This must be what it was like when German Jews were refugees

This must be what it was like when German Jews were refugees

This must be what it was like in the 1930s when Jews fleeing Nazi Germany created a major refugee crisis to which the response of Britain, the USA and other potential safe haven countries was a collective shoulder shrug of indifference – or outright hostility. This summer we have witnessed an unfolding crisis on a scale unprecedented since the Second World War, as desperate people risk their lives fleeing the civil war in Syria and the murderous advance of ISIS. With some noble exceptions, the prevailing response, especially here in the UK, has been once again to demonise fellow human beings. Continue reading “This must be what it was like when German Jews were refugees”

Greece wounds me

Greece wounds me

‘Wherever I travel, Greece wounds me.’
– George Seferis

After the ugliness of last few days in Brussels as we watched a country being humiliated and a new form of economic colonialism being imposed on a people who have struggled to assert their wishes by means of an impeccable commitment to democracy, it really does feel, as this morning’s Guardian editorial puts it, that Europe after the Greek talks ‘resembles a battlefield the day after the armies have stumbled away – wreckage everywhere, and everyone counting the cost.’ Continue reading “Greece wounds me”

Greece: People power or heroes just for one day?

Greece: People power or heroes just for one day?

What should we choose as the soundtrack for the stunning outcome of the Greek referendum? Patti Smith’s ‘People Have the Power’, perhaps? Or David Bowie singing, ‘We can be heroes, just for one day’? Continue reading “Greece: People power or heroes just for one day?”

The ruins of Kefalonia

The ruins of Kefalonia

Ruins are plentiful on the island of Kefalonia – not surprising, given that humans first settled on the island in Palaeolithic times, and important communities arose in the Mycenaean and Classical eras.

Of all the ruins, the most atmospheric and poignant must be those that remain following the devastating earthquakes which struck the island in August 1953. Arriving on the island soon after the earthquake in Nepal made the sight of these ruins especially affecting – more so after a second devastating earthquake hit Nepal while we were there.

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The aftermath of the 1953 earthquake in Kefalonia

In August 1953 a series of earthquakes struck the Ionian islands, the most disastrous occurring on 12 August. Measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale, it destroyed almost every house on Kefalonia and raised the island by 60 cm (the watermark left on rocks around the coast still bears testimony to this). Widespread damage was also inflicted on the islands of Ithaca and Zakynthos.

While six hundred people died, the economic impact of the earthquake was devastating. 100,000 residents left the island to live elsewhere, leaving only 25,000 residents on the island.  The survivors who stayed began the task of rebuilding, aided by remittances from those who had made a new life elsewhere.

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The streets of the Kephalonian capital, Argostoli, after the earthquake

Even for the casual tourist the consequences are apparent everywhere on the island. Firstly, most enterprises are local and family-owned, albeit highly dependent on foreign travel companies and airlines for the island’s primary business of serving the needs of foreign tourists. For example, we stayed at the Nine Muses hotel in Skala, an enterprise developed by a local man who made his fortune in America before returning to invest in his home village. On the day of our departure, now elderly and frail-looking, he made a point of shaking hands with each of us and thanking us for our custom as we boarded our coach for transfer to the airport.

Another consequence of the devastation wrought by the earthquake is that the island’s architecture now consists mainly of low-level and nondescript buildings of pre-stressed earthquake resistant concrete which replaced the centuries-old stone Greek or Venetian red or ochre plastered buildings. No bad thing, in fact: it means that the beach strips of the holiday resorts are not disfigured by high-rise hotel blocks. Instead, a great many hotel developments – such as the Nine Muses – consist of villa style complexes, arranged around cobbled lanes and courtyards.

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The road to old Skala

Since we were based in Skala we had an opportunity on our doorstep to get a sense of the destruction wrought by the 1953 earthquake. Old Skala was a large and thriving village strung out along the hillside about two miles inland from where the rebuilt town now stands. It’s an easy walk from the new town centre out along country roads edged with brilliant yellow mounds of Spanish broom to the remains of the old village.

We walked out of town along the recently-paved main street where new pavement flower beds and trees had just been planted, following the road steadily uphill into the country with the hills ahead of us. Outside the town we passed two large water storage tanks – a common sight on an island where water is in short supply and must be conserved.

Climbing steadily, we passed fields carpeted with wild flowers presided over by a solitary goat, and groves of olive trees beneath which beehives stood in lines – olives and honey being two of the main agricultural products of the island. There were wild-flowers wherever we looked – raggedy rock roses with petals like fabric, giant exposed bulbs of hyacinths that must have bloomed earlier in the year, and small meadows dense with red poppies, white daisies and yellow dandelions.

The view from Old Skala
The view from Old Skala

By the time we reached the ruins of the old village we had climbed some 500 feet and had gained panoramic views across the Ionian Sea to the mountains of mainland Greece.  Below lay the new town, its new location on the shore a concise expression of the dramatic change wrought in the island’s economy not just by the earthquake, but also by the tsunami of mass tourism.

In Old Skala the lives of the inhabitants followed the seasons and the rhythms of planting, tending and harvesting on the land. Rusting away in the undergrowth is an old olive press, once powered by a diesel engine made, according to the label, in Bolton by the firm of R Fielding.

Olive press
The olive press

On the opposite side of the track to the olive press are the ruins of the village shops and tavernas. One house belonged to the village doctor, another was the only house in the village to have electricity.  Walking on, the track led downhill to the surviving bell-tower of the church of Archangelos, with the village cemetery beyond its locked gates.  The church has been rebuilt, not very sympathetically, an ugly concrete wall extending right up to the side of the bell-tower, with no attempt to blend the new masonry with the old.

The bell-tower, Old Skala
The bell-tower, church of Archangelos, Old Skala

Further down the hillside we found the perfectly-preserved village wash-house built around the spring which still runs. We sat there for a while, eating our picnic of tomatoes and Kefalonian cheese pie (feta encased in a filo-like pastry and arranged in a whirl like a Danish pastry).  It was not difficult to imagine the bustle of village life here in the old days, black-garbed women sharing the village gossip, shouting and laughing as they pounded and scrubbed.

Rested, we retraced our steps, heading back downhill to modern Skala, the tavernas and hotels and the sun loungers arranged mathematically along the shore.

Gallery: the ruins of Old Skala

Another Kefalonian village with earthquake ruins and a story to tell is Assos, which lies on the far side of the island from Skala. I drove there one day: an adventurous journey, since the main road is closed following a landslip, necessitating a mountainous diversion of endless precipitous hairpins made even more challenging by frequent encounters with large flocks of insouciant goats exercising their ancient rights to occupy the road in the face of all-comers.

The detour did offer the opportunity to see Myrtos beach, also approached by a steep, winding road with hairpin turns. I felt I had to take a look since Myrtos has been described as ‘one of the most dramatic beaches in Greece, a mile-long arc of dazzling white pebbles’. Parking the car at the bottom, I found that  I was virtually alone on a beach of dazzling while pebbles, beneath a lavendar sky, staring at water of exquisite turquoise.

Dragging myself away from this paradisical place, I pressed on to Assos. When the earthquake hit in 1953, most buildings were destroyed and much of the island’s architecture history and variety was lost. Much of the island was rebuilt with pre-fabricated cement buildings, but one place that was rebuilt to its former glory was Assos.

Assos 5
Earthquake ruins in Assos

The village had been a popular destination with French tourists, and a plague on the waterfront commemorates the people of Paris who sent large sums of money to help the residents rebuild.

The plaque recording the financial support by Parisians to help rebuild the town
The plaque recording the financial support by Parisians to help rebuild Assos

Brooding on a promontory above Assos are the ramparts of a Venetian fortress, built in the 1590s to defend the island from attacks by pirates and the Turks. During the Second World War it was used as a prison by the Germans, and after the war Communists were incarcerated here by the right-wing regimes that ruled Greece in the 1950s.  They organised a prison farm, constructing terraces for vineyards and cereal crops. It was one of the few buildings on the island to survive the 1953 earthquake.

Gallery: the ruins of Assos

Scattered across Kefalonia are remains from the Mycenaean era of Bronze Age Greece. Driving up to Sami, just outside Poros, we passed the sign for one of the most notable of these remains – a circular tomb of a Mycenean king.  Unfortunately, it was closed on the day we passed.

But at Sami we parked at the harbour, near to the statue to seamen, and began to walk uphill through woodland, on a path that led to the ruins of another ancient civilization. High above the modern port stand the ruins of what must have been a magnificent walled city, known as Kyatis, that flourished during the Classical era (5th to 2nd century BC).

For about an hour we rose steadily along a path shaded by pines and edged in places with borders of wild cyclamen (they were not in flower, but must be an impressive sight when they are). Then we emerged onto the open hillside where field plots edged by the rubble of fallen walls were dense with wild flowers. Seated under an old olive, cooling down after the hot climb, we took in the terraced fields, the view down the valley to the sea, and, to our right, the steep hillside topped by the remains of the the acropolis of Kyatis with its gigantic walls of stone.

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The terraced fields of old Sami

Ancient Sami, known as Kyati, was one of four city states that flourished on the island during the Classical and Hellenistc periods from the 5th to 2nd century BC. It was an independent and autonomous city, exercising its own foreign policy and issuing its own coins. The economy was based on shipping and trade, with farming and animal husbandry also being important. Two citadels occupied the tops of the hills above the meadow where we sat, with impressive fortifications surrounding the two hills and stretching down to the coast.

The mighty wall of Kyatis
The mighty wall of Kyatis

The most impressive remains of the fortifications are those of the wall that comes down the west slope of the hill.  It is built on the bedrock from trapezoidal-shaped stones connected with lead links. The city prospered until the 3rd century AD.

Sami walk 14
The great building blocks of the ancient citadel used to build the medieval monastery

Emerging onto a road and walking for a further half-mile, we came to the ruins  of Agioi Fanentes (Saint Fanentes),  a monastery built in the middle ages utilizing stones from the ruins of the ancient citadel.

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Frescoes on the walls of the medieval church
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New and old churches

Downhill, below the ruined monastery, stands the ruined church of Agios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas).  On the exposed walls of the apse you can just make out frescoes that date to the 17th century, Nearby is a third, modern church built after the earthquake of 1953, which caused the collapse of the two other churches.

The view of Sami
The view of Sami

From here the views of Sami and the bay below are superb. All that remained was to return to sea level and a cool drink in a harbour-side taverna.

Gallery: the ruins of ancient Sami

On 25 January this year, Greece experienced a political earthquake when, against the background of the Greek financial crisis, the left-wing anti-austerity party Syriza won Greece’s general election, securing 149 out of the 300 seats in Parliament, just two seats short of an absolute majority. In common with all but eight of Greece’s electoral districts, Kefalionia voted by a significant margin for Syriza (39% Syriza, 29% New Democracy).  The aftershocks of that result are still being felt as I write.

Voyage to Ithaca

Voyage to Ithaca

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your final destination.
But do not rush the voyage in the least.
Better it last for many years;
and once you’re old, cast anchor on the isle,
rich with all you’ve gained along the way,
expecting not that Ithaca will give you wealth.
from ‘Ithaca’ by CP Cavafy

On the beach at Skala we joined the queue waiting for the cruise to Ithaca. For Rita especially, this was the culmination of a lifetime’s imagining: Homer’s Ithaca not just an island but the ultimate, universal symbol of the longed-for destination.

Ithaca 1

Ithaca 2
‘And then went down to the ship, Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea.’ – Ezra Pound, Canto I

It takes about an hour to reach Ithaca from the coast of Kefalonia at Skala. On the morning of our own crossing the sea was like glass, still and undisturbed by wave or breeze. It was this same calm sea which, a few hundred miles to the west that week, had led people smugglers to abandon to their fate record numbers of desperate migrants fleeing the crises of north Africa and the Middle East.

Ithaca 3 Poros
Up the Kefalonian coast past Poros and its gorge.

Appropriately for a journey to the island which Odysseus called home – in myth at least – our vessel was named Mythos. Leaving the beach at Skala, Mythos first followed the Kefalonian coastline northwards as far as Poros where from the sea we got a dramatic view of the deep Poros gorge. Before 1953, Poros was a just small scattering of fishermen’s huts. But after the devastating earthquake that year destroyed the surrounding villages, a new town was built at the entrance to the gorge through which the only road to the north of the island makes its winding way.

Ithaca 4

Ithaca 5
Agiou Andreou, southern-most cape of Ithaca

Beyond Poros, for another 45 minutes, we followed the Kefalonian coastline up past the port of Sami until we reached Agiou Andreou, the southern-most cape of Ithaca. We are heading for the first of two swimming stops at Gikadi beach, a stunning stretch of blinding white pebbles and blue crystal water, secluded and accessible only from the sea.

Ithaca 6
Mythos crunches up to the beach

Approaching the beach, captain Vangelis Spathis simply allows Mythos to gently crunch up onto the shore, enabling those who wish to disembark for a swim or a stroll.

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Ithaca 8
At Gikadi beach

Beach stop over, we headed towards the island’s capital, Vathi (a somewhat misleading description for what is simply a tranquil and picturesque village). Before that we rounded a promontory on which the whitewashed church of Agios Ioannis (Saint John) stood in isolation.

Ithaca 9
The church of Agios Ioannis

Pray that the road be long;
that there be many a summer morning,
when with what delight, what joy,
you’ll enter into harbours yet unseen
– from ‘Ithaca’ by CP Cavafy

Soon we were approaching Vathi, sheltered deep within the bay which burrows deeply inland from the north-east, winding like the passages of the inner ear and almost dividing the island in two.

Vathi harbour
Vathi harbour, guarded by the twin French forts

From 1500 the Ionian Islands, including Ithaca, were under the control of Venice.  Then, in the late 18th century, the island was occupied by the French, who built twin fortresses on both sides of the entrance to the harbour to protect the island from the British fleet. Their ruins could be seen as we passed through the narrow channel at the neck of the harbour. They proved to be less than effective: only two years after their construction the island was conquered by the British.

Ithaca Vathi 1

The population of Vathi numbers only a couple of thousand, its red-roofed houses lining the harbour on three sides like a horse-shoe. The earthquake of 1953 demolished Vathi completely, so virtually all the buildings are recent – but rebuilt in the original Venetian style.

Recently, in The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Really Matters (an excellent book which I will write more about soon), Adam Nicolson conjured this image of the Ithacan landscape:

Ithaca is not what the phrase ‘Greek island’ brings to mind. There is nothing of the drought-stripped bareness of the eastern Aegean, nor of the dry Asiatic pelt of the Trojan plain.  Ithaca is green and wooded, more Tuscan than Greek.  There are some wonderful harbours, but little good grass or arable land. It largely consists of mountains dropping to the sea. Wild pear trees blossom beside the spring meadows, but it is ‘rocky Ithaca’, the kind of island that has always thrived on trading or raiding but would be poor if reliant on its own resources.

These days, of course, it is tourism that provides the earnings, and tavernas and souvenir shops lined the quayside.  We chose to sit awhile at this one, where the owner and his dog made us welcome and we drank freshly-squeezed orange juices.

Ithaca Vathi 2
Vathi taverna keeper and his dog

In Homer, Odysseus says, ‘My home is under the clear skies of Ithaca’, and they were certainly clear that day, as the sun beat down and the mercury pushed into the eighties.  People were saying it was the hottest May for 50 years (though back on Kefalonia one local had grumbled to me that it was still too cold for sea swimming, and wished that summer would start).

It wasn’t deliberate, but our journey to Ithaca coincided with the day that the results of the UK general election became known.  This lent our time on Ithaca a strange character: surrounded by sun and beauty, we would question people we saw tapping at tablets or overheard talking about the election for the latest developments. So, as the afternoon wore on, a picture emerged of an unexpected electoral earthquake back home: parties decimated and decapitated, leaders resigning, the political landscape transformed utterly.

Ithaca Kioni 1

Leaving Vathi we passed the islet of Lazaretto which was developed during the British occupation of Ithaca to serve as a hospital quarantine area, then later as a prison. The buildings were destroyed in the 1953 earthquake and a small chapel now stands there. From Vathi we cruised north along the coast to Kioni, another picturesque harbour village, even smaller and sleepier than the capital. The entrance to the bay at Kioni is dominated by three derelict windmills.

Ithaca Kioni
The windmills at Kioni
Ithaca Kioni 3

At Kioni, one of the few places on Kefalonia or Ithaca where buildings survived the earthquake in 1953, we stopped for lunch at one of the tavernas that line the small harbour. As the visitors consumed their lunches, a dozen or so village cats paid close attention.

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The cats of Kioni
Ithaca Kioni 2
Kioni harbour

Lunch over, we set sail again, retracing our route along the east coast of the island, pausing now and again to take a close look at interesting rock formations and caves.

Ithaca 12

Ithaca 11
Along the coast of Ithaca

To the east, shimmering in the afternoon heat haze, lay the outlines of several islands and the mountains of the Greek mainland. The nearest island, Vromonas, is uninhabited and up for sale – a snip at only €3,500,000 for a millionaire’s 70 acre private island with its own natural harbour. Island sales are a symptom of the ongoing Greek financial crisis. According to our captain, several islands have been bought recently by wealthy Russian oligarchs.

Ithaca 10
For sale: island with own natural harbour

I am Odysseus, Laertes’ son, world-famed
For stratagems: my name has reached the heavens.
Bright Ithaca is my home: it has a mountain,
Leaf-quivering Neriton, far visible.
Around are many islands, close to each other,
Doulichion and Same and wooded Zacynthos.
Ithaca itself lies low, furthest to sea
Towards dusk; the rest, apart, face dawn and sun.
– Odyssey 9.19-26

Ithaca 13
‘Around are many islands…’

We had just rounded Ithaca’s southern cape when the captain brought the vessel to a sudden halt: the crew had spotted a turtle making its way steadily towards the Kefalonian coast. In the late summer female loggerhead turtles crawl up to the back of beaches along the south coast of Kefalonia (including the beach at Skala), lay their eggs, and then cover them with sand. Seven to nine weeks later the embryos have developed into sea turtle hatchlings which hatch out of their eggs during the night and dig out through the sand until they reach the surface and immediately crawl towards the sea.

Many of these beaches have been untouched by human development until recently, and therefore offered turtles a secluded and safe place to nest. However, in recent decades tourist development has been encroaching on these nesting habitats.

Ithaca turtle
Heading for the shore: our Kefalonian loggerhead turtle

In the Odyssey, Odysseus longs for his home on Ithaca, ‘the sweetest place any man can imagine’. But at the end of his perilous journey home what he finds there turns out to be far from sweet.  Like many before us, we had journeyed to Ithaca, but – as Cavafy says in his famous poem – what matters is not the destination but the journey itself.

Ithaca large 2

When you set out on the journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road be long,
full of adventures, full of knowledge.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
the raging Poseidon do not fear:
you’ll never find the likes of these on your way,
if lofty be your thoughts, if rare emotion
touches your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
the fierce Poseidon you’ll not encounter,
unless you carry them along within your soul,
unless your soul raises them before you.

Pray that the road be long;
that there be many a summer morning,
when with what delight, what joy,
you’ll enter into harbours yet unseen;
that you may stop at Phoenician emporia
and acquire all the fine wares,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
as many sensuous perfumes as you can;
that you may visit many an Egyptian city,
to learn and learn again from lettered men.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your final destination.
But do not rush the voyage in the least.
Better it last for many years;
and once you’re old, cast anchor on the isle,
rich with all you’ve gained along the way,
expecting not that Ithaca will give you wealth.

Ithaca gave you the wondrous voyage:
without her you’d never have set out.
But she has nothing to give you any more.

If then you find her poor, Ithaca will not have deceived you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,

you’ll have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.

Ithaca wake
‘Thus with stretched sail, we went over sea till day’s end. Sun to his slumber, shadows over ocean.’ – Ezra Pound, Canto I

The eurozone: ‘this machine from hell’

The eurozone: ‘this machine from hell’

There was a rather silly documentary hidden away on BBC4 on night last week all about the crisis facing Europe. Called The Great European Disaster Movie and set in a not too-distant future after the collapse of the EU, it featured an archaeologist (played by Angus Deayton) on a flight to Berlin beset by a menacing storm, explaining to a little girl what the European Union had been. These unconvincing sequences were intercut with case studies of individuals in 2015, in different member states, affected by the present crisis.

Podemos demo filling the Puerta del Sol. Madrid, January 31, 2015.
Podemos demo filling the Puerta del Sol. Madrid, January 31, 2015

In his latest column for the Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash argues from a similar position, but in a much more reasoned manner. His fears for the future of the EU are worth paying attention to because, as he wrote in a column at the start of the Greek crisis back in 2011, ‘for all my adult life, I have been what in England is called a pro-European or Europhile’. My own experience has been similar; as I wrote here in 2012:

Through the 1990s and into the new century, I taught European Studies, and in that heady decade between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the launch of the euro, I accompanied young students on educational trips to Brussels and beyond, visiting the European Parliament and other EU institutions, absorbing the lessons of the past at the First World war sites of northern France and Belgium, and encountering the signs of Europe’s 20th century nightmare in other places.  With those ghosts at our shoulders, it felt intoxicating to be able to cross frontiers unchecked, sailing past boarded-up border posts, carrying bright new euro notes and coins that could be spent anywhere.

But, I continued three years ago, today there are no illusions:  ‘Across Europe, the EU has been transformed in the minds of voters everywhere into an undemocratic regime of bureaucrats imposing spartanism on the less fortunate in the name of the rich and the powerful.’ But, should we hold on to the original dream of an ‘ever-closer union’ – or, let it die with the neo-liberal ‘machine from hell’ that is the eurozone (as characterised by a senior German official, quoted by Garton-Ash)?

In today’s article, Timothy Garton-Ash begins by quoting Angela Merkel: ‘If the euro fails, Europe fails’. His analysis is more cautious:

There is a much higher chance that it will grind along like a badly designed Kazakh tractor, producing slower growth, fewer jobs and more human suffering than the same countries would have experienced without monetary union. However, the misery will be unevenly distributed between debtor and creditor countries, struggling south and still prospering north.

Garton-Ash is surely correct when he writes:

The structural problem here is that the monetary area is European but the democratic politics are still national. It is not that there is nothing that could be done, if the politics allowed it.

It’s obvious that Timothy Garton-Ash is no fan of the eurozone, thinking its hasty establishment in the 1990s was a mistake. The eurozone could be saved, he suggests, in a way that didn’t grind the faces of the Greeks, Spaniards or Irish by agreeing the kind of fiscal transfers from richer states to poorer ones that you have inside a proper federal union such as the United States. But, ‘in creating a monetary union without a fiscal or political one, Europeans put the cart before the horse – and now the horse is not ready to get in front of the cart’.

Tzsipras election victory
Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras celebrating victory in the Greek general election

‘We don’t change policies depending on elections.’

The problem lies with what, for years now, has been termed in the text books the ‘democratic deficit’.  The EU is, in Garton-Ash’s words, ‘a paternalistic, top-down’ version of European integration – now challenged by the Syriza victory in Greece, and the likely triumph of Podemos in Spain’s election later this year. Garton-Ash highlights the attitude problem among the technocrats and politicians imbued with neo-liberal ideology who run the EU today with an alarming quote:

Given the choice between democracy and a paternalistic, top-down, Euro-Leninist version of European integration, I will choose democracy every time. The Finnish vice president of the European commission, Jyrki Katainen, responded to Syriza’s election victory by saying, ‘We don’t change policies depending on elections.’ Oh yes you bloody well do. It’s called democracy and it’s Europe’s greatest political invention. The trouble is that the structural problems of the eurozone require a transnational European democratic solidarity of fellow citizens which does not exist between different nationalities in the eurozone, and is not in prospect any time soon.

This is exactly the problem I identified the last time there was a Greek crisis, in February 2012:

Imagine that this is us: scrutineers from the European Union move permanently into our government departments; international financial institutions insist that our constitution is rewritten to make servicing our government debt the priority; those institutions stump up a fund to bail out our public debt, but pay the money into an escrow account, releasing  funds only under the supervision of the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank, and on condition that key public services are privatised, wages and pensions slashed and conditions of service torn up.

This is what Greeks are waking up to this morning, now that the eurozone finance ministers have agreed the rescue deal for their country’s debt bailout.  It means that Greece is now ‘independent in name only’, colonised and policed by the richer members of the eurozone.

So here we are, the can kicked another three years down the road. How much longer can this go on?  Quite a while, suggests Garton-Ash:

And so we will struggle on, torn between national politics and European policies, while the monetary union that was meant to unite Europe pulls it apart. But the torture will be slow. In the countries that are suffering most from this “machine from hell”, as one senior German official has described the eurozone, there is still a passionate determination to stay “in Europe”.

It’s a powerful article, albeit that it ends rather limply:

What then? My heart does not like what my head is telling me. But it is still up to us, and there is still time to reverse the trend. Can Europe’s 89ers – the generation born around and after 1989 – generate the political imagination and will that our current politics are failing to produce?

Not that I blame him: to be pro-European today is to cling on desperately to a dream. A decade or more ago, there seemed to be a strong case for arguing that the supranational structures of the EU were the only way that national or local populations could retain sovereignty over their territorial affairs and interests, under pressure from the forces of globalization (large multi-national firms, outsourcing of labour, mass migration, ecological disaster, climate change and so on).  That case is still valid today as nation-states increasingly fail to protect their citizens from the depredations of globalisation – more so in the current global recession.  National governments are failing to effectively regulate financial systems, protect the environment, or narrow the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak.

But now, in response to the impact of austerity policies, citizens are shifting towards the view that the only way that their interests can be protected is to bring decision-making back home (see: Scotland, Catalonia, the French Front National, UKIP). It’s a seductive banner, but can we retreat into our own little enclaves and still be able to tackle the problems created by the global muscle of powerful banks and multinationals?

See also

Charles Lloyd and Maria Farantouri at the Barbican: songs of faith, songs of hope

Charles Lloyd and Maria Farantouri at the Barbican: songs of faith, songs of hope

Continue reading “Charles Lloyd and Maria Farantouri at the Barbican: songs of faith, songs of hope”