Don’t mistake gall for courage

In one of the many speeches used by George Papandreou as a surrogate for deeds, he opined that Greeks are brave. Coming from a politician, this kind of praise is rarely devoid of some ulterior motive. But let us nevertheless accept the sentiment. His praise, though hardly useful when the nation’s confidence is at a nadir, sounds like a response to the moment when EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn’s wished us the courage to survive the austerity measures, as though the prime minister were assuring him, rather than us, that we have what it takes. The courage Papandreou discerns is automatically linked to the «war» that he has called on us to join with great zeal. The only problem is that for all this bravery to eventually lead somewhere, he must first define the war and then muster at least a shred of bravery from those leading the armies. So far, unfortunately, we are being called upon to raise our swords against the «speculators» (without being told who these malefactors are or whether they walk among us) and unleash volleys of fire at the equally nebulous «markets.» We are equally in the dark about who our allies are in this win-all or lose-all battle: Are the French, for example, on our side, or are they more interested in selling a few fighter jets? And the Germans, our kin in this great big company we call Europe, are they part of our ranks or is their biggest concern whether we will finally buy their listing submarines? But let’s be fair. Surely our generals have courage too. It takes guts to tax severance pay, to crush the already crushed, and package it as a people-friendly measure. It takes guts to argue that you are making the tax system fairer when you turn a blind eye to undeclared income and offshore fortunes or assess the most blatant proof of wealth (villas, yachts and swimming pools) almost on a par with the meager trimmings of an ascetic life. It takes great cynicism to confuse courage with gall. But it appears there is no shortage of such cynicism.

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