- LATIN AMERICA
- MIDDLE EAST
- United Kingdom
- United States
- New Zealand
- South Africa
By Arianna Huffington
Given that the Greeks invented democracy, it's only fitting that they're now being given the chance to reinvent it. And yes, I know we Greeks have a reputation for mythmaking and drama -- but, as I found out during my trip to Greece last week, those really are the stakes.
Can a truly democratic movement break the stranglehold of corrupt elites and powerful anti-democratic institutional forces that have come to characterize not just the politics of Greece, but most Western democracies, including our own?
It's way too early to tell whether the forces of democracy will prevail, but I came away extraordinarily moved and heartened by the courage, passion, engagement and dedication I witnessed during a trip in which three different perspectives converged.
First and foremost, there was The Square.
In Athens, the place of the moment attracting thousands of people a day is Syntagma Square, situated directly across from the Greek parliament.
The movement has become a permanent encampment in Syntagma, with a growing number of people taking up residence in the square, vowing not to leave until their demands are met. Of course, the young are well-represented there -- no surprise when unemployment among Greek youth runs as high as 40 percent -- but I was struck by the wide range of participants. Young, old, activists, pensioners, unemployed, self-employed. As you'd expect, various political parties and organized groups are trying to co-opt the square. Indeed, on Tuesday, a demonstration of 20,000 protesters that started peacefully disintegrated when a group of mostly young people began hurling stones at the police.
Everywhere I went, I was stunned by the level of engagement -- it's not just those physically at the square who are all in. The sense I came away with was that they're all all in. Waiters, taxi drivers, storekeepers, salespeople, they're all talking about the same thing.
So, yes, there's a lot of anger and resentment in the square -- most of it very justified -- but there's also an incredible amount of hope, and, considering how hard things are for millions of people in Greece, an incredible lack of cynicism. "What I like about this square is that people discuss things, they express themselves without fear," said 18-year-old student Stavroula Koloverou. "We want the system to change and we want all traditional politicians out. We want young people suffering in this system who still have dreams to take over."
The second perspective I got on my trip came during dinner with the Greek prime minister, George Papandreou.
Assuming office in the middle of the crisis, in 2009, Papandreou's tenure has been a precarious balancing act of trying to satisfy the draconian demands of the EU while dealing with the increasing unrest and economic misery of his people. The week before I met him, he'd just narrowly survived a vote of no confidence.
And though many of the demonstrators camped out at Syntagma are clearly directing their frustrations toward his office, the prime minister spoke about them with understanding and a clear awareness not only of their power and authenticity, but also their potential.
"What they say is correct, we have to change," he told me. "Corruption is everywhere -- and even when we change our laws you cannot eradicate corruption overnight."
But the big problem is that, as he told me, "Greece needs a new narrative." Whether he can provide that narrative is unclear, but this is clearly a man who chafes at the portrayal of his people that dominates the European media. "There is so much good being done, so much creativity and innovation, that are not getting any attention," he said, "while everyone is focusing just on what's dysfunctional."
But now people are rushing, quite literally, to re-engage in civic life. They want to start fresh and awaken the public good. And my daily interactions with Greeks during my visit were a reminder of the incredible talents and abilities and resources that are being wasted.
Nevertheless, the media's focus is on the shrunken and pinched debate about austerity. Instead of a debate about how to tap into the human and natural resources Greece teems with, all we hear is about how deeply services should be cut. But this isn't just a policy debate -- it's a debate about what the big outlines of what we call democracy are going to be for the next century.
Which brings me to the third perspective of my trip -- inspired by the
It was clear he wasn't talking just about the athletes. Sharing in the triumph of the human spirit overcoming adversity is indeed healing. And what's going on in Greece right now, to paraphrase the Patriarch, is an extraordinary invitation to re-engage.
As Tim Shriver, who heads the
I hope with all my heart that Greece will, too. And not just because that's where I was born and raised, but because the Greeks' struggle -- the struggle to reclaim democracy -- is our struggle, too.
Available at Amazon.com:
Copyright ©, Arianna Huffington. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.
World - Postcard From Greece: This Should Not Be About Austerity, It's About The Future Of Democracy | Global Viewpoint