A landmark opportunity

Good and bad dreams come in equal portions these days, as deep and frightening divisions are reawakening in the Greek collective psyche. We see the clash of the classes every day, the tension between those who are pro-Europe and those who are not, we see anger and passion. Greeks are, after all, very passionate people. This has led them to being manipulated by blind nationalism and extreme populism, behavior that created trouble both domestically and abroad. And when extreme passions are stirred, the strangest things can happen: the extreme right can shake hands with the left, politicians become consumed by their passions and the country becomes blind to how the rest of the world perceives it.

Why this referencing to past troubles? Because I see the need for a national negotiation with our partners and lenders. We should all support it and if it succeeds, we should all salute – at least those of us placing the country above parties – whoever manages to carry it through. But let’s be sure of what we’re dealing with: Rome, Paris and Washington are allies in words but when push comes to shove they will either back down or act like the UN did over the Cyprus issue.

Greece has suffered a lot in the past five years and its politicians have failed to rise to the occasion. Worst of all they refused to take on the cost of major reforms, transferring the responsibility onto the nasty foreigners, leaving the average Greek feeling poorer and humiliated – a terrible predicament for a proud nation.

Here’s where the tough part begins. In my opinion, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras faces a golden opportunity. He could lead the negotiation to the brink, before agreeing to a historic compromise that would save the country.

Tsipras could do the following: Support those who are suffering most. Destroy vested interests and corruption. Persuade the truly rich to contribute. Break the barriers to entrepreneurship. Learn from China and explain to people, and above all to his own supporters, that privatizations are good for the country. Focus on real scandals and waste. Restructure the public sector with the help of a young generation of civil servants. Reform education, but not to the benefit of the free-loaders.

Can he do all this? Yes. He risks losing the support of his hardliners but he will win over a large majority and our partners’ respect.

The nightmare scenario is that he will be carried away by the powers preaching hatred, revenge and conflict with our partners, and find himself in a position from which he cannot retreat; that fear of the cost of battle with entangled interests will create more oligarchs; that foreign investors will pack up and go. The nightmare is a geopolitically isolated Greece using the drachma. It must be avoided and we must help Tsipras do so.