Friday, February 6, 2015
Greece Jumps from Scylla to Charybdis
February 6, 2015
Every Greek child reads Homer in school. So Greek children are familiar with the legend of Scylla and Charybdis, from Homer’s Odyssey. The sailor Odysseus, returning home after the Trojan War, is faced with a desperate choice in the straits separating Italy and Sicily. To one side is the monster Scylla, who will tear his ship and eat his crew. On the other is the whirlpool Charybdis, which will suck his entire ship down to the depths. He chooses to sail past Scylla, and loses only a few of his crew. Greece, in its recent parliamentary election, faced a similar choice. But unlike Odysseus, Greek voters chose Charybdis.
The whirlpool was represented by Syriza, a radical leftist party that sprang out of nowhere to fill the void created by the collapse of PASOK, the long-established Greek Socialist party. It was the last PASOK government, headed by George Papandreou (from a family that produced three Socialist prime ministers), that steered Greece into these straits in the first place.
Papandreou was presented with the boon of cheap money following Greece’s entry into the eurozone in January of 2001. At the time, the European Central Bank (ECB) pursued policies aimed at shoring up Germany’s then-flagging economy by borrowing heavily to finance public spending. The result was the debt crisis that began in 2010.