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Samaras expects full recovery in six years

Admits country is not yet 'out of the woods'

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras warns that 'political extremes' are trying to capitalise on the anguish faced by the public

Prime minister Antonis Samaras walks with former French former president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing at the Ancient Agora in Athens after addressing an International Herald tribune forum ' Democracy under pressure', 16 September 2013 (Photo: AFP) Prime minister Antonis Samaras walks with former French former president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing at the Ancient Agora in Athens after addressing an International Herald tribune forum ' Democracy under pressure', 16 September 2013 (Photo: AFP) Greece will soon return to growth, taking about six years to recover and return to its precrisis state, the prime minister predicted on Monday.

Antonis Samaras was addressing a seminar entitled "Democracy under threat", organised by the International Herald Tribune at the Stoa of Attalos in Athens.

While admitting that the country was not yet "out of the woods", Samaras emphasised that sweeping changes had taken place in the last 14 months and the picture presented by Greece was now very different.

He reiterated his hope that the country will produce a primary surplus this year.

Samaras also referred at length to the pressures placed on democracy over the years by populism, noting that the "political extremes" were trying to capitalise on the difficulties faced by the public.

He noted that, in times of crisis when people became disillusioned, public debate could degenerate into "a chaotic polarisation".

"In these challenging moments, democracy breeds its own enemy, which is basically extremism. Extremism polarises society, preventing any democratic compromise. It undermines its unity and its freedom simultaneously. It undermines public order and the rule of law," Samaras said, stressing that populism must be combated in order to fight fear.


Unedited text of the prime minister's speech: 

"Democracy under pressure" is a challenging topic, taking place in a challenging country, at a very challenging historical moment, indeed.

Democracy as a word was coined in the classical tradition of the city of Athens.

And Democracy was established, as the President said, as the rule of the people, in the name of the people, by the people, and also by the law, as opposed to tyranny.

Democracy is not just a fixed set of governing rules. It is alive! It deals with all kinds of internal pressures. It opens up, as the President said, a public discussion and comes up with majority decisions binding for all, as well as elected representatives to implement those decisions. Therefore, Democracy produces its own legitimacy, as everybody accepts in advance any decision to be taken by public consent.

Democracy is the framework within which different views and groups resolve their differences peacefully, preserving the unity of the society, cooperation among themselves and prosperity for all.

Within the democratic rule of law, society is not fragmented by different groups, nor is it kept together by coercion.

Societies don’t have to sacrifice their unity to protect their freedom, or sacrifice their freedom to protect their unity. Freedom and security are simultaneously guaranteed in the context of a democratic rule of law.

Normally, therefore, Democracy lives in pressure, deals with pressure and turns internal pressures to civil unity, to social progress and economic prosperity.

But as it happens with all living organisms, there are cases when too much pressure is simply not easy to handle. This is the case when deep economic crises, deep social crises or foreign threats, turn public discussion into a chaotic polarization instead of a compromise accepted by all; when extensive disillusion generates public discontent, instead of democratic legitimacy.

This is the case when Hope is lost for the many; when common ideals lose their appeal to the public and common perspectives lose their legitimacy.

In these challenging moments Democracy breeds its own enemy, which is basically Extremism.

Extremism polarizes society, preventing any democratic compromise. It undermines its Unity and its Freedom simultaneously. It undermines public order and the rule of law.

Both extremism and populism talk "in the name of the People" only to destroy public interest. They both talk "in the name of the Nation", only to the detriment of national interests. They both talk "in the name of society as a whole", only to subjugate society to all kinds of tyrants, usually presented as "saviors".

It has happened so many times in antiquity - in Athens and in Rome - ending up in the demise of society and of Democracy.

It has happened so many times in our modern times, in post revolutionary France and in the German Republic of the Weimar.

But it is not the "inescapable" fate of democracy to fall victim of Populism and Extremism. We have the opposite examples of the United States under Franklyn Delano Roosevelt in the thirties; of France under General De Gaul in the fifties; of modern Greece under Eleftherios Venizelos in early 20th century and also of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing’s friend, Konstantinos Karamanlis in Greece in the seventies.

In all these cases, severe social crises did not end up with the demise of Democracy. Instead they were transformed to new democratic regimes, more socially just, more growth oriented, more inspiring for the people, protecting and restoring the dignity of the country as a whole.

In all these cases Democracy found itself under severe pressure, but it managed to survive because it restored Hope to the People. And then it restored public order. And then it restored common prospects for all, dignity to the society and the sense of unity for the nation.

How did Democracy accomplished all these miracles?

I believe through sweeping reforms!

What kind of reforms? By providing opportunities to all! Because there is no individual freedom and dignity, when people are deprived of opportunities to better the lives.

But reforms take some time to be implemented. And even after their implementation, they usually take some time before they can bring tangible results, results beneficial to all.

In the meantime, people have to believe in them. So the first thing of paramount importance in times of crisis is public perception.

People have to believe in a better life before they can achieve one. "Democracies under pressure" have to change the public perceptions, before they can change the actual terms of life for the people. In other words, they must first restore Hope.

And there can only be hope, if there is self-esteem. In other words, people can believe in their future only if they believe in themselves, individually and collectively. That is why Extremism tries to break society’s moral, tries to make people lose faith in their future and in themselves.

If people retain their self-confidence and their dignity, they will never accept tyrants as "saviors". So hope and self-confidence are necessary requirements of public discourse for a Democracy to survive under pressure.

Lastly, Democracies should always fight against Extremism and Populism.

Populism destroys public discourse. Extremism destroys social unity. And often it is difficult to discern Populism from Extremism. They normally generate each other and feed on each other.

Sometimes populism penetrates easier into legitimate political parties. It then degenerates into extremism. And then extremism of one kind generates extremism of the opposite kind. Soon enough, society is polarized between different extremisms with all moderate forces getting squeezed in the middle.

This is a nightmare scenario for any Democracy. This is why populism has to be resisted in every step of the way. And extremism has to be confronted in all different shapes and forms.

You cannot restore people’s belief in Democracy and in themselves unless moderate forces prevail on extremism.

The problem is that, when you are fighting against it, you are not fighting with reasonable arguments, you are fighting with conspiracy theories and perverse perceptions. And when you are fighting against Extremism, you are not dealing with people’s rationale, you are dealing with deep rooted fears.

The only way to change wrong perceptions is to lead by example. When you are asking people to make necessary sacrifices, you must be the first to make sacrifices. When you ask people to work harder, make sure that you yourself work harder. When the prevailing perception is that no "big shot" is ever brought to justice, make sure that many big shots are brought to justice. When the public perception is that "nothing can really change", make sure that you implement changes everybody looked for, but nobody had thought as possible so far.

And also, when people are in pain, make sure you feel their pain. Populists try to capitalize on their pain. Extremists try to exacerbate their pain. You have to make sure everybody understands that you feel their pain, you are trying to relieve it and to ameliorate it.

At every moment, people have to know the Truth. Give it to them undisguised! But also make sure that you give them some Hope, some realistic Hope, tangible Hope to endure the hardships and believe that there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

Populists and extremists will try to make people disparate.

This is exactly what we now experience in Greece…

Democracy has to make sure that people remain hopeful.

For some time people will not know what to believe in.

You have to insist of two things: Truth and Hope!

You can only win people’s confidence eventually, if you keep telling them the truth and justify their hopes.

So what is the recipe for a successful democratic response during those times of extreme pressures?

Sweeping reforms, constant fight against Extremism and Populism of all kinds, rule by example, show compassion, change the perverse stereotypes and perceptions, fight deep rooted fears with Truth and Hope!

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

During the last four years, my country, Greece, has been going through an unprecedented crisis in times of Peace.

We are going through the sixth year, Mr. President, of a recession during which we lost about 25% of our GDP. This is truly unprecedented since the days of the Great Recession, in the 30’s.

We are currently having a record unemployment of almost 28% for the overall population and more than 60% for our youth under 25 years of age.

So if you want to find out something about "Democracy under pressure", you know where to look today…

On the other hand, Greece is not only "unique" in its hardships; it has also managed some remarkable achievements as well:

We have accomplished about three quarters of a gigantic fiscal adjustment of about 15% of our current GDP in just four years. We are achieving a primary surplus hopefully by the end of this year and, if you disregard our deep and prolonged recession, we are running the largest cyclically adjusted primary surplus in Europe, as well as the largest structural surplus.

With the help of our European partners, we have achieved the largest debt reduction and the most extensive debt restructuring ever.

We have lowered our interest rates to one half, compared to the start of the crisis and our interest payments to one third.

Within a year, we managed to bring our program on track. And we also managed to change radically the image of our country worldwide.

A year ago, many abroad were talking openly about "Grexit", about a perspective exit of Greece from the euro.

Now, everybody talks about "Grecovery", in other words, everybody expects a recovery in Greece as early as next year.

To put it differently, last year we were the "weak link" of the European Union; the basic source of uncertainty about Europe’s future and the future of our common currency. Now there is no uncertainty about the Euro any more. And Greece is not perceived as the "weak link" of Europe. Quite the opposite, if you are to take into account what is happening in our region in the Eastern Mediterranean, we are now rather perceived as a stronghold of stability and security. And we intend to improve on that also.

We are not out of the woods yet. There are many problems we have to deal with, ladies and gentlemen.

But in these last 14 months, we have changed the image of our country abroad, we have stabilized our country internally, we have implemented sweeping reforms, we have brought our program back on track, with no compromises as to the extent of our fiscal adjustment and our structural reforms.

There is no question that there were serious mistakes at the first stage of our Program.

There is no question that austerity alone cannot bring about adjustment effectively. One also needs growth supporting and growth enhancing balancing measures…

But now we have put all that in the past: we corrected what could be corrected, and now we are going through the end of the recession. Once Growth starts and people feel its benefits, we will move out of the crisis altogether.

According to most, we will not need a couple of decades, not a couple of generations, but only 6 years to get back at the pre-crisis levels of our standard of living and GDP.

So recovery is "ante portas". Long term sustainable Growth will soon become our official exit from the crisis.

These are good news for Greece. But they are also good news for the European Union. Because despite everything, all the hardships and some bitter words exchanged in the process, Greece’s example will eventually stand as a European success, whether some like it or not like it.

But this is not time to relax. There is a "blind spot" in all this effort, which is the critical time after the actual turn of the economy and before the improvement is felt by the large part of the society. This will be the last chance for Populism and Extremism to try to derail the whole process. And they will do- believe me- everything possible to undermine any achievement of this country...

This is what makes these next few months crucial. They are not the most difficult; but they are the most politically sensitive.

We believe in our People. We believe in the vast potential of this country. We believe in the potential of United Europe. We came thus far and we know we can make it to the end.

Democracy can defeat its enemies. Based on Truth, Hope and Growth.

These are the powerful antibodies against Extremism and Populism.

Democracy can make it eventually. Even under extreme pressure.

Democracy can come out stronger and better under pressure.

I am confident this will be the lesson learned from Greece in the years to come.
 

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