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A Greek tragedy

Jul 14,2015 - Last updated at Jul 14,2015

The Greeks invented “tragedies” more than two and a half millennia ago. The origin of the word “tragedy” is contested, but there is agreement that it came from two words: “goat” and “song”. That is when the choirs sang and the celebration ended with a goat offered as sacrifice. 

The tragic songs or poems performed gave people the contradictory feelings of deep sadness and satisfaction and national pride. Thus, tragedy united ancient Greeks. It made them both sad and patriotic. Plays by Euripides, Sophocles and others still resonate with modern day audiences.

Last week, the Greeks voted with a surprising 61 per cent majority to refuse the reform package that Greece’s main creditors wanted the Alexis Tsipras government to commit to.

The vote reminds us of Plato’s definition of tragedy. It is refers to man’s earnest quest to avoid his destiny knowing that the end result cannot be changed. 

Saddened by their situation, united by their tragedy and aware of its inevitability, the Greeks last week proved that they were of the same blood line as their ancestors. 

Whether they remain in the eurozone or not, eventually leave the European Union altogether or stay, the Greeks will have to practise the austerity they insist on refusing for now. If they leave the EU altogether, the austerity will probably be more palatable. However, the debts they owe to others will have to be serviced. 

The Greeks may not like the analogy. But in the years 1978-1980, their un-neighbourly neighbour Turkey faced a similar but not identical situation.

In economic terms Turkey had 40 per cent unemployment, a fastly depreciating lira, hyperinflation and no credit worthiness whatsoever. Greece seems a little better off and its creditors have compassion for its people.

Turkey turned its misfortunes of unemployment, cheap labour, high inflation and lack of credit to build at low cost its production base. Thanks to the imagination and fortitude of a man called Turgot Uzal and to the Turks’ faith in him, he managed to make the Turkey of today.

Greece needs a new approach to its deep-rooted problems. They may be less dramatic and stand up to turn their misfortune into a productive new course. 

This is not the battle of Thermopylae. Tsipras is not King Leonidas, and Angela Merkel is not Queen XerXes. The 300 Greeks are not fighting 300,000 Persians. The situation in Greece is not necessarily a written and unavoidable tragedy. 

 

The writer, a former Royal Court chief and deputy prime minister, is a member of Senate. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.  

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