Behold Greeks giving thanks

Instead of reviling Germany’s leader for imposed austerity during a visit, Greece showed some gratitude. That has helped bilateral ties become based on trust and partnership.

Reuters
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Athens Jan. 10.

In case you have yet to send thank-you notes for holiday gifts, perhaps this rare story of public gratitude might give you a nudge. In Greece this week, government leaders gave a big thank-you to a visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel for helping the country become free of massive bailouts and get itself back on its fiscal feet.

Just five years ago, Alexis Tsipras, the current prime minister, told Ms. Merkel during a visit to “go back” because of the financial austerity and strict reforms imposed on a Greece long used to entitlements, tax evasion, and lying about official debt.

The gratitude was more than warranted.

The size of emergency loans from foreign creditors ($331 billion) from 2010 to 2018 – especially from German taxpayers – was the largest ever to a country on the brink of bankruptcy. And Germany certainly had an interest in rescuing Greece. Collapse of the economy or a default on debt might have destroyed the euro, the single currency for much of Europe.

Yet the gratitude expressed by both Mr. Tsipras and Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos was more than a “debt of gratitude” or an acknowledgment of mutual dependency. Both sides spoke as if a virtuous cycle of friendship and partnership had replaced past resentments and fear.

Gratitude for good can have that power. It can replace an instinct for willpower to solve a problem. It allows for patience and an openness to further good.

“The difficulties now lie behind us,” said Tsipras, who had once opposed budget belt-tightening. “Greece is a different country that can regard the future with greater optimism.”

For her part, Merkel appreciated the new trust and frankness that helped the countries find solutions. She also paid tribute, with some empathy, to the continuing sacrifices of Greeks. “I know people went through great difficulty and had to undergo very hard and harsh reforms.”

The Greek economy still has a long way to go to maintain its steady but small growth. About a third of the population lives near poverty. But Merkel’s visit marks another step in the thinking of Greeks as they emerge from crisis. Being thankful is a critical threshold.

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