Matthew Norman: This is no return to ancient Greek democracy

With this referendum, Greece seeks to take Europe hostage and is screwing her in Olympian fashion

Share
Related Topics

There may be nothing new under the sun, but according to the ancient Greeks it is quite the celestial Johnny-come-lately. Long before the sun, long even before the Titans rose and fell, and Zeus slew his father Cronos to seize control of Olympus, there was only Chaos. The mother of all things is back in charge as the muthah of all financial crises moves closer – thanks to the modern Greeks – to sucking us all into the Abyss (Chaos's firstborn, as you cosmology fans well know). Perhaps by now a semblance of order has re-asserted itself over the mayhem prevailing at the time of writing, with markets in freefall and confusion reigning over Greece's forthcoming referendum on the euro bailout. If so, it won't last long.

The date of that vote is as unclear as any intricate political calculations behind Prime Minister George Papandreou's decision to call it, or even whether he informed the Franco-German neo-axis powers before announcing it. Nor is it obvious what the precise implications for Europe might be, other than perfectly hideous.

Chaotic hardly seems an adequate adjective. The Greeks have unleashed pandemonium, and if there is any hope remaining in Pandora's box this time around, you'd want the Hubble Telescope to locate it. In the frantic quest for an upside, all I can dredge up is gratitude that I took the mediocre redbrick degree in Classics, hence all the tiresome and pretentious allusions, rather than in economics. Now that would have been a waste of time. No professional economist has much clue what's going on, beyond a basic appreciation that we are, as Richard Littlejohn will surely put it, going to Hellas in a handcart.

What is abundantly clear is that all the comparisons between this grumbling nightmare and the approach to war in 1939 were less fanciful than one would have liked, though in the globalised age everything moves faster. There was almost a calendar year between Neville Chamberlain declaring peace for our time and war with Germany. From the moment Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy waved their Greek bailout paper in Brussels and Mr Papandreou's startling announcement were barely five days.

Why he did so is the source of contention, but we can probably rule out any driving passion to invoke the memory of fifth century BC Athens. Some muscular Eurosceptics will posit that, in offering the plebiscite denied us, Mr Papandreou honours his nation's status as the birthplace of democracy. But politicians tend not to think in such grandiose terms when trying to navigate a course between a rock and hard place. Or, to continue this whirlwind odyssey through half-remembered lectures, between Scylla and Charybdis. The waters may be uncharted, but the menaces to Greece are in plain sight. On one side stand the unforgiving rocks of unending austerity within the eurozone, struggling to tame sovereign debt which remains crippling despite that offer of a 50 per cent haircut. Already suffering horribly and riven by civil unrest, the Greeks do not much fancy a future of penury under German dominion, as the explosion there of Nazi-themed cartoons and graffiti confirms.

On the other side lies the dreaded whirlpool of "disorderly default"... leaving the euro in disgrace, and attempting to return to growth via a devalued drachma, with no protection from the world's second reserve currency. Which is the quicker route to perdition is anyone's guess, but from this remove it looks a bit like offering a terminal patient the choice between a revolver and the hemlock.

Mr Papandreou, who seems neither a madman nor a nihilist, will not have taken this apparently deranged last throw of the dice without feeling irresistible pressure. Apart from a livid electorate, he is assailed by an opposition so irresponsible in promising cure without pain that it makes Ed Balls look like Stafford Cripps the day his hairshirt returned from Sketchley's with a wire-wool lining. In delegating the decision, he presumably believes this is the only possible way to compel the opposition to face reality and to scare the electorate into accepting that the alternative is worse than the bailout. It is, to put it gently, a monstrous gamble.

It is also playing with fire on behalf of the rest of us, within and outside the eurozone. If Greece goes, as begins to look inevitable, the fall of Italy becomes more imminent... and as with their respective empires long ago, the latter is rather more threatening to the rest of Europe than the former. Perhaps when your liver is being daily devoured by vultures, you can be forgiven for losing sight of any obligation to the world beyond your shores.

It hardly behoves a country that slags the euro off from the sidelines at every turn – to borrow from Mr Sarkozy's trenchant rebuke to David Cameron – to lecture others on the altruistic need to remain in it. But there is a strong sense that, just as with the supremacy of chaos, the Greeks have been here before. Disguised as a white bull, Zeus kidnapped Europa and ravished her. With this referendum, Greece seeks to take Europe hostage and is screwing her in Olympian fashion once again.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teachers Required in King's Lynn

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teachers needed in King's Ly...

Primary Teachers needed in Ely

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teacher needed in the Ely ar...

Teaching Assistant to work with Autistic students

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: KS2 Teacher needed in Peterborough a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The appearance of Miguel Arias Canete at a Brussels hearing last Wednesday caused 100,000 people to sign a petition to prevent his appointment  

TTIP is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the EU's suspect relationships with corporations

Lee Williams
 

Being catcalled, groped and masturbated at is a common part of the female experience

Bryony Beynon
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain