In the opening lines of his Levitt Center-sponsored talk David Wisner expressed the true nature of his chosen topic by pointing out how the title of his presentation, “The Crisis of the European Union and the future of Greece” could easily be flipped around and still capture the subject matter as “The Crisis of Greece and the future of the European Union.” During his lecture, Wisner would expand upon the international relationships present in the European economic crisis and paint a grim short-term picture for those involved, especially for Greece.
An American citizen by birth and a resident of Greece since the mid-1990’s, Wisner is a professor at the American College of Thessaloniki and is the director of the Dukakis Center for Public and Humanitarian Service. For the last few years, he has been on the front lines as Greece has slowly slipped into a depression brought about by the global recession and now, as Wisner puts it, he finds himself in a country only a few steps away from a complete economic default and subsequent state collapse. While the idea of failed state being part of the European Union may have seemed inconceivable a decade ago, Wisner argues we are approaching inevitability if nothing changes.
Greece’s situation, as summed up by Wisner, leaves no clear option for resolution. Greece could try and survive within the EU but Wisner sees this as nearly impossible as the high value of the Euro which will continue to punish a nation that is so deeply in debt. Anecdotally, Wisner talked about how getting an espresso in Greece now costs about $8 to $10, far more than what the average Greek can afford.
Instead, Greece could move to leave the European Union. However, this solution would likely result in what Wisner called an “exodus” of money and capital from the country in the vacuum of the Euro. The pre-EU currency, the drachma, would likely be reinstated, but to little or no value. Essentially, it’s as if Greece can neither stay within nor leave the EU and as such, it remains on the precipice of collapse.
As if the situation wasn’t complicated enough, Wisner also made it clear that Greece’s problems weren’t simply economic; they were also directly connected to politics. Speaking of the political institutions in Greece, Wisner talked about the disconnect between Greek citizens; how government has become a system to interact with for personal benefit as opposed to an institution that communities build up for the common good. Even more worrisome for Wisner is the rise of ideological factions in this unstable environment. In particular, the radical Neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn has found increased support among disenchanted, unemployed youth.
Not to be overly pessimistic, Wisner did speak of small instances of hope. Among his proudest accomplishments, what drives his career, is the opportunity to work with young students in Greece to build a new generation of leaders. Although groups like Golden Dawn have swelled their ranks, Wisner has also seen the emergence of groups focused on governmental reform and the establishment a stronger civic culture. Although the crisis is far from being over, Wisner still finds it tenable to remain in Greece and work toward resolution.