Greece: A single story

A few days ago I found myself watching a TED talk by the Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Adichie is as engaging a speaker as she is a writer and she took to the TED stage to discuss what she calls the notion of a ‘single story’. The idea is a simple one: a single story is created by showing a nation (or continent) and its people as one thing, and only one thing, over and over again until that is what people believe them to be. To illustrate the point, Adichie uses an example close to her heart, that of the poor, sick and war ravaged Africa, crying out for the help of the benevolent white man; a narrative that treats Africans as unfit to control their own destinies. She also points to the stereotype of the lazy Mexican immigrant, any US Republican voter’s worst nightmare. In both cases, the story is blind to the realities of the individuals and communities tarnished by this lazy stereotyping. But within this critique lies the purpose of this single story. Whoever writes the past can control the present, and whoever illustrates the characters can also define the plot. The single story of the Mexican immigrant may be a depressing generalisation but it is also a powerful weapon for the American far right.

As events unfolded in the seemingly never ending Greek ‘crisis’ over the last few days I kept coming back to this idea of the single story. Since the crisis began we have been constantly told that the bloated Greek public sector must pay the price for years of mismanagement; that the Greek people must stop shirking blame and face the full consequences of living beyond their means; that the Greek government must not expect something for nothing from its friends and partners at the eurozone negotiating table; and, most importantly, that the responsibility for the entire mess lies in Athens. While a quick glance on social media sites will of course show that many people have seen beyond this myopic version of events, it is still the voice of the mainstream media that holds influence in the majority of countries. Controlling the narrative is the key to political success.

tsipras

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Syriza and the Propaganda War

Predictably, after last week’s Greek election it has not taken long for the aggressive war of words to begin in the rightwing media’s attempts try to undermine Syriza. Today’s Economist magazine sets its stall out in no uncertain terms with this pearl of wisdom:

“This newspaper’s solution: get Mr Tsipras to junk his crazy socialism and to stick to structural reforms in exchange for debt forgiveness…A very logical dream until you remember that Mr Tsipras probably is a crazy left-winger.”

What, I wonder, is so crazy about Syriza trying to implement the policies  that brought them to power? Clearly the Economist thinks that it is ridiculous that the Greek people should be allowed to have a say in their own destiny. And the type of language used adds nothing to the discussion and only serves to belittle anyone who thinks that there may be an alternative vision of European politics. Maybe its time to face the fact that if Greece were to ultimately leave the Eurozone, NOBODY knows for certain what the medium-term political and socioeconomic outcome would be. We can be sure of some of the short(er)-term economic impacts such as:

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