A lot of airtime has been devoted to the current Greek crisis. Greece has defaulted to the tune of around $6 billion, and unless the country forks up around a billion-and-a-half by the end of this month, it may leave the Eurozone. There is an unpleasant Schadenfreude about the whole incident. As I have a reputation for taking up lost causes, I can’t help feeling a little sorry for the people of Hellas. A newspaper wag described the country as an uneasy porcupine with a rectal itch. It was a little unkind and had the mafia’s sense of menace. But it made me wonder why Greece joined the Club in the first place, when the people have always been highly individualistic and have always harboured a suspicion of authority.
Well, the country has now been thrown in at the deep end and is almost bankrupt — which is, of course, something the Greeks have known for some time. But irrespective of what people might say and the measures that economists with seven-figure salaries might come up with, Greece can never repay its debts and somebody might soon switch off the country’s financial life support system. The left-wing government, which cruised to victory at the last election on a wave of anti-austerity measures, is largely to blame. The administration is being run by a party that has alarmingly little executive experience and even less diplomatic experience. In its reluctance to curb tax evasion and bureaucratic inefficiency, the current Greek government has something in common with the last five Pakistani governments which were installed after the promulgation of the NRO. The difference is the level of corruption in which the Greeks are no match for the Pakistanis.
Currently, the people at the top of the hate list of the Greeks are the international creditors and of course the boys in Berlin who are the very embodiment of discipline, order and method. The Germans want the Greeks to come up with a feasible plan for putting their books in order before another big bailout. And, so far as the rules of the Club go, the Germans are perfectly justified in doing so. Frankly, conditions are pretty bad in the islands. The government is lumbered with pensions that cannot be paid and huge unemployment. But… if one looks at the problem dispassionately… one will come to the inescapable conclusion that the terms that had been imposed on the Greeks had been unnecessarily harsh. They shrunk the economy by over 20 per cent and raised the unemployment figure.
Most Greeks are prepared for the worst. The wealthy, like the well heeled in Pakistan, have transferred most of their assets abroad. Others with small savings are wondering what the future has in store. Greece was once the cradle of Western civilisation, once had a great empire and like the British an adventurous seafaring tradition. As Edith Hall wrote in her remarkable book on the ancient Greeks, in a couple of generations, a single city, Athens, produced the men who created the world’s first recognisable history, geography, philosophy, tragedy, comedy and democracy. Unfortunately, none of that passed on to the contemporary Greeks. Nobody could have put it better than the English poet Lord Byron when he wrote… “The Isles of Greece, the Isles of Greece/Where burning Sappho loved and sung/Where grew the arts of war and peace/Where Phoebus rose and Delos sprung/Eternal summer gilds them yet/And all but their sun is set.” Well, yes and no. The tourists will still come and the bazukis will still play and dinner will still be served at 10. And I will still watch videos of the beautiful Ellie Lambeti dancing to a Cretan tune.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 28th, 2015.
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