Years ago, I remember reading a humorous book that discussed different ways of “How to….” One chapter was titled “How to get in the News.” Short of finding a miracle wonder drug for a dreadful disease, the next surefire way was to “Commit a heinous Crime.” Sadly, we witness the truth in this statement everyday.

All of us in the Greek American community have been following closely the economic crisis that has acutely hit Greece during the past six months.

It has placed Greece on the front pages of every prominent news journal around the world. Unfortunately, the negative coverage has been continuous and relentless.

Fair or not, Greece has been targeted as the cancer to the world’s economic woes. The May 9 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer even ran a story titled: “Greek crisis stirring global fears could slow U.S. recovery.” Maybe if the media tries hard enough, they can blame Greece for Global Warming too!

Although I’m not an economist, no one should have been naive enough to think that tiny Greece with its small economy would have been immune to the global economic crisis that we have been experiencing the past few years.

Have we forgotten that just last year Wall Street was on the verge of collapse and how we had to bailout one U.S. financial institution after another? And we’re still not out of the woods yet as unemployment hovers at 10 percent and Wall Street fluctuates.

If in fact Greece, with its minuscule percentage of the overall world’s economy, can have such a negative domino effect, then both the eurozone and the global economy are far more fragile than any of us can imagine.

The EU took some positive steps toward remedying the structural weaknesses in the euro zone. Greece served as the wake up call.

Another point to remember is that Greece has been an ally of the United States and NATO, In this regard, Greece spends 3 percent of its GDP (6.6 billion euros annually) on defence, making her second only to the U.S. by percentage in defence spending within NATO.

Additionally, it is estimated that it costs Greece another 500 million euros a year every time it has to scramble its planes to intercept Turkish military planes that violate Greek airspace. Therefore, Greek defence expenditure also contributes to Greece’s economic woes.

The Greek Government has announced plans to cut its defence spending by 25 percent percent.

I’m also not naive enough to think that the way Greece has conducted itself over the past 30 years has not contributed to its financial crisis.

Its public sector (by percentage the largest in the EU) corruption, lack of transparency, tax evasion, no serious foreign investment policies and a culture built on entitlements have contributed to the problems Greece faces.

The Greek Parliament passed an austerity package that was unpopular to say the least.

There was no choice. Greece had to shore up its economic house with a set of political and economic reforms in addition to satisfying the lending institutions that will bailout Greece and help her get started on the road to economic recovery.

The Greek American [and Greek Australian] community has shared in the frustration that has occurred in Greece and that has captured the world’s negative media attention. However, everyone can agree that it has to begin with Greece herself first and foremost.

What infuriated me and many of my colleagues, was the ugliness we saw in the streets of Athens last week, in demonstration against the austerity program that ultimately led to the death of three bank employees-one of them a pregnant woman. That was deplorable!

I understand that sentiments and feelings run deep, in Greece maybe more so, Greece cannot continue to present this image to the rest of the world.

Events leading up to the economic crisis certainly need to be discussed and debated and persons should be held accountable. However, when your house is burning you don’t throw gasoline on the flames to extinguish it.

In Greece, demonstrating is simply a form of political expression functionally the same as voting. However, this otherwise legitimate form of political expression must not be hijacked by extremists to the detriment of the good of the country.

The guarantee of freedom of expression to all of the citizens cannot be used to deny the fundamental rights of other citizens as we clearly saw with the murders of innocent civilians and the destruction of property. This has to stop.

Greece’s largest and most important industry is tourism. On the eve of the tourist season these scenes do not help attract the much needed infusion of capital that tourism provides which is essential to the recovery of the Greek economy.

Greeks have succeeded in every country to which they have emigrated. That same drive, determination, work ethic that every Greek of the Diaspora has displayed seems to be lacking in Greece.

This is not because Greeks in Greece are not intelligent or lazy but because there seems to be something flawed in the system under which they live. This crisis will force systemic change and ultimately if ever there was truth to the Greek saying “Kathe Empodio Yia Kalo,” (Every stumbling block leads to good), this might be the best positive long lasting effect that will come out of this crisis.

It’s up to the Greeks to grasp the moment and the opportunity. While the austerity measures will be difficult, the Greek people will endure and excel because their Hellenic spirit will not allow them to fail.

As with past generations of Greeks abroad, the current generation of Diaspora Greeks is ready, willing and able to participate along with the Greek people to overcome the current challenges. However, it’s up to the Greeks first.

Nick Larigakis

Executive Director

American Hellenic Institute