🇫🇷 All Together As One For France 🙌 pic.twitter.com/chvrJpSSJ9— SPORF (@Sporf) July 17, 2018
Me: A French Brexit! But why?
C: Because EU has too much control over the French people and I think it will be good for France to be outside the EU.
Me: There might be a point, but why would you walk away from the world’s largest economic zone? What’s the cost of it? Look at the UK.
C: Of course Brexit is a lesson for French people as well. They need to be ready to negotiate straight away.
Me: I know Macron said under his presidency if there was a referendum, France may well have voted to leave. But is that true? Is that the sentiment?
C: Well, a lot of people think that. Also, we are paying into EU economy so our salaries will be higher.
Me: What do you mean? In what way?
C: EU has been a vanity project for the Germans. They were worse off before EU, unlike the French economy that was doing better.
Me: I found the actual value of the Euro is quite different in different countries. I found it quite surprising how that unbalance was allowed to happen. If you have the same currency, it should be the role of the EU to make sure that the purchasing power should be the same as well, or at least similar.
C: Yes, I remember when Euro was first introduced there was a complicated chart and people just charged anything they pleased.
Me: So do you think outside EU, wages in France will be better? Do you think with a smaller market, the French economy will have to offer a lot more to big corps to appear lucrative to them? Every country will have to follow the Irish model of offering tax havens. That will only benefit a few compared to the mass.
C: Yes because the French economy was better at the time when we joined Euro and to avoid the effect on the economy, they put a cap on wages. I believe once outside EU, we will have a lot more negotiating power especially with our close ties with African nations.
Me: Ah yes the ex-French colonies.
C: Yes, just like there are many ex-colonies the UK can benefit from. And also, not just business, there will be less expenses on security, with all these jihadists, and it’s been crazy in France the last few years…and it’s the same in the UK as well I’ve noticed.
Me: Don’t think the security expenses will come down, and besides, if France exits, you’ll lose all the access to Europol. But true, UK and France have been biggest targets on the list of the terrorists.
C: It’s just crazy. And you need to look at the profile of these people. They lead western lifestyle, drink, smoke, go to nightclubs and then one day they get the illumination that I have to kill people now. The government needs to be stricter about who they let in. The UK has got a much stronger immigration policy than in France. You can just come in and disappear from the system.
Me: It’s not that it doesn’t happen here either, but much less I believe. But you need surveillance on the terror suspects. I believe for the attacks in Bataclan, and in Nice, the attackers were known to the authorities?
C: Yes but there’s a bit conspiracy going on. They want to appease the human rights organisations but they aren’t worried about the general public. There are people who go to Syria, to Iraq, they fight with the jihadists and come back and we just say yes, welcome back and they then disappear before making an attack again.
Me: it’s much stricter here, I mean incidents do happen but they are under heavy surveillance I believe, and some are charged as they come back.
C: That’s the right thing to do. In fact, they should be turned away and we should tell them, go back to where you went fighting.
Me: You can’t take their citizenship away, you can charge them.
C: And then they go to jail and convert other people so they blow themselves up. There is a big cover-up.
C: Where did you go? In Disneyland?
Me: No, just north of Paris. It’s a place near Compiègne.
C: Ah I know. Very nice place. Very green. Did you see the big palace?
Me: Yes it was awesome. And we liked Soissons.
C: You know there is a place in Compiègne where the Germans surrendered the first big war, and during the second, when they defeated France, they wanted the treaty signed at the same place.
Me: Yes the Versailles treaty. We went to that place in Clarière d’armistice.
C: You know that part of France is so beautiful and it’s the cradle of France. It’s very green. And l’île de France actually comes from this region where the old Frankish kingdom used to be.
Me: I did wonder a long time back why Paris is called that name. I thought it’s all the rivers around it.
C: Yes it’s confusing, you call it the Isle of France but there is no island. But that region hasn’t changed with time, the houses, way of life everything just remained the same.
Me: We really enjoyed there and definitely will go back.
C: That part of Paris is beautiful, around the river Oise. Well, there are other areas that are not so good…
Me: That’s probably the same in every big city. London has some notorious boroughs. What sort of problem are there in Paris?
C: It’s the Japanese mafia.
Me: I see, what sort of problem is there? Gang violence?
C: Yes, mainly. Recently Japan government has a big cultural event in Paris so they had to send people to clean up some of the areas.
Me: Sounds crazy.
C: Yes. Paris used to do such a nice place. And now it’s dirty, full of graffiti, gangs…I was away for a few years, and the first time I went back to Paris, I was horrified. And now you go to Eiffel Tower, it’s covered with security, it doesn’t feel the same.
Me: Yes last year we went there. We just wanted to go to the garden, but even then you have to go through security, so we didn’t bother in the end.
C: It’s a shame, I know it’s needed so deranged people don’t blow us up.
Me: Yes, but in Paris, after so many attacks, you see armed guards and you feel secure that the government is doing something. We don’t have any armed guards.
C: That’s just a decoy. The government can do a lot more. This Macron is useless.
Me: I thought he’s quite liked in France at the beginning? I know he made a few unpopular moves, especially with unions…
C: Macron is secretly building an army. It’s not French national army but his own army. No president has ever done that…well maybe Charles de Gaul during the Algerian war, but that was a different time and he was heavily criticised for it. But what’s Macron’s motive? Nobody knows.
Me: That’s bizarre. What’s his motive? Is he planning a coup? You’d understand when you’re in opposition but he’s the president of the country!
C: Macron is an awful choice. People were besotted by him, but now they can see his true colours. The whole of Europe has become pacifist. I don’t like it now.
Me: Well the EU is above all an economic union. There are a lot of contradictions amongst its member states and a lot of scepticism between each other. It will eventually fail because of the inherent differences between the countries. Just think about Eurovision.
C: Haha yes that is a big farce now. But the biggest challenge is Europe has to close its doors. We can not afford any more people.
Me: But there’s plenty of room, it depends on the governments approach and how much they engage with the population to tell them why they need to help the refugees.
C: I agree with you, they need to be helped, but there should be a limit. Some say it’s in the bible, if somebody comes to your house, you should let them in. But that’s the concept of a pilgrimage. You left them to stay, get rest, then they will be away. Bible doesn’t say that when someone comes to your house you feed them for the lifetime.
Me: But that’s what governments are for. They should ensure that people coming here are not socially isolated. And that’s why it can’t just be a government process. The people will need to get involved in that process.
C: Or I have a better solution. They want to come to France? Let them come to France. But send them to a remote island in Pacific that is owned by France. I bet you have places like that with UK as well…sovereign territories.
Me: Yes, the old colonies…
É tempo di credere
Dai Forza Italia
Che siamo tantissimi
Brexit reversal will not be undemocratic:
JC—where were you?:
EU—Take notice of the EU solidarity:
Note to the liberals — Take to the streets:
A good friend once told me this story:
There was a devout man. He prayed to God every day and thanked him for his existence on earth. He always believed that if he was in any kind of trouble, God will help him out. And so God did. One time when his child had a fever, and he prayed and prayed. The next morning his child was cured completely; he even went to school. Or the other time when he ran into debt and after praying to God, he had the dream and found an untouched scratch card lying inside a book, and he won enough money to clear his debts.
One day our devout man was working in his office. It started to rain heavily around the lunch hour. The people thought the rain would stop soon. But it carried on, and the water started to rise. The banks of the river nearby had burst, and a flash flood followed. There was a TV in the pantry area in the corner. In the middle of share price displays, there was a woman on screen with an angelic face, announcing that everybody should leave the area straight away. Everyone in the office packed their bags and rushed to leave the building. Everyone but our friend. He started praying, so the disaster would stop. Colleagues tried to dissuade him, but he was firm in his belief. His colleagues thought he was mad, but he knew God will help him.
Half an hour went by. The water is gushing inside the building. The devout man is still asking God to put an end to this awful weather. There was a loud honk outside. A rescue truck is rescuing stranded people to take them up to the high ground. Our friend looked out of the window.
“Hey there! Come downstairs, there’s nothing to worry. The water isn’t deep. We got you”
“Thanks, but I’m fine here. God will save us. You should pray as well“
“What nonsense! Come right now, we got other people to rescue and the water is getting higher”
“God will make it all stop. You’ll see. You carry on, help the others“
And the truck drove away. The man went back to his prayer. Half an hour went by. The ground floor is under waist-deep water. A big siren and flashing lights outside. A fire engine is passing by. It comes to a halt as the fireman noticed the man looking out of the office window.
“Hang in there fella, we’ll get the ladder to you!“
“I don’t need your ladder. The God almighty will soon put an end to this.“
“What a load of rubbish! Get on the ladder now. We can’t stay here long, water will get in the engine“
“You save yourself, my friend. God will save me. He always had in the past“
“Good luck to you on that.“
And the fire engine went away. The man was feeling a bit anxious now. Is God not happy with him? Has he done something wrong? “I promise I will pray more, dear God! It’s just the thoughts about work and family distracted me lately. But I will, once again, be your true servant“. He started praying more feverishly. Half an hour…then an hour went by. It’s getting dark, and there is no sign of the rain to stop. The water has come up to the first floor. Our man went to the roof, so God can save him. “Ah, I see. He probably wasn’t planning to stop the rain. It must be a boat, like Noah’s, that will save me. I know now why God waited for so long. He wanted the water to rise so he can send the ark“. The man suddenly felt that God hadn’t forsaken him, and he was too blind to see it. He watched out for the boat, but was disturbed by a very loud whirring noise again —
A helicopter is circling over the buildings. Our man is suddenly flooded with shining light from the helicopter. They lowered the rope ladder, to rescue the last few stranded people. A booming voice came from the copter
“ Hello there! Grab the ladder carefully and climb up inside”.
The man thought that wasn’t the way he expected the help to come. And he refused. The pilot explained that he won’t be able to come back and he must escape. But our man refused. There will be a boat soon. The helicopter flew away.
The man started praying again. Minutes went by, then an hour. The water has risen to the roof. He is standing facing the sea of water that engulfed all buildings around. He is suddenly panic-stricken. That God wouldn’t help him this time. He started wondering what sins he had committed that God is annoyed with him. The water is rising fast. It’s up to his ankles, then waist and in a few more minutes he was standing with his chest underwater. He held on to the handrails, knowing it’ll all be over in a few minutes. Faces of his wife and son flashed in front of his eyes. And that all his prayers didn’t manage to move God, that was more hurtful. He felt betrayed. With water almost up to his neck, he lets out a desperate howl
“Why dear God did you abandon me? I have always been faithful to you. What have I done wrong? Please help me!“
Suddenly there was a bolt of lightning. And a few more. The dark sky was lit up with electric blue flashes. Then, as our man looked up, the silhouette of a man appeared, and God spoke,
“Fucking idiot, who do you think alerted you of the flood, and sent you the truck, fire engine and the helicopter? I think it’s better to have no followers than blind ones like you!”
He disappeared in the clashing and colliding clouds. The water isn’t rising anymore. The devout man gazed at the sky, awestruck.
“I was right! My lord has saved me again. I saw his face! I’m glad I waited until the very last moment” – he thought.
And then, there was a loud sigh, then out came a big wave, and the man has washed away into nothingness. Even God had had enough of this delusional moron.
Over 17 million people voted for Brexit out of 46 million electorates. Within the first hour of the shocking morning of the 24th June, it was clear that all the promises and dreams of claiming back the glory land were a farce. The first lifeline was the desperate call for a second referendum. The second, the utter chaos that followed in the Tory and UKIP camp, as their bunch of lies came to light one after another. Then there was the High court and the Supreme Court ruling for giving MPs a vote to trigger Article 50. There were options for a soft Brexit with access to the single market and free movement. And then the vote. The final say before it was all over. And it was. Thanks to the deluded 17 million, thanks to the jokers Farage and Boris, thanks to the scheming Daily Mail and Daily Express, and finally thanks to the bloody three-line whip from Corbyn, the fucking show is finally over. There’s no more lifeline; only the grim future with a racist molester as the main ally for the UK. Or possibly the only ally left. The road to perdition starts here…
Ever since reaching the age of conscience — that is becoming a twenty-somethings for me, I was always at the pro-choice side of the debate than pro-life. I still am, but perhaps the hard pro-choice stance, which could often be misconstrued as anti-life, had softened over the years, especially during and after the birth of our first child. As we went through various stages of my wife’s pregnancy, and looking at numerous books showing how the fœtus must be doing and looking like, it made me realise that taking a stance for or against abortion on an absolute basis is not as straightforward because of the multifaceted nature of the issue. The two opposing camps have always waged a battle against each other, trying to undermine the views of the other side, and an empathic reconciliation has never taken place. I must admit, taking the pro-choice side, I have always been cognizant and critical of the pro-life arguments, and therefore, rightly or wrongly, I thought that the pro-life argument has always been very loud and desperate to win over supports, compared to the pro-choice campaigns. Adding the religious dimension on pro-life, the arguments also appeared seemingly outdated. The recent Planned Parenthood shootings took the perennial debate to a new and dangerous level, where people would be ready to kill the dissidents. Planned Parenthood shootings demonstrated the root of this rift between the two warring camps transcends the bias or prejudice of the pro-life campaigners and it delves into their identity, religion, race and other dimensions.
Growing up in 80’s India in a middle-class background, discussions around sex was limited to sex education classes in a handful of private schools. Beyond that, everything was discussed behind closed doors. Whilst women still had their mother or other motherly figures to turn to, men ended up in a much worse situation with no sexual education apart from turning to porn or that one famous friend who magically managed to have some sex. The concept of abortion was taboo, partly due to religious and societal paradigm and partly due to lack of knowledge and government help. The contraception had just started to dawn on people, as an alternative to accepting each pregnancy with joy or stress.
With such a background, my first encounter with abortion was through opening of a new Marie Stopes Clinic in Calcutta — in lush green parkland, I often visited. Before the privatisation and swank private hospitals, the edifice of Marie Stopes clinic was a shining beacon of private healthcare. On various advertisements and at the entrance of the building showed a sign ‘Infertility clinic’. Although I wasn’t very familiar with the term infertility, I guessed what it was after a few years, whilst reading John Grisham, Erich Segal and Sidney Sheldon, coming across the term “back-alley butchers”. It was perhaps those late teen years when I first realised the trauma, social stigma and persecution surrounding the issue of abortion.
During my first thirty years of life in India, the issue of abortion revolved around gender and religion, than personal choice in most of the time. India had had a long history, especially in the majority Hindu caste system, of a patriarchal society, and thereby treating women as a burden to the parents and men as the breadwinners as well as the superior genders. Birth of a girl child not only meant a lifelong debt for the family to afford the dowry to “marry off” the girl but also an end to the family line, carrying the family surnames and the heritage forward into the next generation. For the age-old despicable dowry system, the birth of a girl child was unwelcome and often resulting in the parents keeping on having children until they had a boy, or in the worse case, female infanticide in rural areas. With the advent of modern medical science, detection of the gender of the foetus gave rise to another malicious practice — predetermination of the sex and termination of the foetus if it was a girl. It was only in the nineties that the government decided to act and banned the prenatal sex determination to abolish sex-selective abortions. Before this rule was passed by the Supreme Court of India, millions of women have been subjected to inhuman treatments — from quacks prescribing unknown drugs and herbs to the back alley butchers — it was not just the foetus that was terminated, but the mothers ended up permanently unable to have children any more, leading to another societal stigma of being infertile, or worse, being killed in the termination process. Not to mention the social trauma of going through the experience without any support to avoid drawing neighbours’/extended families’ attention. The sex-selective abortion was not as dominant in the Muslim population, but apart from religion, the Muslim community was and still is primarily patriarchal like Hindus; thereby putting preference on the male child. If the Muslim women were not protected by the Islamic rules, the gender superiority, often observed in a Muslim household, would have forced many more women into terminating the foetus due to the societal preference of gender. Marie Stopes and similar clinics provided a professional and compassionate alternative to women through the period before the actual procedure. However, in an urban setting, with possibly extortionate prices, this may have provided an alternative to only a handful of women from an affluent background. The suffering for the rest of the women still continued until the Prenatal gender detection was banned.
However, amongst the Gen Y population in the urban areas, with education and more liberal points of view compared to the previous parochial generations, the taboo of abortion was much less stigmatised than before. The conversation amongst men and women were more open, although the areas such as sex, abortion, pregnancy, period were still veiled under secrecy – only being revealed to the close confidantes. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, abortion in the urban setting was discussed more openly and people were aware of the modes of contraception, and the morning after pills in case of unprotected sex. The fact that the medical help is available to discuss termination of unwanted pregnancies itself lifted a weight off the women from the new generation. Nevertheless, the plight of rural women continued with illegal street-side health centres mushrooming in small towns ready to carry out gender test under the guise of checking the health of the foetus. These clinics also carried out abortions as an outcome of the gender determinations. In the urban areas, however, abortion started to become a choice finally, rather than an imposition from religious or social situations. The women did not shy away discussing the technical details with the doctors and get a professional opinion on the methods of abortion based on the stages of pregnancy. It became a question of more women having specific plans for the future and a child did not fit in that plan, nor was there any impulsion to continue with pregnancy by mistake for the rest of the life. Even though the question of abortion was becoming a question of choice, the secrecy and shame have not been lifted entirely, and it appeared that if the female fœticide factor is removed, the number of Indian women choosing to have aborted a fœtus was still small.
When I emigrated to Western Europe, I expected the number of pro-choice people would increase significantly. On the contrary, what I found from the media, is that society is more pro-life orientated. In fact, a report showed that Western Europe has the lowest abortion rates in the world at 12 per 1000, whilst Eastern Europe top the list with approx 43, and the rest of the world is scattered somewhere in between. My initial ideas of more liberal places to have more liberal views on burning issues like abortion were shattered. It was expected that the percentage of the population pro-choice in the USA would be relatively low due to large conservative republican belts, but finding the rates for Western European was entirely perplexing. However, the more I acclimatised with the Western European society, the reasons became clearer for the low rates.
First, entire Western Europe has a phenomenal welfare system in place, including healthcare and its access to the majority of the population. Apart from religious grounds and misogyny, perhaps the biggest factor for women deciding on abortion is their financial situation, the affordability of providing for another life. The welfare system ensures that that worry is taken away, and the parents/ mothers get state allowances for each child to cater for their needs. The healthcare and education are free as well for children and this may have swayed the women to carry on with the pregnancy. Second, the quality and value of life are seen at a different perspective in Western Europe compared to many places in the world. That the fœtus is still a living organism with possible feelings and sensations make people less willing to carry on with the termination. The education and behavioural aspect of treating living beings with compassion perhaps deter many of the expectant mothers terminate the fœtus. Third, and this perhaps applies to numerous women in developing countries where premarital pregnancy is still a social stigma that resulted in abortion. In Western Europe, the social stigma around children outside wedlock or single parenthood is nearly abolished other than pockets of orthodox conservative regions/communities. Also, the religious bias and the doctrines from Christian and Muslim — the two biggest communities excluding atheists, are against abortion; hence, regardless of the strong affiliation to a religion, people generally tend to live by the religious values and thereby deciding against their choice to abort the fœtus.
The previous few sections described how the observations regarding abortion spanned a large number of wider aspects such as religion, economic situation, values, lifestyles etc. However, that only represents some possible reasons why abortion rates vary across regions and the factors influencing that difference. The main debate of this article between pro-life and pro-choice camps. So, what can be observed from the pro-life and pro-choice campaigns across the countries and various places?
One fact is very clear that neither of the sides is very accommodating to the views of the other nor are willing to lose any ground. The pro-choice campaign obviously gathered momentum with more number of women becoming independent in the patriarchal society and growing number of liberal voices in favour of leaving the decision to the woman, who is actually going to carry the child. The pro-choice supporters, however, at times, go beyond their primary objective of letting the mother choose whether to keep the baby and meddle with branding the pro-life activists as primitive, oppressive and authoritative. With such adversity and acrimony, the purpose of the pro-choice movement is often lost. Often the pro-choice movement appears as a reactionary pressure group against the provocative pro-life campaign. On the other hand, the pro-life campaign has held the moral high ground since the religious texts existed. The life was treated as a gift of almighty God that humankind cannot refuse. Certain texts define the time when the fœtus transforms to life and be considered as containing a soul, thereby prohibiting it to be terminated. Since then, the rhetoric has kept being evolved and the tactics adopted by the pro-life campaigns on the present-day still are passively coercive, and abominable. Apart from making the women feel continuously guilty by reiterating the “life” and “feeling” of the fœtus in various contexts — be it the pædiatrician telling what the baby can and can’t feel at different stages, or the numerous pregnancy books charting the fœtus’ progress from the first week, or the sensationalist media heralding every celebrity childbirth as cover story. The inherent message is quite succinctly delivered as though motherhood is the pinnacle of a woman’s identity. Apart from such implicit anti-choice messages, there are direct actions to discourage abortions, such as legislation for doctors to make women listen to the fœtus’ heartbeat before termination, banning entities supporting abortions from public schools, or in case of recent Planned Parenthood clinic, a reduction in state funding. Whilst writing this article, I came across an article about how thousands of women travel from Ireland to England to have abortions, as abortion is illegal in the republic and punishable offence in Northern Ireland. The political bias is in most cases conservative — irrespective of the parties implementing the policies, to avoid losing public support as the majority in Western Europe are still pro-life. The pro-life campaign had successfully stigmatised abortion through such connotative and explicit actions. And since this process has been going on across generations, children grow up accepting that is the only version truth, not following the norm is tantamount seceding being a model person.
As the voices against such organised brainwashing became louder, the pro-life line of attack changed its subtlety and started direct threats to the activists supporting pro-choice or the clinics carrying out abortions. There have been incidents of violence against pro-choice such as mob raids, arson and bombing at abortion centres in the past with the authority turning a blind eye on the perpetrators. On 27th November, a man entered a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and opened fire killing three people and injuring many more. After a long stand-off with the police, a certain Robert Dear was arrested, yet he is only referred to as a suspect. Where police shoot innocents in other parts of the USA based on their colour or ethnicity, it was surprising how Dear was arrested without any injury despite the gravity of the attack, and the police are still very silent about convicting him. During his interview, it was rumoured that he mentioned “no more baby parts”, the same words shown in the media coverage on a series of sting operations at Planned Parenthood Colorado Springs centre, allegedly giving body parts to the research laboratories after the abortion. Although Planned Parenthood categorically denied the claims, the link between these sensationalist media coverages and the shootings cannot be denied. The aftermath of the shooting was even more shocking and only proves what significance do women’s rights held in the USA. Rather than passing stricter gun control laws or providing extra security for other clinics, the state authorities defunding for the Planned Parenthood clinic, citing legislation that abortion is not family planning! Each year governments pass numerous legislations, debated by male-dominant parliaments and committees, and the majority of such legislations are anti-choice, taking funding away from clinics, discussing parenting and prenatal developments to women undergoing elective abortions, and many other small measures that are seemingly insignificant but collectively undermine the pro-choice rights and options.
I have mentioned at the beginning that going through my wife’s pregnancy for our first child was an amazing experience and it moderated my views on abortion from hard pro-choice to pro-choice with some appreciation for the fœtus that develops at a phenomenal rate. Whilst sex-selective abortions should be banned as legislated in India, taking a point from the pro-life campaign, never mind the soul, but the fœtus should only be terminated up to a period when it does not experience pain. On the other hand, is there any medical research that can unequivocally say when it starts having feelings? Aren’t most of the existing literature regarding childbirth focus on how wonderful the phenomenon of birth is? Don’t they almost emotionally blackmail a pregnant woman about choosing to continue with the childbirth? The answers aren’t probably straightforward, and in the end, abortion could be a stressful procedure, both mentally and physically. How I interpret it is, that the pro-choice argument, contrary to how it is portrayed as an anti-life campaign, is not about preaching the killing of fœtus at all, but merely presenting a choice to women whether they would want to continue with their pregnancy. It’s all about removing the social stigma of abortion and as a result passively force women to continue with the pregnancy. Pro-choice is about the way of life, where one always has the two options unanimously and chooses to take the path as desired by their plans for the future. Abortion should be a natural question and scenario to be discussed with the paediatrician where they could ask the woman if she wants to keep the child, as well as the women, should expect the question and not be offended by the suggestion of termination being an option for the pregnancy.
Pro-choice is still a utopia in this present world. Whilst pro-life campaigners turning more violent with time, and the governments bringing more legislations that are anti-choice, the pro-choice movement does not have the momentum to effect the change in public psychology nor the legal side of the matter. It will need more campaigns, more people speaking out about abortion rather than treating it shameful and taboo. People like Jex Blackmore, who, through her Unmother diaries, shared experiences undergoing an abortion and the stereotyping she experienced. The campaign needs to be loud enough to be heard beyond the closed doors of the parliaments, so one must be vociferous about their support to the pro-choice campaign, but at the same time, hostilities towards pro-lifers would not help achieve the objective. However, I hope that with time and more liberalisation of the society, a pro-choice society will not be a far-fetched dream but a reality of tomorrow, despite the trials and tribulations and demonisations of today…
PS: I believe abortion and the pro-choice campaign is a feminist agenda at present, rather than humanist, and I am unsure how and where a cis man like me, with their prejudices, should stand. Reading from various contemporary newspaper articles and blogs, it appears that one arm of feminism is completely anarchic – it treats even men supporting feminism to be patronising, and thus consciously or unconsciously emboldening their patriarchal nature. I cannot argue against that school of thought, as not being sure what a man’s position should be on issues such as this. The other line of thought is more classical feminism, where women fight for equality and earn it rather than the male-dominant society divesting the powers to women as they pleased. With that line of thought, I could identify myself as a feminist or humanist supporting equality on all fronts. From that aspect, I would treat this as a feminist blog, but if this does appear patronising, I apologise in advance for my ignorance.
IA poignant article on Tagore’s relevance to the contemporary world…what is his relevance in our lives now? Have we adopted his ideas of a free society or his image on the pantheon of Bengali vainglorious psyche?
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls”
Have we freed our mind and thoughts yet?
Finally, who does the world look up to now as the messiah for free-thinking transgressing the limits of time and geographic boundaries? Why does the world lack inspirational thinkers? In Science and Technology, barriers are broken every day that pushes the limit of what humans can do; why isn’t there similar advances in social spheres?
In one of her recent speeches, the youngest MP in Britain Mhairi Black referred the Labour Legend Tony Benn, who once said that in politics there are always weathercocks and signposts. Weathercocks spin incessantly, no matter what direction the wind is blowing. On the contrary, signposts are always pointing to the right direction they are meant to represent. We all talk about politics is a game of charades and in our time this has become a fait accompli. During my postgraduate year, there was a lecture on the session for organisational behaviour and how one should never deviate from their true north, which are the core ethos for their very existence – their raison d’être. During recent times, no worse event demonstrated the bigotry of the political powers in today’s world, than the debacle of the Greek austerity drama and the Grexit paradigm.
To the rest of the world, Europe appears to be the shining beacon of socialism, equality, culture, diversity — the land of prosperity and fairness. It was difficult to conceive that any European economy would be on the brink of disaster. I was first aware of the problem with the Greek economy in around 2000 when IOC expressed serious concerns about the ability of the Greek government to host the 2004 Athens summer Olympics. They finally did put on a great show but it was beyond possible to mask the fact that the country was struggling financially. In recent time, the state of disrepair and dilapidation of the Olympics sites around Athens are shown as evidence of Greece on the verge of bankruptcy — the state the world is much indebted to as the forerunner of modern philosophy, science and governance. The juggernaut of time has brought a state that ruled the entire known world to penniless desperation. Beyond Greece’s penury, this begs an even more pertinent question to the rest of the world — this is happening in Europe, within the Eurozone, and how did this ever allow to happen?
The aim of this essay is not a quantitative analysis of the Greek economy and its decline, nor the Eurozone, but an assessment of the situation from a wider subjective angle, asking more basic questions of economics and the underlying political dogma. This will also view EU in a different light, where the benevolent champion of humanism and societal excellence will appear as the autocratic Tsarist state threatening any doubters or dissidents to subjugation. To great believers in the EU and Eurozone project, including myself, this is an affair ringing a wake-up call on whether the EU has become a Frankenstein of our time, as has in recent past the likes of Al-Qaeda or ISIL.
In simpleton terms, it perhaps all began in the late twentieth century when Greece joined the Eurozone and changed their currency to the Euro from Drachma. This cannot be assumed that everything was impeccable before joining EU, and at the early stage, this must-have helped the Greek economy massively due to the reduced borrowing risk as well as exporting merchandise outside the Eurozone. The fissures started to show after introducing the Euro to the Greek economy, whereby the labour costs suddenly soared making the Greek businesses less lucrative to the outside world as well as the profit margin decreased, and hence the shrinkage of the GDP. It can be imagined that in 2008 when big European economic powerhouses like Germany and France were trying to put their house in order, all excessive funding Greece has been receiving must have dried out. At this crucial juncture, Greece faced the hardest time for its economy as the jobs were lost, unemployment risen a record high and all European finance aid stopped. As a result, the government failed to pay the loan payment to the likes of the IMF. It turned out that failing to pay the loan is partly Greek government’s fault as they continuously published lower trade and budget deficits than actual. The other issue was tax evasion, where the economy was badly affected. One colleague would tell me an anecdote how people leave the steel rebars out of the roof of the buildings showing it as incomplete, so they pay less tax on properties. It was at this desolate time when the Greek government had failed many repayments, the moral of the citizen at the rock bottom that the people of Greece chose the communist party Syriza, to take a different line of approach on governance, corruption and the European big brother dominance. At the helm of the party — a young leader Alexis Tsipras and in charge of getting the economy back on track was an economics professor at the University of Athens, Yannis Varoufakis.
Syriza’s ascension to power came at a time when Greece was going to be hit by more stringent austerity measures, while it was already teetering on the edge. Syriza promised a massive shuffle up in the governance as well as reject any austerity measures that put Greek people in further misery. They tried to do as they stated, and thwart back to the lenders and the EU superpowers like Germany, and instantly became the bad boys of the EU, the cowboys playing with the harmonious European existence with their cavalier economic theory and political polarisation. Since then, the Syriza party leadership has been through enormous threats and arm-twisting, which Yannis Varoufakis quite aptly put “closed-door mental waterboarding”. The Grexit as we know it was a possible outcome of this period of the contest between Syriza and the European lenders, more commonly known as the troika. The Greek economy went into a state of frenzy as people withdrew money in fear of a possible exit from EU, banks ran out of money and the troika refused to issue any more money to allow liquidity in the Greek economy. Syriza, to show that they are not a conglomeration of quixotic Cowboys and that they express the opinion of the Greek populace, have conducted a referendum where the Greek people said a resounding No to accepting the austerity measures proposed by the troika. The outcome only exasperated the EU leaders and they threatened Greece and Syriza with an ultimatum to accept the conditions put forth by the ECB, IMF and the European banks. This resulted in the resignation of Yannis Varoufakis and the marathon meeting by Alexis Tsipras with EU leaders, at the end of which Greece capitulated to the conditions and even sturdier austerity measures to stay in the EU. The dream that Syriza painted to the Greek people were nipped in the bud by the harsh reality of belonging to the European brotherhood.
In short, this could explain what went on in the long-standing drama that unfurled in 2015. Perhaps this allows us to look back in the past and analyse what has driven this fracas and the aftermath to Europe and Greek people. The beginning of this problem happened many years back, at the time of introducing a common currency across all European countries. In the world of economics, a struggling economy can overcome the recession by either fiscal expansion or monetary adjustments. Monetary policy measures include quantitative easing, which means printing more money to introduce more liquidity in the system. To retain the value of the Euro, ECB retains the sole right to issue more cash to any country. Had this not be the case, struggling Greek economy could have adopted the quantitative easing and infused more cash in the system. Not having this ability made ECB hold Greece random to their demands of the austerity measures. Many economists including Paul Krugman suggested that Greece would be better off exiting the EU and switch back to Drachmas, and sort the economy out. This was prevented by the complicit and protectionist nature of the European leaders, who threatened implicitly or explicitly that exiting EU, Greece will shut the door to having a trade relationship with any of the member states. Some likened the Syriza going to negotiations with EU without any backup plan to playing pokers but this postulate would not stand against the fact that the leadership has tried to prevent accepting the austerity measures and had to succumb the extreme duress put on by the troika.
Although the IMF and ECB have been most vociferous and unyielding to the remedial measures put together by Alexis Tsipras and Yannis Varoufakis, the real impediment came from the counterparts of these two men — the leaders and finance ministers/chancellors of various member states. This perspective on the Grexit brings to front another crisis Europe is facing at the moment, which is a lack of credible leadership across the continent. Angela Merkel and François Hollande are the drabbest and dispassionate leaders one came come across. They belong to the designer suit clad-extremely vacuous-circumlocutory-monotonous army of people, who do not have any charisma or passion for doing their job and hide behind tenuous, long-winded speeches for their lack of appreciation of any economic matters. It is astounding to realise that these leaders who had no concept of economic policies and ideas were at the forefront of the talks on economic reforms of a country! The worst example was Wolfgang Schauble, who perhaps was more concerned about what the Greek leaders wore to the meeting than the content of their negotiation offerings. Both Angela Merkel and Hollande are losing credibility to their population, let alone be respected everywhere else in Europe. Then there were the minnows David Cameron and his sidekick George Osborne, who still believes Britain has any say in how EU decisions are made and delivered pompous speeches how they are very concerned about the Greek situation and won’t give any British taxpayers’ money to bail Greece out. Surprisingly enough, during the last stages of the negotiations, it was the smaller peripheral states that were more scathing in criticising Greek premiere and Syriza. In a way, it appeared that all European leaders weighed in unison against the Greek contingent because they chose to be different, in their appearance and their negotiations. The mass loathing will have a component of the common notion that Greek people are lazy and want a free lunch at the expense of other EU countries sharing the burden, but the main thorn on the leaders’ flesh was one person — Yannis Varoufakis.
Since the demise of the Soviet Union, Communist economists are hard to come by, and finding one who is not corrupt or deluded, and has a strategy to practically implement them is a rarity. Yannis Varoufakis belongs to this rare category of economists and it is a rarity itself having an economist as the finance minister of a country, which is usually fulfilled by ex-bankers and finance directors and other fat cats. Varoufakis went to the negotiations from the time Syriza gained power in Athens with one argument — austerity does not work. Critics may point otherwise as the statistics show Greece has cut down the deficit immensely during the first years of austerity, but the human price paid for the same was enormous. Squeezing the people even further when the country is on the brink of disaster could only have meant one thing — the powers-to-be in Brussels did not want to know about the wellbeing of Greek people, all their interest was money. Being an economist, Varoufakis could pick holes in the argument for the austerity. This has riled the cast of European leaders as they stood in the meeting red-faced having their notion of Eurozone shred into pieces by a Greek economist, and he did it in his casual manner, in simple words and not hiding behind jargons. His whole persona and lifestyle of riding a bike to the parliament, arriving at negotiations in leather jackets set him to stand out amongst a bunch of automatons, and they were quick to attack him about his lifestyle, his approach to negotiations as they were left clueless when he defeated them in their own game, and laid bare the ineptitude of their proposal from the charade of verbosity that these leaders often resort to. As a result, Yannis Varoufakis failed to make friends with Brussels as he was seen as a pariah, who could put the European brethren to jeopardy by not being like one of them. When the referendum results were declared, Varoufakis had to go as the European leaders won’t deal with him anymore, and within 48 hours, Syriza was forced to sign on to the austerity. Indeed, part of Syriza was not in favour of Varoufakis’ reform measures as they seemed too reactionary, but the fact cannot be denied that he stole the sleep of the European leaders during his tenure as the finance minister of the Greek government.
The folly of the Eurozone became more apparent in the unified vilification of Greece, especially by the smaller states. During the crisis, this was more than clear that Eurozone is nothing but a German project, and the small peripheral states are just ‘tagging along’ in fear of losing the favour and hence the funding from the ECB. Speaking to a friend from Slovakia, they felt it was unfair that their country has to pay for bailing out Greece so their pensioners get €160 pensions whilst Slovakia’s pensioners only get €140. This is a fair argument, but it makes it clear that, despite sharing a common currency, the standard of life is not the same amongst the member states and this itself is the biggest fault of the EU. It is expected that by introducing monetary controls, all the countries should have the same value for the Euro and the standard of living will not be a stark dissimilarity amongst the countries. With time, this means that the Eurozone will also have limited mobility within the working population for economic benefits only. However, the purchasing power of a Euro is still different by a large extent in the core members and the smaller nations who joined the currency union later on. Due to this imbalance, there is still a large amount of migrant population within EU member states only, raising concerns over radical nationalism and right-wing politics.
One factor greatly contributed implicitly to the ostracism of Greek government in the corridors of Brussels, but it was hardly ever brought into the fray by the media— its the elephant in the room, Syriza is a Communist outfit. Some friends suggested that this did not contribute to the Greek austerity, it cannot be denied that there is a massive animosity towards the communist parties. The history of Europe’s past will prove that more lives were lost by the expansive imperialist movements than by Communism. People often wrongly associate communism as synonymous to Stalin/Trotsky/ Khrushchev/Mao/Castro. Syriza, therefore, started the negotiations in the back foot, already being tarnished with the same brush. Modern-day Europe, although a melting pot of breakthrough ideas, innovations, thoughts and philosophy, in certain instances like this, is still blinkered, Machiavellian. Also, it cannot be denied that troika is influenced by large multinational conglomerates, whose main idea is to maximise wealth by punishing the working poor. Marx’s theory of class divide has never been diminished, instead, the gap has got wider in recent times. The wage for the working class has increased but never at par with the inflation and media is so focused on bottom 20% that they never reported what the top 1% doing and how their growing wealth is going unnoticed. These conglomerates, for their interest, did not want a communist party in power and dictate terms with them. Marxist views are branded anti-trade by these big corporates and their media, and hence the egalitarian socialist aspect is lost forever. Had Syriza been a party purported to express any other political ethos, the outcome of the negotiations might well have been, if not significantly enough, different than the more austere measures Greece was subjected to. The main aim of the corporate-run EU was to maintain the hard stand against Greece so Tsipras has no choice but to capitulate, and then as aftermath, that might break Syriza into factions based in political views of the party members.
As of now, the Greek debt crisis is finished, or that’s how the media tends to present to the general public. The liquidity is reinstated, although there is a daily withdraw limit, people have cash in hand, no more sensationalist picture of dejected pensioners sitting by the pavement — that picture is replaced by migrants breaking through the fence at Eurotunnel. However, the problem is far from over. Greece will pay off the first tranche of the loans owed to IMF, but the picture is not so rose-tinted for future payments. Will there be another layer of austerity burdened on Greek people? The ramifications of the aftermath of this debt crisis are many, but this is the most important lesson to be taken away from this experience by the world.
The biggest effect this will have on the Greek economy is the likelihood of another payment failure and further austerity measures. This brings back the spectre of the housing bubble in 2007-08, where people were allowed to borrow much more than what they can afford to repay. If Greece has failed to pay the loans, burdening them with further loans and more austerity will not provide enough economic rent to the people to be motivated to work. What Greece needed is a debt write-off, exactly what Greece supported for the Post-WWII Germany to adopt. Also, as seen after the 2008 recession, it’s hard to gain people’s confidence in the economy, hence all the extra Euros injected in the market will be drawn out by people who had their savings in the banks and had to wait for weeks to draw money out and they certainly would not put the money back to the back and would rather save it inside tin boxes on kitchen cupboards. To them, if Greece ever goes out of the EU, the Drachmas will be worth next to nothing, whereas Euros will retain the same high value. The Liquidity will still ensue but not immediately as expected. As for Syriza, they might suffer a slow annihilation as the more belligerent faction of the party will cause a revolt against Alexis Tsipras blaming no resilience against the European politicians. This austerity also sends a strong message to all other struggling states such as Italy, Spain, Portugal that any ideas on exiting the Eurozone will be severely castigated, and as Greece is set as an example, a bad one, there will be no recourse to any funding. Rather than helping the struggling countries and their industry, the banks will be set out to pilfer the wealth from the poorer countries to benefit the more powerful members such as Germany.
The other possible consequence of Greece debacle is far worse than all the above effects together. In recent times, Greece has already seen the rise of far right-wing politics in the form of Golden dawn. Entire Europe has seen a surge in right-wing politics and the advent of newer fascist groups. Oddly enough, these parties and factions do have a lot of public backing as well, who mainly hail from the working class. Failure of Syriza to resolve the debt crisis to a more humane solution will mean further austerity and as people tend to get worse off, to apportion blame, they tend to pick up an enemy, and that’s how nationalist radical parties thrive. Also, if Syriza loses its credibility, there will be no mouthpiece for the left-liberal parties in Greek political environment, which is a frightening possibility. On a wider scale, by discriminating against communist parties and ideologies, the banks and other transnational organisations, as well as the powerful capitalist economies, are trying to create a world full of their automatons, devoid of any humanity. This will pave the path for far-right parties to reach out and influence people, and gain popularity as they did in the form of Jobbik in Hungary, Marine le Pen in France, EDL and UKIP in the UK, PEGIDA in Germany. It is surprising how the rise of fascist right-wing has not been met with such vehement criticism from Europe’s leaders as did Syriza. These outfits spreading hatred will gradually push the harmonious equilibrium that was achieved over years of conflicts and negotiations since WWII into complete disarray. And that will bring a definitive end to the EU thanks to the cataclysmic policies adopted by its leaders since the introduction of the Euro.
Perhaps, to conclude this debate, the last area to be looked at is what needs to happen to avoid this downward spiral of austerity. The first requirement is an unequivocally simple solution for writing off part of the debts Greece owed. This will let the governments treat the situation as turning a fresh page and start from scratch building the country. ECB could devolve its powers so, in situations like this, member states will have the ability to print money to maintain the liquidity. It could be argued the benefit of this, but Euro in the EU has failed to bring a balance to the purchasing parity anyway. What Syriza should do is use the popularity it presently has and bring mechanisms to leave a long term legacy such as tighter taxation regulations, pays more wage at par with Western Europe. When it comes to paying next tranche of the debt, Greece should stay firm about further austerity unless that squeezes the top 1% rather than the working poor. Also, rather than being browbeaten by the European superpowers, Greece should make a backup plan to leave Eurozone. There will be heavy opposition, but after the initial setback, the situation will improve.
In terms of the future of Europe where the member states are not in a perfectly synergistic situation, there is an audacious proposal, which can reinstate the balance and purchase power parity. Rather than struggling economies like Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland leaving the EU failing to accept austerity terms, it should be the economic powerhouses that will need to move out of the EU. Germany exiting alone will have made significant changes. Eurozone will be struggling without Germany but they will recuperate faster as the economies will have a degree of autonomy rather than being dragged along to the German utopia. On the other hand, leaving the EU will not affect Germany as much as it would have to Greece or Spain.
To conclude, the Greek debt crisis is an eye-opener to the European policymakers that forcing countries to accept further stringent terms and condition will only increase the rift amongst the member states. This time will be remembered as the time when Europe failed its member states. EU is a brilliant project and it has produced excellent synergies so far, but instance such as Greek crisis will stick out like a sore finger and a constant reminder that there is a dark side of the European integration which need to be curbed at all times in order to keep the Eurozone a successful programme to bring harmony to the lives of millions of people.