Thomas Venker

How many days do we have left to live?

The Greeks have voted, and it was a resounding “No”. “No” to the arrogance of the Troika and the European Union’s path of yet more austerity. But what happens next? Does Greece leave the EU altogether? Is the metaphorical poker game going to deal a better set of cards to Greece?

It’s hard to know. Much of what passes for enlightenment in the newspapers is really just infographics and bullet points, even if you read everyday it’s hard to understand an issue this complex.

But one thing is clear, the referendum in Greece has laid bare Europe’s woes. We are completely lacking a shared idea of what this unhappy union is all about. Which values and standards are the unifying ones, democracy or credit flows? Is there more to it than the raw power of commercialism and international bankers? Surely if this is all it is, well, what a grim definition of Europe.

As a German I was lucky enough to grow up in the so-called “post-material generation”. For we seventies kids money didn’t feature at the centre of life – leaving aside individual battles of course. Like university life back then there was none of this frenzy of seminars and exams, it was more carefree, a playground for the curious.

But how did we end up in this anti-gilded age? As a German born in Germany I had the much bigger luck that other nations of the world decided to give the Germans another chance after the terrible crimes of National Socialism. Back in 1945 the world wasn’t vengeful, but merciful. And that second chance allowed us to grow into the bundle of joy we are today. So how did we also become such a forgetful, egoistic, unsocial country?

In any analysis of where we’re headed I often imagine what it would be like if every human being had a clock at his house showing his remaining time alive. With an average life experience of 80 years, this would mean for a person who is today 60 years old, that 7300 days are left…
Would we all act different if we would look every day on this clock?
I do not think so. The sad fact is humans are too good at narrowly focusing on the near future, and interests that don’t extend far beyond property, wealth and power. Money trumps even security, let alone fellow feeling.

That’s why at this moment it’s vital that Europe relearns to think like partners, replacing solidarity at the top of the virtues. Could it really be that Europe is already collpasing on the field of domestic EU policy? In its dealings with Greece the EU is threatening to fold in on itself, maybe even break apart. The UK is looking for reasons to distance itself. But how will Europe be able to cope with the huge external policy challenges facing it, from the asylum and border issues, to the labyrinthine free trade treaties with the USA if we can’t work together?

In the recent chaos one shout-out must be given to a politician though. Full respect goes to Yanis Varoufakis, a man of intellect, bigger vision and ready to stand by his word, and fall on his sword when the moment came. All too rare in the cushy bureaucracies of the EU.

An anecdote that relates: I’ve only once been to Greece, back in April 2002 on an invitation of the lovely team of Bios 02 Festival. Sadly the festival was a total commercial disaster despite a successful debut the year before. Faced with a financial shortfall some artists weren’t going to get paid or had to forego part of their fees. One was German producer Thomas Brinkmann, who back then toured through Europe in his caravan and who shared a lot of interesting insights about Greece. The organisers told me that many artists didn’t ask for their fee, legally they could have got some of it and many undoubtedly needed the money. But instead they took the long view, and decided not to destroy this new artistic creation.
Times have changed it seems.

Somehow I feel these days often the urge to listen to the most famous song of the German band Slime: „Deutschland muss sterben!“ (Germany has to die) – so that Europe might be able to live.

And this beautiful song was released right in time for my column:

Translation: Alex Mayor 

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