Thursday 3 November 2011

No Second No

It's the most famous negative in Greek history – Epeteios tou Ohi, literally the Anniversary of the 'No', Ohi Day, celebrated every year on 28 October. It marks the occasion in October, 1940 when General Metaxas, then prime minister, rejected an ultimatum from Mussolini to allow Italian troops on Greek soil or else. He replied, in laconic Spartan style, with that single word - No!

The Euro crisis, a Greek tragedy by any measure, is now in its final act, bodies strewn across the stage, the chorus wailing in the background. Of the prologue I said over a year ago on another news blog that there was a wonderful, almost divine irony in the fact that Greece, of all places, turned out to be the Achilles' Heel of the European Union, the weak spot that may in the end lead to the death of the whole mad project of a one-size-fits-all currency.

And so it has proved. For weeks now one crisis summit of European leaders has followed hard upon another, the intervals between them getting shorter and shorter, the smiles at the end, as yet another 'solution' is announced, ever more artificial and forced. The political implication of the latest bail-out deal is something else I anticipated as long ago as February of last year:

What the Greek situation exposes is the absurdity of the whole Euro project. This was a crisis waiting to happen: a small, relatively poor country building an economy on unsupportable levels of debt but unable to manage that same economy because it is unable to mange the national currency. You see, a single currency could only ever be built successfully on a unified polity, where a central authority is able to manage just about all of those areas that fall under the prerogative of a sovereign state; where a central authority is able to advance some areas while neglecting others. The Greek crisis is set to expose not only the underlying political weakness of Europe of the Euro; it's also set to expose the limits of national freedom itself. A new bastard Union is likely to arise, increasingly authoritarian in tone; not just undemocratic but anti-democratic.

Yes, a new bastard, less perfect Union, fleshed out on Greek bones, predicated on the death of democracy, predicated on the demise of the nation itself; that's what's on offer; that's the final solution.

All this looked as if it was going to change, as if some resistance was about to be offered, as if Greece discovered something of its old spirit of defiance. In a remarkable development George Papandreou, the present Greek Prime Minister, looked as if he was set to take on the role of a greater Metaxas, offering his own people a say on the devil's bargain that he signed up to last week.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, panicked; in the chanceries and presidential palaces of Europe there was panic over this dire threat of democracy by democracy. Abide by the rules of the Brussels deal, pocket Napoleon shouted, or leave the eurozone, an ultimatum echoed by Angela Merkel, Germany's Brass Chancellor. She had her own unique spin here, saying that Europe's leaders would "not abandon the principles of democracy. We cannot put at stake the great work of the unification of the euro."

Hmm, is this 'great work' anything like that of her Iron predecessor, which saw the emergence of the German Empire in the nineteenth century? Then it was said that the smaller states forced into Bismarck's 'great work' were like the fleas uniting with a dog. Is Greece a flea to be united with the Franco-German dog?

It would seem so, because, under intense pressure, not stopping short of financial blackmail, Papandreou has backed down. It looks as if his government will be ousted in a confidence vote to be held tomorrow in the Greek parliament. It no longer matters, now that the referendum has been abandoned. He is no Metaxas, just a bewildered and unhappy little man. There will be no opportunity for a second no day.

The Greeks are certainly at a crossroads in the long history of their nation. Perhaps in future they may have cause to reflect ruefully on a few lines of Byron;

The mountains look on Marathon---
And Marathon looks on the sea;
And musing there an hour alone,
I dream'd that Greece might yet be free


  1. I'm getting a kick out of seeing all these pompous prats publicly humiliated, one after another, all because of them threatens to contravene the rules of their silly little club. They are all so juvenile - far more outraged by the thought of slights to their self-importance than by the prospect of wide-scale economic disaster they have created. And all because they were stupid enough to do the equivalent of giving credit cards to unemployed teenagers.

    We have seen ego contests lead to conflict many times in European history. I believe the EU is doomed, and we are not far off seeing tantrums turn to tears turn to blood once again.

  2. Q: How do they separate the men from the boys in Greece?.... A: With a prybar!

  3. Ana, I've greatly enjoyed reading your Euripidean trilogy on the EU--"The Raft of the Medusa" in particular was brilliant, but I was also impressed by your analysis of the Greek farce as well . . . your economics are sound, along with everything else you do so well.

    Yesterday evening I was at an event which, besides me, included many of the Great and the Good here in Australia. I was thinking of your incisive, indignant critiques of current Western political and economic policies and thinking about the insular, passive worlds of so many of those whom I knew at that function. I wondered what they would do, if they somehow became aware of your posts, to actually begin to make constructive changes?

    I concluded, in the nicest possible way, that--without descending into revolutionary barbarism--that whole class of people around the world needs a good shake up--but one consistent with the deepest rules of democracy as developed within the British political tradition . . .

    So I thought I'd suggest one more possible addition to your Egyptian reading list (mentioned in your comment to the Akhmatova post), which otherwise sounds quite good. I assume you have heard of Gene Sharp, who is in some respects the intellectual father of the Arab Spring. If not, you may want to consider adding his treatise to your reading list, not just for your Egyptian trip but very appositely for when you return:

    You are probably also aware that for thousands of years Egypt has been considered the home of the world's most powerful magic: interestingly, those history-making prophets Moses, Alexander the Great, and Jesus all underwent crucial experiences in Egypt early in their world-changing careers.

    Just a hint . . . ;)

  4. Calvin, that's exactly how I see it. None of this is about economics or sound finance. It's all about politics of the stupidest, most arrogant kind, a kind of blind vision on a road to nowhere. The whole thing is set to run and run, one band-aid solution taped upon another.

  5. Anthony, don't go to Greece. :-))

  6. Chris, thank you. Re. my comment on the Mother of Darkness article, clearly I'd completely forgotten that I told you about my pending Egyptian adventure! Sharp has been added to my impossibly long reading list. :-)

  7. Darken your hair before you go to Egypt.

  8. Anthony, I have a hat that I wear in the sun. That's as much as I'm prepared to do!

  9. That is what the American woman reporter that was covering the revolt said.

  10. You are right, there are always risks, but I'm as careful as I can be.