The dismantling of nations

by Terence MacNamee

As many commentators have been saying, the Greek situation represents the victory of politics over economics. The EU has always been an economic union, most recently a financial one, and the political side has only been an afterthought. The political side was in fact a nuisance and a distraction from the real business, which was just that: business. There was a playing down of the patriotism about nations, and there was no attempt to create a pan-European patriotism in its stead. This was supposed to be a recipe for the destructive nationalism that plagued Europe in the past. But it is not necessarily all good.

Politicians excoriating Greece point to countries like Ireland who took their medicine and are now recovering. But Ireland has paid a tremendous price too in terms of young people lost and mortgage defaults by families. This is repeating itself in Spain and Portugal as well, not to speak of Greece. The social price is too high. The “core Europe” represented by Brussels shrugs its shoulders. They (core Europe) are doing all right. There is a feeling of moral superiority in Brussels, and an acceptance of “l’Europe à deux vitesses”, the two-speed Europe of winners and losers.

With the withering away of the nation-state, which has certainly not been a perfect institution, people lose any say they had in their own lives. In the current discussion about Europe, not enough attention has been paid to the lamentable episode that is usually called the reunification of Germany. What happened there was the dismantling of a nation, the DDR – for a distinct nation, however imperfect, had constituted itself, and it was ignored. The social costs have been tremendous: unemployment, emigration to the West and other countries, neo-Nazi pathologies. East Germany has never recovered, perhaps never will.

There was an unmistakeable tone of self-righteousness in the way West Germany went about “fixing” East Germany. German politicians, and the public there too, now expect Greece to take the same lethal dose – to agree to what is essentially its own dismantling as a nation. When people lose a sense of control over their own lives, all that is left to them is negative power, the power to sabotage the functioning of large organisations (as Charles Handy has pointed out in the context of labour relations). They will use that power, whether the people supposedly running things like it or not. We are seeing it happen now, in Greece.