Greece is so much in news these days, but for wrong reasons.
In fact it has been so for the last many years. But the financial crisis of this ravaged economy with the world’s highest levels of public debt, has now been taking huge toll on the general public, both in the form of extreme joblessness, disrupted financial institutions, general agitation and desperation in the confused public as they save their national pride.
Few days ago, we saw a sobbing pensioner sitting outside the closed bank doors, as he became a ‘despairing face of Greek financial crisis‘ for he couldn’t withdraw funds what with the banks closed due to low cash reserves.
“I cannot stand to see my country in this distress”, he said. “That’s why I feel so beaten, more than for my own personal problems”
I read in my local newspaper about failing medical facilities in this “society worn threadbare by debt and neglect” , but in the middle of all this there is a huge amount of solidarity among the Greeks, as reported by Sydney Morning Herald
It’s not often we hear such plentiful news about Greece on Australian media, hence it raised my curiosity. While I acquaint myself about the reasons for this economic crisis, I just can’t help remembering little things that I’ve always associated with Greece.
One of my very early scant recollections about the word ‘Greek’, is one of the characters from the late 70s Indian movie called Dharam Veer. As can be seen in the below song, out of the two friends singing glory to their unbreakable friendship, one is a prince and the other some tribal character wearing a Greek-style dress. After seeing this movie, we school girls used to say, the movie has a stout hero who was wearing skirt-dress with Greek sandals. Such strappy ‘Greek sandals’ had later become quite a vogue in India.
Of course, later on in high school, we read a lot about this great civilization. Personally I didn’t dislike history as a subject but, in general, ancient and medieval history that involves rote-learning of dates and names, was often a butt of jokes among Indian students. Other than lengthy names of Indian Kings, we also read about Megasthenes, Seleucus, Menander and many Indo-Greeks. For us, Greece too was one of the countries that had a long ancient history like that of India. At that time we didn’t really know that Greece had much to do with the formation of Western civilization, but we could identify with its kings and queens, ancient temples, Gods and Goddesses and perpetual wars that were won by great heroes.
One such super-hero was Alexander the Great, whose war stories have always been popular in India. Alexander, who got named as ‘Sikander’, invaded India in 326 B.C. and won the Battle of River Hydaspes against Indian King Purushottam (Porus to Greeks). Soon after that Alexander died. There are many strange moralistic and heroic anecdotes about this war. Mighty Porus was reputed to be patriotic and heroic but lost because his army used elephants. Alexander, even though from the enemy side, and often thought of as clever strategist and imperialistic, is still well-regarded in India for his invincible heroic qualities.
Indians generally had positive impression about Greeks, that historically they were full of valor and enthusiasm for knowledge. Most students in India also knew about Trojan War, the story of Helen of Troy, about technique and intellect in the use of a wooden horse to the end goal of victory. Such stories, based on other distant cultures were a source of moral lessons.
Of course, philosophy and moral discourses are never complete without a Greek stamp, what with all scholarly names like Aristotle, Socrates and Plato being read and quoted in Indian text books. We were also familiar with names like Homer, Oedipus, Apollo and Hercules and so many others. People in India have no dearth of ancient Indian scholars and wise men, but they have never failed to appreciate and gain from other civilizations like Greece.
As long as I lived in India, other than bookish knowledge about Greek culture and history, I didn’t have direct encounter with anyone or anything of Greek origin. There was probably also not much trade between the two countries.
It was only when I came to Australia that we actually met flesh and blood friendly Greek-Australians. One of my early work colleagues who was from Greece, used to look at us Indian-Punjabi women and always express her surprise, “How come you Indians look so much like Greeks?” I didn’t really think so but they saw huge similarities. But our similarities end here. Sounds amusing but other than looks, Indians nowadays are more similar to the English or other Caucasian Australians, if at all. Not that it matters though.
Recently, it is Greek yogurt that is finding my favor. It caught my eye as it’s supposed to have more protein than normal yogurt and it tastes great too. Indian cuisine has its own similar yogurt, that is a sweet dessert called Sri Khand.
So what am I trying to say? You can argue that no one is refuting the greatness of ancient Greek civilization, and you can say that Greek history, culture and cuisine are not in danger. It’s only the economy. But then, in olden days at least, a ruined or weakened economy had a power to change the rulers, demographics and boundaries of nations. A weak nation-state often used to give way to foreign rulers, as it happened with the advent of Mughals whose long lasting religious influence changed India’s original soul. Also, East India Company that entered India via trade route and soon got the throne, that too for 100 years. Such was the breach of trust, that Indians, particularly Hindu hardliners are still skeptical of any foreign multinationals who want their trading feet in India.
Well, this kind of thing won’t happen in Greece as it’s a modern era. But modern capitalistic times are even more dangerous. They leech out the life-blood of its prey country (or person). We see this in our everyday life.
Say, a person who is initially marginally needy for money, ends up getting a wonderful credit card with a high upper limit, thus facilitating this person with sudden access to more money than needed, but only to be doomed further as slowly his spending habits deteriorate. More loans follow, more expenditure and a seemingly generous but opportunist bank increases the upper limit. This is the time when a wise person (or country) would reign the spending habits but if they don’t, a time comes when collapse is certain, followed by bankruptcy.
Continuing my above example, what if this person who’s heavily indebted by his credit card was originally well-off, both financially and culturally, but now hit by cyclical bad times hard to escape. He is bound to have difficulty accepting degradation and downfall of any kind. There will be self-esteem and ego issues. Ancient civilizations too carry a similar pride, a strong national pride that doesn’t let them bow easily. We will break but will not bow down, is the attitude. Possibly I’m generalizing too much, probably my analogy doesn’t apply to Greek situation as in Greece it is more of a political drama created by the ruling parties.
Moreover, when the world blames Greece for not showing any responsibility in its spending as well as borrowing, they rightfully feel why should the countries that loaned money to Greece also suffer.
Given the complexity, whether Greeks are wrong or right in their approach, whether they are resolving wisely or egotistically, there sure has to be some simplistic way to bring them out if this situation. Will it be feasible for International Monetary Fund to further waive off a major portion of their debt, not merely by imposing austerities but unconditionally? If not that, then countries can pool up and contribute funds to pay off their debt. After all, the world too is indebted to Greece for the cultural richness it gave to the world. Does it sound too far-fetched and cliche? But we all live by each other, exist because of each other, don’t we?
In Australia, as also in all other countries, if some forlorn dilapidated building is recognized as National Heritage site, everyone tries to protect and save it. Greece and other ancient civilizations are World’s Heritage. It is in the interests of the whole world to save them. Moreover, in any case this crashing economy will influence the whole world via ripple effect.
And once saved, and having learnt harsh lessons from their previous agonizing decade, it will then be duty of Greece to be wise and sensible in future.
I was reading somewhere, that if you wish to help Greece, plan your next holiday to Greece. So what are you thinking. Pack your bags!
Copyright © 2015. Written by Alka Girdhar