Around the Web This Week

Here are some interesting stories involving law and religion from this past week:

“Hellenistic Sanctuaries” (Melfi & Bobou, eds.)

In April, Oxford University Press will release “Hellenistic Sanctuaries: Between Greece and Rome,” edited by Milena Melfi (Oxford University) and Olympia Bobou (Ashmolean Museum).  The publisher’s description follows:

Sanctuaries were at the heart of Greek religious, social, political, and cultural life; however, we have a limited understanding of how sanctuary spaces, politics, and 9780199654130rituals intersected in the Greek cities of the Hellenistic and Republican periods. This edited collection focuses on the archaeological material of this era and how it can elucidate the complex relationship between the various forces operating on, and changing the physical space of, sanctuaries. Material such as archaeological remains, sculptures, and inscriptions provides us with concrete evidence of how sanctuaries functioned as locations of memory in a social environment dominated by the written word, and gives us insight into political choices and decisions. It also reveals changes unrecorded in surviving local or political histories. Each case study explored by this volume’s contributors employs archaeology as the primary means of investigation: from art-historical approaches, to surveys and fieldwork, to re-evaluation of archival material. Hellenistic Sanctuaries represents a significant contribution to the existing bibliography on ancient Greek religion, history, and archaeology, and provides new ways of thinking about politics, rituals, and sanctuary spaces in Greece.

Bedlek, “Imagined Communities in Greece and Turkey”

In December, I.B. Tauris published “Imagined Communities in Greece and Turkey: Trauma and the Population Exchanges under Ataturk,” edited by Emine Yesim Bedlek (Bingol University).  The publisher’s description follows:

In 1923 the Turkish government, under its new leader Kemal Ataturk, signed a renegotiated Balkan Wars treaty with the major powers of the day and Greece. This9781784531270 treaty provided for the forced exchange of 1.3 million Christians from Anatolia to Greece, in return for 30,000 Greek Muslims. The mass migration that ensued was a humanitarian catastrophe – of the 1.3 million Christians relocated it is estimated only 150,000 were successfully integrated into the Greek state. Furthermore, because the treaty was ethnicity-blind, tens of thousands of Muslim Greeks (ethnically and linguistically) were forced into Turkey against their will. Both the Greek and Turkish leadership saw this exchange as crucial to the state-strengthening projects both powers were engaged in after the First World War. Here, Emine Bedlek approaches this enormous shift in national thinking through literary texts – addressing the themes of loss, identity, memory and trauma which both populations experienced. The result is a new understanding of the tensions between religious and ethnic identity in modern Turkey.

Greece and the Price of Europe

Alexis Tsipras, head of the anti-bailout Syriza party, speaks during a financial conference in Athens on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014.  Tsipras said that Greece’s battered economy could not recover unless the money owed to other Eurozone country’s was cut significantly. The leader of Greece’s popular left-wing opposition says he will demand a massive debt haircut from bailout lenders if his party comes to power in a possible snap election early next year. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Last week was a momentous one for the European project. On Monday, the Greek Parliament passed an austerity package that other Eurozone members, especially Germany, had demanded as a condition for considering Greece’s request for an €86 bailout. Negotiations will now begin. How they will end is anybody’s guess.  No one thinks the austerity package itself will solve the economic crisis Greece faces, and pretty much everyone thinks it will lead to years of misery for the nation. Greece already owes creditors an unsustainable €320 billion. But Germany argues that EU rules prohibit any debt reduction for Greece. Perhaps the parties will find a way to extend Greek payments without calling it a debt reduction. I’m sure the lawyers are working on it.

There is plenty of blame to go around. Yes, Greece misled people about the state of its finances when it joined the euro and has spent beyond its means. And the left-wing Syriza government greatly misjudged the mood in Europe and allowed itself to be completely outmaneuvered. But the banks that made the loans should have known Greece was in no position to pay. Having collected their commissions, they passed the debts to national governments–privatized gains and socialized losses–and walked away. As for those national governments, they should have known a common currency without a common fiscal policy was an unworkable proposition. They ignored this truth in pursuit of the illusion of a common Europe, extending from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean and from the Atlantic to the Black Sea. Greece is now paying the price for that illusion.

All this has been said before. But I’d like to draw attention to a small element of the austerity package Greece’s creditors demanded, one that has largely escaped notice. Under the terms of the package, in order to stimulate commerce, Greece will have to repeal its restrictions on Sunday store openings. From now on, nationwide, Sunday will be a shopping day. (Two years ago, Athens allowed Sunday shopping in 10 tourist areas, a move that led to protests). Presumably, Greeks will respond by buying and selling and generally growing their economy. The increased tax revenues will allow Greece to pay some of its debt. And repeal of anti-liberal Sunday closing laws will allow Greece to create a rational European economy, like Germany’s—though, ironically, German stores are closed Sundays.

We Americans are likely to view this matter as trivial. In America, as Robert Louis Wilken once wrote, the only thing that distinguishes Sunday from other days of the week is that the malls open a little later. Besides, a country can’t be pre-modern forever. Sunday closing laws are hopelessly old-fashioned and illiberal. If Greeks want to stay home on Sundays, they can; but people should be able to shop if they want to.  Resistance probably comes from interest groups that oppose free competition.

But Greece isn’t America or Germany, or at least it didn’t want to be, and the reform is indicative of a larger issue. The Sunday closing laws reflected the fact that Greece had values in addition to the market. Greece has had a tradition of Sunday closings to allow people to spend time with family and attend church. (Sure, lots of people watch football instead, but that’s a different matter. Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue). The ban on Sunday trading acknowledged that Greece is an Orthodox Christian country, with its own rhythms and ways of life. No matter. In Europe today, if it’s a choice between religious and cultural traditions, on the one hand, and commerce, on the other, commerce wins.  That’s the economically sound choice.

I don’t suppose there’s anything to be done. Greece is in a terrible situation and needs to find a way out. And I know it’s a small matter, compared to the other hardships Greeks will have to bear. But something important is being lost. To be part of the European project, apparently, a country must do whatever it can to become a secular, consumerist, market-oriented place—Sundays included. Localized cultures that stand in the way of economic rationality must recede. Perhaps that’s the inevitable logic of modernity. But it’s not an image the Christian Democratic founders of Europe like Konrad Adenauer and Robert Schuman would have recognized.

Tsitselikis on Aspects of Legal Communitarianism in Greece

Konstantinos Tsitselikis  (U. of Macedonia) has posted Aspects of Legal Communitarianism in Greece: Between Millet and Citizenship. The abstract follows.

Legal and political percepts pertaining to ethnic belonging in Greece are closely linked to the ideological understanding of Greekness, a legacy of the Ottoman Greek-Orthodox millet system. Complementary to this image of the national self, minority protection law on Muslims and Jews was and still is partially formed through millet-like paradigms. Greece’s territorial expansion made all inhabitants of the annexed provinces Greek citizens en masse: in addition to those that were deemed eligible to belong to the Greek nation, Jewish and Muslim communities also acquired Greek citizenship. For these communities the self-autonomy of the Ottoman millet structure in education and religious matters was transformed into minority protection, through special rights (community schools, Moufti’s jurisdiction, Muslim foundations, military conscription) attributable through religion to citizens of the state.

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