Monday, July 6, 2015

Greece: the bell tolls for whom?

Best tweet: The European Union has lost, Europe has won
Yanis Varoufakis, who today surprised us all by resigning as finance minister after the Greek referendum, liked to quote John Donne, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”  This was his way of calling for European solidarity, and asserting that a community is judged by how it treats its weakest members.  Though Varoufakis wasn’t really quoting John Donne, he was quoting Ernest Hemingway, who put "No man is an island" on the frontispiece of his 1940 novel For Whom The Bell Tolls, thereby catapulting it into the top 100 quotes in the English language. 

The frontispiece of Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls
The passage is actually buried deep within one of Donne's rather dull meditations (Meditation XVII, 1624) and I imagine it's Hemingway we have to thank for excavating it from there. Or did someone else quote it before him?

Yanis Varoufakis, it seems, is fond of quoting English poets.  Susanne Moore writes in today’s Guardian of how she heard him on the radio saying that his fellow Greeks chose, “to quote your own Dylan Thomas, to stop going gently into the night and to rage against the dying of the light”.

A Greek woman thanks Yanis Varoufakis for standing up to the EU
My final linguistic thought arising out of the news from Greece, is prompted by today’s Guardian editorial. It says that kicking the can down the road has been the cliché of choice to describe the slow euro crisis that has steadily strangled the life out of the Greek economy; but yesterday Europe ran out of road when the Greek people said no to continuing to engage with their creditors on the same suffocating terms. I want to say something about the kicking the can down the road, and I'll do so soon. It takes me back to a brilliant game we played at school.  And by the way Donne might have written some dull meditations but he wrote some marvellous poems, sometime I must record one for you.

Humph. It occurs to me there's not been a lot of politics in this blog so I'll leave you with Varoufakis's resignation statement. He says the referendum of 5 July will stay in history as a unique moment when a small European nation rose up against debt bondage. And “I wear the creditors' loathing with pride”.