OPINION

So near to happiness, so far from holding it

Now that our society and our lives are up in the air and we don’t know where the pieces will fall, we can see how sad it is that we will lose so much good along with the bad. We can see that this country was so close to happiness and now it looks as if it has no way to deal with the threats that it faces. Maybe now that we are in danger we can see how well off we were, how we undermined our prosperity through our greed, arrogance and inertia. We did not deal with our problems, allowing them to grow to the point that they are testing our culture and the social fabric.

We are at the point where we can see what we had, what we are losing and what threatens us. Let’s begin with the simple and self-evident things. Our country’s beauty and cultural heritage are known across the world. Our recent history, too, is full of great events that are known internationally, from wars to artistic achievements. In the last 38 years, Greece enjoyed its longest period of peace and prosperity as an independent state. Modern transportation and communications, the global market, the fall of the Soviet Bloc provided the opportunity for all the world’s Greeks to unite for the first time. Gone were the wounds of poverty at home, and of the great homesickness and pain of emigration.

So what went wrong and, at the moment of our apogee as a nation, just as we touched happiness, we crashed so hard and now find ourselves fearing at the coming days, without knowing how badly we are damaged? There are many reasons, and over the past few years we have had the opportunity to discuss them. But now that we are at the razor’s edge, things are getting clearer; we can see the most serious wounds of the Greeks.

The economic and political problems are inseparable. Our political system was founded on client-patron relations, and these shaped our society and economy. When we joined Europe and had the chance to modernize, the huge amounts of money that flowed into the country went not toward reforms but toward strengthening the old political model ?- giving people what they want in return for votes and their silence. It is disheartening that today SYRIZA, the most dynamic and insurgent part of our political world, supports this system -? perhaps so that with one simple motion it can harvest the clientele of PASOK and New Democracy, without knowing how it will keep these voters happy.

Our political culture did not demand that our politicians and administrators learn the art of government; because all parties were united in feeding at the public trough and their clashes were without substance, they could indulge in endless theatrics, with exaggerated demands and minimal consensus. Now that our politicians have to join forces to save the nation, they know only how to demand, to criticize and to reject any compromise. They remain stuck in their old roles and prejudices, fearing any form of cooperation, lest their supporters accuse them of being soft. They don’t know how to communicate with each other, let alone with the representatives of foreign governments and organizations. They huff and they puff and they hope others will do all that needs to be done rather than call their bluff.

Just as our political system was based on endless loans, and not on the give-and-take of the real economy, so our citizens became accustomed to having whatever they wanted. Hard work, responsibility, legality, honesty ?- even capability ? became subjective terms, issues of personal choice. They were no longer absolute, nor could they be evaluated, encouraged and rewarded. We lost contact with reality, we turned our backs on our forefathers’ wisdom, we paid no attention to what other nations in the eurozone and the EU did to secure their survival. We believed in the relativity of everything and in impunity ?- from polluting our country to allowing hooliganism and violence to seem like a natural part of our public life. We forgot that whatever we do or do not do has consequences.

Now that everything is changing, we are plagued by rage and sorrow. We see how easy it would have been to take measures to protect our gains, and how far we are from learning how to talk to each other and with others, in our last chance to save what we have.