There's a Solution for Greece: But It Won't Happen Tomorrow

Greek flags stand for sale before the main pre-election rally of the Radical Left party SYRIZA in central Athens Syntagma squ
Greek flags stand for sale before the main pre-election rally of the Radical Left party SYRIZA in central Athens Syntagma square on September 18, 2015. Final polls before Sunday's key Greek election gave a slim lead to radical left former prime minister Alexis Tsipras over his conservative rival. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)


During election week, I followed everything that friends, acquaintances, and strangers wrote and shared on Facebook. Among their comments I detected a recurring symptom: a bitter certainty that tomorrow's future is a question of one choice versus another. More generally, even if most people, deep down inside, understand the futility of staking a bet on Meimarakis or Tsipras, either because of the momentum that has taken hold or because of some placebo of optimism, they have lulled themselves into thinking that "we will somehow manage," if we again succumb to this analysis.

Things are more serious, however. The development model, which Europe itself is incidentally trying to defend, was already a thing of the past in the '80s and '90s. We have not fully accepted that development by way of the expedient purchasing power theory, which is based solely on the distribution of wealth through the accumulation of public debt, is a sham. At the same time, we also seem to have forgotten the lesson from the 2008 crisis and the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The fact is that unaccountability creates crises; markets self-destruct just as they self-regulate.

However, I was struck by a pattern that emerged in many opinions shared on Facebook: a false dilemma that determines the options facing Greece as either "Thatcherization" or "Cubanization."

Let's take a quick trip back in time to Cyprus, before we had "our own capital controls." We should recall those three fateful days in 2013, when the European Union, once again completely taken aback, determined that the solution to Cyprus's financial bubble was to have the depositors foot the bill. It was essentially an almost surrealistic "communist" violation of a fundamental right which governs the Union: property rights. As soon as the punitive attitude towards the depositors revealed its ineffectiveness, Brussels finally gave in and adopted a measure to guarantee deposits. Naturally, it took some time for this change of heart to come about, and resulted in the following: the big Russian deposit holders and oligarchs had time to withdraw their deposits, and it was Cypriot savers who paid for the bail-in, that is to say, citizens of the European Union. A situation which neither Thatcher nor Fidel would have liked (on Facebook).

We often forget that the Greek problem is Europe's problem. The ongoing debt crisis proves this, and the chaos that the migration and refugee flows have unleashed emphasizes it. The world is changing every day with unbelievable speed, and to exceptionally complex and mixed results. For example, instead of wanting to understand the way in which markets and the financial sector work within the context of globalization, we raise the banner of ignorance, either fantasizing about the need for post-Thatcherism (which Greece has never known, because of Andreas Papandreou and his unassailable legacy -- and we should also throw both a modernized Pasok and a post-Pasok New Democracy into the mix) or a dialectically primitive, anti-capitalism which ends up withdrawing from reality.

Europe's procrastination and the absurd "delay" which holds sway in Greece feed off each other: after the fall of the dictatorship, the state-funded capitalism (socialism) of the Pasok surpassed the Thatcher model prevailing at the time, only to abruptly end with the 2008 crisis and the IMF. Ironically, this course of events brought Greece to a point where the challenges the country had to confront were almost the same, even if Thatcherism had held sway with its own vision of the Avriani [the daily tabloid that long supported PASOK].

In 2015, every harm inflicted on Greece is a harm inflicted on Europe, and vice versa. Many think that the essence of the problem can be found in Greece's inability to conform with European rules. However, the bigger problem is the inability of Europe to conform with the world, and to really function in a globalized environment. Europe has been unable to develop the speed and the mechanisms that are needed to meet the challenges. On the contrary, it has passively endured all of the economic and social consequences wrought by globalization, while Calvinistically flagellating Greece for Europe's own delay.

Sanctifying the practice of "honorable compromises," the European Union is continually buying time, but it remains stagnant in the face of old and new problems. All one needs to do is witness the bewilderment with which a divided Europe is trying to keep up with the refugee crisis. The EU summits are the "painkiller" for every ailment. A ritual of ostensible acknowledgements and initiatives. Clearly it isn't democratic to look for definitive, fast-track solutions to complex questions. But when the crisis turns humanitarian, good intentions without results end up being a farce. Technocratic management has its limits.

When the Chinese and Indians defend their prosperity against a backdrop of instability, looking for new investment opportunities in Africa and elsewhere, when Israel mobilizes its youth to engage in research and innovation, when Arab countries are at the forefront of innovative investment schemes, and the United States and Russia are competing against each other in the fields of cyber industry and geopolitics, the European Union will proudly celebrate the upcoming Oktoberfest. Europe, from Greece to France, is becoming progressively isolated in an atmosphere of austerity, unemployment, and cultural melancholy. Neither Greece's unrepentant refusal to recover nor the dangerous rise of the extreme right, which is taking advantage of the refugee crisis to directly undermine Europe's path toward integration, disturbs Brussel's bureaucratic attempts at appeasement.

The way out for Greece, and the way out for Europe, is the path that leads towards European integration. A prerequisite for true European integration is a common public budget, common public debt, a common ministry of finance, Eurobonds, a common foreign policy, a common European status for refugees, etc. Anything less will generate divisions and discrimination, widen the deficit of justice and democracy, result in a discourse of fear among national governments (of the right and of the left), and make it impossible to confront the increase in violence, which will result from the decrease in public expenditure.

Even if the right hates the term "multiculturalism," and the left hates the term "globalization," the question and the goal at the end of the day must once again be "cosmopolitanism": the citizens of the world and of the many worlds. Those are the real stakes.

Every time Greece has achieved greatness in the past, it was when its citizens were citizens of the world, and of many worlds, at the same time. The only way that the country can regenerate itself is not through the dialectic between the old and the new (whether we call it Tsipras, Meimarakis or whoever), but by focusing on the regeneration of a Greek and European tradition of ethical and political cosmopolitanism. There is a solution, but it is challenging.

This post first appeared on HuffPost Greece and was translated into English.