Monday, July 20, 2015

So What Have We Learned From The Greek Thing -- So Far?

[NOTE: This post has been simmering for a number of days now, and it may be somewhat out of date. Oh well! ;-)]

The Greek Riot Dog, Loukanikos -- or rather his doppelganger -- was said to be spotted out and about the other day as the Greek Parliament prepared to debate the latest version of the capitulation to the Troika that was required in order to get financing to reopen their banks and get the economy moving in some direction other than full-speed reverse. There were a handful of clashes in the streets -- eagerly gobbled up by the media -- between riot police and "anti-establishment" protesters in Athens. Molotov cocktails were thrown, which is a sign of course that everything is going up in flames. Except no. The Greek Parliament had a pro-forma debate and passed the austerity measures demanded by the Troika in order "to open talks on a third bailout." The flames in Syntagma Square died out quickly enough. The Greeks went back to brooding; the rest of Europe went back to wondering WTF; the US went back to fretting over sharks and missing white women.

Typical summer news cycle. Nothing really happens in the summertime, you  know. It's all prep for what's coming After Labor Day. That's when things really get going again.

The Greek Spectacle has been fascinating to be sure, but from appearances, nothing has really happened at all... except, maybe... the cracks in the Euro-facade have become so wide, the Euro-Projekt may be facing disintegration sooner rather than later. The euro itself may become a currency curiosity. Greece will no doubt go through a period of increasing difficulty, but in the end, the Greeks may be able to show Europe a way out of its dilemma.

I keep thinking of what's been going on in Europe through the lens of how the United States of America was created. There are serious unresolved issues in Europe, much as there were in the nascent United States, and crises like those of the Ukraine and Greece are necessities if Europe is to become a united continent. Europe has not managed to unite though today there are celebrations of "unity" as one parliament after another agrees to go along with another unworkable and unsustainable Greek "bailout" measure. This fiction of unity is also a necessity on the path to real unity, and perhaps Greece will be able to show the rest of Europe a path out of its increasingly ridiculous -- and dangerous -- nonsense. Much the same way the Greek "bailout" is entirely fictional. There is no Greek bailout, never has been, at least not for the Greek people. There is instead a smoothing of the means of looting those people. Ah, but it's all for unity's sake, so it's all good. Right?

The USA was not actually united at the outset. It formed quite roughly as a collection of essentially independent states that originated as British North American colonies, and these colonies formed a less than perfect coalition at the outset of Independence in order to expel their British overlords. Once that was accomplished, the Confederation of essentially independent states (formerly colonies) had a period of difficulty as they floundered, unable to adopt or implement national policies -- because the initial version of the USA was not a nation. Not in the sense it needed to be. It was a coalition that barely functioned. We can argue at another time whether the notion of a nation was actually all that much of a good thing in the end, but the difficulties of governing the non-national confederation are mirrored in many ways by the difficulties Europe is experiencing as exposed by the Greek Thing and the many other economic, social, and political fractures and failures that have widened and worsened during the recent sturm und drang over so-called "bailouts" of the Periphery and Greece in particular.

It's not just the economic strain, though that is the leading indicator in Europe. It's ethnic, political, social, historic and geographical strain as well. Some of those factors may be more important in the underlying dynamic of what's going on than the economics of it all.

Perhaps the most united Europe ever was was during the period of the Roman Empire starting a couple of thousand years ago. More or less "primitive" tribal peoples (primarily Celts) in Western Europe were conquered and ruled by foreign -- mostly Italian -- overlords, under the banner of Imperial Rome. The subject peoples paid tribute and became civilized through their assimilation of Roman culture and technology, the spread of the Latin language and its use as a lingua franca, the imposition of pax romana and the relatively free flow of trade.

All of this led to a several hundred year period of relative peace and prosperity for the conquered yet relatively lightly ruled Celts of Gaul and the rest of the Western European empire. The problem -- the existential threat, in fact -- were the Franks (ie: French) and Allemani (ie: Germans) across the Rhine who were kept at bay by Roman and auxiliary Celtic troops until the empire withdrew and the savage horde descended on prostrate Europe, initiating the Dark Ages, yadda yadda -- at least as the tale has been handed down from the days of yore (Gibbon's "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" dates to 1776-89, roughly the period of the dis-unity of American Independence from Britain interestingly enough.)

I think we have a tendency to make too little of the ethnic divisions in Europe today. The population of Roman Gaul and western Europe was largely -- not exclusively -- ethically and culturally Celtic, which the Romans were quite familiar with having been invaded by Celts repeatedly over the centuries. Their languages and cultures were different, but not so different that either considered the other "un-human." The ones to be feared as "un-human" were the peoples across the Rhine, the Franks and Allemani along with other Germanics, ethnically and culturally dissimilar from either the Romans or the Celts, and constantly threatening to the peace and prosperity which had been established and maintained in western Europe under Roman rule.

As cruel as the Romans and Celts could be (and there is little doubt that both played a very cruel game with their own people) the Franks and Allemani were considered far crueler, far less inclined to mercy, far more rapacious, greedy, and destructive. The Romans and their Celtic allies built up cities -- many of which are still vibrant -- and trading outposts all over western Europe; the Franks and Allemani destroyed them, destroyed the networks of trade, killed the people, fought one another, and made misery for all their principal reason for being. At least that was the general fear of what would happen if they weren't kept at bay, and that was the reality much of western Europe experienced when the framework of Roman rule crumbled and the savage hordes swept over the Rhine and into the west.

The Empire shuddered and crumbled. Rome itself was taken and sacked by Germanic savages several times after 410 until ultimately Odoacer I deposed the last Latin Roman emperor Romulus Augustulus in 476... oh, the story has been told so many times, why repeat it here. After all, in due time, the Gothic usurper Theodoric had Odoacer deposed and -- they say -- personally cut him in half. How rude, but that's what was feared would happen if the Germanic hordes descended on the essentially Celtic west, and so it did.

As the empire shuddered and collapsed in the West, petty Germanic states were formed among the smoking ruins of formerly vital cities and towns, great estates that the Romans had established were seized and became the kernels of baronies and duchies and marches and counties. The native Celts were dispossessed, enslaved and/or killed in their multitudes. What few Romans there were were driven out or hacked to pieces.

Greece itself had become part of the Roman Empire long before the collapse. As part of Rome it had a special place, however. Greece paid tribute to Rome and a layer of Roman aristocrats nominally ruled, but in fact, the Greeks were relatively autonomous within the Empire. In the late empire, however, Greece was repeatedly invaded by Germanic savages, and Athens and Corinth as well a numerous Peloponnesian cities were looted by the Visigoths under Alaric. This was by no means the first taste Greeks had had of Germanic brutality and greed, but it was a shock to the system nonetheless.

Subsequently,  Greece became a province of the Eastern Roman Empire based in Constantinople and Greeks apparently prospered, at least until the 7th or 8th Century.

The Visigoths went off to what's now Spain and established kingdoms of a sort there and in North Africa.

While that didn't end the Germanic and Slavic threats to Greece, their destructive sojourns in the  Hellenic provinces tended to be brief so long as the Roman Empire persisted in Constantinople. Once the Roman Empire was extinguished by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, Ottoman rule replaced ostensibly Roman rule in Greece, and that rule continued until Greece obtained its independence 1828-1832 (with French, Russian, and British aid.)

"Greek Independence" is something of a fiction, however, as the newly freed (from the Turks) rump state had a relatively small population (far fewer than under Turkish rule). The Great Powers (France, Britain and Russia -- Germany didn't exist at the time) installed a Bavarian king whose Bavarian ministers taxed the locals more heavily than the Turks had, taxed them in order to pay off British and Rothschild bank loans. Sounds remarkably similar to the current situation.

Rather than go into the weeds any farther than I already have, I'd just point out that the newly "independent Greece" was from the first a vassal state of the Powers and their banks, impoverished and oppressed, its people exploited for the purpose of enriching a handful of domestic magnates and foreign interests.

As the situation is described in the Wikipedia:
Britain and the Rothschild bank, who were underwriting the Greek loans, insisted on financial stringency from Armansperg [the Bavarian finance minister installed as one of King Otto's regents during his minority]. The Greeks were soon more heavily taxed than under Turkish rule;[2] as the people saw it, they had exchanged a hated Ottoman tyranny, which they understood, for government by a foreign bureaucracy, the "Bavarocracy" (Βαυαροκρατία), which they despised. (Ottoman rule had been called in Greek Tourkokratia – Τουρκοκρατία, "Turkish rule").
In addition, the regency showed little respect for local customs. Also, as a Roman Catholic, Otto himself was viewed as a heretic by many pious Greeks, however, his heirs would have to be Orthodox according to the terms of the 1843 Constitution.[3]
Popular heroes and leaders of the Greek Revolution, like the Generals Theodoros Kolokotronis and Yiannis Makriyiannis, who opposed the Bavarian-dominated regency, were charged with treason, put in jail and sentenced to death. However, they were pardoned later, under popular pressure, while the Greek judges, who resisted the Bavarian pressure and refused to sign the death penalties (like Anastasios Polyzoidis and Georgios Tertsetis), were saluted as heroes.
And so on and so forth, as Slavoj Zizek would say.

Greece was effectively in revolt against these harsh impositions from the outset, and in certain ways, that revolt has never ceased. Nor have the impositions, often specifically German impositions (cf: Nazi invasion/occupation 1941-44.)

The current situation shows us that the Greek people despise the impositions from abroad, particularly by Germany. Their current government, however, agrees to these harsh impositions claiming there is no alternative, but suggesting that resistance is called for. The history of Greece and Europe shows us that the type models for the current untenable situation were established long ago -- some portion of the model going back to Roman or pre-Roman times -- and that Greek resistance of one sort or another has been a constant whenever foreign interests have failed to respect the dignity of the Greek people.

While the Greek government struggles to reach an acceptable accommodation with its creditors, the people of Greece are exploited impoverished by order from Berlin and Brussels. While the government of Greece demands that their oppressors relent. Their oppressors respond with blank stares and even harsher impositions. So it goes. The pattern has repeated many times, the Greek people have suffered and endured many times, and ultimately Greece and its people survive.

Europe struggles with its conscience, but so far has done nothing to ameliorate the situation in Greece, claiming rather insistently that they cannot do what must be done on behalf of Greece due to alleged legal constraints that prevent it.  Therefore Greece must suffer, regardless of anything else. "Rules" -- they say -- "are rules."

Advisors -- so called -- advocate Greek separation from the euro and even from Europe and repudiation of its odious debt, but so far the Greeks refuse to follow that advice, preferring to stay within the Eurozone and fight through the current situation using truth and reason versus the fantasy and cruelty that European powers believe is their only alternative.

That fight will be long by any measure, but it's had an effect on the stability of the European project. That project appears to be in the process of self-destructing -- with ample assistance from inside and outside.  On the other hand, there are many interests trying to hold it together under modified "rules," including Greece and (apparently) the United States.

So we'll see. The road is long, and even after five years of failure, we still seem to be at the beginning of the journey. Whatever the case, neither Greece nor Europe will ever be the same again. The "ringfence" around the Greek Thing has failed.

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