Sunday, December 18, 2011

In Greece

It is good to be back in Greece. After months of disaster stories in the press, it is reassuring to see that it still exists and that the village has splashed out on a new public Christmas decoration. The old metal tree-shaped frame on the jetty has given way to a wooden boat draped with sailcloth and illuminated by fairy lights. Village gossip persists, the people are still here, the winter is mild and pleasant, even if the skies are grey and the sea is splashing over the paraleia as the weather gets cooler. The lane is still firm under foot, the legacy of a warm, dry autumn, the grass has hardly grown and only the clover has flourished. The citrus trees are in fruit, the bright colours of the pitted skins contrasting with their dark green leaves.

Yet the crisis is real enough and it continues unresolved, consuming its human sacrifices that signally fail to propitiate the gods of the markets. The sigh of relief at a half-formed and ill-constructed non-solution will soon give way to the inevitable failure and then ... ? Who knows? All I can say is that this is a country that deserves better and that for some unfathomable reason the stillness of a mild winter's night, broken only by the crackling of olive wood burning in the grate, brings me happiness.

The world has lost two fine democratic voices this week in Vaclav Havel and Christopher Hitchens, both exceptional writers, both intolerant of stupidity and totalitarianism. The contrast between their vigorous and thoughtful urgency with the stumbling, indecisive ideological orthodoxy of the EU is disturbing. Watching European leaders in action reminds me that it is not just evil that is banal, so is banality and it too carries its own dangers. There is nothing barbaric about our European elites, but they are careless. And European democracy is one thing not to be careless with.

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