Many years before it was discovered that Greece might default on its national debt, the country seemed already at a dead-end. Futility and cynicism pervaded politics and civic life. Corruption and patronage were omnipresent in the economy. Racism became commonplace as more and more immigrants vied for a place under the Greek sun. Unemployment and underemployment were the norm. To get a college degree or to advance as a professional, the best option was to head abroad. All along, a curious new class of Greeks came into existence: the ones with the yachts and helicopters, houses in Athens, Mykonos, London and New York, house servants and chauffeurs — people whose conspicuous consumption seemed at once to confirm that the country was genuinely part of Western Europe, and that something was terribly wrong. The prosperity was tangled with corruption — tax evasion, government contract kickbacks, and diverted EU subsidies — which of course was not anything new, either for Greece or any other place on earth. It was just that the amount of money, much of it coming from European Union coffers, was far larger than ever before.
If anything good could come from the Greek economic debacle, it would be social renewal. The people would reject corruption, they would strengthen the country’s democracy and civil society, and they would embrace a democratic model of sustainable development. With the current set of political leaders in power, a Greek friend of mine recently said, a new beginning would be impossible. But perhaps the change is to come not from the ruling class, but in spite of them. Because ordinary people choose a better future for themselves and their families.