What has become of Greece, the nation that ten years ago was the 12th European state to align its economic fortunes to the euro? At the time, Ioannis Papandoniou described it as a historic day that would place Greece firmly at the heart of Europe.
Those words have come back to haunt the former finance and defence minister. Greece is indeed today at the heart of Europe — but for all the wrong reasons.
Once upon a time, the Hellenic Republic was a prosperous empire under Alexander the Great, stretching into India, Northern Africa and Spain; the exhibition at Oxford’s Ashmolean is testament to this.
Even during the Roman occupation, there was roaring trade— think of Lydia and her business in selling purple cloth (Acts 16). There was also a towering cultural influence — think of the intellects that gathered in the Areopagus when Paul gave his sermon on the God who reveals himself (Acts 17).
But today, Greece is suffering 65 per cent unemployment among its under-25 year olds, and its 60 year olds are still waiting for their pensions. The Government’s reserves have run dry. People still gather at the Areopagus, but to throw Molotov cocktails rather than debate philosophy.
If financial agencies Moody’s, Fitch and Standard and Poor’s (S&P) downgrade Greece’s credit rating further — S&P has already put it at CCC, only one notch above default — the country’s woes will indeed be exacerbated.
S&P has already said that one plan to get private creditors involved in the €12bn bailout — the fifth slice apportioned to the country — would be a default ‘under our criteria’.
According to Ted Scott, fund manager at F&C Investments, ‘There are shortcomings in the plan, which was devised by the most vulnerable creditors with their own interests at the forefront. Greek politicians would be ill advised to adopt this proposal without considerable modification’.
Will any plan deliver a secure economic future for young Greeks, who have spent so much on higher education only to be shut out of a job and unable to rely on their cash-strapped parents? What tooif the remedy should fail? What if the financially unthinkable should happen across the whole eurozone?
In the meantime, what have Greek activists turned to? Firebombing, not faith. One Greek national made the observation, ‘This is a thing I have against the Orthodox Church. It should encourage people to turn to God at a time like this. But the people are doing the opposite. They are turning against God. They need to be praying’.
There is precedent for God’s help for an impoverished nation. What did the returning exiles say when they gazed upon Jerusalem’s broken walls? ‘Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy’ (Psalm 126:4-5).
God answered their prayers. Can he not do the same again?