The kindness of strangers

It will take us a long time to come to terms with our new place in the world, with the new road that our country has taken. This is the first time that Greece has suffered such a defeat without any heroic excuses, without a war, without a natural disaster, without foreigners meddling in our affairs or some great national vision leading us astray. We arrived at a dead end because of our own weaknesses, our own inability to handle our independence and fulfill our international obligations. Like Blanche DuBois, the disoriented former beauty in Tennessee Williams’s «A Streetcar Named Desire,» we muddled on with our weaknesses, relying on the memory of a bright past that only we remembered – until the moment of absolute surrender. Then, like Blanche, we had to bow our head and accept the charity of others, the «kindness of strangers.» Even though this was the only possible outcome for our mad spending of the last few years, the shock of defeat is unprecedented for a nation that until now was stubbornly ensconced within its myths and bad habits. The fact that many of these myths conflicted with each other did not seem to trouble us. How could we be both a nation that had no friends and a nation that felt everybody else owed it something? How could we be careful about our own spending and not care that the state was squandering our money and the money that it borrowed? How could a people that questions everything (a quality that helped it reach great heights in the past) surrender completely to a political, economic and media elite that looted the country while flattering us with fairy tales regarding our uniqueness and buying our silence with borrowed prosperity? Once the most rational of people, we now wanted magic, not reality. And now this proud nation is waiting for charity so that we can pay wages and pensions, hand out unemployment benefits, keep the now mute marketplace alive. This is the result of the fatal alliance between politicians who gave the people everything they wanted in return for votes, and the people who voted for politicians who promised them the impossible, as if no one ever expected the bill to arrive. This fake prosperity created a cloud of indifference to reality and the delusion that we could tolerate politicians’ incompetence, business leaders’ greed and a useless public sector without fearing that this would lead us to disaster. The way the country was (not) governed in the past few years will go down in history as a case study in what happens when politicians do nothing but pander to the citizens and ignore chronic problems. Now we are ashamed at our fall, at our being suppliants at the International Monetary Fund’s door. We, who organized a successful Olympic Games, who raised our living standards to the EU average, with our great history and past civilization, with a diaspora that is doing so well in academia, business and the professions across the planet – we are now the butt of jokes, our name a synonym for profligacy and corruption. Without excuses, without thinking, we came to this. After the first shock of these historic days, we can expect anger. Not the everyday shouting of the professional demonstrators but the silent, brooding fury of a nation that will blame itself and those who governed it. The true cost of what we will pay is not so much in the wages lost and expectations dashed but rather in the fact that the name of Greece and every Greek is tainted. This is the heavy burden that we must bear. If there is any reason for optimism, it is that the help from the IMF and the EU will force us to evaluate ourselves and our country and fix things. Finally. This is a unique opportunity and the only way for us to take our future in our own hands. We have to demand a better Greece and we have to work to create it. Only in this way will we salvage some dignity. For our own and our children’s sake.

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