The limits of choice 

Recent events, the Brexit referendum, Trump’s rhetoric, the Turkish coup have led to intense discussions about democracy, popular choice and the limits of consultation.

The referendum specifically has been a lot about letting people choose and respecting their choices. In fact these debates are nothing novel, there are centuries of reflection behind them, from Plato onwards. I too have contributed to library shelves on democracy and choice.

A bite-sized summary of this literature is that there are limits to the ability to choose and on the content of that choice. I had argued for instance when reflecting on Greece’s crisis that the Greeks should be given a choice between the horrors of austerity and the tragedy of Grexit. I had argued that they would suffer anyway, but the democratically selected pain was better than the other option.

Yet, I fought against Tsipras Greferendum, why? The reason is that choice with incomplete information amidst lies and populist propaganda is not democratic, it is the semblance of choice. It serves not the people, if anything it makes marginalisation worse.

The same criticism can be brought against the Brexit referendum. Was it choice? What does Brexit mean?  Was it a vote against migration and damn the consequences? Was it a vote in favour of more democracy? No one knows. What everyone knows is that it empowered a section of the establishment to do something. What this something is, we are all in the dark.

Was the Turkish coup an assault against democracy or the last attempt of the Kemalist establishment to resist the islamification of Turkey under a modern day Sultan?

Are there and should there be limits to democracy? Absolutely. Human rights and the rule of law are limits on democracy, and necessary ones.

Democracy does not mean mob-rule. It does not mean shouting slogans and then having the civil service figure out a corresponding policy response.

Tsipras Greferendum, the Brexit referendum, Erdogan’s win over the putchists mean something, but they do not necessarily mean democracy.


Refugee Crisis: A radical proposal

Greece faces an unprecedented migration/refugee crisis. UNHCR reports that more than 100.000 people have arrived in Greece since the start of 2016 alone. With borders closing upstream (Macedonia, Serbia, Austria, Hungary etc) it is not possible for these people to move on.

Turkey is clearly failing (intentionally or not) to live up to its commitments to stem the migrant/refugee flow. The main contributor to the crisis, the Syrian conflict does not seem to be abating. If anything, it is turning into a regional war, and a focal point of international competition reminiscent of cold-war proxy conflicts.

I had suggested in the summer that Greece should treat the refugee emergency in the same way it would treat an earthquake and mobilise emergency response to house and care for those arriving over the summer. Things have become so much worse since the summer, even such response will not do any more.

It is important to understand one thing, Greece is alone in this. Europe should help, other states should agree to take on significantly higher numbers of refugees. Turkey should do something, other than bomb the Kurds. A lot of things should and could happen but they won’t. What is happening is that Greece will have another million people stranded there over the course of the year. I guess, this will stop when the conflict areas empty of non-combatants, but we are a few million away from that yet.

What can happen is that Europe pays for Greece to care for the people stranded there, while everyone else talks and talks pretending to work towards a lasting solution, or the war in Syria burns itself out. No one likes this? No one does. It is happening, it will happen. Greece being recalcitrant will lead to all these people being stuck there without the funding to care for them. Hear that Mr Tsipras?

If people are to stay in Greece for the medium to long term, where are they going to stay?

Here comes the radical part of this proposal.


They can come stay in my home. I come from Epirus, Ioannina in fact. My grandfather is from Meropi (Robates) in the Pogoni region bordering Albania.

The Region of Epirus, located in the northwest of Greece. The total area of the region is 9.203 square kilometers, of which 14% is agriculture land, 52% is covered by grassland, 26% is forest and 3% represents the surface waters, while built up areas and other uses account for the remainder of the land. The 74% of the region, is mountainous areas.

According to the census of 2001 Epirus has a population of 353.820 inhabitants, which represents the 3,3% of the total population of Greece. The population density is 38-inhabitants/ square km, which corresponds to less than a half of the average population density in Greece.

The region of Pogoni has a population of 9000 (2011 census) and a surface of 740km².


We have been complaining for decades about the depopulation of our villages along the border. Of houses falling down, of infrastructure staying unused. The area is full of villages with houses and no people. With fields and no farmers. People used to live there. They lived there for centuries. They could live there again, rebuild the villages with European funds (blood money if you want to call it that).

What about the people who own the land? The government could lease it from them, it could even expropriate it as a measure of last resort. Indeed the government has already expropriated a lot of it as many up there cannot pay the property taxes. Would we give people’s summer houses over the migrants? Well, yes. Would we create Muslim villages in our border towns and villages? Yes.

Any right-winger nationalist itching to call me a traitor can go ahead, and I hope when their own children flee a war someday they get the same treatment Greece is dishing out to refugees at the moment.

My family was evacuated by the British to Corfu during the civil war. They could have let my grandmother get killed.

Our towns rehoused refugees after the Balkan Wars ended in 1923, they could have refused them. The Greeks from Turkey who fled after the end of the war were as alien to the local population in Epirus as the current refugees are. Do not hide behind nationalist myths of fraternity based on religion and language. They did not recognize each other as kin.


You don’t like giving over our empty villages to the refugees? Where would you like them to go? Walk up and down the motorways till they all die? What will people do up there you ask? They will live in safety, farm the land. It is a better existence than walking to Calais or Berlin and better than being killed by Assad or Daesh. In any case, they will not be imprisoned there, they can leave if they want, but Greece will have done its duty, will have offered them an alternative to a life on the road or death at the hands of the jihadists. I do not make a distinction between migrants and refugees here. They are both fleeing terrible fates.

Come on, lets face reality and start suggesting things. The above is a suggestion, bad one perhaps, but it is a suggestion. If my kids were fleeing a war I would like someone to suggest something like this. Or perhaps us living in London or Paris do not expect to survive the next war.

Ok, I do not currently live in the areas I recommend are given over, but I will give up my summer house and inheritance entitlements if need be. What would you give?


Idiocracy and twitter


What do you call it when the Prime Minister tweets questionable messages to a fellow PM while visiting their country for an international summit?

Lets have a look at the exchange and judge for ourselves.

Tsipras, the Greek PM, tweeted from his personal account in Greek the following:


And then through his English language account, with the help of Google translate it seems, he posted this:

tsipras ENG

Then, surprise surprise the Turkish PM responded:


The ‘managers’ of Tsipras accounts then proceeded to remove the English post, left the Greek one and posted on the Government account this:


What have we learned from this exchange? First, it seems that Tsipra’s accounts are run by monkeys, or perhaps a couple of IT savvy goats.

Secondly we learned that the Aegean is an issue to discuss with Turkey. Ever since the Lausanne Treaty that ended the Turkish-Greek war in 1923, Greece has refused to discuss the Aegean arguing that there is no problem to discuss. It has been a cornerstone of Greek foreign policy that there is no territorial dispute in the Aegean for almost 100 years. Yet yesterday Mr Tsipras told us there is something to discuss.


Here are the BBC and Guardian accounts of this event.

How do you feel?