Friday, December 21, 2012

What is wrong with the Greeks and Europeans in general?

I often try to explain to many fellow Europeans how on Earth the Greeks have allowed their country to reach this point. How a country with so many resources and a great geopolitical strategic position can not achieve stability and become like many other developed European nations. One would of course ask; is this country meant to? 

Besides the Greek "condition" in my opinion is not just Greek, but European overall and in fact it affects all developed countries. It's been around 60 years since the '50s where the world started recovering from WW2 and there was a post war boom in every aspect of life. The economy, population, discoveries, industrialization, innovation, all driven by the rebuilding of Europe and other regions badly affected by WW2.

In my opinion that generation, the generation of post WW2 baby boomers is the main driving force of this crisis. They are all in their 50s or 60s, middle aged and it is the generation that dominates the political and economic life of Greece and Europe. And since they are during their middle life crisis years, they pull our continent with them. Old ideologies, attitudes, political ideas, social stereotypes and way of life, that is what they represent. 

And it shows in our political and economic life of today. Yes they do have experience and knowledge, but they suffer from lack of new ideas and vision. That I am afraid will come from us, the younger generation if only we get seriously involved in our country's and Europe's politics. 

In Greece the generation of over '50s inherited a country in tatters after an era of numerous Balkan wars that lead to the expansion of Greece's borders but also the Asia Minor disaster. A situation that forced Turkey and Greece to exchange their populations. Many impoverished Greeks arrived in today's Greece with nothing but their own clothes and whatever they could fit in their pockets from their livelihoods.

More than a million people were displaced like this and all efforts of the newly formed Greek state went into providing these people with housing and integrating them. But peace was not meant to last. The great European powers had other plans for the continent of Europe and the region of the Balkans. Two World wars broke out in the space of a few decades and Greece was dragged into both of them.

After those wars the country had to endure a bloody civil war that wrecked and devastated the country, economically, socially, morally and politically. It divided the nation and its scars have not fully healed until today. A few decades later and the country had to endure a military junta with the backing of USA. Another black page in the country's history that caused even further damage in Greece's politics and economy. 

Foreign powers always meddled with Greek affairs and politics. They helped to establish kings, democracy and  junta all in the space of half a century. But the Greek public was left with deep wounds and negative influences by all this instability. 

First of all corruption was established in all levels of the society. When the country was so poor and its people deprived, it is only natural. But it was also established by the state itself, in order to help keep control of the population and oppress them. Greece always had a strong socialist or communist population and in order to control them and keep the country under Western control, Greece became a police state.

If you were suspected of being a communist you were under surveillance by the police and if found guilty you were deported from the country and your fortunes seized by the state. Many children of communist families were given up for adoption in Greece, former communist countries of even in the USA and other western countries. 

Such cruel decades of poverty and deprivation, taught the Greek people to seize every opportunity they could to make a living. The state corruption soon became a way of life for everybody, as it was the only way to prosper. Very few people attended school and even fewer managed to go to college or university and get a degree. Emigration was widespread and a lot of the islands and parts of the mainland were abandoned. 

For example none from my family finished school. Neither my parents, nor my aunts, uncles never mind my grand parents who did not even go to school. They were all forced to leave studying and receiving any education to go and work at an early age. My father started working at the age of 13. My mother at 15. That was the social norm. Almost none of their cousins or friends ever finished school.

And it was not only the lack of education. They had to deal with a oppressive state that used a strong corrupt police force to oppress them. That is the reason that it is not in the Greek psyche to write to their mayors or ministers to complain about something, but only to court them for favors in return for their vote. You could not freely protest in Greece during the 50s. 

The police had too much power, and it kept this power until the '70s and the "Metapolitefsi" years. But even today the police has kept its old mind frame when dealing with its citizens. Authoritarian, corrupt and violent, especially when it comes to Greece's latest citizens, the immigrant communities.

When living under these conditions, in poverty, deprivation, social injustice and inequality, under an oppressive state and police system, with no education or a chance for a better life, generation after generation of Greeks learned to have a very limited and narrow minded perception of their political and social life. First of all they were not encouraged to be political creatures, rather to obey with no questioning. 

Similar situations existed in most countries of Europe after WW2 and that is correct for most of the Eastern part of the Continent that fell under the Communist rule. But countries like Ireland also had to endure their own oppressive institutions, this  time coming from the Catholic Church and not the police. One can really see this in the older Irish population, that also grew in poverty, deprivation, oppression and a brutal Catholic regime.

People like that can not protest or express any political opinion. They are ignorant and easy to manipulate as they accept the country's status quo without question. And even if they did have the ideas, they would keep them to themselves and do not protest in fear of losing the little that they had and be deported like in the Greek case. How can you have active citizenship under those conditions? 

So a whole generation of Greeks, Irish and many other European nationalities learned not to question and just follow what was happening in their countries. And when the boom times came, they just went mad and were spending like never before. Well it is natural, don't you think? Once you live in poverty for decades, you will of course try to make the most of it while you can and use any method to accumulate more and enjoy the good times to the maximum. 

But they only fell into a trap, that was set up by the those who control the global economy. They knew what would happen to a poor country that accumulated wealth so fast and they gambled on them. Now that Europe is changing, we see a greater citizen involvement in European affairs, even if in many cases that happens with a negative way. 

European youths that have access to the internet, have studied, traveled abroad and even worked for some years in another country than their own, they are becoming more aware of politics especially European. There are various EU funded forums and portals on-line that one can receive information and even come in contact with various EU officials and politicians. 

And from my experience they are far more willing to respond and get engaged with the citizens, than the national politicians.They usually tour a country only to gather support and gain votes from the people, by making promises that most likely won't keep. 

The future looks brighter for citizen involvement in European politics. But we still ignore the generation of over '50s, in trying to educate them or show them the benefits of EU membership or what are their rights as EU citizens. 
What we need is to reach out to them through the media they use and trust the most, the television. We should promote more awareness and information through television programs for people of an older age and encourage them to get involved too. Help them understand how the EU and politics in Europe work, and offer them unbiased information detached from any national interests and propaganda. 

Imagine for example if the British public that are the most "euro-skeptic" of all EU nations, found out the real benefits of their country's EU membership. If they were offered another point view, apart from the obviously and openly "euro-skeptic"  media, especially the press. It is again the British populace over 50, the pensioners and others near that age that are most conservative and vocal of their anti-EU sentiments. 

It is also true that the German people over '50s are far more inclined on being conservative and oppose any major change in their country's politics, any bail outs or transfer of funds to poorer EU countries. It is them that control the country's economic and political reigns and influence of course European politics as the largest member of the EU. 

In Greece too, it is that age group that rules and has an outdated, conservative idea on how to run the country. They do not like change or modernization simply because they will lose all their power and influence in the country, by bringing a new way of doing business or reforming the country's economy. How can anything change with such conservative approach?
Yes in the future Europe will be more "European", but if we do not focus on the older generation, that development will only take place decades later, when they pass. Until then, they may do permanent damage with a rise of nationalism, xenophobia, conservatism and protectionism. The younger generation that has studied abroad and speaks foreign languages, it is natural that they will feel more "European" as I am. 

What about people in my parents' age group, will we let them be indifferent? They do have the right to vote and they use it. And the more we leave them uninvolved or ignorant in many European issues, the more we will be delaying any real progress in Europe.