Mr. Alexis Papachelas is a guest editorial writer to The Business Thinker. He is currently the Executive Editor of the long standing and highly respected daily Greek newspaper “Kathimerini”.
This editorial is also appearing in Kathimerini.
Greece is facing a difficult challenge today. For the past 30 years, Greek citizens believed that they had a life contract — or rather, two contracts. One was a contract with our politicians, on the basis of which a young person’s employment in the public sector was considered almost certain, as was our “settlement” of tax obligations on the basis of which politicians we knew. The second was a contract with the European Union, which provided substantial benefits in the form of agricultural subsidies and other EU funds. For the past 30 years we lived on the basis of these two contracts and we have to say that they were good years. At first we had many billions in the form of Community funding and then came the easy loans that we secured through our being members of the eurozone. Either through loans or from EU funding, these were good years for all — including Germans and others who took advantage of the great Greek party.
I am not talking about the consumer goods that we became accustomed to with such ease. I am talking about, for example, the pharmaceutical companies that exploited to the full Greece’s corrupt and disorganized system so as to multiply their profits compared to what they made in other countries. I am referring to the many billions that went toward armaments, behind which were huge kickbacks.
This system has collapsed. The money is finished — both the EU funding and the loans from international markets. It is natural that Greek public opinion should be angry with its politicians, with the Greek establishment, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with the troika, with the banks. We are a proud nation with a long history and we cannot easily accept the international shame nor the unjust generalization and slander of the Greeks as lazy and cheats. We too have our yellow press and blind nationalism, which has found grist for its mill in the form of German front pages that present the Parthenon as being for sale, and other such nonsense. We are now trying to regain our balance but we feel that the ground has slipped away from under our feet. We feel secure inside the European family but we are also suffocated by the German leadership’s tough love, which sometimes reaches the point of hysteria. We understand that it is our national goal to regain our economic and national sovereignty but this will take time and we will need great patience to get out of the black hole, because the state and our public administration need to be rebuilt from the ground up. This will require time, professional help and leadership. As for the private sector, I would not worry too much. Greeks are very adaptable and know how to make the best of their opportunities. It is no coincidence that so many Greeks have succeeded in business beyond our borders — in Germany, in America, and so on. The new generation of Greeks has very high standards and is cosmopolitan and ready to create.
Germany, Greece and Europe are all in unchartered waters because of the international crisis, as the EU is called on to find its place in the world in relation to the rise of powerful new countries, without losing the character of social states and the quality of life that made it so unique. Maybe at the end of the day the problem will be that the Germans have found the perfect model for productivity, and the Greeks have found the perfect model for living (albeit funded by others). In the next few years, whether we like it or not, we Greeks will come closer to the German model in order to survive. We hope that one way for us to increase our GDP and pay back our debts will be through greater professionalism and quality. This will bring Germans closer to our way of life when they visit us in the next summers, which will be crucial for us Greeks.