It’s worth stepping into the shoes of our neighbors who were once part of the Eastern bloc and taking a look at how they perceive us. Our behavior raises considerable questions as far as they’re concerned. They show a great appetite for business and investment. They don’t consider profit to be a bad thing – quite the contrary. They consider the West, Europe and the United States as their natural allies. That’s where they wish to belong and naturally they aspire to becoming members of all the closed international clubs we have belonged to since the 1950s. They shake their heads when we use every possible means available to drive entrepreneurship and investment away from Greece. While clearly they will be more than happy to step in and accept such investment in our place, their astonishment remains.
There is a big difference in this case. These nations went through some very tough years, they lived through poverty and oppression. Their appetite for a higher standard of living, closer ties with the West and Western values makes sense. They reject the failed leftist model because they actually experienced it, while we maintain it as an artificial chimera. We achieved high living standards and became accustomed to the European way of life before entering a downward spiral five years ago, and will still don’t know when it will end. In the era of globalization, however, countries are not just running a marathon, but a never-ending 100-meter sprint race. Our neighbors are running fast, while we are living a period of great decay.
This is where the lack of self-awareness which defines us enters the picture. Our neighbors know now what happened back then for them to find themselves on the wrong side of history after the war. For us that period is still confusing and blurred in our minds. If anyone were to go out on the street and state in public that Greece owes a great deal to Yalta and Winston Churchill, who stubbornly kept the country in the West, they would elicit raised eyebrows, questions, laughter and, surely, some insults. We are very spoilt when it comes to the way we approach history: On the one hand we believe they owed it to us because of our earlier history, while on the other we think they did so as a result of some major conspiracy. The collective psyche thinks of recent history as a perpetual sequence of treason, conspiracy and disaster. The role of the victim unites leftists and extreme rightists under a very convenient formation. No nation learning its history in such a twisted way can see its future clearly.
It might be too late for our mass perception of Greek history to change. I do hope, however, that at some point the competitive Greek instinct and pride will kick in and realize that its poor relatives and neighbors are not that far behind in the big race.