[ilds] "the almost comic inability of self-analysis”

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Wed Jun 16 07:58:57 PDT 2010

This is certainly an interesting slant on the financial crisis in Greece and its relations with the EU.  I haven't read this take before.  I don't see, however, the main point, namely, that changing the Greek character is what's really at stake.  I'm simpleminded.  The issue, as I understand it, is simply Greek debt and a social welfare system where a large percentage of the population works for the government, where some can retire at 55 at full salary, where corruption is widespread, and where tax evasion, particularly among the wealthy, is endemic.  Are these the result of the Greek character?  Are the Greeks predisposed to sloth and deceit?  Are these traits "loving" or "embodying" Greek culture?  The Greeks can be as Homeric, as Thucydidean, or as Durrellian as they want, so long as they correct these economic problems.  


On Jun 15, 2010, at 6:10 PM, Charles Sligh wrote:

> I think that Durrellians will be interested to read Richard Pine's 
> dispatch from a stormy and struggling Greece.
> Well done, Richard.
> Charles
> **
> Greeks rail against being urged to become more 'European'
> The Irish Times - Wednesday, June 16, 2010
> LETTER FROM GREECE: Austerity measures have raised the hackles of almost 
> every sector to be hit by change
> http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2010/0616/1224272613792.html
>> This is what Greek prime minister George Papandreou seems to be saying 
>> to his fellow countrymen, as he tries to drag Greece back into Europe. 
>> To save the country from bankruptcy, to renew world faith in Greece 
>> and Greekness, Greekness itself must change. The characteristics that 
>> produced the present crisis – graft, lack of transparency, lax work 
>> practices, tax evasion – must be eradicated.
>> Of course Greece can modernise, become more efficient and exterminate 
>> (or at least minimise) bribery and corruption. But this is not enough 
>> for the Brussels mandarins. The impossibility of leaving the euro zone 
>> and reintroducing the drachma means that Greece is tied to a Europe 
>> that is increasingly disturbed because its longed-for unity is 
>> threatened: it contains elements that do not, and cannot, conform to 
>> the idea of “Europe”.
>> In Spain, Portugal and Hungary, the local crisis is being described as 
>> “serious, but far less so than the Greek situation”. Yet no one is 
>> asking the Spanish to be less Spanish, the Portuguese to be less 
>> Portuguese, the Hungarians to be less Hungarian.
>> How do you change a national culture? Why are these characteristics so 
>> deeply embedded in the Greek character? From 1453 until the 1830s – 
>> and in some cases even up to 1913 – Turkish rule over the Greek 
>> mainland and Aegean islands meant that, as in Ireland, people 
>> developed a mindset that was “agin the government”. Such resistance to 
>> authority persists.
>> So does the problem of leadership.
>> After 180 years, and several civil schisms, we are seeing yet another 
>> rejection of a western system of government imposed by the great 
>> powers in the 1830s, which has always caused a crisis of leadership. 
>> Who should lead, and in which direction?
>> Alessandros Papadiamandis (1851-1911), the father of modern Greek 
>> fiction, wrote in 1892 of politicians “deceiving the common people 
>> with campaign promises, bribes and divisive techniques, all leading to 
>> strife and corruption at a time when the nation was passing through 
>> one of its most crucial phases”. Nothing new, then.
>> But it goes deeper than that. Today’s commentators are not unlike the 
>> 19th-century travellers who found the Greeks (and the Irish) 
>> insufficiently western: incomprehensible, impenetrable, impervious to 
>> “reason”.
>> In 1864, a Briton observed: “A Greek will never confess any fact which 
>> appears to tell against his country. Indeed, the general disregard of 
>> accuracy by that nation is one of their most lamentable 
>> characteristics, but it is no proof of the degeneracy of the race. The 
>> ancient Greeks had the same failing.”
>> Eighty years later, Lawrence Durrell also made the connection to the 
>> ancient Greeks: The Odyssey is “a portrait of a nation which rings as 
>> clear to-day as when it was written. The loquacity, the shy cunning, 
>> the mendacity, the generosity, the cowardice and bravery, the almost 
>> comic inability of self-analysis”.
>> Austerity measures have raised the hackles of almost every vested 
>> interest. Taxi drivers have held strikes. Why? Because they now have 
>> to keep accounts, issue receipts and pay taxes. Port workers are 
>> striking because in a measure to increase tourism, cruise ships are no 
>> longer limited to hiring Greek deck hands. PAME, the 
>> communist-affiliated trade union, opposes the advent of the 
>> International Monetary Fund. Teachers and civil servants oppose 
>> cutbacks affecting them. Transport workers oppose the privatisation of 
>> the railway service.
>> Everyone agrees, in principle, that the measures are necessary if 
>> Greece is to surmount the current crisis, but no one accepts that they 
>> should apply to them.
>> When the austerity measures were first announced, a “social explosion” 
>> was forecast, and this has indeed taken place, if violent street 
>> protests are to be taken as a sign. Given the Greeks’ natural 
>> inclination towards demonstrative behaviour, that was only to be expected.
>> Peaceful protests have been used by anti-state anarchists to provoke 
>> violence. But even more disturbing is the malaise in the minds of 
>> every Greek man and woman, a “social implosion”, as Greeks reflect 
>> inwardly.
>> They have two parallel strands of contemplation: one is the physical 
>> fact that austerity measures leave them with a higher cost of living, 
>> and less in their pockets to meet it. The second strand is that 
>> Papandreou is asking them to change the habits of a lifetime: not 
>> merely to become honest, hard-working citizens, but to become a 
>> different type of people – more “European”, more western.
>> Europe is divided east and west: the west cannot tolerate the 
>> indirectness, the obliqueness, of the eastern mind. And Greece is, 
>> definitively, the meeting-place of east and west, which is why it 
>> creates so much angst among those who are committed to the success of 
>> the European project.
>> It isn’t so much the cost of living, as the cost of loving. The price 
>> of being Greek is the real cost of loving – and embodying – one’s country.
>> © 2010 The Irish Times
> -- 
> ********************************************
> Charles L. Sligh
> Assistant Professor
> Department of English
> University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
> charles-sligh at utc.edu
> ********************************************

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