July 13, 2015
by Martin Odoni
Beware a politician saying… well, basically anything.
It has been noted by minds far greater than mine and since long, long before I first drew breath that political language – sometimes nicknamed ‘spin’ (a political bit of language in itself, as it makes the phenomenon sound relatively harmless and even somewhat quaint) – is often the inverse of any other form of language, in that what words mean in most modes of speech will usually be the opposite of what is meant in political discourse. When politicians speak, their meaning can be anything other than itself, but seldom just itself.
The late Douglas Adams once coined the word ‘Recipriversexcluson‘ – see his novel Life, The Universe & Everything – as the mathematical label for a number that can only ever be anything other than itself e.g. the time at which everyone has agreed they should meet up at a restaurant is the one point in space and time that it will be physically impossible for any of them to arrive. An ingenious concept, but nowhere near as new as it might sound; politicians have had the verbal equivalent nailed down for centuries. These words, as a nearest parallel, I have decided I shall label ‘Recipriversexclu-mots‘. (‘Mots’ being the French for ‘words’.)
Any speech or statement delivered by a politician requires intense scrutiny in order to identify and decode the recipriversexclu-mots that will inevitably litter every other sentence. Never has this been more true than over the last couple of days, while analysing the discussions of the Greek Debt Crisis.
In the last ten hours or so, an ‘agreement‘ (or #AGreekMent, a painfully-corny pun put about by European Council President, Donald Tusk) has been reached between Eurozone leaders and the Greek Syriza administration over whether the country should receive some kind of fresh bail-out, having received two previous bail-outs in the last five years.
Except, the word ‘agreement’ is a recipriversexclu-mot. It is quite clear from descriptions of the negotiations over the last few weeks, and from the increasingly jeering and patronising tone of public statements by leading figures in the so-called ‘Troika’, that this is not an agreement, because the Greeks do not agree at all with the terms laid down. They have been strong-armed into conceding most of the ground during months of increasing desperation for their people, by European Union officials who are clearly at the beck-and-call of the parasitical international financial industry. The one meaning ‘agreement’ cannot have in a political sense therefore is two or more parties sharing a point-of-view; in this case it means ‘coercion’. So, just like Henry VIII had ‘agreement’ from the clergy to have the monasteries dissolved, the EU now has ‘agreement’ from the Greeks to impose even more self-defeating Austerity, including renewed butchery of its public sector – the main effect of which will be still more people being made unemployed.
Terms of the eighty-six billion euro bail-out include the reversal of anti-austerity laws the Greek Government introduced in February, and forced privatisation of the entire Greek banking sector. That the EU is actually commanding changes to the legal code over Greek fiscal policy is essentially a claim to sovereignty. Confiscation of fiscal autonomy means that the Troika could be said to be attempting a colonisation of Greece.
European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has described this aggressive manoeuvre as a ‘compromise’, a recipriversexclu-mot for ‘coup-d’etat’. (The hashtag #ThisIsACoup is already trending powerfully on Twitter.) The Estonian Prime Minister, Taavi Roivas, called it “the European thing to do”, a multi-worded recipriversexclu-mot for ‘Financial-Sector Imperialism’. Polish PM, Ewa Kopacz, describes the heavy terms of the new bail-out as the price “for seven months of populist rule”. In this sentence, ‘populist’ is a derogatory recipriversexclu-mot for “actually paying attention to the electorate for once instead of doing everything the bankers tell them”. The politician in question wants people to see defiance of the Banking Imperialists as a bad thing, hence ‘populist’ is substituted for ‘democratic’, as ‘populist’ sounds cheap and knee-jerk, a politician just following the tide of public opinion.
While smearing the Greek position, the Polish PM is also putting a moral gloss on unashamed bullying by the EU, which really has quite drastically undermined the democratic mandate of the Greek Government. The EU even made clear with frank contempt that the previous weekend’s referendum, if it resulted in a rejection of Austerity terms, would result in even harsher conditions for a new bail-out. This is the epitome of being anti-democratic, in that it is using explicit coercive threats in order to influence the outcome of a public consultation. Can we imagine what the Western Media would say if, just for instance, Russian leaders made statements like that?
More mass-privatisation is now compulsory. This has been recipriversexclu-motised as ‘improved governance’, when in fact it involves zero governance. See where that sort of outlook led to in 2008.
Juncker insists that the Greek people “have not been humiliated”. With their collective rejection of Austerity simply being ignored by the rest of Europe, Juncker is going beyond recipriversexclu-mots, and has created an outright blackwhite; just an impudent reversal of the plainest and most obvious of facts. The Greek people have been economically-ravaged for five years, their loudest and most explicit demand for an end to it has simply been brushed aside with scarcely an acknowledgement, and they now have to brace themselves for the very real danger of at least three years more of it (probably indefinite, in fact, as three years of even harsher Austerity will simply postpone any positive outcomes even further). The collective voice of a clear majority in a sovereign nation has been expressly dis-empowered; what could be more humiliating than that?
French President, Francois Hollande, when asked about whether there will be Debt relief for Greece, stated, “there will be a re-profiling of Greek debt by extending the maturities”. This recipriversexclu-mot means, “No.” Well all right, it also means, “We’ll give the Greeks a bit longer to pay the money back”, but in terms of answering the question that was actually asked, it means, “No”, and the longer-winded translation seems a little redundant anyway, seeing that the Greeks have already defaulted on one of their repayments. By definition, that means repayments are going to take extra time anyway, as whatever happens, the Greek Government will never be able to send payments into the past.
Hollande also said that, “Tsipras made a very courageous choice”, which either means giving up in the face of threats is Hollande’s idea of courage, or he is using yet another recipriversexclu-mot.
While I have much sympathy for the impossible position Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister, has been jammed in since he came to office, he too has been guilty of using plural-meaning language that we should interpret with great caution. He defended his acceptance of the Austerity terms by saying, “We took the responsibility for the decision to avert the most extreme plans by conservative circles in Europe.” Which sounds painfully similar to the Austerity-lite rhetoric of the current Labour Party in Britain, from whom it is a recipriversexclu-mot that roughly means, “Vote for us because we’ll be slightly less crappy to you than the Tories!” To fit the Greek situation, the translation requires only a slight change of parameters.
“We managed to restructure debt and secure medium term financing,” Tsipras also claims. Which is a recipriversexclu-mot for, “We’ll be in even worse trouble in a couple of years’ time once the full effects of these new reforms are felt, but after seven months of repeatedly banging my head against the wall, I just haven’t got the strength left to keep arguing with these EU jackasses.”
I wish he had said what he really meant, by the way. It would not have been great diplomacy, but I suspect most people across Europe would have nodded their heads and agreed wholeheartedly. And where has diplomacy got Tsipras so far anyway?
My hope was that Greece would withdraw from the single currency altogether and revive the drachma. (I try to avoid using the term ‘Grexit’, as it is both trivialising and lazy to turn this matter into a quick buzzword.) The worry, of course, is that other countries would refuse to trade with the country so long as its debts remain so high, and would not accept debt repayments in drachma form, endangering the new currency’s value. But as continued receipt of euros from the European Central Bank is conditional on ever-more throttling Austerity, I am unconvinced that a future with the drachma would be any worse for Greece than persisting with the euro. At least with a renewed drachma, the Greek Government would be able to control the size and the issue of the money supply around its own population, and so would have some kind of chance of getting the economy on its feet again.
I despair for Greece, and I fear for humanity. Austerity has always been a nonsense, the equivalent of seeing a country devastated by a famine and trying to put a stop to it by starving the victims and giving vast quantities of food to the parts of the population that are already well-fed. Feed-a-cold-heart-starve-a-famine, you might say.
And yet those who adhere to the ideology of Austerity just become more stubborn and insistent on its implementation the more that it fails. Austerity has sifted much damage and little good in Greece, and its debts have simply become larger and more unpayable than ever. The Austerity adherents, who now, alas, dominate the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, cannot bring themselves to question whether Austerity might be the very cause of the goalposts retreating further and further down the field. No, it must be that Austerity has not been implemented severely enough, therefore, even more butchery of the public sector and social security must follow.
And these tunnel-visioned ideologues now control most financial strong-points across Europe and North America, and continue to use recipriversexclu-mot-riddled language to support it. They even seem to use it in order to make calculations, and that is very scary. After all, when people use thoughts and ideas that mean anything other than what they appear to mean, they will have outcomes that will be anything other than the ones intended.
You doubt this? Just ask the people of Greece.