July 2, 2011

An Evaluation of the Greek Dilemma

An Evaluation of the Greek Dilemma
By Jason Athanasiadis, The Independent, 30 June 2011
Jul 1, 2011 - 2:45:38 PM

As school children in Athens, every year we practised an alarming custom.  At the end of the school year, we gathered our textbooks into a pile and burnt them in an act of rebellion against the rigidity of the educational system. Today, there is a parallel to that self-destructive behaviour in the blame-game unfolding on Constitution Square as Greeks curse their democratically-elected politicians for "lulling" them into two decades of easy credit, soft corruption, tax evasion and overspending.

But they selectively ignore that they consented to an unwritten social pact whereby demonstrably corrupt politicians conjured up a higher level of living in return for no questions asked.  But if people didn't know that Greece fiddled statistics to get into the European Union, then over-borrowed to fund the exaggerated lifestyles of corrupt politicians, many knew, perhaps only subconsciously, that foul play was afoot.

Now that the cat's out of the bag, many Greeks have opted for blaming the West for their travails instead of shouldering the blame. Global banks, the International Monetary Fund, Zionism and assorted scarecrows are infinitely preferable targets than facing up to our silent, corroding collusion.  To kalo to palikari xerei allo monopati (the smart lad knows a better path) goes the Greek folk saying, and for years we fancied ourselves cutting fine figures as we negotiated our own special path.

But in dealing with Brussels we were falling foul of another saying: Logareiazei xoris ton xenodoho (acting without taking the innkeeper into account).  Today, although some blame must be apportioned to international institutions for encouraging Greece's addiction to debt, almost no voices ask why Greeks knowingly lived beyond their means.

This refusal to deal with our past but rush to the soothing shelter of collective amnesia reminded me of the slightly bizarre experience of my Greek childhood.  I grew up in Eighties Athens.  I took for granted the embedded racism, clientilism and absence of meritocracy.

At sports events, the hooligans setting fires to the stadium, exploding fireworks into basket-ball arenas and pelting players with coins were described with quiet pride and a dash of admiration as "fanatics". Criminals often organised escapes from supposedly high-security jails.  Demonstrators rioted in the streets on political anniversaries while the police stood by impassively.  Only later did I learn that the authorities viewed the rioting as an important pressure valve on society necessary for manipulating the political agenda.

Then it got even better.  Entry into the EU was interpreted as a signal to become "Western", ergo degenerate.  Magazines featured scantily-clad girls in suggestive poses as swaths of society plunged into a consumerist lifestyle unprecedented in Greek history.

When I moved to a school in London, I thought that all this and more was typical of every Western country and that Greek reality was normality.  After all, raising your voice in protest at this paradigm resulted in getting shouted down as a xenerotos (pathetic) or floros (a dweeb).  Now I spend some of my time in Kabul.  In this failed state, with its massive corruption and a resurgent Taliban, it quite reminds me of home.


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