Greeks invented serious competitive sports and serious democracy. The connection between athletes and religion was clear. Gymnasiums were centers of intellectual and physical activity. The Olympics in London this summer, however, were not kind to Greek athletes. No gold medals were awarded to Greek athletes and only two bronze. One Greek athlete was banned for posting a racist tweet.
Even the Olympic motto is Latin, rather than Greek: “Citius, Altius, Fortius,” or "Faster, Higher, Stronger" in English. Back in 1894, Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin took a suggestion from Dominican priest Henri Didon and proposed it as the Olympic motto. Three decades later at the Olympic games in Paris, the motto was finally adopted.
Back home in Greece these, things aren’t much better as the government seeks $14 billion in spending reductions. It’s a daunting proposition. Understandably, the Greek Chorus is a bit pitchy, as Randy Jackson would say. The Wall Street Journal reported back in May that “many analysts now say that the prospect of Greece leaving the euro area no longer poses the same risk that it did when the crisis began almost three years ago because most outside investors have either left altogether or been forced to bear losses on their Greek holdings.”
“From the start, the euro has rested on a gamble,” wrote Princeton University’s Andrew Moravcsik in the current Foreign Affairs: “When European leaders opted for monetary union in 1992, they wagered that Europeans economies would converge toward one another: the deficit-prone countries of southern Europe would adopt Germany would become a little more like them, by accepting more government and private spending and higher wage and price inflation.”
The gamble was risky. Germans have not been happy with Greece, noted the New York Times’ Nicholas Kulish and Liz Alderman. “Greece...is roundly criticized for lying about the true state of its finances again and again, before and after joining the euro zone, and its failure to take any of the numerous steps demanded by its creditors to modernize is economy and – a particularly sore point – its tax collections.”
For Greece in the wake of spring elections, the economic and political problems are deeper than the euro or its rocky relationship with Germany. The Economist’s Charlemagne’s columnist wrote in advance of the first round elections on May 6: “If the flighty French and the dour Dutch are both disenchanted with the EU, the malaise is profound indeed. The euro zone’s debt crisis is polarising the politics of austerity and economic pain. The sense of resentment has been building for years...In both countries it is the low-skilled and poorly educated – the supposed losers from globalisation – who are most openly in revolt. For them European integration is not the solution, but the problem.”
Fletcher School Professor Amar Bhidé has argued in the Wall Street Journal that euro was still useful: “The argument for fleeing the euro to devalue is misguided. Greece and the other peripheral economies lost little in giving up their national currencies. Nor did their membership make the euro zone too sprawling to succeed. If anything, its size and heterogeneity are a plus.”
Still, long before the euro there was once another currency that was common for much of European – and it too disappeared, albeit only after centuries. In his magisterial history of Europe, Norman Davies wrote of a period when Europe had a common currency: “The dirham or dirhem was a coin of pure silver weighting 2.907 grammes and worth one-tenth of a dinar. It was minted both in North Africa and in Central Asia under various dynasties. It was standard currency in eastern Europe in the era before local mints existed. Hoards of dirhams have been found all over European Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, the Baltic States, Sweden and northern Poland. The largest of them contained over 50,000 coins. Buried by their owners in times of insecurity, they sometimes remained uncollected until found by modern archaeologists and treasurer hunters.” The Arab dirham circulated in Europe for several centuries, dying out in the eleventh century.
A yes, a common currency worth its weight in silver, if not gold.