COMMENT

To the Germans

By Nikos Konstandaras

This is not a time to flatter the Germans, nor to accuse them of past wrongs and present obsessions, nor to plead with them. We are neither friends nor enemies - we are partners. And though we are in the same boat, we hear more and more often that many Germans ? from top policy makers to media moralists and opinion polls ? would like to see Greece sink, like Plato?s Atlantis. The European Union, the greatest achievement of collective humanity, is being jeopardized by the loss of nerve of a handful of politicians and economists, in Germany, in Greece, throughout our wary continent. And this at a time when simply sticking to the course hewn over the past years, with the necessary adjustments demanded by the time, may lead to a society larger, wealthier and even more beneficial to its members.

Certainly, the Greeks have done all that they can to alienate their partners: first by losing their bearings on account of the unprecedented peace and prosperity that EU membership brought a nation that repeatedly had to fight long and bloody wars for independence and unity, whose harsh land was geared toward creating thinkers, warriors and sailors rather than good middle-class burghers; second, through the tireless efforts of Greek zealots, who are not a few, to portray Greece as a country that wants only to take, and bothers neither with shows of gratitude nor with personal or collective responsibility. What is happening in Greece today is the very difficult process of a society having to sort out the good and the bad and trying to build on the good, when, for generations (if not eons) individuals have been conditioned by the dogma, ?my side, right or wrong.? Dividing lines now run between members of the same political parties, of families, even within individuals ? between those who are furious by the loss of the utopia of borrowed wealth and those who want to push ahead with the reforms that will make Greece achieve its potential both as a country that respects its citizens and as a valuable member of the European Union. What is at stake is all that the responsible citizens of Greece have built, the savings they deposited when their country and compatriots borrowed, and the future of their children. Is this not what most Germans worry about as well? This is why we need the greatest solidarity between us ? the battle being waged in Greece is at the heart of the debate in every country.

The great divide of our times is not between nations nor ideologies, but between different mentalities at a continental level. Beyond nationalists of the left and right, are there many serious people who can argue that any country is better off outside the EU than within it? It is increasingly evident that more unites serious Greeks and Germans than that which divides their more selfish and simplistic compatriots.

Unification, like independence, has always been achieved through blood and treasure; in today?s Europe, though, we can do this through negotiation. We Europeans are in the most privileged position to be able to form our closer union without any fundamental disagreements or bellicosity. We all agree on the paramount importance of our democratic principles and the benefits of our symbiotic and, in many ways, osmotic relationship. It is natural that not all our countries are at the same level with regard to wealth, democratic maturity and productivity. Did we really expect that more than 500 million citizens of dozens of nations could come together without any lapses, without complaints, without frustration, downright anger and wrong turns? What we have achieved is more than we could have expected, success is within sight; how can we jeopardize it all? How can Greek union leaders still hold their country back ? a country with unemployment touching on 17 percent? How can German policy makers make comments that can only lead the markets to keep questioning their will to save the euro and the union?

Today, individuals are empowered as never before but nations are more vulnerable to forces beyond their control and the world needs pillars of stability. The United States, the economic and military superpower has its own problems, which, in a way, mirror the European inequality between rich and poor, ?productive? and ?lazy.? The growing but untested powers of China and India face their own social and economic imbalances. Europe has fewer fundamental flaws but is showing a frightening loss of confidence in itself as a superpower in the face of challenges that were only to be expected.

These are not issues that can be determined by opinion polls and populism. They do not have the same weight as everyday political anxieties. Times demand collective efforts and personal responsibility, from all Europeans. Those who are in a position to lead must do so with determination, and the others must do what they can to help. So let?s pull together.

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