Friday, August 19, 2011

Ekathimerini - on German and European solidarity

Ekathimerini published this commentary on German and European solidarity in the present crisis. Below is a response.

What an extraordinary piece of literature confirming a trait of the present-day Greek mentality, which is: point the finger at others; put yourself in the position of the victim.

Yes, one can nowadays criticize the actions of the German government (and, above all, the reaction of the German people) with regard to the Greek problem. But criticize for what?

The most valid criticism of Germany would be that its government was unable to show professional leadership at the beginning of this crisis. Had they been able to do that, they would have said at the latest by 2009: ”Here is a Euroland country which has foreign payment problems. The country should sit down with its creditors to work out alternatives. If we can help at the end, we will do so within reason.” Losses would have had to be taken by those who entered risk and who collected profits on assuming that risk. That is how capitalism works.

Not to have done that is the reason why the Greek crisis has been blown out of proportion and has now become a crisis of Euroland. That, indeed, is not Greece’s fault. It is the fault of the EU elites, particularly Germany’s. They should have known better!

But for Greece to play the role of the helpless victim at the will of foreign powers; a nation which can no longer do anything on its own to determine its future? That, my dear Greek friends, is a joke!

I am Austrian; my wife is Greek; we have an apartment there. Whenever I am in Greece, I enjoy a standard of living as well as a cost of living (and I observe a luxurious standard of living of the well-to-do Greeks) which I cannot compare to my/our standard of living and cost of living in Austria. The amount of wealth which the upper class of Greeks displays in Greece alone (not to mention the wealth which they stash away offshore) is absolutely unimaginable in Central European countries.

At the same time, I see the standard of living of the not-so-well-to-do Greeks, which has become a horror. I see brilliant university graduates to whom society cannot offer employment. I see ”hard working and clean living” people who don’t have a perspective for their future.

So, please, if you want to blame someone, blame first your own compatriots. If you want to ask someone to understand your difficult situation, ask your wealthy compatriots.

It is absolutely ridiculous that a country whose upper class is among the richest in the entire world (and whose wealth does not necessarily come from ”hard work and clean living”) would emotionally blame other countries whose much more modest and more balanced wealth is the result of ”hard work and clean living.”

The New York Times published earlier this year a front-page article about a successful Greek-American entrepreneur who, in his advanced age, wanted to use part of his wealth to do some good for his home country. Read this article and be ashamed of yourselves before you criticize others!

How can you expect the citizens of other countries to share in your burden if you yourselves are not prepared to share in the burden of your own compatriots? You request greater EU solidarity; greater understanding that we are all one continent.

Please don’t do that before you have demanded of your own compatriots a greater commitment to solidarity amongst yourselves as well as an understanding that you are all one nation and that everyone has to make a contribution to one’s nation.

I say this as an admirer of Greece, Greeks and Greek culture for almost four decades. But just like I was often required as a parent to be ”hard” on my children so that they would not be spoiled but instead be prepared for the challenges of life, I think you should grow up and assume responsibility. You cannot think of yourselves as the vulnerable children of the strong Europe. You have to think of yourselves as the cradle of European civilization and you have to act accordingly.

Sometimes it helps a society to remember what their ancestors might have said about their progress. Your Greek ancestors would undoubtedly be embarrassed to see how you presently behave. Think of your ancestors. Consider what advice they would give you if they could give you advice today. But even as a non-Greek I am rather sure that they would advise you to change your behavior from one day to the next!

Jack Welch, the famous American entrepreneur, concluded one of his books with the admonition: ”Don’t ever allow yourself to feel like a victim!” Your ancestors were of much greater prominence than Jack Welch. Just think what they would say to you today.

I have lived in eight countries and I have never met a people as proud as Greeks are. Forget your pride about the past. The past was none of your own doing. It is the present and the future which is your own doing and make every effort to be proud of that!

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