Wednesday 18 September 2019

Gene Kerrigan: A country is flayed with contempt as European identity is shattered

Even so, there are still reasons to believe in the EU. Without it, Ireland would be in the Dark Ages, says Gene Kerrigan

HERE'S the number to remember when we talk about Greece: 2,109. And here's another, to keep things in perspective: 1,419. And here's a word that's supposed to mean something: solidarity.

Over the past week, we watched the bullying of a country that's already on the rack. One demand following another. And as each demand was reluctantly agreed to, a new demand or two was unveiled. The Greek politicians twist and turn and try to meet the ultimatums of the EU bureaucrats, while at the same time trying to calm their angry, frustrated people. Stay calm, please, they beg. Please pretend the bastards are being reasonable.

And, just as financial support is dangled before them, so is the threat of utter chaos. You think this is bad, they are taunted. Wait until we kick you out of the eurozone.

What do our leaders in this country have to say about this bullying? Nothing. Heads down, lips zipped. It's like you're in the playground and some thug is tormenting a lad he's never much liked, and now he's got an excuse to thump him. Do you try to rally the rest of the class to stop this, or do you avert your gaze, thankful you're not the victim?

A lot of dodgy stuff went on in Greece. There was the massive tax evasion by the comfortable classes. And the authorities looked on complacently -- indeed, it was the country's wealthiest, most powerful people who indulged in criminality.

In this country in the Eighties and Nineties, our own comfortable classes did the same, at the expense of the rest of us. It was known about at a political level, from Taoiseach Haughey downwards. It was known in Revenue, in boardrooms and in the banks -- hell, the banks arranged it, the largest example of organised crime in the history of the State.

Of course, the Greek government deliberately misled the EU about its finances. Quite wrong of them. We can be sure that our government would never deceive its EU masters. But again and again our leaders have been caught misleading us.

That number at the beginning, 2,109 -- that's the average number of hours Greeks worked in 2010. And 1,419 -- that's the Germans. We in Ireland clocked up an average of

1,664 hours. So, the accusations that the Greeks are lazy, that they've been swaying in a hammock while the rest of us sweated in a workshop, are just not true.

OECD figures say they work the longest hours per week, apart from the Koreans. Other countries are richer because of historical accumulation and technology.

Greece alone didn't cause the crisis, nor did Germany alone, or anyone else. It erupted from a kamikaze policy based around the euro, a collective miscalculation by the EU bureaucrats and political leaders.

Either they fix it together, placing the burden on those who benefited most from the bubble, or they hunt scapegoats and stumble through one financial skirmish after another until the whole thing fragments. They've chosen the latter course.

Here's the BBC's Paul Mason, reporting from Greece: "It looks like something changed, tangibly, in the past 10 days. The established parties lost belief in what the EU is forcing them to do; parts of the EU lost belief in it too; and the people -- quite wide layers of society -- lost belief in the political class."

There are reasons to believe in the EU, despite the dominance of destructive, antiquated ideologies. Without its pressure on some social issues, Ireland would still be in the dark ages.

There were romantic notions of overcoming the nationalism that again and again made a charnel house of Europe.

But the pretence of a European identity has been shattered over the past year. The right-wing triumphalism that bankrupted Europe now offers only knee-jerk recipes for austerity. So, Greece is flayed, in a mixture of contempt and perverse moralising.

Here, we search for weaker countries with which to compare ourselves and suck up to the bureaucrats. Our leaders first picked on Iceland. We're not like Iceland, they trumpeted. We're not militant like those silly Icelanders who voted to reject a deal that would have forced them to pay the debts of reckless bankers.

Tell us what to do and we'll do it, our leaders said. We're submissive Ireland, not aggressive Iceland. To austerity and beyond!

How did that work out? Both countries took a hiding, as they were bound to in a world dominated by bankers and their political friends.

But here's another couple of numbers. End of 2010, unemployment in Ireland, 13.9 per cent. And in Iceland, 7.7 per cent.

Then our leaders joined in mocking Greece. Michael Noonan wandered around America threatening to get a T-shirt made that said: "We're not Greece." A gas character, Michael. The people who told us we must be "at the heart of Europe" are now bent over and puckered up, kissing the backside of Europe. Our deference is so creepy that we dare not -- in the miserable years to come -- ask for the solidarity of any other country.

Manolis Glezos is an iconic Greek figure. In May 1941, aged 19, he climbed the Acropolis with a friend and pulled down the Nazi swastika, inspiring the growth of resistance. He was tortured by the Gestapo. When the Greek colonels took over at gunpoint in 1967 he was jailed. Last week, marching in protest at the pain heaped on his fellow citizens, he was gassed. Such things are never forgotten.

The grim-faced robots enforcing mindless austerity seem unaware that with every stroke of their pens they damage the institution they allegedly venerate.

Sunday Independent

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