In for the Kill: Greece’s Economic Crisis

Greek Riots

by Ilias Kountoupis

Allow me to put graphically how my fellow countrymen are feeling right now: ridden hard by domestic politicians, pursued by international speculators lurking in the dark, and put away wet, exhausted, and abused. And now our pursuers are closing in for the kill, their appetite for blood reinvigorated just as our government is trying to put to rest the rumors of Greece defaulting on its debt and stop a lengthy panic attack throughout our society.

We want something more than to see embezzled public funds embezzled returned and taxation mechanisms functioning appropriately; we want justice. We want to see people behind bars now, and to start believing again in our judiciary system. We want to see officials held accountable for their missteps. Only then will Prime Minister George Papandreou have the credibility to persuade us of the necessity and worthiness of the hardest austerity measures which have been proposed since the restoration of democracy. If the Greek administration wants the public’s approval, they have to both make and submit to the first cut; we will happily pass them the knife.

On the other hand, Greeks should become more far-sighted. It’s naive to blame the government of the New Democracy alone for our downfall. Greece wasn’t a heaven before 2004. Its predecessor PASOK (Πανελλήνιο Σοσιαλιστικό Κίνημα, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement) had its own run of deception, corruption and bad management during the ’80s, ’90s and early ’00s. I still remember Costas Simitis, the former prime minister, announcing another round of stern and destined-to-fail austerity measures a few years back, at the same time his administration was distributing and digesting amongst each other vast funds provided by the European Union to help Greece achieve social cohesion and financial stability among its European peers. New Democracy replaced a socialist government that had shown, after almost twenty years in power, a polarizing sense of ownership and entitlement when it came to the state’s administrative affairs and functions. Yet the right-center party has proven even more irresponsible and corrupted than expected. They haven’t just continued a tradition of bad practices; they have almost redefined it. I think it’s time we faced the truth. Our problems run deeper than simple political and managerial confusion and misfortune; they have a moral and cultural base.

For the last 35 years, we have based our society on the notion that we can consume more than we can actually afford as individuals, because as a nation we have been deprived of equal chances for development and prosperity due to war and poverty. It was not enough to blend in with the rest of the developed world. No, due to our innate sense of entitlement (thank you, Plato, Socrates, and Alexander), we craved showing to the rest of the world that we were on top. Our pride, conveyed in an unorthodox manner, became greed, and that deadly sin has been the driving force behind many of our actions. But now the party is over and the caterers are asking for their money. Will our European peers share the bill?

Probably yes, since the Greek financial woes challenge the very core of the Euro Zone. If the dream of a unified Europe is to survive, the members of the Euro Zone must show their commitment to it by helping Greece. Otherwise, it will be nothing more than a crystal castle waiting for someone with a sledgehammer to smash up. A tidal wave is threatening the Euro Zone, with the potential to destroy treaties, legislation and common policies. If Greece cannot survive the aftermath of the current crisis, then Spain and Portugal will follow next. The time has come for European leadership to prove its value. Millions have invested their lives and their nations’ stability, voluntarily or not, into the common Euro currency and the vision of a unified Europe.

Will the European leaders betray the idea of the European Union? Their behavior toward Greece will indicate their intentions. There is a choice to be made: either support Greece, and further strengthen the commitment to a politically and financially fused, mutually supportive Europe, or flush it all down the toilet of history.

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