Advice with praise

«La Grece, les dangers de l’euphorie» was the eloquent headline on the front page of the French daily Le Monde yesterday, in a commentary on the unprecedented enthusiasm expressed by Greeks after the country’s victory in the Euro 2004 soccer championship. Citing an editorial in Kathimerini, the distinguished newspaper notes that the «Lisbon message» – the value of discipline, the collective spirit, hard work and devotion to national goals – should be «absorbed by the politicians,» since in soccer, as in life and in history, «surprises are not easily repeated.» Our friends in the West are speaking from experience. In 1998, their (less unexpected but no less impressive) win in the World Cup for the tricolor flag over the world soccer superpower Brazil produced a tidal wave of euphoria comparable to what we have seen in Athens over the past couple of weeks. Their national soccer team became the symbol of «France the winner,» a great republic that has incorporated all its ethnic and racial groups in a spirit of equality. Six years later, President Jacques Chirac issued a dire warning of the risks of an upsurge in racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, while France also faced the risk of being sanctioned by the European Commission for diverging from the Stability Pact. Getting to the heart of the matter, Le Monde mentions the corruption that to a great extent has led to the excessive cost of public works, especially as regards the Olympic Games, and other storm clouds gathering over Greece’s economy, such as bankrupt firms. Yet the author was unsparing in his praise for the major improvements in infrastructure over the past few years and for the steady European orientation of the Karamanlis government. «It is a new Greece, aligned toward progress, according to the Kathimerini article, that is preparing to host this year’s Olympic Games,» wrote the French daily. It is a Greece, according to the article, that is preparing to «shed its Balkan skin, if one might be permitted to use a term that, for better or worse, has acquired a pejorative tinge» and that «is refuting all the cliches and prejudices that accompany it.» One hopes that our French friends’ well-intentioned warnings will not not fall upon deaf ears and that their generous praise will be vindicated by our collective efforts.