Now is the time
Let us be clear on the following: Covid-19 will be one of the major black swan phenomena of the 21st century. Nevertheless, it is not enough simply to spot the black swan wandering around the international arena. We must learn from it and prepare for the next global crisis, because it will almost certainly come as another pandemic.
Greece has shown exemplary conduct during the pandemic, despite being on a weaker footing economically than most European Union nations. The government acted quickly, listening to the medical experts instead of the smart alecks with their know-it-all attitudes. Additionally, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis proved he is the sort of politician willing to make way for technocrats when a particular crisis requires it. However, this is also the proper time for brave decisions that will help the Greek state and society to withstand the arrival of the next black swan, whenever it comes.
First, the violent incidents at the Evros border, with hundreds of immigrants trying to invade Greek territory from Turkey, reveal that the state must reorganize its military strategy. Greece successfully met the challenge, yet this will not be the last such episode. It goes without saying that the restructuring of Greek military strategy has to be in line with the turbulent economic years that will follow. A smart long-term investment in the Greek defense industry and in information technology are two highly necessary steps.
Second, the Covid-19 pandemic exposed the Greek economy’s Achilles’ heel: tourism. A shadow has been cast over the nation’s so-called “heavy industry” – which is highly vulnerable to wider geostrategic and biological conditions – in terms of the sustainability of the sector and its workforce. It is crucial that we modernize our economy by giving room to technologies that have a direct connection with artificial intelligence and 3D printing. Such a move would create new stable jobs and an economic surplus as well. In addition, the Greek state has to do whatever is necessary – such as introducing more tax exemptions and attracting an investment base – to persuade representatives of the nation’s true heavy industry, the Greek shipping community, to repatriate their businesses and expand their circle of activities in Greece.
Third, the pandemic proved that the health and the education sectors are the pillars of the state. While thousands of doctors and nurses battle heroically on the front line of the pandemic, teachers and academics are fighting from the rear to keep young people’s mental and intellectual well-being at a high level. The Greek state must reinforce these two pillars of society with additional hi-tech infrastructure and funding in order to prepare them not just for the next pandemic, but also for the recovery period that will start as soon as the quarantine ends. The state has to evaluate what went exceptionally well and what did not in order to prepare for the harsh realities of the next day.
Fourth, this government has done exceptionally well in terms of restoring the nation’s prestige on the international scene. Greece is neither the black sheep nor the compliant factor in the European sub-system anymore. It productively participates in European affairs without hesitation. Yet the state must find ways to elevate itself from being an Eastern Mediterranean element of stability to a pivotal player for the Western world. Furthering transatlantic objectives on an institutional and political level in Southeastern Europe and the East Mediterranean, maintaining strong ties with Israel and Egypt, and further promoting diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates are the obligatory steps that Greece has to make for the post-Covid-19 era.
Last but not least, the Greek public demands cooperation from the political elite for the common good, which means showing narcissistic or inefficient politicians the door and protecting liberal democracy against populist and excessive behavior. The years to come will require that the creme de la creme of our technocratic and political staff work hard to put our house back in order. This dystopian setting offers fertile ground for our political system to regain the people’s trust, to reclaim its lost sparkle and efficiency.
In the last few months, we as a nation proved first to ourselves that we can be professional in standing our ground without being over-the-top and that we can be successful at social distancing to protect ourselves and those we love. We have good reason to be proud of our present, perhaps for the first time in decades, instead of just our past. And this can give us the momentum we need to adopt all the necessary changes that will allow us to be optimistic for our collective future too.
Spyros N. Litsas is a professor of international relations at the University of Macedonia. His latest book, “US Foreign Policy in the Eastern Mediterranean: Power Politics and Ideology Under the Sun,” is published by Springer.