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A Pain in the Athens

Why Greece Isn't to Blame for the Crisis

A Greek flag flies behind a statue depicting the European unity outside the European Parliament ahead of a eurozone leaders summit on Greece in Brussels, Belgium, July 6, 2015. Francois Lenoir / Reuters

When the anti-austerity party Syriza came to power in Greece in January 2015, Cornel Ban and I wrote in a Foreign Affairs article that, at some point, Europe was bound to face an Alexis Tsipras, the party’s leader and Greek prime minister, “because there’s only so long you can ask people to vote for impoverishment today based on promises of a better tomorrow that never arrives.” Despite attempts by the eurogroup, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund since February 2015 to harangue Greece into ever more austerity, the Greeks voted by an even bigger margin than they voted for Syriza to say “no” once more. So the score is now democracy 2, austerity 0. But now what? To answer that question, we need to be clear about what this crisis is and what it is not. Surprisingly, despite endless lazy moralizing commentary to the contrary, Greece has very little

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