Thursday, July 16, 2015

Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts



It's an old adage going back to the legend of the Trojan Horse described by Virgil in the Aeneid.  In Latin it's Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes which translates into 'beware of Greeks, even those bearing gifts.'

I'm not sure if Angela Merkel has read much Virgil but maybe she should as she considers the Greek parliament's gift of capitulation they delivered up to her this week.

It was remarkable.  The Greeks accepted endless, brutal austerity and a state of perma-recession without end made all the more remarkable by the clear voice of the Greek people in the referendum less than a week earlier and the IMF's Pontius Pilate act of washing its hands of Merkel's insane demands just a day before.



Substitute souvlaki for schnitzel and you've got the makings of a 21st century Weimar Republic with all the hardship, social unrest, and instability that brought that most famous German leader of the 20th century to power.  And it's the sort of contagion that might not be contained within Greece either. When the Germans come marching it unsettles a lot of Europeans.

Merkel's ham-fisted demands, like most irrationalities, were fear-driven. Germany was afraid that if Greece's creditors were forced to take a "hair cut", grant debt relief to Athens, it would send a message to the rest of Europe's debtor nations -  foremost among them Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy. Something of such a seismic magnitude could wreck European unity. Better that the Greeks be destroyed. Anything else would send the others the wrong message.

The problem that Merkel has made for herself is how to keep Greece from becoming her Trojan Horse.  How will she stabilize it if its people are consigned into permanent indentured servitude? How will she keep the Greek people from being radicalized? Does she think European unity can withstand a repressive military takeover of the civil government in Athens? She has already set Greece into a death spiral. How does she think that's going to end? Even Germany's brightest minds are saying she's set Germany's reputation back a half century.

Jürgen Habermas, one of the intellectual figureheads of European integration, has launched a withering attack on the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, accusing her of “gambling away” the efforts of previous generations to rebuild the country’s postwar reputation with her hardline stance on Greece.

Speaking about the bailout deal for the first time since it was presented on Monday, the philosopher and sociologist said the German chancellor had effectively carried out “an act of punishment” against the leftwing government of Alexis Tsipras.

“I fear that the German government, including its social democratic faction, have gambled away in one night all the political capital that a better Germany had accumulated in half a century,” he told the Guardian. Previous German governments, he said, had displayed “greater political sensitivity and a post-national mentality”.

Habermas, widely considered one of the most influential contemporary European intellectuals, said that by threatening Greecewith an exit from the eurozone over the course of the negotiations, Germany had “unashamedly revealed itself as Europe’s chief disciplinarian and for the first time openly made a claim for German hegemony in Europe.”

The outcome of the negotiations between Greece and the other eurozone member states, he said, did “not make sense in economic terms because of the toxic mixture of necessary structural reforms of state and economy with further neoliberal impositions that will completely discourage an exhausted Greek population and kill any impetus to growth.”

Habermas added: “Forcing the Greek government to agree to an economically questionable, predominantly symbolic privatisation fund cannot be understood as anything other an act of punishment against a leftwing government.”


Which again makes me wonder what Tsipras was thinking when he persuaded the Greek legislators to throw in the towel. Was this his Trojan Horse? Has he calculated that Germany will find itself with far more to lose than Greece? Is this just a means of bringing the illogic of these insane demands to a head? Is the Greek government essentially staging a pan-European "sit in" and defying Merkel to take the next, and perhaps final, step?

No matter how you look at the situation, one thing is clear. This game is not over. It's only just begun.

But before bidding adieu to Jurgen Habermas, consider his further remarks not just in the context of a Europe in turmoil but in relation to Canada.

Recently, the 86-year-old has aggressively criticised Merkel’s leadership in Europe in books such as The Lure of Technocracy, while also coming under criticism himself. In 2013, Habermas clashed in a series of articles with another influential German leftwing intellectual, sociologist Wolfgang Streeck, who has identified the kind of European federalism espoused by Habermas as the root of the continent’s crisis.

Habermas told the Guardian that he agreed with many of his critics’ main points. “Streeck and I also share the view that this technocratic hollowing out of democracy is the result of a neoliberal pattern of market-deregulation policies,” he said. “The balance between politics and the market has got out of sync, at the cost of the welfare state.

“Where we differ is in terms of the consequences to be drawn from this predicament. I do not see how a return to nation states that have to be run like big corporations in a global market can counter the tendency towards de-democratisation and growing social inequality – something that we also see in Great Britain, by the way."


As I've followed the ups and downs of Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and even the now relatively dormant Forconi movement in Italy it was obvious that these were reactions to the devastating social impacts of neoliberalism, market fundamentalism and the substitution of corporatism for democracy - something that is also setting in here at home in Canada.  The Left has been abandoned, vacated, and with it Canada's political spectrum has narrowed and stands enfeebled, capable of squeezing into the democracy-suffocating confines of the age of neoliberalism.  The New Dem faithful will angrily deny it but that's because they're not looking hard enough.

26 comments:

Owen Gray said...

It's looking more and more like Chris Hedges is right, Mound. The only question is how violent the rebellion will be.

The Mound of Sound said...

We seem to be heading that way, don't we Owen? What's the alternative, accepting some sort of neofeudalism?

Toby said...

One wonders if future societies will be like city states surrounded by massive shopping malls.

The Mound of Sound said...

Well, Toby, if Toronto has its way they certainly will. I just happened to read something today about Tijuana/San Diego that cited a study predicting that, in decades to come, cities will simply merge like two blobs of mercury coming together. They'll form one economic entity to which borders become all but irrelevant.

Gyor said...

What policies do you base this on?

The Mound of Sound said...

What policies do I base what on, Gyor? Mulcair admits the party has moved to become centrist, a Latter Day Liberal movement. Do you think he's a liar? His muddled tax policies would be unrecognizable to New Democrats a decade ago. Where has he defended labour and collective bargaining against the anti-labour excesses we've endured so relentlessly from Harper. You won't hear Mulcair say that we have to leave the filthiest, highest-carbon fossil fuels, clearly including bitumen, in the ground, will you?

I know what a liberal is, Gyor. I supported the LPC for the better part of 40-years until they abandoned the political centre to move Right. Bad as that has been, even worse has been your outfit's abandonment of the Left to shift to the centre. You've become precisely what you so loudly (and hypocritically) denounced well before I even entered the realm of Canadian politics.

You think that because you're lurking slightly to the left of Justin's gang that you can still claim your old turf. You can't. You left it to pursue a new place with better political opportunities that, even if it wasn't of your own making, nevertheless is where neoliberalism, market fundamentalism and corporatism thrives.

I'm not interesting in any more of your drivel, Gyor. Man up and accept what your cherished party has become. Maybe out of those ashes somebody will be able to find the makings for a new Left party, one that can redeem the lapsed moral highground that once belonged to the NDP. Canada has never needed that more than today.

Anonymous said...

Up for grabs in the privatizations in Greece are 17 regional airports. A German firm is considering buying them What a coincidence!

Kirby Evans said...

Thanks for this. I spent years studying Habermas and find him interesting for many reasons, though almost naive in his optimism of what modern society is and can do. He is right here, I think, and Germany may have inadvertently ushered in a genuine breakdown of many European nations into a new phase of nationalism and anti-German sentiment. If it turns out to be true, Merkel will win the century's prize of political irony as well as a shameful legacy.

The Mound of Sound said...

That sounds eerily reminiscent of how American oil companies lined up for first dibs on Saddam's oil fields. Cheney and Rumsfeld had it all mapped out before the first Humvee rolled into Iraq.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Kirby. I've wondered how fitfully Merkel's been sleeping these past weeks. I can't believe that she's oblivious to the clumsiness of her actions.

Pamela Mac Neil said...

Don't you think Mound that Elizabeth May could create the Green Party as the new left?

The Mound of Sound said...

I think the Greens need to be all-inclusive, Pamela. Theirs is primarily an environmental agenda, generously laced with repairing our democratic deficit via restored press freedom, voting reform, upholding collective bargaining, and such. Unlike the mainstream parties their policy platform is available to all online. I don't think they intend to be Left but, in contrast to what's on offer from the mainstream parties, they may seem that way. Laxer, a recognized voice of the Left, finds the Greens far more progressive than the Mulcair NDP on domestic policy. He didn't even get into their even-handed foreign policy and, of course, on the environment they leave Mulcair in the ditch.

Anonymous said...

The treaty that established the eurozone clearly spells out that eurozone countries are not responsible for the debts of other eurozone countries. It would be incorrect to suggest (not that you are) that such a fiscal union was ever envisioned to be the purpose of the eurozone as created. Therefore, debt relief is not an option unless Greece leaves the eurozone or the purpose of the eurozone is redefined. The worst thing politicians do is redefine existing rules based on current crisis. The eurozone doesn't even have the institutions to support its monetary union, let alone the fiscal union that is defacto being proposed. Despite the vilification of Germany on this matter, they are right. Perhaps such a fiscal union should be a medium/long term goal of the European Union/eurozone. However, do it properly if it is to be done. Until then, if Greece wants debt relief it needs to exit the eurozone. However, the Greeks have decided it is in their best interests to forgo debt relief and stay within the eurozone. That's their choice, even though many Germans believe it is the wrong choice.

The Mound of Sound said...

It was obviously a very flawed, incompletely thought out treaty. Critics, vastly more knowledgeable than me, are wading in to show how useless this treaty is in real life conditions.

It was buggered up at the outset. Does that mean you demand it be upheld when all its flaws come crashing down?

Anonymous said...

There's an argument to be made that where there are flaws you find ways around them. But changing the eurozone into a fiscal union that can bail out Greece is more than fixing a flaw - it's changing the very intent of the union, and doing so without any of the institutions, policies and procedures to make it work.

Dana said...

If it's inappropriate for the Eurozone to bail out Greece how can it be appropriate for the Eurozone to force Greece to dismantle or sell off it's public institutions?

The Eurozone can take away but not give?

Anonymous said...

The Greek government is in desperate need of structural reforms. They don't have to do them if they don't want to but if they want money from the EU they're going to need to make these reforms.

Anonymous said...

*The Greek economy is in desperate need of ...

Dana said...

And those structural reforms are to be dictated by persons other than Greeks.

If there is only one Anonymous operating here that Anonymous needs to decide which hymn book she/he's singing from.

The Mound of Sound said...

I haven't heard anyone make the case that Greece needs "structural" reform. It certainly needs to reform some of the government's policies and practices but that's a far cry from something structural to the way in which the country is governed or how the state interacts with its people. Since Syriza came to power at the end of January it has always supported policy reforms, some of which Germany has vetoed out of self-interest including the proposal to rescind orders for German submarines that Greece really can't afford.

Anonymous said...

You seem to have missed my comment that they need structural reforms to their economy. Desperately. And there's hardly anyone outside of Greece who doesn't recognize this. This government though is loathed to do it.

The Mound of Sound said...

What do you know of the reforms Syriza accepted in its latest proposal, Anon? Are your criticisms current or based on some understanding of what happened in the past?

Anonymous said...

Nothing you wrote changes the obvious fact that this government is loathed to make the structural changes to the economy that are required, even if they reluctantly (understatement) accepted to do them.

The Mound of Sound said...

I'm at a loss to understand your concept of 'structurally changing' an economy. In the context in which you keep insisting on using it, it's hopelessly vague to the point of being almost meaningless. It sounds more like something you've read in a newspaper and like to repeat.

Anonymous said...

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Structural_change

The Mound of Sound said...

"It sounds more like something you've read in a newspaper and like to repeat" or some Wiki entry you pulled out of your ass after having to Google "structural change." Don't keep embarrassing yourself and wasting my time. This is not a discussion worth having, not with you.