A changing world

With his long diplomatic offensive, Prime Minister George Papandreou achieved the seemingly impossible in presenting the wreck of Greek economy as part of a greater international problem stemming from unregulated financial markets. Now, after getting Europe and the United States to take a stance against «speculators» (as we like to call the cause of our woes), Papandreou will have to wage battle on the other great front – Greek public opinion, political parties (including his own PASOK party), workers and unions. Because, as we all know, Greece’s future depends on making the economy and the public administration viable. This requires radical changes in policies and mentality; whether the effort succeeds without provoking great reaction or whether it leads to long political and social turmoil, Greece is at the start of a revolution that will last many years. By definition, the country is entering a period of navel-gazing, because only intensive scrutiny of its structural problems can lead to the right sacrifices and changes, to new checks and balances between parties, businesses and workers. But it is equally important that we should not ignore the world beyond our borders and the opportunities presented in the fields of foreign policy and international cooperation. At this time, it appears Papandreou has managed to change the international climate, which was so negatively inclined toward Athens and Greek interests, that even the government in Skopje saw fit to patronizingly say that Greece should be helped to solve its economic problems. With the harsh austerity measures he announced and with his visits to Moscow, Brussels, Berlin, Paris, London and Washington, Papandreou managed to present Greece as a credible partner. This impression will last only as long as the government appears to be taking the need for substantial reforms seriously, as long as Greece appears to be a dynamic country looking for opportunities for development. A country that is on the upswing – and not in the corner, asking for handouts – has far greater potential: Its citizens feel that the changes may bring them benefits, while its partners and neighbors look for ways to cooperate with it. At this time, anxiety abounds. Bulgarian officials have voiced fears that the Greek banks that have invested there may pull out funds to deal with liquidity problems at home. The governor of the central bank in Bulgaria had to step in to reassure the public that this was not happening. Albania, too, is worried that Greece’s problems could affect trade and the remittances from Albanians working here; officials also fear that Greek banks in Albania may raise their interest rates. Athens, meanwhile, is the strongest proponent of all the Balkan countries becoming members of the European Union by 2014. It is clear that Greece has a critical role to play in the development of the region – or lack of it. The shock that Greece is experiencing will affect the Balkans but the revival that must grow out of the fear of bankruptcy holds the seed of development. With the end of easy (borrowed) money, Greece has to become more productive – both in the economy and in every facet of public life. For Greece to produce and to sell – to achieve economies of scale – it will have to develop its relations with neighboring countries to a far greater extent. A healthier Greek economy depends on broader cooperation, and vice versa. The sudden worsening in relations between Turkey and the US – due to a congressional committee’s recognition of the Armenian genocide – and between Turkey and Israel – because of the Palestinian issue – shows that no country can remain fixed in its relations with others. No country has the privilege of always having an advantage nor is another permanently in a weaker position. All are continually striving to expand their influence, to grow their markets, to develop new relations and exploit new potential, while also trying to gain political points at home. Because relationships keep changing, every country has to keep moving, grabbing the chances that come its way in order to stay ahead of others, to avoid the morass. The stagnancy of several decades brought Greece to a dead end and now it has to leave behind many myths and dangerous distortions in its politics, its economy and its society. It has no option but to open its eyes, to seek a way out and to build on new foundations – both at home and beyond our borders.

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