Engaging the heart and soul of Ellinismo
Sophie Constance uncovers the true meaning of 'Ellinismo' as Greece is in the midst of the global / euro financial crisis
Greece has been the most severely affected country in the Global/Euro Financial Crisis, with the nation on the brink of default. Strenuous attempts are being made to resuscitate Greece from its malaise. Some say it's simply a matter of 'rebranding' but much more is required; it is necessary to engage the heart and soul of its citizens. Many Greeks feel powerless, some have lost hope.
Now instead of a regular party election they have to make a crucial decision on June 17: whether to stay within the Euro or return to the drachma. The decision will be clouded by the fact that there is a low level of engagement from the citizens; minority group voices are drowning out much that is reasonable.
Greece has been through wars, occupations, dictatorships and assorted other forms of suffering in the not-so-distant past. This may have engendered a certain 'go with the flow' attitude or 'we'll be taken care of by the government/state'. The future of Greece, I believe, depends on tapping into people's values and re-imagining collective Greek identity and future direction. But key ingredients to achieve this, such as personal and societal accountability and responsibility, seem to be lacking.
Strengths and weaknesses
In December 2011, Moody's Investor Service Credit Opinion of the Greek government reported that the nation boasts a relatively wealthy population with high per capita incomes (compared with rating peers) and only moderate levels of private sector indebtedness. Conversely, Greece has a very high level of public debt and government deficits. The banking system is highly exposed to the government debt. Financial institutions are weak and the political and social environment is resistant to structural economic reform. The Transparency International's Global Corruption survey (2009) revealed 76 per cent of Greeks believe there is a lack of transparency in government statistics, and deep-seated corruption and tax evasion is endemic.
Austerity measures agreed upon by Greek governments have pushed the country's citizens to their limits. The pension has been cut four times in two years. During the last two years, more than 1,800 people have committed suicide. On 4 April, a 77-year-old pensioner shot himself in front of Parliament in the busy Syntagma Square. It was a stark visual indication of the debilitating grief and humiliation that is widespread. Immigration has become a solution with relatives and friends in diaspora countries helping to facilitate the exodus.
The May 6 election demonstrated that politics as usual is no longer possible. The scale of the problems - unemployment at more than 21 percent, youth unemployment above 50 percent, public service salaries down 40 percent and suicides up 22 percent in two years - have overwhelmed Greeks and exhausted their political system. Still, there is a significant opportunity to restructure governance and accountability across Greek society. But it will be arduous: only 50 percent of eligible voters went to the polls last month.
How can Greece engage its citizens to achieve a recovery when there is so much anger and frustration? To answer this, we must first look at who Greeks are.
The Greek Identity
From ancient myths to modern realities, Greece's history is one of contradictions. Over four centuries of Ottoman rule, Greeks demonstrated an astonishing tenacity in maintaining their ethnic identity, largely because of the strongly entrenched religion, the strength of their family institutions and their love of independence.
The result of this past is an inclination to fiercely protect both personal and national identity. Accordingly, religion is closely linked with Greek nationality, as 97 per cent of Greek nationals identify themselves as being Greek Orthodox Christians. The Orthodox clergy played a major role in the revolution for independence and in preserving Greek language, culture and tradition through centuries of foreign domination.
Likewise, the family institution in Greece has been the social entity that protected its members against unfavourable or hostile elements. The Greek love of independence and the need to express freely and support one's opinion often results in strong arguments. The other side of that individuality, however, is a strong allegiance to "being Greek."
The solution is to motivate employees and promote team spirit, and leaders must appeal to their filotimo (love of honour), to demonstrate trust in their abilities, and show kindness and concern about their personal problems.
Greek culture has always been characterised by its "here and now" attitude, due its past of instability, wars, occupation, population exodus and resulting insecurity. A recent article in Neos Kosmos, titled 'Greek Society in a State of Limbo' posits: "Hope is long gone from Greece, as is compassion and solidarity". Remarkably, the Greeks who emigrated to Australia and the US in the 1950s say the same things about lack of hope, personal power and corruption as Greeks who never left the country. This indicates how severely traumatised the national psyche remains.
The GLOBE study indicates that there is potential to be harnessed. The potential exists to revivify Greek democracy, with accountability and equity. People are born citizens, not simply consumers and they should be afforded the opportunity, dignity and respect that this entails.
With new elections may come new promise and conviction. We wait with hope.
Or let's make it possible. Nai Boroume! (Yes, We Can!)
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