Solidarity and scapegoats

Perhaps now that they believe they have secured their economies against the possibility of a Greek bankruptcy, our partners in the European Union should be even more afraid. Now they see that Greece?s chief problem is political, and that this is to blame for the economic impasse. Believing that they have isolated Greece to the point where they are not in economic danger, they feel secure enough to flirt with the idea of leaving our country to its fate, without giving it the new loan that would avert bankruptcy. Greek politicians? lack of credibility may help our partners think the way they do, but it should not blind them to the possibility that the bells that now toll for Greece may soon toll for their own countries.

Perhaps the relief at lower borrowing costs for other indebted eurozone countries has made our partners and creditors believe that they do not need to keep Greece alive. In addition, seeing Greece?s politicians trapped in a situation where some are trying to introduce and implement reforms and spending cuts that will cost them dearly in the coming elections, while others are making promises that win votes but which they cannot honor, they understand that we are in a political and economic dead-end. It is natural that they are wary of giving more of their taxpayers? money to a cause that looks lost.

This is the danger they have to consider: The Greeks are in a very dark place, where, if they are not given hope, if they are not helped, their failure will be a failure of Europe. It is likely that if another nation has to face the same challenges and sacrifices, it may not be persuaded to make the effort if it has seen the Greeks abandoned to their fate. Its people will have seen that European solidarity goes only so far.

The leaders of Europe show great sensitivity to what the markets think and concern lest Greece?s economic problems spread contagion through the eurozone; they don?t show the same sensitivity to the political crisis. And yet, how many of Europe?s indebted countries will escape the troubles that Greece faces? The problem of economic hardship, a frightened electorate and dramatic opinion poll results, raises issues of political legitimacy for all the leaders of struggling countries.

Perhaps the impatience and frustration that some of our partners display toward Greece shows that they are not interested in the colossal change (with all its mistakes and shortfalls) that is being attempted in a country where the slightest reform was taboo. Perhaps it also reveals the fear that makes people seek scapegoats — so that they can convince themselves that they are not facing the same danger.