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.