Make No Mistake – Europe is at War Again
Posted on July 5, 2015
The European project has failed and Europe is at war again
Yanis Varoufakis’ biggest error was to frame the standoff between Greece and the rest of Europe in the language of game theory. However, game theory is “the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent, rational decision-makers.” It is not hard to see that this framing does not apply. More appropriate is the language of war – “a state of armed conflict between societies…generally characterized by extreme collective aggression, destruction, and usually high mortality.” Game theory is about ‘rational’ decision makers trying to outsmart each other. War is about entrenched ideologies that will put up with any level of destruction to impose their ideology over others. War is about one thing and one thing alone – power.
Greece is now at war with the rest of Europe. It is a war based on wide differences in culture and ideology and, in those countries that are culturally closer to Greece, the defence of ruling political interests. The weapons in this war are not tanks and bombs. They are the weapons of international finance. The Greek government initially hoped that it had a powerful weapon in the market disorder that would result from the threat of Grexit. Varoufakis and Tsipras seem to have misjudged the power of that weapon. Greece also hoped that calling a referendum would serve as the ultimate weapon – the nuclear option if you like. It didn’t work. In response to the nuclear option, Europe embarked on what Paul Mason in The Guardian called the financial carpet-bombing of Greece – pulling the plug on the existing agreement, refusing to negotiate and starving the country of cash until it (or rather its people) squeaked. Hostilities escalated with the technocrats of the Troika – Lagarde, Juncker and Draghi – acting as the generals deploying unconventional weapons of mass destruction. Observing the devastation they have wrought, all three seem recently to have turned into reluctant generals.
Europe’s leaders have taken the stance that they cannot “negotiate” with the Tsipras government and would like to see a new ‘adult’ government. Translating that to the language of war, they are taking exactly the same stance taken by colonial and occupying powers through the centuries – we do not want a government of resistance, we want a ‘responsible’ government that can ‘normalise’ relations. Just like Nazi Germany preferred Petain to de Gaulle and Moscow preferred Husák to Dubček. The European powers also fear that any hint of success for the Greek rebels will encourage other countries with their own rebellious factions to follow. Just like, to take just one example among many, the British felt that they had to protect themselves from potential uprisings in British colonies with large Indian populations to avoid copycat uprisings following the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
This is a war that Greece cannot win. The firepower lined up against it is too overwhelming. When hostilities started, Tsipras did a European tour to try to tease apart the forces aligned against him. His main hopes were France and Italy. Other countries were too small and would therefore not have the backbone to break ranks from the Orwellian technocratic groupthink. The Spanish government was powerless and protecting its own political interests. Germany was a non-starter and Britain is not in the Eurozone and would not be drawn into tilting the balance of power, a role it had been adept at playing for centuries. But the allied ranks held firm. Italy has no history of ever standing up to power. It is not part of the national character. France has been the only one to wobble with Francois Hollande the only leader to show some heart. He is clearly uncomfortable with the shape the conflict has taken. But France has not broken ranks – yet.
There is no country in Europe that has not suffered from occupation or suppression at some stage in its history. For some, like the States of Eastern Europe and East German Angela Merkel, the experience is still within living memory. It is utterly depressing that they cannot find it in their heart to empathise with the suppression or, at best, the Finlandization, of Greece. Of course, in the genteel language of European summits, the issue is not framed as such. It is framed as being for the long term good of the Greek people and the greater good of Europe as a whole. This framing is a good example of Slavoj Žižek’s interpretation of Hegel’s Cunning of Reason that “makes even the vilest crimes instruments of progress.”
The result of the Greek referendum solves nothing. What we have is asymmetric warfare – a situation where the relative power of the two sides differs significantly. We all know what happens in such a situation. The weaker power adopts the tactics of guerrilla warfare. For a glimpse of what this might look like, we only need to look at the tactics of the previous Greek government that accepted impossible conditions imposed on it but resisted any form of meaningful implementation in practice. If Syriza survives, resistance will be explicit. If the parties of the Right manage to cobble together some sort of democratically legitimate government, the resistance will be subtler – but it will be there. Alternatively, the European powers will impose a subservient government led by a technocrat – the political equivalent of the British installing a Governor General to impose direct rule from London on those of their colonies that were too rebellious.
Some will continue to insist on the euphemistic language of “partnership”. They will object violently to the framing of this conflict as a war between different cultures and ideologies. However, what else do we call a period of time where the chosen strategy of the European powers has destroyed the lives of millions of people across the continent and turned millions more both in the North and in the South against the European project? A period that has caused long term fracture of Greek society and has led directly to the death by suicide of approximately five thousand Greek citizens and many others across other countries like Spain – a total number that is around three times the number of Palestinians killed during the Israel-Gaza conflict in 2014 – a death toll that was then widely condemned across the globe.
The European project has failed and Europe is at war again. This week I travel to Madrid. There, in solidarity with the people of Greece, I will make a pilgrimage to view once again what is arguably the greatest artwork of the 20th Century – Picasso’s Guernica; a powerful expression of the horrors of war. And I will weep – for Greece and for Europe.