In the Case of Greece, Everyone is Wrong
For the past 5 years, I’ve seen my own opinion on Greece and the Greek crisis constantly shift. First I was harsh, Professor VanDeveer had made it clear at my time at Harvard, that the Ancient Athenians were very harsh to the Melians (see “Melian Dialogue”). So I thought I understood that, today, an example may have to be made of Greece. This time in the name of European stability, the euro and the Union. But then Greeks, who unlike me, live in Greece, asked me: “And how am I going to live without a job? With 60% youth unemployment.”, “And If I have a job, what am I going to do with 300 euros?” And that softened me, I felt the need to relate to that. It sounded impossible. So for the past five years, my position on Greece has shifted between my empathy, logic, realism, ideals, sense of what is fair, sense of what is possible, sense of responsibility and European idealism.
The facts told a simple tale: Greece joined the eurozone, Greece borrowed more than ever before, Greek governments created public jobs to win elections, millions of
idiots citizens voted for them, creating an unsustainable environment, the bubble burst, Greece was at fault – now it is time to pay up. But Greece couldn’t pay, so it had to borrow more money, this time the money came with austerity. Nobody likes austerity, the Greeks hate it. Some argue that there are countries, even in the eurozone with minimum wages lower than Greece’s, with living standards, much, much lower than those in Greece. Greeks will ignore that, and on one hand it makes sense, because they were used to their way of life, and they have been slowly stripped of it. I understand that. But financially, it makes no sense. You spent too much, you can’t do it anymore.
“it’s not that simple. Nothing in Europe is.”
As a human it breaks my heart, every time I see a homeless person, wherever he is from, whether he is Greek or German, Turkish or Indian, Korean or South African. As a human a part of my soul dies, every time I see a kid that’s not at school. As a human it pains me to see an old man or woman who can’t afford to buy food. As an individual who believes in the European idea, as an educated European, I understand the sacrifices we make for the European project. For unity within our diversity, for peace regardless of our warful past. But rightly enough, some people can accuse me that it is easy to speak from a comfortable position. But that is an attack on me, and not a counter-argument/solution to Greece’s troubles. But I am European and human at the same time, and so I’m constantly conflicted. How can we solve this gigantic mess, in a financially and human, realistic way?
“Individually, all arguments seem sane.”
Austerity might have worked if Germany was the country in trouble. Its system would have positively reacted to austerity. The broken Greek state can not handle it, but it is this author’s belief that Greece couldn’t handle anything right now. In 2010 both Greece and Ireland were bailed out. Five years later, Greece is still on a financial and sociopolitical fire. Both had to adjust, reform, and go through austerity. Ireland came out. Greece continued to fall. The Greek state was and continues to be unorganised, with an under-performing public sector. Greece has ran out of money, and relies on bailout lifelines to keep going. Greeks wants to find a solution themselves, but Greece is clearly unable to find one. The European Union is supranational but nations and citizens of each country are still too divided rather than “united in diversity”. Germany is the biggest provider of loans to Greece, because it is (it has become) the largest European (in the EU) economy, and that has obviously, unjustifiably, angered citizens whose countries are in financial trouble, because of the shadow still cast by World War II. The anger and the blame are unjustifiable, the appeal for debt relief, is becoming more and more justifiable, as Germany tightens its grip, with the argument that Germany had its debts cancelled after World War II, and that allowed it to breathe and grow. But it’s not that simple. Nothing in Europe is. There is too much background, too many variables and context. The Greeks are right to want less austerity measures and less policies and agreements that lead to their country’s devaluation, some European citizens have every right to oppose what they see as a business-only driven Union, the world is right to request its money back, it would be unfair to other countries too otherwise, European leaders are right to wanting to keep the EU stable and its future secured. But if they are all right, why is everything so wrong?
In the case of Greece everyone is wrong. And right. Individually, all arguments seem sane. Together they have lead to the mess that we find ourselves today. And it’s wrong.
What is the solution for Greece? Surf away, I don’t know. I believe that Greece needs to put on a good fight against its own past and envision itself as a prosperous member of the Union, with the help of its partners (as expressed in this article). One thing is apparent, for the European Union to survive and grow from this, it needs a closer political union, a fiscal union and steps towards a US-like federal state of states. With much less disparity in terms of member-states economies and standards of living. Would richer states be willing to make such sacrifices? Right now, it seems impossible. But it is the way forward.
Note to one self: This article won’t earn me any friends. It’s never easy to point fingers and spread blame. Prepare for more Twitter hate.