Una Mullally: Why Greece’s rebellious streak is so appealing
Watching Greece assert itself, regardless of the outcome, is encouraging
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras. ‘Syriza did what so many other leftist political groups have failed to do, and that’s form a coalition.’ Photograph: Simela Pantzartzi/EPA.
My favourite analogy for the euro zone economy is the comedian Barry Murphy as his character Günther Gruhn on The Late Late Show a couple of years ago. He talks about a train hurtling towards China, with Germany at the wheel and France as the ticket inspector. Spain is looking out the window pretending it has paid for its ticket when everyone knows it hasn’t. Italy is hiding under Spain’s seat. Switzerland – who can speak to everyone on the train in their own languages but chooses not to – is behind a curtain in a class of its own at the front of the train. Ireland stinks of cigarettes and booze, coming back from the toilet trying to find its seat. It can’t get past England, wheeling the snack trolley down the aisle, thinking its own micro-economy isn’t going in the same direction as everyone else, but it is. And then there’s a line about Greece. “Finally, Greece would be the fellow hanging on to the back of the train, in the nip, with an ice-cream in one hand and his mickey in the other, singing some crazy nonsense that nobody understands.” It’s a brutal and hilarious routine.
To the casual observer – well, as casual as you can be when all of this stuff has an impact on us all given that European economics doesn’t exactly trickle down but rather sprays everywhere like an out-of-control garden hose – the negotiations, stand-offs, shut-downs and suggestions that colour the Greek v Europe present and future are fascinating. It piques our interest, because it is assumed we are too far down the subsidised and well-tarmacked road of the European project to look for an alternative route. There might be hard shoulders, but there’s no question of an exit. But after years of flailing around, Greece is providing an interesting test case.
Sharks, minnows and plankton
Listening to the radio the other day, I heard a reporter talk about how it was thought Syriza was just making a whole load of crazy pre-election promises (sounds familiar) and then would drop them once the reality of being in power hit, along with the constraints of said reality. But that’s not exactly what has happened. Syriza seems at least to be pushing for something. There is an inherent attraction to watching a country in the euro zone seek its sovereignty, especially from an Irish perspective since control over our own affairs was outsourced.
Syriza did what so many other leftist political groups have failed to do, and that’s form a coalition. The so-called new political alternatives that have emerged in Ireland have largely been made up of disparate Independents, along with right-wing economic thinkers. The tyranny of structurelessness that exists in contemporary left-wing politics in Ireland means that you have a situation where an awful lot of politicians have similar political thinking yet can’t seem to form a coalition despite their similarities.
As often is the case, the more common ground you find, the more magnified the separations within that common ground become. Ultimately the Irish are experts at toeing the line. Our pressure valve is not protest, or new political ideas emerging, or seeking radical alternatives, but complaining. Watching the Greeks now is a version of Sliding Doors. What would have happened if we had truly hit rock bottom and then came up with an alternative? We’ll never know.
The Lion and the MouseThe Lion and the Mouse
The other moral is broader: it doesn’t matter how small something is, it can in fact help and influence something much greater. Whatever happens with the Greek question, the Greek problem, the Greek inspiration or the Greek solution, Europe will continue to lumber into traps. And mice have a tendency both to escape and to get squished unceremoniously.