…..how it all turned out in the end.
One of the good things about having your economy spiral down the plughole of existence is that, rather than disappear forever into the sewers of depression, it can be transformed into something emerging…..perhaps from the taps of hope, I’m not entirely sure. Either way, this is now the fate of Greece, according to Russell Investments. Russell advises funds with a grand total of £1.6 trillion in assets, and last week they advised Greece that it has ceased to be First World, and is instead Emerging.
My general take on that news is that the good burghers of Brussels-am-Berlin should be out there trumpeting this achievement on the same scale of decibels they oompah-pahed in relation to ‘winning’ a Nobel Prize; after all, it’s not every day you kill something, and then manage to have it emerge again. It’s the sort of breakthrough that would have a Buddhist spiritual leader green with karmic envy – or even the Creator herself suffering a fit of jealousy: what was once a chrysalis is now a butterfly. See how it flaps gently on the breeze, an entirely pointless creature unable to eat and likely to be dead again within twenty-four hours. But it’s a start. This is only the beginning, and time alone can teach us all those things which might be possible once you’re a member of the European Union.
Unfortunately for these gently blended analogies and metaphors, once one gets into the detail of the Russell verdict, none of them seem to work that well. You see, until last week Greece was developed, so it can’t have been a chrysalis. Now it’s emerging, but if it’s emerging from being developed, then it must be going backwards: or coming out arse-first, like some kind of breach-baby. There could be a clue in there somewhere, and we’ll return to it in a paragraph or seven.
Meanwhile, the Russellometer has been at work during 2012 examining Greece’s two risk profiles. We’re not told explicitly what they were (although I’d hazard a guess that the euro and austerity are implicated) but Russell bluntly admits that “Greece failed both tests”. So as well as emerging backwards after falling into the sewers, Greece was taking its finals. It’s tough being Greece.
Greece is the first country Russell has ever cut to emerging from developed market status, although given the state of the EU it seems highly unlikely it’ll be the last. The Russells haven’t considered doing the same to Spain and Italy just yet, the paper says, because ‘we haven’t seen the same degree of decline as we’ve observed in Greece’. The two conclusions I draw from that are first, Russell guys need to get out more; and second, the company has a lot to learn yet about Spanish accounting, and Italian reporting accuracy. Don’t forget, this latter is the country whose Hadron Collider scientists only six months ago got the speed of Light wrong.
But the main thing it is still hard for the casual observer to get his head round is what you are if you emerge, having once been developed. The vagueness, it seems to me, lies in the interim bit between the two states of Being. In 1936, Nazi Germany was a developed State led by a lunatic, which was then crushed to a pulp by British, American and Russian forces who’d become a tad concerned about the Fatherland’s wanderlust habit. The interim stage was the crushing thing. This is what’s missing from the Russell Investments analysis about recent Greek history.
So as promised several paragraphs ago, I should like now to switch from being a casual observer to being a causal observer. I think the middle-eight that’s absent from Russell’s insight about Greek reclassification is digestion. Let me tell you what I think happened here.
When I was a young man – even when I was a more middle-aged man – Greece was a country of clear waters, slow tavernas, clean beaches, warm culture, fructose abundance, characterful olive oil, stark white walls, smiling children, tipsy dancing, fiery brandies, starlit nights, architectural legacy, awful wine, excellent beer, bearded men in black garb, wonderful unpredictability, and above all, calm. I do not say this to be patronising, but rather to explain what I think Greece was designed to do: that is, be a place whose heritage, climate and people might lend themselves to creativity, exploration of the past, a slower pace of life – and (along the way) an escape from Anglo-Saxon rigidity.
Then as now, having stark blue eyes and light hair, I tended to get addressed in German when in Greece: oddly enough, it happened to me only today in Lidl here in France. But back then – around 1972 – when one answered in English, the reception one got immediately changed. The Greeks didn’t like the Germans then (see earlier under ‘wanderlust’) and they like them even less now. This may in turn have had something to do with the way Germans who had once occupied them tended to demand things, moan when ferries were late, and want hotels that behaved with Germanic efficiency. What German holidaymakers seemed to want on the whole was a hotter Germany.
Some twelve years ago, Greece entered the eurozone with enormous pride. It’s important to recognise the pride involved: the owners of a gold-plated inferiority complex in relation to northern Europe, ordinary Greeks saw this as their chance to be ‘proper’ and grown-up. The Greek élite, needless to say, saw it as a chance to cram their pockets full of money, while their Franco-German counterparts saw it as an opportunity to flatter Athens politicians with delusions of grandeur about jet planes and submarines. Much of this was underwritten for the Greeks by cheap loans, and a long leash from Jean-Claude Trichet’s European Central Bank.
So it took a lot for new Prime Minister George Papandreou in late 2009 to fess up to Brussels-am-Berlin that his predecessors had been telling humungous whoppers about the ballooning Greek debt in general – and the painfully ever-present State deficit. It seems highly likely that, when given this news, Berlin somehow persuaded Papandreou and his colleagues to exaggerate the problem (an act that requires a great deal more explanation by future historians with access to currently secret documents) but anyway the apparent reality plunged the eurozone into a crisis which was almost entirely self-inflicted….and from which it is very unlikely ever to recover.
In this cacophony of cultural misunderstanding, what the Greeks didn’t grasp was that Germany’s new goal was the Germanification of ClubMed Europe. This is of course an utterly unachievable and insane aim: but every time Wolfgang Schäuble opens his mouth, it is tragically obvious that he expects Hellenic citizens to deliver on it.
What’s really happened is that Greece has been devoured. The best way to describe the Beast that gobbled it up is ‘a deadly, hubris-fuelled triadic cross between Belgian bureaucratic trougher, autistic Prussian invader, and hypocritically needy financier’. This Beast first of all fed its prey on delusions of grandeur – appetisers supplied exclusively by Goldman Sachs – and then ate it, once it had been suitably fattened up. Over the last three years, a digestive process has been taking place, such that what Russell Investments really described last week was the eventual and inevitable production of a turd.
Now however hard you try, there is no way to polish a turd without everyone equipped with a nose saying, “It’s a turd”. Through its membership of the eurozone – and thanks to minority corruption on a globally industrial scale – Greece has gone from being a european delicacy to being a eurozone turd. That’s it.
The only solution for real Greeks is to clear up the mess, and regain control of their destiny. Much as I differ from many of the views held by Alexis Tsipras, he seems to me the only Greek politician likely to do something constructively radical in pursuit of that aim: and so on that basis alone, he gets my support . But even as some of us wait for him to come to power, we would meanwhile all do well to remember the process by which a delicious Hellenic treat of Dolmades and Moussaka emerged from the EU digestive juices as shit.