Why it was necessary – and remains necessary – to save Greece

Greece had to be saved from that growing segment of European opinion that was sick of seeing a member country place its own legitimacy over that of 18 other members.

July 15, 2015 22:46
4 minute read.
greece economy

A pro-euro protester holds a European Union flag with a Greek national flag on top during a rally in front of the parliament building in Athens. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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This is not the time to recount the errors of the past.

Nor to rehash the troubling folly of those who closed their eyes 15 years ago to a series of sleights of hand both financial (fudging of accounts) and rhetorical (“You don’t leave Plato on the doorstep”) that brought Greece into the euro zone.

Nor to dwell on the immense responsibility that Alexis Tsipras assumed when he called on his people to reject on July 5 the plan that he entreats them to accept today.

The ancient Greeks had a word – hubris – for that sort of pride, the overreach that is the downfall of men who bet too heavily on their own strength and, in this case, on their ability to get the “plutocrats” and “banksters” of Brussels to “bend.” And, incidentally, they had another word – kairos – for those moments of opportunity that, barring a miracle, come around only once, a moment that Tsipras nearly bungled.

We now have but one thing in mind: to rejoice at the agreement that was finally – miraculously? – reached, in large part thanks to France and the doggedness of François Hollande, an agreement reached not between Greece and its “creditors,” but between Greece and its partners, its sister nations within the euro zone.

Because, of course, Greece had to be saved.

It had to be saved from that growing segment of European opinion that was sick of seeing a member country place its own legitimacy over that of 18 other members.

It had to be saved from the legion of false friends who would have liked to see Syriza set up a laboratory for the sovereignist theories of the extreme Right and Left.

It had to be saved from itself and from the sentiment (partly justified, partly not, but nevertheless relentlessly promoted by demagogues who were playing with fire) that Greece was being prescribed remedies that were akin to a cup of hemlock.

But most of all it had to be saved – imperatively – for the following three reasons.

No one – no one, and certainly not the sorcerer’s apprentices who wanted to see Greece become a European Venezuela – had any idea of what the firing up of the infernal machine known as Grexit would have meant for the Greek people themselves, for the country’s pensioners, for its unemployed and precariously employed, for its indebted households, and for its unpaid public employees.

No one – no one, and certainly not the economists who calculate everything except, of course, the incalculable – had the ability to foresee the contagion and, very likely, the turmoil that a Grexit would have induced in the Europe of Hyperion, of Byron, and of the great philhellenic tradition. Thanks are due to German Chancellor Angela Merkel for ultimately coming to understand this, as thanks are due to all of the negotiators, to those who worked through this historic night, for having sensed that the destiny of peoples cannot be reduced to balance sheets, bank stress tests, or consolidations of vast sums.

And finally Greece had to be rescued because of what its bankruptcy, or that of the Greek state, would have meant for the European project, for the concrete utopia of Europe, for its contribution, across the continent, to the defeat of the very real fascist movements that have taken hold here as Stalinism, there as Francoism, and there as a junta of colonels. That bankruptcy would have signified a defeat from which Europe would have been hard pressed to recover.

Not that the emergency plan agreed to at the last minute will be enough in itself to restore Europe’s enthusiasm and momentum, but at least it suggests that the “great lassitude” identified by Edmund Husserl at the dawn of modern Europe is not an inevitability; at least it calls a halt to the slow fall to which, even before the Greek crisis, we have been the worried and seemingly powerless witnesses; and perhaps it sounds a timely warning shot across the bow of those leaders who thought that Europe would build itself, much as the feckless republicans of 1848 believed that “l’Italia si farà da sé.” No, Europe will not build itself in its sleep or behind the backs of its movers and shakers – Europe requires voluntarism, vision and virtue on the part of courageous leaders.

May the parliaments that must now ratify the proposals of the heads of state take the full measure of what is at stake.

May the Slovaks and Slovenes remember that history is not made through collective punishment – a principle of which they are living proof. May the Estonians and Latvians who learned recently that Russian President Vladimir Putin has commissioned a study of “the legality of the independence of the Baltic countries” (AFP, June 30) keep in mind what the arrival of Eurasia on Europe’s southern doorstep would mean for everyone.

With respect to the Germans, I understand that they are sick of being depicted as Nazis by minstrels singing that democracy was invented in Athens, but one hopes that they will remember what was in the minds and hearts of illustrious German pioneers of Europe such as Konrad Adenauer, Walter Hallstein and Helmut Kohl – that Europe is a mechanism designed to ensure not just good accounting but also just solidarity.

It all begins now – if, in fact, this terrible crisis has served to reveal not just the economic but also the political, moral and spiritual bankruptcy with which we have just had such a close brush, and if we know how to respond to it, above and beyond the Greek case, with real acts of recommitment and reform.

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