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Conquered Europe
by Dr. Gerry Coulter
2010-04-30 08:14:22
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In 146 B.C. Rome brought Greece to its knees and within half a century Greek culture (especially its philosophy and science), had permanently changed Rome. Hence the quip: “Rome conquered Greece – but Greece conquered Rome”. What prospects do the Greeks have today of repeating this operation against European bankers and industrialists, obedient politicians, and the IMF, who now bark at the gates?

The world’s largest cloning operation (the European Union) is doing what it does best – snuffing out the remaining vestiges of unique European cultures. Greece, along with Italy, Portugal, and Ireland are soon going to be told to further conform to a standard set by the more powerful economic members of the union.

It is a pleasant irony that the Euro is at the heart of the current divide. It is, after all, not merely a currency but a symbol of the artificiality of European efforts to imagine a shared European culture beyond mere economic interests. The culture of the bankers and industrialists sponsoring the new Europe, and paying the bills of its leading political parties, have no time for culture outside of economics. The economy is the new European culture. The European union is a complex semiotic system and the Euro is its most cherished sign. Under it today Europeans share a rather wobbly solidarity and the citizens of its poorest member states face internal exile. Like the Euro itself this exile will be imposed from above. The Euro however, is a virtual object, the exile is real.

One thing we can thank Angela Merkel for is pulling off the mask that Europe has been wearing to hide its apologetic centralism (just as France under Sarkozy has pulled off the veil covering Europe’s soft racism). Now we see the cold faces of the bankers and this time Germany is not fooling around – Greece, as it has known itself in distinct cultural terms, must be destroyed and the IMF is being summoned to the task. Culturally, Greece does not stand a chance and despite its status as a member of the European community of nations, it has no allies to save it from the IMF. The price that Greece is being told to pay, for its European membership, is the toll to be exacted from all European nations – give up what makes you distinct. Before the powerful European economies, Greece (soon to be followed by Italy, Portugal, and Ireland), is being asked to exchange the cultural patterns and freedoms which make Greece unique, for a different idea of freedom a new solidarity. This new solidarity is that of Western bankers and industrialists (among who’s number we of course count some Greeks) who bring a forced solidarity in which cultural freedom is exchanged for the material signs of freedom.

Today’s Europe has redefined its goals. No longer do we hear talk of revolution, progress, or freedom, but of currencies, global markets, stock values, and outsourcing. With the evaporation of the old goals a deep melancholy has settled over Europe and its hyper-policed societies.

So what does the current Greek crisis tell us about the new Europe? We see it once again for what it is – a cheap simulation model projected into a scene of social desertification – an obligatory virtual reality – and Greece, it is time for you to give yourself up. Italy, Portugal, Ireland – take note. Ireland surrendered itself to the European idea in the 1990s is in a terrible mess today made even more terrible by the fact they have little else to give up.

Today’s Greece lacks the culture to conquer Europe as it once did Rome. It has no weapons against the new Europe to which it belongs as part of a process of economics by coercion in the first place. Although, it is worth noting that as goes Greece, so goes the rest of Europe. This is due to the precious irony that as all European countries try to make themselves into European nations, Europe as it has known itself, ceases to exist. To be entirely fair we must acknowledge that France and Germany (and other richer nations within the union) are today doing nothing to their poorer cousins they have not already done to themselves. Greece, Portugal and Ireland were simply the last hold-outs against the banks.

Standing in Munich, Paris, London, Madrid, and any other major European cities, I often forget which one I am in – all the cities are taking on a sameness. Certainly there is the historical architecture of these cities which remains unique – but look closely, behind those facades no one lives anymore – these buildings are mostly shells to amuse the tourists. They are as real as the images of architecture shown on Euro banknotes.

And so Europe, just as it sought to realize itself, is disappearing into the virtual networks of its banks. Greece has no cultural weapons as it once had because those weapons have no value to bankers and the IMF. Greece is just one more step along the path leading to the desertification of European cultures.

Perhaps a banker or someone at the IMF could answer a question: How much, in Euros, at the end of it all, was European culture worth? Or, to put it another way: Just what is the cost of sameness?


Dr. Gerry Coulter is a professor at Bishop’s University in Canada.

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Emanuel Paparella2010-04-30 19:08:38
This is an insightful if sad commentary on the EU’s current predicament redolent of that of Italy at the origin of its unified political life when its architects quipped that “now that we have made Italy, we need to make the Italians.” Pari passu, now that we have made the EU we need to make the Europeans. Some in France call them the Newropeans, a sort of new breed born without the original sin of history. But to forget one’s history and the very cultural ideals of one’s founding fathers is to be condemned to repeat such a history. Jefferson made a prediction that sounds like a prophecy: those who privilege economic prosperity above freedom, eventually end up losing both. Food for thought!

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