Friday, 26 March 2010

Cyprus update: more bad news

Just a quick update on the state of affairs in Cyprus regarding the Christofias-Talat talks. Predictably, they have got nowhere and will shortly break off so that Talat can campaign for the pseudo-presidential elections in the occupied areas scheduled for 18 April, 'elections' Talat is expected to lose to the ultranationalist Dervis Eroglu, who fervently believes in partition and the recognition of the 'TRNC'. Even though it is Ankara that decides Cyprus policy with minimum input from the Turkish minority on the island, Eroglu's 'election' would provide a useful alibi to Turkey not to be blamed for the failure of the talks. All that would be left for Turkey to do would be to manage the Greek threat to veto Turkey's EU accession; and Turkey must be calculating that it has more committed and powerful allies in the EU than increasingly discredited and impotent Greece and Cyprus to be able to trump any Greek veto card.

Indeed, it's becoming harder to see on what grounds the Turkish government now needs to take the risk to solve the Cyprus problem. Because not only does Erdogan not need further confrontation with the Turkish military that asking it to withdraw its troops from Cyprus would cause, and not only must he gauge that the EU has no real stomach to punish Turkey over the Cyprus issue; but he must now also feel that the legal tide is turning Turkey's way following the recent decision by the European Court of Human Rights vindicating the ethnic cleansing of northern Cyprus and dashing the hopes of 200,000 Greek refugees that their right to return to their land and property was a basic human right protected by international law.

The article below by Michael Jansen, which originally appeared here, explains more about the disastrous ECHR ruling:

Greek-Cypriot refugees see European rights court ruling as ethnic cleansers' charter
For Greek Cypriots who lost homes and businesses, a fair property settlement is key, writes MICHAEL JANSEN

MANY GREEK Cypriot refugees from the Turkish invasion of 1974 are coming to regard a recent ruling of the European Court of Human Rights as an ethnic cleansers’ charter.

The ECHR decided that refugees seeking legal recourse are obliged to apply to a property commission established by Turkey, the power exercising control in the breakaway state recognised only by Ankara. This commission has resolved 85 of 433 cases brought before it, none involving full restitution of ancestral homes or lands. If applicants do not receive just satisfaction within five years they can return to the ECHR.

The ECHR observed that restitution may not always be possible because 35 years had elapsed since Greek-Cypriot applicants “lost possession of their property. The local population has not remained static . . . Turkish-Cypriot refugees from the south have settled in the north; Turkish settlers . . . have arrived in large numbers. Greek-Cypriot property has changed hands . . . whether by sale, donation or inheritance”.

The court also mentioned that bases housing 30,000 Turkish occupation troops could negatively affect restitution. Greek-Cypriot property constituted 58.2 per cent of land in the north, 16.2 per cent belonged to Turkish Cypriots and 22.8 per cent was public land.

Loukis Loucaides, a former judge on the ECHR (1998-2008), told The Irish Times , “This decision is a political judgment expressing positions incompatible with basic principles of international law and even with previous judgments of the court itself.”

He argued that under international law, an occupying country cannot expel inhabitants of an occupied area or deprive them of their property, dispose of expropriated property, settle its own citizens in this territory, or change laws or create institutions. With this judgment, he said the court is “illegally implying that the occupying country . . . may be justified in keeping properties to serve its illegal occupation” and “policy of ethnic cleansing”. He asked what the reaction would have been if during the second World War French citizens had been told to apply to Berlin for recourse after their rights had been violated by the Nazis.

In his view, “political pressures” have been exerted on the court by Turkey, the UK and US with the aim of securing a judgment Ankara favours. This judgment is “to my mind a catastrophe not only for human rights or for the Greek Cypriots but for the standing and credibility of the court itself”.

Other Cypriot lawyers agree. Constantis Candunis said, however, the Strasbourg judgment “does not impact on” the recent verdict of a British court awarding a Greek-Cypriot refugee damages for trespass and ordering a British couple to demolish their house built on his land. The British court also called on other European courts to uphold and implement decisions of courts in EU member Cyprus.

Achilleas Demetriades stressed the importance of the court’s statement that Turkey recognises its responsibility for what happens in the occupied area as well as for providing remedies for violations of Greek-Cypriot property rights.

Since Turkey will not allow Greek Cypriots to return to their property, he said mass appeals to the Turkish property commission could be considered so that Ankara could be compelled to “pay the rent” in the form of compensation for loss of use. He estimated that compensation claimed for the period from 1974 through 2010 could amount to $16 billion. He noted the ECHR still has to award damages on 30 cases decided before the recent judgment.

Cyprus president Demetris Christofias does not favour mass legal action and argues that “all aspects” of the Cyprus problem “must be resolved by political means”.

During 18 months of negotiations aimed at reunifying the island in a bizonal, bicommunal federation, Mr Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat have not yet discussed the property issue.

This effort could be complicated by the ECHR’s decision.

The ruling could prompt developers in the north to rush to build on Greek-Cypriot property, making negotiations on property all the more difficult.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Vasilis Markezinis: stating the obvious

There's nothing remarkable or dramatically insightful about the programme (in Greek) above with Professor Vasilis Markezinis in which he discusses the current state of Greece's foreign relations, the national issues and the impact the economic crisis might have on these.

What Markezinis says is just common sense: Greece needs to make alliances where it can, escape its fear of being on the wrong side of America, show courage, vision, imagination and 'balls'. Markezinis argues for a less supine policy towards Turkey; in particular, he suggests Greece give up advocating Turkey's full membership of the EU. The argument that a Turkey anxious to join the EU would be tamed and less hostile to Greece has been disproved. Turkey's ambitions against Greece – particularly regarding the Aegean and the continental shelf – are long term and Turkey shows no signs of abandoning them.

The economic crisis may well be used to challenge not only Greece's economic sovereignty, but to pressurise Greece to make concessions regarding Macedonia, Kosovo, the Aegean and Cyprus. Markezinis is dismissive and suspicion of the Americans extending the visa waiver programme to Greece. Markezinis believes the likelihood is that Greece won't develop the will or guts to defend its national interests and that intolerable concessions and national retrenchment await the country.

Finally, he says that 'philhellenism' is a Greek word and concept, that no other country uses or feels; the Germans will look after the Germans, the French will look after the French and the English will look after the English. The Greeks, too, should learn to look after themselves.

(Thanks to the Ινφογνώμων Πολιτικά blog for drawing attention to the video).

Monday, 8 March 2010

Albert Camus: The New Mediterranean Culture

Below is the text of a lecture Albert Camus gave on Mediterranean culture at the Maison de la Culture in 1937, and indeed the reflections are very much of their time, with concerns over the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, the Spanish civil war and the rise of Nazi Germany. They are also, of course, the product of a Pied-Noir, a European born and raised in French colonial Algeria. The lecture is not so much interesting for its commitment to internationalism and collectivism; but for its attempt to describe a distinct Mediterranean culture and physical way of life, under threat from joyless northern Europeans, ‘buttoned right up to the neck’. Camus is, of course, one of the twentieth century's great exponents of Greek civilisation and there are many observations he makes here and elsewhere that remind us of the poet Odysseas Elytis and his Hellenism. Indeed, Elytis could have come up with the phrase 'nationalism of the sun' to describe his own aesthetics, which Camus invents to stress the unique humanism of Mediterranean culture. Also, Camus' thoughts on the ontological differences separating the Mediterranean from northern Europe seem pertinent given the small cultural war that has resurfaced between Germany and Greece in which the economic crisis afflicting Greece has been portrayed by Germans as a consequence of southern European 'laziness and propensity to corruption and thievery'; while Greeks have responded to the hostility by depicting Germans as soulless bullies and mass murderers.

The New Mediterranean CultureI. The aim of the Maison de la Culture, which is celebrating its opening today, is to serve the culture of the Mediterranean. Faithful to the general directions governing institutions of its type, it seeks within a regional framework to encourage the development of a culture whose existence and greatness need no proof. Perhaps there is something surprising in the fact that left-wing intellectuals can put themselves to work for a culture that seems irrelevant to their cause, and that can even, as has happened in the case of Maurras, be monopolized by politicians of the Right.

It may indeed seem that serving the cause of Mediterranean regionalism is tantamount to restoring traditionalism with no future, celebrating the superiority of one culture over another, or, again, adopting an inverted form of fascism and inciting the Latin against the Nordic peoples. This is a perpetual source of misunderstandings. The aim of this lecture is to try to dispel them.

The whole error lies in the confusion between Mediterranean and Latin, and in attributing to Rome what began in Athens. To us it is obvious that our only claim is to a kind of nationalism of the sun. We could never be slaves to traditions or bind our living future to exploits already dead. A tradition is a past that distorts the present. But the Mediterranean land about us is a lively one, full of games and joy. Moreover, nationalism has condemned itself. Nationalisms always make their appearance in history as signs of decadence. When the vast edifice of the Roman empire collapsed, when its spiritual unity, from which so many different regions drew their justification, fell apart, then and only then, at a time of decadence, did nationalisms appear.

The West has never rediscovered unity since. At the present time, internationalism is trying to give the West a real meaning and a vocation. However, this internationalism is no longer inspired by a Christian principle, by the Papal Rome of the Holy Roman Empire. The principle inspiring it is man. Its unity no longer lies in faith but in hope. A civilization can endure only insofar as its unity and greatness, once all nations are abolished, stem from a spiritual principle. India, almost as large as Europe, with no nations, no sovereignty, has kept its own particular character even after two centuries of English rule.

This is why, before any other consideration, we reject the principle of a Mediterranean nationalism. In any case, it would never be possible to speak of the superiority of Mediterranean culture. Men express themselves in harmony with their land. And superiority, as far as culture is concerned, lies in this harmony and in nothing else. There are no higher or lower cultures. There are cultures that are more or less true. All we want to do is help a country to express itself. Locally. Nothing more. The real question is this: is a new Mediterranean civilization within our grasp?

II. Obvious facts, (a) There is a Mediterranean sea, a basin linking about ten different countries. Those whose voices boom in the singing cafes of Spain, who wander in the port of Genoa, along the docks in Marseilles, the strange, strong race that lives along our coasts, all belong to the same family. When you travel in Europe, and go down toward Italy or Provence, you breathe a sigh of relief as you rediscover these casually dressed men, this violent, colorful life we all know. I spent two months in central Europe, from Austria to Germany, wondering where that strange discomfort weighing me down, the muffled anxiety I felt in my bones, came from. A little while ago, I understood. These people were always buttoned right up to the neck. They did not know how to relax. They did not know what joy was like, joy which is so different from laughter. Yet it is details like this that give a valid meaning to the word 'Country.' Our Country is not the abstraction that sends men off to be massacred, but a certain way of appreciating life which is shared by certain people, through which we can feel ourselves closer to someone from Genoa or Majorca than to someone from Normandy or Alsace. This is what the Mediterranean is – a certain smell or scent that we do not need to express: we all feel it through our skin.

(b) There are other, historical, facts. Each time a doctrine has reached the Mediterranean basin, in the resulting clash of ideas the Mediterranean has always remained intact, the land has overcome the doctrine. In the beginning Christianity was an inspiring doctrine, but a closed one, essentially Judaic, incapable of concessions, harsh, exclusive, and admirable. From its encounter with the Mediterranean, a new doctrine emerged: Catholicism. A philosophical doctrine was added to the initial store of emotional aspirations. The monument then reached its highest and most beautiful form – adapting itself to man. Thanks to the Mediterranean, Christianity was able to enter the world and embark on the miraculous career it has since enjoyed.

Once again it was someone from the Mediterranean, Francis of Assisi, who transformed Christianity from an inward-looking, tormented religion into a hymn to nature and simple joy. The only effort to separate Christianity from the world was made by a northerner, Luther. Protestantism is, actually, Catholicism wrenched from the Mediterranean, and from the simultaneously pernicious and inspiring influence of this sea.

Let us look even closer. For anyone who has lived both in Germany and in Italy, it is obvious that fascism does not take the same form in both countries. You can feel it everywhere you go in Germany, on people's faces, in the city streets. Dresden, a garrison town, is almost smothered by an invisible enemy. What you feel first of all in Italy is the land itself. What you see first of all in a German is the Hitlerite who greets you with 'Heil Hitler'; in an Italian, the cheerful and gay human being. Here again, the doctrine seems to have yielded to the country – and it is a miracle wrought by the Mediterranean that enables men who think humanly to live unoppressed in a country of inhuman laws.

III. But this living reality, the Mediterranean, is not something new to us. And its culture seems the very image of the Latin antiquity the Renaissance tried to rediscover across the Middle Ages. This is the Latinity Maurras and his friends try to annex. It was in the name of this Latin order on the occasion of the war against Ethiopia that twenty-four Western intellectuals signed a degrading manifesto celebrating the 'civilizing mission of Italy in barbarous Ethiopia.'

But no. This is not the Mediterranean our Maison de la Culture lays claim to. For this is not the true Mediterranean. It is the abstract and conventional Mediterranean represented by Rome and the Romans. These imitative and unimaginative people had nevertheless the imagination to substitute for the artistic genius and feeling for life they lacked a genius for war. And this order whose praises we so often hear sung was one imposed by force and not one created by the mind. Even when they copied, the Romans lost the savor of the original. And it was not even the essential genius of Greece they imitated, but rather the fruits of its decadence and its mistakes. Not the strong, vigourous Greece of the great tragic and comic writers, but the prettiness and affected grace of the last centuries. It was not life that Rome took from Greece, but puerile, over-intellectualized abstractions. The Mediterranean lies elsewhere. It is the very denial of Rome and Latin genius. It is alive, and wants no truck with abstractions. And it is easy to acknowledge Mussolini as the worthy descendant of the Caesars and Augustus of Imperial Rome, if we mean by this that he, like them, sacrifices truth and greatness to a violence that has no soul.

What we claim as Mediterranean is not a liking for reasoning and abstractions, but its physical life – the courtyards, the cypresses, the strings of pimientos. We claim Aeschylus and not Euripides, the Doric Apollos and not the copies in the Vatican; Spain, with its strength and its pessimism, and not the bluster and swagger of Rome, landscapes crushed with sunlight and not the theatrical settings in which a dictator drunk with his own verbosity enslaves the crowds. What we seek is not the lie that triumphed in Ethiopia but the truth that is being murdered in Spain.

IV. The Mediterranean, an international basin traversed by every current, is perhaps the only land linked to the great ideas from the East. For it is not classical and well ordered, but diffuse and turbulent, like the Arab districts in our towns or the Genoan and Tunisian harbors. The triumphant taste for life, the sense of boredom and the weight of the sun, the empty squares at noon in Spain, the siesta, this is the true Mediterranean, and it is to the East that it is closest. Not to the Latin West. North Africa is one of the few countries where East and West live close together. And there is, at this junction, little difference between the way a Spaniard or an Italian lives on the quays of Algiers, and the way Arabs live around them. The most basic aspect of Mediterranean genius springs perhaps from this historically and geographically unique encounter between East and West. (On this question I can only refer you to Audisio).

This culture, this Mediterranean truth, exists and shows itself all along the line: (1) In linguistic unity – the ease with which a Latin language can be learned when another is already known; (2) Unity of origin – the prodigious collectivism of the Middle Ages – chivalric order, religious order, feudal orders, etc., etc. On all these points, the Mediterranean gives us the picture of a living, highly colored, concrete civilization, which changes doctrines into its own likeness – and receives ideas without changing its own nature.
But then, you may say, why go any further?

V. Because the very land that transformed so many doctrines must transform the doctrines of the present day. A Mediterranean collectivism will be different from a Russian collectivism, properly so-called. The issue of collectivism is not being fought in Russia: it is being fought in the Mediterranean basin and in Spain, at this very moment. Of course, man's fate has been at stake for a long time now, but it is perhaps here that the struggle reaches its tragic height, with so many trump cards placed in our hands. There are, before our eyes, realities stronger than we ourselves are. Our ideas will bend and become adapted to them. This is why our opponents are mistaken in all their objections. No one has the right to prejudge the fate of a doctrine, and to judge our future in the name of a past, even if the past is Russia's.

Our task here is to rehabilitate the Mediterranean, to take it back from those who claim it unjustly for themselves, and to make it ready for the economic organistation awaiting it. Our task is to discover what is concrete and alive in it, and, on every occasion, to encourage the different forms which this culture takes. We are all the more prepared for the task in that we are in immediate contact with the Orient, which can teach us so much in this respect. We are, here, on the side of the Mediterranean against Rome. And the essential role that towns like Algiers and Barcelona can play is to serve, in their own small way, that aspect of Mediterranean culture which favors man instead of crushing him.

VI. The intellectual's role is a difficult one in our time. It is not his task to modify history. Whatever people may say, revolutions come first and ideas afterward. Consequently, it takes great courage today to proclaim oneself faithful to the things of the mind. But at least this courage is not useless. The term 'intellectual' is pronounced with so much scorn and disapproval because it is associated in people's minds with the idea of someone who talks in abstractions, who is unable to come into contact with life, and who prefers his own personality to the rest of the world. But for those who do not want avoid their responsibilities, the essential task is to rehabilitate intelligence by regenerating the subject matter it treats, to give back all its true meaning to the mind by restoring to culture its true visage of health and sunlight.

I was saying that this courage was not useless. For if it is not indeed the task of intelligence to modify history, its real task will nevertheless be to act upon man, for it is man who makes history. We have a contribution to make to this task. We want to link culture with life. The Mediterranean, which surrounds us with smiles, sea, and sunlight, teaches us how it is to be done. Xenophon tells us in The Persian Expedition that when the Greek soldiers who had ventured into Asia were coming back to their own country, dying of hunger and thirst, cast into despair by so many failures and humiliations, they reached the top of a mountain from which they could see the sea. Then they began to dance, forgetting their weariness and their disgust at the spectacle of their lives. In the same way we do not wish to cut ourselves off from the world. There is only one culture. Not the one that feeds off abstractions and capital letters. Not the one that condemns. Not the one that justifies the excesses and the deaths in Ethiopia and defends the thirst for brutal conquests. We know that one very well, and want nothing to do with it. What we seek is the culture that finds life in the trees, the hills, and in mankind.

This is why men of the Left are here with you today, to serve a cause that at first sight had nothing to do with their own opinions. I would be happy if, like us, you were now convinced that this cause is indeed ours. Everything that is alive is ours. Politics are made for men, and not men for politics. We do not want to live on fables. In the world of violence and death around us, there is no place for hope. But perhaps there is room for civilization, for real civilization, which puts truth before fables and life before dreams. And this civilization has nothing to do with hope. In it man lives on his truths.

It is to this whole effort that men of the West must bind themselves. Within the framework of internationalism, the thing can be achieved. If each one of us within his own sphere, his country, his province agrees to work modestly, success is not far away. As far as we are concerned, we know our aim, our limitations, and our possibilities. We only need open our eyes to make men realize that culture cannot be understood unless it is put to the service of life, that the mind need not be man's enemy. Just as the Mediterranean sun is the same for all men, the effort of man's intelligence should be a common inheritance and not a source of conflict and murder.

Can we achieve a new Mediterranean culture that can be reconciled with our social idea? Yes. But both we and you must help to bring it about.

Down with northern Europe

Watching the trips Greece's PM Giorgos Papandreou has made to Germany and France over the last few days, meeting on Friday with Chancellor Angela Merkel and yesterday with President Nicola Sarkozy; it was interesting to observe the difference between the German and French reaction to the Greek economic crisis.

The Germans have taken the opportunity of Greece's meltdown to indulge in racist outbursts complaining about Greek laziness and thievery and offensive and humourless suggestions urging the Greeks to sell their islands and cultural heritage. At the press conference with Papandreou and Merkel, a German journalist even had the impudence and bad manners to put directly to the leaders the insulting idea of discarding Greek islands. I'm not aware of any similar anti-Greek hysteria in the French media, and the press conference with Papandreou and Sarkozy was an altogether more serious and dignified affair.

What do we conclude from this? That northern Europeans are idiots and barbarians, while civilisation and philotimo/savoir faire continue to be the property of Mediterranean Europe.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Greece's problem in one sentence

I was reading this article in the Financial Times regarding the new measures announced by Greece's PM Giorgos Papandreou to deal with the economic crisis affecting the country, and came across this paragraph towards the end of the piece:

'Meanwhile, the stand-off with the unions escalates. Ominously, Mr Papandreou appeared yesterday to have lost the backing of Adedy, the main public sector trade union. Spyros Papaspyros, Adedy president, said that by cutting the bonuses, which grant two extra annual salaries to public sector workers, the Socialists crossed a red line. "We are not going to become sacrificial victims, regardless of the struggle to save the country," he said.'

Could Papaspyros really have said such a thing? Could he really have said and meant it? There's Greece's problem for you in one sentence. And, indeed, this is why Papandreou will fail and Greece has a long way down to go yet in this saga. It's easy to cut salaries and put up taxes; much harder to make those broad and deep changes in society that would ensure men like Papaspyros and their mentality become a thing of the past. And here's another thought: could you imagine a Turkish public figure ever making such a statement?