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Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Refreeze

The weather's freezing again - as it should in winter - and reports say its icier in England than here, while photos from Corfu show red dawns bringing wind and rain. Again I'm walking Oscar and Lulu along Farquer's walks by the banks and through the woods beside the Farnack. Is it conceivable that a dog could find life lacks meaning? It's good enough feeling the ground with four feet and parsing the smells we humans miss. How they romp, poking their noses everywhere. It would be good to have eyes and ears on storks to check detail, whiskers to feel the surface of air, but I shouldn't complain, given my brain can enjoy working out the history of this terrain - how twelve mile deep glaciers churned out this strath, marking its edges with black granite basalt escarpments, leaving erratics - great isolated boulders, for worship and wonder at the play of giants, in random parts of the earth lined trough - rocks first held and carried in the ice then dropped when it melted. I see and name the gravel eskers left by the rush of milky meltwater. Unlike the dogs, who don't need words, I've names for things. I can look them up; fit them into patterns; decline their causes. Let the beasts enjoy their innocence, the plants their ... that quote in 1966 in Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons, talking to his daughter about his fall from royal grace over principle and his plans to, at least, save his life. Margaret meets him late at night walking home, there being no boat for his journey home, a high wind tussling with the trees along his path: “Listen Meg. God made the angels to show him splendour as he made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity, but man he made to serve him wittily in the tangle of his mind. If he suffers us to come to such a case that there is no escaping, then we may stand to our tackle as best we can ... But it’s God’s part, not our own, to bring ourselves to such a pass. Our natural business lies in escaping. If I can take this oath I will.” * * * We went to see a film in Inverness last night at The Scala Cinema in Eden Court. They're so good with disability, help with doors and loo, offering a space in the stalls to park mum's wheel chair next to me. We saw Australia - a romp for the recession, jumbled history teasing the audience with endings of unallowable happiness, digitally rendered vistas of war, product placement of Australian landscape. I really didn't need it but there's probably a place somewhere for kitsch morality and we were entertained. Hearts are in the right place, and it's no more innaccurate than Gone with Wind. Germain Greer runs over something closer to history as did Philip Noyce's Rabbit-Proof Fence. As well as the latter - watched on a 747 above the Pacific - I was far far more moved, last spring, sitting in John and Annie Martin's home in Bendigo watching the cameo screened YouTube playing that speech "I move..." by the little straw haired policy-wonk Kevin Rudd, standing beside Julia Gillard, his deputy - a defining political moment of 2008. "I move..." (along, of course, with the election in November of the 44th) [What I like about these YouTube extracts is the cyberstreet comment they attract - demotic, obscene, vicious, hateful and now and again humane, civil and articulate] * * * An interestingly portentous piece called THE INGLORIOUS END OF THE THIRD HELLENIC REPUBLIC, 1974-2008 by Vassilis K. Fouskas, Professor-elect of International Relations, University of Piraeus can be read off as a PDF from the website of the Research Institute for European and American Studies. Fouskas' argument turns around the problem seemingly facing the Hellenic polity in 1974 - the fall of the junta. The new leadership saw a problem of restoring democracy. They were right but - and this is Fouskas' argument - they forgot that their righteous reconfirmation of democracy placed the new political leadership and every elected leadership since at the head of an archaic government - government in my book comprising a centrifocal mix of political, managerial and professional leadership (see 'the horror' in this blog):
It is significant to point out that the post-1974 Greek polity... did not make any significant attempt to rationalize and modernize its branches, particularly those that are directly relevant to its internal and external security: I am referring here to the civil service, police, the army and the ministries of interior, national economy and foreign affairs. Once in power, the ruling groups of the parties that instituted the Third Republic got their priorities backwards. Their analysis went as follows: the main problem of the pre-1974 Greece was lack of democracy; the remedy, therefore, should take the form of deepening the people’s participation into the state’s governing branches in order to re-build the lost consensual nexus between civil society and political elites. The approach, however, was deeply flawed.... ...the so-called “democratic participation of the people into the post-1974 governance of the state” did not take the form of a rational process of normative undertakings and institutional openings in decision-making, but that of the extended reproduction of pre-1974 clientelistic networks and nepotistic practices (my italics). This, apart from having a negative repercussion on the fiscal performance of the polity, created a corrupt and bi-partisan oligarchic system mediating between bureaucratic privileges and comprador/parasitic capitalism. This is the way in which the new consensual nexus between political parties/system and civil society came into being after 1974...Thus, the analysis of the Greek Left that the culprit is the state and its authoritarian tendencies is as generic as it is wrong. The future generations that will build the Fourth Hellenic Republic should remember that the Third did not suffer from authoritarianism, but from a lack of institutional norms and rules that are the requisites of every modern polity. Lack of knowledge, discipline and professionalism are the key characteristics of the average Greek civil servant, not least of the person who pulled the trigger on the night of December 7, 2008 in central Athens. (SB note: I understand this occurred at 2130 on 6/12/08)
* * * According to John Eipper, Editor-in-Chief, of the web based World Association of International Studies (WAIS) Professor Jon V Kofas retired from being a professor of history at Indiana University Kokomo to live in Tripolis, Arkadias, where stands a flamboyant bronze equestrian statue of the Greek civil war general Theodoros Kolokotronis whose first action in the war for Greek independence was at Valtetsi, a village near Tripoli. The WAIS website reported that Kofas would be likely to meet fellow WAISer Professor Harry Papasotiriou, both interested in modern history and politics. 'They may disagree, but I am sure they will do so WAISly.' These two historians are an interesting discovery for me. Kofas, in 1989, wrote Intervention and Underdevelopment: Greece During the Cold War. Kofas' premise is that after WW2 'American counterinsurgency, pacification, and containment tactics were evolved, (and) tested' in Greece and 'applied elsewhere in the Third World.' US aid, which began under Truman, when the British could no longer afford support for Greece, was paid on condition that Greece remained an exporter of raw materials and an importer of manufactured goods - a policy that blocked modernisation of the Hellenic economy, causing its contemporary vulnerability. In 1944 it was assumed by 'the great and the good' that Greece must become either pro-American or pro-Soviet (see the percentages agreement). Kofas rejects the Anglo-American conviction that Greece had to be in one of these camps, arguing that post-war governments in Greece could have pursued social and economic reforms at home, and pro-Greek rather than pro-Soviet or pro-American policies abroad. The victory of American-supported forces in Greece at the Battle of Grammos-Vitsi in August 1949 enduringly obscured this alternative vision. I guess I'm so imbued with the accounts I've read so far about what happened from 1944 to 1949; so convinced of the divisions and partisanship that existed, regardless of the undoubted pot stirring of the great powers, that I find the idea of a post-war government in Athens that could have brought growth and stability to the country or which could have held the support of a majority of the population almost inconceivable - at least in the country in the state it was at the end of 1944. My bias is to share the view that Greece was ungovernable without the support and intervention of Britain or America - but I've bought Kofas' book. I'll see what I think when I've read it, but the problem is that, past causes, however apportioned, turn into present blame. Perhaps the policy interventions that propped up the returning King, encouraged withholding serious pursuit of collaborators, treated anyone who'd fought in the resistance as Comintern inspired insurgents, were sustained far too long and implemented far too intrusively, preventing Greeks from working through their internal tensions, Greece, for thirty years, remained, like a third world country, an arena for surrogate rivalries. It's possible that there could have been changes in the way the hidden hand of America was applied that might in the 60s and 70s have helped Greece reform its institutions. Instead successive governments operated inside a protectorate culture that preserved clientalism, patronage, nepotism and incompetence throughout the Greek polity - providing excuses for errant and largely ineffectual radicalism that fed and justified dynamic conservatism, constantly blocking attempts at deep reform of central and local government. * * * On 10 December 2008 Jon Kofas wrote to WAIS. I've only read this today, but his analysis, from a commentator likely to be sympathetic to campaigns against the status quo, matches my sense of incoherent protest. A keen anarchist might say Kofas writes "as though this is something bad", arguing that incoherence excludes none from rioting :
The violent protests in Greece that erupted late at night on Saturday, 6 December could have evolved into a revolt and social movement if there was organization, coherent ideological orientation, and leadership behind them. While this may still occur at some point in the future, more than likely we have just experienced something far less than 'Robin Hood Revolts' of the kind that Zapata and Villa engaged in during the Mexican Revolution, something closer to violent student and immigrant youth protests that usually take place in Paris. The nation-wide violent protests in Greece are marked by an absence of an ideology that articulates grievances, mode of operation, and goals. Nor were the protests part of a coherent social movement but simply a series of spontaneous responses with minimal organization operating beyond the confines of the political opposition. Clearly what is happening in Greece is a reflection of a social, political and economic crisis, one that will also erupt in other countries but assume different forms. And clearly modern technology has made such events possible and we will see more of them.
* * * Officer Diamandi Matzounis was shot twice and seriously wounded while guarding the Hellenic Ministry of Culture in Bouboulinas Street, Athens. Brabant for BBC reports this and speaks, further on in his report, of a young police officer - Jimmy - contacting him weary of being demonised by the Greek media wanting to explain in greater detail the import and effect of the insult 'batsos' so regularly directed at him by rioters."We are afraid that one of us will be murdered soon." * * * My pleasure is to have discovered new URLs rich with conversation and thought about Greek politics, laced with links. One is John Akritas' Hellenic Antidote, another, from JA's blog is the Modern Greek Studies Association which summarised a great number of web commentaries on current events, and another is A Different Voice who's author, M, regularly converses on Stavros' My Greek Odyssey and has even left comments on Democracy Street. Another blog I'm glad to have come across is by a former US Diplomat based in Athens, who resigned over the invasion of Iraq, John Brady Kiesling. * * *
Inverarnie ~ Oscar on the path through the wood

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