A Vile-Concluded Peace

Almost the first thing I did after the result of the last General Election became clear was to join a pressure group campaigning for the UK to stay in Europe. Perhaps naively, I always thought of the European Union as a force for peace, a necessary forum for countries to meet together and seek common solutions to their problems. I want to be part of a nation that looks outward, that is looking towards a future as part of the world community rather than a past as a fading imperial power.

But a horrible realisation has been dawning on my over the last two weeks or so. I could be wrong. It feels as if I’ve fallen in love, met the in-laws, adored them and made them my adoptive family, and then I go to their place for Christmas and lunch degenerates into vicious name-calling and cruelty.

Much of what the Eurozone is proposing to do to Greece – and I do mean to, not for, because that is what it is, is eminently sensible in theory. The Greeks have been plagued by clientalism, corruption and chronically ineffective and divided governments for decades. But you don’t discipline a child by standing it in the corner and getting all the other kids to call names and kick it around a bit. I find it completely mind-boggling, and more than a little terrifying, that Merkel can’t or won’t stop to think about how she must come over to a proud nation that suffered under Nazi occuption within living memory.

A few days ago I wrote about the ideals that define various European powers. Like all ideals, they have a darker side and need tempering with contrasting ones. Efficiency must be balanced by humanity and humility. Idealism must be earthed in reality. Not only has the Eurozone done the barest minimum to prevent Grexit, and then at the eleventh hour when the risks involved were seen in their full horror. There have been elements of this rescue package that go beyond robotic efficiency into cruelty inflicted with sadistic pleasure upon a nation that has dared to question the prevailing ideology of neoliberal capitalism. What will be done arguably had to be done. But it didn’t have to be done in this particular way. I’m reminded of my husband’s remarks a while back on the Conservative Government’s shrinkage of the Welfare State, “Labour would have had to cut it too, but they wouldn’t have done so with such glee.”

I can easily imagine how difficult Alexis Tsipouras could be to negotiate with. But what happened last night – and we probably haven’t heard the half of it – was nothing less than the wilfully inflicted psychological torture of the democratically elected leader of a sovereign nation. You don’t need to have fond memories of Cretan holidays to wonder if you really want to be part of a family where that kind of behaviour goes on.

Mad world! mad kings! mad composition!
John, to stop Arthur’s title in the whole,
Hath willingly departed with a part,
And France, whose armour conscience buckled on,
Whom zeal and charity brought to the field
As God’s own soldier, rounded in the ear
With that same purpose-changer, that sly devil,
That broker, that still breaks the pate of faith,
That daily break-vow, he that wins of all,
Of kings, of beggars, old men, young men, maids,
Who, having no external thing to lose
But the word ‘maid,’ cheats the poor maid of that,
That smooth-faced gentleman, tickling Commodity,
Commodity, the bias of the world,
The world, who of itself is peised well,
Made to run even upon even ground,
Till this advantage, this vile-drawing bias,
This sway of motion, this Commodity,
Makes it take head from all indifferency,
From all direction, purpose, course, intent:
And this same bias, this Commodity,
This bawd, this broker, this all-changing word,
Clapp’d on the outward eye of fickle France,
Hath drawn him from his own determined aid,
From a resolved and honourable war,
To a most base and vile-concluded peace.

Shakespeare, King John, Act 2, sc 1 ll 561-586


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