Friday, 30 December 2011

Who’s to blame for Greece’s crisis?

Above is a debate (in Greek) recently held in Athens on whether all Greeks share a responsibility for the crisis currently afflicting the country, or whether responsibility is much narrower. The debate was sparked by comments made early on in the crisis by Deputy PM Theodoros Pangalos that ‘όλοι μαζί τα φάγαμε’, or all of us, all Greeks, ate a piece of the pie and are responsible for Greece’s overweening debt.

Speaking on behalf of the proposition were Thanos Veremis, professor of history at Panteion university; Antigone Lyberaki, professor of economics at Panteion university; and Kevin Featherstone from the Hellenic Observatory at the London School of Economics. Against were Yanis Varoufakis, professor of economic theory at university of Athens; art critic and journalist Avgoustinos Zenakos; and lawyer Haris Economopoulos.

The case ‘for’ was pretty straightforward: Greece had been brought down by nepotism, cronyism, corruption, tax evasion, wilful disregard for the law and so on in which all Greeks were implicated. Kevin Featherstone argued that in a democracy, all citizens necessarily bear responsibility for what happens in their society.

Those against the proposition thought the blame should be attributed more selectively, to the media barons, politicians, big business and to a bent system that enough Greeks were excluded from or had no stake in. It was also argued that the ‘we binged together’ discourse is being used to coerce Greeks into consenting to the austerity measures since collective responsibility implies collective punishment.

Although I wasn’t satisfied by those against the proposition targeting the usual suspects and avoiding attributing guilt to public sector trade unions, the closed professions, the purveyors of the perverse and bankrupt version of socialism that has dominated Greek society for four decades – I found the ‘we binged together’ case even more unconvincing.

It seems obvious to me that the mother who pays a bribe to a doctor because she wants her sick child to be urgently treated is less responsible for corruption than the doctor who insists on and takes the bribe; nor is the mother’s corruption on the same scale as the politician who insists on a kickback when signing the billion dollar defence contract. Similarly, the father in the sticks who implores the mayor to put his unemployed son on the local payroll can’t be as responsible for cronyism as the mayor who parcels out jobs based on who begs him the most or promises him his vote.

Thus the essence has to be not whether a preponderance of Greeks participated in the system – but whether all benefited from it equally – was everyone paid a bloated pension or were some (most) pensions barely enough to live on? – and whether Greeks had a choice to opt out of the system or were obliged to be a part of it, since no other system existed.

Also, it’s absurd for Featherstone to suggest we live in societies run by citizens or in which citizens have an equal say in how their societies operate. It’s not just that in our societies some citizens are more equal than others, it is that the power wielded by any one citizen will always be much less significant than the power wielded in society by elites and oligarchies; i.e. elites and oligarchies run modern societies, not citizens.

Featherstone also fails to address the pertinent points put to him by two members of the audience, vis a vis: if we accept notions of collective responsibility, then he – Featherstone – must be responsible for the scandal than erupted at the LSE over large donations it accepted over the years from the Gaddafi regime; and that, still according to the logic of collective responsibility, all British people must be held accountable for the excesses of British colonialism.

Indeed, the case of the British colonial system is apposite, because while colonialism benefited many in Britain, its repressive and exploitative side was as profoundly felt in the homeland as in the colonies. Very few British people had a stake in or were advantaged by the British empire; many, indeed, were as much its victims as those subject to British rule overseas.

The same logic has to apply to Greece: while some – even many – sectors of society were advantaged by the corrupt system that evolved after 1974 – it would be invidious to suggest that all or even a majority of Greeks, even if they participated in the system, created it, desired it or benefited from it.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Noble Energy announces Cyprus natural gas find

Below is the announcement from Noble Energy on the natural gas deposits it’s found in Block 12 (of 13) in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone. The 5-8 trillion cubic feet mentioned is below some of the more optimistic estimates – the finds in the neighbouring Israeli Leviathan block is double this amount – but it still constitutes a huge find that will enhance Cyprus’ economy and geo-strategic significance, and, of course, unleash a scramble by global gas and oil players to get access to the remaining 12 blocks in the southern sector of Cyprus’ EEZ.

HOUSTON, Dec. 28 – Noble Energy, Inc. (NYSE: NBL) announced today a natural gas discovery at the Cyprus Block 12 prospect, offshore the Republic of Cyprus. The Cyprus A-1 well encountered approximately 310 feet of net natural gas pay in multiple high-quality Miocene sand intervals.

The discovery well was drilled to a depth of 19,225 feet in water depth of about 5,540 feet. Results from drilling, formation logs and initial evaluation work indicate an estimated gross resource range(1) of 5 to 8 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), with a gross mean of 7 Tcf. The Cyprus Block 12 field covers approximately 40 square miles and will require additional appraisal drilling prior to development.

Charles D. Davidson, Noble Energy’s Chairman and CEO, said, “We are excited to announce the discovery of significant natural gas resources in Cyprus on Block 12. This is the fifth consecutive natural gas field discovery for Noble Energy and our partners in the greater Levant basin, with total gross mean resources for the five discoveries currently estimated to be over 33 Tcf. This latest discovery in Cyprus further highlights the quality and significance of this world-class basin.”

Davidson went on to say, “We would like to thank the Government of Cyprus for their productive cooperation and support in achieving an important outcome for the people of Cyprus and Noble Energy. We look forward to working closely with the Government of Cyprus to develop this discovery in a manner that maximizes value for all stakeholders.”

Noble Energy operates the well with a 70 percent working interest. Delek Drilling and Avner Oil Exploration will each have 15 percent, subject to final approval by the Government of Cyprus.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Yilmaz backtracks: ‘I was talking about Greek agents setting fire to Turkish forests!’

After news yesterday that Mesut Yilmaz had admitted that in the 1990s Turkey’s secret services were responsible for arson attacks that devastated Greek forests in the islands of the Eastern Aegean, the former Turkish prime minister is now looking to retract, claiming he was misinterpreted. More than this, he is now saying, in an interview with the semi-official Turkish news agency Andalu, that he wasn’t talking about Turkish agents firing Greek forests, but Greek agents firing Turkish forests! Here’s Yilmaz’ tortuous explanation:

‘The entire issue has arisen out of a misunderstanding.

‘In replying to [Birgun journalist] Enver Aysever’s question, under which circumstances can we speak of state secrets, I said usually in regard to foreign policy. For example, I said, it would not have been correct to make public our suspicions that the forest fires that hit Turkey’s Aegean coast in the 1990s were the work of the Greek secret services, since these suspicions could not be substantiated.

‘The issue had nothing to do with forest fires in Greece, but forest fires in Turkey… Our Greek friends have been too quick to react [to this story]. I was talking about forest fires in Turkey… The whole issue has been distorted in order to stir up emotions.’

Monday, 26 December 2011

Ex-Turk PM: Turkish agents responsible for arson attacks on Greece

It’s worth drawing attention to a story emanating from Turkey, from an interview given to the left-wing Birgun newspaper by that country’s former prime minister, Mesut Yilmaz, in which he admits that in the 1990s, and under the premiership of his rival Tansu Ciller, Turkish secret services were responsible for the devastating forest fires that hit Greece, particularly in Rhodes, Kos, Chios and Samos.

According to Yilmaz: ‘All [Turkish] prime ministers when they finish their term in office will inform their successors as to how certain secret funds were used.

‘I gave this information to my successor and my predecessors did the same. Erbakan, Ecevit and Demirel informed their successors about the secret funds.

‘Only Ciller didn’t share information on how secret funds were deployed during her premiership… funds that I later found out were used [to facilitate] a coup in Azerbaijan and for retaliation against Greece’s forests.’

It’s not clear what Yilmaz means when he says the forest arson was ‘retaliation’ but we assume he’s referring to Greece’s support during this period for Kurdish separatists in Turkey, which culminated in the Abdullah  Ocalan fiasco in 1999.

The reaction in Greece to Yilmaz’s admission has been, according to Ta Nea, as follows:

New Democracy’s foreign affairs spokesman, Panos Panagiotopoulos, said: ‘Yilmaz’s revelations that the Turkish “deep state” was burning Greek forests cast a dark shadow over Greek-Turkish relations.

‘The [current] Erdogan government is obliged to provide all the relevant details to Greece regarding this dark episode and offer restitution for the huge damage these fires caused.’

Panagiotopoulos also called on EU institutions to be made aware of the issue and demanded that the Turkish government gives assurances that it has ceased these types of ‘dirty’ tactics.

A statement from LAOS said that when its leader Giorgos Karatzaferis dared to suggest that Turkish agents were responsible for arson in Greece, ‘the political establishment called him an extremist… but now from the mouth of a former prime minister of Turkey we have an admission of the crime.’

Ex-foreign minister and leader of the Democratic Alliance, Dora Bakoyannis, called Yilmaz’ admission ‘shocking’ and said it creates ‘a major political issue, which the Greek government mustn't leave unexamined.’

Bakoyannis added that the Greek government should, through its foreign minister, denounce Turkey in the EU and in other international fora, and must claim compensation from Turkey for reforestation and the wider economic damage the fires caused.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Christopher Hitchens: a steadfast supporter of Cyprus

Christopher Hitchens, who has died today, was a steadfast supporter of Cyprus against partition. His engagement with the island began before 1974 when, as a  young left-wing journalist, spurred on by loathing for US conduct in the Vietnam war, he identified Cyprus as another battleground where the West, chiefly the US, in pursuit of nefarious, ill-conceived interests, was covertly cultivating what for it was a small, sideshow war but, to those directly affected by it, as Hitchens says in the documentary above, resulted in a ‘catastrophe of epic proportions’.

Prior to the coup and invasion in 1974, Hitchens wrote prophetic articles for the New Left Review and New Statesman on the power-politics and machinations aimed at destabilising and overthrowing the Makarios government in order to bring about the partition of Cyprus between Greece and Turkey and, thus, secure so-called NATO interests. His narrative of betrayal, collusion and superpower conceit led to his book (1984), Cyprus: Hostage to History, which remains the definitive account in English of the Turkish invasion; the starting point for anyone who wants to grasp the nature of the Cyprus problem. 

Above is the first part of Frontiers, a BBC documentary Hitchens made in 1989 on the aftermath of the Turkish invasion. It’s not so much an account of the causes of the Turkish invasion, but a reflection on the impact partition has had on Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The remaining four parts are available on Youtube.

*Addendum: The American Hellenic Institute has written a good obituary for Hitchens, stressing his long-standing support for Cyprus and other Greek causes, which in 2007 led the AHI to award him the Hellenic Heritage National Public Service Award. In his acceptance speech, Hitchens said the following:

‘Those of us who are governed by the rule of law don’t demand very much. We are very modest and understated in what we ask. All we want is for the removal of every single Turkish soldier from Cyprus, as international law demands, the restoration of the sculpture of Phidias [the Parthenon Marbles] as a unity, the same way it was carved, as a tribute to the glories of 5th century Athens and the human culture that it has inspired… Take heart. You have friends who will never desert you. Mr. Erdogan, tear down that wall. Zito I Ellas (Long live Greece). Eleftheri I Kypros (Free Cyprus).’

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Thoughts on Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War

From the Marxist Yanis Varoufakis to the doyen of American neo-conservatism, Donald Kagan – you get it all on Hellenic Antidote.

Thus, some points emerging from reading Donald Kagan's very good book Thucydides: The Reinvention of History, particularly in relation to the war between the Athenian empire and the Peloponnesians as it transpired in Sicily.

1. I’m sure I’m not the first one to point out that the disastrous Sicilian expedition, which significantly contributed to the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War, evokes striking similarities to the Asia Minor catastrophe: an enthusiastic and capable expeditionary force has initial success but, mostly due to poor leadership and increasing loss of morale and self-belief, fails to consolidate its advantages and finish the job, allowing for a revival of the enemy and leading to calamitous defeat. Indeed, I’m sure the similar fates suffered by the Athenians in Sicily and Greeks in Ionia was not lost on Eleftherios Venizelos, a student and translator of Thucydides.

2. We note the bitterness and savagery with which Greek fought Greek throughout the Peloponnesian War, but particularly in Sicily. Kagan writes on the treatment of Athenian and Sicilian allied prisoners by the victorious Syracusans and Corinthians:

‘The triumphant Syracusans took their prisoners and booty [from the Athenian expedition] and stripped the armor from the dead enemy, hanging it from the finest and tallest trees along the [Assinarus] river. On returning to Syracuse they held an assembly where they voted to enslave the servants of the Athenians and their imperial allies and to place Athenian citizens and their Sicilian Greek allies into the city’s stone quarries. A proposal to put Nicias and Demosthenes to death provoked more debate… [and] the assembly voted to execute both [the Athenian] generals.

‘The Syracusans held over seven thousand prisoners in their quarries, crowded together in inhuman conditions, burned by the sun during the day and chilled by the autumn cold at night. They were given about a half-pint of water and a pint of food each day… and they suffered terribly from hunger and thirst. Men died from their wounds, from illness and from exposure and the dead bodies were thrown on top of one another, creating an unbearable stench.’

Thus, what the ‘inhumanity’ of the Peloponnesian War – and not just this war, but the virtually continual state of internecine Greek wars – reminds us is that, in practice, in this period, there was as much an Athenian, Corinthian, Syracusan or Spartan ‘nation’ as a Hellenic one and that the pan-Hellenic consciousness that existed did so side by side and, more often than not, competed with ‘national’ identities derived from belonging to a particular city state.

3. Following on from this, a word on Athenian arrogance and Athenian nationalism. With the advent of the Athenian empire, the Athenians ascribed to themselves the right to decide what it was and what it was not to be a Hellene. Indeed, the Athenians came to believe their way of life was the epitome of Greekness – Pericles’ funeral oration being the clearest expression of this, with his assertion that Athens was ‘an education to Greece’.

Thus, those Athenians who initially argued against the Sicilian expedition did so on the grounds that the Segastans – who had asked the Athenians for assistance in their conflict with Selinus and Syracuse in western Sicily – were not Greeks but ‘an alien race’ and a ‘barbaric people’, even though the Segastans were, in fact, a mixture of Ionian Greek colonists and Hellenised Elymian Sicilians.

We note that Demosthenes the orator in the fourth century BC deployed the same Athenian conceit against the Macedonians, asserting that they had to be resisted and could not claim leadership of Hellas because Philip and his people were not Greeks but barbarians.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Britain moves away from Europe… and takes Turkey with it

The above video of Sarkozy snubbing Cameron and heading straight for a handshake and warm words from that stalwart European Dimitris Christofias made me laugh. Clearly, Britain, in France’s eyes, is less of a European entity than Cyprus! Not that Cameron did anything wrong vetoing the proposed fiscal union treaty and, albeit inadvertently, refusing to prop up Berlin’s vision of the continent’s economy that has it operating for the benefit of German exports while the rest of Europe is consigned to austerity and ‘discipline’. Still, what Cameron’s isolating of the UK in Europe – and the logic it has put in motion of Britain detaching itself altogether from the EU – does mean is that the UK position in Europe cultivated by Tony Blair, with the full backing of the Americans, of Britain leading an alliance of EU states from Scandinavia and ‘new’ Europe – in opposition to a Franco-German-led ‘old’ Europe – has been significantly weakened, and along with it the lobby for Turkey's EU accession, an accession that would have radically altered the balance of power in the EU, reversed the trend towards political integration and federation and elevated Britain (in alliance with Turkey) to a powerful leadership role on the continent.

It could be argued that Turkey’s EU accession wasn’t going anywhere anyway and that the diminished role of the UK in Europe will therefore make no difference; but what is increasingly clear is that Turkey’s EU aspirations are at death’s door. All of which raises a massive question for Greece (and Cyprus) since its policy since Simitis has been to actively support Turkey’s EU accession in the hope and expectation that this would neutralise the threat Turkey poses to Greece.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Poverty: from Plato to Laurel & Hardy

‘Poverty, first of all was never a misfortune for me; it was radiant with sunlight… I owe it to my family, first of all, who lacked everything and who envied practically nothing.’  (Albert Camus)

Poverty (Penia) is a goddess with two sisters, Amykhania (helplessness) and Ptokheia (beggary). In Plato’s Republic,  poverty is a terrible evil, a source of meanness, viciousness and discontent. Similarly, Aristotle, in the Politics, regards poverty as a social ill, the parent of revolution and crime. In Wealth (Plutus) – read an excellent, Australian-dialect translation here, by George Theodoridis) – Aristophanes asks what would happen to society if everyone suddenly became rich and answers, paradoxically, that inequalities, conflict and misery would increase. In the play, the goddess Penia appears as an old hag, who warns those who think bestowing wealth on all Athenians will be an unmitigated blessing that:

‘[Poverty] is the very fountain of all joy! Of all life, even!… If Wealth were to… spread himself around to everyone, who’d be doing any of the work then or even any of the thinking?'’

The goddess then goes on to suggest that the poor are in fact more virtuous than the rich:

’And let me tell you another thing about the poor. They are modest and civil, whereas the rich are all arrogant.’

The virtues – or otherwise – of poverty become of increasing interest in Greek ethics. Although never endorsing the alleged moral advantages of penury, Socrates does make clear, in the Apology, that he is indifferent to wealth and that a preoccupation with wisdom is far more important than, and perhaps even incompatible with, any pursuit of money or luxury.

The belief that neither wealth or poverty have much to contribute to virtue is shared by the Stoics and Epicureans – who regard poverty as just one of life’s many misfortunes, fear of which should be confronted and overcome. (Seneca advocated living rough from time to time, for a period of three to four days, to get used to poverty in case we should fall victim to it).

The Cynics, however, didn’t just denounce wealth as a prohibition to virtue, they went one stage further and developed a cult of poverty, embracing indigence as a positive way of life, ‘an unending task in which one strives for a more and more complete renunciation of possessions and the desire for material possession’.* Previous Greek virtues of beauty, honour and independence were turned on their head by the Cynics, who valorised, instead, ugliness, humiliation, dishonour (adoxia) and dependence – begging and, more radically, slavery, were positively accepted.**

Finally, we note that it was not a big leap from Cynic humiliation to Christian humility, from Cynic destitution to Christian asceticism, and from the Cynic exaltation of poverty to Christian love of the poor.

 *E. McGushin: Foucault’s Askesis.
**M. Foucault: The Courage of Truth (The Government of Self and Others II).

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Cyprus Still Divided

Above is Cyprus Still Divided, a pretty good documentary on the Cyprus issue and the role the USA – and particularly the odious Henry Kissinger – played in partitioning the island. The film was made by the American Hellenic Institute with the intention of educating a US audience and, as such, has been shown on NPR stations and at various ‘Town Hall screenings’. There’s good archive footage, mostly taken from Michalis Cacoyiannis’ film Attila 1974: The Rape of Cyprus, plus more recent interviews with Paul Sarbanes, John Brademas, Nicholas Burns, Christopher Hitchens, Titina Loizidou and others.

A couple of points on accuracy and interpretation.

1. The film states that the policy of the Athens junta 1967-74 was enosis. This is not true. The junta’s Cyprus policy was partition. This is well established now. Thus, despite dressing itself up as nationalist and patriotic, the junta’s policy for Cyprus was anything but; having been persuaded by its US supervisors that the best thing for the junta, Greco-Turkish relations, the West in its contest with communism and so on, was for Cyprus to be divided between Greece and Turkey. The tension that existed between the junta and Makarios – why they tried to assassinate him and eventually overthrew him in a coup – was because they regarded the archbishop as an obstacle not to enosis, which Makarios believed in, but to partition, which he, and 99% of Cypriots, did not.

2. The film states that the junta’s purpose in removing Makarios was to unite Cyprus with Greece. But, as I’ve already said, partition not enosis was the junta’s policy, in which case the purpose of the coup was the removal of Makarios and the setting up of a subordinate regime in Nicosia, permitting Athens to open negotiations with Turkey as to how best to partition the island, along the lines of the Acheson plan. Thus, even though junta-leader Dimitrios Ioannides was stupid and a psychopath, he would not have acted against Makarios if he thought the Turks would invade. All Ioannides’ actions in July 1974 suggest he was under the impression – provided to him by the Americans – that Turkey accepted Athens’ plan to get rid of Makarios in order to expedite partition.

3. When talking about the coup against Makarios, the film shows images of Colonel Giorgos Papadopoulos, even though he had been ousted by Brigadier Dimitrios Ioannides as junta leader in November 1973 and it was Ioannides, not Papadopoulos, who initiated the coup against Makarios.

Indeed, one of Makarios’ biggest miscalculations was not to have realised that the junta under Ioannides was far more dangerous to Cyprus than it had been under Papadopoulos. Makarios always believed that, despite the constant rumours, the Papadopoulos-led junta would not be so stupid as to initiate a coup against him. Makarios mistakenly assumed that this basic level of intelligence was shared by Ioannides and his cohorts.

4. Finally, Christopher Hitchens makes his usual incisive interventions in the film; and I want to dwell on his statement that Cyprus paid the price for the fall of the junta. This is entirely accurate and, indeed, it always annoys me the way (mainland) Greeks insist they brought down the junta – and that central to this was the student uprising at the Athens Polytechnic in November 1973. All the student protest achieved was convince hard-liners, like Ioannides, that Papadopoulos wasn’t tough enough and that Greece needed a firmer hand. It didn’t shorten the time of the junta by five minutes.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Imagining a new Greece

Above and below are a couple of videos with ideas on how Greece can emerge from the crisis afflicting it.

The first, above, in Greek, has Aristos Doxiadis explaining the importance of ‘morphosis’ to society and bemoaning the fact that the acquisition of morphosis has become secondary to the attainment of the ‘diploma’, which has come to denote morphosis.

Morphosis is traditionally translated into English as ‘education’, but this doesn’t do the word justice. Morphosis, I think, has more to do with ‘cultivation’ than ‘education’ and it also has attached to it a sense of ‘becoming something different to what you were’, to ‘form’, to ‘change’ and to ‘grow’… through knowledge and learning. Think of the relatively new English verb, to ‘morph’.

(I might be wrong here, but if omorphia [beauty] and morphosis have the same root etymologically, then morphosis would also imply ‘becoming beautiful’ through learning/education/cultivation. i.e. beauty is wisdom).

Doxiadis goes on to explain the need for private universities in Greece, the importance of removing bureaucratic obstacles to Greek academics from the diaspora returning to teach at Greek universities and of Greek universities exploiting the natural advantages Greece has at its disposal to become magnets for students from northern Europe (and elsewhere) to take degrees.

Secondly, below, there’s a talk from South African-born advertising guru Peter Economides, in English, on how he believes Greece is desperately in need of ‘branding’.

Now, it’s tempting to be dismissive of Economides – ‘how dare he try to sell Greece the same way he might sell Coca-Cola’ – but, in fact, what he’s getting at, even if he doesn’t realise it, is the crisis of ideology affecting Greece. This has manifested itself as a contest – which is bitter and polarised – over Greek identity and Greek history. Indeed, Economides has a fairly traditional vision of Greece that many, particularly on the Greek left, would not share, preferring a less ethnocentric ‘brand’ or a ‘brand’ that has Greeks as unruly and rebellious Kropotkin-Guevaras. Still, Economides’ passion for Greece and his mission to ‘reimagine’ the country is admirable – even if it is from within an advertising paradigm and I fear his typically-diasporan love for Greece and Greek culture will be rebuffed.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Varoufakis: on the death of the global Minotaur and the demise of the eurozone

I hope I’m not turning this blog into something of a Yanis Varoufakis’ fan site; but I really do find his outpourings illuminating and entertaining; not that I agree with a lot of what he says – not so much his analysis of the recent history and current state of global capitalism, but the political conclusions he draws from it all. But that’s fine. Above is another interesting talk from the professor, this time from 9 November at Columbia University in New York. As well as going into some detail regarding his metaphor of the Minotaur to explain US economic hegemony post-1971, he also exposes the eurozone for what it is – a plan to create a ‘Greater Germany’, which would protect and enhance Germany’s export-led economic model – and predicts that the 26 October agreement – supposed to ‘bail-out’ Greece and insulate other debt-ridden eurozone economies – will not preserve the euro but expedite its demise. Varoufakis may be being too pessimistic – ultimately his pessimism leads him to believe that fascism in Europe will make a comeback – but you want a public intellectual to be controversial and provocative, to suggest to us that the foundations of the civilised societies we have become accustomed to are not as firm or enduring as we think they are.

Monday, 14 November 2011

‘Watch these films. We are trying to say something.’


Above is a good interview with Cypriot filmmaker Yiannis Economides, one of my favourite Greeks of the moment, talking about his most recent film Knifer; the precarious state of Greece; and why his three features – Matchbox (2002), Soul Kicking (2006) and Knifer (2010) – predicted that Greece was on a path towards disintegration. He says: ‘Of course, the kinds of films we make… foreshadowed what would happen in Greece. It was as if we were giving them a knock to the head, telling them “Watch these films. We are trying to say something. Something’s up.”’ 

See Economides’ latest film, Knifer, here, in full, with English subtitles.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Samaras on Greece’s Exclusive Economic Zone

Above is an excerpt from a speech made by New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras at the Thessaloniki trade fair in September 2011. In it, Samaras stresses Greece’s geostrategic position, along with Cyprus, as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East and as the gateway for central Europe and Russia to the south. He denounces the Papandreou administration for cancelling the ‘pipeline diplomacy’ of the previous New Democracy government and for failing to declare Greece’s Exclusive Economic Zone and secure its delineation with neighbouring countries. Greece, Samaras argues, should tap into its underwater wealth. Samaras points out that Cyprus – ‘little Cyprus’ – has done all this for itself, years ago, and has won both support and allies. Greece hasn’t done it yet but, Samaras goes on, I will do it. Not without the necessary preparation and calculation, but I will do it, as soon as possible. We have rights, which can be converted into wealth for the Greek people, he says.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Democracy and nationalism in the new Greece

Couple of points emerging from the shenanigans of last few days in Greek politics:

1. Within a week, Greece went from Papandreou’s ‘referendum/power resides with the people’ gambit to the appointment of a new prime minister that completely bypassed the usual democratic processes, plucked, as Lucas Papademos was, from teaching public policy at Harvard, and imposed on Greece without any whiff of election. But Papademos does appear to be the man Greeks want as PM, in which case his ascent indicts election as the supreme expression of democracy and exposes the (increasing) inability of democratic procedures to find the right people to direct society. Plato’s criticism of democracy is, it appears, more pertinent than ever.

2. The involvement, with four ministers, of the rightist LAOS in the new government is interesting. Just a few years ago, LAOS were pariahs, untouchable, tainted by association with the extreme right and the junta, regarded as joke figures, ultra-nationalist ranters. Now, one of those most notorious ‘ranters’, Adonis Georgiades, has been put in charge of perhaps Greece’s most important economic sector, merchant marine.

3. Despite his vitriolic and belligerent style, opposition leader Antonis Samaras is risking a lot by agreeing to this transitional government. His rival for PM has gone from the weak, unpopular Giorgos Papandreou to the ‘national saviour’ Lucas Papademos, who it might not be as easy to shift come February as Samaras thinks. What if a Papademos government manages to stabilise Greece and push through the 26 October reforms? Won’t there be a clamour for him to stay on and for general elections to be postponed? Also, we note Samaras continues to flirt with nationalism – something he’s done throughout his career – by, this time, insisting that the two ministries he wanted taken away from Pasok and put in New Democracy hands were defence and foreign affairs.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Europe delighted by new Greek government

European leaders reacted positively last night to the news  that Greece had abandoned plans for a referendum and had instead appointed a government of national unity headed by Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy.

One EU official said, ‘Thank goodness they have seen sense and given up on the referendum idea. It would have come to a pretty pass if a government had been reduced to asking its people for their opinion on their future.’

Said another top Eurocrat, ‘Greece is meant to be the cradle of democracy. What on earth did it think it was doing being democratic?

‘This is typical of the Greeks – they have a long and unfortunate history of this sort of behaviour dating right back to the 5th Century BC.’

‘Model democracies like Britain,’ said the head of unelected European Commission, Mr Van Rumpy-Pumpy, ‘do not waste time with tiresome referenda which undermine the entire democratic fabric of er…’

He continued, ‘If Greece had got its way, this terrible democratic idea could have spread throughout the Eurozone and the notion of public involvement in important decisions could have bought civilisation as we know it to an end.’

All European experts were agreed that Greece would do much better to do what they were told by the EU.

(From UK satirical magazine, Private Eye)

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Rimbaud returns to Cyprus

Interesting this new French school opening in Nicosia next September. No doubt it’s intended to rival the English School, which is traditionally where most of the Cypriot elite have sent their children for secondary education and was established in 1900 with the specific purpose of producing a class of Anglicised Cypriots better able to help Britain maintain colonial rule over the island. To a large extent, the English School, 50 years after Cyprus won its independence, still performs that function. The three poles of influence in modern Cyprus have been the British, the Greek Orthodox Church and AKEL, the Cyprus communist party. But now the French – as part of a wider strategy to re-assert themselves in the Eastern Mediterranean – are looking for a slice of the Cypriot pitta. Interestingly, President Christofias, who wouldn’t know Paris from Phnom Penh, has been instrumental in getting the proposed French School off the ground, presumably because he sees it as impinging on British influence on the island.

And the name of new French school is going to be the ‘Arthur Rimbaud’. I’ve written about the great French poet’s connections to Cyprus before. The greatest outlaw and misfit – anarchist, if you like – in modern literature is a strange person to name a school for elite Cypriot kids after; but if there is going to be a French school on the island – and, personally, I don’t know what’s wrong with Greek paideia – one who wrote the following lines, from A Season in Hell, is allright by me:

If only I had a link to some point in the history of France!

But instead, nothing.

I am well aware that I have always been of an inferior race. I cannot understand revolt. My race has never risen, except to plunder; to devour like wolves a beast they did not kill.

I remember the history of France, the Eldest Daughter of the Church. I would have gone, a village serf, crusading to the Holy Land; my head is full of roads in the Swabian plains, of the sight of Byzantium, of the ramparts of Jerusalem; the cult of Mary, the pitiful thought of Christ crucified, turns in my head with a thousand profane enchantments-- I sit like a leper among broken pots and nettles, at the foot of a wall eaten away by the sun. --And later, a wandering mercenary, I would have bivouacked under German nighttimes.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The role of Greece’s oligarchs in Papandreou's downfall

Below is a sympathetic article on Giorgos Papandreou from the Financial Times, written by Misha Glenny, which attributes Greece’s PM’s downfall to the oligarchic families that have run – and looted, according to Glenny – the Greek economy and would like nothing more for the Greek crisis to deteriorate so that they can buy up Greek state assets at knockdown prices. The article is too generous to Papandreou, but it does draw attention to some of the lesser-known culprits in the plundering of Greece. (Thanks to Maria Karamitsos for pointing article out).

The real Greek tragedy – its rapacious oligarchs
Capricious, unreliable and ideologically driven were some of the more printable epithets hurled at George Papandreou in his final week as Greek prime minister. We should look at the motives of his detractors before taking such critiques at face value. While engaged in titanic political struggles at home and abroad, he has been quietly trying to tackle one of the most intractable root causes of the Greek tragedy – crime and corruption.

As the new Greek government struggles to convince Europe of its resolve to cut the country’s bloated public sector, it also has to decide whether to face down the real domestic threat to Greece’s stability: the network of oligarch families who control large parts of the Greek business, the financial sector, the media and, indeed, politicians.

Since Mr Papandreou became prime minister, his government has been trying to crack down on habitual tax evaders. He made clear in a speech to parliament on Friday how deep his concerns are regarding the more dubious activities of some of Greece’s banks. We can only hope that the BlackRock audit, ordered by the troika, will be suitably forensic in uncovering what has really been going on in the financial system.

In the same speech, Mr Papandreou also revealed dramatic information about a pan-Balkan fuel smuggling operation which is allegedly losing Greece an estimated €3bn annually. He spelt out exactly how damaging such criminal activities have been, all but naming those involved.

The oligarchs have responded in two ways. First, they have accelerated their habitual practice of exporting cash. In the last year, the London property market alone has reported a surge of Greek money.

Second, they have mobilised hysterical media outlets which they own in order to denounce and undermine Mr Papandreou at every opportunity, aware he is the least pliable among Greece’s political elite.

Their aim is clear – they are waiting to pounce on the state assets which, under the various bail-out plans, the Greek government must privatise. With the domestic economy in free fall, the share price of these hugely valuable entities such as the electric grid and the national lottery has been collapsing steadily over the past two years. A 10 per cent stake in OTE, the Greek telecoms provider, was sold to Deutsche Telekom for around €7 a share over the summer, down 75 per cent on its price three years earlier.

The oligarch conglomerates are waiting to scoop them up at anything up to less than a fifth of their real value – a poor financial return for the state but in 5-10 years time a bonanza for the purchasers. Some have been even banking on Greece exiting the euro so that they can then use the billions of euros squirrelled away outside the country to purchase the assets for knock-down drachma prices.

If the crises in Greece and Italy tell us anything, it is that the European Union has tolerated widespread corruption, criminality and malign governance not just in supplicants from eastern Europe but in some of its core western European members. As we Europeans lecture the world on the importance of European values – transparency, good governance and competition – too often we turn a blind eye to Mr Berlusconi’s monopoly on broadcast media, the influence of the Camorra on the politics of Campania and the chronic cronyism of the Greek economy (about which the British and German governments, to name but two, are fully informed).

If anything is to come from the catastrophe facing Europe it is essential these patterns of corruption are broken. Otherwise neither Greece nor Italy will ever be free of the institutional sclerosis that allows these practices to prosper. Before we look lovingly at northern Europe for the answer, let us remember the billions of dollars in bribes of which German companies, like Siemens and Ferrostaal, have been guilty of paying their Greek interlocutors. These were made in order to secure lucrative but overpriced contracts which have been funded by those decent Greeks who earn relatively little but, unlike the country’s super-rich, actually pay their taxes.

For Greece, the big question is whether after Mr Papandreou, the country possesses the requisite political talent and vision both to introduce root-and-branch reforms in order to revive the cankerous institutions of state, and to halt the pillaging of the Greek economy by its wealthiest and most powerful citizens. This is something that the country’s international creditors might wish to ponder, too.

My guess is probably not and that Mr Papandreou’s efforts will come to be regarded as the last real attempt to save the country.

The writer is author of The Balkans: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers. His latest book is Dark Market: Cyberthieves, Cybercops and You

Monday, 7 November 2011

Rufus T. Firefly set to be Greece’s PM after Papademos bails

Now that reports from Greece are suggesting that Great Greek Hope, Lukas Papademos – the man who took Greece into the euro in the first place – is refusing to do the honourable thing and replace Giorgos Papandreou as prime minister, as was widely reported and expected, Greece is now left with three choices for national saviour.

They are: 

1. Ayios Nektarios;
2. Me;
3. Rufus T. Firefly; and
4. Ex-king Konstantine (unemployed since 1974).

The obvious choice is 2, Rufus T. Firefly. I’ve been stressing his suitability ever since this crisis broke out and I think it’s about time I was taken seriously. Please see video above in order to appreciate Firefly’s particular virtues and what he could do for our beloved country, Freedonia a.k.a. Hellas.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Papandreou pays for referendum blunder

I’ve been playing about with twitter – see here – while watching the news from Hellas. I’m not too sure how twitter works yet or its value and I’m even less certain that things for Greece are any brighter now that Giorgos Papandreou, after his massive referendum blunder, has agreed to step down and the man who took Greece into the euro, former head of the Bank of Greece, Lukas Papademos, who said the best thing about the euro was how it protected its weaker economies from global shocks, will (apparently) take over as PM, albeit temporarily, until the 26 October haircut deal is secured after which general elections will be held, in February or March. I don’t like the idea of national unity or coalition governments – conflict and disagreement are the be all and end all in politics –  and am not impressed by the way the one taking shape in Greece has essentially been foisted on the country by the European Union, which demanded that the two main parties, at least, support a new government to prove that Greece was serious about implementing its ‘obligations’ arising from the 26 October deal.

* The photo above shows Papandreou, President Karolos Papoulias and opposition leader Antonis Samaras discussing today how exactly to bring about the demise of the Pasok government.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The method behind George’s madness

One of the most striking moments in Giorgos Papandreou’s vote of confidence apologia last night was his effort to justify the proposed bailout referendum on the grounds that it represented, in his mind, an attempt to change the way politics is done in Greece, to move the country from its ‘Byzantine tradition’ of murky deals done behind closed doors without the involvement of the citizenry to the ‘Athenian tradition’ of direct democracy.

Now, of course, one could argue that it’s a funny time for Papandreou to have decided that he wants to be Pericles and we won’t go into his sincerity and the other, colder political calculations that contributed to the ill-fated referendum plan; but if we consider the prime minister’s ‘Athens-Byzantium’ dichotomy alongside the RIEAS analysis – which emphasises the influence of the Scandinavian democratic model on Papandreou – and this piece by Anthony Barnett – which reminds us of Papandreou, the man behind the Symi symposia – then we begin to see that there is a certain method to George’s madness.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Papandreou survives vote of confidence

The Pasok government has won its vote of confidence, comfortably in the end, without defections – 153-144 –  after a very good apologia from PM Giorgos Papandreou, in which he said he would try and form a coalition government – and accepting the possibility that it would be without him at the helm; a government that would see through the 26 October haircut agreement before resigning – February-March time – when a general election would be held. Antonis Samaras, the appalling leader of the conservative opposition, New Democracy, immediately ruled out participating in such a coalition government and insisted on elections being held on 4 December. So, if it’s not possible to form a coalition government – and the vitriolic Samaras was adamant that it was not – then presumably Papandreou will have the constitutional and political authority to continue as prime minister – until March, and beyond? After the humiliating week he’s had – in which his resignation appeared imminent and inevitable – Papandreou’s success tonight is remarkable, even if, given the multiple crises facing Greece and the inherent weakness of the government in dealing with them, it proves to be only a fleeting triumph.

* I note Yanis Varoufakis is calling Papandreou’s plea – allow me to continue as PM while I (pretend) to usher in a more broadly-based government – his ‘Mubarak Strategy’ and suggesting that the idea of a national unity government will go the same way as the referendum. 

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Franco-German ultimatum spells end for Papandreou

Extraordinary the spectacle last night of Sarkozy and Merkel dictating to Greece the actual question they expected to be asked in Papandreou’s proposed referendum, i.e. Greeks should be asked to judge whether they should or should not remain within the eurozone. Sarkozy went one step further in humiliating Greece by castigating the country’s political system for failing to produce consensus and solidarity – EU trademarks – and compared this unfavourably to what had happened in Ireland, Portugal and Spain, where similarly difficult austerity measures have had to be implemented.

Now, when Papandreou came up with the idea of a referendum – without consulting his cabinet, let alone Greece's EU ‘partners’ – he must have thought that the question would relate to the latest bailout deal agreed on 26 October, providing Greece with a 50% debt haircut; but the French and Germans made it clear to him that such a question would effectively be translated as a referendum on in or out of the euro. But, in Greece, apart from the extreme left and extreme right, there is absolutely no desire to leave the euro – in fact, Greeks are ardent supporters of the euro and of the European project in general – so a referendum on returning to the drachma would be not only a pointless distraction but also put into question the entire strategic basis on which Greece has operated since 1974, and no Greek parliament is going to approve legislation for such a poll. Indeed, reaction among Pasok MPs and cabinet ministers this morning has been horror – at the humiliation heaped on Greece by the Franco-German ultimatum – and revulsion – at Papandreou’s disastrous miscalculation and ill-thought out plan for a referendum – and it is only a matter of time before Papandreou resigns

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Is Papandreou’s referendum idea so bad after all?

I don’t like all this the ‘French and Germans are warning Greece to accept the bail out or else’. Or else what? The French and Germans can go get stuffed. We all know that the bailout has nothing to do with saving Greece and everything to do with protecting the quasi-insolvent French and German banks, so it’s hard to accept the strictures of Merkel and Sarkozy, demanding Greeks sacrifice themselves for the sake of their political careers and Franco-German financial institutions. In which case, I’m warming to the idea of a referendum and a ‘no’ vote. If we accept Yanis Varoufakis’ logic that Greece will never be forced out of the euro (stated here as the Eagles’ doctrine, ‘You can check out any time but you can never leave’), because Greece leaving the euro would bring the whole eurozone project down in double quick time, then what might occur – after a Greek ‘no’ – is that the eurozone leaders will abandon the current 26 October deal, which envisions Greeks suffering for 20 years to save the banks, and come up with ideas for emerging from the crisis based on investment and growth.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Referendum rebellion hots up

Very interesting day in Greek politics after the prime minister called for a referendum on the debt bailout. Left are three prominent members of ruling Pasok who came out against Giorgos Papandreou’s decision to put a gun to the head of the Greek people. They are Eva Kaili, Milena Apostolaki and Hara Kefalidou. I’m willing to wager that the referendum won’t happen, but that elections will.

Also, Cyprus’ lamentable president, Demetris Christofias, finished the ‘summit’ in New York with the UN and Turk Cypriots aimed at revivifying the Annan plan. The talks made some progress, according to the UN, on secondary issues related to a future united Cyprus economy, EU relations and internal security; but on matters that count, particularly to Greek Cypriots – return of property and territory and deportation of Turkish settlers – they went nowhere, and are unlikely to. After, Christofias tried to deflect from his own failings by blaming an increasingly hostile opposition at home for undermining his efforts to ‘save’ Cyprus. Another summit in New York was set for January.

Better news for Cyprus is the continuing performance of APOEL in the Champions League. Tonight, they beat Europa League champions Porto 2-1 in Nicosia and are now, amazingly, after four rounds, top of their qualifying group with eight points, ahead of Zenit St Petersberg, Porto and Shakthar Donetsk.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Papandreou to go for a referendum

I’m currently reading Donald Kagan’s book, Thucydides: the Reinvention of History, which gives a lucid and sometimes brilliant account of the key issues, personalities and events of the Peloponnesian War. In particular, Kagan provides an excellent portrait of the personality and career of Pericles and his relationship to the Athenian democracy, which Kagan shows us working at its best and worst. At its worst, the Athenian democracy – like all democracies – was nothing more than mob rule, with the fate of the city (and its empire) in the hands of an ignorant and fickle mass, swayed by fears and prejudice and prone to bribery and flattery.

‘Trusting the judgement of the people’ or making critical decisions according to its ‘will’ is, therefore,  a very dangerous exercise and I’ve never been much in favour of it, regarding it as an easy way out for leaders that have lost the determination or know-how to govern; but the breaking news is that this is the path that Greece's PM Giorgos Papandreou has chosen to go down, having told Pasok MPs that the government is to hold a referendum on the debt deal reached last week in Brussels, in which Greece accepted a 50% haircut of its sovereign debt in return for pushing through economic and public sector reforms. I guess now we will see whether Greeks want to take the medicine prescribed to them by the EU, or whether, as Syriza, KKE and all the rest keep telling us, they are sick to death of austerity and tax rises and want to plot another path to exit the crisis.

*And here’s Nikos Dimitriou in The Guardian writing about what default and exit from the euro – which, presumably, a ‘no’ in the referendum on the debt agreement would entail – would mean for Greece. Essentially, it would mean chaos and violence to start with and then, since Greece is a fractious place with an ineffective state and a tendency to political thuggery, would mean even more chaos and violence to follow.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

The myth of Greeks as perennial revolutionaries

Unfortunately, I don’t live in Greece, which is the most compelling, heroic and beautiful country in the world, so it’s difficult for me to gauge how people are genuinely reacting to all the turmoil unfolding. All I have to go on is information gleaned from the web – newspapers, blogs, MEGA TV news (Yiannis Pretenteris makes me laugh, sometimes) – my instincts and some knowledge gained living, working and travelling in Greece, even though I haven’t been to the country for seven years.

Now, if I were to believe the Greek (and foreign) media, Greeks are in a state of such rage and despair that the country is on the brink of a popular uprising. However, I’m sceptical of such a scenario, since, however dysfunctional and iniquitous Greece has become, it is not Tunisia or Egypt; I’m aware that there is a vociferous Marxist minority in Greece that revels in notions of popular uprisings, sees them where they don’t exist, indeed has a vested interest in creating disorder and exaggerating disturbance; and, from what I know of Greeks and Greek society, I’m certain that the vast majority of Greeks aren’t interested in overthrowing global capitalism or abandoning the European Union and don't have any time for the minority that do agitate for these things.

Indeed, my feeling that the media and the Greek left – sharing an interest in the projection of violence and drama – are presenting a distorted picture of Greece and Greek public opinion, is borne out by the following poll, from today’s Vima on Sunday. It shows  that 35.7% of Greeks are in outright favour of last week’s haircut deal, while 58.9% say they are against it – and I wonder how many of those who say they are against it are just expressing opposition to austerity and tax rises rather than an opinion in favour of default and active ‘resistance’. Also, according to the poll – 48.8% of respondents regard the haircut deal as a blow to national sovereignty – which, undoubtedly, it is – though 29.8% of Greeks see it  as an unpleasant but necessary imposition in order for Greece to become competitive. Meanwhile, 72.5% of Greeks said they were in favour of staying with the euro, and only 19.5% want to return to the drachma. And asked to describe how they feel about the crisis affecting the country, 21% of Greeks said they felt pessimism and fear; 20.8% said they felt concern; 19.7% anger; and 16.9% hope.

Despondent, confused, maybe; a seething mass of revolutionaries prepared to overthrow the Greek state, strike a blow against capitalism and abandon the EU, no. Indeed, it seems that a large section of Greek society feels that the thrust of the measures being imposed on Greece, if not the measures themselves, are a necessary evil and that change in the country is long overdue.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Cyprus celebrates Ochi Day, but without Christofias… thankfully

As the video from last night’s RIK news shows, things were a little calmer at the Ochi Day parades in Cyprus compared to the disruptions and cancellations that marred events in the rest of Greece.

Obviously, Cyprus isn’t experiencing Greece’s political, economic and social meltdown and doesn’t have the Syriza or trade union cancer to contend with; though, there is an unusual and widespread degree of contempt and disgust felt towards President Demetris Christofias, following his cowardly refusal to accept responsibility for the Mari disaster and resign.

Christofias has in the last few weeks emerged from his bunker to attend well-orchestrated events organised by his party, communist AKEL, but he was off the island yesterday – on his way to New York for some nonsense meeting at the UN with the Turkish Cypriot leadership – so we don’t know what kind of reception he would have got from people if he had attended the 28 October celebrations.

And if you want an idea of what a ridiculous and dangerous government Christofias is now leading, then mark the words in the video of Giorgos Demosthenous, Cyprus’ so-called minister of education, who talks about creating schools that promote ‘democracy’ and ‘social justice’.

Since when have schools been tasked to teach the virtues of ‘democracy’ and ‘social justice’? Neither of these concepts are givens in society, both are political constructs and will have different meanings to different people. Indeed, one can only imagine what they mean to a communist apparatchik like Demosthenous. Fortunately, Cyprus only has 16 more months to go before it can replace the despicable Christofias and his wretched government. Cyprus couldn’t endure any longer.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Hitler, don’t dare boast that you conquered Crete

Χίτλερ, να μην το καυχηθείς πως πάτησες την Κρήτη,
ξαρμάτωτη την ηύρηκες κ' έλειπαν τα παιδιά τη
στα ξένα πολεμούσανε, πάνω στην Αλβανία,
μα πάλι πολεμήσανε.

Hitler, don’t dare boast that you conquered Crete
you found her unarmed and its lads were away
fighting in foreign lands, high up in Albania
but they still fought.

The artists in the above video are Vasilis Skoulas, Manos Mountakis and Maria Soultatou. Below is an older version of the song, sung by Giorgis Koutsourelis.

Cyprus unfazed as Greece sinks further into the mire

Although Cypriot banks continue to be downgraded by ratings agencies due to their exposure to Greek debt and despite these banks effectively being denied access to international capital markets, Cypriot economists – at least the two I heard on RIK earlier today (Marios Mavrides and Alexandros Michaelides), both of whom seemed quite normal and sensible – appear calm about the situation, asserting that the Cyprus economy and its banking sector is just about healthy enough to survive the Greek haircut, and excluding the possibility of Cyprus going the same way as Iceland and Ireland.

However, I was struck by one thing Marios Mavrides said, which was that Cypriot banks, awash with money, decided at the beginning of 2010 – i.e. when Greece’s debt problems were the talk of the world – to invest their surpluses in Greek bonds. In 2010? How stupid was that? Surely, that wasn’t a business decision; surely, that was the Greek government telling the Cypriot government to tell the Cypriot banks to join in the national suicide, which, being patriotic Greeks, they duly did.

And as if we didn’t know already that Greece has still a long way to go before it reaches the bottom, today we saw the Ochi Day parade cancelled in Thessaloniki and disrupted in various other parts of the country by anti-government demonstrators. Apparently, in Thessaloniki, when retired army officers tried to march, they were spat at by anarchists.

According to the Washington Post: ‘The protesters included leftists, anarchists, neo-Nazis, people fed up with the government’s austerity policies, and fans of the local soccer club Iraklis, which was pushed out of the top division because of financial irregularities.’

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Yanis Varoufakis on Greece, the eurozone, the world

Having always been poor and devoid of sensible ideas as to how become rich, I’ve never taken much interest in economics, believing, anyhow, that politics and ideology were far more pertinent ways to explain human behaviour and society. However, since we live in times of economic crisis, this lack of interest and understanding has become a drawback and, given that I am a typical Greek, who strives for knowledge in order that I might have an opinion, I’ve been compelled to take a bit of a crash course in the subject.

In this regard, I’ve found the thoughts on global economics and the economic crisis by Yanis Varoufakis – professor of economics at Athens University – edifying and entertaining. Varoufakis is, from what I can tell – I haven’t read his books – somewhat of a Marxist (but not a dogmatic one) and therefore you have to take what he says bearing in mind his ideological inclinations, as you must bear in mind that he comes precisely from that generation and class of left-wing Greeks that has driven Greece towards the economic, political and cultural disaster it is currently enduring.

Still, Varoufakis has become somewhat of a media darling and you can’t avoid his pontifications – on Sky, the BBC, Russia Today and dozens of other global outlets. However, I enjoyed most listening to the  interview below, which Varoufakis provided to Hellenic Radio in Austin, Texas, because it’s quite long and gives the professor time to go into some detail regarding his theory on the global economic crisis and how this has affected the eurozone and Greece.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Prospect of offshore gas lifts Cypriot spirits

Below is an article by Tony Barber, reporting from Limassol, which appeared in today’s Financial Times.

After its most traumatic year since the 1974 Turkish military invasion, Cyprus is bubbling with excitement at the prospect of offshore gas riches so abundant that they will guarantee prosperity for generations to come.

Not one cubic metre of recoverable gas has yet been found in the Aphrodite field off Cyprus’s southern coast where Noble Energy, a Texan firm, began exploratory drilling last month.

But for a small country which lost more than half its electricity supply in July when an explosion destroyed its largest power station, and which turned to Russia this month for a €2.5bn emergency loan to protect its public finances, visions of stupendous energy wealth are irresistibly attractive.

As a result, the government of Cyprus is already examining the multibillion-dollar sovereign wealth funds of Norway and Qatar for ideas on how to operate an investment fund of its own, if and when the cash comes rolling in. “There’s a climate of euphoria in Cyprus,” confesses Praxoula Antoniadou, the island state’s industry minister.

The eastern Mediterranean caught the energy world’s attention last year when Noble announced that the Leviathan field, adjacent to Aphrodite and lying in Israeli waters, contained reserves so large that they held the potential to turn Israel into a gas-exporting nation.

According to the US Geological Survey, the Levant Basin, adjoining Cyprus, Gaza, Israel, Lebanon and Syria, may contain as much as 122,000bn cubic feet of recoverable gas, equivalent to 20bn barrels of oil.

The first indications of hydrocarbon reserves in what Cyprus terms its “exclusive economic zone” are expected in early to mid-December, Ms Antoniadou told a conference this month in the coastal resort of Limassol.

She promised that any wealth would be shared fairly between the Greek Cypriot population of the island’s south and the Turkish Cypriots of the north, whose breakaway state is recognised by no country other than Turkey.

Turkey itself takes the view that Cyprus should not be drilling for gas until negotiators settle the long-term future of the island’s two communities.

The persistent tensions that surround the island’s division are not, however, the only question on the minds of Cyprus’s political leaders as they prepare for a possible gas bonanza.

For a country with no experience of managing extensive natural resources, it is equally important to work out how to exploit the wealth – if it is there – in a sustainable fashion.

At the Limassol conference, Hans Jochum Horn, a Norwegian businessman with deep knowledge of the oil and gas sectors of Norway and Russia, had some blunt advice for Cyprus’s leaders.

“You have no time. You have to get the key issues on the table very soon and take some quick decisions. If you set the right framework at the beginning, you will not squander the riches,” Mr Horn said.

Cyprus may choose to create a national energy champion, as Norway did when it established Statoil in 1972, he observed. “If so, the company should be run like a private company. It should have independent directors and should be quoted on a major stock exchange.”

Mr Horn, who is deputy chief executive officer of the Renaissance Group, an investment company that specialises in emerging markets, said that if Cyprus set up a wealth fund, “everything you earn offshore should go into the fund and only a little bit should trickle out [for current expenditure]”.

Norway made a mistake in 2002 by deciding to take out 4 per cent of its fund’s annual revenues for current spending, Mr Horn said. A limit of 2 per cent a year should have been set.

Amit Mor, an Israeli specialist who runs Eco Energy, a consulting and investment firm, told the conference that “a transparent bidding and licence process” was paramount for the long-term success of a future Cypriot energy sector.

He added: “The resources belong to future generations. It’s very important for Cyprus to internalise this lesson.”

Monday, 24 October 2011

The price of Greek failure is EU rule

It’s maybe hard for Greeks who don’t live in Europe to appreciate, but, among those countries in the eurozone – and even among those in the EU and waiting to adopt the euro – there exists an almost irreversible trend to forge closer economic union, and that rather than the current crisis deflecting them from this goal, all it has served to do is convince them to accelerate the process.

This is why all this talk about Greece abandoning the EU and the euro and taking up the drachma again, is just pie in the sky. It’s not going to happen. What is going to happen is, in fact, the opposite, which is deeper economic integration and more supervision and oversight of national economies. Of course, having Brussels or Frankfurt telling Athens (and Rome, Madrid and so on) how to run its economy represents a massive surrender of national sovereignty; but, the truth is, that this is the price Greece is going to have to pay for its abject failure to reform its economy and society by itself.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Explaining Jack Straw’s Cyprus outbursts

Former Labour foreign secretary Jack Straw has made himself a Turkish favourite by calling, last November and again last week, for the partition of Cyprus. It used to be – going back to the anti-colonial struggle in the 1950s – that Cyprus could rely on the UK Labour Party for strong support, and this was the case right up until the period involving Neil Kinnock and Robin Cook. It’s only when we get to Tony Blair and Jack Straw that senior Labour politicians begin to express a fanatically pro-Turkish stance.

We recall Blair’s wife, Cherie Booth, earned millions from the Turkish government when she (unsuccessfully) defended their position in the Meletios Apostolides’ case; while I came across these (unsurprising) entries in Jack Straw’s Register of Members' Financial Interests that might go some way to explaining his Cyprus outpourings:

‘15 April 2011, received fee of £2,000 for participating in a Government of Turkey conference on foreign policy in Istanbul on 24 March 2011. I was accompanied by my wife. Our travel to Ankara and Istanbul and accommodation and meals from 23-28 March 2011 were paid by the Government of Turkey; total cost £2,910. Time taken, including travel and preparation, three days. (Registered 3 May 2011).’

And a few years earlier:

‘22-26 June 2006, to Istanbul with my wife, as guests of the Turkish Government who provided us with hotel accommodation. (We paid for our own flights; see Category 5 above). (Registered 5 September 2006).’

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Turks step up naval patrols around Cyprus… but so do Russia and France

Not satisfied with dispatching the decrepit seismic research vessel Piri Reis to waters around Cyprus in a risible assertion of Turkey’s hegemonic ambitions in the Eastern Mediterranean and a show of its desire to disrupt Cyprus’s exploration of its Exclusive Economic Zone, the Ottomans have now sent two frigates, two corvettes and a submarine to patrol the area.

Imminently joining them will be a Russian battle group led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov (pictured) and, indeed, if reports in today’s Cypriot press are to be believed, France will soon be making its naval presence felt in the Eastern Mediterranean.

France’s increased interest is thought to coincide with the news that the Cypriot government will, early next year, put up for auction the rights to explore the other 12 blocks in the 13 blocks that comprise the southern part of Cyprus’ EEZ. Currently, the US firm Noble Energy is conducting exploratory natural gas drilling in block 12, the Aphrodite field. Cypriot media has been reporting intense interest in the auction process from oil and gas giants from Holland, Norway, the UK, the US, China, Russia and France. Indeed, Phileleftheros reported that one scenario is that Russian companies – such as Gazprom and Lukoil – will be awarded the western blocks while French interests – Total S.A. – will be given permission to explore the eastern blocks, which border fields in the Lebanese EEZ, where Total, given France’s influence in Lebanon, will expect to be involved. In fact, Politis reports, the Cyprus government will use entirely geopolitical considerations when it decides the companies it will allocate 
EEZ exploitation licences to, in a strategy designed to isolate Turkey and neutralise its threats.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Turkey needs a Cyprus crisis, part two

Michalis Economides, professor of chemical engineering at Houston University, has written an informed piece on the practicalities – rather than the geopolitics – of the natural gas issue as it is developing regarding Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean. It was originally published here, and I’ve posted it in full below.

A point that emerges from Economides’ article relates to something I mentioned in the piece I posted a couple of days on the limited options available to Turkey in trying to stop Cyprus exploring for natural gas in its Exclusive Economic Zone.

In my post, I said Turkey’s claim that it would set up a rival drilling operation around Cyprus was laughable, partly because of the illegality and partly because Turkey lacks the resources and expertise.

Economides makes my point in this way:

‘There is almost a sadistic irony that natural gas of the size being contemplated can be so close and yet so far if the right decisions and the right knowledge are not evident. The size of the resource would require tens of billions of euros. The cost will involve the field development with very expensive wells and facilities and, especially, if LNG will be deployed. In all cases it will take huge companies to do it. Nobody should have the fantasy that the state should or could do it.’

Also in my post, I said Turkey was pushing Egypt (and Lebanon) to cancel its EEZ delineation deal with Cyprus; but I note today that Egypt’s foreign minister Mohamed Kamel Amr told his visiting Greek counterpart, Stavros Lambrinides, that Egypt would not go back on the agreement it has signed with Cyprus.

Both the above points give added weight to my original assessment, which was that Turkey’s most likely option regarding Cyprus’ EEZ is to escalate tension, in the hope that the US or EU will intervene diplomatically to stop Cyprus, or that Cyprus/Greece will be provoked into a military confrontation, which Turkey sees itself as winning.

Cyprus oil and gas, by Micahlis Economides
The January 2011 announced discovery of some of the largest offshore natural gas reservoirs in the world, 90 kilometers west of Haifa and not much further than that from Cyprus has created some understandable excitement among Cypriots. The potential for large hydrocarbon accumulations in the same Messinian geologic formation, underlain Cypriot economic zone waters, should now be considered as high possibility. Seismic evidence makes the Cypriot block, named Aphrodite, currently being drilled by Houston’s Noble Energy, to be at least as good and perhaps as much as 50% better than Israel’s Leviathan field. The latter has been confirmed as holding at least 17 Tcf of natural gas.

It is a dream of so many countries to find oil and gas deposits: easy riches the notion goes, a chance to even the field versus big and powerful nations. However, in spite of the occasional jubilation in some parts of the Cypriot and Greek press and thinly disguised wishful thinking by government officials and politicians a dose of reality is in order.

First, this is undeniably good news. The discovery in Israeli-controlled waters is a clear and positive sign. But what are often missed in the debate are two other important elements that turn the good news into not so good and even bad if countries are unprepared or inexperienced.

There is a big disparity between oil and gas in place in a geological structure and having those resources labeled as recoverable reserves. The latter implies technical and economic attractiveness. Hydrocarbons buried under 2,000 meters of water and then another 5,000 meter beneath the bottom of the sea are far more attractive when the price of oil approaches $150 per barrel as it was in July 2008.

Natural gas is even more cumbersome because it cannot be handled readily as oil can and, therefore, its exploitation is even more tenuous. To understand this issue one needs to realize that in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico and of more recently emerging offshore Brazil, while oil production has been prolific, virtually no natural gas deposits have been targeted. Gas associated with oil has been produced but in most cases it is used for re-injection to augment oil production and not for sales.

The second issue and one that is likely to prove challenging is that a pipeline from the area of discovery to e.g., Europe is highly unlikely because of the water depth and the underwater terrain. This means that the transportation of gas will have to employ conversion into liquid natural gas (LNG) and, in early time, perhaps compressed natural gas (CNG) transportation.

There is almost a sadistic irony that natural gas of the size being contemplated can be so close and yet so far if the right decisions and the right knowledge are not evident. The size of the resource would require tens of billions of euros. The cost will involve the field development with very expensive wells and facilities and, especially, if LNG will be deployed. In all cases it will take huge companies to do it. Nobody should have the fantasy that the state should or could do it.

There are also plenty of examples from afar to the neighborhood of the difficulty to match local resources with local needs. Trinidad in the Caribbean is a major source of LNG for the US but huge parts of the island have no access to gas. Egypt, a major new player in LNG is faced with increasing local discontent. Cairo and its almost 30 million inhabitants have no gas. If Cyprus wants to use natural gas for its electricity a very viable option would be to buy relatively cheap CNG from Israel.

Greece now gearing up for its own exploration program should take an intense interest in the Cypriot experience and learn from it. For Cyprus the tantalizing and difficult dilemma will emerge after all that gas is proven. The geopolitical re-alignment in Eastern Mediterranean will be a yet another issue and the subject of a forthcoming editorial.

Greece on way to Euro 2012

Just in case anyone missed it or is interested, above are the highlights and goals from last night’s match in Tiblisi between Georgia and Greece, the last in Greece’s qualifying campaign for Euro 2012.

Greece, who only needed a draw to win their qualifying group ahead of Croatia, went down early, but came back in the last 11 minutes with goals from Georgios Photakis and Angelos Charisteas to win 2-1 and book their ticket to next year’s finals in Poland and Ukraine.

It’s the third time in a row Greece has qualified for the European Championships, an impressive achievement. Nevertheless, I’m not that convinced by our team, they’re still stolid, but it’s hard to argue with results, the fact that since Fernando Santos took over from Otto Rehhagel, the boys have gone on an unbeaten 15-match streak.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Turkey needs a Cyprus crisis

Cypriot media has been reporting today that  initial investigations being carried out by Noble Energy in the Aphrodite field – Block 12 (of 13) in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone – reveal much larger deposits of natural gas than expected.

Even though this is still media speculation and official results of the drilling won’t be released until December, what is clear is that these finds, along with those in Israel’s EEZ, pose a threat to Turkey’s stated hegemonic ambitions in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey is limited in what it can do to prevent Israel and Cyprus spoiling its neo-Ottoman dreams. International law is not on Turkey’s side, Israel is a powerful country with even more powerful allies, and Turkey’s overtures to Egypt and Lebanon to overturn EEZ agreements with Cyprus have, so far, proved unsuccessful and, particularly in the case of Egypt, are unlikely to yield results in the future.

Regarding Cyprus, Turkey has said it will not stop by force the natural gas drilling taking place; rather it will set up, in fields it has identified as belonging to its puppet state in occupied northern Cyprus, the so-called ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’, rival drilling operations. To this end, Turkey has sent out the research vessel Piri Reis for hydrocarbon exploration in and around Cyprus’ EEZ and has also intensified its naval presence around Cyprus and in the Eastern Mediterranean generally.

Two points:
Turkey’s attempt to set up a rival drilling operation on behalf of the ‘TRNC’ is somewhat laughable. Turkey has neither the expertise or resources to explore for and exploit Cypriot natural gas. Turkey would need foreign firms to help it carry out any drilling; but it is unlikely that any significant player would want to be part of the illegal plundering of a sovereign government’s natural resources. Similar issues of cost and legality would dog Turkey throughout any export process.

The assumption has to be, therefore, that Turkey is not serious about ‘rival drilling’. Rather, its plan is to create an atmosphere of crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean, which would alarm the EU and US, scare off investors and put a stop to the drilling being conducted by the Cyprus government.

The problem for Turkey is that its attempts so far to engender a crisis have not had the desired effect, with the US government and the EU refusing to urge Nicosia to halt its activities. But having started down this road, Turkey will not turn back and is left with only one option, which is to intensify its efforts to cultivate a Cyprus crisis and escalate the potential for military confrontation.