Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The future is what you dream of it

'No future' sang my beloved sex pistols. Maybe they had Greece in mind. Maybe they had the world in mind. Maybe they were talking of us all. This country is also going to the dogs, say my English friends. Seriously guys, get in line.

Yes our economy (let's not forget, I am a UK tax payer after all) is still not showing signs of recovery. Yes the budget was a bit of a joke. Yes the upcoming election is scaring me (Brown or Cameron? It's a voter's Sophie's choice). Yes I am slightly bemused by the eviction of an Israeli diplomat and the nursery school language used to describe it: 'the Israeli government promised never to do this again' ('this' being the forgery of UK passports) but the UK government stomped its feet because 'they told us the same thing the last time' (they forged passports) and this is a major blow to our 'friendship' so no kissing and making up.
One diplomat gets kicked out, Milliband doesn't go to the Israeli Embassy party (I kid you not) and we are all very stressed about 'what it all means' about the future of British-Israeli relations, about whether forging traveling documents is common practice among spies and international men of mystery and about whether sending the diplomat away was excessive, appropriate or inadequate.

And the Greek in me goes 'seriously folks, you call these problems?'.
And the rest of me (the adult, the political scientist, the voter, the tax payer) thinks 'these are serious problems. They are serious enough without being systemic. They are serious without marking the demise of the entire socio-economic edifice of the state'. That's the sort of thing that should be worrying the media and citizens in a civilised, stable, European democracy.
Not whether there is a future, but how to make the future better than the present.

Not 'how do you deal with your select troops (see SEAL equivalent) who decided that a national holiday parade was a good locus to shout out racist abuse of the worst kind?'
Not 'why did a 15-year-old Afghan refugee die of what sounds scarily like an IED hidden in a rubbish pile in downtown Athens?'
Not 'how do you stop gunmen from robbing diners at point blank in fashionable Athenian restaurants?'

With shouts and screams of 'we will spill your Albanian blood' and 'we will sew ourselves suits made of your skin' Greece's select troops have waltzed into a massive inquiry at the end of which, I trust, heads will roll. But will the damage be undone?
Will the people who watched these soldiers perform hate chants in unison, chants that had evidently been practiced, sporting weapons and the insignia of the state: flag, badge, uniform, will these people ever forget the fear? The shame? The anger? The horror?
Is the damage to the future to be undone by a committee?

And only days later a young boy, running away from the random death meted out on the streets of his native Afghanistan, dies of an unclaimed bomb/IED on the streets of Athens. Was he rummaging through the rubbish to find food? That in itself is heart-breaking. That in itself deserves a million posts. But that in itself is not the full story. Was he simply curious to see what lay in an abandoned bag? He had fled to safety, after all, to a place where curiosity doesn't kill the cat. Only it does and it did.

And it's not an isolated incident.
Random violence has been on the news and on our minds since the day Alexandros Grigoropoulos died. It's not all connected. It's not continuous. It's not all part of one story. But it is now constantly there. Be it police or anti-police violence, random gunmen, random explosions, stray bullets.
Be it armed men relieving people of wallets and jewelery in Athens restaurants.

What are we dealing with here?
It sounds like law and order is suspended, expectations of mutuality and social self-healing are irreparably breached and fear reigns supreme. Add to that a thick lather of financial insecurity, shame and fear at what the future holds, poverty and grim fiscal prospects and what have you got?
A country that has long since gone to the dogs and sees no way out.
Which is what many Britons think is happening to their country at the moment.

'Don't compare Greece to England' is the rejoinder I get from everyone. And I understand why they say that but, by the same token, it's the fact that we can't compare these two EU-member states, these two European democracies, that holds all the answers to our current predicament.
Why can't we compare them?
Because despite the crises, the problems, the corruption (don't forget Britain is currently in the midst of a new scandal whereby key Labour figures were busted trying to 'sell' their influence to the highest bidder and, on the back of the expenses fiasco, British politics is beginning to look distinctly continental all of a sudden) there is an expectation that the institutions will hold. Disintegration is not on the cards. Over here, the 'country going to the dogs' does not entail a genuine fear of complete lawlessness.
Going to the dogs does not entail the fear of 'shutting up shop' that underlies Greek political discourse over the past few months.

But why not? Are things really that different?
Corruption, poverty, unemployment are plaguing both countries.
Violence too.

A boy was stabbed to death in Victoria station a few days ago. In plain daylight.
A boy died of a rogue bomb in central Athens a few days ago. In the middle of the night.

Bad news all round.
Maybe we are all going to the dogs.

Yet in Greece we are rolling our eyes and shrugging our shoulders and saying 'what can you do' and 'oh it's bad, isn't it' whereas over here people have an unshakeable faith that they deserve more. Where the Greeks expect worse to follow, the Brits demand that their representatives pull their socks up. 'We are going to the dogs' they say 'and we won't be having with that'.
Where the Greeks sing along with the Sex Pistols, the Brits demand Annie.
'The sun will come out tomorrow' to our 'no future for me'.

Maybe that is the main difference after all.
Maybe we have forgotten how to believe in better, how to hope for more.
Maybe we are going to the dogs because we don't know how to think up a different future. Maybe we should start by hoping again. And believing.
For now, the Greeks proudly think that hope is for wimps and small children.
And we despair with our heads held high.