Saturday, March 17, 2012

Now Is The Time

I’ve been meaning to write something like this for quite a while but kept putting it off.  I’m returning to Mykonos in two weeks and perhaps that’s why I decided now is the time to write.  Come to think of it, I guess I could have waited until clearing Greek immigration.

Some may say I’ve been away from Greece for too many months to express an opinion on the state of things there at the moment, and possibly even a few who think I should not speak up because I am not Greek by birth and therefore “can never understand us.”

Personally, I love those folks.  They love Greece, as do I, and want to defend it at all costs from criticism.  Uhh, make that at almost all costs.  And that limitation is precisely what concerns me.

Many say Greece just dodged a bullet with the second bailout package.  As I see it, a minefield’s only been moved farther down the road.  There is no open ground ahead unless Greeks are prepared to change their ways and insist that those charged with shepherding their form of government do the same. 

Plodding along, head down, determined to make it through these miserable times by following the same path that so many have come to accept as “the way things are done” will end in tears.  Nor will dancing along in blissful ignorance spare those still relatively insulated from their country’s expanding financial misery.

Put in crassest terms, if things continue as they are, is there anyone out there who honestly believes Greece won’t be booted off the euro (and possibly out of the E.U.) the moment Germany no longer sees the financial collapse of Greece as a financial catastrophe for itself?

Some of my Greek friends see an idyllic serendipity in the crisis:  We shall leave the cities, go back to our villages, and live a simpler life.  Sounds great, except for one major problem (beyond how many of my city slicker buddies still remember which side of the goat to milk):  Fleeing to the countryside to grow tomatoes—even metaphorically—leaves their cities open to pillage by opportunists.  In chaos and lost hope criminality thrives. And I’m not just talking about those who rob by knife or gun.  Let us not forget the pen, which more than any other weapon brought Greece into the mess it confronts today.

One could compare the Greek government’s immersion in seemingly endless international financial talks to some Homeric-length performance of classic Greek theater, but I think it resembles something else: an industry-wide management/labor negotiation.

I’m talking about the kind where both sides know at the outset where things will end up, but nevertheless drag out negotiations to the last moment in order to convince their respective constituencies that the battle drew the very last drop of blood. Name-calling, threats, ignored deadlines, and the like are subterfuges, as is all the praise exchanged on reaching an agreement at how Armageddon was just narrowly avoided and a new course has been set toward a better future. That’s a time-honored model and it works well in a lot of testy situations. 

But where the problems are systemic, as in Greece, that doesn’t work unless the participants are committed to sharing in painful systemic change.

There is no doubt in my mind that the vast majority of Greeks want their form of government to work, but they want it to do so fairly and honestly, and until that day they will not trust it.  It is a hugely complicated task, made even more so where those possessing the power to expose or prosecute the corrupt are themselves compromised.

In a nutshell, the dilemma the country faces is whether to bring down entrenched practices that have benefited so many for so long in the hope change will lead to a better future.  That’s a pretty big leap of faith to ask of even the most dedicated citizens of goodwill and influence.  To some it’s akin to asking that they defend their country at all costs. 

But what choice is there?  Leave it up to the gods?

As Edmund Burke is often quoted: “All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.”   

Let us hope that those capable of bringing about peaceful change have the will and vision to see that now is the time.

One final thing.  This is the symbol of the Athens-based soccer club, Panathinakos.  I can assure you that what I’ve written today is nowhere near as threatening to my continued wellbeing as being perceived to have chosen sides in the Greek soccer wars.  I assure my friends that I have not.  It’s only my way of segueing a shamrock into the post as a means of expressing my very best wishes for a Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.



  1. I'm not sure who can sacrifice. Really only the wealthy can do it. Too many people are suffering. Health care and pregnancy allowances and other maternal care have been the victim of austerity.
    As I was gathering information about International Women's Day commemorations, I found an article about Greece that talked about the impact of austerity on women.
    Very sadly, I read that some desperate mothers are putting their children into government care so that they will be fed and provided with the necessities of life.
    How much worse can that get? That is horrific. Women and children paying the price of the financial disaster and austerity policies imposed by the IMF, EU, ECB and their own government.

  2. Your point is well taken, Kathy, and I've heard the same sort of stories...some even worse. But my point is not that those suffering should suffer more, but that more should be done by those capable of bringing about change to see to it that the country as a whole benefits.

    But that also means the mother you described should not accept her lot as immutable fate. She, too, must do whatever she can to bring about change, even if only to exercise her right to vote.

    It is inertia by the body politic that poses the greatest threat in such rapidly changing times.

  3. Interesting comments. I've wondered what the structural problem is that led Greece to where it is. I still don't know exactly, but it sounds something like what is happening elsewhere (including the U.S.) where the government is run for the benefit of a few while the many languish.

  4. FYI: Mykonos setting.

    1. Link went who knows where:

  5. This idea is starting to enter the conversation-that in the U.S.. there is no better equity of wealth, we are going to be in trouble, more than now.
    The rich don't spend percentage-wise as the the poor, and the middle class supports the rich. In other words, fluid money oils the economy. Maybe this is simplistic, but there is a lot of sadness in me for the countries which have endured so much and so long are struggling because of the greed of a few.

  6. It's interesting, Joe, Lil, and Liz, how each of you brings to mind a different sort of "conventional wisdom." Permit me to try to answer you in alphabetical order.

    Joe, the reason generally given for Greece's current crisis ties into its entry into the EU in 1981 and the rampant misuse of funds borrowed thereafter via the EU for improving Greece's infrastructure and competitiveness.

    Lil, you touch upon two competing "conventional wisdoms": "the profligate must save their way out of recession" versus "the key to recovery is in encouraging spending." In Greece they've tried both, and the current lip-service favorite appears to be the latter. But as with virtually everything everywhere these days, politics seems to be trumping economics ... and in so doing they're jointly kicking the you-know-what out of those most desperate for help.

    Liz, if by "setting" you mean as in a setting sun, that fails to take into account Mykonos' strong international draw which uniquely positions it better than virtually any other place in Greece to ride out the crisis.

    As for what precise magic draws tourists to Greece in general, and to Mykonos in particular, take a look at the blog I'll be posting Monday on my regular, 19th of each month blog for the Poisoned Pen Press website,

  7. Addendum to Liz,

    Just saw you added a link to your comment that explains by "setting" you meant a romance novel is using Mykonos as a "setting." Serendipity proves my point, because that same hot blood image that inspires so many imaginations also draws hordes of bodies to the times without their minds even realizing Mykonos is part of Greece!

    1. Someday, an off-line comment (polite of course).

  8. Liz, I'm glad I discovered this blog through your comment on my own blog. Being of Greek origine, I traveled to Greece several times in the last twenty years. The first time in the mid-eighties I fell in love with the country, And appreciated the hospitaliy of the people, the beautiful sceneries,the delicious food,the incredible shopping. I could go on and on. I had an idyllic vacation in Mykonos and returned four times. The last time in 2010. Too many things have changed. Life was too expensive. People were not smiling , many didn't look Greek at all. I wanted to recapture the Greece of my dreams and set a romance novel in Mykonos, as I remembered it from my first vacation.

  9. It's mothers, not one mother, who are so desperate they're putting their children into government care to be fed, etc.
    I'm not sure how voting could help anything. Who would people vote for? No political party seems willing or able to try to fix any of the problems. Massive changes need to be made.
    I'd agree on the EU and the euro and misuse of funds. But who would make changes?
    Things are horrific if women and children are suffering like this and unemployment, especially of youth, is so high. How can young people have any future? Any hope?
    This just causes demoralization.
    It's as if the economy can't absorb the young people nor can families be cared for.
    Drastic changes need to be made. I would say there has to be major reprioritization and the quality of life for the majority of people has to come first.

    1. Kathy, you're preaching to the choir on the drastic need for major reprioritization.

      Whether it's one mother, ten mothers, a hundred, or (please God not) a thousand, one can only imagine the multiples of those numbers of other families facing similar dire financial circumstance who are suffering along without giving up their children.

      What I am saying is that now is the time for Greeks of goodwill and influence to get involved--no longer leave it up to the "other guy"-- and for those with a vote to support them in their efforts to to bring about real, meaningful change.

      What I fear is the old political truism: Voters want to throw out every politician as a bum except for the one who represents them and gets their tickets fixed.