By Evaggelos Vallianatos
The misunderstanding and antagonism between Greeks and Europeans goes all the way back to ancient Greece and to the fourth crusade of 1204. Greek thought made Western civilization, a fact that is rarely appreciated in the West, especially now that that European media are on a campaign of disinformation and slander against Greece. In 1204, so violent were the Western crusaders against the Greeks that the experience is still alive in the Greek mind. Italian and French crusaders conquered Constantinople, the capital of the Greek empire, and dismembered Greece.
The European invaders acted like barbarians. They burned the libraries of Constantinople stocked with ancient texts. They melted ancient Greek statues and other works of art and technology for gold, silver and bronze.
After 50 years, the Greeks threw the Italians and French out of Constantinople but the damage the Westerners had done against Greece was irreparable. They made Greece vulnerable to the Turks. And when the Turks attacked in 1453, the Europeans did not interfere.
Despite the lingering mistrust between the Greeks and the West, before and after the Turks captured Greece, Greek scholars went to Italy loaded with ancient Greek manuscripts. They also taught Greek and, in a fundamental way, the texts they brought to the West sparked the Renaissance that made our world. Without the works of Euclid and Archimedes, for example, they would have been no Galileo Galilei or Isaac Newton.
Western scientists recognized their debt to Greek science. Humanists likewise praised the Greeks. But Western politicians minded their business as the Turks occupying Greece offered them commercial opportunities.
Now, in 2012, few remember the Renaissance and even less “the miracle that was Greece.” But nearly every one recounts, not without satisfaction, TV stories of the debt the Greeks own the banks.
Yes, Greece borrowed foolishly beyond her means. Greek politicians, no more virtuous than American or European politicians, followed the “markets” and the advice of large European banks that made credit easy for decades. Most of that Greek borrowing went to buy arms from France, Germany and the United States. Greek politicians probably thought that, with Greece being a member of the European Union, they would find solidarity in their economic difficulties.
Instead of solidarity, however, the EU is treating Greece like a colony. First of all, the EU should have never brought in the International Monetary Fund for providing emergency loans to Greece. IMF is an American monetary police for the Third World. It does not belong in Greece.
Second, the annual financial “crises” in Athens have little to do with assisting Greece to fix its economy but focus entirely on bailing out the banks that loaned money to Greece. That money simply goes to pay the usurious interest of the Greek loans. Why is the European Central Bank not lending money to Greece at almost zero interest rate it lends to Germany?
The recipe of “austerity” is a cover for crippling punishment and looting.
In the last two years alone, something like 420,000 small enterprises have gone out of business. Thousands of Greek scientists have been leaving the country. The middle class is falling apart.
How does the EU expect Greece led to severe unemployment, poverty, disease, hunger, suicide and homelessness to repay her debts or improve her economy? IMF offered this kind of medical austerity to Africa and Latin America for decades and the result has been destitution and hunger in both Africa and Latin America.
So why is the EU treating one of its members, Greece, in this hostile fashion? If one can forgive the IMF officials for not knowing history, how is one to explain that European officials are ignoring the cultural debt they own to the Greeks?
The Germans in particular emulated the Greeks for a very long time. But WWII wiped out their Greek affection, making them the monsters of Europe, including Greece, which they nearly starved to death. They killed a million Greeks and turned the country into rabble. Their damage is estimated to be about 500 billion euros, which they have yet to pay to Greece.
Thanks to American policies, Germany is again powerful and wealthy. And instead of showing compassion to the plight of Greece and gratefulness for the science and values they borrowed from the ancient Greeks, Germany leads Europe in its repeated harshness towards Greece.
Frederich Nietzsche, 1844-1900, German classical scholar and the greatest modern European philosopher, is probably right why the Germans and other Europeans are treating the Greeks like enemies.
In his 1872 book, “The Birth of Tragedy,” he explained that most people coming in contact with the Greeks eventually turn against them. The reason for the hostility is resentment. They compare their achievements with those of the Greeks and conclude, with great anger, their accomplishments “shrivel into an unsuccessful copy or even caricature.”
Nietzsche said only a person who reveres truth can break this hate trap and admit “the Greeks are chariot-drivers who hold the reins of our culture, and every other culture, in their hands.”
Dozens of classical scholars before and after Nietzsche admit the genius of Greek civilization. But the anger against the Greeks remains like a black hole in Western culture. And there’s also the legacy of the fourth crusade that warns Greeks to watch out for Europeans bearing gifts.
At a time when bankers and a tiny elite of millionaires are the princes of policy, not philosophers or philhellenes, it’s unlikely that reasoned arguments like those of Nietzsche would make sense to the EU or IMF politicians. These financiers are not burning for truth. Their jargon will continue to stress bailouts and austerity, no matter what happens to the Greeks. They act as if they are fighting an economic war and are determined to win it.
The Greeks, however, are not taking the medicine of the troika: EU, IMF and European Central Bank. They understand and feel the hostility behind the economic measures of making them cheap labor for some future foreign investors. They are shifting political alliances from the old parties funded by foreign interests to a Hellenic movement for the real independence of Greece.
The Greeks also vigorously oppose the dishonesty of most of the 300 members of parliament and the prime minister that approved the humiliating agreement with the troika. In fact, there are reports in Greece that many of these politicians approved the deadly memorandum without reading it. That memorandum just about gives Greek sovereignty away to foreigners. It violates the Greek constitution. That’s why Greeks accuse those politicians with treason.
Greek politicians who sold Greece to the bankers make fabulous salaries and enjoy perks of power similar to those of Western Europe and America. But now fear, the fear of being seeing in public, is eating their lives.
In a February 16, 2012 letter to the prime minister and members of the parliament, retired admiral Nikos Pappas recommended shrinking the parliament to 200 members and the government to 15 ministers. He also urged the parliamentarians to reduce both their salaries and their perks substantially. Such measures, he said, would save Greece more than 300 million euros per year. Only then they might regain the trust of the Greek people.
No one can predict the outcome of this political corruption. Some say this orchestrated destitution of the country is the prelude to dismembering it once again. Others like Mikis Theodorakis speak of an international conspiracy against Greece.
Theodorakis, 87 years old, is a Greek patriot who fought the Germans during their deadly occupation of Greece. He is also an internationally famous music composer and conductor. He says the attack against Greece started in 1975 by the United States, France and Germany. Foreign enemies of Greece with Greek collaborationists and foreign-funded non-governmental organizations targeted Modern Greek culture, the rewriting of Greek history and the muddling of Greek identity. Theodorakis advocates a turn of Greek policy towards Russia for both financial assistance and technical help for the exploitation of Greek resources.
Greek officials, especially in the administration of George Papandreou, did rewrite Greek history and weakened the Greek armed forces. Such anti-Greek policies give license to the Turkish minority in Thrace and encourage the aggressive policies of Turkey.
It may not be a conspiracy at work against Greece, but the destructive effects of the EU-imposed austerity and the corruption of the Greek elite threaten Greece.
The present crisis is bringing Greeks together as never before. They need to put their house in order. Demand a complete write off of the debt, promising policies for self-sufficiency. In fact, Greece ought to insist on Marshall Plan-like assistance from the EU and the US. However, if the EU insists on representing bankers, Greece should drop the euro and return to her drachma.
The Greeks need to elect a new multi-party government or, preferably, a no-party government. Such a government ought to stop buying guns but built a defense industry at home. Second, it needs to reorganize the cities, making them more livable by subsidizing large numbers of people to return to the countryside to raise food, produce things the country needs, and defend the country’s territorial integrity. For example, Greece has the technical skills to be solar and raise her food with biological methods.
It goes without saying that corrupt politicians have to be brought to justice.
As for the EU, its behavior towards Greece guarantees its breakup. The Europeans will realize they are next for austerity and impoverishment. After all, the Greek struggle for humane living standards and dignity and against financial enslavement is part of a global struggle now fought all over the world. The bankers have neither a homeland nor ethical standards. They are a threat to civilization.
There’s also another side to the Greek struggle, this connecting the Greeks to their cultural legacy. They are not alone. There are thousands of noble men and women all over the world who agree with Nietzsche that Hellenic culture is indispensable for civilization. Hundreds of colleges and universities teach Greek.
Greece is a cultural superpower.
The Greek merchant marine is the largest in the world. It must lead in the rebuilding of Greece.
The bankers and their allies eye Greek culture, the ancient ruins all over Greece, and the beauty and sunlight of the country. They probably see themselves living in luxury enclaves in Greece with Greek servants or without the Greeks. But that is not going to happen. Greeks are fighters – and love their country.
*** Evaggelos Vallianatos is the author of several books, including “Poison Spring” (forthcoming, Bloomsbury Press).