Secular Europe forces Orthodox Greece to roll out Sunday trading


When it comes to Sunday trading, at least HM Government is intent on deploying the statutory instrument in the democratic process.  The Greek government, on the other hand, has been directed by their EU masters “to formally commit to strengthening their proposals in a number of areas identified by the Institutions, with a satisfactory clear timetable for legislation and implementation.. including Sunday trade”.

The ‘Institutions’ in this context are those of the Eurogroup in Brussels, but no-one is deluded that it isn’t essentially the Franco-German engine of ever closer integration, led chiefly by Chancellor Merkel of Germany, who (by all accounts) was “brutal” as she “bullied”, “nailed” and “crucified” the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his new Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos. The objective was to “grind down the Greeks”, and they certainly did it.

It is a hollow settlement that casts aside the will of the people expressed so recently in a referendum, but the outcome was predicted and pre-ordained:

..let us not fool ourselves about what will follow. The Franco-German axis will convene an emergency bilateral summit to agree the way forward, and then tell the other EU member states what it is. ‘Ever closer union’ precludes any restoration of national sovereignty: the answer to every crisis in the EU is ‘more Europe’.

The deal which the people rejected has been succeeded by a deal which is rather more austere. Never in the history of EU referenda has such an overwhelming Οχι been so expeditiously overturned by so much arm-twisting with so little favourable compromise to the recalcitrant state. In exchange for a further bailout of €86bn over three years – in addition to the €240bn bailouts already granted and with no reduction in the overall level of debt – the Greeks must accept a whole raft of economic reforms, including a €50bn programme of privatisation and the rolling out of Sunday trading. But at least they’ll now be able to pay back the outstanding €1.6bn to the IMF, and also meet their commitment to repay a further €3.5bn to the ECB next week. That’s €5.1bn gone in a flash.

Twitter has been outraged with #ThisIsACoup, but it really isn’t. It may seem like it, and, if you’re Greek, it might feel like a bit of a stitch-up. But neither Germany nor the Eurogroup can impose anything upon the Greek government that the Greek government is not prepared to concede. Tsipras and Tsakalotos may have been punched and kicked, but they were never bound and gagged. They have, of their own volition, done a deal. It was the price Syriza had to pay to remain in the euro: clubs, after all, have rules. They must now sell that deal to their parliament. What the Greek Prime Minister did not reject, the Greek Parliament yet could. Were it to do so, there would be a certain general election, which would result in the election of a government even more ill-disposed toward Brussels – even of the fascist Golden Dawn. If 62% of a people are feeling oppressed, they may seek national salvation in all manner of false and ugly messiahs.

Greece is bankrupt and the world knows it. So does the Greek Orthodox Church (which is by no means bankrupt, and prays for ‘more Europe’). Is the secularity of Sunday trade a price worth paying for ‘more Europe’? Where is the economic morality in borrowing and borrowing to pay off concentric circles of never-ending debt? Man shall not live by bread alone. Nor can he live forever on someone else’s dough.

For the Greek Orthodox Church, Sunday is still special. It is the day when the Gospels are venerated among the people, and the Beatitudes are sung. It is communal: there are no abstractions. For the Orthodox, love is powerful and present. In their consciousness they carry the heritage of Xenophanes and Plato; mindful of their myth, yet fervent in their belief that the rites and practices of religion are necessary for the well-being of man and the smooth running of society. Secularity may present a kind of societal symmetry, but it can never transcend the world of sight or inspire awe. True religion involves moral and intellectual purification; ascent from lower to higher mysteries in order that the soul might apprehend and understand.

By all means, let the atheist Greek Prime Minister persuade his parliament that Sunday is no longer sacred. They freely elected him, and, after all, the sabbath was made for man; not man for the sabbath. But let the Greek people know and understand that it was the EU – the secular Europe of the Enlightenment – cajoled by secular Germany in partnership with secular France, which contended that the conservative heritage of the Orthodox tradition was otiose, and that another cornerstone of Christendom must bow to the precepts of the Euro-beast. They have no ears for the homilies John Chrysostom, and no eyes for the political vision of Basil the Great.

Alexis Tsipras and Angela Merkel may sing the same hymn of divine darkness in the choir of secular Europe, but the rich who neglect their suffering brothers and sisters will surely experience the pain of Dives in hell.