And The Weak Suffer What They Must? Europe’s Crisis and America’s Economic Future. by Yanis Varoufakis (April 2016)
“The strong do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must”–Thucydides
This book, just out, is a must read for anybody in any way interested in the history, the cultural identity, the present crisis, and the future destiny of the European Union. It is almost prophetic, a sort of Cassandra warning, predicting, but always rigorously logically and rationally, how the ongoing drama of the EU, of which he was a participant for a short while, will eventually end, and not only for Greece or the EU, but the whole economic global apparatus as presently constituted, unless urgent reforms and measures are adopted to remedy a deficit of Democracy and a lack of transparency.
The author is well known. For five short months he was the flamboyant Finance Minister of Greece as the country attempted to negotiate its economic crisis. Contrary to general perceptions, he is not a Communist, nor a wild-eyed zealot radical, not even a Marxist. He is merely a rational economist, a European social democrat. The Anglo Saxon world would dub him a post-Keynesian.
Before discussing the most interesting features of this extraordinary book, perhaps a short note on its title is in order. Its inspiration seems to have come from Thucydides’ famous statement as quoted above on the relation of power to truth and justice. The very nature of war, as far as Thucydides is concerned, is dictated by the nature of power and how it determines who has the ultimate word. That is to say, might is right; the strong or the winner dictate the conditions of surrender, even the narration of events, and the weak accept what the strong impose. That’s the way things have been, are now and will forever be. Necessity dictates it. Notice however that Varoufakis has placed a question mark after the statement “And the weak accept what they must.” Without that question mark the title would have been a mere quote from the ancient Greek historian. With it, it becomes a powerful challenge to the misguided premise that the weak have no choice but to suffer in silence the abuses and the injustices of the powerful. In fact without that little question mark one may tend to misinterpret the whole spirit of the book.
With that well in mind, let’s proceed to examine the narration and analysis exhibited in this book. It reads almost as a narration with the eyes and ears of a novelist but at the same time it exhibits the competency of an experienced economist, who actually teaches the subject internationally. There are no fanciful or even slanderous inventions here; the facts are narrated objectively in the search for the truth, in the best tradition of ancient Greek philosophy. He manages this tone because he himself has been intimately involved in the events that led to what he calls the “defeat of the Greek people by the EU bankers.”
The general framework and assumption of the book is that the crisis in Europe is not over – if anything, it’s getting worse and we are doing precious little to fix it, except advocate more austerity coupled with less democracy and transparency. In this dramatic narrative which begins with Europe’s spectacular economic rise and ends with Greece’s spectacular fall which Varoufakis calls “the canary in the mine” being utilized by the EU bureaucrats, it is brilliantly demonstrated that the origins of the recent collapse go far deeper than our present leaders are prepared to admit; in fact they are complicit in the crisis. In 2008, the universe of Western finance outgrew planet Earth. When Wall Street imploded, a death embrace between insolvent banks and bankrupt states consumed Europe. Half a dozen national economies imploded and several more came close.
But the storm, the author writes, is far from over. From the aftermath of the Second World War to the present, Varoufakis recounts how the Eurozone emerged not as route to shared prosperity but as a pyramid scheme of debt with countries such as Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain at its bottom. Its woeful design ensured that collapse would be inevitable and catastrophic.
But since the hurricane landed Europe’s leaders have chosen a cocktail of more debt and harsh austerity rather than reform, ensuring that the weakest citizens of the weakest nations pay the price for the bankers’ mistakes, while doing nothing to prevent the next collapse. Instead, the principle of the greatest austerity for those suffering the greatest recessions has led to a resurgence of racist extremism. Enter the likes of Trump and La Pen, as Varoufakis mentioned at a recent lecture in Washington State: Fascism always follows in the wings of economic corruption. And so, once more, Europe is a potent threat to global stability. Drawing on the personal experience of his own negotiations with the Eurozone’s financiers and offering concrete policies and alternatives, Varoufakis shows how we concocted this mess and how it may not be too late to save capitalism from itself.
Varoufakis points out that in a true democratic federalism political unity would be in tandem with monetary unity. Not only there is presently no economic and banking unity, never mind social solidarity, but there is no federalism and little democracy and transparency, which were the hallmark of the EU at its origins as envisioned by its founding fathers and sadly it is now in deficit. The EU institutions in Brussels so cherished by Germany’s interior minister and seen as the targets of terrorists and non-democratic regimes such as Putin’s, are not themselves models of democracy. Most of them in fact are not in Brussels but in Frankfurt, the banking capital of Germany and the de facto capital of the EU.
But the solutions to those deficits, which are fundamentally cultural and rational requiring a genuine knowledge of the European identity and its ideals, cannot be activated or even considered as policy because those making major economic decisions in Europe are not elected, often hold secret meetings, and automatically side with policies that favor Europe’s banking community.
The book has essentially one message: The Europe we have today is only a currency union, but what’s needed to address a crisis like the one that hit Greece and Portugal and Spain is a European Union that’s democratically accountable, the Europe as envisioned at the outset by the EU founding fathers whose visions went beyond the merely economic. Varoufakis masterfully describes the institutions of global capitalism, how they were formed, how they were gradually deformed, why they were deformed, the names and faces of those who played a role, why we have the European Union, arriving at the conclusion that the central problem in Europe at this moment in history is a democratic deficit underpinned by the banks totally running things and devaluing the true cultural values and the very identity of Europe.
For the ECB (The European Central Bank) it’s all about the money. So when Varoufakis, as finance minister, argued with the representatives of Greece’s creditors about how his country could not grow economically if all it’s doing is killing jobs to pay its debts, he discovered that the they, the ECB and Frankfurt, did not care a fig about all of that rational stuff. They just wanted their money. And the fact that he was making too many rational arguments cost him his job. The founding fathers of the EU must be turning in their graves.
In an interview with the American journalist and expert in foreign policy Farid Zakaria on Sunday’s CNN on the 9th of May, Veroufakis was asked if he thought that Europe was on the verge of falling apart. His answer was “no doubt about it unless urgent measures and democratic reforms are implemented.” Then he added that it is a great blunder to emphasize the break-up of the EU market and nationalism in the name of love of country (the “not in my backyard” phenomenon when it comes to the issue of refugees and solidarity) at the expense of the union as a whole, implying that in a true federalism people hang together or end up hanging separately, to use Franklyn’s metaphor in the revolution against the English. He also utilized the quip of another man who fought the English: Gandhi, who when asked if he saw anything good in the union of the British Empire replied that “it could have been a good idea.”
So Veroufakis, despite it all, remains optimistic about the EU and the global economy where we will all hang together or hang separately. Well he should, for the alternative may be to contemplate the abyss, and not just for his own people, the Greeks. But his Cassandra like warning has been sounded and sounded loudly. Let’s hope it has not been sounded to the wind. Let those who have ears, let them hear, for time is fast running out.
Time to Tackle the Stigma Behind Wartime Rape
The youngest capital city in Europe, Pristina, is the ultimate hybrid of old and new: Ottoman-era architecture stands amongst communist paraphernalia, while Kosovars who lived through the bloodshed of the 20th century share family dinners with a generation of young people with their sights set on EU accession.
This month, the capital’s Kosovo Museum welcomed a new force for change; Colours of Our Soul, an exhibition of artwork from women who survived the sexual violence of the Yugoslav Wars, showcases the world as these women “wished it to be.”
Colours of Our Soul isn’t the first art installation to shine a light on the brutal sexual violence thousands of Kosovar victims suffered throughout the turmoil of the conflict which raged from 1988 to 1999. In 2015, Kosovo-born conceptual artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa transformed a local football pitch into a giant installation, draping 5,000 dresses over washing lines to commemorate survivors of sexual violence whose voices otherwise tend to go unheard. “I started questioning the silence, how we could not hear their voices during and after the war and thought about how to portray the women in contemporary art,” said Xhafa-Mripa at the time.
Victims, and their children, pressed into silence
The silence Xhafa-Mripa speaks of is the very real social stigma faced by survivors of sexual violence in the wake of brutal conflict. “I would go to communities, but everyone would say, ‘Nobody was raped here – why are you talking about it?’”, remarked Feride Rushiti, founder of the Kosovo Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims (KRCT).
Today, KRCT has more than 400 clients— barely a scratch on the surface given that rape was used in Kosovo as an “instrument of war” as recently as two decades ago. Some 20,000 women and girls are thought to have been assaulted during the bloody conflict; the fact that the artists whose work is featured in the Colours of our Soul exhibition did not sign their work or openly attend the installation’s grand opening is a sign of how pervasive the stigma is which haunts Kosovar society to this day.
As acute as this stigma is for the women who were assaulted, it is far worse for the children born from rape, who have thus far been excluded from reparation measures and instead dismissed as “the enemy’s children.” In 2014, the Kosovar parliament passed a law recognising the victim status of survivors, entitling them to a pension of up to 220 euros per month. Their children, however, many of whom were murdered or abandoned in the face of community pressure, are barely acknowledged in Kosovar society and have become a generation of young adults who have inherited the bulk of their country’s dark burden.
A global problem
It’s a brutal stigma which affects children born of wartime rape all over the world. The Lai Dai Han, born to Vietnamese mothers raped by South Korean soldiers, have struggled for years to find acceptance in the face of a society that views them as dirty reminders of a war it would rather forget. The South Korean government has yet to heed any calls for formal recognition of sexual violence at the hands of Korean troops, let alone issue a public— and long-awaited— apology to the Lai Dai Han or their mothers.
In many cases, as in the case of Bangladesh’s struggle for independence, the very existence of children born from rape has often been used as a brutal weapon by government forces and militants alike. Official estimates indicate that a mammoth 200,000 to 400,000 women were raped by the Pakistani military and the supporting Bihari, Bengali Razakar and al-Badr militias in the early 1970s. The children fathered, at gunpoint, by Pakistani men were intended to help eliminate Bengali nationhood.
Their surviving mothers are now known as “Birangana”, or “brave female soldier,” though the accolade means little in the face of a lifetime of ostracization and alienation. “I was married when the soldiers took me to their tents to rape me for several days and would drop me back home. This happened several times,” one so-called Birangana explained, “So, my husband left me with my son and we just managed to exist.”
No end in sight
Unfortunately, this barbaric tactic of rape and forced impregnation is one that is still being used in genocides to this day. The subjugation of the Rohingya people, for example, which culminated in a murderous crackdown last year by Myanmar’s military, means an estimated 48,000 women will give birth in refugee camps this year alone. Barring a major societal shift, the children they bear will suffer ostracization similar to that seen in Kosovo, Vietnam and Bangladesh.
Initiatives like the Colours of Our Soul installation in Pristina are not only central in helping wartime rape survivors to heal, but also play a vital role in cutting through the destructive stigma for violated women and their children. Even so, if the number of women who submitted their paintings anonymously is anything to go by, true rehabilitation is a long way ahead.
EU–South Africa Summit: Strengthening the strategic partnership
At the 7th European Union–South Africa Summit held in Brussels Leaders agreed on a number of steps to reinforce bilateral and regional relations, focusing on the implementation of the EU-South Africa Strategic Partnership. This includes economic and trade cooperation and pursuing the improvement of business climate and opportunities for investment and job creation which are of mutual interest.
Leaders also discussed common global challenges, such as climate change, migration, human rights, committing to pursue close cooperation both at bilateral level and on the global stage. A number of foreign and security policy issues, including building and consolidating peace, security and democracy in the African continent and at multilateral level were also raised. Leaders finally committed to work towards a prompt resolution of trade impediments affecting smooth trade flows.
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, represented the European Union at the Summit. South Africa was represented by its President, Cyril Ramaphosa. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness Jyrki Katainen and Commissioner for trade Cecilia Malmström also participated, alongside several Ministers from South Africa.
President Juncker said: “The European Union, for the South African nation, is a very important trade partner. We are convinced that as a result of today’s meeting we will find a common understanding on the open trade issues. South Africa and Africa are very important partners for the European Union when it comes to climate change, when it comes to multilateralism. It is in the interest of the two parties – South Africa and the European Union – to invest more. It will be done.” A Joint Summit Statement issued by the Leaders outlines amongst others commitment to:
Advance multilateralism and rules based governance
Leaders recommitted to work together to support multilateralism, democracy and the rules-based global order, in particular at the United Nations and global trade fora. South Africa’s upcoming term as an elected member of the United Nations Security Council in 2019-2020 was recognised as an opportunity to enhance cooperation on peace and security. As part of their commitment to stronger global governance, Leaders stressed their support to the process of UN reform, including efforts on the comprehensive reform of the UN Security Council and the revitalisation of the work of the General Assembly. Leaders reiterated their determination to promote free, fair and inclusive trade and the rules-based multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organisation at its core and serving the interest of all its Members.
Leaders agreed to step up collaboration in key areas such as climate change, natural resources, science and technology, research and innovation, employment, education and training including digital skills, health, energy, macro-economic policies, human rights and peace and security. The EU and South Africa will, amongst others, explore the opportunities provided by the External Investment Plan. Linked to this, Leaders committed to exploring opportunities for investment, technical assistance including project preparation, and the improvement of business and investment climates to promote sustainable development. Leaders welcomed the conclusion and provisional implementation in 2016 of the EU-Southern African Development Community (SADC) – Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
Leaders also committed to find mutually acceptable solutions to impediments to trade in agriculture, agri-food and manufactured goods. They agreed to work towards a prompt resolution of these impediments.
Leaders welcomed the new Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs put forward by the European Commission. They exchanged views on foreign and security policy issues, addressed a number of pressing situations in the neighbourhoods of both the EU and South Africa, and welcomed each other’s contribution to fostering peace and security in their respective regions. Leaders agreed to explore opportunities to enhance cooperation on peace and security, conflict prevention and mediation.
Leaders confirmed common resolve to reform the future relationship between the EU and the countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States. To this end they are looking forward to the successful conclusion of negotiations for a post-Cotonou Partnership Agreement, that will contribute to attaining the goals of both the United Nations 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the long-term vision for African continent – Agenda 2063.
Macron so far has augmented French isolation
French President Emmanuel Macron has recently criticized the unilateral pullout of the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) but at the same time expressed pleasure that Washington has allowed France and the other JCPOA signatories to stay in the Iran nuclear deal.
In an exclusive interview with the CNN, Macron said that he has “a very direct relationship” with Trump. “Trump is a person who has tried to fulfill his electoral promises, as I also try to fulfill my promises, and I respect the action that Trump made in this regard. But I think we can follow things better, due to our personal relationship and talks. For instance, Trump has decided to withdraw from the Iran pact, but at the end, he showed respect for the signatories’ decision to remain in the JCPOA.”
There are some key points in Macron’s remarks:
First, in 2017, the French were the first of the European signatories to try to change the JCPOA. They tried to force Iran to accept the following conditions: Inspection of military sites, application of the overtime limitation on nuclear activities, limiting regional activities, including missile capabilities within the framework of the JCPOA.
Macron had already made commitments to President Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to push Iran to accept the additional protocols to the deal, and he pushed to make it happen before Trump left the JCPOA.
Second, after the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, although France expressed regret, they had secret negotiations with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the JCPOA.
The result of the undisclosed talks was deliberate delay on the part of the European authorities in providing a final package to keep the Iran deal alive. In other words, after the US unilaterally left the JCPOA, the French have been sloppy and maybe somewhat insincere about making the practical moves to ensure it would be saved.
Third, France has emphasized the need to strengthen their multilateralism in the international system and has become one of the pieces of the puzzle that completes the strategic posture of the Trump Administration in the West Asia region.
Obviously, French double standards have irritated European politicians, many of whom have disagreed with the contradictory games of French authorities towards the US and issues of multilateralism in the international community. Also, France’s isolation and its strategic leverage in the political arena has grown since the days of Sarkozy and Hollande. Some analysts thought that Macron and fresh policies would stop this trend, but it has not occurred.
First published in our partner MNA
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