Putin and Death – Tribune Book Review

Corruption and death in Putin’s empire
Written By: Denis MacShane
Published: February 20, 2015 Last modified: February 18, 2015
Five thousand Ukrainians and invading Russian soldiers have died since President Putin reacted angrily to the fall of his puppet in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, who was overthrown by his own people in February 2014.

Stalin said: “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of thousands is a statistic.” Vladmir Putin is as immune to the sentimentality of one man’s death as he is to the thousands who have been killed in his war in Chechnya and now his aggression in Ukraine.

These two books in their different ways tell us about modern Russia.

Bill Browder’s grandfather, Earl Browder, was leader of the Communist Party in America in the 1930s and during the war. He fell foul of Stalin in 1945 and was sidelined and then fell foul of McCarthyism. The grandson, Bill, switched from communism to capitalism and made a fortune in Russia until President Putin decided he wanted total obeisance from Browder, by now a British citizen. He moved his operation to London and then found that Putin’s tax police had stolen $230 million of tax Browder had paid.

Browder’s Russian tax lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, investigated and found out who had stolen the money. He was arrested and so badly treated in prison he died in agony after his final beating. Browder converted himself into a human rights champion and persuaded the United States Congress to adopt the Justice for Magnitsky Act, banning those linked with Magnitsky’s torture and death from entering the US or holding assets there. The House of Commons passed a similar resolution but David Cameron has refused to implement it as the Govern­ment and the Tory Party are so depend­ent on Russian oligarch money coming into London. Browder’s gripping page-turning narrative of his experience of Putinism and his search for justice for his friend Sergei Magnitsky is better than any thriller and takes us into the dark heart of the Putin system.

Kent University Professor Richard Sakwa is what the Germans call a Putinversteher – an understander of Putin. He provides the Russian side of the Ukraine story.

He describes the young people who stayed in Kiev’s Maidan Square to defy Putin’s puppet, the corrupt Ukraine president, Viktor Yanukovych, as “deeply undemocratic”. This slur might play well on Russia Today but is pretty insulting to men and women who aspire to the freedom and rule of law we take for granted.

Professor Sakwa cites the fanatically anti-European, right-wing Sunday Telegraph columnist, Christoper Booker, as an authoritative source. His book presents the Ukraine conflict largely from a Russian point of view though the facts are properly sourced and his arguments fairly presented. Sakwa and Browder tell two different stories of Putinism. It’s up to readers to judge who is closer to the truth.

Where’s Dave?

The Globalist 17 Feb 2015

 

Where is David Cameron?

Exploring Britain’s disappearance as a geopolitical player.

By Denis MacShane, February 17, 2015

 

“Where is David Cameron?” asks Germany’s influential Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). The German paper is leading a chorus of cruel comments about how the British prime minister “shines by his absence on the international stage.” That’s how the Figaro, the center-right paper in France, ungallantly headlined a report on Britain’s disappearance as a geopolitical player.

“‘The British prime minister is rarely absent when cameras are around. That’s why it is all the more striking that European foreign policy is taking shape without him. In the diplomatic struggle with Moscow, Berlin and Paris lead for Europe, while Washington listens carefully from across the Atlantic.”

But the government in London which was once the mentor for East Europe, can “hardly be seen or heard,”continued the FAZ correspondent in London.

Left on the sidelines

In Le Monde, the paper’s editorial director, Sylvie Kauffmann, says the reason for David Cameron’s absence from high-level European diplomacy is that, “Great Britain has been left on the sidelines because of its threat of Brexit – Britain exiting the European Union.

Mrs. Merkel is managing the Russia-Ukraine conflict principally as a European issue. In that context, to have to rely on Mr Cameron would weaken her. In fact, British diplomacy shines by its absence in the Ukraine dossier.”

The British prime minister has claimed — or at least his aides have spun it that way — that he has a special relationship with Mrs. Merkel.

Le Monde’s editorial director thinks differently. She argues that Mrs. Merkel has switched to François Hollande, a line that is confirmed by senior French diplomats in private conversations.

Ms. Kauffmann, who knows Berlin well, says that this reborn Franco-German axis “is serious. The attacks in Paris, Mrs. Merkel’s ungrudging solidarity and the way Hollande handled the event has brought the two leaders together.”

In the French cabinet meeting last week, the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, was openly critical of Britain’s non-diplomacy in Europe.

His intervention sparked criticisms of other ministers including the Finance Minister, Michel Sapin, who complained about the habit of the UK Chancellor George Osborne’s non-stop criticism of the Eurozone and its handling of the Greek crisis.

An awakening in Europe

These attacks on David Cameron’s lack of policy on Europe from across Europe is without precedent. They represent the gradual awakening across the Channel that Mr. Cameron’s proposed In-Out EU referendum – an irrevocable pledge if he retains power – is likely to lead to Brexit, Britain quitting the EU.

Why invest much time in a relationship if in a couple of years Britain will no longer be in the EU?

In Britain, two recently retired generals have taken the unusual step of publicly criticizing the prime minister. On BBC News, General Sir Richard Shirreff deplored David Cameron’s absence from team Europe’s efforts to try and stop Ukraine sliding into unstoppable conflict.

“The UK is a major NATO member, it is a major EU member, it is a member of the UN Security Council, and it is unfortunate that the weight that the British prime minister could bring to efforts to resolve this crisis appear to be absent.” General Shirreff called his prime minister a “bit player” and a “foreign policy irrelevance.”

Those are strong words, especially considering that, until 2014, Sir Richard was the UK’s highest-ranking NATO commander. He was echoing the criticism from General Jonathan Shaw who commanded Britain’s Special Forces (SAS).

In his new book Britain in a Perilous World (Haus Books), he describes David Cameron as a prime minister seemingly “more interested in the instant gratification of action rather than the tedious discipline of deep, coherent thought.” Ouch.

Criticism from within

Unlike in the United States — where outspoken generals once out of the military are commonplace — British senior army officers usually maintain a stiff-upper-lip silence about their political masters.

That these two admired military commanders have separately made the same kind of criticism of the prime minister as newspaper editors on the European continent shows just how low Britain’s diplomatic status has sunk even in the eyes of senior Brits at the heart of the British state machinery.

“‘The British Giant shrinks to Little England” is how Germany’s Die Welt sees Cameron’s new isolationism. The paper’s veteran London correspondent, Thomas Kielinger, is an Anglophile who taught at British universities and is author of a well-received Churchill biography which is selling well in Germany.

But he asks “What will happen with the referendum on the EU, Cameron promised in 2017? Uncertainty, thy name is the United Kingdom.”

Dwindling power

This is also true of the British in security policy. The size of the British army is reduced by current plans to 82,000 men – which can comfortably accommodate in Wembley Stadium.

“A single British aircraft carrier currently holds vigil on the seas – there is no more question of ‘Britannia rules the waves.’ In the 1991 the Gulf War, the Royal Air Force had 31 squadrons. Now there are only eight. This explains why the British contribution to the air war against the Islamic State amount to just 6% of all sorties flown,” Kielinger writes.

The paper concludes that Cameron – and by implication his country – does not matter anymore on the European stage.

True or not, the judgment is the harshest passed on a British prime minister in decades from so many who are friends of Britain and do not want to see the country slowly vanish as an international player.

 

Article in Independent 14 February 2015

Are the Generals falling out of love with their Prime Minister? General Sir Richard Shirreff has publicly criticised David Cameron’s absence from team Europe’s efforts to try and stop Ukraine sliding into unstoppable conflict. As he told the BBC: “The UK is a major Nato member, it is a major EU member, it is a member of the UN security council, and it is unfortunate that the weight that the British prime minister could bring to efforts to resolve this crisis appear to be absent.”
Until 2014 Sir Richard was the UK’s highest ranking Nato commander. He was echoing the criticism from General Jonathan Shaw who commanded Britain’s special forces (SAS). In his new book Britain in a Perilous World (Haus Books) he describes David Cameron as “a PM seemingly more interested in the instant gratification of action rather than the tedious discipline of deep, coherent thought”.
This is remarkable language from an Oxford-educated senior army officer and one who is the son of a former Conservative MP – so not to be suspected of left-liberal deviationism.
But the impression of Britain opting out of joined-up foreign policy just as Chancellor Angela Merkel and President François Hollande get serious about what happens beyond their frontiers is gaining ground abroad.
At a recent French cabinet meeting French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius complained openly to his fellow ministers that Britain was consistently unhelpful in developing a European response to global challenges that Paris, Berlin and other EU capitals now cooperate on. This was underlined by Chancellor Merkel’s visit to President Obama as part of her shuttle diplomacy between Kiev, Moscow, Washington, Minsk and Brussels in recent days.
The French paper Figaro published an article “David Cameron Shines by His Absence on the International Diplomatic Stage” on the prime minister’s absence from the common efforts to present a united front to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times was cruelly dismissive about the irrelevance of Chancellor George Osborne in the current work in Europe to solve the Greece crisis with the scathing “Britain’s bystander role is at its most absurd when delusions of importance persuade domestic policy makers to tell the Eurozone how to run its affairs.”
Yet what is odd is why it has taken so long for Generals, French ministers and the serious press to wake up to the marginalisation of foreign and security policy under the coalition government in Britain.
The briefest glance at Cameron and his successive foreign and defence ministers would throw up the following examples of failure:
• More than 450 men have died pointlessly in Afghanistan on Cameron’s watch because he had no strategy to wind up an unwinnable conflict and no courage – in contrast to leaders of Canada and Nato allies in Europe – to stop having young men used as Taliban target practice.
• The utter failure of Libya when Cameron sought to walk tall with the equally un-strategic Nicolas Sarkozy has turned Libya into Jihad Central – both an armoury and training ground for Islamist violence. Moreover it is the funnel through which African migrants pour by their thousands into Italy, Malta or other Mediterranean states before heading north to England.
• The contemptuous treatment of our European partners and allies has lost friends and influence. The obsession with out-Ukipping UKIP with attacks on the EU as well as unsavoury alliances with nationalists in the European Parliament, including anti-Jewish politicians from Poland and Latvia, has damaged Britain’s status in Europe.
• The decision to scrap aircraft carriers has left Britain without serious naval projection capability this decade for the first time in 300 years. There are now more prisoners in British prisons than soldiers in the British army.
• William Hague’s mercantalist policy imposed on the Foreign Office has seen Britain’s balance of trade deficit increase to record levels. Every country Hague visited as Foreign Secretary saw a rise in trade deficits.
• The scrapping of the FCO’s human rights report first published by Labour’s Robin Cook has lost Britain’s voice as a leader in this field. Cameron has still never pronounced a word on the fate of Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate, while Nick Clegg admitted he had not heard of the flogging of the Saudi journalist Raif Badawi.
• Cameron’s dismissal of the unanimous resolution of the House of Commons calling for sanctions on the Putin officials responsible for the death in atrocious conditions of Sergei Magnitsky, a tax lawyer employed by a British firm contrasts with President Obama signing the US Congress ‘Justice for Magnitsky Act’ into law. It is worth reading the new book Red List. How I Became Putin’s No 1 Enemy (Bantam Book) by Bill Browder, the British investment fund boss turned human rights campaigner, to see how much Russian oligarch money influences Cameron’s idea of Britain.
Unlike the blunt Generals Shirreff and Shaw, Britain’s diplomats are too polite to rock the boat but they are deeply unhappy at the marginalisation of diplomacy, frightened about a Brexit referendum, and dismayed at the absence of any clear vision of what Britain’s role in the world should be.
In 1980, Britain spent 8 per cent of gross domestic product on defence and security and 7 per cent on health. Now we spend 12 per cent of GDP on health and 2 per cent on security without much evidence that we are a healthier or more secure nation.
Despite the UK’s excellent think-tanks on foreign policy from the venerable Chatham House to the newer European Council on Foreign Relations and Centre for European Reform fewer and fewer MPs of any party show an interest and very rarely attend foreign policy seminars and conferences.
Britain is becoming an introverted nation just wanting to pull the duvet over its collective head and hoping the rest of the world, especially Europe will simply go away.

Why No Critique of Cameron’s Foreign Policy

All talk, no thought, no action
Written By: Denis MacShane
Published: February 9, 2015 Last modified: February 4, 2015
One of the major unreported develop¬ments of the past five years is how little political interest there has been in for¬eign and defence policy. Parliament is now largely a foreign policy-free zone. Defence of the realm and national security are big political subjects but the Tories have had a free ride despite a sequence of blunders un¬equal¬led by any post-war administration.
General Jonathan Shaw com¬mand¬ed Britain’s special forces and was in charge of the unhappy British occu¬pation of Basra in Iraq. He argues in his new book Britain in a Perilous World (Haus Books), that the failure to think about policy “results in a serious lack of vision about the UK’s place in the world and what it ought to do about it. This makes our foreign policy es¬sentially to play the cards as they fall.”
General Shaw is scathing about how “Whitehall lives in a perpetual present” and describes David Cameron as “a PM seemingly more interested in the instant gratification of action rather than the tedious discipline of deep, coherent thought”.
This is remarkable language from a senior army officer and one who is the son of a former Conservative MP – so not to be sus¬pected of left-liberal deviationism.
The briefest glance at foreign and security policy under Cameron and his successive foreign and defence ministers would throw up the following examples of failure:
• More than 450 men have died pointlessly in Afghanistan on Cameron’s watch because he had no strategy to wind up an unwinnable conflict and no courage – in contrast to leaders of Canada and Nato allies in Europe – to stop having young men used as Taliban target practice.
• We live under the shadow of the disaster of the Libya intervention in 2011 when Cameron sought to walk tall with the equally un-strategic Nicolas Sarkozy. As Shaw rightly points out, Gaddafi may have been ghastly but no more ghastly than other Arab regimes who torture and sponsor terrorism. As a result of Cameron’s ill-considered action Libya is now Jihad Central – both an armoury and training ground for Islamist violence. Moreover it is the funnel through which African mi¬g-rants pour by their thousands into Italy, Malta or other Mediterranean states before heading north to England.
• The contemptuous treatment of our European partners and allies. The Cameron-Hague obsession with out-Ukipping UKIP with attacks on the EU as well as unsavoury alliances with nationalists in the European Parlia¬ment, including anti-Jewish politicians from Poland and Latvia, has damaged Britain’s status in Europe.
• The decision to scrap aircraft carriers has left Britain without serious naval projection capability for the first time in 300 years.
• William Hague’s mercantalist policy imposed on the Foreign Office to turn it into an export promotion machine, has seen Britis balance of trade deficit increase to record levels. Every country Hague visited as Foreign Secretary saw a rise in trade deficits.
• The scrapping of the FCO’s human rights report first published by Labour’s Robin Cook has lost Britain a voice as a leader in this field. Cameron has still never pronounced a word on the fate of Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate, while Nick Clegg admitted he had not heard of the flogging of the Saudi journalist Raif Badawi. This absence of concern about human rights by Britain’s national leaders is shaming.
l Cameron rushed to Paris to march for freedom of expression and against Wahabi Islamist terrorism. A fortnight later he fawned at the feet of Wahabi floggers of journalists in Saudi Arabia.
Unlike the blunt General Shaw, Britain’s diplomats are too polite to rock the boat but they are deeply unhappy at the marginalisation of diplomacy and the absence of any clear vision of what Britain’s role in the world should be.
The foreign and defence policy think-tanks pullulate with seminars and conferences and publish properly footnoted reports but there is no commanding voice or vision to be found in the press or in longer essays and books on what Britain foreign policy should or could be. Single issue groups like the development or environment lobby plead their case but are not willing to work out how to integrate their ambition with different delivery mechanisms.
In 1980, Britain spent 8 per cent of gross domestic product on defence and security and 7 per cent on health. Now we spend 12 per cent of GDP on health and 2 per cent on security without much evidence that we are a healthier or more secure nation.
We now have more prisoners than soldiers as judges send more and more people to prison while our generals must make do with ever fewer recruits. But why do we have 200 generals when the US, with an army five times bigger, needs only 300. Why does the taxpayer subsidise these red-tabs?
This is the moment when an oppo¬sition party with ambitions to govern should be exposing recent failures of foreign and security policy, but the days when MPs of any party thought beyond the immediate headline horizon on these issues are long gone.
British foreign and security policy is about talking, not thinking, still less doing.

Denis MacShane was PPS and Minister in the FCO 1997-2005, then UK dele¬gate on the Council of Europe for five years. His book, Brexit: Why Britain Will Leave Europe, is published by IB Tauris

2 Powerful Novels

Tribune 6 February 2015

A Tolstoyan novel of Englishness and a tale of the death of Trotsky
Written By: Denis MacShane
Published: February 6, 2015 Last modified: February 4, 2015
Ella Morris is little short of a masterpiece by an English novelist, John David Morley, who has been based in Munich for four decades and, as a result, is not linked to the narrow, self-referring London world of writers and critics. This Tolstoyan work takes us into the heart of what means to be both English and European in the 20th century.
Ella Morris, daughter of a German woman and a Pole, arrives in London as a refugee from war-destroyed Germany in 1945. There she marries an FCO official involved in le Carré-style activities against communist East Europe. She falls in love with a younger Frenchman and sets up a ménage à trois. After years in Hampstead and Richmond they end up in Tenerife.
Following the death of the first husband, Ella and her French lover decide to commit suicide rather than descend further into an old age of decrepitude, pain and immobility.
The characters are richly portrayed as they move through European history from Red Army rape in Silesia to Serb army rape in Kosovo. Morley leads us through a sequence of gripping life stories of richly observed characters holding our attention with detail and lots of praise of older-woman sex. He even makes lunch in the Athenaeum interesting.
In the 1980s, earnest Labour students travelled from NUS conference to conference with an ice pick attached to the radiator grill of their cars or coaches. This was meant to show their determination in seeing off the Trotskyism that did so much damage to 80s Labour.
The Catalan communist, Ramon Mercader, who was groomed by Soviet agents and plunged his ice-pick into Trotsky’s head in a suburb of Mexico City in 1940 is an unlikely hero for New Labourites, but now Labour has been safely purged of deviation is it any closer to power?
Leonardo Paduro is Cuba’s greatest writer – what does he think of Obama burying not the ice pick but something more lethal for communism, the hatchet? The Man Who Loved Dogs is a mag¬nificent political novel, a wonderful read. Bitter Lemon, a small publisher focusing on translations, are to be congratulated on spotting a truly great book.
There is mistranslation on page 445: Canciller in Spanish means Foreign Minister, not Chancellor. But I defy anyone interested in 20th century po¬l¬itics, in Stalin, in the Spanish Civil War, in why men and women do politics and writing not to be mesmerised by this com¬pelling novel about the human condition and about history changing politics.
Both Paduro and Morley show the big novel is alive and well. The hours with either is worth more than most movies, plays and what is on offer in the papers.

Eureporter 3 February 2015

One of puzzles in UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s approach to renegotiating Britain’s relationship with Europe is what exactly does he want? What are his core demands?

He has never set out in precise terms what are his minimum demands. His broad brush approach makes sense from a tactical point of view. He can offer his proposed referendum to appeal to Eurosceptic UK voters who want to quit the EU. In contrast to the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, who argues that a Brexit referendum would absorb all of the government’s political energy, be divisive at a time when economic reform and social justice are more pressing, and could easily result in the disaster of Britain quitting Europe, Cameron insists that his referendum must and will be held if he stays in Downing Street after the May general election.

Two of his Conservative Party’s senior politicians, the possible future leader, London Mayor Boris Johnson and a rising younger star, the cabinet minister, Sajid Javid said at the weekend they thought Brexit would not damage Britain.

In a poll published on Monday (3 February), 58% of Conservative Party members said they would vote to quit the EU and only 33% said they would vote to stay in.  So the pressure for an ‘Out’ vote is growing in Conservative ranks.

Cameron has so far rejected a simple Out demand. Instead, he calls for a reformed EU in which a Conservative led Britain would be at ease. So what does he want?

There is an important clue in a manifesto just published of minimum concessions the other 27 EU member states have to make to secure support for a ‘Yes’ vote in the Brexit referendum. It is drawn up by Business for Britain, a well-supported business grouping of over 1,000 openly Eurosceptic businesses. It is backed by wealthy business leaders who do not like Europe. Its chief executive is Matthew Elliot, one of the most effective and energetic lobbyists in London. He previously led the Taxpayers’ Alliance whose attacks on public spending got great publicity towards the end of the last Labour government.

Now he has switched to the anti-European cause and his Business for Britain gets more publicity than the long established outfits like the Confederation of British Industry or the British Chambers of Commerce.

He has set out 10 concessions Cameron has to obtain in order to call for a ‘Yes’ vote.

1.            An end to ‘ever closer union’

2.           Cut EU red tape for SMEs and start-ups

3.           Return control over social & employment laws

4.           Protect the City and financial services

5.          Protect the UK from Eurozone meddling

6.          Fast track international trade deals

7.          Cut the EU budget to save taxpayers’ money

8.          Apply UK transparency laws to the EU

9.          Give member states control over migration

10.        Restore Britain’s right to veto EU laws

Many if not all the demands demand a major re-writing of existing EU Treaties. The language on ‘on ever closer union of people’ (not it might be emphasised states or nations) has been in all treaties since 1957. It was removed in the constitutional treaty but resurfaced after that was shot down in the French and Dutch referendums in 2005.

Protecting the City is a permanent demand but at the same time Lord Hill, the EU Commissioner, is working on plans for a Capital Markets Union which will require more not fewer powers for Brussels to interfere in and regulate the banking and financial services sectors of 28 EU member states.

The EU budget is fixed at 1 per cent of EU gross income with about 85 per cent being returned to member states for national spending on agricultural subsidies and regional infrastructure projects.

Fast track international trade deals means denying national parliaments the right to vote on them yet the Business for Britain manifesto says Britain –and presumably all other EU member states – can veto any EU law they don’t like.

All business leaders including the CBI want an end to social legislation yet Juncker insisted Social Europe would be at the heart of his Commission when he took up office in November 2014.

Business for Britain’s demands are an extension of the minimum concessions that the former Prime Minister, Sir John Major, called for in a speech at the Royal Institute for International Affairs in 2013 shortly after Prime Minister Cameron’s In-0ut Brexit referendum announcement.

Sir John listed the minimum requirement for the UK to stay in the EU as

  • Safeguards for the City
  • Less regulation
  • Less bureaucracy
  • No more social legislation
  • A full repeal of the Working Time directive
  • Changes in key EU policies like the Common Agricultural and Fisheries policies

Since then the EU debate in Britain has been fused with the toxic issue of immigration hence the new demand that free movement of people has to end to allow Britain to determine who enters the UK.

Juncker and other leaders have said No to ending free movement and relations between the EU and Switzerland are now very tense, if not closer to breaking point on that core question.

So the Business for Britain manifesto has been set out to demand concessions that cannot possibly be met without a massive new Treaty and certainly not within the short maximum two year timetable to meet Cameron’s promise of a referendum by 2017.

Unlike the Greek negotiations which in essence require complex financial recalibrations now being helped by Lazards who have been sensibly hired by Athens to interface with Brussels experts but which do not demand a new treaty or the abolition of fundamental EU directives or values, the British demands are qualitatively and quantatively in a different league.

Moreover it is not clear that the Commission has the legal power to negotiate with a country making unilateral demands that involve treaty change.

So if the demands set out by Business for Britain do reflect Cameron’s minimum negotiating position the chances of him securing the deal he needs to argue for a Yes vote are slim indeed

New Greek Government

Globalist 2 February 2015

Greece Versus Europe: Week One
Strategic reflections on the first week of Europe’s biggest drama.
By Denis MacShane, February 2, 2015

A week is a long time in politics. After Syriza’s furious start,Europe is reeling from just seven days of the first government elected since the Euro was born that sounds and feels utterly different from any other EU government in the 21st century.
“Give the new government a chance” — that was the appeal of the former King of Greece, Constantine. He told the London Times that he had met Alexis Tsipras and found him an agreeable young man.
The former king, who left Greece in a hurry after his counter-coup against the military dictatorship installed by Greek colonels in 1967 failed, also warned Germany against being overly harsh.
Like most of Europe’s left-over royals, Constantine has some German blood in his family line. That notwithstanding, in Berlin his appeal fell on deaf ears. German ministers and now also the Chancellor, Angela Merkel, insist on using the word “blackmail” to describe the pleas from the Greek government for debt relief.
In Athens, meanwhile, they specialize in reciting every detail of the 1953 conference which wiped out German pre-war debt and was the real spring-board for its famous Wirtschaftswunder, the economic miracle. It helpfully replaced Junker militarism with economic performance as the driving force for German identity ever since.
The cancellation of Germany’s debt, of course, was extended to a government that was the key factor in the battle for continental Europe’s liberty at the time – and a government that, in the person of Ludwig Erhard, fully embraced deep structural reforms without question and on its own volition.
No doubt, the crude anti-German remarks of Syriza politicians, some now ministers, as exemplified by Yanis Varoufakis, set Berlin’s teeth on edge. But this story is not just about Germany and Greece – far from it.
Europe’s democratic forces do battle with each other
If Greece insists that all it wants is legitimized by the election win based on the 36% of the vote Syriza obtained (its total number of seats in the parliament is helped by the 50-seat bonus the bizarre Greek electoral system gives the party with the most votes), then other countries are politely saying that they, too, face elections.
And the message from their electorates is unequivocal: They aren’t up for handing more and more money to Athens. For example, Finland faces elections in a few weeks’ time and any Finnish politician who tells voters they have to provide more Euros for Athens is guaranteed to lose.
This week, Greece’s new Prime Minister Tspiras is going to Cyprus, Rome and Paris, where he will get a friendly hearing.
But what else will he get? Take Italy. It is a major Greek creditor. How does Italy’s center-left Prime Minister Matteo Renzi possibly explain to his working class voters, themselves complaining about austerity, that they have to tighten their belts still further by foregoing the money Italy is owed by Greece?
Syriza – mimicking Pasok and Nea Democratia?
In its electoral campaign, Syriza valiantly fought against clientelism – which is massive in Greece. However, no sooner than it won the elections, it did what Greek elections winners always do.
It promptly rewarded its own client base. In that sense, Syriza is really acting no differently from either Pasok or Nea Democratia.
In Syriza’s case, its clientelism takes the form of massive hikes in the minimum wage, expensive rehiring of civil servants (who were not doing much productive work) and pandering to trade unions in Piraeus by booting out Chinese investors and putting the port area notorious for “On the Waterfront” rackets back under state and trade union control.
Meanwhile, Syriza may be losing the – justified — focus on the real revolution needed in Greece. That requires, at long last, making sure that the country’s “haves” pay their fair share in taxes (instead of evading them, usually with the collusion of the authorities).
Syriza’s hiring of 5,000 civil servants could have been very well justified — if it had taken the form of hiring top tax inspectors and collectors from university graduates to ensure an equitable basis of society.
A more sober look at the cabinet
Any fascination with the new Greek government may wear off fast. Some of the new ministers Greece has named are not helping win friends and influence people.
For example, the new foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias, spent the 1980s justifying the Soviet ordained suppression of the Polish trade union, Solidarnosc by Poland’s General Jaruzelski.
The finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, was fired from an Australian radio station because his anti-Israeli rants were judged to have gone over the line into overt anti-Semitism.
Having campaigned on a far–left program, Tsipras promptly forged an alliance with a hard-right nationalist populist party called the Independent Greeks.
His top coalition partner, ANEL’s leader Panos Kammenos, said the problem with Greece was that “Jews did not pay taxes.” He placed family members on his parliamentary payroll and went on a trip to Crimea with his family as the guest of a Putin crony who is on the EU sanctions list.
The first act of Kammenos as Defense Minister was to fly in a helicopter over an uninhabited island, Imia, close to the Turkish coast and claimed by Turkey.
In 1996, Greece and Turkey nearly went to war over that island until, in a 180-degree foreign policy turn at the beginning of the century, the then-Greek foreign minister, Georges Papandreou, forged a rapprochement with Turkey.
To stage such a provocation in Week One of the Syriza government augurs badly for a cooperative approach to neighbors.
What next?
All these are peripheral to the main question of whether Greece can stay in the Eurozone, indeed in the EU, on its conditions without meeting the EU half-way.
Between the Greek rock of demands for debt cancellation and the EU’s hard place of “Sorry, we will delay payment, but total write-offs cannot happen,” there appears little room for maneuver.
Athens has appointed the ultra-smooth Lazard bank to advise on its debt problems. Turning to one of Wall Street’s aristocracy of bankers to dig itself out of a hole may not have been what Syriza leftist radicals imagined in their campaign against global capitalism, but it shows common sense that may yet keep Greece using the Euro and staying in the EU.
Week One of the new Greek drama was just a prologue. More acts will follow.