The last days of Pompei

It must have been something like this at that time, when the residents of the condemned city continued to live as they always had done, unable to comprehend the signals being sent by the volcano – that integral part of their lives, in whose shadow they and their ancestors lived, on whose slopes they cultivated ancestral vines. Human habit – the sense of the endless chain of life and death – loosened the survival instincts of individuals and their society. And then, in a single moment, the people, their animals, their property slipped from daily routine to catastrophe. Today no one knows how this crisis – at the personal, national and global level – will change us and the world. We cannot say that the end has come. What we do know, though, is that nothing will be as before. In the best case, we have come to understand that our era is not exempt from nature’s violence, nor are we safe from the consequences of our mistakes. We still hold tight the elements of our everyday lives, we try to make our way through the ash that has begun to fall upon us, but we see others fall and struggle to rise, and for the first time we fear that maybe this ash will be our end. Maybe it is simply coincidence that in the past month a house in Pompei collapsed, as did part of another. This may be the greatest damage suffered since the city was entombed in Vesuvius’s ash in 79 AD, lying intact for nearly 2,000 years. Maybe, though, it is a sign that, in our days, the economic crisis, state incompetence and indifference to conserving the past – to a lesser or greater degree, depending on the country – have combined with climate change to create a toxic mix which poisons the present and undermines the future and the past. On a global level, what do we see, beyond the economic dead-ends and climate change? The European Union is facing its most serious crisis since its foundation, with leaders who are incapable of pushing it toward salvation through closer political union. The United States are self-destructing through stupid domestic political clashes and involvement in too many international crises that remain undecided. They don’t seem to be achieving their own recovery and are not undertaking the lead role in restructuring the international economic and political system as it faces ever more complex problems. If serious reform efforts are not made, if the intervention of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in Europe does not succeed, we will soon see that every country that faces a problem will have to do so on its own. In the midst of all this, the individual feels more vulnerable, more naked, than ever. And we, the dazed sentinels of these rocks in the sea, what are we doing? We have started to see the true dimensions of the danger: the accumulated debts and garbage, and the almost universal indifference for the common good, piled up into a mountain that turned out to be a volcano – and this drew to the surface forces capable of destroying us. Never were the Greeks so alone – neither as a nation among nations, nor as individuals among their compatriots. Not that Greek history is not an endless chain of war, foreign occupation, rebellions, coups, civil wars, injustice, famine, natural disasters and insurmountable debt – the difference is that today we do not have the internal resources to deal with our crisis, nor do we have the friends we had. We no longer live in a society where we helped each other; we abandoned our villages for what we thought was a modern society, but we undermined that society with our own behavior. At the same time, there are no longer any foreign powers which – for whatever reasons – will help us at the critical moment, as they did so many times in the past. Today the bailout from the EU and the IMF is the best that we can expect, with all the reforms it brings and the challenges that it creates for our society. Having brought disaster upon ourselves, we cannot expect more help from anyone else. Like our neighbors in Pompei, we do not know if it is still possible to flee, to survive. But we have to make the effort.

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