COMMENT

Persistent myths

By Alexis Papachelas

In order to exit the crisis, we need to understand exactly what happened to us. This is no easy feat when a large section of society has reached the limits of its sanity and tolerance. That said, there are a number of persisting myths that derive from our proclivity for conspiracy theories and our tendency to blame others for our ills.

The first myth is that the debt crisis was orchestrated to bring down Greece, either because some people invested in the CDS market or because others wanted to exploit our natural resources. However, the fact that the crisis has hit many other states – with France being next on the list – has debunked the anti-Greek conspiracy theory.

The second myth is that the country could have secured much-needed loans from bilateral agreements rather than signing up for the memorandums with the troika. This is hard to understand in the wake of Cyprus’s experience and the desperate attempts made by President Dimitris Christofias to hammer out a bilateral loan. No one – neither Russia nor China, it seems – will lend money outside the framework of the EU and International Monetary Fund.

Interestingly, such theories have not taken root in other crisis-hit countries. So either we are so clever that we can see right through what really happened or we have allowed the sirens of populism and nationalism to go unchecked. Public debate in Cyprus, Ireland and Italy does not revolve around theories of betrayal and conspiracy. To be fair, of course, our politicians and foreign lenders did make a number of huge mistakes in managing the Greek crisis. Mistakes, however, are one thing and conspiracies quite another.

But there is one myth that has not been tested yet: a well-planned Greek default, the argument goes, would lead to a large part of the country’s debt being written off and increased funding from our lenders.

It’s hard to say what would have happened in Brussels last Monday if Greece had been represented by a SYRIZA or Independent Greeks official. Maybe our partners would have been frightened at the prospect of a Greek meltdown and written off a big chunk of our debt while financing our deficit with better terms. Or perhaps they would have found a way for a smooth eurozone exit. Then again, they may have simply stopped backing Greece’s rescue program and let the government deal with the collapse of the banking system and the rest all on its own. The second and third scenarios are more likely, but it’s like having to predict whether there is life after death.

The most popular myths are losing their credibility – save the one of Greek bravado that is naturally popular among a frustrated people. Some say society will calm down and turn its back on the big talkers and chest thumpers by becoming aware of the risks involved in such bluffing. And perhaps it will.

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