OPINION

Castles built on sand

How low can a country set the bar of achievement? A week ago we breathed a sigh of relief when Athens escaped the kind of riots that had engulfed the city in flames last year. Every day, we heard statements by foreign officials assuring us that the country will not go bankrupt. Somehow, we are delighted by the fact that we won’t sink economically or self-destruct. Have we reached the all-time low that we always suspected Greece would one day hit? And this is not some sudden realization born from the fact that we experienced another day in which Athens was paralyzed by 150 protesters, that the city is becoming buried in garbage because the state can’t sort out its relationship with short-term contract sanitation workers or because the government keeps talking about the obvious without taking any steps forward. Comparing Greece in 2004 to where it is today is a somber thought. Just a few years ago we believed we could conquer the world with our hospitality, our investments in the Balkans and our position as a key player in the core of the European Union. At that time of euphoria and growth, we decided that we did not need to address a number of serious ailments that have weighed Greece down throughout its post-dictatorship history. We decided that growth without corruption and clientelism is impossible; we allowed our universities to sink a little deeper into mediocrity and we took it for granted that the state cannot change or be reined in. We tinkered with social security and education reform and sat back and crossed our arms, thinking everything would turn out well. We were so confident, in fact, that the prime minister elected in 2004 believed that the country would be able to forge ahead on autopilot. We and the government were complacent, and today we are seeing the extent of the damage this has caused. Decades-long problems are crushing us. The hard core of Europe is expressing regret at having brought Greece into the family fold, because not only have we failed to change our mentality but we are becoming an embarrassment. Meanwhile, we now have a government that wants the country to run on a socialist model autopilot and that wants to believe money is abundant, that unpleasant measures are unnecessary and that green development will eventually make us the Denmark of the south. However, the jig is up and the only thing our international peers want, before we become Denmark, is that we stop being Colombia in certain crucial issues. Papandreou’s instincts and vision for this country are on the button. From transparent governance to green development, the prime minister has set ambitious goals that should enjoy our full support. The problem is that given the current state of affairs, these instincts and vision look like castles built on sand. He has chosen to follow the lead of Economy and Competitiveness Minister Louka Katseli when it comes to the economy and make up for the failed Socialist experiment of the 1980s. This is an interesting strategy that will probably be applauded at the next Socialist International summit – if by no one else. Let us hope that by then the country will not have paid too high a price in the real world, in the world in which we all live today, whether we like it or not.