From 2004 to 2020

From 2004 to 2020

It is nice – and unfortunately rare – to see so much praise for Greece in the international media as we are seeing right now over the country’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

The most recent such plaudits came from Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, who mentioned Greece as an example of a country that has successfully dealt with this new threat.

These positive comments – which come after a decade of what has been admitted to be overly harsh criticism leveled against against Greece – bring to mind the periods before and after the 2004 Athens Olympic Games: the barrage of negative reports in the runup to the Games and the paeans after the event, where the “proud Greeks” were praised for putting on an amazing Games, despite ominous predictions that they would be a shambles.

There have been other moments since when Greece enjoyed international recognition for its efforts, such as in 2014, when the economy started emerging from a deep recession. I remember being at the International Monetary Fund’s Spring Meetings and hearing congratulations from colleagues and Fund officials on the country’s performance.

There was a similar upbeat mood in 2018 over the Prespes name deal with North Macedonia, when the international community hailed Greece as being part of the solution instead of part of yet another problem.

The country has also stood out at times for its response to the migration crisis, drawing praise even from Pope Francis for the humanity it displayed.

On the domestic level, however, these three instances became the subject of political confrontation, with one side slamming the conservative government of Antonis Samaras for its “tough austerity” and the other accusing the SYRIZA-led administration of “opening” Greece’s borders and selling out to Skopje.

But now with the coronavirus crisis – which is still not over – we made all the right moves, listened to the experts and were united. The government acted quickly and effectively, but so did the opposition parties, the state apparatus and, ultimately, the citizens. In this respect, the positive press is similar to 2004, in that all Greeks can be proud of their country’s achievement. This is perhaps the first time since then when there has been so much faith in our capabilities.

That said, significant challenges lie ahead. The new, and in many respects harder, normal will test the limits of the Greek economy and its institutions, and continued social cohesion will be imperative to Greece’s ability to emerge from this crisis as a stronger and more modern nation.

For the time being, we seem to have the political and social consensus necessary, though this is being increasingly tested too, posing the risk of falling back into bad habits.

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