De alternatieve inbedding van de Griekse crisis

I am always suspicious of broad generalizations about entire populations or generations. So, I am not entirely sure what to make of this argument by sociologist Sophia Mappa. Something to think about. It is in French, so here is the gist of it in English.

The starting point of her argument is that Angela Merkel’s inflexibility is incomprehensible to ordinary Greeks. The reason is that such inflexibility is rooted in the protestant culture of the 16th century, something well-known thanks to Max Weber’s classic The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. This moral culture is one of individual obedience to divine law, disregarded due to the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church. It is a culture of glorification of labor as a means of salvation which led to human dominion over nature (and other humans) in order to generate wealth and where frugality and puritanism are the norms of individual moral conduct. According to Weber, this is what led to the rise of capitalism. For Mappa, this is what explains its persistence in Germany, even as this system is being questioned all over Europe, as part of both the economic crisis and the legitimation crisis. From this perspective, the laborious and strong Germans’s views of the weakening of their European neighbors stems from these protestant roots.

Mappa argues that German culture is both close and very different from European Latin cultures. It has produced grandiosity and misery at the same time, including a certain intolerance to other cultures and a desire to dominate them and force them to accept the German model. Merkel’s policies reflect such an attitude. Her position seems to push for the punishment of the heretic rather getting out of the crisis.

At the same time, Greek history has different roots, linked to the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. After all, according to Mappa, Greece did not directly contribute to the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Westphalian order or capitalism (except as historical remembrance but not as active power player, if I may use that expression). The Greek state, set up in the 19th Century, was not a product of its people’s will. As with all colonized countries, the state apparatus, the constitutions, the kings, the polity and their financing, were provided, right off the bat, by the European chanceries.

The spirit of these institutions never took hold in Greek society. There was no adaptation or emergence of alternatives in order to get closer to Europe. The Greek society then invested these foreign institutions with its own culture, and especially with the centrality of the Church. And so, if it accepted Europe-approved kings, it opposed the emergence of central governance mechanisms, typical of the modern nation-state.

For Mappa, Greek political power is rooted, even to this say, in the imaginary of the Ottoman Empire, that of the beys and other clan chiefs, reigning over their clients and kinship networks, trading material welfare for political allegiance. The now-famous refusal to pay taxes, so widespread in this society, stems this imperial past where taxation was domination, and not construction of a central authority, for the common welfare (at least in theory) beyond particularisms. For the past two centuries, this state has been regulated from the outside: the European chanceries, the US after WWII, and since 1981, the European Commission.

For the past two centuries, then, those in charge of the state have submitted to the diktats from the outside, while adapting them to their own benefit and those of their clients and cronies. That is what the lat Prime Minister – Georges Papandréou – did, and that is what his successor, Loukas Papadimos, will do despite his much vaunted technocratic credentials.

Economically speaking, according to Mappa, there was never any collective acceptance of the spirit of capitalism. Economic activity remained tied to Greek history and traditional trade: agriculture, commerce, fishery, banking and tourism, but not industry. It is not that the Greeks are lazy, as Merkel and other might think. But, despite the common – yet false – idea that capitalism is part of human nature and therefore universal, the Greeks, as many others on this planet, do not get its spirit and mechanisms. And Greece’s entrance into the European Union has not changed that.

And quite predictably, European financial flows, allocated by the European Economic Community were used not for production, for clientelism and and consumption of European-made goods, including weaponry from France and Germany. And under neoliberal governance, the liberalization of the markets and competition from Western goods, the traditional gap between production and consumption led to the current disaster. For Mappa, without a doubt, there is a great deal of responsibility from the Greek society and especially its elite.

BUT… (you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you)

European leaders are also to blame for their simplistic economic dogma and the illusion of their omnipotence in governing other countries. They are currently ruining their own societies and preventing EU peripheral countries from recovering from the crisis.

At this point, an EU commissioner would bring nothing to Greece. Quite the opposite. This would only be seen as yet another humiliation that would aggravate the despair and rebellion that are already quite widespread.

So, certain ideas need to be questioned: austerity measures, Merkel’s illusion that one can just shape societies at the snap of a finger, with some stern disciplining from the hegemon. It is not just the destruction of Greece that is at stake, but that of the entire European Union.

And if that was not convincing enough, there is this:

“Homelessness has soared by an estimated 25% since 2009 as Greece spirals further into its worst post-war economic crisis.

The country is now in its fifth straight year of recession and the official unemployment rate is nudging 20%, exacerbated by the austerity measures being pushed through in return for more bail-out money.

Greeks now speak of another section of society: the “new homeless”.

“They don’t have the ‘traditional profile’ of homeless people,” says Ms Nousi.

“They are well dressed and well educated. Until last year they had a good flat or a nice car – and now they have nothing.

“So it’s another kind of misery – another kind of poverty. We were not prepared for this poverty, but it exists.”

One of the new regulars at the kitchen is Vicky Kolozi.

A former journalist with the state broadcaster ERT, she lost her job a year ago and now cannot afford to feed herself and her daughter.

“It is hard to feel that I have to depend on this now,” she tells me.

And that reality is particularly harsh at the moment as Greece shivers in freezing temperatures.”

And beyond Greece, Italy:

“With around one in three young Italians now unemployed, many of its younger generation are contemplating emigrating to destinations as far afield as Africa and South America, in the hope of better employment prospects.”

foto gov press office

  1. 2

    Je zou toch denken dat het volk op een gegeven moment ouderwets banken, bankiers, hedge fonds managers, etc, etc naar het leven gaat staan. Het is niet te begrijpen dat deze mensen op allerlei manieren geld verdienen aan de crisis, bailouts hebben gehad en nu de burger tot de bedelstaf dwingen.. Ik snap er helemaal niets meer van..

  2. 3

    Maar het is wel een visie uit een nog steeds tot het bot katholiek – doch ontkerkelijkt – land. En dat maakt het argument plots anders. We zijn terug in de middeleeuwen met de religie en haar onderverdelingen als scheidslijn in Europa. De “guerres de religion”.

    Wat Mappa doet is de scheidslijnen in Europa leggen langs de verdeling van de religie. En wie denkt dat de “guerres de religion” ging over geloof moet die geschiedenis nog maar eens lezen. Het is economie, geld en macht. Invloed van de kerk en haar aanzuigende invloed op geld en andere rijkdom. Het hele spel rond de religies, ketters, reformatie en islam van rond 1000 – 1648 (om maar even een afsluitingsjaar te nemen, u kunt het ook tot nu door laten lopen) heeft alles te maken met geld, rijkdom en macht.

    Resources.

    En los daarvan is het een visie die als apologie dadelijk perfect gaat passen in het Franse gelijk dat ze ongetwijfeld gaan claimen. Merkel en Sarkozy samen : het kan niet duren. Twee geloven op een kussen daar slaapt de duivel tussen.

    En de Ottomanen gaan natuurlijk ultiem de schuld krijgen van alle ellende die zich over Europa (lees Frankrijk) uit gaat storten.

    Ja, ik heb me wel geamuseerd met het verhaal. Maar zal het nog wel een paar keer moeten lezen om de peilloze diepten ervan volledig te kunnen doorgronden.

  3. 5

    Somber?

    Die reactie krijg ik vaker als ik dit onderwerp aanroer. Vreemd. Ik ben verre van somber. Eigenlijk het tegendeel. Vooral als ik zo denk over religies schiet ik extra in de lach. Religies kunnen niet belachelijker zijn – of lijken zo u wilt – als ze worden bezien in het licht van resources en andere economische zaken. Alleen domme individuen geloven echt in een god. Alle religieuze leiders gebruiken die dommen voor hun resource politiek. Karel de Grote – beschermheer van Rome – begreep het, onthoofde de Saksen en werd erg rijk door de goudschat van de Avaren.

    Geloof me, geschiedenis is leuk, niet somber.
    Ondanks al dat bloed en roofzucht.

  4. 6

    Geloof me, geschiedenis is leuk, niet somber.
    Ondanks al dat bloed en roofzucht.

    Dat ben ik met je eens.

    Grieken zijn Orthodox en hebben niks met Rome te maken.

    En ze hebben goede schrijvers, Niko Kazantzakis.
    Zijn roman ‘Jesus wordt weer gekruisigd’ is op de 1 of andere manier weer erg actueel geworden.

  5. 7

    Grieken zijn Orthodox en hebben niks met Rome te maken.

    Hmm…?
    De scheiding tussen Rome en Constantinopel?
    Vroeg christendom?

    ‘Niks’ lijkt me teveel gezegd in dit geval. Dat is ongeveer hetzelfde als zeggen dat Luther niks met Rome te maken had/heeft.

  6. 11

    @8: Het eerste gebruik van de naam stamt uit 325, definiteive splitsing Romeinse rijk gebeurde tussen 346 en 395, de Oosters schisma stamt uit 1054.

  7. 12

    Wat su zegt.

    Kerkgeschiedenis wordt niet veel meer bestudeerd tegenwoordig maar ligt toch echt ten grondslag aan deze analyse van mevrouw Mappa. Toch niet onbelangrijk die geschiedenis zo blijkt, verklaart veel, vooral waar dit soort analyses vandaan komen.

  8. 13

    A few reactions:
    – You write that Merkel might think the Greeks are lazy. That is more for the populist right wing to think like that. What ever you think of Merkel, she’s to smart to think that.
    – Mappa argues that it’s the German protestant culture that makes Merkel behave as strick as she is. But if it where anything moving Merkel I would claim it’s neo libiralism/tatcherism/etc mixed with German fear of inflation.
    – The (German & IMF i might add) demands on Greece for quick reforms are not realistic, true. But (you saw that coming;), Greece is in debt, nobody want’s to borrow money, so if you want money from Germany (and all other European countries) it’s only logical they demand measurements that increase the change off some return on investment.
    – solidarity does not mean: hey here’s money, dow whatever you want with it.
    – I think the best for Greece is to leave the EU, restructure all depths till a level that is reasonable and than the European Union as means of solidarity invests a couple billion in Greece’s infrastructure so the country can start anew.

  9. 14

    I landed here by coincidence, just putting “Greece” and “generalisations” on Google.

    The article of Sophia Mappa is very interesting, it is a one of the leading “theories” among the Greek intellectuals. The discussion which ensues – unfortunately too short – is also interesting.

    I would like to add some facts I think. I grew up in Greece and I live now – temporarily, for business reasons – in the Netherlands. I will try to be as objective as possible, based as much as possible on observation. As scientific fact-finding should be. Theories like protestant ethics etc. work well as theoretical frameworks and give you some insight, as long as you don’t stick too much to them.

    Again, what you will see next, might also look as generalisations. But on different grounds: hopefully less racial and more scientifically provable. I am presenting them as talking points, so as to make them easier to digest:

    – First, the easiest and most obvious of all: there are no lazy peoples. There are no hard-working peoples (in general). There is always and everywhere a similar distribution of different personalities. Go to any working place, public service or private company. You will find the guy who is conscious and feels that he has to do his duty. There is the one who tries to avoid responsibilities and throw them on somebody else. There is the one interested in what he does and the other one who does not care, because he does not like what he does. There is the one who plays it boss and bullies the others, because he does not feel confident enough Etc. Etc. This happens everywhere. Always. It is human nature. Basta.

    – How this appears to somebody from outside depends on the temperament of each people. For example, according to my experience, people in the North have an obsession about their collective image. While people in the South have an obsession about their individual image. Example: follow a newspaper in the South for one month: you get the impression that the whole country is teeming with scandals. Everybody talks about them, one party is blaming the other for moral degradation, the country is heading towards its doom etc. It is obvious that they do not care about the image of their country. As a conclusion, what they say should be taken less seriously, given the degree of exaggeration which exists.

    – Now let us go to the North. The tone in the newspapers is more sober. There is an obvious attempt to present things in the country as normal, life is going on without ups and downs. Scandals are kept as secret as possible. If something bursts out, it is quickly mentioned, maybe not more than four of five paragraphs and it ends by “justice will take care of the perpetrators” and that’s it! Usually, nobody knows what happened next. Nobody cares what happened. The image of the calm and functioning society is restored. Conclusion: I feel not very well about statements like “justice will take care of the perpetrators”. As a citizen of a democracy, I have the right to know. Something might be definitely going on.

    – Populist newspapers like Bild or the Telegraaf try to spice the boring environment a little up. But then, they are doing it on the safe side. It is usually about actors, footballers, criminal immigrants, lazy Mediterraneans etc. So the image of the well-functioning country still remains

    – People from the South – and Greeks especially – do not have faith in their governments. This seems to be indeed a result of the historical past. They work better in small groups (smaller than a football team). The state is the bad guy that tries to take as much money from you as possible. And, unfortunately, it often does.

    – People in the North have an extreme confidence in their elite. This has its good sides, everything works better, with the slightest effort. The system does not seem to have holes. But, on the other hand, it is also very easy to mass-manipulate them! (Think of Hitler. Compare him with Mussolini or ridiculous Greek dictators like Papadopoulos. Furthermore, compare this phenomenon with the super-success of the German morality fairy tale about hard-working Germans and lazy Mediterraneans. The latter supposedly are drinking ouzo on the beach all day, while the Germans are working eight hours a day)

    – The elite in the North are usually extremely intelligent and qualified people, who, of course, pursue their interests, but they also give their people everything in order to lead a dignified life (at least, after World War II). They make the best possible choices for people in important and responsible positions.

    – The elite in the South are incompetent and spoiled brats, who are sons or daughters of some famous politician or other personality and who think that they have inherited the right to lead. People on important positions are usually close to the former (nepotism), equally narcissistic and incompetent. Really qualified people cannot stand working in that environment and either open a business on their own, or they go to work abroad. In other words, the system favors the less competent.

    – Southern peoples are jealous of the organising abilities of the North and Northern peoples are jealous of the social life, the relaxed attitude and the intense sexual life in the South! Both are suffering from inferiority complexes because of these images in their heads. The climate conditions indeed do not favour people in the North. But that’s how things are. You cannot have it all (this goes both ways).

    – What you can do, what everybody can do is to stop that stupid blame game, understand each other problems, complement each other abilities and make Europe a good place to live. Amen.