Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Drachma queen

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Athens and its allies clobbered the Persians in the fifth century BC. I'm not sure, but that may have been the last war Greece won if you don't count Macedonia and Alexander. But the Greek people haven't lost their pride. They're willing to go to war against their government, as well as the European Union that was foolish enough to invite them in. The country that came to dinner. And stayed. And dined off its host's largesse.

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I'm glad I'm not a Greek politician, or any politician. But especially not a Greek one. The poor sods are caught between Scylla and Charybdis (an old Greek metaphor). Zorba wants to keep pouring the ouzo and dancing on the tabletop. Every man and woman their own Force of Nature. Unfortunately, that leaves little time and energy left over for uptight northern concepts like work. 

That, in turn, leaves scant revenue for the state that is expected to provide welfare for the masses. So Greece is in debt up to Athena's eyeballs. To be a member of the EU, you have to agree to certain regulations intended to stop you being a drain on the other EU members. Like not being bankrupt. Greece didn't read the fine print in the contract.

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Meanwhile, The Club decided it was time to put a flea in Greece's ear. Get your economic act together and do it last week. Try a new dish: austerity souvlaki. Greek politicians tried to comply. Greeks responded by reading their leaders and the EU the riot act -- no, acting the riot act.

What fettle now?

Said the Toronto Globe and Mail yesterday (you should make allowances for journalistic sensationalism):
With crashing stock markets, a plummeting currency and furious talk of military interventions in the Greek economy, this may be remembered as the Monday when the European crisis turned into an utter cataclysm. ... Greece, pushed to the wall by a sequence of German-led bailouts that have done little more than pile on more debt, announced on Monday that it is nearly out of cash. ...

This has led to desperate measures. On Sunday, Greece announced an emergency property tax of about 50 cents per square foot on all buildings, payable immediately, in an effort to top up government coffers enough to meet bailout conditions. Senior German officials leaked suggestions to the media that Greece be forced out of the 17-country euro zone and returned to the drachma – a move that would likely do terminal damage to German banks, which hold huge shares of euro-denominated Greek debt, and might send Italy and Spain plummeting into default. 
Trying to make up a deficit by taxing Greeks is like trying to squeeze champagne out of a cabbage.

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Zorba the Delinquent

Germany, which sees itself as the long-suffering ringmaster of a circus of particularly fractious beasts, isn't having it anymore.
Other German officials stirred up markets and raised long-simmering animosities to a boil by making far more radical, even militaristic, suggestions.

Günther Oettinger, Germany’s representative on the European Commission, said last week that Europe should send United Nations soldiers to Greece to liquidate its assets and force tax collection, according to the Daily Telegraph. This resulted in headlines in Greece denouncing the “Fourth Reich” and “terrorism against the Greeks.” 
Sending UN troops to pillage Hellenic assets is a splendid touch. However, rather than sporting the usual blue helmets, I'd suggest they be kitted out with helmets and uniform patches bearing the logos of Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, UBS, etc. -- institutions said to be holding Greek bonds that have the aroma of fish left out in the sun.

There have been half-serious suggestions that Greece sell of some of its more touristworthy islands.

Well, if the best minds of a dozen countries can't sort this mess out, I'm double sure I can't. A few years ago I visited the Athens Archeological Museum. Some nice pieces there. I'd be prepared to make an offer. What are a few antiquities more or less in a country that has millions of them but can't pay its dry cleaning bill?

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4 comments:

Sheila said...

I expect some internet-surfing Greek Americans (with a surfeit of pride in the former appellation and little but disdain for the latter) will find this post and indignantly protest against this slandering of the "cradle of democracy." Personally, I disliked Greece intently. The border guards were surly (even with my diplomatic passport), the prices were high, the toilets were Turkish, and I couldn't get lamb in a restaurant for love or money. For my purposes at the time, Turkey was far more hospitable. Of course, with Erdogan resurgent, I wouldn't set foot there today (and wouldn't be surprised if all the urbane Turkish diplomats I knew are searching for new homes).

Rick Darby said...

Sheila,

I was just trying to wring a little comedy out of this mad situation. Not bashing Greece or Greeks.

If anything, the worst actors in this drachma, er, drama were the EU imperialists who thought all Europeans were interchangeable and could be gathered into a currency and political union. Visionary aggression triumphed over common sense.

zazie said...

Didn't Lord Byron go to Greece to fight the Turks? Then was one of the last wars Greece had to fight ; and of course, when they talk of "nazi" Europeans, they know what the word means ; during and after WWII they had to fight first foreign, then home-made nazis....
I think sheila should see the difference between "Greek" and "Grecian" ; the latter does remind us that Athens was indeed the "cradle of democracy", a political régime that surely had nothing in common with our present-day so-called "democracies"....

Van Wijk said...

"Greece" fought very few wars in ancient times. The myriad independent Greek cities, on the other hand, loved to fight each other so much that their best men were long dead by the time Macedon rose to prominence. Just as modern "Romans" have very little relationship to the Romans, modern "Greeks" have little relationship to the most magnificent people of the classical world.

I think sheila should see the difference between "Greek" and "Grecian" ; the latter does remind us that Athens was indeed the "cradle of democracy", a political régime that surely had nothing in common with our present-day so-called "democracies"....

"Grecian" is pure post-Renaissance fiction. I'll stick with Greek. We should also remember that the Athenians showed us the innate limitations of their own democratic system. The voters fell under the sway of a swine named Alcibiades, and voted, bless their hearts, to invade an island that had done no harm to them. The end result was a rout so complete that it broke Athenian power and guaranteed a Spartan victory.