All the news these days is about saving Greece. European Summits, one after another, and even the G20 meeting, last week, have been dominated by attempts to rescue the little country from Europe’s south from bankruptcy.
This concern is not so much because the other Europeans love the Greeks to death. And the Greeks are not about to prostrate before their saviours in gratitude, either. Indeed they have already shown their disdain for rescue attempts in the most vehement and dramatic fashion. Whether it is obstinacy (there used to be lots of mules in Greece) or national pride, a self-destruction wish or Mediterranean indolence, or sheer stupidity that drives them to reject offers of salvation, the Greeks are adamant they don’t like the kind of help they are getting.
The desire to resuscitate Greece’s economy to health is more than brotherly love or Christian generosity. In fact, it is the very opposite – self-interest. It is more about saving Europe from the impact of Greek collapse than it is about Greece itself.
For half a century, the formation of the European Union has been the most important European project. One of its most ambitious plans and symbol of union has been the adoption of a single currency (the Euro) among some of its member states (the Euro zone). The bankruptcy of Greece, which is in the Euro zone or its withdrawal from the Union, therefore, threatens the very existence of the Euro as a currency and the Euro zone, and that could lead to the unravelling of the Union. Hence the frantic efforts to save the Greeks in spite of themselves.
If the rescue effort can be pulled off, it will not only save Greece and the Euro, it will also boost enormously the power of Germany and France, the two big boys in Europe, and their leaders (no offence to Chancellor Angela Merkel). Despite their different approaches to the Greek crisis, they will have stamped their supremacy on Europe.
But I think there is another reason why Europe should save Greece. Europe owes an enormous debt to Greece. And if for no other reason, a sense of gratitude should dictate European action. Sentimental nonsense, you might say. Not quite.
Every European traces their intellectual ancestry to ancient Greece. They all lay claim to the finest in Greek civilisation, perhaps in an effort to cover the cultural void of their barbarian past.
And so, the West has appropriated democracy, the supposed invention of Athenians, imperfect then as it is now, as its intellectual property. They have become the patent owners of someone else’s invention and now proudly wave it as the banner of their advanced political culture. More than that, they use it as a whip (surely a gross misuse) against those they don’t like or countries that dare to chart an independent course.
More than the practice, Europe and America claim to be the heirs to the political and philosophical thought of ancient Greece. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are only the first in a long line of thinkers that include Descartes, Rousseau, Thomas Hobbes, John Stuart Mill and Edmund Burke, among others.
Don’t mention Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the same breath. Those must have been bastards.
You cannot talk about history without mention of Herodotus, or mathematics and science without Pythagoras and Archimedes.
Western literary scholars will tell you that their literature could not be what it is without Homer. His great epics – the Iliad and the Odyssey form part of the highest standards of literary tradition. So, too, do the great tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides which have helped define modern tragedy.
Even modern sport can trace its origin to ancient Greece. The Olympics and the marathon are just two examples. But like the economy over which the Greeks seem to have lost control, these, too, have been taken over by others. Western businesses control much of modern sports. Africans also have their share – in terms of talent and skill, at least. Athletes from the East African highlands virtually rule the marathon.
So, yes, Europe owes much of what it claims to be its own to ancient Greece. Common decency should dictate that they naturally come to Greece’s aid.
But of course, this is far from the minds of President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel and their supporting cast. They are engaged in high stakes power politics.
It is a matter of great irony that Greece and Italy (now under IMF scrutiny), the cradle of Graeco-Roman civilisation the rest of the once uncultured Europe now claims to be its own, should be in need of salvation from the barbarians of the north. It is not the first or last time that earlier ailing civilisations have needed a helping hand from new arrivals, though.
America rescued Europe from the Nazi and rebuilt it after the Second World War. Mighty America is highly indebted to emerging China. Africa and the other small nations may have their day as the saviours of the whole world. It is not beyond the realm of reason. After all, Africa has for centuries been the source of wealth for the industrialised world.