From 1989 to 2010

The sudden disinterment of an elderly couple from a Bucharest cemetery last Wednesday stirred memories of 1989 and raised issues regarding the years that followed. The Romanian authorities want to use DNA evidence to lay to rest theories that former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena are not the two people buried there. The move, though, was a stark reminder of the chaos, violence and uncertainty of the days that signaled the end of the international system that had been built out of the ruins of WWII. The Romanian uprising of 1989 was the most violent in Europe that year, and the execution of the Ceausescus, after a kangaroo-court trial, marked the violent passage into a new era. The Berlin Wall had fallen a few weeks earlier, taking with it all the East Bloc regimes. What we in Greece were slow to understand was that our lives would change just as radically. Then, in 1989, it was impossible to imagine that in 21 years the reborn Romania and Greece would be in the same place: wards of the International Monetary Fund and dependant on aid from their EU partners. How did they come to the same point from such different starting positions? Romania was admitted to the EU only in 2007, along with Bulgaria, completing Europe’s grand vision of wiping out the signs of the continent’s division into East and West. The experiment, however, has not worked out well so far, mainly because of the lack of funds, the different mentality and the shortage of skills in the new countries compared with the older EU members. Europe understood the magnitude of the economic task that it was undertaking but the thrill of the victory of the Western political, social and economic model (and the creation of a market of 500 million people) pushed these fears into the background. In 2003, though, during the dispute between the EU and the US in the months preceding the invasion of Iraq, the «old» EU countries realized that their «new» partners constituted a powerful political bloc within the union, when most of them sided with the United States. This might have been an annoyance for the EU’s major countries but for the smaller ones it meant a major change. For Greece, the expansion of the EU and NATO eastward meant that it could no longer count on the advantage of being the only country in the region that was a member of both organizations, secure in the knowledge that its partners would support it due to its geostrategic position and their common history. The Greeks should have seen that the new Europe did not care about Greek history nor did its new members have any special affection for a nation that had been fortunate enough to enjoy freedom and wealth when those behind the Iron Curtain could only dream of such a life. From 1989, Greece should have reaffirmed old alliances and created new ones, finding ways to be useful (and, thereby, to carry weight) in the diplomatic sphere, to plan how its economy could take advantage of the enlarged Europe’s new markets. Instead, Greece remained devoted to political intrigue and pettiness, it stayed stuck in all the bad habits of the post-dictatorship years: the squandering of easy, imported money (in the form of EU subsidies and structural funds, loans and so on), without creating the corresponding infrastructure and basis for development; an education system incapable of increasing productivity; a lack of evaluation and accountability at every level; a lack of discipline (both personal and social) and the undermining of institutions and the law. The result was a kingdom of corruption which benefits some and condemns the rest to personal and national failure. Romania shares the same problems. Twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Greece has proven that it cannot determine its own course. It had learned to be dependant on others – as it is again today. It shares last place with the weakest of the Eastern European countries. In 1989 we lost a great opportunity and this led directly to the current mess.

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