Time for Greece to leave not just euro but EU itself


OPINION: The situation for all Greeks indentured to poverty is so intolerable that default and exit seem the only possibility

IN THE wake of Greece’s second bailout we might have expected comparative calm to succeed the frenetic posturing and in-fighting of the past few weeks. But Greeks remain convinced that being humiliated by the EU, and made into a scapegoat to protect the rest of the euro zone, has not alleviated the situation.

The simple fact is the first bailout didn’t work, and there are absolutely no guarantees the second will be any more successful, not least because there is mass belief that the necessary targets insisted on by the troika of the EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) will not – in fact, cannot – be met.

This masks a very sinister truth: there is a huge question over the ontology of the state and its relations with EU decision-makers. What began as a six-member “economic community” has become a 27-member nightmare. Not only is the euro in danger, but so is the entire fabric of a union which seems to be ungovernable except by diktat.

However greedy and deceitful some Greeks may have been, it is utterly unfair, unjust and unrealistic to blame all Greeks for a domino effect in the euro zone if Greece defaults.

One might suppose the continuing bailout means Greece is locked into a euro system from which it cannot exit. But immediately following the latest bailout, when there might have been a collective sigh of relief, the speculation about Greece’s ability to leave the euro zone and, indeed, the EU itself, has not abated. The unrest is based on the idea that not only was Greece admitted to the euro zone under false pretences, but also that it should not be a member of the EU at all – a pan-European union which, with the candidature of Turkey, even contemplates reaching out into Asia.

Admittedly, the false pretences were Greece’s own misleading statistics, but they were accepted by Brussels because the EU was hell-bent on including even the “bad boys”, which at that time included Italy, whose entry into the euro zone had to be deferred when its own statistics had not met the criteria. The fact the EU’s watchdogs so readily accepted Greece’s statistics without a thorough check is indicative of the ambition for global expansion.

The EU, replacing the idea of “community” with “union”, has enveloped countries which, organically and systemically, do not find a natural home within this conglomerate. Greece’s history and destiny are inexorably bound up with the other Balkan countries: Bulgaria, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania, directly on its northern frontiers, and further north Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Serbia, Hungary and, to the east, Cyprus and the old enemy, Turkey. Leaving Turkey aside, these are all countries with which Greece has far more in common than with any of the northern and western members of the EU.

From the late 19th century, with Greece a newly independent state, the “Megali Idea” (the “grand plan”) was conceived whereby an irredentist Greece would reclaim its former glory by means of a territorial hegemony. That was abandoned after the disastrous Anatolian campaign of 1922 (in western Turkey), but the theory has remained part of the Greek heritage, so much so that, just before this current debacle, Athens was being touted as the potential financial hub of the Balkans.

Greece since independence has always been a bifurcated society, in which the royalist/republican, urban/rural, traditionalist/modernist axes, among others, have generated tensions which at all times have threatened the stability of the state. Many believe its divisions started with the assassination of its first president, John Capodistria, in 1831. Certainly the catastrophe of the “Megali Idea”, in which Greece was humiliated and defeated by the Turkish army and lost its historic base in Smyrna (today, Izmir), precipitated the social and economic schisms of the 1930s (with two periods of dictatorship), the civil war that immediately followed the second World War, and the military junta of 1967-74.

It led to the creation of no-go zones for police in the universities, where anarchist media openly flourish.

It has, in fact, created a society where citizenship is not necessarily consonant with loyalty to the state. Protests, whether peaceful or riotous, are more an expression of the Greek democratic right to protest than an objection to particular measures. When that essential sense of citizenship and Greekness is threatened by outside powers such as Brussels, the IMF and Angela Merkel are perceived to be, behaviour becomes very negative.

The tragedy of eastern Europe was the carve-up between Stalin and Churchill of 1945, whereby Soviet Russia spread its influence over what became the “Comecon” satellite countries, and Anglo-America maintained its hegemony over Greece and Cyprus. That game of geopolitics is still being played, even though today its orientation is different and it dances to the tunes of new masters. If there had been real statesmen at work, rather than warlords, Greece might have become one of the main constituents of the developing Balkan states. As it is constituted today, as a plaything of a Germany which understands neither its mindscape nor its affinities, it is a nothing – a state without status, a heart without hope.

Psychologically, Greece and the Greeks cannot sink any further without complete civil unrest. The sooner the many Eurosceptics among the Greeks find a powerful voice and lead Greece away, first from the euro and then from the EU, the better.

It’s not very honourable to renege on one’s debts, but the situation for every man, woman and child indentured to poverty is so intolerable that default and exit seem the only possibility. The problem is one of self-determination. With its sovereignty now completely suspended by its acceptance of the new bailout memorandum, Greece cannot look itself in the face.

In order to regain self-esteem, it’s essential that Greece turns its back on those elements in Europe which are exacting this level of punishment. Like so many divorces, Greece’s exit from the EU would be messy and acrimonious, but it is in a place where it doesn’t belong.