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.