COMMENT

The ship of fools

By Nikos Konstandaras

It is said that in medieval Europe some nations would load their lunatics on ships and send them away, on a journey without end. In this way, they were freed of the daily care of their mad brethren. When another ship of fools arrived, the locals would be entertained by the passengers? antics, give them some assistance, and, without becoming responsible for them, send them on their way. This was a practical solution, but also a parable for man?s journey to the unknown.

Sometimes during the past few years, the image of a ship whose passengers are caught up in endless squabbles, with no idea of where they?re headed, could serve as a metaphor for how at least some of our partners see Greece: They are forced to help us, they think our predicament is our problem only (remember the comments that ?Greece is a special case??). But as long as the problem is not solved in a way that convinces everyone that Europe takes care of its people, the contagion will spread ? the ship with no destination will represent Europe itself.

This is an exaggeration, of course, but there is no arguing that Greece today is on a journey with an unknown destination. We face neither war, nor occupation, nor some natural disaster. Instead, we are forced to knock down our political and economic system on our own, in exchange for loans that will maintain society in some semblance of normality. Because today nations express solidarity with each other, our partners and creditors in the EU and the International Monetary Fund provided assistance before our walls collapsed. The price, though, was that we tear them down ourselves, with the argument that with their money and their help we will build them on more stable foundations (while repaying our debts to them).

Our partners see what they are providing and how difficult we find it to make use of it quickly and effectively; we, however, live the drama of those who must throw down their arms, and who, at the moment of their greatest humiliation and deprivation, must rebuild their society (their walls) from the beginning. Greece will need a long time and much patience to recover, to be able to produce again and to free itself from debt.

The storm in Parliament on Wednesday is indicative of how disoriented we are. While most of the governing coalition?s deputies were forced to defend harsh austerity measures that may lead to their political demise, deputies of all the opposition parties strutted about smugly demanding changes to the course of a ship that has run aground. At the same time, as if oblivious to the drama in Athens, impatient and grumpy at our delays, our European partners began to hum and haw about when they would release the tranche of the loan that would put some air in our sails. They saw us as a special case, not as a parable of our common fate.

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