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e-book review: The Making of the Greek Crisis by James Pettifer

Friday, 25 May, 2012

It is possible that James Pettifer was overcome by philhellene emotion when writing The Making of the Greek Crisis. Or he might have been the victim of over-hasty editing, or the short e-book format chosen by Penguin for this topic is unsuited to the complexity of the matter. In any event, the reader is often more perplexed than enlightened when swiping through the text.

Peffifier: Greek Crisis “The European Union and International Monetary Fund negotiators who sit in authority in Athens in 2012 have many antecedents,” begins Pettifer. It’s an unconvincing start as Athens in 2012, so far, has produced more chaos than authority and those responsible for this are primarily Greek politicians. Pettifer continues: “Men and women completely ignorant of the Greek language have played their parts in the making of modern Greece, with varying degrees of success.” To suggest that the EU/IMF negotiators, whatever their nationalities and native languages, do not have access to Greek-speaking support staff is incredible.

Pettifer can be sharp. He notes: “The Euro currency ‘project’ did not originate in Greece. As Victor Hugo observed in 1855, the notion of a single European currency, like all bad ideas, has been around for a very long time.” And he crafts some colourful images: “Yes this crisis did not drop from the sky as an eagle in Epirus might drop a sick lamb.” But he cancels this out with truly baffling sentences like this: “The wish to reject the American Exceptionalism of the Bush period has meant an often uncritical adherence to frequently superficially understood multilateralist ideas in international relations and abandonment of some aspects of US legitimate claims to world leadership.”

He correctly identifies the decision by Greece to host the 2004 Olympic Games as pivotal in the country’s loss of fiscal reason, but he undermines the argument with ideological point scoring such as, “…it appealed to the American corporations whose major players connected with big sport, like Nike and Coca Cola, had become sponsors and advertisers with all recent stagings of the Olympic Games. The Olympics embodied the culture of health, anti-smoking campaigning, intense and unbridled Darwinian competition and many other neo-conservative social objectives.”

While politics are personal, facts are not and more careful editing would have prevented 17 becoming 27 here: “The euro project was doomed because it was impossible to chain together twenty-seven different economies into one currency and one central financial institution without any tax revenue raising capacity.” One wonders, too, where the editor was when this drifted by:

“When I first went to little hilltop Exohorio in about 1983, very old ladies sung songs and wove on looms in their houses that had changed little since Homeric times. Now on nearby beaches you are as likely to hear the programmed chit-chat of Whitehall civil servants from London or Zehlendorf doctors from Berlin, and where the loom once stood is an ugly chrome exercise bike in a second home. Few of these north Europeans bother to learn any Greek at all, and some like the parsimonious Dutch are notorious locally for bringing their own food from the Netherlands in their neat motor caravans.”

If only the Greeks had been as parsimonious as the Dutch, James Pettifer would not be writing about the tragic crisis that has engulfed the land he so clearly loves. But Athens is not Amsterdam, and neither is it Berlin or London or Washington, as he points out repeatedly.

The Making of the Greek Crisis is short, but it would have benefitted from cutting in places. Experienced editors of e-books are scarce and the knack of fitting chapters, paragraphs and sentences to tablet and smartphone screens is being learned on the job, so James Pettifer might have profited from a kind of guidance that’s not widely available yet. Still, he has made an entertaining contribution to a debate that continues to dominate the headlines.


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