The Prize

Update: In December 2013, 17 year-old Malala Yousafzai became the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – another cynical hand-out to promote ‘Western Values’.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Tom Lehrer, the mathematician and song-writer, famously said, “Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.” That was back in 1973 when Britain joined the European Union. It hasn’t stopped the Norwegian Nobel Committee from handing the prize this year to the EU and its forerunners, for keeping the French and Germans from each other’s throats and transforming Europe into “a continent of peace”.

Norway has twice rejected membership of the EU. Unkind critics believe only Nordic modesty prevented the prize going to NATO of which Norway is an affiliate. In 1948 it was not possible to honour five-time nominee Mahatma Gandhi because he was dead. Perhaps next year would have been too late for the EU as well.

The citation says “Over a seventy-year period, Germany and France had fought three wars. Today war between Germany and France is unthinkable. This shows how, through well-aimed efforts and by building up mutual confidence, historical enemies can become close partners.”

So EU members have received smiley faces for not fighting in class. In the playground it’s another matter. As part of the NATO gang they’ve bombed and balkanised Yugoslavia, attacked Afghanistan, decimated Libya and are gutting Syria ahead of an onslaught on Iran. There is an ongoing public inquiry to find who was responsible for Britain’s illegal invasion of Iraq – in which more than a million people were killed. As none of this deserves stars for peacekeeping it’s suggested the prize is actually intended to provide a moral boost.

“The EU is currently undergoing grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest. The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to focus on what it sees as the EU’s most important result: the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights.” Right on, but as Barack Obama proved, platitudes are unlikely to change policy.  He went on a killing spree after becoming a laureate. Besides it is patent the EU is now effectively a front for an international banking cartel. The difference in approach to post-war German reconstruction and the Greek crisis makes that abundantly clear.

Eric Toussaint from the Committee for the Cancellation of Third World Debt attracts attention to the 1953 London agreement which ensured Germany’s swift recovery. “The starting point was that Germany had to be able to pay everything back while maintaining a high level of growth and improving the living standards of its population. They had to pay back without getting poorer.”

To achieve that the US, Britain and France agreed to slash German debt by 63 percent. Payments could be suspended or renegotiated if resources were limited. Creditors accepted the debt would usually be paid in marks which meant the German central bank could issue money if necessary. Debt service was limited to 5 percent of export revenue. Domestic production for export and to replace imported goods was encouraged. German courts were even declared competent to rule on disputes with creditors. Interest rates were reduced and reparations to other countries postponed. Grants today worth some $12 billion were made under the Marshall Plan.

Sixty years on the priority for Greece – and it is much the same for the other Euro zone casualties – is servicing the banks. Debt reduction is marginal although the legitimacy of the debts is itself questionable under the Greek constitution. It is irrelevant whether austerity programmes to squeeze out repayments strangle economy recovery. Germany was allowed to control its key economic spheres and expanding public sector. Greece is forced to privatise and sell-off national assets to foreign “investors” at knock-down prices. It must pay in euros – despite a negative trade balance – and its central bank cannot lend the government money. Payments are not linked to export revenues – indeed “fair competition” outlaws the strategy on which German post-war recovery was based.  Greek courts will not have jurisdiction to suspend payments even if widespread riots threaten public security.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel – making her first visit to Greece since the crisis broke – was confronted unpleasantly by protesters wearing swastikas. Far more disturbing are reports that the fascist party Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) is extending its reach with support and cover from state forces and the police. It attracted 7 percent of the national vote in June. Spyros Marchetos author of “How did I Kiss Mussolini: The First Steps of Greek Fascism”, says European elites have been playing with fire for far too long. “Deflationary economic policies mixed with a state tolerant of fascist actions, a sympathetic media, a right that needs allies in the streets and a dormant left are a recipe for disaster. Merkel succeeded, where the Führer himself had failed, in creating a Nazi party in Greece. Similar feats will require less effort in other countries.”

That’s a chilling warning. But Iceland – in the same boat as Greece just four years ago –has shown that austerity is neither inevitable nor necessary. It refused to burden taxpayers and future generations with bank bailouts and it actually expanded its social safety net. It let its banks – with debts ten times the size of the economy – go bust. Bondholders, not taxpayers took the loss which appears to have been exaggerated in the first place. Even IMF chief, Christine Lagarde, has described the Icelandic recovery as “impressive”.

Europe is experiencing the economic shock therapy to which Latin America was exposed through the 1980s and 1990s. The real thrust of EU policy is to complete the neo-liberal project and eradicate the economic and social rights won since the end of the Second World War. Its key objective is to preserve the monopoly private banks now have on the creation of money and the provision of credit to public bodies. This gives the banks total economic and political control. With exquisite irony, the Nobel Peace Prize is used to support repression at a critical stage when democratic resistance on the streets is spreading.

Grassroots organisations are fighting back, attempting the enormous task of confronting the money illusion and revealing how banks hold economies to ransom.  In just two years Positive Money in the UK has forced the issue of monetary reform into the mainstream media – without the $1.2 million that comes with the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s an uneven battle almost a hundred years on from the Great War.

And yes, the granting of the Nobel Prize to the European Union, a political entity and a union of national states, violates Alfred Nobel’s will and is illegal.

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