At a time when the Greeks are truly at the center of the global debate, when we are indeed the “navel of the world,” we want nothing more than to be left alone.
We want to ignore the fact that everyone — partners, friends, enemies — are concerned about us because they fear that either we will not return the money they have lent us or that our disease may spread to other countries.
We want to forget that we are part of the world, that we got into trouble because we participated in the global economy by borrowing mindlessly, without thinking that when the time for payment came the pain would be all ours.
The crowds in the streets are charmed by the idea that everything would be fine if the foreigners would just let us alone. “We don’t owe anything, we won’t pay,” they declare, in an effort to make both the debt and our creditors disappear.
On another dimension, Prime Minister George Papandreou believes that the markets and foreign analysts are to blame for the country’s uphill battle. “Leave us alone. We know we have problems, leave us alone to deal with them,” he told a recent O.E.C.D. conference in Paris. The leader of the main opposition party, Antonis Samaras, visited Paris and Brussels last week, where he expressed his own desire to be left alone — alone, that is, to reject the austerity and reform program imposed on Greece by its creditors in return for lifesaving bailouts.
All the parties, along with the “indignant” crowds in our squares, want to be left alone. But we are not left alone. Earlier this month, on June 7, the leader of the world’s largest economy, Barack Obama, and the leader of Europe’s powerhouse, Angela Merkel, spent a good deal of time discussing Greece’s debt problem. Not because they feel sorry for us but because they fear us.
“Through the global financial and economic crisis, we’ve seen how interdependent we are,” Merkel told a joint news conference with Obama. “And the stability of the euro zone is therefore an important factor of stability for the whole of the global economy. So we do see clearly our European responsibility and we’re shouldering that responsibility together with the I.M.F. We’ve seen that the stability of the euro as a whole will also be influenced if one country is in trouble. And that is what this assistance is all about.”
That’s why, despite the protests of many politicians and the German public’s anger, Merkel’s government managed to get approval from Parliament for a second bailout package for Greece.
Whether or not a growing number of Greeks believe that the current economic policy is wrong and is aimed only at sucking the blood of taxpayers to the benefit of the permanently privileged (Greeks and foreigners), the fact is that other countries and organizations are trying to support Greece.
Whether this continues up to the point where we can stand on our own feet, where we don’t need to borrow every month in order to pay wages, pensions and interest on our loans, or whether it ends at the point when the others no longer fear our collapse, is a matter of time. One of the two will happen.
There is still European consensus on the need to defend the common currency, but the political climate in Europe is so fluid that no one can predict what will happen in the next few years.
The passport-free zone and the common currency were the E.U.’s two greatest achievements — and both are in danger today. Last week, a council of ministers held up the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen pact; Denmark is preparing to reinstate checks at its border with Germany.
With this in mind, when Portugal, Ireland and other members of the euro zone begin to recover and Greece is still far behind, then our country will find itself out of the euro. No one will fear us, no one will pity us. And if we go bankrupt, no one will lend us any more money.
For all these reasons, and while our partners still support us (for whatever selfish or selfless reasons), we would do well to act as if were already on our own. We must find the strength to work together and find a way to pull our own weight. Only then will we not need anyone.
By Nikos Konstandaras, the managing editor of Kathimerini, where this article first appeared.