Historians will not cut Greece any breaks when analyzing the developments of the past year at some point in the future. Tragic mistakes made by Greece’s creditors, the cowardice of the old political establishment and the criminal negligence of the present have cost the country dearly. Add to this a public that is easily excitable and passionate, and here we are, in a pickle.
Nevertheless, I believe that we are fortunate in our misfortune. Let’s look at the facts. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has boarded the memorandum train, and once you’re on, it’s almost impossible to get off. Also, most citizens are starting to realize just how crazy and dangerous the domestic champions of Greece’s return to the drachma are, though there is certainly still a hard core who will not come to terms with the truth unless the situation gets even more precarious.
Another development that makes me hopeful is that Europe and the German intelligentsia are becoming aware of the fact that once more, Germany seems unable to manage its own power. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble’s stance has done a great deal of damage to Germany’s status and reputation. Until recently, Germany was cast as the reluctant hegemon, a country that did not want to appear too overbearing and awaken memories of the past. Schaeuble’s behavior – irrespective of how provocative Athens may have been – stirred emotions that Germany wants firmly buried. This will, without doubt, create conditions that could be to the benefit of Greece if it plays its cards right.
In order to do anything though, we must all decide – from Tsipras to each and every one of us – that we need to set a national goal and then do everything in our power to achieve it. We will never win over the crazies, but that’s OK because the rest of us are in the majority. The first part will be to implement the reforms needed for the good of the country. The second is to secure a debt reduction. It is possible. In fact, it is already being discussed behind closed doors, even in Berlin. It is unlikely that the creditors will repeat the mistakes of the past and put impossible terms on the next evaluation of the Greek program. But they also need to make a firm commitment on the debt issue.
Greece can do this. Sure, we have made some terrible mistakes in the past. We have been blinded by anger and put our trust in easy and risky solutions. But we stuck to Europe. This is not a time to lament our mistakes or to allow our stubborness to lead us to disaster. The people are shattered and desperate for a new narrative, they need someone with vision and a plan to end this misery. And pushing through reforms with the idea of a debt writedown coming after them should be an easy sell.