by promoting student participation in their running.

After the law was passed, however, the move backfired. Student groups reduced universities to an arena of political confrontation and, later, of questionable give and take. A democratic step degenerated into nasty bargaining, with student union bosses eventually deciding everything from the appointment of new rectors to the university syllabus. Worse still, they dragged universities down to the lowest common denominator. They did not want better studies, but less. They did not want more sources, but a single textbook. It was much more than a legislative flop. It was the failure of a democratic experiment.

This was not just a case of immature youth wrecking a democratic institution. Indeed, the labor movement has followed a similar path. Legislation used to empower the union movement led union leaders to abuse their power (especially in public utilities). Union privileges - aimed at ensuring the unimpeded operation of unions - degenerated into state-sponsored inertia. Meanwhile, the status of joint management discouraged investment in the private sector while fostering corruption in the public sector. Again, it was more than a legislative failure. It was a failed democratic experiment in the economic sector.

In similar fashion, cooperatives - which could have evolved into social corporations and eliminated business parasites in the production and supply of goods - indulged in an unprecedented squandering of Community funds and failed to modernize trade in the agricultural sector. They blackened the image of the cooperative movement.

So has collective action not really caught on in socialist-leaning Greece? Given the failure of the consumer movement to counter the fraudsters lurking in the market, civil society is still in its infancy. Any initiatives and mass protests have proved short-lived. They often reproduce the problems they are supposed to tackle. The paternalistic tradition of the post-civil war state, combined with Stalinist undertones of the prevailing ideological model (everything revolves around the state) has killed any creative initiative on both an individual and collective level.

Paternalism has killed healthy entrepreneurship, prevented movements from maturing and produced inert citizens. Which is why the complaint "Where is the state?" is on everyone's lips.

KATHIMERINI English Edition, 21/05/2008