Greece is like a piece of metal stuck between two strong magnets. One is pulling the nation in the direction of the West in terms of institutions, economics and culture. The second magnet however, is keeping the country close to its Balkan roots, and the East. This predicament goes back to the birth of the modern Greek state. Greece is endlessly caught in the middle; it occasionally appears to move closer to one magnet, before being attracted by the other.
The forces of inertia by definition appeal to popular sentiment. They like to flatter the people with the narrative that they alone are the chosen ones; that they do not have to strive for something better. “Come on, Greece is fine the way it is,” you will hear them say. They will wage battles for the vested interests of oligarchs, local elites and unions, portraying them as Greek exceptionalism.
Now the country stands at a crucial crossroads – again. The people are battered and frustrated. A big chunk are angry at the West, deeming that it can no longer provide security and prosperity. The West has lost much of its luster and magnetism; its direction is uncertain. The United States is in a deep crisis and showing strong signs of decay. Europe, meanwhile, has been swept by an unprecedented wave of populism, nationalism and euroskepticism. And Greece finds itself in the midst of it all.
Greece, I believe, has never before found itself at the center of such huge tectonic pressures. At the same time, it is suffering from an unprecedented economic crisis, escalating tension with Turkey and growing internal security issues. The overriding sense of decay may make one oblivious to some of the more serious problems around. The repeated attacks on the capital’s trolley buses, for example, may have no direct connection to the issue of gray zones or Turkish expansionism in the Aegean Sea. But they still are signs of an overall degeneration.
In the past, Greece used to overcome such crises thanks to a good combination of factors: a middle class with strong vision and faith in the country; an ambitious diaspora community, and outside forces that supported the country’s progress.
A big part of the middle class has failed itself as its actions are mostly animated by profit-making. The diaspora appears to be out of touch, and only a big national crisis might prompt it to come closer. Finally, the traditional big powers have existential problems of their own to deal with.
Can Greece find the strength to resist the appeal of the south magnet? Perhaps the instinct of survival could reawaken the now-dormant “filotimo” and, with the help of some good leadership, halt the ongoing decline.