Greece: Returning to Ourselves

After so much mismanagement, the country needs to return to its traditions, and to community solutions

Opinion | Ambassador Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos | September 2011

The origins of Greece’s current crisis go back to its entry into the EU in 1981. Having barely recovered from the raping by the Junta, it still had a flourishing agricultural sector and manufacturing industry. Gradually, we were obliged to reduce our agricultural production to qualify for EU subsidies and help drain the EU’s olive oil lakes. Meanwhile, EU fair competition rules forced us to close down or sell our steel industries. In the end we were left only with tourism.

At the same time the EU started exporting its goods to Greece, in the effort to raise the country to a "Central European living standard". Of course, Greeks wanted to have all the luxurious goods, and the banks were happy to provide them with the means to buy them – without checking whether the new debtors had the income to ever repay their loans.

And not only that: Globally, enabled by lax regulation, banks invented ever-new "products" that allowed them to create money out of nothing, by handing out loans to states and individuals. We have now reached a point where not only Greece is indebted to a point where it can never repay, but also the U.S. and all the countries in the Eurozone. Today, not only individuals but also entire states are held hostage to the world’s financial elite.

The EU’s rescue packages, meanwhile, are unlikely to alleviate Greece’s debt burden. Its first bailout and austerity package [in May 2010 – ed.] was ineffective, so why should the current one [agreed Jun. 2011 – ed.] work? On the contrary, the second bailout will double Greece’s debt, from around €330 billion in 2009 to a total of approximately 600 billion. No Greek politician or parliament has ever accumulated so much debt in so little time as the EU has piled onto the country with its rescue measures.

If Greece was not able to handle the €330 billion, how is it expected to ever handle €600 billion?

As a junior diplomat, I took part in Greece’s negotiations for EU membership. But it was a different EU to today’s. Then, there was leadership and there was a vision, while today Brussels, and the German and French EU leaders, are so consistently inconsistent that one has the impression they do not know what they are doing and why. Meanwhile, the EU’s democratic infrastructure has weakened in a way that I never thought possible within this community.

The people of Greece – and the movement of the "indignants" – are angry: angry about the mismanagement by people they elected to work for the good of the country, and angry about the unpayable debt on their shoulders. They are willing to pay back what they really owe, but not what the "banksters" and politicians invented with obscure financial constructions.

Now that the whole system has collapsed, Greeks want a clear cut: an honest and reasonable possibility to build up their country and economy again, as they have done so many times before. And they want those who have contributed to the crisis to be punished.

Now, the Greek people should start doing what they have always done in crisis situations before: return to the old cultural values of Greece and re-build a sustainable life in their communities, independent of money: grow food on their balconies; barter goods and services; let grandparents watch over their children again instead of paying for daycare, and let retired teachers help students instead of hiring expensive tutors.

Greek politicians could support this by encouraging regional development programmes, as they already exist in twelve EU countries, with alternative regional currencies to encourage local production and business, and to eventually replace the euro and the dollar, should it be necessary.

Politicians could also work out a financial system similar to that used by the Hebrews in antiquity: they let their economy run for 49 years, but every 50th year they cancelled all debts, enabling the economy to continue without a debt bubble or crisis.

Maybe there could be a future system in which banks are responsible for limiting their lending to any state, company, or individual to a level that can be repaid within one generation; at least that would make sure that our children don’t have to pay for our stupidities.


Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos is Secretary General of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC). A career diplomat, he has served as Greek Ambassador to Armenia, Canada, and Poland, and as Director General for EU Affairs in the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The commentary reflects the author’s personal views.

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