Monday, 31 May 2010

Turkey to benefit from flotilla deaths

Interesting this episode with the Israelis shooting dead stick-wielding Turks (and others?) trying to get 'aid' through to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Firstly, the Turks are experts at using disproportionate force against weaker opponents and then boasting about how tough and brave they are and that death is the just desserts of anyone confronting or insulting Turkdom. The amount of comments from Turks I have to delete on my Youtube videos (see here and here) revelling in the barbaric murder of Solomos Solomou in Dherynia as he tried to take down the Turkish flag reveals the psychopathic and fanatical basis of Turkish identity. So, we note the irony of overwhelmed Turks bemoaning the barbarism of Israel and its readiness to use lethal force in today's incident.

Secondly, the inevitable collapse of Israeli-Turkish relations these killings will provoke suits the purposes of the Turkish government and its Neo-Ottoman ambitions.

Turkey has been distancing itself from Israel for a while and now has even more credit with the Arab and Muslim world, which it seeks to lead. The improvement of Turkey's hegemonic credentials is bad news for Cyprus, which will find it more difficult to thwart Turkey's campaign in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference for recognition of the Turkish pseudo-state in occupied Cyprus.

On the other hand, it may mean that Israel scales back its involvement in propping up the occupation regime in northern Cyprus through economic investment and tourism. Indeed, Israel has been using this threat of upgrading its relations with the pseudo-state to keep Cyprus from too openly supporting the Palestinians. In fact, over the weekend, Israel warned Cyprus that if it permitted the ill-fated 'aid' flotilla to enter Cypriot territorial waters, Israel would encourage ferry links between Haifa and occupied Ammochostos (Famagusta). Nicosia duly shooed away the flotilla, citing 'national security' interests.

UPDATE: RIK news this evening reported statements from Cypriot MEP Eleni Theocharous, a previous participant in the Free Gaza convoys, that she did not take part this time because she was aware that the campaign had been hijacked by Turkish Islamists and infiltrated by MIT (Turkish secret service) agents out to advance Turkey's interests. She said MIT was behind attempts to use the Turkish-occupied port of Famagusta as a staging post for the flotilla in an effort to upgrade the status of the occupation regime in northern Cyprus and to draw parallels between the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the 'isolation' and 'blockade' which Turkey claims the Turkish Cypriots are enduring.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Greece's strategic worth in decline

The Greek National Pride website referred to the article below from STRATFOR on Greece's continuing need for high defence expenditure. Greek National Pride also published this article in Greek by International Relations expert Dr Athanasios Drougos, explaining Greece's deteriorating strategic position in the Balkans and the Black Sea, as NATO/the West/America take advantage of more accommodating governments in Bulgaria, Romania and Georgia to advance their interests.

Greece: Defense Spending and the Financial Crisis
Greece and Turkey held a minisummit in Athens on May 14, during which Greece proposed a mutual cut in defense spending of 25 percent. Reining in defense spending is of great interest to Athens in the wake of the financial crisis that has strongly buffeted Greece of late, but this dilemma does not lend itself to any obvious solution.

Greece spends more on defense as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) than any other EU member including the United Kingdom, which maintains a global defense reach, and Poland, which sees itself as needing to be ready to hold out against the vastly superior Russian army. This was true both before the 2008 crisis began, when Greece’s budget deficit stood at 6 percent of GDP, and after recent austerity measures were put in place to bring spending under control.

Greece’s outsized defense spending is a product of its deep insecurities with respect to its much larger (in terms of territory, population and economy) neighbor and historic rival, Turkey. In just one measure of the result of these fears, Greece has a larger — and qualitatively superior — air force than Germany. Air power is an extremely important part of Greek defense strategy because land-route invasions into Greece are paltry, and air superiority over the Aegean is crucial to maintaining communication and transportation links between different islands and points on the mainland.

Historically, Greece has managed to survive by securing an outside sponsor. Such sponsors have sought to bottle up their regional rivals by taking advantage of Greece’s strategic location. Indeed, the modern Greek state owes its independence to the support of the United Kingdom, which sought to use Greece as a means to balance the unraveling Ottoman Turkey with the rise of Imperial Russia in the early 19th century. Most recently, the United States and NATO backed Greece as a part of the Western bid to keep the Soviet Union bottled up in the Black Sea and Yugoslavia bottled up in the Balkans.

With the disappearance of regional power Yugoslavia and the Soviet superpower, however, such support has ended. This left Greece with only its two economic mainstays — shipping and tourism — neither of which has sufficed to plug the spending gap caused not only by defense but also social spending. Greece managed the difference with borrowed money, contributing to the debt nightmare and current financial crisis. Not surprisingly, Athens is therefore eager to persuade Turkey to join it in defense cuts.

The likelihood of significant Turkish defense cuts is low, however. Turkey is expanding its geopolitical prowess, which means that it has to consider the Caucasus, Black Sea and the Middle East in terms of general security concerns. But Ankara has outgrown its security concern with Greece, which explains why it is trying to use conciliatory gestures to reassure Athens that it no longer sees Greece as a challenger. Greece may have to accept such gestures as the best deal it can get, though this will not necessarily be palatable for either its public or its military.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Crushing victory for Michael Katsidis

I've managed to upload in two parts last Saturday's WBO world lightweight championship fight between reigning champ Michael 'The Warrior' Katsidis and challenger Kevin Mitchell. The bout was held in East London and was subject to a big build up with Mitchell being touted as this country's next great pugilist. However, the fight turned out a mismatch as Greek Australian Katsidis proved to be much fitter, faster, stronger and meaner than the Englishman, easily overwhelming him in less than three rounds. Having seen off Mitchell, Katsidis – who enters the ring dressed as a Greek warrior and has the Star of Vergina emblazoned on his back – will now be looking to use his fearless, relentless style to earn more lucrative fights in America and unify the lightweight division.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Erdogan comes to town, has a good laugh

Regarding Sultan Erdo’s visit to Athens, I hope no Greeks were fooled by his brazen attempts to convince them to submit to Turkey and join the Neo-Ottoman project. As Erdogan reeled off the usual nonsense about Cyprus and the Aegean – telling Greece at one point that Greek Air Force fighters that chase off Turkish intruders should do so unarmed, as if it were any of Turkey’s business how the Greek Air Force behaves over Greek territory; and at another point laughing at Greece’s entirely rational fear that Turkey’s long-term aim is to seize Greek islands and partition the Aegean – it would be easy to accuse the Turks of shameless hypocrisy and duplicity. Except the Turks aren’t sophisticated or subtle enough to be duplicitous. Turks mean what they say and in fact cannot countenance any notion that their discourse – whether on Cyprus, Halki, the Aegean or Thrace – is wrong or imperfect. Turks see no contradiction between wanting ‘peace’ with Greece while at the same time eyeing Greek territory, no gap in logic or honesty between wanting to join the EU and continuing the occupation of Cyprus. Turks are, more than anything, obtuse, incapable of empathy, and Greeks have no alternative other to remain suspicious and cynical of their neighbour's intentions.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Turkophiliacs come to power in UK

After a General Election on 6 May, David Cameron is now Britain's prime minister. Cameron is a typical Tory – creepy, insincere, intellectually lightweight, full of the condescending conceit associated with privilege and being a member of the British upper classes. I voted Labour.

Now, I don't want to ascribe power to Britain that it no longer possesses by suggesting that the country has the ability to significantly influence areas that affect Greece and Cyprus, suffice it to say that expect this new UK government to use the pull it does retain to demonstrate – more so than its predecessor – its commitment to Turkey and its strategic ambitions.

Thus, a Cameron administration – in which the even-more Turkophile Liberal Democrats will be a significant presence – will push that much harder for Turkey's entry into the EU and advance more assiduously Turkey's positions on Cyprus. In particular, I predict Britain will now more actively collude with Turkey in trying to upgrade the status of the occupation regime, especially by promoting the implementation of the EU Direct Trade Regulation.

Also, I've previously drawn attention to a patronising and ignorant article the UK's new prime minister wrote about Macedonia in 2003, while he was shadow leader of the House of Commons, and it is appropriate to make it available again.

The Macedonian job
Macedonia is key to Balkan stability and should be invited into Nato as soon as possible, writes recent visitor David Cameron

"Let me get this straight. Last week someone called Cakara detonated two bombs outside your government's offices. The police won't catch him because the international community has told them not to inflame ethnic tensions. He's so confident that the police are impotent that he's published his mobile phone number in the local newspaper. And that's him you've just called on the phone?"

"Yes. Welcome to Macedonia."

Not your standard dinner party conversation, I admit. But it's a fairly accurate report of one that I had last week in a stunning villa perched on the hills above Skopje, Macedonia's capital city. More to the point, it's true.

Of course technically my neighbour should have said: "Welcome to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Fyrom)", because that's the correct name for the small but beautiful country sandwiched between Greece, Albania, Serbia and Bulgaria. "FYR Macedonia" voted for independence in 1991 during the break-up of Yugoslavia and has been trying to make its way ever since.

It hasn't been easy. The reason for the long name is that the Greeks complained vigorously that Macedonia already existed as a region of Greece and so could not be a separate country as well. This seems churlish in the extreme. The Greeks have their own country, their own name and have been showered with financial assistance since joining the EU. These people – the Macedonians – have recently escaped communism and have virtually nothing. And as if Greek pettiness wasn't enough the Albanians tend to dream of incorporating a large slice of FYR Macedonia into a Greater Albania while the Bulgars tend to think of the country as part of a Greater Bulgaria.

Yet as far as I could see, the country – and I am determined to call it Macedonia - has a perfect right to exist. The population is overwhelmingly Macedonian, with a distinctive language, culture and history. It is poorer than some of the other old Yugoslav republics, but considerably richer than Albania. The people are civilised, friendly and highly educated. Even my tour guide had an MBA.

It is always difficult to know how to answer the question: "What will you do to help us?" But on this occasion, I had the answer. From now on I will call our esteemed EU partner "the former Ottoman possession of Greece (Fopog)."

All right, I admit it. Part of the attraction of the visit was the chance to watch the vital England-Macedonia football international. (And before anyone cries "sleaze", I paid for my air tickets and have disclosed all details in the register of members interests.)

A further excitement was the possibility of meeting the England team and "hanging out" with them. As I can only name about three players of the team I half-heartedly support (Aston Villa) and am distinctly ropey on the full details of the off-side rule, lord knows what I was going to talk about. In fact, despite staying in the same hotel as the England team, I managed the almost impossible feat of not meeting - or even seeing - a single England player.

But I was at the game. Wedged between the massed ranks of Macedonian supporters, at a game which the FA said British fans should avoid, I like to think that I was quietly doing my bit to show our lads that they had not been forgotten. In the event Sven's boys won 2:1 in a relatively scrappy game.

Following the acres of print written about David Beckham, I would simply add this. Off the pitch the expectations about his performance were hyped beyond belief. On the pitch, he was double marked, aggressively tackled and booed by the crowd every time he won the ball. Yet he played like a god, passing with ball-point precision and raising the morale of a distinctly droopy England team with displays of pace and courage. All politicians know about hyping expectations. But hyping expectations and then surpassing them is something we can only dream of.

I may not have met Beckham, but I met a lot of Macedonia's political elite. In a country this small in just a matter of minutes you can wander from the president's office to his defeated rival's and then on to party headquarters, the anti-corruption commission and the supreme court. Following your round of meetings, you pitch up to the movers and shakers restaurant and find… the president, his rival, the anti-corruption commission and the head of the supreme court. Well, not quite, but not too far off either.

So what did I learn? Am I a junket junkie – or did this mixture of low football and high politics at least partially educate one of our parliamentarians? I would plead for the latter.

Macedonia may be a small country of just over 2m souls, but it is one of the keys to Balkan stability. Just as in Bosnia and Kosovo there are ethnic tensions, in this case between the majority Macedonians and the minority Albanians. But in Macedonia major conflict has been avoided through dialogue, international involvement and common sense from the Macedonian people, who supported their politicians when they signed the Ochrid accords giving generous minority rights to the Albanians.

Conflict could have been bloody and widespread, with Albania backing the ethnic Albanians, the Serbs supporting their fellow Orthodox Christians the Macedonians, Bulgaria and Greece always in danger of being dragged into any territorial disputes.

So what is the answer? Simple, really. Let Macedonia into Nato and guarantee its borders. Ensure there is a speedy framework for getting the former Yugoslav republics into the EU so they can benefit from free trade and structural funds. Recognise the fact that Macedonia paid a substantial price for looking after Albanian refugees from Kosovo during the war - and pay aid in respect of it. Above all, stay involved to give the region the stability that it needs so badly.

If we give the Macedonians peace and they will deliver their own prosperity.

So please, forgive me my brief junket. After all it could be my last. Next year, the Olympics will be held in the Former Ottoman Possession of Greece. Somehow I don't think I'll be getting the call up.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

The suicide of Greece

I'm currently reading Stathis Gourgouris' Dream Nation: Enlightenment, Colonization and the Institution of Modern Greece (1996), a largely irritating and arrogant book that wants to use Castoriadis (as well as the usual suspects, Derrida, Foucault, Edward Said) to expose and debunk the myths or imaginary significations of modern Greek nationhood and Neohellenism. I don't want to discuss those aspects of Gourgouris' argument that seek to grapple with what he regards as Greek nationalism, suffice it to say that, for the sake of his diatribe, he engages in a deliberate distortion and censoring of Greek history and Greek national consciousness, particularly regarding the Greek War of Independence; but there are interesting sections on Adamantios Korais and the Greek Enlightenment and on European Philhellenism as a form of colonialism equivalent to Orientalism.

However, most useful, so far, is the prescient chapter on Greece and the European Union project, Of Modern Hellenes in Europe, which attributes deep roots to the difficulty modern Greece has had, particularly in the realms of Law and the State – and which has now reached crisis point – in adapting to European core systems and values. Gourgouris writes:

'For Greek society's relation to law has never quite shown favor to the notion of "public interest", which is the cornerstone of liberalism's social vision and which is predicated on the significations of "honesty" (in the "free market") and "virtue" (in civil society). Although the text of the law (like most of the Greek social institutions that were constitutionally drafted under the prompting of the vision of a "modern" State) reflects the positivist spirit prevalent in Europe during the nineteenth century, the practice of law, as the aggregate of mediations throughout the history of social relations in the region, is quite another matter. There, one finds the heritage of an amalgam of legal practices that reached its culmination in the extremely complex system prevailing during the Ottoman rule of the entire Eastern Mediterranean region: namely, the cohabitation of a range of legal practices, from Islamic law… to the remnants of Byzantine law… to the various overlapping customary laws that in fact formed the backbone of social practices for centuries. The positivist European legal vision (primarily French and German) was essentially imported into Greece upon Independence in order to dissolve precisely this polymorphous development, in order to streamline the State's regulation and social practices. This may have given a nominal hypostasis to the State (which was anyway the "purpose" of the importation), but it has not altered Greek society's symbolic cohesion in terms of its reciprocal negotiation with the institution of law, and would not do so unless socially instituted.'

Clearly, in these terms, what we're witnessing now in Greece is a final attempt by the European core to convince Greece to conform to its bureaucratic and legal practices, something that Greece has always said it is willing to do, to institute itself, but never managed to achieve and, in my view, won't achieve now either.

If anyone's interested, there is a lecture here by Gourgouris, called Democracy, a Tragic Regime, which develops themes in Castoriadis regarding the Athenian polis, Sophocles, hubris, self-limitation and so on. An interesting point is made about the inherent tendency of democracies to destroy themselves, to commit suicide, and it struck me that, indeed, what we're witnessing now is Greece committing suicide.