Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Speech the Greek PM Should Have Given

My fellow Greeks,

We have reached the moment of truth. The choice before us is between passing a medium-term strategy to try and avoid default or declare bankruptcy right away. But our decision transcends a commitment to be honorable and repay that which we owe. Our choice is about what kind of society we will become, what kind of country we will bestow to our children. Crippling debt is a symptom of our sick political system. It is a political system that my father helped to create and that those who came after him perpetuated. It was the politically convenient thing to do.

But it was a political system that was as unjust as it was unsustainable. Our crisis was made in Greece, and we lost our moral compass along the way: few businesses can settle their taxes without a bribe. Politicians live better than entrepreneurs. Professionals evade taxes and enjoy restrictions to protect their inflated fees. Public sector employees shirk work and yet get lifelong tenure; they also earn more than private sector workers. Unions think saving a job is like saving a life. Justice is slow and erratic. Dealing with doctors and hospitals can be as frustrating as illness itself. At university, party membership can land you better grades than studying hard. Meritocracy is an abstraction.

Is this the country we want to live in? We can easily go to Europe and say, no thanks, keep your money, we will restructure our debt. But saying so means that we looked at ourselves in the mirror, stared at what we could become and said "no, that's too hard." No doubt it would be better to change our country under better circumstances. But that is not our choice. Let us be frank: with no crisis there will be no change. Our past habits will not go away.

Our medium-term strategy is a fiscal plan, but it is tied to that broader vision. It is a vision that lands the initiative back to you, the Greek people, by tapping into your ingenuity, your creativity and your courage. It is a vision that says, you do good work, and we will not stand in the way. To do so we plan to shrink the state. We have tried to do too much and ended up doing very little. What we need to do - provide safety, administer justice, collect taxes - we have neglected.

I ask parliament to support this plan and I ask you to applaud those who do. Promises are cheap. Our lives will be hard and this plan will not make them better overnight. No easy choices left. These will be trying times. They will test our sense of justice: our effort to fix our finances will make us tolerate things we should not and overlook past injustices that need reckoning. Unemployment will test our compassion, especially towards those who were not born here. Our frustrations will push us to the limit and that limit will often turn violent. We will make mistakes, say things that are foolish and do things we will regret.

But we will bounce back. And we will be stronger for having done so. Our political system, our institutions and our sense of justice are at stake. Our promise and our vision is a Greece that looks nothing like the past. I ask you, my fellow Greeks, to join me in that journey.


  1. Very well written, so sad few people understand the dynamics of the situation, the sickness of the Greek political system, and before much could be done, things had to end up this badly. Thanks for the blog, please keep up the good work

  2. Who writes this stuff? It should read, "we will pay back only what we owe, and not a cent of interest!" Only then can Greece dig itself out.


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