Saturday, March 29, 2014

A New Test of Courage

This has been quite a week. It started off with a terrific time at Left Coast Crime and is ending up with the joy of visiting my (almost) seven- and five-year-old Texan grandchildren.  Yes, I did not win the 2014 Calamari Award for Best Mystery in a Foreign Setting but, as I told the winner, the gracious and delightful Louise Penny, I took great solace in being the top male writer in that category. :-)  And then there’s that great plaque.

Louise Penny, Catriona McPherson, ?, Lisa

It’s also a big week for the Greeks.  March 25th was a two-for-one holiday in Greece: Annunciation and Greek Independence Day.  The former celebrates Mary learning from Archangel Gabriel that she was with child, and the later marks the day in 1821 when Greek Orthodox Bishop Germanos of Patras raised the Greek flag at the Monastery of Agia Lavra in Greece’s Peloponnese and inspired a more than eight-year struggle (1821-1829) to throw off nearly 400 years of Ottoman rule.  Though there are those who claim the Revolution actually began a week earlier in another part of the Peloponnese when the ruler of its Mani region, Petros Mavromichalis (his statue at top of post), raised his war flag in Mani’s capital city of Areopoli and marched his troops off against the Turks. 

Bishop Germanos

In towns and villages across Greece school children proudly paraded the country’s blue and white flag.  Aflutter, the flag is reminiscent of Greek seas but it holds a deeper meaning.  The white cross honors the contribution of the church to the country’s enduring battle for freedom and its nine blue and white bars honor the nine syllable rallying call shouted across the land during Greece’s struggle for Independence: Eleftheria i Thanatos—Freedom or Death.  (Though some say they represent the nine letters of ελευθερια in the Greek word for freedom, the idea is the same.).

And this week there’s a new test of courage coming to the Greeks.  At least to its elected Members of Parliament.

Greece’s image in the eyes of world finance has been improving.  A week ago Standard & Poor’s greeted with praise an agreement reached after six month’s of haggling between Greece and the Troika over the terms for the release of the next round of bailout funds.  S&P reported it believed Greece’s economy “had started to rebalance.”  “Although we consider Greece's domestic political environment to be fluid, our forecasts assume that, regardless of composition, the Greek government will adhere broadly to the current policy framework.”

A now potentially rising sun

That was a week ago yesterday. Tomorrow, Parliament votes on whether or not to go along with the deal negotiated by its coalition leaders.  The outcome is far from a foregone conclusion.

Greek politics is all about kabuki-like drama playing out to the very last second­—do we have a deal or don’t we.  It’s a tried and true technique in labor negotiations, where both sides have agreed in advance to the settlement but take vigorously different public positions right up until the last minute. Otherwise the representatives risk their constituencies thinking they didn’t fight hard enough for their clients’ interests.  That’s been the plot line for past bailout votes.

It all seems to be playing out the same way this time.  There is a slim three (maybe two) vote majority held by the governing coalition in Greece’s 300-member Parliament, and eight members of that coalition have indicated they will vote against the agreement.  That’s prompted the normal Armageddon sort of pronouncements from coalition leadership.  The choice is between “continuing the painful path of reforms [or one] of disaster,” declared one minister. Another warned that rejecting the deal could force Greece “to leave the Eurozone.”

Inquiring minds are asking, “This time, is it real or is it just more bluster?"

Some fear politicians are not crying wolf this time, because the eight aligned against the terms are committed to constituencies whose sacred cows are being badly gored by this round of austerity measures. We’re talking about the milk and pharmacy industries, two formidable lobbies even in the US.

If the agreement is voted down, it’s anyone’s guess what happens next in these days of the Russian Bear coming out of hibernation and roaring in the direction of Greece’s Balkan/Mediterranean neighborhood.  Will the Troika back off in a game of chicken that could send Greece’s economy and political situation spinning off to only the gods know where, or will Greece back down when the reality hits home as to what a rejecting vote in Parliament wrought?

There’s no telling.

But hopefully it won’t be cast as a choice between Freedom and Death, for there is a middle ground.  But in order to find it, people of good will, dedicated to doing what is best for their country, will have to stand up with courage.

We shall see.



  1. Jeff when are you coming to Mykonos? As in I'll be there in early May..and it's time to say hellow in person!

  2. Agreed! I'll be there mid-April,but off to Bristol UK for CrimeFest May 14-18.

  3. Bristol has scheduled a round of larceny, rape and murder? Interesting, the lengths some local authorities will go to increase tourism!
    See you on the rock in a couple of weeks, Jeff. Meanwhile, keeping fingers crossed that level heads prevail in the Greek Parliament for once.

  4. Hi Jody Hyphenate. Congrats again, and looking forward to seeing you guys on JMK, where I'm sure only level heads will be voting in the mayoral election.