As a Eurozone crackup becomes more and more certain, it is no longer a question of whether Greece defaults but when. While most commentators have focused on the post-default coping strategies Germany and France might take to protect their idiot bankers from the other tottering PIIGS, few have speculated on what fate will befall the Greeks themselves once their Euro-fueled entitlement dystopia slides into the final stages of collapse.
Yes, we are likely to see the return of the Drachma. Yes, this is likely to be followed by currency controls and hyperinflation, which will allow the Greek government to repudiate its internal debts as well as its external ones. Yes, this will be accompanied by the usual strikes, riots, and mindless violence as the Greek version of Spain’s indignados seek to blame everyone but themselves.
But after the state hits rock bottom, after the civil servants and pensioners are thrown off the gravy train, after the tourist industry evaporates and drives the rapidly shrinking economy into the abyss—what then? Will the Greeks bare their bankrupt souls in a nihilistic war of all against all?
History may be a guide.
The civil war that erupted in Greece after the defeat of the Axis powers killed more Greeks than the German occupation, with executions and atrocities perpetrated by both sides. Some 25,000 children were “evacuated” to the Balkans, many forcibly, not just for their safety but to be indoctrinated in Communism.
A power struggle between two incompatible politico-economic systems fueled by opposing foreign powers, this opening act of the Cold War traumatized the Greek people, driving its most productive citizens to seek refuge in America and elsewhere.
The difference this time is that the foreign powers want not in, but out. Yet they may find that getting out is not so easy. When the airports and ferries shut down and widespread arson and looting begins, how many foreign nationals will meet the same fate as the three Marfin bank employees immolated by anarchist petrol bombs?
After the bankers it will surely be the turn of corrupt politicians to bear the fury of the mob. “Thieves, thieves!” angry rioters love to chant, spoiling for a fight. Sneaking out the back door of Parliament may not be so easy next time. Firing on the crowd will only hasten a descent into armed insurrection.
Once the mob tastes blood and has martyrs to avenge, next to be targeted will surely be “The Rich”—at least those that haven’t been prudent enough to beat a timely escape, taking the last hopes of an economic recovery with them. With both capitalism and the rule of law on the run, how long will it be before the mob turns on itself, as the country sinks into chaos and privation?
One can only hope that this is all alarmism and that cooler heads will prevail. Maybe the Greek people will suffer their fate with quiet resignation, and vow to mend their ways. Perhaps when the realization dawns that living at someone else’s expense is no longer possible on a national scale, shame will replace anger, to then give way to a determination to rebuild the lost work ethic that Greek expatriates exhibit wherever they go. Certainly, Greece’s most magnificent asset – its sublime history – will remain, allowing what would become the most competitive tourist industry in Europe to form the foundation of recovery, if the Greek people allow it.
However, based on the feedback I got from Greek readers last time I addressed the debt crisis in these pages, I wouldn’t bet on it. The vitriol that poured across the ocean in hate-filled emails in response to “Give Greece What It Deserves: Communism!” stood in sharp contrast to the overwhelming support I got from fellow Greek-Americans who let me know that I hit the nail right on the head in describing our wayward cousins.
The moment of truth is approaching. Will Greece enter a period of reflection and rehabilitation after its inevitable default? Will it rein in its profligate and inefficient public sector, check its endemic political corruption, and free its shackled economy in a genuine effort to earn readmission to the community of nations? Or will an ugly and protracted conflagration mark the beginning of a violent unwinding of the European project, making Greece the first domino to fall in a slow motion continental calamity?
We will find out soon enough.