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Tuesday, 23 June 2015

On being European

It might just be the case that Greece and not Britain will be the first country to hold a referendum about staying in or leaving the EU, if Grexit became a reality. If Greece were to leave not just the eurozone, but also the EU, this would have repercussions on identity. Greeks have a very ambivalent relationship with the EU, not helped by their constant reference to Europe which does not include Greece. "Europe wants this," 'that's what Europeans do/say", etc.

Judging by the recent photos being spewed across the internet, the Greek people seem to have overwhelmingly supported staying in the Eurozone, and judging by the recent pro-Europe demonstrations, the message these gave was that this is where they want to stay.

Pro-Europe demonstration outside the Greek Parliament, at Syntagma Square, with the Grande Bretagne Hotel in the top right hand corner.
I came across an interesting discussion on the page of a Greek facebook friend, who ridiculed those who took part in the pro-Europe demonstrations because, as he argues, Greeks do not understand what being a European means:
"Europe is all those things that are hated by those who want her just for her money." (Vasilis Sotiropoulos)
He goes on to explain:

"... we never wanted to help shape Europe. We only wanted to participate and to 'benefit', that's all. When did we ever make a serious proposal about an issue that concerned the whole of Europe? When I was an intern in Brussels [the author is a lawyer], all the countries, even the new ones at the time, drew up proposals on issues that concerned Europe as a whole. All we were doing at the same time that this was happening was appointing senior officials to various positions. And we were also asking for solutions to issues that did not concern them as well. We are one of the most isolated and 'umbilically-tied' countries of all the 28 EU countries. And that's diachronically. Europe for us was just a little holiday, somewhere to have a cappuccino. We never ever took the reform process that was going on over there seriously. Yet other countries much smaller than us with smaller geopolitical strength put forward proposals and followed directives. And now we want to support Europe, to save ourselves, and for no other purpose." (Vasilis Sotiropoulos)

It's a rather damning indictment of the way Greeks view Europe. From my own experiences, I tend to agree with the author. I also liked my pensioner uncle's analysis of how Greeks think, as he explained to me yesterday:
"Rules are only for some people. When we take out loans, we are told we have to pay them back. But we see people not paying them back all the time. So what if the government took out a loan? It can't repay it, so it shouldn't bother repaying it. We Greeks don't care for rules. We care only about having lots of money. We don't like ANY rules. Look at the smoking ban: who really abides by it? Go into the kafeneion at the plateia and tell me if no one smokes in it."
But we do know that in other countries of Europe, the smoking ban is kept! So what does that tell us about Greeks? We seem to be a very unruly bunch. So to be European kind of means that we are more law-abiding. But is it truly possible for the average Greek to not support Europe? Are we the cultural outsiders of a concept that we (in the form of Ancient Greeks) invented?

I think Greeks need to get a grip of themselves. They overwhelmingly support staying in Europe, but they don't realise what exactly that entails, apart from monetary benefits. That will only help them in the very short-term. Being a part of the EU is not just about the money. Again, Vasilis Sotiropoulos has a good analysis of what it means to be part of the EU:
"Those that do not want Europe, let alone to stay in it [ie the EU], are those who say that the Lisbon Treaty is the "Protocol for the Zion elders" [ie they are racists], who declared to the UN Commission for Discrimination in 2009 that in Greece there are no Nazi organizations who were opposed to integrating the decision on combating racism through criminal law [Golden Dawn is a member of the opposition in the Greek Parliament], the politicians who revile other states and citizens for their family life [see what MP Nikos Nikolopoulos said about the PM of Luxembourg], those who are in favor of discrimination in family law rights, those who deny the right of ethnic self-identification [Greece has a bad track record concerning immigrants and minority groups], those who were in favor of the confiscation of the former royal property without compensation [the ruling to compensate the former royal family of Greece for property confiscation was sanctified by the European Parliament], those who have adopted the slot machine laws, those who led Greece to fines on landfills and other environmental violations (my own home town is a classic case], those seeking arrests and imprisonments for satirical or fictional reasons that aim at religion [eg theatrical performances being cancelled in just the last 3 years due to fanaticism by those opposed tot he ideas that the performance represented], those who are opposed to electronic voting [many Greeks are still against electronic transactions], those who disagree with the protection of personal data, those who are opposed to generic medications [ditto as for electronic voting], those who are in favor of imprisonment of people without their having been indicted. Such kinds of people want something else.(Vasilis Sotiropoulos)
It's farcical to think that a member of the European Union would not espouse the above values. If they don't, there must be something wrong with them.

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