Can Europe Make It?

“What now for Greece? What now for the left?”

Logics of financial capital are all the more powerful blended with cultural logics. From now on, do Greeks need to keep their “orientalist radar” active wherever they go?

Andreas Chatzidakis
15 July 2015
Padua for Greek people, July 3, 2015

Padua for Greek people, July 3, 2015. Demotix/Ferdinando Piezza. All rights reserved.It has been a very dark week for Greece, and for Europe too. A week where our hopes for an alternative European Union violently collapsed, giving way to a dystopian present that for most Greeks, after five years of brutally imposed austerity is all the more unbearable.

The unprecedented showcase of power and utter humiliation by Europe’s criminal-gangs-in-suits seems to have buried our hopes in the ground. Or has it? What can be learned from this before we rise up again?

First, the quasi-Orientalist attack on Greece, an attack driven by neo-colonial logics of financial capital and executed through popular discourse and cultural narratives, should by now be indisputable. It is an attack that has quite forcefully and relentlessly succeeded in portraying Greeks as morally inferior subjects worthy of their own fate.

No surprise then, that many Europeans still believe Merkel and Schauble’s response was “well deserved” and fair enough punishment for the kind of irresponsible nation that Greece has proved to be. For a while now, mainstream and yellow press media across Europe have naturalised Greeks as irresponsible, lazy, corrupt, irrational and in the words of Christine Lagarde, lacking “adult-like” qualities. 

It was unsurprising, for example, that during last week’s Eurogroup meeting, there were media allegations that the new Greek finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos left his proposals on the plane (accompanied with a spoof image) and that he commited “schoolboy” errors. Equally unsurprising is the ongoing media sensation constructed around Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance minister who rode a bike, spoke loudly and looked rather too cool and “wild” for a respectable, middle-of-the-middle politician. Above all, these were politicians not to be judged on the basis of their words or actions but on the basis of their exoticness.

It is at this level that we should attempt to explain how European elites succeeded in colonising the Greek nation. After all, Orientalist discourse has long created these conditions of possibility elsewhere, the possibility that a nation state can be rightfully subordinated by another, for instance, by using its assets as collateral. Logics of financial capital become all the more powerful when successfully blended with cultural logics.

From now on, we need to keep our “orientalist radar” active wherever we go, whoever we talk to.

Second, we need to counterimpose “our” own solidarity(ies). We should no longer trust to the capacity of the top-down transnational (and national) institutions of Europe to channel a progressive model of solidarity and social justice.

The emerging model of “European solidarity” is as bleak as is the future of the Greeks. It is a model that “goes hand-in-hand with responsibility”, a model whereby “advantages must outweigh the disadvantages” as Merkel recently explained. Conspicuously absent, of course, was the observation that any advantages so far have been unevenly distributed to European bankers, not European citizens. More broadly, what exactly are the foundations and what are the objectives of such solidarity? Who is included and who is excluded?

Furthermore to what extent does it respect democracy? And what are the responsibilities that should go hand-in-hand with this? One thing is certain - that it is not up to the Greeks (and soon enough to the Portuguese, Spanish, Italians etc.) to decide, as they are essentially irresponsible. In so far as solidarity always entails a “we” and a “they”, Greeks are already Othered. We know already that when the end of the road to Grexit approaches, all “they” can be assured of is some humanitarian aid, a final act of benevolence and a show of moral superiority by those in power.

Edward Said, a key theorist of Orientalism, would probably agree that this latter observation, the fact that Greece will be the recipient not so much of European solidarity as of its philanthropy, is perhaps the most telling sign of all that the country has already become the Orient. It is no longer securely placed within the (free, democratic, moral) West and hence it has become a potential threat, an Other that needs to be carefully managed, if not quarantined and controlled.

Yet in the streets of Athens, Barcelona and Berlin one can find far more progressive models of solidarity than those articulated in some hallways in Brussels. Models that have long insisted on seeing and thinking across difference and distance, across class, race, age and gender. It is time to reclaim European solidarity.  

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