What we are really worth

By Alexis Papachelas

Reputation Institute is a New-York based consulting firm that routinely publishes global studies designed to identify the best state and corporate reputations around the world.

Its 2011 report is revealing. It showed that Greece ranks near the middle of the global reputation list. However, looking at a different list, the one depicting people?s idea of their own country, Greece is at the bottom of the rankings. It?s a sad, albeit reasonable finding.

Let us suppose for a moment that there are no troika, no loans, no Horst Reichenbach, and no memorandum. I?m absolutely confident that average Greeks know pretty well what problems face the country. Sure, they don?t like being constantly reminded of them by foreigners, and, perhaps, they get angry at the caricature of Greece being portrayed around the world as an example to be avoided. But they have looked himself in the mirror and are well aware of the inconvenient truth.

Greeks know how to keep their house in order; they work hard and are very good at adapting to changing circumstances. But they have been spoiled over the past 30 years. Parents wanted their children to get a job in the public sector; they even got angry with the local deputy if he failed to find one for them.

Even jobs at private companies became a way of handing out political favors to allies. Entrepreneurship, which goes hand-in-hand with astuteness and inventiveness, gradually gave way to all sorts of machinations aimed at sneaking into the comfort of the public sector, or laying hand on some European Union subsidy or another.

For Greece, this is probably the most crucial crossroads since the World War II. Greeks have overcome many divisions in their long history and now they are once again faced with a fresh dilemma: On one hand, it?s those who want to pull the nation to the East and, on the other, those who want to keep it firmly inside the western camp. Advocates of the drachma are pitted against champions of Greece as a member of a closed European club. Greece can easily slip to one side or the other.

If we leave Greece at the mercy of the forces of obstruction and destruction, it could soon start to look like Egypt or Lebanon. And we know by now what the country would look like because we have already seen it: vandalized traffic lights, unguarded museums, collapsing state services. It would be a long downhill slide -- perhaps one of no return. Unchecked sentiment and hyperbole is pushing us in that direction. Some in northern Europe, who wish to vindicate the stereotype of Greece, are doing the same.

Greeks do not deserve to go down this path. We must wage a tough fight to avoid it. For their part, our foreign peers must give us more time and opportunities. After all, partners prove themselves in the difficult days.

We cannot afford to dig our heads in the sand, either by pointing a finger at the bad foreigner or asking for the pity of the international community. We will never bounce back if we get furious, if we are blinded by populists and the champions of the drachma. We must look ourselves in the mirror and show our best side. We must not let bankruptcy, outbreaks of violence, corruption and decay, reduce us to the dustbin of history.

The good thing is that the dividing lines are becoming clearer: There are those out there are working hard to drag us into another civil war, isolation, and financial misery. The others, particularly the silent masses who have for years tolerated useless politicians and a corrupt power system, must think with their heads but also with the Greekest part of their hearts, to show the world -- even our most skeptical critics -- that we have the strength to turn things around, but also to show to ourselves what we are really worth.