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.