It gets a bit tedious, this continual carping in the European media about Greece’s problematic economy. Not a week goes by without some smart Alec somewhere giving vent to his rancor in an analysis regarding Greek profligacy. We keep getting lumped together with Ireland because of our deficits and the expensive money that we have to keep borrowing because international lenders are leaning on us as if we were the last suckers in a world that has suddenly gone cynical. Guys, we didn’t steal, we just borrowed. Expensively.
It’s grossly unfair to keep being lumped with the Euroskeptical Irish because – regardless of our personal admiration for them as a nation and as talented, artistic individuals – we are not in the same league: they are facing a hangover after having enjoyed a boom. From the bottom of the heap, Ireland jumped to the top through such daring innovations in their economy that they became the envy of the world. So much so that in more optimistic times we in Greece would hold conferences at which our prime minister and top aides would hold forth about how they would perform a miracle and turn our country into the Balkan equivalent of the Celtic tiger. Perhaps in their minds the Balkan equivalent meant going directly bust without wasting time on the boom part, without undercutting our competitors by abolishing corporate taxes and by creating an efficient economy with a trouble-free labor climate. Now the Irish are paying the price for old-fashioned, ancient Greek hubris: they thought that they were too good to fail, that their property prices would just keep rising. The tiger’s stripes now look like cuts and scratches.
No, we in Greece cannot be blamed for having taken anyone else’s business – we simply borrowed money in order to hide our weaknesses. But how weak are we? We have assimilated the lessons of boom and bust, knowing that history moves in cycles, great and small, important and trivial. Our history features leaders ranging from Leonidas, Pericles and Alexander the Great to the dismal constellation around the rusting hulks of today’s political dynasties. We know, through a great collective unconscious, that it’s not the boom nor the bust that matters, but the “getting by” on a daily basis – the cutting of corners, the hiding of taxes, the borrowing as if there is no tomorrow, the “let sleeping dogs lie, don’t rock the boat, this is how things have always been” approach. The country’s problems are too big and deep-rooted, our lives too short, Fortune too capricious for anyone to presume to try and sort out the mess. So let’s muddle on, with each forming his own sphere of influence at the others’ expense. At least we know that if salvation is to come from anywhere, it will be from workers in the private sector. They earn less than their counterparts in other parts of Europe, pay higher consumer prices, have worse health, education and welfare benefits, and yet they keep the country on its feet.
Being among those who have seen the country’s future mortgaged by crooks and useless politicians, our shouts drowned by the silence of futility, we can only wonder what it takes for a victim to rise up in anger – like a tiger.
Milestones & Footnotes comment in AthensPlus, 27 March 2009