OPINION

Two faces of Greece

As we reach the end of the year, the politicians and the media tend to recapitulate the past and make predictions about the future. This time, a fortunate coincidence came to facilitate our national navel-gazing: Two thorough studies on Greece’s changing social geography. The first research was conducted by the National Center for Social Research (EKKE) while the second one was carried out by the European Union’s responsible directorate. Far from the government’s triumphant celebrations about a «powerful Greece» and the opposition’s sweeping critique of Greece’s collapsing economy, the two studies reveal a contradictory picture of a country which is, at the same time, strong and weak, rich and poor, humane and cynical, wasteful and callous. Although we Greeks enjoy a higher growth rate than the EU average, we also live with the a higher number of impoverished people. We have a generous social security system, but we pay more than our fellow Europeans on health and our children’s education. Our businesses swallowed huge sums of money during the golden age of the Athens Stock Exchange but they are still at the bottom of European tables in terms of research investment. Greeks come first in the use of mobile phones but last in Web surfing. As always, some will think the glass is half-full while others will insist on seeing it half-empty. There’s no doubt that over the last decade Greece endured the double shock inflicted by the economic modernization that was mandated by the EMU and that of the immigration wave – unprecedented in Greek history – without suffering the social repercussions that some thought unavoidable. In spite of all our problems, we have succeeded in becoming more European without giving up the finest characteristics of our native culture: The family ties that help protect the jobless youngster or the aged relative, our sociability that renders Greece’s cement jungles the most lively and safe cities in Europe, a more human lifestyle which allows us to boast about the highest life-expectancy rate and the best health despite the fact that we smoke, eat and drink more than everyone else in the world. We are thus entitled to gaze at the past without being taken by sterile nostalgia and at the future without ungrounded fear, with the sobering knowledge that we have accomplished a lot but we can achieve even more, and with the certainty that we are at once our biggest enemy and our greatest ally.