Since You Asked

“I claim to be a simple individual liable to err like any other fellow mortal. I own, however, that I have humility enough to confess my errors and retrace my steps.” Mahatma Gandhi

I’ve been back in Canada for over two weeks and still the questions persist: what was it like in Greece, what do you think of what is going on. I like being asked. I’m nothing if not opinionated.

Life in Greece seemed fairly calm to me. The cafes were full, the shops were open, and people seemed to be going about their lives. Greeks have lived under the fear of a complete financial collapse for so long that it seemed to me that they’d become stoic about it. Whatever will happen, will happen. I heard the words uttered several times. But for now, we have to live our lives. We can’t live in fear.

There were nightly protests in the streets. So as they went about their business during the day, people came out in throngs at night to make sure their wishes were being heard. I think there’s hopefulness at the center of any protest: people are engaged and more importantly, they believe their voices can make a difference. Peaceful protest always buoys me.

That was one of the reasons it was so difficult for me to leave. No, there wasn’t much I could do to change the course of events, but if I was still there, I could stand in solidarity with the people and what they were trying to do.

When the Greek Prime Minister called the referendum, a few days before we left, I thought he’d made an error in judgement. He should have stayed at the negotiation table until he got a deal. He argued that he needed a renewed mandate from the Greek citizens to continue the negotiations, that their support would give him more leverage. I didn’t buy it. A near majority elected him only five months earlier. He had his mandate. He didn’t need a referendum to show him the way forward.

But I also thought all the leaders across the EU should have done a better job of avoiding the referendum. The Greek government only asked for some guarantee of debt relief as part of the deal they were discussing with creditors. They had basically agreed to everything else the creditors wanted at that point, but the creditors would not give them that small victory. In my opinion, this was petty and vindictive.

This week the Greek government signed a deal with its creditors. The austerity measures are purported to be more severe than the ones in the package they rejected previously. Personally I would have said no and walked away. I tend not to deal well with bullies and would have taken my chances on my own.

During this latest crisis, I never once saw the creditors as humble or accommodating or even particularly interested in finding a solution to accommodate all the players.

I don’t like the deal that the Greek Prime Minister has signed. I don’t think it is ever a good thing for a country to lose its sovereignty, as Greece will do as part of this agreement. It only builds resentment and in a world with so many hostilities we really don’t need further bitterness to ignite more conflict.

Having said this though, I applaud the Greek Prime Minister for his humility. After nights of gruelling talks with the country’s creditors, he came home a beaten man. Still he apologized to his citizens for not being able to deliver on his promise to end austerity and he committed to stick by the Greek people through the difficult times ahead. He also gave Greeks what the majority wanted, a way to stay in the EU.

Prime Minister Tsipras showed incredible leadership this week, which is more than I can say for some of the other leaders around that European Union table.

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