Our national team

Maybe this time EU officials’ derision may turn out to be useful. Maybe this time we will understand that however addicted we are to domestic strife and division, for the rest of the world, we – in our strident differences – all represent Greece and are all responsible for its progress and its image. No one cares which of the two main parties is in power, as long as the country sticks to its international commitments and is a useful partner on the international stage. As in soccer, when we take part in the Euro or World Championship, no one cares about domestic eternal rivals Panathinaikos and Olympiakos: The country is represented by the national squad and our nation is judged by this team’s progress, not by the shenanigans of local teams and their fans. Locked inside our little world, we Greeks – who were so cosmopolitan in other times and other places – present a strange paradox: On the one hand, we don’t care about the rest of the world; on the other, we believe that everyone ought to know all about us and our exceptionalism. We are proud, yet we seek the understanding of others – and often we are under the delusion that by pointing to each other’s faults we gain the compassion of our allies and partners. In fact, a founding failure of the modern Greek state was the establishment of «English,» «French» and «Russian» parties, which represented, or at least reflected, foreign influence in local politics. The Civil War in 1946-49 gave new meaning to these divisions, based as it was again on rifts that reflected foreign influence – on the one side were the proxies of Britain and the United States, on the other, of the Soviet Union. But the lives that were destroyed, the time wasted, the bitter heritage of hate, misery and division constituted an exclusively Greek tragedy. Today, Greece is not under foreign occupation nor is it riven by civil strife so that its parties should seek support abroad. On the contrary, since 1981 Greece has been a member of the European Union. But the many years of membership in this unprecedented partnership of equal, democratic states have not managed to wipe out the complexes of the past: The Greek parties (like Greek society) often appear indifferent to the rules and principles of the EU, yet, at the same time, they want their partners’ support and understanding. As in the past, we behave as if foreigners should care about what takes place in our politics. In 2004, the New Democracy government hastened to embarrass the previous government with an «audit» that suggested, in essence, that Greece’s accession to the eurozone was the product of fraud, thanks to creative accounting. New Democracy may have believed that «clearing the air» would allow it to develop the economy on a sounder footing but what it actually did was blow the whistle on both Greece’s credibility as well as that of the EU’s mechanisms for checking its members’ economic indicators. Now, after repeated revisions of the public deficit and growth rate by the ND government, PASOK has informed the EU that the deficit is double the worst previous projections. It is natural that those responsible for the euro’s smooth functioning should blow a gasket. Greece’s fault is not so much that it transfers its domestic differences to Brussels and so damages Greece’s image. The confessions of abject, repeated failure do something much worse: They undermine the pillars of the single currency, proving that the EU is not in a position to keep tabs on even one of its most insignificant members. This is all a little like our national soccer team fielding 11 players, then using 15, then adding some more, so that it plays with 20 while none of the officials notices – until the Greek coach claims that this is all the fault of Panathinaikos or Olympiakos. Whoever is to blame, it is the national team is shamed. If we want to win, we will have to stick to the rules. Then, using the best players in the right positions, with discipline, with a program and with vision, we will be able to work toward victory. Because winning or losing is a national issue.