Warlord lambs and sacrificial lions

Greek history is full of heroic defeats — defeats so spectacular, so proud, so inspired that they became symbols of victory, symbols of the Greek spirit, a part of our identity. Thermopylae, Zalongos and Arkadi — the mass self-sacrifice, the free hearts’ dance in the face of death — inspired awe and wonder across the world and gave us strength at every difficult moment. In those cases, the Greeks embraced catastrophe and absorbed it, making it part of their history, choosing death above defeat only after they had waged battle. Today, after two years of austerity, we feel that we have waged our great battle and don’t have the heart for more.

We mistook a reform program for war and it seems that we prefer a retreat (which equals self-destruction) rather than to continue the fight. But, choosing only to complain, to exaggerate, to swagger about and to warp reality, we insult our history, we undermine our future and we rush toward defeat — symbols not of the Greek spirit but of Greece’s defeat. We accept surrender even though we know that this momentary loss of spirit will cost us very dear for a very long time.

If our slide toward the eurozone’s exit is not halted, one day we will have to explain what happened, what each one of us did to avert defeat. We will have to describe the prevailing conditions today, the role played by politicians who knew what they needed to do but bowed before the demagogues: they did not surpass themselves, they did not cooperate to save the country. We will remember journalists and media owners who did not want to go against the current when colleagues faced the fists and threats of anonymous thugs. We will note the responsibility of foreign partners and creditors who delayed helping out and were very late in realizing the magnitude of our national paralysis. We will remember the ease with which so many citizens sought refuge in the fairy tales and myths of their choosing, and how easily most parties exploited this.

Today’s impasse was confirmed by the vote of May 6. PASOK and New Democracy were cut down dramatically, as they shared the blame for the economic collapse and the painful effort for revival. As the Public Interest poll published in Sunday’s Kathimerini showed, eight out of 10 voters were influenced by the memorandum (as the bailout agreement has become known). The ?Memorandum Front? was dealt a heavy blow. It was not helped by the fact that neither PASOK nor New Democracy accepted the plans wholeheartedly, because the reforms and cutbacks were aimed at the greatest part of their electoral clients. Their ?Front,? in other words, was lacking determined leadership, while arrayed against it were the mobile irregulars of the various ?no? movements.

An Arab saying notes: ?Better that a lion lead an army of sheep than a sheep lead an army of lions.? In Greece, the lions are the honest citizens who have sacrificed a great portion of their income and carry the huge burden of the rescue effort — in terms of taxes and the social cost of austerity. Their leaders are the sheep who did not dare implement reforms, organize the state services so as to improve the lives of citizens and help spur development. Some leaders failed in their efforts, while others devoted themselves to obstructing every effort.

Today the dominant view is that the failure to modernize the country proves that no salvage effort is needed. The question that is put to citizens is: ?Are you in favor of the odious memorandum or against it?? They are not asked, ?Are you in favor of our fighting to keep Greece in the eurozone or are you happy to stop every reform effort and go back to the drachma??

When an issue of the greatest national import is not presented in its true magnitude it shows that we are afraid to shoulder our responsibility and, furthermore, are afraid to force the citizens to shoulder theirs. When politicians place greater store in the cries of demagogues than in their own responsibility to lead the country down the painful road to stability and revival, we know that we are rushing not toward heroic defeat but toward the triumph of fear, folly and dereliction of duty.