Athens must be destroyed: of distressed Greeks and debt

  • July 18, 2016

Capitalism & Crisis

A year ago, the neo-Byzantine empire showed a harmless but recalcitrant government that even social democracy will be crushed like a ladybird. Chronicle of a sadistic subjugation.

1. So the First Shall Be First

There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation: one is by sword, the other is by debt.

— Adam Smith

This essay by the Austrian author Richard Schuberth was written in the summer of 2015 and published in German by Hanser. Today, we share an English translation by Johannes Weinkirn to commemorate the defeat of the Greek OXI, one year ago this week.

Astonishment and disbelief on the faces of historians looking back at us from a future which we would like to conceive as a better place — as if we had a choice? And, we should hope, inhabited by scientists of a wiser kind. Darn dawning twenty-first century which won’t reveal its secrets! Fever-pitched arguments, seminars, symposia, talk shows, and sweepstakes revolving around the question whether the political decision-makers of the EU at the time were either malicious, incompetent, totally off their rockers or in the end maybe all of the above?

How it came about: a couple of disadvantaged countries joined together to jazz up their competitiveness. Since every common interest group likes to drape up its own interests as common good, a unifying mythology was of the essence. Cunningly and appealingly, the builders of this supra-nation decided to prettify their cartel with all those civilizatory accomplishments towards which they not only didn’t contribute and in which they had at most an adjustable rate interest but which, in actuality, had to be wrestled from their fathers and their father’s fathers at great sacrifice: the enlightenment, the less hideous aspects of the Christian and Jewish confessions, human and minority rights, rationality, the glorious overcoming of clericalism, fascism, colonialism, and nationalism. And what did this union do next once the hangover from its dedication ceremony had passed? Everything, cum ira et studio, that would make the barely suppressed demons gush up from its slightest crack and breach like geysers at Goetterdaemmerung. Perhaps, its very peculiar interpretation of Christian eschatology had something to do with this, it culminates in the following creed: the first will be first, and the last truly the pits.

A climate-geographical allegory would compare the EU to a union of wet and dry countries. Highest precept of political reasoning should have demanded the immediate installation of a joint irrigation system. Instead, the wet countries lowered their own citizenry’s water rations in order to sell them to the dry countries whose soil was drained to jump-start this trade. This led to the dry country elites’ dependence on cheap water imports which quickly turned foul or were senselessly wasted seeping into the karst. When the dry countries could no longer meet their commitments, the wet slime-ball creditor countries got angry and started screaming: “What they themselves had accomplished were not out of reach of the dry countries as long as the will for dehydration were sufficient.” Little by little, the dry countries turned into desert ones and their dunes started to migrate with alarming speed towards the wet regions.

Now the wet countries developed for the dry countries rehabilitation programs which consisted in not just bleeding dry the land but also the people and in turning over the last water reserves as payback for the imported cheap water; those already evaporated on delivery. This program rested on the theory that the less water an organism takes in, the more it passes through — and, though unproven, it proved strangely popular with investors. This time around success had to ensue, thought the experts from the wet countries while taking their showers. And without waiting for verification of this peculiar theory, in the kiddy pools of power a further rescue package along the same lines, demanding even more dehydration, was agreed to. And when this, too, failed to produce the desired lily pad sprouts, the ingenious idea was hatched to desiccate the dry countries even further — they should have no lilies at all, neither of the water nor the sand variety. There was agreement to no longer negotiate with mummies and realization that the dry countries simply had no talent at all for moisture and, moreover, that they were unworthy of all the water that was sucked out as well as sold into them. From the beginning, these dry water athletes should not have been invited on board.

In a hundred years we should be able to heartily laugh about this bungled, sadistic mess, provided we ever recover that laughter which just now absconded. In hindsight, we will also realize that the brotherly embrace of nations was nothing but a clinching move by the stronger nations to rally their strength and to tire out the weaker ones in preparation for the business as usual of domestic colonialism. Had Greece not joined the Eurozone, it would at least be able to as a sovereign decide its own monetary policy. The Eurozone, we might exaggerate, was a trick by export miracle Germany to, through a common currency, prevent the surrounding debtor countries from devaluing their national currencies. All exaggeration harbors a kernel of untruth, in case of this aphorism understating the complicity of all the countries involved.

Jürgen Habermas wrote in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung about the “faulty design of a currency union without political union.” This favorite trope of the critical optimists fails to notice that even the tightest political union couldn’t guarantee curing the fateful congenital defect of the EU — the drifting apart of current accounts (through, for example, penalty payments by the surplus countries into a joint fund). By lowering wages, throttling domestic demand and barrages of exports, the financially strong countries — Germany leading the way — also have exported unemployment to their periphery, and in their drive to increase their profit margins they have increased the asymmetry between core and margin. The scarcity of money drove up interest rates in the deficit countries while attracting capital from the surplus countries in the form of credit. Since, due to the currency union, the former could no longer devalue their currencies and their treasury bonds were still yielding more, the northern creditor countries started to gorge on those. The common currency protected the members from currency speculation but at the same time furthered the business of speculation in their sovereign debt.

A slight discomfort makes me stop writing here. Vain as I am, I already seem to sense you, dear reader — admit it! — accusing me of engaging in bleeding heart leftist moralizing, default business hostility, radical chic, the revaluation of lazy Global Southerners merely out of solidarity and the devaluation of successful capitalist swine out of contempt alone. I must disappoint you, I am in no way a left-liberal; I am communist and radical and — guilty as charged — chic. But a moralist I am not. To the contrary, I take issue with leftists as soon as they start to personalize societal conditions and throw moral judgments at the wrong issues. Regardless of how many unscrupulous rats hurt the commonweal with their financial speculating (they might just be doing us a favor by speeding up the implosion of an entirely irrational system which no matter how many courageous reforms are applied, remains just that), even the Christian-Social poster boy of a business owner who invests in real (not just financially parasitic) assets, who is responsible, darling, and piano playing, still has to operate under the blind constraints of exploitation and compulsive growth. The disproportionate number of scumbags who make a cozy living in the sphere of financial speculation only too easily makes us lose sight of the fact that even the socially conscious investor is a pathetic particle in the force field of production cost advantages and profit yields. If then credit is drawn to where the yields are high, currents ensue which even the most benevolent finance capitalist will be trapped in, lest regulatory help is forthcoming.

In short, water isn’t evil because it inundates the valley when the dam fails. It just follows the laws of gravity. But it can — may the ecologists forgive me — be dammed up again. Evil are only those who open the floodgates wantonly. But they are the least problem; they can at any time be stood up against a wall.

Even so, political economy alone won’t be able to answer the question which will puzzle scientists of the future just the same: why are the political actors of this regime busying themselves like bees to destroy it; why are they undermining that lofty perch from which their whim decides the future of entire countries? The answer is: alchemy. These least market-friendly of free-market players are not searching for the stone of philosophers but for a type of oil that finally puts out fire. Austerity as crisis management had its debut after the 1929 stock market crash and led to the Great Depression. It was especially well suited to the German temper whose embodiment, Chancellor Heinrich Brüning, urged Teutonic self-denial: “Nobody recovers without pain.”

The pain became unbearable, more so the medicine called Hitler. Whose deficit spending had Keynesian features, ditto the push for armaments production which comprised the least smart aspect of Roosevelt’s New Deal but which at last contributed beneficially to Germany’s defeat, a creative destruction however, which — and here is hinting at Europe’s future — one might have been able to do without were it not for the post-1930 austerity programs. The comeback of cutting social spending, fiscal tightening on pain of economic sclerosis and supply-side economics happened with the so-called neoliberal turn. Like a swarm of locusts did the structural adjustment and austerity programs of IMF and Worldbank move from one developing country to the other, in its path destroying all remnants of functioning local structures, lowering wages, enfeebling labor rights and labor unions, opening these countries for imports and supplying local elites with pocket money they rarely invested back into the economy.

These fire engines of austerity, filled to the brim with oil, were once again deployed at the banking crisis which for the benefit of hedge funds and banks was transformed into a sovereign debt crisis. Gerhard Schröder had already administered a strangulating belt-tightening to the German worker within the scope of the Hartz-IV programs, the main secret ingredient of Germany’s unique competitive advantage but identified by every reputable economist today as not only a union-threatening national egotism but also as strategically irrational because wage dumping snuffed out domestic consumption. What’s good for the German goose, shall be good for the Greek gander. The outcome is nothing to sneeze at: contraction of the Greek economy by 25 percent, debt relative to GDP grown from 108 percent (2008) to 180 percent, unemployment to over 26 percent (of which 77 percent occurred after the implementation of the rescue program), every other teenager out of work, cut off from job experience, education, on the job training. Wages have dropped by 25 percent. More than 30 percent of Greeks no longer have health insurance, children are malnourished. And the Greeks, traditionally sluggish about self-murder, tripled their suicide rate. These statistics are important — for the immediate experience of human suffering would be too abstract for the responsible pyrocrats. Only numbers have the power to move them to tears.

When the fire ravaging Greek society could no longer be ignored even in Brussels and Berlin, the Troika found reason and deployed the water bombers. Now it acts like a panicking hostage-taker who in the knowledge that the police won’t supply the getaway car rather than giving up, shoots his hostages.

And then the people of Greece did something democratic Europe wasn’t thought capable of any longer — they rediscovered democracy. Instead of wallowing in weariness or rallying around the nationalist beasts, they gave their mandate for the clipping of this endless spiral of humiliation, blackmail, and disciplining to a party which would stand up to the domestic bandits, in power since 1829, as well as to their European accomplices. But this first political force in Hellas which in its political idealism aimed to safeguard the reputation of Greek civilization itself, displayed virtues which would turn out to be a most serious disadvantage for it. It had grasped the economics behind the crisis, it counted a disproportionately high number of experts among itself, it was pro-European, conciliatory, and animated by an adolescent naïveté that the voice of reason would find approval up there in the cool North.

It is not known if Schäuble himself had rolled it overnight the long way from Berlin to Syntagma Square or if Jeroen Dijsselbloem brought it along in his baggy briefcase — but not long after Syriza’s accession to office one morning a horse’s head was lying in front of the Athens parliament. Jean-Claude Juncker, of merry Rhenish temperament, always up for a little bit of drollery, tie and colleague grabbing, left it at this bacio della morte. He and Merkel, Schäuble, Dijsselbloem, and Christine Lagarde met in a warehoused piece of speculative real estate at the outskirts of Brussels. It was Paul Krugman who first revealed the conspirators’ oath to the public — they threw their hoods back, put their right hands on top of each other’s and swore: “Athenae delendae sunt!” — Athens must be destroyed.

2. The Futility of Fact Checking

But most the modern Pict’s ignoble boast,
To rive what Goth, and Turk and Time hath spared:
Cold as the crags upon his native coast,
His mind as barren and his heart as hard,
Is he whose head conceived, whose hand prepared,
Aught to displace Athena’s poor remains:
Her sons too weak the sacred shrine to guard,
Yet felt some portion of their mother’s pains,
And never knew till then the weight of Despots chains.

— Lord Byron

For seven years now the Greeks have been suffering in distress, and since it now is possible to lay the blame for it at the door of a government that has been in office for all of seven month, even leading bell-wethering Western media can acknowledge their distressed state.[1] Business jargon proffers a strange symmetry when it in all seriousness coined the term “distressed debt”, revealing openly whose distress counts for more in a world where man factors only as an expense and a nuisance. It is comforting then to know that others, e.g, debts, can be in even greater distress than oneself. And once you consider that “distressed debt” is a synonym for non-performing loans, it becomes clear that these Greeks who are in distress lately, are suffering because they are lazy non-performers. Into resentment’s trap fall those who try to defend the Greeks from the accusation of being lazy, just the same as the anti-racist who has racists sniff African armpits in an effort to convince them that “negroes” don’t stink.

Fact-checking is the foundation of a house called Enlightenment, which without it can’t stand. However, without the building itself and its bricks and mortar, also called reflection and dialectics respectively, fact-checking only remains a construction site. The naive notion of factual truth and untruth and of non-partial objectivity seems touching in these days of wolfish propaganda. Tilt against windmills, rolling rock uphill, owls to Athens. To Athens which must be destroyed not despite but precisely because it spoke truth to the stock holders in destruction and the pyrocrats of doom — a truth prevailing. But for naught, for truth is very unevenly concentrated, in excess in the hands of the few but redundant falsehood is shared in the accounts of the many.

The truth is readily accessible. If one so chooses, one may know everything. And once you know, you no longer want to know because horrible things are revealed. For example, that almost everything that is reported on Greece is wrong. How can this be in a pluralist democracy? Only there it can be, in a dictatorship official coverage is mistrusted to a greater degree whereas in a democracy trust in it remains, as well as the illusion to live in one.

And, incidentally, can there be a flaw tragic enough, a hamartia so veritable, as to make the new Greek government responsible for all the economic problems of the last seven years?[2] On this point we have to accept that the German firefighters really believe in their oil therapy and already uncorked the champagne when short-term data showing growth of the Greek economy seemed to prove them right. Eurostat established that in 2014 from the second to the third quarter Greek GDP grew by 0.7 percent, which immediately was seen as a positive result of the austerity diktat. As “growth champion” of the Eurozone Der Spiegel stroked the cheek of the quick and eager learning pupil who had, just as he had been told, stolen his classmates’ school lunches. As the economic situation started to deteriorate again in the fourth quarter, it was clear who the culprit was — the administration that was voted into office in February of the following year. Die Welt on February 8: “This is how Tsipras throttles the Greek recovery.”

That this was in breech of all the laws of logic, which the Greeks erstwhile taught us, Wolfgang Schäuble did accept, and argued with his own idiosyncratic set of logic: Syriza had already before the election turned the upturn into a downswing by declaring open season on the “good numbers” and not a single good number was allowed to escape the left numbers-hatred in this hounding of good numbers through the streets of Athens. “During the election campaign and after its election the new government then destroyed all the good numbers.” But the “good numbers” hadn’t been a success, argued the economists Mitchell and Grunert. Rather, they were a horrifying indication of accelerating deflation, a statistical effect resulting from prices falling faster than production.

And what exactly, asks a critical public that cautiously starts thinking for itself instead of having the editorial writers continue to do it for them, was so populist about a policy which aspires to improve those social standards which had been abolished by diktat of the Troika under the prior administrations of Papandreou and Samaras, and which stands up to an austerity regime whose incendiary irrationality, attested daily by the more moderate among economic scientists, might not only ruin the free-market economy for good but hand over its ruins to festering fascism? If Syriza is radically left, then Olof Palme and Bruno Kreisky were Stalinists and Stalin no longer conceptually graspable since the attribute Stalinist is already applied to social democracy.

Rather, Tsipras’s social and economic policy converges on that totalitarian past of New Labor from which New Labor moved away when it purged social democracy of its Stalinism (i.e. social democracy), and started to open itself to the free market; a freedom whose worldwide legacy is for most more oppressive than impressive. In truth, and former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis puts it eloquently and thoughtfully, this New Left shoulders the “historic duty to stabilize capitalism, to save European capitalism from itself and from the inane handlers of the Eurozone’s inevitable crisis.” Paul Krugman and many other prominent Stalinists like Amartya Sen, Joseph Stiglitz, and Heiner Flassbeck have already rubber-stamped this devastating revelation.

As soon as the opinion-making powers succeed in portraying even the most timid attempts to restore the social welfare state as radically left-wing, they will have won the battle for interpretation. Then it is only a question of time and caprice to pitch the blue sky as a green one, to advertise cherries as peaches or financial oligarchies as democracies. The masses, bereft of facts to base their decisions and democracy on, who are left in the dark, only have resentment as their sole way out. Only he who gambles, wins and he who lies should lie as barefacedly as possible, for signs of bashfulness only arise suspicion that the lie might be untrue. The inner workings of this soft-footed Machiavellianism are exposed by Jean-Claude Juncker in his usual waggishness: “We decide on something, leave it lying around and wait and see what happens. If no one kicks up a fuss, because most people don’t understand what has been decided, we continue step by step until there is no turning back.”

To portray falsehoods brazenly and cheerfully as truth and truth as tendentious, dubious and ideological, is very efficient. It causes paralysis of reason from shock and neutralizes the critical intellectual. The so-called nuanced smart set will, as usual, walk the golden mean wrong track and politely ask truth, which is now called falsehood, to quit grumbling and to instead meet untruth, which now is dogma, halfway. Rebellion or howls of protest are not to be expected, neither by the intellectuals nor the cheated citizens and if, then only against asylum seekers, Muslims, Jews, the long-term unemployed or — Greeks.

While the intellectuals were playing like cats with the yarn of their discourse analyses, economic rackets could flourish in all their vulgar-Marxist splendor. Power works at the same time in a highly complex and an embarrassingly simple way. From year one, power has been slipping politicians and departmental managers wads of cash, in bright daylight for the critical mind to see, and it seeing that the mind sees, it winks an eye at it, because it knows that the mind will keep quiet. And why will it stay quiet? For two reasons: firstly, because such unambiguity of affairs offends its intellectual honor — what for in the world did it master all these intricate theoretical tools if reality is exactly as banal as the mind at age 16 critiqued it? And secondly, out of fear to be ridiculed as a vulgar Marxist by exactly those practitioners of the vulgar-Marxist kind of power.

This, however, is only one half of the truth. For power not only works in a vulgar-Marxist manner but also according to the dialectics of recognition and rejection. It is not an immediate disciplining force which compels the journalist to politically conform; just like all the other poor bastards in this tread-wheel of freedom and self-development, he internalizes power, his conforming is preemptive obedience which he in the end believes to be an expression of intellectual independence and accredited grown-upness. Whosoever has caroused in his student days with people who nowadays sit behind editorial desks knows that it rarely is the ponderer and deep thinker who rushes to journalism. And that the bulk of research is not extended on serious study and on the continuous inner struggle with the inner contradictions of a subject but on the rodentlike sniffing out of the boundary markers of current opportuneness. To lean too far out of the editorial window is to be avoided, not so much because of fear from the gravity of a truth that is beckoning out there but from being pushed from behind by the myriads who are waiting to perform selfsame job with the exact same aptitude or inaptitude.

Torn between fear for one’s existence, the pressure of editorial deadlines, the staccato of incoming news agency reports and internet opinions, and the private notion of one’s intellectual and literary slightness, this tortured soul never gets the opportunity to deepen the subject matter, covering all this up by employing prefab language modules and cursory, quickly gleaned facts. That leads to a chronically narcissist disposition in need of even more recognition than those it can’t help constantly feeding disinformation to. Trial and error fashion such a creature quicker for the job than its mind has time to catch up and if the hand that feeds it belongs to an executive editor who is allowed to poodle around in the VIP lounge of the Munich Security Conference, to come and go as he pleases at the Entrepreneur’s Club or to wagtail about at the hunting parties of weapon lobbyists, then this creature can’t be totally on the wrong track, for as Karl Kraus knew, small railroad stations even feel pride when express trains pass by them.

3. Insolent Whippersnapper & Red Witch

I don’t ask for money. What I ask for is a more rational upgrade of the entire macroeconomic program in Europe and especially in Greece. Money, of course, is part of that request, but not everything. As The Beatles sang: money can’t buy me love.

— Yanis Varoufakis

If Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis would sue for defamation regarding all the insults and false reports they had to endure from European, in particular from German and Austrian news media, the ensuing damages would not only cover Greece’s, Spain’s and Ireland’s debts combined, but the leftover could be used to issue cheap debt to the former creditor countries, making it possible to live for generations from the interest payments alone the life of Riley.

And the historians of the future will argue if the methods used in dictatorships to get rid of the opposition, though generally a tad unhealthy but at least not as debasing, were not preferable to the slurry of manure from resentment and idiocy in which Syriza was to be drowned since taking office. And they will also note the consistent insecurity of the defamers and the hysterical jitteriness with which they formed into a united front. The Gaul village called Greece had become a clear and present danger for the empire, for this new Byzantium. The reaction of the media swarm intelligence mirrored the confusion of the political decision-makers and in return was amplyfing it. A power not used to being challenged, showed signs of being cognitively overwhelmed when the new negotiation partners did not behave as the irresponsible radikalinskis one wanted them to be but were conciliatory and rational, prudent and far from populist, pragmatic and idealist instead. Was there anything more obvious than to berate them after an initial instant of shock even more loudly as being radical, chaotic, and populist?

The caterwauling employed to drown out the soft voice of reason was an indication that this voice of reason had been recognized as such. When Tsipras and Varoufakis realized that their guileless self-confidence was ill-fitting the ceremonial of this creditor court, they made an even bigger mistake in not sensing that everything they would be doing henceforth would be mistaken. To bow before the negotiating partners made it even worse for it made the height measurable from which they bowed. They had at this most Byzantine of all Byzantine courts refused proskynesis, prostrating themselves before the emperor, furnishing each and everyone of the hundreds of mousegray briefcase carriers — those equivalents of the white-clad palace eunuchs — with leave to spit on them. All their conciliatory suggestions, each and everyone documented, were portrayed as clumsy, incompetent, and incomplete in Troika press communiques. The two Greeks had failed to realize that their historic mission consisted in seeking, not demanding terms.

Media “priming”, the manipulation of unconscious perception, had the effect to turn the political reasonableness which the Greek side shared as freely as their corrupt predecessors had spent money, into its opposite not only in the eyes of functional illiterates but also in those of the “functioning” intellectuals. When CDU/CSU parliamentary caucus leader Volker Kauder dares to call the elected president of another EU government an “insolent whippersnapper”, he is only reproducing the general incitement which had been executed with military precision all along. If Tsipras were primed positively, he would succeed as a charming idealist. However hard he tried, Varoufakis’s expertise could only be overweening priggery, his calm demeanor arrogance, and his smile satyrlike expression of his treacherous nature. And since he knew a thing or two about game theory, he naturally had to be a gambler, just as every historian of fascism is a fascist — why else could he be interested in something so gruesome?

And beyond grotesque was the attempt to read into the pictures from Varoufakis’s terracotta terrace overlooking concrete slabs and facing a ruins-dotted mountain, a dissolute life in a luxury suite at Hotel Terminus. The petty-bourgeois lifestyle was actually a bit disappointing. A minister of the left should either inhabit the palazzi of the overthrown regime or dwell in tenements to garner the respect of the plebs.

The negative encoding of Syriza even led critics of EU politics like Habermas to search for truth by splitting the difference in their misguided penchant for balance and thus join every critique of the Troika to a reproach of Syriza, ignorant of the fact that the facts about the Greek side were gotten from a media which covered for the lies of the creditor cartel.

The feelings of intellectual inferiority vis-à-vis the alert Greeks were probably accompanied by sexual ones. For all demonizing harbors the risk of bringing the banned by the back door into the bed room. No sooner had an Italian columnist rhapsodized about Varoufakis as being “sexy and fascinating” and had other women and men stopped keeping quiet about their soft spot for the Greek satyr and Essex graduate, did the alarm bells tinkle in the inscrutable depth of the European technocrats’ pants folds. The neoliberal woman lusts after the nefarious criminal, the goody two heels for the tender Robin Hood in him.

Bandit and liberating hero rolled into one — Greeks call such a one “Palikaros”.

What the Palikari did to fragile Nordic masculinity was definitely squeaking for revenge. Merciless retaliatory castration was called for, in particular on the body of Alexis Tsipras who seemed to be the nicer one between the two. His wife, Peristera “Betty” Baziana, was tracked down; she supposedly is even meaner, meaning more Communist, than he. In her hands Tsipras were wax. Michael Banerth, a scribbling hack at the Basler Zeitung, dumb and misogynist in equal measure, presented the “red witch” to the public, and into the bargain his conception of femininity: already Tsipras’s estrogenetic negotiating style bore the hallmarks of his politdomina: “After all, he clearly was exhibiting female qualities; manipulative subversion, calculated stalling, incredible assertions, strategic disregard of common sense, scheming use of emotional tools like guilt and conscience. Only God hasn’t come into play yet for the simple reason that Baziana is a communist.” But how does she manage to pull this manipulation off? Employing feminine wiles, of course! “Betty is smart, for sure, and she has a good grip on Alexis, true, especially since she has recognized the true power of women and uses it at times to barter with: sex.” If that’s true, then Peristera Baziana is the greatest heroine of our times, a Lysistrata of social progress. “Alexis, if you consent to pension cuts, there won’t be Moussaka tonight. Alexis, no turning off of dialysis machines, otherwise: oxi. If you, Alexis, won’t raise the top tax rate for billionaires, then you can make out with Dijsselbloem tonight.”

But how could the Germans rope in so easily the ECB, the European Commission and even the IMF to do their bidding and put a rope around the neck of Tsipras and his merry men? Maybe to afterwards celebrate with Nea Dimokratia or some right-wing populist government haircut parties?[3] Equally convincing is the argument that Spain and Italy had to be shown the stick. However, the destructive fury that is uniting this creditor cartel against the Greeks has a further reason. Syriza had to go — and that’s the fine point — not because it was too radically left-wing but, to the contrary, because it isn’t sticking rigidly enough to a pattern of left-wing radicalism. (We should have expected no less from these sticky Greeks!)

For its challenges to the EU’s agenda-setting power, Syriza must go or be brought to its knees so it would lose face before its voters. It embodies all that which the EU mistakenly thinks it itself is: the EU oligarchs and technocrats consider themselves the epitome of democracy while the Greeks are just that; those think they are experts in economics, but this time around, it is the Greeks who are; they consider themselves torch-bearers of political enlightenment but in reality the Greeks are it; they believe to act in the name of the values of Europe, when it is the Greeks who are truly doing so; they believe it’s themselves who are fighting the hunger and the misery (which they caused in the first place), but it falls to the Greeks to do so, since it is they who are starving and sinking into misery; and the crux: they believe they were saving free-market capitalism, but it’s the Greek left that is earnestly trying to do so. Syriza has to go because it exposes the EU as the true Byzantium.

But what is driving them?

What your government does to other countries it will eventually do to you.

— English proverb

Jean-Claude Juncker is a man of considerable emotional amplitude, cordial and always good for a little joke. It is not the rare EU summit he has managed to enliven by his teasing cravat-grabbing, but he is also capable of feeling deep sorrow. He feels “deceived and betrayed” by the Greek government. “I am sad,” he sobbed into the microphone after negotiations had terminated at the end of June. “Mountains were being moved till the last minute before the Greek government shut the door.” The package put on the table by the creditors was not at all an austerity package and nobody was suggesting pension cuts. According to Martin Schulz, there were no plans for a VAT increase. Sigmar Gabriel, too, was aghast in the Bundestag, for the Greeks had been promised a “35 billion Euro growth program.” Deep sorrow, moved mountains, doors shut — this imaginative rhetoric of the great fatherly gesture of sentiment is reminiscent of the practice used by colonial envoys to make fools of indigenous people. A thousand tears would be shed by the Great White Father in Washington or by Granma Victoria if chief Red Cloud would not sign the land surrender treaty.

Ironically enough, it is not the Greek savages but the savages of the rest of Europe in front of the tube or hovering over their paper of record whose archaic inner realm is to be won over by this domestic tale of love and betrayal. Behold, as sons we have raised them, shared table and plate with them, took them fishing — and that’s the thanks we get! Only people of an especially unfeeling or rational nature are not moved by the narrative of the loving old father who has to campaign one last time against his own ungrateful flesh and blood. But what needs doing, must be done and who by now would still be doubting that Athens must be destroyed?

But wait a moment, wasn’t it the Great White Father who broke all these treaties? The White Fathers in Brussels and Berlin at any rate spoke with forked tongue. Whereas the documents that the Greek negotiators were supposed to sign on the dotted line did not contain a 35 billion euro gift, demands for massive pension cuts and a VAT increase were certainly there. All told, they were lying! The endearing rascal Jean-Claude Juncker took it good-naturedly: “When it becomes serious, you have to lie,” he had talked out of school already in 2012. “It is not surprising that during times of crisis sheer lies and complete falsehoods become the mainstay of everyday politics,” knows the economist Heiner Flassbeck. “But the way in which German media join German politics in what essentially is ideological warfare, was in its scope unimaginable.”

This still wouldn’t satisfy the vexed historians of a hopefully brighter future. Too obvious is the answer which tells of a firefighter who, confronted with his guilt, continued to pour oil into the fire out of panic and defiance. Such a narrative is simply too moralistic to tell the whole truth. The rationalism behind this irrationality lies in the fact that admitting to it would not only challenge individual egos but an entire monstrous system of mutual dependencies, positions, profits, and institutions — that’s what is behind all this vulgar-Marxist rigamarole. And according to the same theory which deems necessary the fattening of millionaires, the expropriation of the middle class and the letting go to waste of the expendable rest to create that confidence which alone can lead us back to the Valhalla of recovery, shareholders would bolt if Byzantium would admit defeat. That would threaten the end of a genuine European project of sustainable development: the sustained looting of whole national economies cum corresponding national populations who themselves have enabled the power grab of the thieves and their political henchmen just as blindly by ballot as they unseeingly will rally, once the damage is done, like sheep around new leaders who convince them to be part of a Herrenvolk that has got a raw deal on account of the surrounding slave races.

But enough demonology of evil, for the hand puppets into which “the invisible hand of the market” is tucked away, these jesters of post-democracy are surprisingly often neither cynics nor gamblers but belong to two other groups: technocrats and neoliberal idealists. It’s hard to believe but cognoscenti of the inner sanctum of power stunned me with the secret information that intellectual plainness only drives their evil deeds. The fact that Schäuble now and then has pocketed envelopes of that hard currency which the Global Southerner doesn’t have the harshness to sustain, shouldn’t make us blind to the fact that he is a creditor with principles and that, to his credit, he believes what he is preaching. He, and legion is his ilk, does really believe that all Europes — just the same as German Europe — can’t fail to achieve export surpluses if only they would do their homework. Confronted with such a teaching body, only two choices remain: to take the kids out of school or to change teachers, for these old dogs won’t learn new tricks.

And here unfortunately does this blasted difference in mentality — which serious criticism of society outright refuses to engage in — have bearing after all, for neoliberal macroeconomics does turn on German soil into liberally applied bean counting. And whereas in the rest of the world the creditor-debtor relationship might play out as a risky gamble here or naked power play there — in both cases morality out of good reason has no part to play — with the German bean counters it becomes a matter of crime and punishment.

This is the common ground where technocrats and idealists meet, not just by ignoring all economic evidence but also by avenging their own self-denial on the phantasm of an imagined Mediterranean insouciance. Grinning cheesily, he is and on top of it, he is uppity, this debtor who cocks a snook at us as soon as we go back to work. Even our corruption is of a different kind than his; we are corrupt out of responsibleness, he because he simply wants to splash about. The “Shylock-like clinging to the law,” as Marx calls it, with its loan collateral and socialized bank debts is incurring greater losses than outright debt relief would, can’t be understood completely without considering this aspect of cultural pathology. Germany and its satraps are determined to cut a pound of flesh from nearest of the Greeks’ heart. And after decades of European integration they still don’t realize that they are hacking into their own breast.

We won’t find Schäuble in Athens rolling from one hospital to the other, turning off the light and dialysis equipment; we won’t witness Juncker merrily pushing the desperate from window ledges and the android Dijsselbloems of this world stealing insulin from Athens pharmacies. Mary Wollstonecraft wrote towards the end of the 18th century: “The sword has been merciful, compared with the depredations made on human life by contractors, and by the swarm of locusts who have battened on the pestilence they spread abroad. These men, like the owners of negro ships, never smell on their money the blood by which is has been gained, but sleep quietly in their beds…”

But those who as of now are still quietly sleeping in their beds, will perhaps one day, fleeing from lynch law, be begging for admittance to the prisons of the International Court of Justice. And perchance, their admission might constitute the act of foundation of a Europe of true solidarity. But that nationalist mob which has long since been unleashed by them will want to lynch all sorts of people but them. To themselves, as well as their train of rating agents, auditors, business and PR consultants, lobbyists and journalists, who all together organized and covered for the biggest heist in history, nothing demonic adheres, no sulphuric smell about them, their faces promise that promise which is kept: institutionalized boredom. Which doesn’t diminish their dangerousness by a long shot. They will pat the ashes of Armageddon from their gray flannel suits, reach for their briefcases and opine: the numbers were adequate but not the people.

In a recent interview the Athenian gender scientist Nelli Kampuri pointed out the macho sexual rhetoric which is commonplace in Greece to “describe the relationships of dominance in the EU. It goes something like this: the Greek population is being fucked by the European neoliberals. Then Varoufakis tried to fuck them back.” Yanis Varoufakis though loves Europe, and Syriza are romantic lovers. The Europeans will one day soon yearn for this missed opportunity of Greek cuddle sex, for the fellas brought into the arena by their misguided politics will make do without foreplay. But so far, the rightist bruisers only get a 7 percent peek into the bedroom. The snap election of September 20 gave the Tsipras government another breather and confirmed the status quo, but also indicated a troubling trend of increasing apathy among the population: voter turnout fell to 57 percent. How much longer this policy of “pretend and extend” can go on is anybody’s guess — that it has to end sooner rather than later is certain. And God help us all, if the dawn then is golden!


[1]   This article was written in July 2015 and then updated for the new Greek elections.

[2]   The picture has gotten a bit murkier since the “self-overthrow” of the Syriza government and its collaboration — even though unwilling — with the Troika.

[3]   Or with a Syriza government that overthrows itself.

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Richard Schuberth

Richard Schuberth is an Austrian writer, satirical artist and social critic. He writes plays, essays, novels, aphorisms, songs and screenplays, draws cartoons and also works as director and actor. His last novel was Chronicle of A Jolly Conspiracy. His most recent book is an essay collection about Karl Kraus. For more on his work, visit richard-schuberth.com or click here for English.

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