Surely it is time for Greece’s most affluent citizens to step up, not out of self-interest, but in order to help the country through this critical time. As it starts to recover from bankruptcy, the country finds itself with scant resources and huge needs in key areas. Virtually all sectors – including defense, health, education and culture – have been seriously impacted by successive waves of budget cuts, a situation that has been aggravated by the failure of Greek politicians to implement bold measures.
These exigencies aside, Greece also needs some emblematic projects that would mark the turning of a new page. An ambitious project for the National Archaeological Museum would help transform Athens and signal the capital’s rebirth. Some of the country’s public hospitals could be turned into model facilities. Experimental schools (public institutions that implement innovative teaching practices in a bid to raise academic standards) ought to receive similar treatment so that excellence does not become the exclusive privilege of the elite.
The Greek state is not in a position to finance such projects. It would have to rely on a new generation of philanthropists willing to continue a long tradition set by individuals such as Andreas Syngros (1830-1899) and Evangelos Zappas (1800-1865). Most people today turn to one source, the single foundation that has really made the difference in recent years without succumbing to the bad habits of self-promotion and nepotism. It is a fact that the foundation in question saved the honor of the Greek elites. Shying away from political expediency, it has operated to the true benefit of society. It is not, of course, the only institution to have bequeathed a meaningful legacy on the country.
At the same time, a significant section of the country’s elite does little but complain and make demands, without giving anything meaningful back. During the debt crisis, some of these people even advertized the idea among foreign partners that Greece could be bought for peanuts or that it would be better off without the euro. The crisis is over but for these powerful people nothing has changed. In fact, they feel stronger in the wake of the SYRIZA experience and the growing indifference of partners and lenders.
I am not sure what, if anything, could shake them out of their stupor or inspire them to give something back to Greek society. They might perhaps be moved by the example of other benefactors who were pioneers, but also pirates, in their own time. However, these people managed to etch their name in the annals of history and earn the gratitude of the nation when they decided to leave behind major and necessary works. Emulators would be welcome.