Poetry 101 Rehab: Thaw

Again this poem is part of Mara Eastern’s Poetry 101 Rehab, which you can find here. I actually wrote this before seeing her prompt, but it fit so well that I decided to just submit it anyway. Hope you enjoy it.

The First Day of Spring

Just as in Winter
Even the prettiest flowers whither
And die,
Longing for the summer sun
That makes them whole.

As they wait,
So I wait for
Your return.

Knowing that until that
Beautiful, joyous first day
Of Spring,
I will never more
Be all that I can be.

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German-Greek War Reparations: The Story So Far

Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Greek’s incumbent Syriza party, is no stranger to populism in his own country, but even he may be surprised by the reaction within Germany to his latest demand. Last week, Tsipras re-opened the debate regarding the (non-)payment of war reparations by Germany in the wake of World War II, and, perhaps to the surprise of some, the claim has received a significant amount of support within Germany itself. But a number of questions remain only superficially answered amongst general reports on the issue. Precisely, what is it that Greece want? What is the debate over it in Germany? And perhaps most importantly, what are the implications?

Before we get going on the current stuff it’s probably best to just recap what all these arguments are about. The Axis powers occupied Greece from April 1941 to October 1944, during which time thousands died of starvation and extermination, as well as vital infrastructures being destroyed. Since then, Germany has paid reparations a couple of times, with a voluntary payment of 115 million Marks in 1960, followed by the so-called ‘Two-Plus-Four’ treaty in 1990, in which Germany ‘finalised’ its reparations with the four main allied powers; the U.S., the U.K., The Soviet Union, and France. Now that the historical detail is out of the way, let’s get our teeth into what’s happening now.

What Greece Want

Let’s start by looking at what Mr Tsipras has actually said. A full translated transcript of the speech, which was given to the Parliamentary Committee for the Claiming of German Reparations can be found here by The Greek Analyst, but there are several notable points to be taken out. Firstly, as you might expect from a leader such as Tsipras, the speech itself has its basis in demagoguery, starting off with that old rhetorical chestnut of asking the following.

‘What country, what people can have a future if it does not honour its history and its struggles? What people can move forward, erasing the collective memory and leaving historically unjustified its struggles and sacrifices?’.

Hardly a surprising angle to take, and certainly nothing new, but it does not mean that he does not make some pertinent points. By acknowledging the legitimacy of the London treaty, which wrote off the German WW1 reparations that helped to spark WW2, he avoids giving the impression that this is merely an unlikely money-grabbing scheme, and actually makes his case all the stronger. Tsipras furthers this by claiming that the Bilateral Agreement of 1960, in which the Germans paid 115 million Marks, ‘did not have to do with the damages that involved the damages suffered by the country, but with the reparations to the victims of Nazism in Greece’. He plays a clever game of admitting that some reparations have indeed been paid, but only a limited amount, and not to the state itself, but rather to the people who were made to suffer.

So what does he actually hope to gain from this tactic? Well, by claiming that the 115 million Marks paid during the Bilateral Agreement was merely reparations to those who suffered at the hands of Nazism, he leaves the road open to reclaim the money he says is due to Greece for the ‘almost-complete destruction of the infrastructure of the country, and the destruction of the economy during the war and the Occupation’ along with the so-called ‘Occupation Loan’, which alone totalled around €8 billion in today’s money. In total then, Mr Tsipras is attempting to claim back as much as €170 billion by basing his case on the fact that Greece never recovered from the Occupation and was left behind by Europe and Germany for that reason. Given the fallout over the proposed restructuring of Greece’s €260 billion bailout, this is hardly an insignificant amount and is bound to have turned a few heads, particularly given the threat to seize German assets in Greece if the demand is ignored.

The View from Germany

In perhaps a surprising twist, the claims have received some significant support in Berlin. Senior Social Democrat officials such as Gesine Schwan and Ralf Stegner have spoken on the subject, with the former claiming that ‘it’s a mater of recognising that we committed terrible crimes against Greece’.

The situation remains a delicate one, however, as Germany has previously refused to respond to war reparations requests since the signing of the ‘Two-Plus-Four’ treaty in 1990. As such any response to Greece could cause a potential domino effect, with any number of countries perhaps using it as a precedent to claim their own reparations, particularly those countries of Eastern Europe such as Poland that suffered most under Nazi occupation and had no real say in the signing of the treaty due to being part of the Soviet Union until after the treaty was signed. This could cause issues not only economically but also politically as the past is dragged into the light once again and old wounds are torn open once again after decades of silence.

What Will Happen

This still remains anyone’s guess really, but Germany have been growing increasingly impatient with Greece over their recent economic manoeuvring, and this claim will not aid that, despite the support it has garnered among some politicians. Reparations have always been a tricky issue, and the number may be seen to be too close to the bailout negotiation amount to be taken as seriously as it perhaps otherwise might have been.

The official response from the office of Ms Merkel this week re-iterated their previous position that war reparations were not open to re-negotiation, but it is certainly a debate that deserves to be had, and how it plays out may well have a huge effect on the future of Europe itself. This would be particularly true if there is any ruling that Germany does still in fact owe reparation money, which could well result in a scramble of claims to follow Greece’s example. Either way, it will certainly be an interesting few months for German-Greek relations, and it will remain one to watch as long as Mr Tsipras is in power.

N.B. This post originally appeared on http://www.tremr.com

Poetry 101 Rehab: Right

Shoutout once more to Mara Eastern and her Poetry 101 Rehab section, which you can find here http://maraeastern.com/2015/03/16/poetry-101-rehab-right/. This week’s theme is ‘Right’, and you can find my effort below.

Right

Their words washed over me,
Ever since I first understood them.
Almost everything I have heard
Optimistic, supportive, loving.

‘Life is what you make of it.
And you, little one,
You can be anything
You want to be’.

Now me, I’m not so sure.
I don’t know if I believe in
Their loving deception,
Their little white lies.

But there is one thing
I do know.

For the very first time
In my limited life,
I am utterly terrified
That they are wrong,
And I am
Right.

The View from Brazil: The Reaction to the Petrobras scandal.

The Background

The last month has been an interesting one for Brazil and its economy, if by interesting we may also imply the institutionalised corruption that has lasted decades which has recently been revealed in the country. For those who are unfamiliar with the situation, Petrobras, the state-owned former jewel of the emerging Brazilian economy, has been embroiled in a ‘kickback for contracts’ scandal after a former manager of the company, Pedro Barusco, told the country’s congress of the ‘institutionalised corruption’ that had been taking place. In fact, the scandal has become so bad that it has now expanded to implicate as many as 57 politicians. 

Now, this has all been fairly widely reported in the past few days, but there was something that struck me about the coverage. The fact is, probably largely for logistical reasons, rarely do we get an accurate picture of public opinion in the country where these momentous events take place, so I am here to change that. I would like to offer a brief breakdown of what Brazilian journalists have been saying of the events, rather than making sweeping claims on what the Brazilian populace feels about its politicians’ corruption, so if you would like to come on that journey with me, then read on, dear reader, read on.

Political Reaction

The first thing to say is that, whilst there has been some support for Dilma Rousseff herself, the general reaction has unsurprisingly been overwhelmingly negative. Ms Rousseff, the current President of the country, headed Petrobras for seven years and, while her name has not been directly linked to the scandal, there have been many questioning her leadership credentials, given that she has overseen both of the major parties involved in the corruption.

Journalists have at times been savage in their criticism of both Ms Rousseff and her government. José Neumanne, writing for the Estadão newspaper, lambasted her for her weak speech following the breaking of the news, saying ‘to ask for patience from a public that has only heard self-indulgent lies from her cannot fail to sound foolish, useless, arrogant and alienated’.

Strong language indeed, but he was not even the most vocal of her critics, the title of which goes to fellow Estadão writer Fernão Lara Mesquita who categorises Ms Rousseff as a farcical, incompetent, ‘supreme-leader’ type with delusions of grandeur. But he does not stop at criticism of Rousseff, going on to lament the whole political system in the country, saying that ‘those who play the political game must always be reminded who is in charge of whom – “Of the people for the people and by the people”‘.

Perhaps most significantly of all he questions the actual democratic nature of his country by claiming that you cannot call Brazil a democracy ‘without putting quotation marks around it’. Mesquita’s  opinion and tone have been echoed by many, and a number of people have called for the impeachment of Ms Rousseff less than 12 months after she won the presidency once more, with mass protests planned for this weekend.

Economic Impact

It is fair to say then, that politically this is one of the worst scandals to have hit South America in decades, but we must also not underestimate the economic impact of these events. It has been a widely held view that Brazil’s economy, which had appeared to be one of the rising stars in the world theatre, has stalled in recent years, and many commenters have linked this to the mistrust caused by the poor management of the state-owned oil company.

Fernanda Guimarães wrote soon after the news broke that ‘the poor governance of Petrobras was responsible for the exit of investors in all of Brazil’s economy’, while Míriam Leitão wrote in O Globo that the Petrobras situation was a tumour, and that ‘the economy is paralysed while Petrobras completes the surgery that it is having to go through’, which has implications for Brazilian business at every level.

Conclusion

Commenters then, have not held back their disgust at the way the news has affected their country, with wide-ranging economic and political criticism emerging as the scandal widens. It will undoubtedly have a huge effect on Brazil for many years to come. It remains to be seen how this will affect Dilma Rousseff’s presidency, or even if she will manage to hold on to her recently re-acquired power as more and more bad news emerges from the woodwork. What is certain, however, is that the words of Míriam Leitão offer the most poignancy here. Yes, it is a horrific abuse of power by those involved, and they should be summarily and swiftly dealt with, but the important thing for Brazil is to get its economy back up and running. To do this it is vital to find where Petrobras went wrong, fix the problem and make sure it never happens again. Easier said than done, of course, but we can only live in hope that this will be a learning experience, and that this will remain the biggest corruption scandal in South America for many, many years to come.

N.B. All Brazilian opinions were originally written in Portuguese, and the translations are my own. This post originally appeared on http://www.tremr.com

Second: Poetry 101 Rehab Challenge

This post is a response to the wonderful Mara Eastern’s Poetry 101 Rehab class, which you can check out here: http://maraeastern.com/2015/03/09/poetry-101-rehab-second/

The theme this week is Second, and here is my effort.

Second

Tick, Tick, Tick

Since you left
No-one has bothered to fix
That clock, the one that hangs
On our kitchen wall.

Tick, Tick

The valiant second hand struggles in vain
To move on,
Repeating the same mistake,
Striving, but never quite making
That vital step forward.

Tick

A constant reminder,
Every second without you
A courageous failure.
Why does it even bother?

Tick
Click
Silence

A First Attempt at Poetry: Diavoli

DIAVOLI

Sometimes, just lately,
Everything turns to black.
Right when you think you’ve made it out,
They reach out and claw you back in.

Demons cackle as you struggle
Against the tide.
They know all your insecurities,
Hell, they know you
Better than your best friends do.

Not that you can tell anyone.
None can find out.
But they know.

They pick just the right words
To make those doubts scream
You’re not good enough.
A discordant choir of disapproval;
Howling,
Who told you you could do this?

Gorging themselves on your panic-stricken thoughts,
They watch, amused, as you struggle to spur yourself on.

Cackling demons; screaming doubts.
What kind of confidants are these?
And how long have I been letting them live
In my head?

So that’s that, my first ever attempt at a published poem. Please do feel free to leave feedback, whether it be positive or negative I’d love to hear from you.