In my halcyon days of misspent youth, I always associated Greece with its mythical stories of gods, heroes, and monsters. For me, the Twelve Labours of Hercules was the original action movie: a man driven insane goes to hell and back for redemption and immortality (and a quench-thirsting cup of ambrosia – after defeating the nine-headed Hydra and taming Cerberus, who wouldn’t be parched?). As I got older, I learnt that Greece also gave birth to the philosophical fathers of western thought, was key in the development of drama, comedy and the fundamentals of mathematical law, and finally home to a chap so eager to share his discovery about water displacement with the world that he ran through Syracuse shouting “Eureka!” with no clothes on. Yes, the only Greece which existed for me was the cultural powerhouse which conjured up images of men arguing up to the limits of reason and logic, their spirits imbued against the backdrop of such a culturally rich tapestry. These days however, only one thing springs to the mind when Greece is mentioned: the Euro Crisis. Close to teetering on the brink of economic collapse and threatening to drag the rest of Europe down with it, one forgets how much Greece has contributed to Western Civilisation.
It is ironic that one of the greatest gifts Greece has given to the world might be that which brings it to its knees: democracy. The backlash against the outgoing government’s austerity measures has resulted in an extreme right-wing party getting a stunning 7% of the vote in the most recent elections (Hitler’s Nazi party only received 6.5%) and a referendum on whether to default on their euro loan which is most likely to be supported by the majority of its disgruntled citizens.
So, what can be done to stop this turning into a real Greek Tragedy? How to save Greece’s economy, the European Financial markets, and finally remind people of the tremendous impact Greece had on medicine, philosophy, democracy, and waking up in the morning (in between philosophising, Plato also invented the alarm clock).
Several options have been floated:
1. Officially Default
2. Drop the Euro
3. Raise Taxes
4. Cut Spending
5. Liquidate Greece’s Assets (both commercial and cultural)
Each is not without its shortcomings however: the financial markets spiralling into chaos, Portugal, Spain and Italy leaving the Euro spelling the end for the Single Market Experiment, civil unrest, mass strikes, and (far-fetched but still on the cards apparently) the loss of Greece’s incredible historical culture pawned off to the highest bidder.
But there is another way, a way which avoids the pitfalls of riots and the bottoming out of the market. How? Go on holiday to Greece! Bear with me as I run the numbers. So far there have been two Greek bailouts totalling two hundred and forty billion euros. There are seven hundred million people in the European Union. The average spend of a holidaymaker in Greece is 856 euros. Making an allowance for those unable to travel due to reasons such as health or finances, if half of those seven hundred EU citizens (all whom will be affected one way or another if Greece runs out of steam and Germany has no more coal to keep it going) go on holiday to Greece, financial matters will surely improve without having to shoulder the burden of loan repayments, creating international discord in Europe, or allowing extremist right-wing groups to have an ounce of political clout. Three hundred billion euros would be generated to rescue the Cradle of Civilisation from its quagmire of debt, whilst assisting the creation of wealth and jobs without the need for a gargantuan amount of financial aid. Most importantly however, we would remind ourselves of Greece’s place as the cultural birthplace of the western world, and associate the country once again with Descartes and not debt, Euripides and not the Euro Crisis. Having wrapped yourself up in enough Grecian culture to last an odyssey, don’t forget to stop off for some Ouzo on the beaches of Santorini – after all as Hercules can attest to, saving the world is thirsty business.