Sunday, 6 May 2012

Elections (Εκλογές)

I've just started reading a very interesting 811-page book (not including the preface, index and notes - it's 992 pages long with them). Although the book is written predominantly in the past tense, it seems to be highly relevant today for Greece, a country about to experience a life-changing event: the elections taking place today will overturn all forms of Greek status quo, and there will be no return to the past. This will be the first time in more than two decades that one sole party will not be a clear winner in the governmental race, nor is it likely that the winner will be one of the two main parties that have always dominated the Greek political scene*.

Here are some excerpts from the preface of the book:
page xx: "Above all, ... this was a year in which the exchange markets completely lost confidence in the ... economy, the [currency] went into free fall and the government was forced to seek a humiliating bailout from the IMF."
page xxi: "What is beyond doubt, though, is that this was a decisive moment in our recent history. It was in this short ... period, for example, that the ... people chose to remain part of the European Community, with incalculable political and economic long-run consequences. It was in this period that [the country] turned its back on full-blown state socialism: industry never came to fruition, and nobody since then has tried anything remotely similar. ... It saw the abandonment of full employment... And perhaps, above all, it saw the last gasp of an old collective working-class culture and the emergence of individualism as the dominant force in our political, economic and social life. Afterwards, nothing would be the same again."
Can you guess the currency? and the country? Since the text is written in the past tense, it can't be Greece - the 'events' haven't actually happened here yet. The book isn't describing a time during the millennium we are living in. (Answers below.)

I'm only up to page 7, which makes it rather presumptuous to call the book 'very interesting' as I haven't really 'got stuck into' it yet. But since I've read the first three books in the series, I can safely say that it will be a very good one, just like the other three that preceded this fourth and final volume, all written by the same author.

Since I'm only up to page 7, and the book is written in the past tense, about a currency/country that needed an IMF bailout and chose to be part of the European Community, by the end of the book I could logically expect a happy ending, which may even reflect the direction my own country is heading towards. Hence, what reads like a history book of a country that is not Greece may end up sounding like a prophetic account of the near-future developments in Greece.

Europe's extremities share many aspects of their modern political and social history. For a start, they were both great empires worthy of international admiration. Secondly, they both enjoyed a high standard of living in their heyday. Thirdly, they continued to defy all trends, even when certain death loomed, and still they survived. History repeats itself, but no one bothers to listen.

By the way, the reason I'm reading this book so slowly is because it's written in a very clever attention-grabbing manner. Dominic Sandbrook's latest book, Seasons in the Sun, is as amusing as all his other works. His four history books about everyday life in the 60s-70s UK grab your attention from the very start with his witty jokes which do not downplay the severity of the events (miners' strikes, IRA bombings, inflation, unemployment, emigration).

If reading a 900+-page book is too daunting for you, you can watch The 70s which is screening now on BBC Two (if you live in the UK).

Answers: Currency: Pound Sterling. Country: UK. Year: 1976. Greece is only three-and-a-half decades behind; a web-based world ensures a more speedy recovery phase.

*If I get this one wrong, we may as well admit to ourselves that it will take a little while longer for Greece to get out of the mess she's in at the moment.

UPDATE: It's over - Greece won't be the same again...

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