AHI President’s Op-ed: For Greece…Damn It!
WASHINGTON, DC — The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) released an op-ed written June 11, 2012 by AHI President Nick Larigakis titled, “For Greece…Damn It!”
Larigakis’ op-ed, written as a lead into the June 17, 2012 election in Greece, reflects upon his most recent experience travelling to Greece and offers his thoughts on the current situation there as the country continues to endure an economic crisis. He contends the current situation pales in comparison to the adversity Greeks have overcome in its long, storied history, and he anticipates the Greek people will rally once again.
“There is nothing that this small nation cannot overcome as long as it understands that in the end it has to be for Greece and its people,” Larigakis writes.
To date, the op-ed received placement in the following publications: The National Herald, Neo Magazine, The Hellenic News of America, and Greek News.
To read these and all op-eds written by AHI, please visit www.ahiworld.org.
The American Hellenic Institute is a non-profit Greek American think-tank and public policy center that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and within the Greek American community.
“For Greece...Damn It!”
I just returned a week ago from Greece, Cyprus, and this year Israel, after leading our annual AHI delegation trip.
While in Athens for almost a week meeting with numerous government officials and political leaders, among them being: President Papoulias, Interim Prime Minister Pikrammenos, Vice President of New Democracy Dimitris Avramopoulos and Syriza chief, Alexis Tsipras, and many others that included leading business figures, the conversation inevitably always centered on the ongoing Greek economic crisis and the forthcoming elections. The conversations were sobering.
In one-on-one conversations with private citizens, the mood conveyed is not one that inspires you with confidence as to where this country is headed. However, the paradox (as with many things in Greece) is that these opinions were expressed within the confines of bustling tavernas or coffee shops. Indeed, the overwhelming scene on Athenian streets would seem to suggest that nothing is wrong as people go about their “business as usual.”
One should not be fooled, however. Although one can argue that Greeks have always enjoyed a social and an economic safety net by virtue of a strong family structure and being the largest percentage of homeowners in the EU, the signs are there that this too is heading for a breaking point. When that happens…all bets are off! This safety net is no more sustainable than the continuing crippling austerity measures are against the middle and lower classes of Greek society. The wealthy will always be able to endure.
We can talk of the past and much has been written as to why Greece is on the precipice of the abyss today. I also have maintained that over the last decade plus the Greeks have mainly themselves to blame for where they are today. Of course, the global economic crisis has helped to make the crisis in Greece just a bit more acute. We all know of the out of control public spending, corruption, tax evasion, lack of transparency, lack of competitiveness, poor foreign investment climate/laws, etc. However, I also submit that everyday rank-and-file folks are just as much to blame. Without their complicity, none of the above is completely possible.
For years, everyone’s main objective was to get their son, daughter or themselves a job “sto dimosio.” Retirement at 45 or 50? Sure, why not. For crying out loud, there were bonuses given for going to work on time. Subsidies given to farmers and others were never properly used for their original intention but rather to upgrade a lifestyle that was not sustainable. Consumer debt spending ran out of control and banks (irresponsibly) advertised come and get a loan to go on “Vacation.” Greeks ran to get the easy money. And how many of them were ruined when they took out loans or sold their real estate assets to go invest in the stock market? For many, they probably didn’t know the difference between the Athens Stock Market and “Laiki Agora” in their local neighborhoods.
Obviously, rehashing the past is not going to solve the present and shape the future. But it is important to know how you got here so you can make decisions that will take you in the right direction moving forward. The brand name, which is “Greece,” is known throughout the world despite being one of the smallest nations on the planet in many regards. Greece is the size of Alabama, with the GDP of Michigan and the population of a little more than New York City. Moreover, for the record, Greece’s GDP is only 1.85% of the European Union and less than one-half of 1 percent of the world’s GDP. Therefore, with the proper discipline and institutional changes, it can overcome a situation that is not as overwhelming as it seems.
Whenever you are in Athens you can’t help but to stare up and notice the Parthenon. It’s there staring down at you. It serves to remind that the great legacy of this remarkable nation has endured for more than 2,500 years. Indeed, how many civilizations can even come close to claiming such historical longevity? Throughout its turbulent history Greece has been ravaged by crises. It has been through numerous invasions, brutal occupations, famine, poverty, despair, dictatorships, and unfortunately, many civil wars, when you count the battles among the city-states of ancient Greece. I strongly believe in view of all these horrendous calamities that the current situation pales by comparison.
However, the one thing always present during these crises was a person or group of persons to rise to the occasion and deliver or give hope to the Greek nation to be able to not only endure, but to ultimately succeed. There was Leonidas and his 300 Spartans at Thermopylae; Themistocles at Salamis; the heroes of 1821 such as Kolokotronis; Metaxas who said “OXI” to fascist Italy in 1940; the gallant and heroic stand by Greeks of Crete against the Nazi assault of May 1941; and Constantine Karamanlis in 1974 coming back to restore democracy to Greece. In addition, let’s not forget the magic of the summer of 2004 when against all odds the Greek National Soccer team won the European Championship, beating the host country, Portugal, twice along the way (maybe we will see a repeat in 2012); and finally Athens hosting the best summer Olympics the world has ever seen, defying all naysayers along the way.
All this was possible because the Greek people’s collective consciousness was focused on just one goal: “For Greece…Damn it!” as was proclaimed by Voula Patoulidou upon winning a Gold Medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. This must be the rallying cry for Greece once more. There is nothing that this small nation cannot overcome as long as it understands that in the end it has to be for Greece and its people.
The approximately seven million Greeks who live outside of Greece have never forgotten this.
As Greeks go to the polls again this Sunday, June 17, it is my sincere hope that they too can be reminded that it should be “For Greece…Damn it!”
Nick Larigakis is President of the American Hellenic Institute
For additional information, please contact Demetra Atsaloglou at (202) 785-8430 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our website at http://www.ahiworld.org.
AHI President’s Op-ed: For Greece…Damn It!