Like so many people who truly love Greece and its people I have been relegated to helplessly watching a truly Greek tragedy. It is replete with all the themes one would expect, hubris, tyranny, barbarians, hate, greed. The issues are complicated and it's easy to draw flawed conclusions without understanding all the history that has brought us to this critical point.
There are no easy answers.
One thing is for certain however, Greece stands at the epicenter of failed policies, not all of them of its own making. Those catastrophic policies are the product of a corrupt elite aided and abetted by an electorate that is more than happy to buy their false promises. The lessons we as spectators and that Greeks themselves come away will either help us survive or destroy us in the coming economic debacle that is about to descend on all of us. It's a small world after all, and what happens in Greece will affect all of us in some way.
In it's two hundred year history as a modern state, since achieving independence after four centuries of occupation under the Ottoman Empire, Greece has never been truly been free. I say that because it has always been beholden to the Great Powers of the time. It has always put its trust in them only to be disappointed time and time again. Even now, when its erstwhile "allies" in the EU impose draconian measures that destroy Greek sovereignty, many Greeks still look to saviors in all the wrong places. The Greek concept of freedom or eleftheria is an ancient one. It is not the freedom, we Americans have fashioned, to do what feels good. It is and should be freedom from tyranny.
Small wonder that the majority of the Greek people chose to say "No or OXI" to the bone crushing austerity that has created a depression every bit as horrific as the one our grandparents experienced in the United States in the 1920s. It is not the first time that Greeks have defiantly made the wrong choice. When they do so it often brings about catastrophes that have become commonplace in Greek history. I recommend Professor Lou Ureneck's article in the New York Times which should be edifying for those that have only a cursory acquaintance with the history of Greece.
It was the wrong choice because the architect of this choice, the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, did not have a plan B nor did he ever have a convincing bargaining strategy other than threatening a Greek exit which the Germans, the ones holding all the cards, knew he could not execute because the government was totally unprepared to do so. So the majority of Greeks, as usual, who put their fate in Tsipras, voted essentially against the deal being offered and to their horror got an even worse deal. It merely kicks the can further down the road, ignoring the unsustainable debt that can only be repaid if it is reduced to a manageable level that allows the economy to begin growing again. It also raises taxes, sells off assets and continues the same path that has killed the Greek economy.
Alexis Tsipras is only the latest in a series of charlatans that Greeks put in power, promising always a Greek Nirvana and instead the Greek voters invariably find themselves in Hades. These successive governments since the fall of the military junta, which have run the gamut from Right to Far Left, have all failed to reform the structural problems in the Greek economic, education, retirement, healthcare and justice systems. Greeks remain wedded to a system of cronyism that saps the ability of the country to modernize and become competitive. The one saving grace to the current deal is that it may force the current government to address some of these structural problems even though it does little but buy some more time for Greece. Who knows, maybe Tsipras will be the first to put party interests aside and do the what is good for Greece for a change. One can only hope and pray.
What the past few painful months have not achieved is any sense of how to fix the problems in the European Union. The systemic flaws in the Euro and more importantly the economic inequality that makes it so difficult for southern tier countries to compete with a powerhouse like Germany have all been conveniently ignored. In the long run, Europeans will regret their failure to support a member state especially one that stands between them and the current unpleasantness in the Middle East. It's evident that unless Finns, Germans, Greeks and Italians all see each other as members of the same family, the European project will ultimately fail. Failure to act will mean that the dream of a United Europe will be relegated to the dustbin of history.
As a Greek American, I find the current comments about Greece, rather tiresome. Especially since most people know very little about the small country other than its association with baklava. Perhaps they should be more circumspect about their comments until they learn more. As usual, generalizations such as "Greeks are lazy" or "They deserve what they get," are seldom helpful in understanding what is really going on. We live in an uncertain world, what happens elsewhere will affect us someday. WE should be wary of finding ourselves in the same circumstances very soon. I fervently hope that the Greeks will fix what is wrong with their society so that young Greeks don't have to leave Greece in order to succeed.