For the first time since 323 BC, Greece finds herself at the centre of European politics. That was the year Alexander of Macedon died, leaving behind him a legacy of conquest and reasonably benevolent rule. Neither is in store for the country today.
Admittedly Greece had some news value in 1821-1832 when she fought for her independence from the Ottoman Turks. But even though that cause attracted all sorts of Romantic layabouts, such as Byron, the war wasn’t seen as one on which the future of Europe hinged.
Suddenly, yet another round of elections has turned the country into the earth-moving fulcrum that Archimedes craved so forlornly. For if you believe the press, the elections are supposed to have saved Europe from an otherwise inevitable demise. The earth has been moved.
It’s not that anyone thinks that some unknown tectonic fault was about to break the continent off from Asia, casting it adrift into the ocean where it would then do an Atlantis. You see, Europe is no longer a continent. It’s shorthand.
The name has always had metaphorical uses. At various times in the past it stood for Christendom, with its civilisation and culture reflecting the metaphysical foundations on which it rested. Now it means the European Union or, more narrow still, its defunct single currency.
Anyone staggered by the craven, anti-historical, ideological idiocy that begat that abortion of an experiment is immediately accused of hating ‘Europe’. Never mind that the accused may be a cultured, well-travelled, multi-lingual person, while the accuser may not know the difference between Emily Dickinson and Emile Durkheim, or even between Sweden and Switzerland. The accused is a Europhobe, the accuser a Europhile. He’s the one rejoicing in the triumph of the New Democracy (ND) party that, according to him, has won a ringing mandate from the Greek electorate to ‘stay in Europe’ and keep the euro. The continent has been saved. It’ll remain firmly attached to Asia.
When ideology runs riot, reason is never in the race. Thus our Europhile has no qualms about regarding as a mandate ND’s 29.6 percent of the vote, well short of the absolute majority. Even if this ‘centre-right’ party, which is directly responsible for having run up the criminal deficit in the first place, were to form a coalition with the socialists, which at the time of writing isn’t exactly a foregone conclusion, it would then have only about 160 out of the 300 parliamentary seats on offer.
It’s good to see though that the country is reviving the tradition of highly limited democracy for which it, or more specifically Athens, is so justly famous. Only about 30,000 or so fully enfranchised citizens (out of Attica’s population of about a quarter of a million) could vote in Athens on either side of Alexander, with 5,000-6,000 constituting the quorum.
Or perhaps the tradition animating today’s Greeks is of more recent provenance: after all, Tony Blair’s party chose to regard the 35.2 percent of the popular vote it won in 2005 as a mandate to wreak constitutional mayhem. Tocqueville needn’t have worried about the dictatorship of a majority. A minority dictatorship is the order of the day, all perfectly democratic of course.
But do let’s accept the Greek elections as they are portrayed in the press: the pivot of European politics. What did the Greeks actually vote for and against?
Well, if you really must know, they voted for austerity as a precondition for receiving another €160 billion handout, on top of the €240 billion they’ve received already. At least that’s today’s line we’re expected to swallow. But it’ll take a lot of ouzo to help it go down.
If the Greeks read European papers attentively, they know that ‘austerity’, just as ‘Europe’, isn’t used in its true meaning. What it means nowadays is that the government undertakes to slow down its orgy of public spending designed to corrupt the populace into voting the right way. Not to reverse it, God forbid. We’re talking, to use Britain as one example, about a small reduction in the rate of increase – not about an overall reduction in the amounts spent.
Yet even in Britain one nevertheless hears the growling, rumbling noise among the people used to getting something for nothing, which is to say the majority. In time the noise will be turned into a rallying cry by the Milibandits, the folk who are already talking about creating a pan-European anti-austerity alliance of all true-red socialists.
Now if you think, correctly, that the British have been corrupted too much to accept any meaningful austerity, then multiply our corruption by 100 and you’ll know where the Greeks stand in relation to fiscal rigour.
Of course they want to get their €160 billion, wouldn’t you? But only the naïve think for a second that whoever ends up forming a coalition will abide by the preconditions Angela has imposed. And she knows it, bright girl that she is.
The Greeks will pretend to have found the fiscal God, and Angela will pretend to believe them. She needs the euro as the tether that binds the EU together, suffocating every urge for political and economic independence from Germany. So she and her likeminded eurosupremacists will hail the Greek election as the saviour of the euro.
The euro can’t be saved, Angie. Whether the Greeks stay in or out for the moment doesn’t matter one drachma. Everyone will be out before long, and all talk about contagion is so much tosh. The euro is doomed not because of any potential infection being passed on from one country to another, but because it’s genetically unsound. Every member of it has structural problems for which there are no solutions.
People can be fooled for days, perhaps weeks. But the markets can only be fooled for hours, nay minutes. Witness the original modest rally after ND swept all before it, only followed by a massive dip when Spain delivered the next batch of rotten news. The markets know that this giant Ponzi scheme will go the way of all such undertakings sooner, rather than later. Except that this time no Bernie Madoff will conveniently be there to take the rap.
Rather than seeking scapegoats, we should slaughter the sacred cow of ‘Europe’. Let the word revert to its original meanings rooted in geography and culture. It’s been abused enough.