Greece Appeals to Neighbors to Give It A Chance

The World

Give Greece a Chance (Photo: Give Greece a Chance/Facebook)

Eurozone finance ministers have agreed, in principal, to go ahead with a second bailout for troubled Greece. If implemented, the bailout is worth around 170 billion dollars. But there's already talk that even with that money, Greece still might have trouble staying afloat financially in the months ahead. There's been a lot of mud slung at the Greeks lately around Europe. Some say the Greeks simply cannot get their house in order. But now, some Greeks are fighting back, trying to "rebrand" the country. The last two years have not been kind to the Greece, or its image abroad. If you think "Greece" these days, you probably conjure up an image of protesters and police clashing in front of the Greek parliament building on Syntagma Square. The Greeks have swallowed harsh austerity measures. They have seen their wages and pensions slashed, or their jobs axed altogether. And still, the Greeks lament, headlines across Europe routinely describe them as "lazy" and "feckless." Many of their neighbors, who are also creditors, continue to question the Greeks' ability to turn their own economy around. But some here are trying to get Europeans to sing a different tune about Greece. One such effort was a recent campaign called "Give Greece a Chance." It was launched by a group of Greek businessmen, who took out full page ads in major European newspapers. The ads read: "We are hardworking, taxpaying citizens unfairly labeled with stereotypes so easily handed out to Greeks today." The ads asked Europeans to give Greeks "continued support and the breathing space to get out of this vicious cycle." "What we are facing right now is, from my perspective, not unique," says Stratos Safioleas, who wasn't involved in the Give Greece a Chance campaign. Instead, Safioleas is involved in another effort to counter the negative stories pouring out of Greece right now. It's called Good News GR. The GR is short for Greece. Safioleas remembers back to when he was in charge of international media relations for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. "Back then, there was a uniform opinion from the international media that the Olympic Games, which are no small task, would be a disaster. I remember the exact quote: 'The Greeks can't even host a tea party, let alone the Olympic Games.'" Greece, Safioleas says, proved the doubters wrong by staging what many thought was a very successful Olympics. Now, in the case of Good News GR, he wants to highlight current stories of Greek success, not failure. "Our ambition," says Safioleas, "is to once again to be able to turn the tables around and prove to the world that we are competent, and our place in Europe is something we deserve, and not as a favor." But the trouble is that "good news" is hard to find these days in Greece, any optimism about the future is tempered by harsh realities. "I'm not confident, but I think we have a fighting chance," is how economist and venture capitalist Aristos Doxiadis puts it. "The longer term message cannot just be Give Greece a Chance. It has to be that Greece has positives, and that people should come and work with us. But you need to have the positives on the ground before you start marketing them." "I think it's a bit early to start selling Greece aggressively to investors," he says. And maybe that's why some efforts in Greece are starting smaller. "Hire a Greek," for example, is a website that tries to match Greek businessmen abroad with talent back in Greece for jobs that can be done long-distance. Another effort, called Repower Greece, invites Greeks to take a look at their own attitudes about themselves. In a web video produced by the group, a Euro call rolls by as a caption reads: "Why repay our debts?" "It's not my job to fight tax evasion," reads another. "My political connections will get me a government job," says a third. The video then offers viewers a "Reset" button. Brady Kiesling, a former US diplomat who has lived in Greece for more than a decade says that with reforms, Greece is a terrific place to be. "And people should remember that," says Kiesling. "Greece has so much history. There are charming people, and a bright, interesting and lively society that knows how to enjoy itself, but also knows how to work. "If that work is put in a useful direction," Kiesling contends, "Greece will be fine." That's a big "if." The Give Greece a Chance ad promised Europeans that "Greeks will deliver on our commitment. We have already made sacrifices. We are ready to do more. We are betting our future on this." But nobody here thinks that bringing the reality in line with that kind of rhetoric will be as easy as pushing a "Reset" button.