Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Grexit Watch: It Didn't Take Long To Get To Nazis

In case you weren't following:

  1. The left-wing anti-austerity party Syriza won in the Greek elections. Their platform: "We're not going to pay  back the (humongous) debt we owe. Suck it EU. Suck it Germany."
  2. Now elected, the world waits to see what they'll actually do. On one hand, their voters expect some kind of dramatic policy. On the other hand, a Greek 'exit' from the euro would be an unmitigated disaster for everyone (estimated in the link at 'Lehman Brothers Squared'--which, if literally true, would be the end of western civilization).
  3. Of course new Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras may want to stick around a bit: new goodies are being printed by the bucket-load: Quantitative Easing by the European Central Bank to the tune of 60 billion. He'll want some of that gravy.
  4. However, in the long run, he's agitating for a fundamental sea-change in Europe. That, probably, involves sticking it to The Man (or, in this case, the woman: Angela Merkel) and going out in the proverbial blaze of glory.
Those facts-on-the-ground are not especially interesting to The Omnivore. Here's what is: From the satirical Daily Mash:

The ruling New Democracy party is still wondering how its platform of Endless Suffering For Everyone was defeated by Syriza’s competing message of Maybe Not That.

Athens voter Elena Mitropoulos said: “I was going to do the responsible thing and vote for continuing austerity, because I know how important it is not to damage the German economy, but madness overtook me in the polling booth.
The point they're making here is that however sensible not crashing the world economy is, the idea of fulfilling your obligations to an external power . . . for a nearly indefinite period of time . . . at a great cost to you . . . isn't popular.

Germany Can Pay for War Crimes
Tsipras' first act as prime minster was to go to the Kaisariani rifle range where the Nazis executed some Greek resistance 70 years ago:
Syriza, in particular, has been outspoken about the need for Germany to atone for its past in Greece, or at least show a bit more leniency now as compensation. Tsipras has campaigned on the issue for more than a year, including in the build-up to Sunday's election. "We are going to demand debt reduction, and the money Germany owes us from World War II, including reparations," he said earlier this month.
So this is the first step in negotiations using a historical crime as the crow-bar by which to open the (revised) talks. Right? Well, technically right--but The Omnivore doesn't think that's the whole story.

On Humiliation And The National Character
If there's one thing the 21st century has invariably shown us, it's that a cultural / national sense of humiliation will no longer be tolerated--whatever the costs. One reason is that the costs are no longer as  high as they once were: The term 'decimate' comes from the Roman practice of taking rebelling towns, lining up the men, and killing one out of every 10. When your (humiliating) occupying force is willing to do that, you put up with a bit more crap.

On the other hand, we've seen that plenty of people are willing to risk or even give their lives for a very poorly conceptualized chance to make a statement--a statement which amounts to a middle finger to "The Man." The Charlie Hebdo attacks exemplify this. The men were radicalized in prison (as so many young Muslims in Europe are) and had motives that were reported as Abu Ghraib and the US invasion of Iraq. Juan Cole writes:
Iraq is a major Arab, Muslim country. Its capital, Baghdad, is special to Sunni Muslims because the Abbasid empire built it and ruled from it. Having American troops occupy it for 8 years, humiliate its citizens, shoot people at checkpoints, and torture people in military prisons was a very bad idea. Some people treated that way become touchy, and feel put down, and won’t take slights to their culture and civilization any longer. Maybe the staff at Charlie Hebdo would be alive if George W. Bush and Richard Bruce Cheney hadn’t modeled for the Kouashi brothers how you take what you want and rub out people who get in your way.
What's that? The Abbasid empire? The Omnivore is certain that, if pressed, the Kouashi brothers could tell you that it was established in 750 CE and lasted until 1258 CE. They might not know that 'CE' stands for Common Era instead of the more religious designations BC/AD (but in secular France, maybe they were taught that after all). On the other hand, during school they were known for smoking, having long hair, committing petty crimes, and delivering pizza.

Maybe they weren't paying all that much attention in school?

Juan Cole has a bone to pick with Bush / Cheney and wants to tie it to the Charlie Hebdo murders (so do a lot of other people) but he's wrong about this--and badly wrong at that. Humiliation isn't something that happens to a country thousands of miles away where you have never lived and is important because of a centuries old empire. That's nonsense.

Humiliation of the 'cultural' sort with these ambient grievances against no one in particular is what happens to you when you can't get a job, have no prospects (or girls) you feel good about, and don't see yourself fitting in or getting ahead. And it's what happens when you feel entitled to these things without any actual work on your part--a message sent by religious leaders who speak against integration with the larger culture.

Certainly France's intake of 4+ million Muslim immigrants without a sufficient plan to give them something productive and satisfying to do is a problem. France will have to decide what to do about this going forward. France has also grappled with certain Muslim cultural aspects (their anti-headscarf legislation) in a way that may have made the problem worse rather than better.

But the fact remains that while Cole is projecting his anger into the Kouashi brother's humiliation (and that they are also are excusing their murderous actions behind the veil of cultural affront--something Cole unfortunately facilitates) the fact that they were humiliated and too radical action is still extant.

So, The Omnivore thinks, were the Greeks. The Greek economy collapse, however much it might be their fault (or not, whatever), has been characterized by pretty serious attacks on the Greek national character. Greeks are lazy, corrupt, and insignificant, so the tale goes. Unlike those brilliant industrious Germans, eh? When you take that atmosphere and add to it the attendant economic depression that causes actual pain, what you get is radical behavior.

While the level of radicalization in Greece doesn't approach the senselessness of the Hebdo murders, The Omnivore thinks that a vote that could crash the world economy (including their own--probably first and worst) is the outgrowth not of any kind of sober risk-assessment or policy appraisal but instead of a reaction to the personal feelings of cultural humiliation by a foreign power. They're striking back rather than trying to ride the event to a happier (if years down the line) conclusion.

The ruling party is almost always more sober than the constituent voters because they, at least, usually have more to lose (see: the Tea Party constantly feeling betrayed by their Washington constituents--and the results that an unwise creation of risk-free districts has had on the House Republicans who can only lose to the further right). Thus, Tispras will likely try to negotiate hard rather than abruptly pull out.

But make no mistake: he was hired to pull out.

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