Politics

'Prodigal Hellas': Greek's plight as a parable

Article published on Feb. 14, 2012
Article published on Feb. 14, 2012
It's really awkward what strange games fate can play. Of all the days of the year, not one could be more appropriate than the Sunday of the Prodigal Son for the Greek parliament to vote on the new austerity package for the salvation of the country on 12 February. The alternative options to reforms (lower incomes and pensions, higher taxes) are to go bankrupt or exit the eurozone, after all...

According to the parable, a father had two sons. Once, his younger son decided to leave his family and asked for his share of the property to live elsewhere. After spending every last penny, the son returned remorseful to the arms of his father, who not only accepted him back but also ordered the slaughter of a 'fattened calf' for a celebration meal.

Measures accepted, the son returns to Father

Following the same pattern Greece, after wasting all of the money that was borrowed, has now turned to the European union for help and salvation. The Greek parliament was asked to take the hardest, most painful measures possible, which affect almost the entire Greek population, in order to rescue the country once again. We will soon find out whether this option will be salutary or disastrous for Greece, but what matters is that the vote permanently closed an era of artificial dreams and an illusion of bliss that collapsed like a house of cards.

All is well then. The 'prodigal Hellas' returns, repents and turns in the arms of the Father. However in our story the 'Father' chooses to leave the prodigal son hungry rather than slaughtering the 'fattened calf', by giving him just enough food just to survive. Instead of love the Father in our parable not only wishes to punish the returning son but also to admonish the other son who never fled. Are we confident that Greece is the 'prodigal son' of the parable? Let's play with etymology: In the original Greek of the gospel the word for 'prodigal' is άσωτος (asotos) meaning 'the one who cannot be saved', not 'the one who returns or the wastefully extravagant'. This reveals a logical contradiction in our history. Why can't the repenting son be saved? Is there no salvation for the one who changes his life and goes back to his family humiliated?

We made mistakes - and we know it

Yet the prodigal son is not the younger but the older one. He is not the one who left and returned penitent to the Father. The prodigal son is the other, the son who never left. He envies his brother who not only made his 'revolution' and left, and had fun, but who now returns and is welcomed him back by being given the best of his clothes. Remember his reaction – he feels angry and complains to his Father that while he was always by his side, working for him he was never offered not even a goat to host a meal for his friends. He doesn't speak to his brother and he leqves. He is the real prodigal son. Of course politics have little to do with evangelical parables. It is unclear whether in our own version of the story Germany and our partners have the role of the father or the elder son. Their attitude will eventually show us which role they will choose.

Remember two things: First, the 27 member states are not helping Greece – they lending to her. They are speculating on the back of a country that yes, has made terrible mistakes and mismanagement in economics but which in the end didn't do anything different from anyone else in the eurozone. The difference is that due to its structural problems the end of the 'frenzy party' of the euro-decade smashed everything with it. The second thing is that the EU member states are jointly responsible for the destruction of Greece. They did 'paper exercise' by setting fictional goals which led to recession, working together with a political system that they knew that was unwilling to reform. What is even worse is that they insist on this failed recipe without receiving any social criterion on the wages or the pensions they cut. The result is that they impoverish a whole nation in order to satisfy their political audiences.

'The state insists on this failed recipe without receiving any social criterion on the wages or the pensions they cut'

Along with the above let's add a third element as well: that 'prodigal Greece' wants to stay in Europe, believes that it is part of Europe and shares the same ideals. Yes, Greek society feels guilty. There is a general feeling that Greeks lived beyond their means thus fooling themselves and their partners. Yes, beyond the 'lazy Greece' there is another Greece, which is working and fighting and wants to stay in the euro and not to make a fifty-year U-turn. If the punishment and humiliation of an entire nation are more important than solidarity with and salvation of a partner then it is clear towards which direction the European union is moving. If so please throw Greece out now, because it does not deserve to belong in such a union.

Read more from the cafebabel.com Athens blog 'frappebabel' here

Image: (cc) César Angel. Zaragoza/ flickr