The Unelected and Unaccountable Men Who Decide Our Fate by Laura Shannon


Bas relief of Atropos, shears in hand, cutting the thread of life

Bas relief of Atropos, shears in hand, cutting the thread of life

In Greek myth, the Fates, the Moirai, are three sisters – Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos –  who spin, measure and cut the thread of life for every person born. Their rule is law; even the gods, so the legend has it, have no power to bargain with the one who cuts the thread and ends the life. Her name, Atropos, means ‘she who cannot be turned’.

In Greece today, others are making the life-or-death decisions. It is not the three sisters of ancient folklore, but a bunch of men in suits now wielding the power to uplift or cast down an entire nation and its millions of citizens. I would like to shine a little light on just two of these groups of (mainly) men who have had the most impact on the recent decisions to bring Greece to the brink of bankruptcy, default and catastrophe.

First we have the ESM, the European Stability Mechanism, which presents itself as a fund to ‘rescue’ EU member states in financial straits. In truth, it imposes crippling loans in exchange for austerity measures, ultimately to facilitate the transfer of public assets – land and resources as well as funds for education, healthcare, infrastructure and pensions – into the hands of private investors. The ESM is an ‘international organisation’ based in Luxembourg, the notorious tax haven, and has many secret ties to private investment funds profiting enormously from the privatisations imposed in line with the so-called ‘rescue’.

Though working closely with European Union leaders, the ESM is not an official EU agency, and is therefore not bound by any of the rules and restrictions which normally apply to EU institutions. Nor is there any public access to information about its actions, which are shrouded in secrecy. Its members are unelected, entirely unaccountable, and enjoy total legal immunity for their actions. Ironically, for these men are the ones heaping tax upon tax on already impoverished and desperate Greeks, members of the ESM are exempt from taxation by any authority (articles 34-36 of the ESM Treaty).

We also have the Eurogroup, which imposed the third Greek bailout earlier this month through a loathsome blast of propaganda, threats, and blackmail, and held the entire country hostage through a terrifying – and unnecessary – shutdown of the banking system.  The Eurogroup too is both unelected and unaccountable, with no constitution and no constraints. As one legal expert confirmed to former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, ‘The Eurogroup does not exist in law; there is no treaty which has convened this group.’ Varoufakis concludes:

What we have is a non-existent group that has the greatest power to determine the lives of Europeans. It’s not answerable to anyone, given it doesn’t exist in law; no minutes are kept; and it’s confidential. So no citizen ever knows what is said within… These are decisions of almost life and death, and no member has to answer to anybody.

Diki with sword and scales

Diki with sword and scales

Ancient Greece had another goddess, known as Diki. She was the bringer of justice, the keeper of order, and the guardian of the gates of heaven. Because Diki brought divine retribution down on wrongdoers, she served as an effective deterrent to those tempted to overstep the boundaries of right action.

Those overstepping now, however, are not being punished. The corrupt Greek politicians who stole public money and indebted the country to the hilt not only got away scot-free, they are continuing to profit from the crisis.  Meanwhile, the EU institutions hinder all attempts to bring these culprits to justice, while ferociously attacking the only political party in Greece’s history – the Syriza coalition – which set out seriously to reform the system which allowed the old-school crooked politicians so much power in the first place.

Of course, it was not old Greek politicians alone who got the country into such a mess. From Goldman Sachs, which used credit default swaps to help Greece disguise its original debt levels (doubling it in the process), to Siemens, the German engineering giant who routinely gave massive bribes to key politicians to get huge state contracts in Greece, outside forces were involved from the beginning in Greece’s apparent self-destruction.

In fact, Siemens’ former president, Heinz-Joachim Neubürger, who essentially took the fall for the Greek bribery scandal, committed suicide earlier this year. Or did he? Neubürger’s death came just days after Syriza came to power promising to reopen the Siemens case, investigate further the high-level corruption which helped sink Greece in unsustainable debt, and bring to account all those responsible. As Neubürger knew the most about the bribery and was likely to be subpoenaed to testify in the proceedings, his death was highly convenient for those risking discovery and prison. Although it was ruled a suicide, many found the death suspicious. Who knows who cut the thread of his life? Neubürger’s Greek counterpart, Michalis Christoforakos, the Siemens boss in Greece, was equally implicated in the corruption scandal, but has also escaped trial because Germany refuses to extradite him as Greece has requested.

These are just a few examples. Those of us who have an inbuilt allergy to inequality and injustice are having a hard time these days. Can we not invoke Diki now, the spirit of righteous action, to step in to help her homeland? Can we not stand up to these institutions which have claimed so much power over our lives?

Eight hundred years after the first one, it’s time for a new Magna Carta, to ensure basic economic and human rights, and freedom from enslavement by predatory banks and speculators. To halt the rapacious worldwide exploitation of resources and people, we urgently need a new economic system, based on creativity, connection, cooperation, sustainability, and mutual support – the values of traditional Greece and the ancient Goddess.

6th C BCE red-figured Attic vase showing Diki (Justice) beating Adikia (Injustice) with a mallet

6th C BCE red-figured Attic vase showing Diki (Justice) beating Adikia (Injustice) with a mallet

Laura Shannon - CopyLaura Shannon has been researching and teaching traditional women’s ritual dances since 1987. She is considered one of the ‘grandmothers’ of the worldwide Sacred / Circle Dance movement and gives workshops regularly in over twenty countries worldwide. Laura holds an honours degree in Intercultural Studies (1986) and a diploma in Dance Movement Therapy (1990).  She has also dedicated much time to primary research in Balkan and Greek villages, learning songs, dances, rituals and textile patterns which have been passed down for many generations, and which embody an age-old worldview of sustainability, community, and reverence for the earth. Laura’s essay ‘Women’s Ritual Dances: An Ancient Source of Healing in Our Times’,  was published in Dancing on the Earth. Laura lives partly in Greece and partly in the Findhorn ecological community in Scotland.

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Categories: Abuse of Power, Divine Feminine, Goddess, In the News, Politics

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9 replies

  1. Great post Laura. We do need a new declaration of freedom from control by money! Great idea.

    I have two small quibbles.

    1) The “men” who are making these decisions include Christine Lagarde and Angela Merkel, and even if we want to picture them as making the decisions the majority group of men want, we need also to face the fact that women are gaining power in patriarchal colonialist capitalist systems–whether we like what they are doing or not.

    2) One of the reasons I don’t like Greek myth is illustrated in the picture of Justice beating Injustice. The picture does not reflect the matriarchal values that you and I have still experienced in rural Greece. Rather it is patriarchal conceit that perhaps recognizes the power of ancient Goddesses, but also distorts and perhaps even mocks them. A mother in a matriarchy would never beat her child with a club. Moreover, Injustice is not the child of matriarchy but of patriarchy. Injustice would better be pictured wearing the armor of a warrior (or in today’s parlance a business suit), but then of course the trope would fall apart, for the warrior would fight back, and “defeat” the Goddess. Remember how Aphrodite limped off the battlefield at Troy. And if we put a sword in the hand of Dike or any other Goddess, she no longer represents the values of love, generosity, and sharing of the more ancient order. Instead, she is Goddess of patriarchy, upholding its values much as Lagarde and Merkel uphold the values of patriarchal colonial capitalist injustice.

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    • Thanks, Carol.
      Yes, I quite agree, the women in positions of power in the current system (like Margaret Thatcher in her day) are serving the patriarchy, not the partnership values of Old Europe and the ancient Goddess. The new world leaders we need now could be any gender, as long as they value community and sustainability above domination, exploitation and profit.
      I also take your point about violence in Greek myth and agree that matriarchal values emphasise nonviolence as well as love, generosity and sharing. I confess I can relate to the desire to take a mallet to the IMF, the ECB and the Eurogroup in the name of justice, but it is more important in Greece now to find nonviolent ways to respond to the plundering of the country. Let us hope the ancient values of preserving community and peace will guide people now as they did in the past. Greeks are actually pretty good at peaceful protest, since they have been in the streets protesting austerity more or less constantly since 2010. If only anyone were listening.

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  2. The Goddess, Atropos (Gk.Ἄτροπος”) meaning that which is fated, or can’t be turned back, and where your essay begins, thanks Laura, is almost never discussed in anything I read, and I’ve never seen an individual statue of her like your illustration, that is, separate from the Fates. So I just want to comment a little bit on her here.

    As a goddess, or as an archetype, Atropos provides a provocative way of understanding death. Her emblem, the shears in her hand, indicating that she “cuts the thread,” of course refers to the journey of life, like a road, coming to an end. But what fascinates me is that the umbilical cord must also be cut at the time of birth, so that the image of Atropos suggests that opposite counterpart, and which thereby unites our way of entering the world along with leaving it. And so in a sense, “atropos” could actually mean “can’t be turned backward,” that is, death can’t prevent our rebirth into another plane of existence.

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  3. Thanks, Sarah, for sharing your insight into Atropos.
    Yes, I also see a correspondence between ‘life thread’ & umbilical cord, and death as rebirth.
    I ‘got’ this very clearly when I went to my first Greek funeral: everyone was wearing black from head to toe, standing round the coffin, which was resting on a stand with a bowlful of grain placed on the floor below it. I saw us, the relatives and descendants, as the fertile, dark, living earth, and the deceased grandmother as the ripe grain to be planted in the ground.
    It is as if those who have gone before are ‘given eternal life’ in the love and memory of those still living – also emphasised in the custom of naming children after their grandparents. I think this sense of connection bridging life and death helps people act responsibly and sustainably towards future generations.
    If only we all had this deep knowing.
    When you write that ‘death can’t prevent our rebirth into another plane of existence’, I am reminded of the words of Senegalese poet Birago Diop (made famous in the Sweet Honey in the Rock song ‘Breaths’):
    Those who have died, have never never left / The dead are not under the earth
    They are in the rustling trees, they are in the groaning woods
    They are in the crying grass, they are in the moaning rocks
    The dead are not under the earth

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  4. I think it’s time for the Fates to come back and get to work doing what they do best. Also, it’s time for Astraea to come back and bring justice to the land, especially Greece, and rescue and old and proud civilization from men and secrets. Let’s also bring Nike back and let her stand with the ordinary people and bring victory to them.

    Thanks for writing this post.

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  5. Thank you Laura. I am pondering the situation of Greece very much, as that is the land I grew up in many decades ago, and which I love. I don’t know a solution, tho’ maybe there is something inspired by Gandhi as it seem a situation similar to the British empire in India. I think the world doesn’t understand the Greek experience of the austerity measures which are very cruel and demeaning. So your continued writing is important, and of course prayer for guidance as to what are the steps to bring to the Greek people a more joyful and abundant life. Candace in miami, Florida

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  6. Reblogged this on writingontherim and commented:
    Most people in the USA where I live have no clue what is occurring in Greece or realize it will one way or another affect us all. Nowhere in the world today are economies isolated from each other. Another example of how our current world is ruled almost, if not, totally my money.

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  7. Thank you for this clear exposition of the situation in Greece. It gives me factual ammunition (I realize I need to find a less violent word) for when someone starts talking about the Greek laggards who want to escape their debts.

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