Category Archives: Diplomacy

No more Mr Nice Guy

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

In times of crisis, when the issues that our leaders have to deal with become infinitely more complex, our expectations of them become very simple. As the pressure is ratcheted up, we like our decision-makers to fall into one of two broad categories: either Mr Nice Guy or Mr Tough Guy. Greece embarked on its current treacherous journey with a prime minister that appeared more nice than tough, but George Papandreou increasingly looks like he’s steeled for the struggle.

If this metamorphosis is successful, apart from leading Greece out of the economic wilderness, Papandreou will also cause a reordering in the minds of most Greeks, whose default position during testing times is to pine for a tough guy, a man who will stand up for the country and put the others in their place, someone who will be unswerving in his attempt to reach a specific goal.

So, it was no surprise that a couple of weeks ago, Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos, speaking to the BBC’s Malcolm Brabant, took a meaty swipe at the caliber of European Union leaders. He reminisced about a time when Europe was led by political heavyweights, such as Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterrand, not technocratic lightweights. “This is another level of leadership which we don’t have today. The quality of leadership today in the Union is very, very poor indeed,” he said.

There is no doubt that Thatcher, Kohl and Mitterrand provided era-defining leadership but they did so in completely different circumstances. They were political giants who roamed lands whose destiny could still be shaped, where national interest could still come first and in which they could rely on the unflinching support of a section of society. None of these conditions exist today: In an increasingly competitive world, there is little room or time to reshape a country; in an expanding European Union, collective interest often prevails; and in the age of “undecideds” or middle-ground voters, politicians have an ever-shrinking base of support to call on.

The sweeping transformation of Europe’s political and economic landscape since the 1980s to one where right and left, capitalism and socialism, have all been damaged, means that although the lessons learned from their time in power will always be relevant, longing for another Thatcher, Kohl or Mitterrand to make the ground shake is like wishing the dinosaurs would roam the earth again. Pangalos, an intelligent, outspoken politician who gives no quarter to the opposition and couldn’t give two hoots about what others think of his views, is a man of this bygone generation. But while Pangalosaurus Rex may miss running with the other political beasts, today’s leaders have to contend with a whole different set of challenges.

That’s not to say Papandreou and his peers cannot learn from what those who went before them got right and what they did wrong. But while Pangalos invokes the spirit of the loud, the proud, the dominant, perhaps the Greek prime minister should instead examine the achievements as well as the failings of a more quiet and unassuming political character: Michael Foot.

Foot, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party from 1980 to 1983, died last week at the age of 96. For someone who led the party to one of its heaviest ever election defeats, Foot was remembered with surprising passion. The fondness that many within, and beyond, the Labour Party have for him is kindled by the rare qualities he brought to politics: high principles, independent thinking and exquisite oratory skills that drew heavily on his love of literature.

It was Foot’s insistence on existing above politics, rather than sinking into its mire, that meant he stuck by ideas he felt to be morally correct rather than politically expedient. He kept to these principles when compiling Labour’s manifesto for the 1983 election, prompting one of his aides to call the program “the longest suicide note in history.” The Conservatives blew Foot’s party out of the water, Thatcher swept to 10 Downing Street and Britain’s, and perhaps the world’s, course shifted in a new direction.

Foot actually produced the most eloquent put-down of Thatcher ever uttered by a rival politician: “She has no imagination and that means no compassion.” Foot had plenty of both and although his manifesto in 1983 proved to be a disaster, looking back on it now, he appears much more imaginative and less of an idealistic dreamer than once thought. In fact, some of his policy proposals – increased public spending to ease an economic recession, greater control over the financial system, energy conservation and corporate regulation — are actually being implemented now by governments in Britain and elsewhere. Interestingly, the manifesto called for the return of exchange controls to “counter currency speculation” – the 1980s equivalent of Credit Default Swaps (CDS), which Papandreou has been touring the world trying to prevent. As he does so, Greece’s premier might want to consider that one of Foot’s greatest failings was that despite his unique grasp of the English language, he was unable to communicate his ideas convincingly.

Another of Foot’s failures was his inability to keep his party united – a problem that is already starting to rear its head at PASOK, as the party’s old, socialist guard attempts to resist Papandreou’s austerity measures. Foot found himself unable to bridge the gap between Labour’s left, which was still committed to the socialist policies that were torn apart when the International Monetary Fund imposed drastic spending cuts on Britain in the late 1970s (sound familiar?), and the more centrist wing, which eventually broke away to form a new party, the SDP. Foot was never able to get in step with the party’s base, tap into society’s sources of power or develop a strategy that would broaden Labour’s appeal. That’s why Foot was essentially a wonderful caretaker rather than a true leader. These are all aspects for Greece’s prime minister to ponder as he tries to balance harmony within his own party with the arduous changes being demanded of the country.

But if Papandreou is to take just one thing from Foot’s legacy, then it should be the words that he spoke in his final speech as Labour’s chief. Quoting from Joseph Conrad’s “Typhoon,” a story of a steamer encountering treacherous conditions in the South China Sea, he told his audience: “The sea never changes and its works, for all the talk of men, are wrapped in mystery… the heaviest seas run with the wind. Facing it – always facing it – that’s the way to get through.” Forget nice guys and tough guys, that’s what leadership is all about.

This commentary was written by Nick Malkoutzis and first appeared in Athens Plus on March 12, 2010.

And now, for my next trick…

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

To many people, the European Union is a fantasyland whose very existence and enduring success defy logic. It’s like an old magic trick that continues to captivate audiences, even though everyone’s seen it many times before. But the EU does what all good tricks do: It encourages onlookers to suspend their disbelief and look at the bigger picture rather than the details.

This unique quality was underlined on January 1, when Spain, a country whose economy is disintegrating, took over the presidency of the 27-nation bloc in the middle of a staggering financial crisis with the promise that it would lead the EU to recovery. The spell which the EU has cast over its audience was highlighted by the fact that hardly anyone batted an eyelid at the incongruousness of this situation.

A number of years ago, a Nigerian general whose army had just invaded another African nation appeared live on the BBC World Service to declare that his soldiers had “brought democracy” to the country in question. “That’s great, will you now bring it to Nigeria as well?” was the sharp response from the radio presenter.

Something similar comes to mind when reading the message posted on the official website of the Spanish EU presidency. The country’s prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero says Spain’s main challenge will be to help Europe build an economy that is “more productive, innovative and sustainable.” But surely if the Spaniards knew how to do that, they would already be applying it to their own economy.

While we in Greece are caught up in our own economic crisis, it’s easy to overlook the dramas being played out in other EU countries, such as Spain. The country’s public deficit for 2009 exceeded 70 billion euros – five times as much as the previous year – to stand at 6.79 percent of gross domestic product. It’s still only about half of Greece’s but nevertheless up 1.2 percent on the 2008 figure.

And like Greece, Spain recently had its credit rating downgraded. Standard and Poor’s lowered the country’s rating from “stable” to “negative” and warned that it faced a prolonged period of sluggish economic growth. But Spain’s most dramatic problem, and an area where even Greece’s disaster of an economy cannot match it yet, is unemployment. The jobless rate stood at almost 20 percent at the end of last year, which is the second-highest in the EU after Latvia. Incredibly for Europe’s fifth-largest economy, unemployment among Spaniards aged 16-24 has reached 42 percent.

All this makes Spain’s task of providing leadership on economic recovery seem far beyond its capability, while its promises of guiding the EU onto the path of financial security ring hollow. Zapatero’s announcement on December 30 that he was introducing a package of measures to help ailing farmers in his own country will have been of interest to our prime minister, George Papandreou — who faces the threat of farmers blocking highways this month — but is unlikely to have convinced Europe’s economic giants that Spain has creative answers to the Union’s economic dilemmas.

In fact, Spain’s challenge is even more complex than it first appears. During its presidency, the Union needs to agree on a replacement for the bloc’s long-term growth strategy, known as the Lisbon Agenda. The plan was meant have made the EU the world’s most competitive economy by this year. It has patently failed and a new 10-year plan, known as the 2020 strategy, is likely to be adopted at an EU leaders’ summit in March.

Before then, on February 11, the EU will hold a special summit on the economy, when Greece’s crisis and the danger it poses to the euro will be at the forefront of discussions. It’s then that Zapatero and his government will truly be tested, since, beyond having to solve economic riddles at a time of extreme turbulence, Spain will have to deal with an institutional conundrum as well. Its presidency is the first since the Lisbon Treaty took effect last month, creating the posts of President of the European Council, which has gone to former Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy, and Foreign Policy Chief, which is being filled by British politician Catherine Ashton.

Normally, Zapatero, who is experiencing his toughest year since taking office in 2004, would be looking forward to taking over the EU presidency, as it gives him the opportunity to boost his plummeting popularity at home and cultivate his image of being Europe’s Barack Obama – a title several of his EU colleagues, including Papandreou, have staked a claim to. But the fact that he and his foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, now have to tread a fine line between asserting Spain’s will on the EU and conceding ground to Van Rompuy and Ashton, means the Iberians could lose more than they will gain over the next six months.

Moratinos has pledged that Spain will fulfil its role with “modesty and discretion” but it already appears that Madrid is determined to shape events over the next six months according to its aims and needs. For instance, the Zapatero government has already organized seven summits between the EU and international partners, most of which have a clear relevance to Spanish interests: North Africa (Morocco on March 7-8 and Egypt on June 5), Central and South America (Mexico on May 15-16 and Latin American and Caribbean countries May 18-19) and with Mediterranean countries on June 7.

By using its unique position in the world to bridge the gap between Europe and other regions, Spain is in a sense augmenting the rotating presidency and underlining the value of having different member states set the EU agenda. However, the new institutional setup means Madrid may have set itself on a collision course with the EU’s supremos.

Although Van Rompuy is meant to represent the EU in international meetings at head-of-state or government level, all the summits mentioned earlier will be held in Spain, so Zapatero will undoubtedly want to play a significant role. Likewise, Moratinos has organized an informal meeting of foreign ministers in Cordoba on March 5-6 even though foreign policy is now Ashton’s responsibility.

Furthermore, despite the introduction of an EU president and foreign policy chief, the country holding the rotating presidency still retains significant influence: It continues to chair the weekly meetings of EU ambassadors, when the groundwork for many policies is carried out, and it presides over many committees that prepare Union initiatives in a range of fields.

If the EU magic trick is to continue wowing audiences and not to be exposed as a cheap stunt, Zapatero will need to display immense skill to ensure that Spain’s role dovetails with those of Van Rompuy and Ashton. Managing this while also reviving his country’s economy and getting 27 member states to agree on a common strategy for future growth requires a sleight of hand that seems too incredible even for the fantastic world of the European Union.

This commentary was written by Nick Malkoutzis and first appeared in Athens Plus on January 8, 2010.

Bringing down the walls

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

It’s one of life’s great ironies that the people who would derive most satisfaction from anniversary celebrations are rarely around to enjoy them. So, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel took ex-Polish President Lech Walesa and former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev by the hand for a walk through a unified Berlin on Monday to mark 20 years since the fall of the Wall, several key figures were absent.

Late US President John F. Kennedy, who made it clear that America would stand by West Berlin with his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in 1963 is an obvious absentee. But perhaps the person that would have enjoyed Monday’s proceedings most was a man who shared the platform with Kennedy on that June afternoon: the late mayor of West Berlin and subsequent Chancellor of Germany Willy Brandt.

Brandt was one of the architects behind the wall’s collapse. As mayor he ensured his city was a beacon of freedom, as chancellor he used this freedom to unite people. Upon being elected West German leader in 1969, he embarked on a policy of “Ostpolitik,” which sought closer relations with East Germany, the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc countries. While some of his compatriots and many in the West saw this as appeasement of totalitarian regimes, Brandt realized that bringing people closer together would help obliterate the barriers, the walls, between them.

One of Brandt’s defining moments came in 1970 when he spontaneously knelt at a memorial to victims of the Second World War’s Warsaw Ghetto uprising. The gesture didn’t go down well with some Germans but won him many friends in Poland. “His courage was his biggest political asset, his greatest personal characteristic, and was based on deep moral and political convictions,” says Jens Bastian, senior economic research fellow for southeast Europe at ELIAMEP (Hellenic Foundation for Foreign and European Policy). “Such politicians don’t grow on trees, neither in Germany, nor in Greece.”

Brandt’s gesture in Warsaw sent a clear message: we must embrace our past but not let it hold us back. “The future will not be mastered by those who dwell on the past,” he said. His comment came to mind this week when switching attention from events in Berlin to those in Greece, where politicians like Brandt certainly don’t grow on trees. Anyone looking at Greece would gain the impression of a country condemned to live in the past rather than looking to the future.

10_okv_The dispute at the port of Piraeus, for example, had on the one side the dockworkers behaving like extras in the Marlon Brando classic “On the Waterfront,” while on the other a government treading on eggshells for fear of triggering a popular revolution – scenes of industrial relations from a bygone era.

At least in the case of the police, Citizens’ Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis was honest enough to admit that the force is “stuck in the 1950s” as he announced a raft of changes. These came as officers made plans for policing the November 17 protest march that marks the 1973 student uprising against the junta. The event epitomizes how Greeks are so obsessed with the past that they want to keep recreating it: each generation of students feels they have to prove themselves like those of 1973 and even teenagers will talk about an oppressive state when they live in what is possibly the most anarchic country in the European Union.

But even if they want to escape the past, they can’t. The media fuel this obsession with history. They say journalism is the first draft of history but in Greece the media serve as history’s photocopying machine, constantly rehashing, regurgitating and reheating the events of the past through features, supplements and DVDs.

At the center of this historical vortex is the country’s political scene. As the New Democracy leadership contest between Dora Bakoyannis and Antonis Samaras becomes closer, what divides them is not the direction in which they will take the country but what happened in the past – namely, Samaras’s decision to quit the ND government in the early 1990s when Bakoyannis’s father was prime minister.

It’s ironic that Greece’s hopes for breaking the chains of history currently rest with George Papandreou, who wouldn’t even be in this position were it not for the legacy of his father and grandfather. Papandreou is no Willy Brandt but following in the German’s footsteps might prevent Greece from slipping further into history’s quicksand. “Brandt’s idea of democratic renewal after he took office in 1969 was to “dare democracy”, in other words to make West German society more tolerant, open, accountable and democratic,” says Bastian.

George Papandreou’s domestic agenda also reflects a desire for more openness. There are similarities in foreign policy as well. “Papandreou’s openings toward Turkey and Skopje are a reflection of his intention to exit from the past, to understand the past, but not be tied by it,” said Bastian. “In other words, Papandreou’s version of Ostpolitik is his foreign policy courage in Greece’s immediate neighborhood – the Balkans, Cyprus and Turkey.”

Papandreou’s efforts to achieve transparency may be arriving a quarter of a century after Gorbachev’s “Glasnost” and his attempts at rapprochement may be a pale imitation of Brandt’s risky diplomacy but they give the impression of the first, tentative steps toward changing the course of history.

Looking back on the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years later, it might appear that it had been inevitable, but that’s just a trick that time plays on us. The Wall’s collapse was more revolution than evolution. As German daily Die Welt wrote on Monday: “The Wall didn’t fall, it was brought down.”

The walls that hold Greece back won’t fall on their own, they too must be brought down. Papandreou has the task of toppling them. We can only hope he has Brandt’s strength of conviction and that he will finally be the one to master the future rather than dwell on the past.

This commentary was written by Nick Malkoutzis and first appeared in Athens Plus on November 13, 2009.

The ditch Blair project

Tony_blair_witch Project_a.jpg

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

Tony Blair must be getting used to rejection by now. He left office in 2007 unloved and unwanted after 10 years as British prime minister. His attempt to win back some respectability as an international statesman by becoming a Middle East envoy has been a damp squib. And now his voyage to become the Europe’s first president appears to have foundered on the EU’s perennial rock of uncertainty.

In hushed tones and behind closed doors, European leaders last week seemed to reject the idea of Blair being appointed president of the European Council, a position created by the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty by all 27 EU member states.

Blair has some characteristics that would make him a suitable candidate for the role (charisma, valuable political experience, good communication skills, the ability to lead and diplomatic presence) but for many these are outweighed by the baggage he would bring with him (the Iraq War, his close ties to George W. Bush, his unpopularity in his own country, a pending investigation into whether he lied to his people and parliament and a fraught relationship with the EU in the past).

The fallout from the Iraq War is the biggest elephant in the room blocking Blair’s path to the presidency. The decision to hitch his wagon to George W. Bush’s lone star is something Europeans cannot overlook easily. But given the chance, Blair would probably explain that as the British prime minister, he had to make a decision – a very wrong one as it turned out – about whether to take part in a war. Had he been the prime minister of Belgium or Luxembourg, for example, perhaps his toughest foreign policy choice would have been what color bunting to get out when dignitaries visit from abroad.

Blair might even argue that having been through such a maelstrom and suffered the political consequences of his choices, he has the ideal experience to now be a unifying rather than a divisive figure. But even this does not dispel the dark cloud of mendacity that hangs over him. The Chilcot inquiry into Britain’s participation in the Iraq War will hopefully establish beyond doubt what Blair knew and what he told MPs and the public before committing troops to that conflict. The fact he’s due to face such an investigation appears to undermine his bid to become EU president. To risk having the first person in such a high-profile role publicly exposed as a liar would damage the Union. Of course, there would be more than a hint of hypocrisy in the air if he is rejected on this basis alone: Few of the 27 leaders who decide who fills the role are paragons of virtue themselves – any group that has Silvio Berlusconi as one of its most prominent decision-makers can hardly claim the moral high ground.

Perhaps that’s why some of them decided to suddenly create new criteria for any presidential candidate: his country would have to be a member of the eurozone and part of the Schengen Agreement – Britain is neither. If the EU’s aim is to appoint the best person for the job, then this shifting of the goalposts is preposterous. Theoretically, the EU president should be someone that’s transnational, not national, federal, not feudal. If he or she subscribes to the European project, then their homeland’s policy should be irrelevant.

10_okOf course, Blair’s critics would argue that he’s always been at loggerheads with the Union, typified by his stance in 2003 in the buildup to the Iraq War, which was widely interpreted as an effort to split the bloc. However, Blair has engaged with the EU in more constructive ways as well. One of his first acts after being voted into power in 1997 was to abolish Britain’s opt-out of the Maastricht Treaty’s Social Protocol. He was also one of the proponents in 1998 of giving the EU a role in defense policy and was a champion of the bloc’s enlargement. He was the first British prime minister to put the UK’s budget rebate up for discussion in 2005, when he urged member states to reform the Common Agricultural Policy and cut the extensive waste and laziness that it leads to, as we are well aware of in Greece.

In June of that year, Blair stood before the members of the European Parliament and set out a vision for a less bureaucratic, more liberal and modern Europe. “The people of Europe are speaking to us,” he said of citizens’ waning interest in the EU. “They are posing the questions. They want our leadership. It is time we gave it to them.” More than four years on, that leadership is still absent and, as the turnout in June’s European Parliament elections indicated, interest in the EU is flimsy. These are issues that, theoretically, a European president could address.

The role has been created so that someone can preside over the European Council – the regular summits between the 27 heads of government – and coordinate its work. According to the Lisbon Treaty, the president should also “ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy.”

Yet, what we have seen over the last couple of weeks is a climb down from this position. The message from Brussels last week was that it would be preferable for the president to come from one of the smaller member states, that he or she should be able to strengthen Europe from within, not necessarily give it a presence on the world stage, and be willing to play second fiddle to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and the 27 leaders.

“There is an argument that a political star as a president of the EU would lead to trouble with the president of the Commission and other leaders,” Robert Goebbels, the Luxembourg MEP who has launched a petition to stop Blair from being considered for the job, told Athens Plus.

It would be one of the EU’s more quixotic moments should it create an opening for a figurehead who could use diplomatic and communication skills to promote the Union to an increasingly apathetic public and give it a greater presence on the global stage only to then shackle him or her for fear of upsetting internal balances.

As the Dutch daily De Volkskrant put it in a recent headline: “Europe chooses: chief or messenger boy.” Given some of the names that have been mentioned as alternatives to Blair – Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, former Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Tapio Lipponen, former Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel, former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and former Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga – it seems the EU has decided there are too many indians to have a chief.

Presumably some of these politicians, if not all, are who The Economist had in mind when it referred to “the usual Europygmies.” Maybe, it’s a harsh assessment of men and women who are capable politicians in their domains, although hardly singular figures, but it underlines the challenge the EU now faces in trying to select someone to fulfill a role whose purpose remains unclear and undefined.

At least something is much clearer now: rejecting Blair was the easy part, too easy perhaps.

This commentary was written by Nick Malkoutzis and first appeared in Athens Plus on November 6, 2009.

Great expectations

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

A man who knew what power words can have, 18th-century English author Samuel Johnson, said: “As I know more of mankind I expect less of them, and am ready now to call a man a good man, upon easier terms than I was formerly.”

Coming 300 years after Johnson’s birth, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to US President Barack Obama confirms the potency of words and is evidence of a global society, which, after enduring demoralizing disappointments, is willing to embrace someone whose intentions are good even if he’s done little to back them up.

Similarly, in our corner of the world, Prime Minister George Papandreou is riding a wave of popularity thanks to the energetic manner in which he has approached the task of transforming Greece – but mainly because of the poor performance of the previous government.

The Nobel committee’s surprising announcement last week has provoked real debate around the world. In Europe, the reaction has ranged from mild surprise to concern that this will place an extra burden on Obama’s shoulders. In the United States, it was difficult to find anything but disbelief and derision.

“A Nobel for nothing,” said the Washington Times in its editorial; “A wicked and ignorant award” was Peggy Noonan’s take in The Wall Street Journal; and “A Nobel Prize for Moral Posturing” was the title of an article by Robert Tracinski, the editor of the Intellectual Activist and TIADaily.com.

Worse was to come for Obama when the political satirists and talk show hosts got hold of the news. Obama is already becoming a figure of fun among not just right-wingers but comedians as well, who prey on his inability to live up to the great expectations he created. “That’s pretty amazing, Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize,” said Jay Leno. “Ironically, his biggest accomplishment as president so far: winning the Nobel Peace Prize.”

The award challenges us to ask whether we should respect our politicians for their intentions or just their actions. The ensuing outpouring of frustration raises the question of whether we are justified in turning against the same politicians when their actions fail to match their intentions.

athens11These are questions Greeks should be considering at the moment. As Papandreou prepares to unveil his government’s policy program, voters must think about whether the PASOK leader should be applauded for his lofty ambitions or whether praise should be put on hold until at least of some of these goals are achieved.

There’s a fine balancing act involved here. Clearly, actions are ultimately what counts but they’re not enough on their own. Papandreou must set out bold intentions because it’s the only way he can unite people behind a common goal and it provides the measure by which the electorate can later judge him and his government.

To what extent we buy into these aspirations is what will determine our reaction when they’re not met. But that’s exactly the issue – we know they will not be met, at least not in full. Yet, like so many American columnists in recent days, when we experience reality getting in the way of political dreams, we react like a consumer who gets home and realizes that the plasma TV he bought is actually the screen for a shadow puppet theater.

Criticism of our politicians is a necessary part of our democratic system – its lifeblood, in fact – but accusing them of being false prophets is a bit rich, given that voters – not to mention the media – are now as savvy at political games as the men and women who play them.

If Papandreou’s ambitious agenda turns out to be a big act and the only award he’s in contention for is an Oscar for his acting ability, then he should be criticized. But those who take on this task while claiming their hopes have been shattered will be hypocrites, because we all know that these are expectations, as Johnson wrote, “created not but reason, but by desire” and which require “the common course of things to be changed, and the general rules of action to be broken.” We have come to expect some pandering and play-acting from our politicians. It needn’t be part of our repertoire.

“I know not any thing more pleasant, or more instructive, than to compare experience with expectation, or to register from time to time the difference between idea and reality,” wrote Johnson. “It is by this kind of observation that we grow daily less liable to be disappointed.”

It might be wise to heed his words, even if there is no award for doing so.

This commentary was written by Nick Malkoutzis and first appeared in Athens Plus on October 16, 2009