Leading personalities visited Greece last week for the Athens Democracy Forum. Many knew nothing about this country beyond what they’d read in the international press. Others are frequent visitors and love Greece and its people. They all asked the same question: “We don’t understand why you are stuck in this black hole. You have a gorgeous country and a great way of living. Everywhere we went we came across young people with talent, education, language skills. What went wrong?”
We are all tormented by this question and the truth is that there is no easy answer. We were convinced – and, in turn, managed to convince many international analysts – that the reason for our ailments was the bailout and the austerity measures. A large portion of Greeks still believe that to be the case. So let’s assume that the Germans decide to write off half of our debt and also hand us a few billion euros as a “dowry.”
Does anyone really believe that the country would suddenly take off? The structural weights holding us down are unbearable. Even if choppers were to start flying over Athens throwing cash around for months, the problem would still linger and deficits would start accumulating very quickly. Those with a superficial knowledge of the country don’t know this.
The Germans are fond of the theory of the failed Greek elites. They are not wrong. The political elite is not the only one to blame. The case of the TV permits and the general fuss regarding the media highlighted, in a raw way, the nakedness of the country’s business elite.
So where are we going to find the strength, the “materials” and the appetite to rebuild the country? I don’t want to hear any more of this damned “Let’s hit rock bottom first and then we’ll see” talk. This is a very dangerous path, because there have been many states which at a certain point realized there was never a real lowest point. Decay can lead to a never-ending spiral.
Lately, I have started to believe that a crucial role in the country’s rebirth will be played by the thousands of Greeks who have left. They are very different from the immigrants of the past. Technology and other media now allow them to keep in touch with Greece. They are collecting professional and life experiences and are making money. Many of them ask the same question seen at the beginning of this column.
Ever since the establishment of a modern Greek state, Greeks living abroad have provided the impetus and the vision which were lacking inside the country. Some are doing the same today, but they have yet to form a critical mass. Local “materials” are worn out, tired and certainly not enough for Greece to show its tremendous potential.