Online People

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Every year, on 25 March, Greece celebrates its successful rising against the hundreds of years of Ottoman occupation, years, it must be said, that bequeathed a certain lack of transparency, a surfeit of corruption in the administration of the country, and a sluggish slave-like attitude to action, characteristics that still persist in the form of a few powerful families and their involvement in politics and business, which expresses itself in an arcane patronage system. This year, there’s little to celebrate, other than past glories. Greece’s membership of the European Union and of the Euro appears to have done little to improve matters, as the current dangerous malaise, with which we shall shortly deal, demonstrates.
   Under the Ottomans, Greece stagnated morosely but generally uneventfully, bar the odd massacre: the Ottomans were not known for being humane. But as long as they were able to gather their often exorbitant taxes, they did not generally interfere too much in Greek cultural life. Now, for the first time since then, ordinary Greeks find their livelihoods being threatened by what can well be described as a neo-Ottoman cleptocracy, namely the government of the Hellenic Republic. These ordinary Greeks are an easy target: civil servants, whose salaries are completely transparent, and also notoriously low: a young policeman, for example, earns around seven hundred Euros after tax, while a member of the Greek parliament receives ten times that amount. In richer Britain, a member of parliament receives around half what his Greek counterpart gets, and around two and a half times that of a young policeman. On top of that, were Greece to have as many members of parliament per head of the population as Britain, then there would be around one hundred and ten. Something is obviously seriously wrong here.
   But let us return to our main theme: theft. In 2002, a bunch of bankers from Goldman Sachs came to Greece and sold their services to the government of Kostas Taperman (otherwise known as Simitis), explaining how to legalistically flout EU regulations and borrow bad money, hoodwinking the European Commission into the bargain, using the by now infamous derivatives. When these derivatives mature, Greece is likely to owe so much that it could end up paying more interest than it apparently bargained for. Basically, the government mortgaged the future, to stay in power and feather its own nest and that of the business oligarchs who run the Greek economy for their own profit. Rather than now pursuing, Putin-style, the various political and business criminals involved in that and subsequent deals, the neo-Ottoman cleptocracy is instead squeezing the livelihoods of those on tiny state salaries, by drastically cutting them. Many of these civil servants, most of whom are decent hard-working people, will have no recourse but to borrow from the banks or even from loan-sharks, who could end up having a field-day. So critical is their situation that the anger born of sheer desperation could lead to major demonstrations and destruction of property that would make the usual street parades look like a girl-guides’ Sunday outing. Some intellectuals, normally anti-authoritarian, are even bewailing the better days of the military junta that ruled Greece from 1967 until 1974. Some of the better-educated officers in the armed forces are also becoming rather frustrated. After all, since they devote their lives to defending Greek borders against an aggressive Turkish military machine, it must be particularly frustrating to see the Greek peoples’ livelihood being attacked from within, out of sheer wanton greed, by a Greek-based, neo-Turkish administration.
   Another aspect of the dangerously boiling cauldron is the extreme nationalism that the Germans have indulged in, in particular through its media, which of course has led to an understandable Greek reaction. The most vivid example of this neo-German nationalism was the front cover of Focus magazine, depicting a famous ancient Greek statue giving an obscene sign. A more imaginative German would have dreamt up a Pinocchio nose, which would have been more tactile and less insulting, and which would have introduced at least a modicum of humour. But then the Germans are not known for imagination or humour. Nor have they anything approaching the rich historical heritage of Greece, of which they appear to be jealous. The more cultured French would never be so crude. Gone are the days of Goethe, Schiller and Beethoven (Mozart wasn’t even German) who, let us remember, were doing their thing well before Germany united in 1871. But apart from cultural hooliganism, Germany is also displaying a large dose of hypocrisy, having itself profited from, and fanned the flames of, Greece’s woes: Siemens was recently caught with its pants down, bribing senior Greek politicians and others. On a more general level, the USA has just accused Daimler of bribing twenty two governments. And then there is the Kohl scandal, where hundreds of millions were secretly paid to the then Chancellor’s ‘Christian’ Democratic Party. So basically, the Germans appear to be emerging from their slavish shells and beginning to behave arrogantly, as they have in the past. The lobotomised economic giant is replacing its well-known Angst with aggression. The teutononic turtle, Merkel’s, sole aim seems to be to bring down the value of the Euro, to further stimulate Germany’s already enormous exports. On top of this, they are replicating Hitler’s policy of taking over as much business in the Balkans as possible, no doubt using bribery. With a lower Euro, bribes will cost them less. Their current behaviour recalls a seventeenth century Dutch poem, which runs:

                               And when the Mof is poor and naked,
                               He speaks a very modest language;
                               But when he comes to high estate,
                               He does evil to God and Man.

   Yes, the Greeks have indeed cheated, as have the Germans, and the neo-Ottoman cleptocracy is in danger of imploding, which would be a good thing. But let us remember that the Germans are not saints.  

                                                                      Dr. William Mallinson,

                                                                      Athens, 24 March 2010.

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