Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Greece - Once Upon A Time There Was A McKinsey Plan...

Once upon a time...

Once upon a time, in mid-2011, McKinsey first published their report "Greece Ten Years Ahead" (GTYA). The report outlined a National Growth Model which, the study predicted, would create over 500.000 new jobs and add roughly 50 BEUR to Greece's GDP within a decade. I had written a total of 14 articles about it at the time.

I found the McKinsey report by googling "greece economic development plan". It is amazing how many different entries from different sources one finds when googling that subject. Including several Greek sources like the think-tank IOBE.

The common thread of all these plans is that "Greece needs to change its growth model to ensure the return of its economy to high growth rates and this model should be based on limiting the importance of consumption spending on economic growth, strengthening the role of business investments and raising "net" contribution of the external sector by boosting exports" - IOBE.

There has been no shortage of proposals as to what needs to be done about Greece's economy. Eight years after the first memorandum, it would be interesting to see a detailed report as to how many of these proposals have actually been implemented and with what degree of success.

Target2 Claims Revisited

Target2 is the cash management system which the ECB uses in order to settle balances among the banking systems of the Eurozone member countries. If a national banking system transfers more money abroad than it receives from abroad (e. g. Greece), it builds up Target2 liabilities with the ECB system. If a national banking system transfers less money abroad than it receives from abroad, it builds up builds up Target2 claims with the ECB system (e. g. Germany).

The miraculous world of Target2 was revealed to the public in February 2011 by the German economist Hans-Werner Sinn. This is how the tale goes: Hans Tietmeyer, a former President of the Bundesbank, was reviewing the Bundesbank's balance sheet over the Christmas holidays and he came across a rather large asset position, i. e. Target2 claims, which he didn't know what they were. Thus, he asked Sinn about it but, off the bat, Sinn did not have an explanation, either. Sinn then researched the subject and the net result has been a never-ending debate about the risks associated with Target2.

The below table shows the development of Target2 balances of the most significant countries since 2008 (details are here):

Target2 Balances (BEUR)
Belgium Germany Greece Spain Portugal Italy Lux
2008 -104 115 -35 -35 -19 23 42
2018 -20 882 -58 -399 -83 -433 196

Belgium has significantly reduced its (originally quite high!) liabilities from minus 104 BEUR to minus 20 BEUR whereas Portugal has increased its liabilities from minus 19 BEUR to minus 83 BEUR, a very large figure compared to the size of its economy. Greece has increased its liabilities from minus 35 BEUR to minus 58 BEUR, a rather moderate amount when considering what Greece has been through (at one point during the crisis, Greece's liabilities had exceeded 100 BEUR!).

These countries - like all the others - are only sideshows when comparing them to the truly big players: both, Spain and Italy, increased their respective Target2 liabilities by over 400 BEUR (!) since 2008! The magnitude of these figures is mind-boggling. To illustrate: through a combination of current account deficits, capital flight, QE, etc., the banking systems of Spain and Italy lost over 400 BEUR each in liquidity during the last decade!

"For every credit, there must be a debit" - this we learned in Accounting back in school. The debits of Target2 are in Germany, Luxemburg (particularly relative to its size) and the Netherlands (plus 114 BEUR, up from minus 19 BEUR). When Sinn first uncovered the secrets behind Target2 in February 2011, Germany's Target2 claims were 326 BEUR and Sinn considered this as coming close to the end of the world. Now, Target2 claims are almost 3 times as high. Inconceivable from the viewpoint of only a few years ago but an accepted fact today.

How high can Target2 claims go before they system breaks?

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Report On Greek Official Debt - Barry Eichengreen & Co.

"In sum, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that any solution to the Greek debt crisis that does not fall on the shoulders of taxpayers several generations removed will require conditional face-value debt relief."

Report on Greek official debt

International Energy Agency - Greece 2017 Review

"Greece has prioritised development of its abundant renewable energy resources and as a result of a supportive policy environment, renewable sources today play a key role in the electricity sector. Building on this success, it is important for Greece to explore its renewable resources beyond solar and wind and to advance their usage in the nonelectricity sectors. In this report, we look at the ongoing reforms to the support schemes for renewable energy and additional initiatives that Greece could put in place to further accelerate the shift towards renewable energy sources, including on the Greek islands, without compromising electricity security."

International Energy Agency - Greece 2017 Review

Monday, March 19, 2018

An Exchange About Greek/Roman/Balkan/Russian/Ottoman History

My article on Ivan Savvidis prompted many comments and, before long, the discussion moved away from Savvidis and towards Greek history. I reproduce below a very interesting dialogue between the readers Dean and Lykinos. History buffs will enjoy this!

To: Lykinos

Since we are the topic if Savvidis, please bear in mind that in the 19th century there was a real Pan-Slavic plan (with Russia front and center pushing it) of expanding Slavic influence to the Aegean which created the basis of the Macedonian conflict. Which makes all more fascinating why the Greeks feel a kinship to Russians thinking that Russia is a friendly force (enter Savvidis and the Greek Pontiacs) when in fact Russia in many occasions could care less about the Greeks and in fact plotted openly against them (I blame the orthodox church for such gross misdirection).

V is absolutely correct when he says that any attempt by Slavic elements to misappropriate Greek symbols and Greek history is a straight invitation to annexation.

And before we start crying about rights of minorities in Greece please think for a second whose revisionist agendas these latter-day stories actually represent/serve.

The reality is this in the Balkans: There is a struggle for Russian influence whose purpose is access to the warm waters of the Mediterranean. The core of the Russian influence in the Balkans is Serbia. To a lesser extent Bulgaria and other Slavic countries. Turkey is trying to exert influence on religious grounds (supporting Muslim populations of Bosnia and others such as the sizeable Bulgarian Muslim minority close to 2 Million). Germany and your beloved Austria have many old scores to settle in the Balkans in trying to stem Russian expansionism.

This is a long topic and I would like to close with a simple factual statement. The whole basis for the "Macedonian Problem" which is tormenting Greece and certainly affects the mood Thessaloniki was a Byzantine mistake of administration. Whereas the whole world knows ancient Macedonia to be pretty much within the geographical area of today's Greek province of Macedonia (and with its center 22 km from Thessaloniki), there was this certain Byzantine princess Irene who for administrative purposes of ruling the area from Constantinople shifted a new contrived notion of the Macedonia province further to the east which included mostly present-day Bulgarian and today's Greek Thrace territory. And this is how this endless game of "to whom Macedonia belongs began". By a deliberate Byzantine administrative decision is the answer which is another element of cruel irony: that the two entities which the Greeks consider favorable to them i.e. Byzantium and Russia are in fact a considerable source of their own troubles.

Try please explaining this simple truth to your Greek friends and find out how biased and misinformed they are. I bet you they have no clue about the correct framing of the Macedonia Problem. Start the conversation by asking your Greek friends of Thessaloniki how much they know about Princess Irene and the Byzantine Macedonia province and ask them to sketch it on a piece of paper. Don't be surprised about the answers you get because they will be all over the map.


To: Dean

Although I may understand where you're coming from (Greek-American), fact is your take on Byzantium is completely screwed up! Since I wouldn't know where to begin with that, I'm just leaving you with this:


I know it's a rather long and heavy read, not strictly scientific (not peer-reviewed) by a rather peculiar (to say the least) writer but it remains adequately researched and most importantly benefits from the charm of an outsider looking in and being astounded by the "conspiracy" he uncovers! (Although his "discoveries" are in fact widely recognized and discussed amongst historians, albeit as a relatively recent development of the 80's and onwards - even Wikipedia has somewhat caught up.)

Allow me a couple of points: Macedonia as an administrative region of the Roman Empire has always been fluid, same as the province(s) of Greece. Empress Irene or not, Skopjans would have latched onto the name and identity anyway because they had need of it when they first became independent in the early 90 and perhaps they still do.

I'm speaking of the Roman empire because there has never existed a thing such as a "Byzantine Empire", at least not until the middle of the 16th century when a… German came up with name remembering that the ancient city of Byzantium used to stand where the City (Πόλη) is. In fact a "Byzantine" on the streets of Constantinople would have most probably never heard of this "Byzantium"-thing, he would have called himself first a Christian and then a Roman (Ρωμαίος and eventually Ρωμιός) and he would have denied being Greek, at least as far as ca. 1204 when he would have found himself opposed to the barbarous Φράγκους or Λατίνους (mind you, they never reserved the term "Roman" for these western invaders…) - although the people concerned with identity questions, i.e. the intellectuals, would have long before that recognized that of course Hellenismus is theirs as their θύραθεν παιδεία (their non religious education and cultural reference) which they funnily enough considered vastly superior to the Latin, i.e. classic Roman one!

As for Hieronymus Wolf, that aforementioned German, he invented "Byzantium" as a means to deny this reality stripping the Eastern Roman Empire of its historical heritage so that he can claim "Romanitas" (and even "Latinitas") for his emperor, i.e. the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation that famously "was in no way holy, nor Roman, nor an empire" nor… of the German Nation, I would have added! Now, the reason this falsification caught on - aside from past grievances between East and West - was that claiming to be the rightful heirs of the Imperium Romanorum was something that almost all European states used to do, from Paris to Moscow, in order to justify their expansionism. The most, if not successful, at least innovative, were the British who took that tired old notion and transformed it into that of the still going Western world, where they initially placed only their dearest selves, begrudgingly the French and the most… exotic and comically oversexualized Italians! In fact, their little grouped expanded or shrunk according to the each time prevailing imperial interests and ideology. Last but not least, the Germans after they realized that the Roman label would not stick they fancied themselves the new and improved Greeks (!) before settling for being the natural conclusion of all the best ancient civilizations have ever produced throughout the world before finally settling once and for all in the fatherland!

Given all that, I always find it sad to hear Greeks repeat all those long debunked and yet still circulating calumnies against "Byzantium". Something tells me you're one of those people who also believe Byzantium "killed" Ancient Greece, probably ignoring or finding a way to side-step that almost none of those famed Greek written monuments would have perished had it not been for those Greek-speaking medieval Romans… Again, there is a long and interesting history behind these ideologically conceived great narratives of European historiography who worked hard to make Byzantium synonymous with "Byzantine" (the worst offender being Gibbon) and the reason Greek intelligentsia sheepishly adopted these dishonest stories, but I don't have the time to expand upon and besides part of it is covered in the link I provided. For my part, the best aphorism I've ever read about Modern Greek identity is the we are "romanized Hellenes or Hellenistic Romans" (ρωμαϊκοί Έλληνες ή ελληνιστικοί Ρωμαίοι)!

PS. You're right nonetheless about the unmerited and wholly displaced appreciation of Greek nationalists towards Russia, who has always acted as any other Great Power would. The Church is to blame.


To: Lykinos

The way you explained it created new conflicts for me. All of a sudden I feel much closer to the German position on Ancient Greece and that's a tremendous self-awareness moment because it makes me a lost German child who is fighting against its own people. Never would have thought that such calamity would befall on me; to be discovered to be German in my views after all.

Let me just explain. For starters, I am a born Greek who immigrated to the US at the age of 24. My children both born on American soil are Greek-American or Colombian-American if you want to bring their mother into the picture (whose family ancestral name is traced to a German town close to the Austrian border).

So, my views are not typical Greek-American; in fact, I would call them very atypical of Greek-American views. Greek-Americans use the Greek church as an identifier and I, on the other hand, want nothing to do with it.

My reasoning is very simple:

1. To be Greek means to be a person of reason and science.
2. The Eastern Roman Empire/Byzantium/Orthodox Church is a form of complete darkness (faith-based construct) which is in direct conflict with science and reason, hence by definition anti-Greek.
3. If you call me Romios (or Rum as the Turks call us) then I would probably be deeply offended.
4. An empire which issues the Edict of Thessaloniki, whose only purpose is the forceful conversion of classical Greeks to Roman Christian citizens, has nothing to do with Greek values. In my opinion, it has everything to do with anti-Greek values and as such is rejected on purely logical grounds.
5. This incredible and highly abnormal stronghold a foreign Roman religion (which you know as Christianity) has on the modern Greeks is the source of all troubles for Greece. If you want to truly reform Greece you need to start with the Greek church. Its vast real estate holdings need to be confiscated by the state, its sizeable tax bills need to be enforced and its freeloading on state salaries need to stop yesterday.
6. There is no way for Greeks to ever prosper as a nation if their notion is that their true capital (which according to the false religion is Constantinople) is the only European capital still remaining under occupation. This fact alone paralyzes Greeks into inaction and fatalism. It makes us victims of a continuous trauma.

Not that it matters, but you sound as a member of the Left which considers being a Romios as the only form of true Greece because the Ancient Greece staff is for the nationalists and fascists?


To: Dean

I enjoyed your comment and I'm sorry I'wont have the time to respond to the extent that it merited.

Since you equate Greeknes with Reason, which is a very German thing to do (remember for Germans it used to be that Germans = Greeks 2.0), I can only suggest this seminal work which is also an extremely enjoyable read:


Reading it you'll understand why Christianity found a fertile ground in our Hellenistic lands and perhaps you'll find your self curious for his next significant opus:


Trust me it will be an eye opener!

Afterwards you can continue your studies by reading up on the history of Greek language and literature, which is actually by far our truest and most meaningful connection to our Ancient world: Greek and … Roman.

One of the best on the field is:


I can't recommend it enthusiastically enough!

You'll be pleasantly surprised to find out that you can read everyday-use papyri from Ptolemaic Egypt (a much more important centre of Hellinismus at the time than Athens), without any previous training, and you'll be flabbergasted to discover that probably we wouldn't be speaking Greek nowadays or we would be speaking a very different, cut-off variation as, say, French are to medieval Latin, had it not been for the Church after 1204; there wouldn't also have survived almost anything from the Greek literary Corpus (safe from some annotated but very altered and truncated Arab translations of Aristotle) had it not been for many very learned and industrious monks!

As for me,  I'm an atheist (not a cowardly atheist, i. e. an agnostic that Christians righty abhor) and although I identify as Leftish most of the time (unless I have to listen to one speak for a great big time) I can never forgive Greek Left for in the past taking a page from the most pseudo-scientific and dishonest European books in order to vilify Byzantium ! Oh yes! They loved Ρωμιούς but hated Ρωμαίους!

Incidentally, did you know that briefly but passionately during the 19th century the Church of the Greek Kingdom also spat on Byzantium, wanted to cut ties with Constantinople and turn itself essentially into Protestants?

In the end! Rejoice! We're much more resilient, cosmopolitan, complicated and interesting than you previously thought!

PS> Why not try also that old but always good:



To: Lykinos:

From the pdf you provided I take the following points:

1. Roman army during the late stages of western Roman empire mostly German composed.
2. Greeks inherited the eastern Roman empire ("Eventually pared down to the Balkans and Anatolia, the Empire finally consisted mainly of Greeks, or at least Greek speakers, as well as Armenians, Albanians, Vlachs, etc. Conquered and humiliated by Rome, the Greeks inherited Romania and subsequently always called themselves Rhômaioi"). This, of course, is incomprehensible unless one understands the meaning and consequences of the Constitutio Antoniniana, let alone Christianization. As such, it is well over the horizon of popular culture, much academic culture, or Hollywood -- to whom the history of "Byzantium" is like something from science fiction, if even that. I cannot say that there has ever been a "Byzantine" Emperor represented in a Hollywood movie -- or a Constantinople that was not already Istanbul.
3. Anatolians (presumably Greeks) recolonized mainland Greece. ("The money, as it happens, came from Anatolia, which, although raided regularly by the Arabs, was in much better shape than the Balkans or Greece, where Slavic migration had broken all the way into the Peloponnesus -- Greece had to be resettled with colonists from Anatolia. The paid military would eventually draw recruits from Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and England. Meanwhile, the libraries and the Classical art of Constantinople might leave one wondering if very much had changed at all in the passing centuries, while visitors from the impoverished West or barbarian North were left to gape in awe at the bustle, wealth, architecture, and sophistication of a place unlike any other in Christendom.")

So as long as we speak of Christendom, this is another way of saying Rome and Greeks are but a minor player in all this?

I think we are coming to the same conclusion when I say that the Eastern Roman Empire was an anti-Greek concept, even though it had some Greeks in it.

Because from what you provided, I cannot possibly conclude that East Rome or New Rome had anything to do with Greeks other than the mainly Greek population of Anatolia which was better preserved from barbarian invasions of mainland Greece and mainly Greek-speaking (Ionians of Athens, which the Turks today call Yunans i.e. Ionians).


To: Lykinos

I am very interested in your reaction to this Cyprus Mail opinion piece, making a direct charge against the role of the orthodox church:

"During Ottoman rule (1571-1878), Cyprus may have, in theory, been ruled by the Bey, appointed by the Pasha but in reality it was ruled by the Archbishop with the clergy. The former was responsible for the imposition and collection of taxes and his leadership role was indisputable. We should therefore not be surprised by the zeal showed by every archbishop to maintain the status quo and fight any display of insurrection. Why would he not fight it having become the natural ally of the Turkish oligarchy?

He was, in short a nenekos (collaborator of the occupier). There were, admittedly, some Greek Cypriots that participated in liberation initiatives, before and during the Greek war of independence of 1821, but as the researcher Giorgos Giorgis explains in his book, ‘The Cypriot Contribution to the Revolution of 1821’, no parallel revolutionary activity took place in Cyprus. He wrote: “… there was disarmament of the island, there was compliance of the residents to the calls of the Pyli (Ottoman government) and the archbishops were making efforts to prevent the outbreak of any anti-regime action by the Cypriots.

How do we explain the turn towards Greece, with the arrival of the British to the island in 1878? The change in regime was an immense shock for the Church of Cyprus. Suddenly, the whole world was turned upside down by the creation of a secular state by the British. The economic privileges enjoyed by the Church were abolished. The Church was no longer exempt from taxation for land ownership, but was also obliged to pay taxes. In addition to this, members of the clergy that violated civil law, were now tried in civil courts instead of church courts.

The only way for the Church to regain its lost privileges would be through Enosis, a concept unknown in the 19th century. The choice of Enosis at the start of the 20th century was the most ‘advantageous’ because in Greece there was never separation of State and Church. While the option of independence, in contrast to that of Enosis, was an attainable target it was not discussed because of the power of the Left which controlled the municipalities of all towns (except Nicosia’s) as well as the trade unions. In the event of the Left taking power, in an independent state, there would be complete secularisation, which was anathema to the Church.

Faced with the prospect of the marginalisation of the priests, the Church cultivated through education over which it still exercised some control, the yearning for Enosis and inspired, organised and financed the armed struggle. Unfortunately, for the Cypriot people, the Church leaders could not, because of ignorance, short-sightedness and narrow-mindedness, understand that this objective, especially with an armed struggle, was clearly unattainable and would end in national tragedy.

Kyriacos Matsis, the Eoka hero, had told Governor Harding, with regard to the Eoka uprising, that “we are not staging the struggle for money.” I doubt that any of the high-ranking priests of the time could have said this, with his hand on the bible, without removing ‘not’ from the sentence.

I would not be surprised if some are taken aback by the conclusions of this article. After all the books on the history of Cyprus were written by the ruling class, the Church. And as Marx said, "analysing economic determinism, the dominant ideas of every period were the ideas of the ruling class."



To: Dean

I see you’ve reached a rather selective interpretation of your reading material and I think I can guess why.

Judging from the passages you cited, you place great importance on how much if any Greek “blood” remained untainted by intermarriage with the invading “Barbarians”. Apparently they couldn’t keep their mongrel hands off pure-bred Greek beauties and … vice versa! Barbarians are sexy! If I misunderstood, please disregard everything that follows.

I’m not an anthropologist or a geneticist or whatever, nor do I care to find out about the matter because it doesn’t matter. Identity and nationality are not transmitted by blood like venereal diseases! One of the great many strengths of Hellenismus but also Romanitas / Romiosyne is their assimilating power. For example, the pseudonym I use is a Hellenized variation of Loukianos, the already Hellenized name of the Syrian also known as Lucian of Samosata, who wrote in the 2nd century AD in the most finely tuned Atticist prose (but also occasionally leaning towards Koine) that even your beloved 5th & 4th century Athenians could ever have hoped to achieve, a monumental series of always laugh-out-funny satires and parodies that draw upon and offer knife-sharp insights on the best of what centuries-spanning Greek philosophy (mainly stoic and epicurean), rhetoric and philology had to offer (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucian). Indulging occasionally his mean streak he found it a tremendous good time to make fun of the honest folk of Syria, Phoenicia, Palestine, Egypt and environs who having perfected or even just started to learn Greek couldn’t wait for even a generation to pass before going about boasting to be descendants of Pericles and Aspasia or the great great great … great grandsons of some obscure Marathon fighter! What’s better, he made mercilessly fun of the concept of Divine Providence, and yet Christians adored him! (https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/the-earliest-manuscript-of-lucian). He is one of the most copied and better transmitted ancient authors by the Byzantine monks, who apparently enjoyed a good laugh after of course having stated loud and clear for anyone interested that what the old master says is true only for his own, long dead Gods and in no way for baby Jesus and Panagia and, after all, they’re reading him only for the betterment of their Attic Greek, for science and so on and so forth and what have you… Another of their all time favorites was Aristophanes.

On a more serious note, the idea that the Nation is a Community of Blood didn’t appear but in the end of 18th and the beginning of the 19th century closely related with the already nefarious notion of racial history, both almost as by-products of the emerging concept of the Nation / Nation-State. Your everyday Pre-Alexander Greek despite having a vague idea akin to Herodotus’ Όμαιμον, would have struggled greatly to understand it, not only because he associated blood purity almost exclusively with noble bloodlines, but also because he lacked the very notion: his equivalent word “ἔθνος” was much more loosely and fluidly defined, so that one could speak of ἔθνη ἑταίρων or λαῶν, meaning band of comrades or body of men and safely use it to refer to swarms, flocks and other animal populations; he could also tell you of the various ἔθνη of Greeks before later designating the various Ἔθνη as opposed to Greeks who are not one (cf. Jews and Gentiles). Same problems arise with the term: “γένος” who doesn’t quite fit its nowadays usages. Don’t get me wrong! He was Greek all right and he was acutely aware of it because he lived in one of the many and varied Greek communities; in more modern speak, his identity was much more a matter of society than of biology and certainly it had nothing to do with any hematological analysis or pedigree. After Alexander happened were the one asked an intellectual he would have looked even more perplexed and he would have you know that only Greek παιδεία could make a Greek out of you, sir! As for Romans, you are of course right bringing up Constitutio Antoniniana since for them it was full citizenship that gave you the privilege to be Roman. And yes, that was a world-changing development that Caracalla probably unintentionally caused!

And if all that seem fastidious and convoluted to you just think that the Northerners that came up with the equation pure: “blood makes a pure nation” where most of them imperial or feudal subjects stemming from people as bastardized as any on our old continent. Nowadays any honest Englishman knowing what came to pass on his island at about the turn of the first millennium (and also much earlier and quite some time afterwards) would laugh thinking about the unmixed Englishness flowing through his veins. Also the Prussians who united Germany kicking and screaming were famously often faced with the accusation reserved to them by their German brethren that they - the Prussians - are nothing but Germanized Slavs! The horror! And since we’re also talking about names, the general designation Romans tended to attribute to people and tribes living east of the Rhine and north of certain parts of the Alps, i. e. Germani (whereas Greeks initially preferred calling them Γότθους, Goths) no matter how completely different they may have been one from another, was a source of great confusion and anxiety for modern Deutsch when trying to determine who they were so that they can unite themselves – certain very esteemed and influential practitioners of this “blood science” concluded that almost all of Western and Northern Europe (but not the Slavs!) were indeed Germans but they had simply forgotten it! Public opinion followed suit... You don’t want me to remind you what they thought of us! Or, should I bring up Fallmerayer… Are you sure you wanna cast your lot with them?

By the way, and provided I haven’t misunderstood you, do you consider yourself also American? And what about your children? How do they feel?

To be continued with why language matters when being Greek or / and Ρωμιός!


To: Lykinos

In short, I do consider myself an American and my children even more so because they find my attempts to defend the motherland really odd and somewhat entertaining. So, don't worry my feelings about Greece will die with me (like the Last of the Mohicans) and there will be no more problems in this regard.

As to your didactic approach, I honestly feel somewhat naked, tied in the public square and you delivering lashes on my body with certain kindness intermixed with a stern message, which makes the whole experience surreal. Can I be so wrong in my beliefs and why? Where did I miscalculate?


To: Dean

Naked public flagellation, you say?!? How divinely Roman of you!

No, seriously, if you can feel both Greek and American in this day and age where one can have a meta-attitude towards nationalism, you're already well equipped, better than most, to understand how fluid and even multiple identities could be back then when people didn't have such a well refined vocabulary or any at all to contemplate such matters. And I wouldn't worry about your kids! If they've been taught Greek well enough, they'll hear the call sooner or later!

As for your adoration of ancient Greece I can only guess that you were exposed form a very tender age and never willing to give up on that sweet dream Western Europe dreamed about its distant origins: Europeans came into the forefront of history with a bang of… pure reason! They flattered themselves, and we in turn were more than happy to pick up the story and build on it thinking the compliment was meant for us… Served us right then that they eventually chose to set the record straight! It was brought to my attention that I exaggerated the matter and that in fact the artists and philosophers of the West painted eventually a far more colorful picture of Antiquity. I admit I spoke hastily and in just a tad of bad faith, but I still invite anyone to visit Athens and Rome and then take a stroll through Munich; perhaps he'll see then how little the most fervent and sincere of all the Philhellenes were ready or willing to deal with the chaos and ugliness of history!

(By the way, the absurd implications of going through life as a devoted practitioner of reason, mathematics and philosophy were dealt with already by Aristophanes: check out Nephelai / Clouds (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Clouds). They're quite funny! On another note, Euripides had Medea explaining to Jason that it only stood to reason that she should have killed their children as an inevitable consequence of his own actions).

As for your disdain for our Roman ancestry, don't beat yourself up about it! That was the norm till the 70s or even 80s. I think Kelley L. Ross did a good job explaining why. Especially in Greece "Byzantium" is closely associated with the Church who didn't miss the chance to claim it exclusively, so it's perhaps understandable that one watching the conduct of the Church of Greece will reach the wrong conclusions about what is essentially a fairly different matter.

Since you're in the habit of referencing Edicta you must already know that by the time of Justinian, whose Greek famously was nothing to write home about, our language was on the verge of almost completely displacing Latin on all administrative and judicial matters as well. (https://www.thoughtco.com/greek-language-in-byzantine-empire-118733) This had already happened quite some time ago in the field of education, literature, everyday life parlance and even folk culture at least south of the so-called Jireček Line (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jire%C4%8Dek_Line).

So it's no coincidence that I mentioned by name what must be your favorite emperor, cause although he ordained the closing down of the Athenian Neoplatonic Academy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platonic_Academy#Neoplatonic_Academy), by then every Roman citizen - or not - who wanted to go places in life (i.e. to step outside of his little village and its surrounding fields) should have been able to do so because Greek-speakers could understand one another throughout the vast empire; and should he be lucky enough to have any advanced schooling, if he wanted to cool off from all this theologizing (after all he was Christian first and foremost), he would have cracked open a book (or unravel a papyrus) and enjoy the only highbrow entertainment he ever knew: Greek novels, Greek poems, Greek drama, Greek orators, Greek historians, Greek philosophers, Greek scholars, all those dead white (or not so much) guys (and the occasional woman); after that, if he wasn't exhausted or bored stiff, he would have gone to meet his equally arrogant elitist friends and shown off how broad his θύραθεν παιδεία is (it literary means the education / culture that comes in from outside the doors of the church.)

That's a shitload of books!, I hear you say! (here it is perhaps worth the trouble to google "Photius' Myriobiblos / Μυριόβιβλος"). That's the work of many a scribe who labored tirelessly at the monastic libraries (quite a few for the Early Middle Ages: https://ideas.repec.org/a/edt/aucjcm/v2y2016i1p74-92.html) so that we could still have access to all this ancient wisdom. Well, obviously, the real reason back then was that they had to satisfy the demand which was strong enough nonetheless to have kept us supplied - aided by some relatively recently discovered papyrological material - till our days. Keeping in mind the many catastrophes that befell New Rome in her "latter" days - starting with the biggest of all, the sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204, when books were destroyed en masse and so are now lost to us forever, and which laid the ground for the Ottoman rule - one can understand how the manuscripts lucky enough to have reached us aren't but only a very small portion of what the supposedly obscurantist Byzantium read and preserved. (https://www.hrstud.unizg.hr/_download/repository/Reynolds_LD_Wilson_NG_Scribes_and_Scholars_A_Guide_to_the_Transmission_of_Greek_and_Latin_Literature_3rd_ed%5B1%5D.pdf). Oh,yes! That's the work of your beloved Church! But don't worry: έχω ράμματα και για τη γούνα της.

I'm going to insist on this aspect of the "Byzantines" as guardians of the Greek written word, cause in this day and age they're yet to get their due credit, at least when it comes to popular fora and culture. Instead, the great old 19th century myth of the Arab intervention lives on! At its origin lies the fact that the West rediscovered Aristotle by way of the Arabs mainly of the Iberian Peninsula. That happened through a rather restricted collection of the philosopher's works that Arabs found relevant and useful enough to translate and annotate, and not through the Greek texts themselves, since - unlike Byzantines - Arabs didn't care to preserve the original text after they were done with it; after all they could always procure another one from the "Byzantines" (whom they called Greeks!) as they had already done to begin with. In the disdain of the 19th century Europe for anything Byzantine (remember the esteemed idiot that was Gibbon) many diligent and conscientious scholars were very happy to explain away the origin of the Greek manuscripts in their libraries by attributing everything to these enlightened Arabs of the old age. Little did it matter that, even if one went through the vaults of every western institution of knowledge and walked through the whole wide Islamic world looking for it, one wouldn't find a single line of Thucydides, Xenophon, Plato, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Theophrastus, Epicurus, Plutarch (Europeans adored Plutarch) and Lucian to name only a few having been copied and handed over by Arab hands; not even a translated one! What's worst, the Greek Left took that myth, thinking they're sticking it to the nationalists in doing so, and propagated it to an extent that many progressive Greeks still love to tell it, thinking they present their liberal credentials in doing so…

Back to the learned people of Eastern Rome who of course didn't just copy ancient Greek texts but also wrote their own, trying to "copy" this time almost all of the genre of secular writing that the Greeks came up with: historical narratives, rhetorical demonstrations, novels, mathematical dissertations were being written with the ancient models in mind. Ex. a historiographer would aim to present himself as the heir of Xenophon, Polybius and Thucydides, not only in form and "thought" but also, if not before all, in language. In another of my long-winded comments I've already went on and on to poor Leander about the atticist current in the history of Greek language; here I'll only say that the "ancient Greek" prose of Anna Komnene's Alexias would have given pause or exasperated even the most achieved of 5th or 4th Attic writers (so, the "real deal") with its overworked archaism- probably to her greatest delight…

All that to say that not only the language but also Greek culture in general was something significantly more to these people than just a tool handed down to them - say, like American English are to us. It was the main if not sole non-religious common cultural reference that spanned through a bi-continental multiracial, multilingual and multicultural empire that lasted for a thousand years. It wasn't their main cohesive element - that was undoubtedly Christianity - but it was sure strong and prominent enough (for some of them more so than others) to prompt the Westerners who wanted to antagonize these eastern Romans and claim their name as their own to start calling them… Greeks! They didn't want to be called that! Until… they started to do so themselves after 1204 in opposition to western inventers, Φράγκους or Λατίνους (but also to other Balkan nations formerly of the Empire); some intellectuals in southern Peloponnese really went for it and became… radical Platonist! (See Hermes' comment or google Gemistos Plethon). But Romeos / Romios remained by far the preferred appellation of most Greek-speaking Christians until relatively little before the Greek state came to be; propelled by Western fantasies of ancient Greece the name "Hellen" or better "Elinas" began to gain ground and to eventually become dominant but without ever completely displacing the persistent Romios, now out of vogue or even maligned in certain milieu.(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_the_Greeks#Contest_between_the_names_Hellene,_Roman,_and_Greek). Confusing? Extremely so! Because now to the Greek and Roman and... post Roman strain added itself the domineering Western influence, riddled itself with chaos and contradictions. And I'm planning on making you even more confused: http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/1821_problems_of_greek.html (Trust me, she's better when arguing in a purely abstract level; in her interviews, she usually suffers from the self-centeredness that plagues old intellectuals returning home after having made their career abroad and usually lets her politics get the better of her.)

Just so I'm not being misunderstood, allow me to state it plainly: "Byzantium" is not just another way of saying Greece or medieval Greece. It wasn't one of our modern 19th-century-born national states but an ancient empire that contained multitudes of people who would never consider themselves Greek or even Romans and their affinity to Greek cultural heritage was little to miniscule or heavily intermediated. For example, the ways that Bulgarians related themselves with Rome (Tsar = Caesar) and the Romans of Constantinople and the Greek language was a whole different beast. BUT, for a great big part of the people who called themselves Romans and spoke Greek their relationship with Greek culture was of a closeness and intensity - they claimed to OWN Hellenismus - wholly different than say that of the artists and scholars of Renaissance or even - or rather definitely - that of our own; for them this was the main cultural reserve they had outside their Christianity and whatever Roman "Mora" remained embedded in the functioning of the State and the everyday life of the capital, more and more unrecognizable as such from the moment the linguistic connection got severed - never forget: they copied the writers of Athens not Rome!

And these people are an integral part of our Modern Greek identity.

To: Lykinos

I don't disagree with you on the importance of Greek language and culture which somehow Byzantium preserved. That's a given that Greek was the official language for the very pragmatic reason that the basis of all wealth in Asia Minor was in the hands of Greek speakers.

But when you say that Byzantium was an "ancient empire that contained multitudes of people" all kinds of red flags go up. You see, by definition, Greeks (the classical Athenians) are anti-empire people. They fought an empire (Persian) and then fell by another empire (Roman). I also think Alexander lost his soul with the Hellenistic Empire which is when Greece became part of a cosmic admixture which in the end conquered Greece rather than the other way around.

So most Greeks accept the Alexander transition to the world stage which then leads to Rome, Byzantium, and Hellenism as part of a cosmic experiment.

I somehow have great difficulty crossing over. I would rather stick with the notion of Greek city-states fostering competition and trade as well as promoting principles of democracy which when you reach a certain size are impossible to maintain (I am thinking of Dutch merchant cooperatives when I think of Ancient Greek states).

What bothers me about Byzantium is its size, its empire type character and its hatred of classical Greece (all of these being clear signs of anti-Greekness). I can't simply be fooled by the fact that Rome or New Rome spoke Greek because such was the mark of the educated people of the time. Greek, then, was like English today (even though English is more like a universal language of commerce) but you get the drift. Sophisticated people of that era would have surely had to have spoken Greek.


To: Dean

First of all, you know as well as I do that Greeks were not only the 5th century Athenians. Also classical Greece was not a network of self-sufficient and self-content cities vying with each other to see who can promote fair trade and democracy better; in fact most of these city-states quite regularly alternated between oligarchic, democratic and tyrannical regimes, subsequently passing through violent transition phases (yes, even Athens) and more often than not in armed conflict with each other in order to secure the most of the precious little resources Greece had - especially mainland Greece.

Until the Athenians came into play. They aimed big and had a name for it: Ἀρχή, Arche i.e. hegemony, Dominion: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0058%3Aentry%3Da)rxh%2F. The only reason they didn't get their own proper empire was that, try as they may, they just didn't cut it. But boy did they ever try! They were off to a good start subduing with a speed and to a degree unparalleled in the then Greek world their old allies which they have vowed to protect against the big empire looming in the East (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delian_League). In this regard, they obviously didn't have any ideological objections to dominion upon others as long as they were themselves who exercised it. Nothing new here! But then they royally screwed up when in an extremely ill-advised and poorly planned application of the strategic dogma: "offence is the best defense", they tried to expand to the West: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sicilian_Expedition. The only good thing that came out of this is Thucydides' narrative.

Furthermore, it is at the same time befitting and ill-suited that you should mention the Dutch experience as counterpoint to imperial civilization. I trust we're in agreement here: there is little to no comparison between a merchant company and an ancient city state, not least because e.g. classical Athenians could hardly conceive the city aligned itself with specific interest groups of individuals and not the other way around; the former it's a development that owns a lot to the Roman concept of citizenship and the Christian doctrine of every person having been created in the image and likeness of god. No matter that, it's quite ironic how you just can't bring yourself to do without the possibilities and contradictions the extended world of empire affords you, even at the moment you rage against hem! The merchant companies you so admire were nothing without -in fact THEY WERE - the Dutch empire! (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_Empire). Not only that, but given how that was a colonial empire going about its business - which included quite a lot of slave trade - and competing with others of a similar kind in a geopolitical and cultural globe immensely expanded and still expanding as the Age of Exploration went on, the "provincial" Eastern Rome, who afforded citizenship to the greatest part of its peoples and recognized no slaves, appears in comparison more "democratic" and in any case closer to your cherished image of a world guarding its distance from the admixtures that "cosmic experiments" entail…

Besides, what your insistence to tie down true "Greekness" to a specific time and - most importantly - place centered around Athens tells me is that you struggle to accept the notion that what it is wasn't always what it was. This concentration if not confinement of Greeks inside, more or less, mainland Greece is a relatively recent development (reaching its pick after 1922) concomitant with the establishment and prevailing of nation states in 19th and 20th c. Europe. That was almost never the case with your Ancients: the coasts of Asia Minor were since almost always an integral part of their world and as early as the first centuries of the first millennium they started to launch expeditions in order to expand the furthest possible east and west from Greece proper; and they never looked back! (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Greek_colonisation. Needles to say that they didn't exactly hold off from getting to know the locals better… So you see you mourn an age of innocence that never was! In all seriousness now, do you actually believe that the world would have been so interested to find out, preserve and keep on discussing through whole millennia what the Greeks did, wrote or discovered - that yourself would have done so - if Alexander hadn't taken what it was essentially a time and place specific experience, a provincial civilization and used it as the cornerstone of his "brave new world", his Oecumene? I personally doubt that we would still be speaking Greek without his "cosmic experience" and the subsequent Greco-Roman world and I'm totally convinced we wouldn't be calling ourselves Greek...

Finally, the whole point of my diatribe about Greek language AND Greek culture in "Byzantium" was that "Byzantines", our very own Romans, no matter how strained this relationship occasionally got, never actually hated the Greeks; nor did they learn Greek as nowadays we learn American. For start, you've totally forgotten that for a great big part of them Greek was their native language and knew nothing else. What's more, certainly at Constantinople and as the time went on to more and more places of the empire you couldn't even be considered Roman if you didn't speak the language of Romans, i.e. Greek. And not only that; take for example a person who nowadays learns English because he wants to further his professional prospects in our globalized world; he doesn't feel obliged to also study Shakespeare, Milton, Poe, Hemingway and even lots of minor, obscure writers and even less so to an extent that he can make their language and general style his own - not at all. But that's was exactly what a young Roman had to do if he wanted to move up in the Empire. Same goes with the attitude towards the culture: when a modern day Greek, French, Polish or Indian learns English, no matter how open-minded and erudite he is, doesn't actually feel that he's (re)discovering something which is essentially his own; he doesn't feel part of the English or American culture. But this is something close to what a Roman student should have been feeling when he was learning his ancient Geeks, since those were the authorities any proper Roman such as himself was supposed to get acquainted with; when it came to non religious education and high culture he wouldn't have in mind anything else - not even Rome - but Greece.

These all are good reasons why "Byzantines" were the ones - and not any others - who took upon themselves the challenging task of locating, preserving, storing, collating, studying, editing, disputing, illuminating but before all endlessly copying Greek manuscripts; to this goal a whole "industry" had been set into place working for about a thousand years that modern readers very often don't even begin to suspect when handling the "finished" texts. I'll state it one last time: no other people neither in West nor in East felt such a deep connection to Greeks so as to take great pains to keep their legacy going on. So I think it's pretty ironic that you reject and vilify those same Roams without them you'd have little to no idea about those Greeks you're so proud (and anxious) to call your own…

In the end, it doesn't matter! You've already made the transition to Oecumene long ago together with your fellow Neoelines whether you realize it or not… Until you do, I leave you in peace


To: Lykinos

The changes over time in the valuation of ‘democracy’ – from depreciation of ancient, direct demokratia (the word as well as the thing) to upwards revaluation of indirect, representative ‘democracy’ today – tell a powerful story, as my Democracy: A Life tries to show:

i. there was hardly any genuine demokratia (people-power) anywhere in the Greek world after 300 BCE.

ii. demokratia came typically to mean ‘republic’, i.e. not-monarchy, or/and freedom from direct rule by either Greek autocrats or by Rome.

iii. Rome (first the Roman Republic, then the Empire) hated Greek-style direct democracy; the Latin for demokratia was democratia… The rule of the Roman People even under the ‘free’ Republic was variously mediated and in effect nullified by the power of the - aristocratic-oligarchic – Senate.

iv. the Byzantine Greeks, who called themselves ‘Romans’, were ruled autocratically by divinely authorised monarchs, and by the 6th century CE the term demokratia had been so devalued that it could be used to mean ‘riot’, a form of ‘mob-rule’.

v. Not before the 17th century did the word ‘democracy’ start creeping back into political discourse as a potentially viable system of governance, only to be firmly and overwhelmingly rejected – by both the American and the French revolutionaries -within the largely negative reception of ancient Greek direct democracy as little better than mob-rule.

vi. Only with the invention of representative, parliamentary democracy – since then variously morphed into ‘Western’, ‘liberal’ democracy, based on universal adult suffrage – did democracy become an accepted governmental norm. It remains a fragile achievement.

Two ‘lessons’ may perhaps be drawn from this brief comparativist exercise.

First, the past, as L.P. Hartley (author of the novel The Go-Between) wrote, is a ‘foreign country’. They (in this case the ancient Greeks) organized political ideas and their reception quite differently there.

Second, a real puzzle remains as to why and how ‘democracy’ – the word as well as very various and disparate versions of the thing – so rose in estimation from its late 18th century disapproval to its generalized approbation (and too often mis-appreciation) today."

Paul Cartledge (A.G. Leventis Senior Research Fellow, Clare College, Cambridge; emeritus A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture, Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge)

Bottom line: Romans hated Greek style democracy. Romans were autocrats; the byzantines even more so. Therefore neither the Romans or Byzantines are my people and not your people either. Somehow you want to give Byzantines a cookie because they preserved the Greek language. So what? What's the big deal about it?


To: Dean

Cause I want to understand Modern Greek identity. Without the language it’s simply not the same if not non-existent. As for the concept and history of Democracy this is a wholly different discussion. But even there, let me remind you that we wouldn’t know much about the Athenian direct democracy you admire, safe from what Latin Romans wrote about, if the Eastern Romans weren’t so keen in studying what the Athenian orators, philosophers, historians and dramaturgists had to say about it themselves. Their cookie is well merited.


To: Lykinos

The greatness of the Greeks is not their language (of which us modern Greeks speak an incomprehensible version; shall we say a Latin bastardized version?). It is their political system and the ethos of strife. Striving to be the better of your competition. Read what the Stanford University prof. Josiah Ober has to say in unlocking the essence of the Greek contribution to civilization.

"Stanford Classics Professor Josiah Ober has long suspected that some of the long-held ideas scholars had about the ancient Greek world could be wrong. Thanks to his innovative digital research project, he now has the data to show it.

Ober says there was previously a developing and crystallizing consensus among classical scholars that there was little to no economic growth in ancient Greece – as was the case in most societies of that time.

But instead of portraying a static, poor Greek economy, Ober’s new findings have shown that from about 1000 to 300 B.C., classical Greece had impressive rates of economic growth that were unparalleled by its contemporaries in antiquity.

Together with a team of other Stanford scholars and students, the professor of classics and of political science digitized huge amounts of archaeological, documentary and literary data. Using these new tools, the team created analyses and visualizations that map out aspects of Greek life, such as how money circulated and how many people lived in cities versus small farms.

At a certain point, Ober explained, the team compiled “a critical amount of evidence and recognized that the old story couldn’t be right.”

So why was ancient Greece so prosperous compared to its contemporaries? In his new book, The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece, Ober links this unexpected prosperity to a relatively democratic, decentralized state system that allowed for innovation and cultural development.

“Basically the answer to that is politics,” Ober argues. “The Greek world is distinctive in having this dispersed structure so that there are many, many independent states rather than a single empire – or rather than a few big and powerful states.”"



To: Dean

Wow! 700 hundred years of (relative) democracy? That’s certainly not what I know and what, I suspect, Greeks themselves ca. 300 would have been surprised to find out. I guess I’ll have to read the book myself especially since I’m familiar with Ober’s work on Thucydides and I have enjoyed it. But I’m afraid that by know we’ve started talking past each other: you’re telling me why you admire ancient Greece and I’m talking about how without Byzantines we wouldn’t be what we are…

And NO! We shall NOT say that our language is incomprehensible or a Latin bastardized version cause we’re not in the habit of telling dirty-dirty lies, thank you very much, Sir!

Anyway, I’m letting you celebrate the day your Ρωμιοί forefathers rose up as Έλληνες to fight for their freedom! And despite the fact their beloved church excommunicated them for that! Fianlly, if you ever per chance come up against this: https://www.amazon.com/Christian-Parthenon-Classicism-Pilgrimage-Byzantine/dp/0521882281, promise to tell me if it’s worth its provocative title!


To: Lykinos

Ρωμιοί forefathers rose up? I am afraid this is revisionism of the worst kind, especially with the role the Church played in it.

The only reason we are free today is because of the Battle of Navarino and some crazy philhellene British officers who diregarded clear instructions from Whitehall and then lead Greek irregular troops in capturing most of the small territory of post 1830s Greece.

By the way, I know of no other nation in the world who starts military campaigns in glory like supposedly in 1821 or 1941 and then it ends up thoroughly defeated but still a victor nevertheless. Not even talking about the Smyrna campaign which followed the exact same pattern in disaster.

And we owe nothing to the Byzantines except to put them in their right place as inferior Roman subjects.

If there is something worth following in our history to use it as a present-day model then Josiah Ober knows it but we have our ears full of wax because we could hear none of it. Forget the language stuff because what we speak today is not even Greek. It just looks and sounds like it is.

And unless we become Greeks then we will forever live as worthless Roman subjects or the lowest of the EU low. Enjoy your contrived 25th of March celebration which is really a good reason to break into uncontrollable tears and remorse for what we have become.


If there are additional exchanges between Dean and Lykinos, they will be added here.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Prof. Sinn Agrees With President Trump!

In an interview on German TV, Prof. Hans-Werner Sinn made the following comments:

* the EU blames Trump for starting a trade war. The truth is the opposite.
* import tariffs on American cars in the EU are 10%; in the US cars from the EU carry import tariffs of 2,5%.
* the EU applies protective tariffs to favor certain EU lobbies. The price for that is paid by EU consumers, by American consumers and by the Third World.
* the prices of EU agricultural products are roughly 20% over world market and over prices in the US.
* the cost of food stuffs is dramatically lower in the US than in the EU.
* in a normal duty-free exchange, EU consumers would benefit dramatically, particularly low-income groups.
* this is the responsibility of the EU which pursues protective trade policies. The Americans have now had enough of that. That is why Trump is saying: "If you don't stop doing that, we will put a tariff on your cars."

Well, well, well. I look forward to seeing the political backlash which Prof. Sinn will get from politicians after this interview.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Crazy Iwan

Those who have seen the movie "The Hunt for Red October" will remember that a "crazy Iwan" was the maneuver by which Russian submarine captains attempted to check whether they were followed by another submarine. The whole world now knows that there is an Iwan in Greece who is being followed by 4 bodyguards. The pictures of crazy Iwan storming the soccer field in Thessaloniki with a gun at his hip and surrounded by 4 big time bodyguards have made it even into regional newspapers in Germany and Austria and elsewhere!

I have written about Iwan Savvidis on several occasions. Examples are here, and here and here. There is one question nobody seems to answer: Why does a "vulture oligarch" whose wealth does not seem to be very extraordinary at all, why does this man need 4 big time bodyguards to protect him?

This man has done incredible damage to Greece's reputation, and I would suspect that he has also done quite significant damage to Greece's wealth: he acquired Greek assets through shady deals and 20 MEUR of his tax debt were forgiven.

Alexis Tsipras and SYIZA have obviously invited Savvidis into their bed some time ago. They obviously did not check him for contagious diseases before doing that. They have now been infected by Savvidis and it will be most interesting how they plan to cure that disease.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

"The More Tax Evasion, The Higher The Bill For Tax Payers!"

Thomas Wieser's claim to fame is that he headed the Eurogroup Working Group (EWG) from 2011 until January of this year. The EWG ist the staff unit which does the technical work for consideration/discussion in the Eurogroup of Finance Ministers. Neither of the two entities are provided for in EU treaties.

Wieser gave the Ekathimerini an interview which the Ekathimerini titled "Greece should have been granted debt relief in 2010". My guess is that Wieser was not very happy when he saw that title because it refers to only a minute part of the interview and it is taken out of context. Moreover, the interview includes some very powerful messages whose weight is diminished by a misleading title. Messages such as:

"One thing that strikes me is that the more a country and the people, institutions and media in a country ask themselves how did we get into this mess, the more successful they emerge out of the crisis. This for me is the big difference between Greece on the one hand and Ireland, where there has been very intensive analysis and debate on what we the Irish did wrong in order to get into this mess. This has been quite intensive in Spain and not quite so in Portugal, but it is largely missing in Greece" - this is a very diplomatic way of what more straightforward commentators have called the "lack of ownership". In the early years, one hoped that ownership would eventually take roots but that it would take some time. Perhaps, but it certainly has not taken roots so far.

"The more I have dealt with crises in member states, I have come to see that indebtedness is always the result of governance problems and Greece has the most challenges into its internal governance system" - that's a point which I have made ad nauseam in the early years of this blog (my phrase was always: "Debt is the derivative and the underlying is the economy. One cannot fix the underlying by playing around with the derivative."). Debt is ALWAYS a symptom. High debt may be a blessing when the borrower has a track record of making profitable investments. Or, high debt may finance operational deficits in which case it is a symptom of doom. From the beginning of this blog I have argued that debt was not the major issue of Greece. Among others because a sovereign debt problem can be solved by a few dozen people in a conference room who agree amongst themselves. The major issue of Greece was/is the underlying, the economy, and, regrettably, that cannot be solved by a few dozen people in a conference room.

"There was a huge number of inefficiencies from the Greek side but quite a number of inefficiencies from the creditors’ and the institutions’ side as well" - another evidence of Wieser's diplomatic strengths (I once proposed that the "inefficiencies from the creditors' and the institutions' side" would call for "A Nueremberg Trial for EU elites").

"Out of the 19 member states, with Greece, 18 were deeply upset and I would say there were two, maximum three, countries who were like, “let’s have another try, give them one more chance.” But I think virtually all other countries were like, “you cannot go on like this. This is the end.” The Germans had a paper on it, but in different forms and content, and with slightly different terminology I would say that 16-17 member states were joining on this approach. Don’t forget that" - this is a very disappointing revelation because it suggests that 16-17 member states were happy to hide behind Schäuble's determination, i. e. sharing that determination but not having the courage to say so publicly.

"Ηow well a program has functioned is also related to how much a country has engaged in soul-searching and asked itself how it got itself into that mess and not some nasty foreigners. If I may interject, the way the former head of the Greek statistical authority [Andreas Georgiou] has been treated points to a rather complete lack of understanding of what led Greece into the crisis" - no further comment necessary!

"I am not sure that this Greek government, and the next Greek government and the government after, in the next 20 years will be doing the right things. We can only hope for it" - Wieser radiates optimism for Greece here...

"The more tax evasion you have due to clientelist behavior or other reasons, the higher the tax bill is for those who do pay their taxes" - this is really the punchline of the interview! If only Greek politicians would hammer this thought into the minds of their voters!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Enforcing Austerity Does Not Suffice???

Theodore Pelagidis and Michael Mitsopoulos have written a book titled "Who is to blame for Greece?" and they published a short summary thereof in this article. Here is a key paragraph:

"So maybe simply enforcing austerity does not suffice. Maybe the way day-to-day economic and social activity is organized, from licensing to policy debates, from the rule of law and court decisions to the protection of the freedom of the press, are more important after all. They determine the extent to which people take initiatives, create economic activity, and thus generate taxable income."

A simple (and rather convincing!) narrative had developed early on in the crisis: reckless overspending had kicked Greece's cost/price competitiveness out of the water and the way to repair that was to re-establish cost/price competitiveness. In the absence of the devaluation tool, it had to be internal devaluation. In short: austerity.

That might have worked if lack of cost/price competitiveness had been the only (or even the major) problem of Greece; if institutional strengths, regulatory efficiency, judicial efficacy etc. had otherwise functioned well.

I have always argued that the Troika should not be misinterpreted as an institution out to help Greece. Instead, the Troika was/is a creditors' committee watching the interests of creditors and to expect more from them is an illusion.

However, there WAS a vehicle whose task it would have been to help Greece in the process of reforming the country. That was the EU Task Force for Greece which in its mission statement listed the following noble objective:

"The Task Force is a resource at the disposal of the Greek authorities as they seek to build a modern and prosperous Greece: a Greece characterized by economic opportunity and social equity, and served by an efficient administration with a strong public service ethos."

Even Alexis Tsipras (and SYRIZA) in his early days spoke romantically of the New Greece he and his party were going to work towards: "Meritocracy, transpareancy and equal opportunity will be the trademarks of the New Greece", Tsipras promised in February 2015. And, he added, "We are building an effective public administration with respect to the citizens and the taxes they pay.

It pains to remember all those noble objectives when looking at the actual result. At least so far, the actual result was pain, only without the New Greece that would have justified the pain. Or as the Dutch Ambassador to Greece recently phrased it:

"We need meritocratic decision-making in Greece, be it by left- or right-wing governments, and both in the public and private sectors. More than debt relief, Greece needs meritocracy. This is not something that we can translate into a specific prior action. This is not something that you can order from the Eurogroup. This is something about a political and governance culture of responsibility and a mentality that needs to continue to be developed. Many Greeks have suffered during the economic crisis. The price they paid should not be for nothing."