The promise of an impossible success story

The promise of an impossible success story

The Economist could not have come up with a more precise, subtly sarcastic and at the same time disparaging way to describe Greece’s leftist-led government: “an amateurish bloc of ex-communists and elbow-patched professors elevated to power by desperate voters.” 

The British magazine’s in-depth coverage of the country’s eight-year crisis, on the occasion of Greece’s exit from its third bailout program on August 20, contains figures, thoughts and rather pessimistic forecasts. 

“There are indeed signs of recovery, led by strong tourist numbers on [the] islands… But the scars are everywhere,” the Economist says, adding, “As Greeks know only too well, after the emigration of hundreds of thousands and a near-25 percent drop in GDP since 2008 – almost half as much again as war-torn Ukraine – no one can mistake their country for a success story.” 

The article goes on to say that while the country is left with dysfunctional public services, sky-high tax rates, feeble institutions and adverse demographics, it must nevertheless run large primary surpluses for the coming four decades. 

The picture, like a painting created with broad strokes, is nearly complete. If you take a few steps back, you can get a better look at it. You can admire the artist but you cannot help but be taken over by an overwhelming sense of sadness.

The disaster is not superficial, it cuts across society.

Greece’s state structures have come apart, institutions are weak, the most productive part of the population has left the country (there is no way you can achieve growth without manpower), excessive taxation curbs any remaining momentum, the economy is caught up in a vicious cycle of austerity.

The dawning of August 21 is unlikely to bring a sense of relief.

“The scars are everywhere” and there is no such thing as a shared wound of a bankrupt country to bring the country together.

Greece is broken and toxically divided (the government proved to be very adept at flinging vitriol).

The extremely vital education and health sectors have come undone (their unraveling, a process that began decades ago, is now almost complete). It will be very hard for the next government to come up with the right formula to glue this society together.

Eight years later, there is no such thing as a success story. There is not even a common narrative that can keep us together.

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