Tuesday, December 16, 2008

When Jesus met Buddha

Europe's is not the only version of the Christian faith, nor is it necessarily the oldest heir of the ancient church. For more than 1,000 years, other quite separate branches of the church established thriving communities across Asia, and in their sheer numbers, these churches were comparable to anything Europe could muster at the time. These Christian bodies traced their ancestry back not through Rome, but directly to the original Jesus movement of ancient Palestine. They moved across India, Central Asia, and China, showing no hesitation to share - and learn from - the other great religions of the East.

Just how far these Christians were prepared to go is suggested by a startling symbol that appeared on memorials and stone carvings in both southern India and coastal China during the early Middle Ages. We can easily see that the image depicts a cross, but it takes a moment to realize that the base of the picture - the root from which the cross is growing - is a lotus flower, the symbol of Buddhist enlightenment.

In modern times, most mainstream churches would condemn such an amalgam as a betrayal of the Christian faith, an example of multiculturalism run wild. Yet concerns about syncretism did not bother these early Asian Christians, who called themselves Nasraye, Nazarenes, like Jesus's earliest followers. They were comfortable associating themselves with the other great monastic and mystical religion of the time, and moreover, they believed that both lotus and cross carried similar messages about the quest for light and salvation. If these Nazarenes could find meaning in the lotus-cross, then why can't modern Catholics, or other inheritors of the faith Jesus inspired?

Many Christians are coming to terms with just how thoroughly so many of their fundamental assumptions will have to be rethought as their faith today becomes a global religion. Even modern church leaders who know how rapidly the church is expanding in the global South tend to see European values and traditions as the indispensable norm, in matters of liturgy and theology as much as music and architecture.

Yet the reality is that Christianity has from its earliest days been an intercontinental faith, as firmly established in Asia and Africa as in Europe itself. When we broaden our scope to look at the faith that by 800 or so stretched from Ireland to Korea, we see the many different ways in which Christians interacted with other believers, in encounters that reshaped both sides. At their best, these meetings allowed the traditions not just to exchange ideas but to intertwine in productive and enriching ways, in an awe-inspiring chapter of Christian history that the Western churches have all but forgotten.

To understand this story, we need to reconfigure our mental maps. When we think of the growth of Christianity, we think above all of Europe. We visualize a movement growing west from Palestine and Syria and spreading into Greece and Italy, and gradually into northern regions. Europe is still the center of the Catholic Church, of course, but it was also the birthplace of the Protestant denominations that split from it. For most of us, even speaking of the "Eastern Church" refers to another group of Europeans, namely to the Orthodox believers who stem from the eastern parts of the continent. English Catholic thinker Hilaire Belloc once proclaimed that "Europe is the Faith; and the Faith is Europe."

But in the early centuries other Christians expanded east into Asia and south into Africa, and those other churches survived for the first 1,200 years or so of Christian history. Far from being fringe sects, these forgotten churches were firmly rooted in the oldest traditions of the apostolic church. Throughout their history, these Nazarenes used Syriac, which is close to Jesus' own language of Aramaic, and they followed Yeshua, not Jesus. No other church - not Roman Catholics, not Eastern Orthodox - has a stronger claim to a direct inheritance from the earliest Jesus movement.

The most stunningly successful of these eastern Christian bodies was the Church of the East, often called the Nestorian church. While the Western churches were expanding their influence within the framework of the Roman Empire, the Syriac-speaking churches colonized the vast Persian kingdom that ruled from Syria to Pakistan and the borders of China. From their bases in Mesopotamia - modern Iraq - Nestorian Christians carried out their vast missionary efforts along the Silk Route that crossed Central Asia. By the eighth century, the Church of the East had an extensive structure across most of central Asia and China, and in southern India. The church had senior clergy - metropolitans - in Samarkand and Bokhara, in Herat in Afghanistan. A bishop had his seat in Chang'an, the imperial capital of China, which was then the world's greatest superpower.

When Nestorian Christians were pressing across Central Asia during the sixth and seventh centuries, they met the missionaries and saints of an equally confident and expansionist religion: Mahayana Buddhism. Buddhists too wanted to take their saving message to the world, and launched great missions from India's monasteries and temples. In this diverse world, Buddhist and Christian monasteries were likely to stand side by side, as neighbors and even, sometimes, as collaborators. Some historians believe that Nestorian missionaries influenced the religious practices of the Buddhist religion then developing in Tibet. Monks spoke to monks.

~ more... ~

December 1944: Greece's 'other' infamous December riots

Liberation, the Dekemvriana, and the road to the Civil War

After Liberation in October 1944, the tensions between EAM and right-wing, nationalist or western-oriented republican forces, which were supported by Great Britain, escalated. Originally, as agreed at the Lebanon conference, EAM participated in the government of national unity under George Papandreou with 6 ministers. Due to disagreements regarding the disarmament of ELAS and the formation of a national army, on 1 December, the EAMite ministers resigned. EAM organized a demonstration in Athens on December 3, 1944 against British interference. The exact details of what happened have been debated ever since, but gendarmes opened fire on the crowd, resulting in 25 dead protesters (including a six-year-old boy) and 148 wounded. This clash escalated into a month-long conflict between ELAS and the British and Greek governmental forces, known as the "December events" (Dekemvrianá), which resulted in a British victory. In February, the Varkiza agreement was signed, leading to the disbandment of ELAS. In April, the SΚΕ and ΕLD parties left EAM. EAM was not dissolved, but was hence for all intents and purposes merely an expression of the KKE. During the 1945-1946 period, a conservative terror campaign (the "White Terror") was launched against EAM-KKE supporters. The country became polarized, eventually leading to the outbreak of the Greek Civil War in March 1946, which lasted until 1949. In its aftermath, and in the context of the Cold War, KKE was outlawed, and EAM/ELAS vilified as an attempt at "Communist take-over" and accused for various crimes against political rivals. The issue remains a highly controversial subject to this day.


The Dekemvriana

In November 1944, six ministers of the EAM, most of whom were KKE members, resigned from their positions in the "National Unity" Government. Fighting broke out in Athens on December 3, 1944 during a demonstration, organised by EAM, involving more than 100,000 people. According to some accounts, the police, covered by British troops, opened fire on the crowd.[12][13][14] According to other accounts, it is uncertain if the first shots were fired by the police or the demonstrators.[15] More than 28 people were killed and 148 injured. This signalled the beginning of the "Dekemvriana" ("the December events"), a 37-day period of full-scale fighting in Athens between ELAS and the forces of the British Army and the Government.

The British tried to stay neutral, but when the battle escalated they intervened, with artillery and aircraft being freely used. At the beginning the government had only a few policemen and gendarmes, such as the Greek Mountain Brigade distinguished at the Gothic Line offensive III, lacking heavy weapons and militia units, and accused by EAM of collaboration with the Nazi forces in the case of the royalist group X, also known as Χίτες - Chites). On December 4 Papandreou gave his resignation to the British Commander, General Scobie. His resignation was not accepted by the General. By December 12 ELAS was in control of most of Athens and Piraeus. The British, outnumbered, flew in the 4th Infantry Division from Italy as reinforcements. During the battle with the ELAS, local militias fought alongside the British, triggering a massacre by ELAS fighters. It must be noted that although the British were openly fighting against ELAS in Athens, there were no such battles in the rest of Greece. In certain cases, such as Volos, some RAF units even gave equipment to ELAS fighters.

Conflicts continued throughout December with the British slowly gaining the upper hand. Curiously, ELAS forces in the rest of Greece did not attack the British. It seems that ELAS preferred a legitimate rise to power, but was drawn into the fighting by the indignation and, at the same time, the awe of its fighters after the slaughter on December 3, aiming at establishing its predominance. Only this version of the events might explain the simultaneous struggle against the British, the large-scale ELAS operations against trotskyists and other political dissidents in Athens, and the many contradictory decisions of EAM leaders. Videlicet, KKE's leadership, was supporting a doctrine of 'national unity' while eminent members, such as Stringos or Makridis and even Georgios Siantos, were elaborating revolutionary plans. Even more curiously, Tito was both the KKE's key sponsor and a key British ally, owing his physical and political survival in 1944 to British assistance.[16]

This outbreak of fighting between Allied forces and an anti-German European resistance movement, while the war in Europe was still being fought, was a serious political problem for Churchill's coalition government of left and right, and caused much protest in the British press and in the House of Commons. To prove to public opinion his peace-making intention, Churchill himself arrived in Athens on December 25 and presided over a conference, in which Soviet representatives also participated, to bring about a settlement. It failed because the EAM/ELAS demands were considered excessive and, thus, rejected. By his arrival in the Greek capital, the evacuation of British forces and the trial of those rightwingers accused by EAM of being nazi collaborators, was not on Churchill's agenda.

The aftermath of street fighting in Athens, December 1944.

In the meanwhile, the Soviet Union remained surprisingly passive about developments in Greece. True to their "percentages agreement" with Britain, the Soviet delegation in Greece did not encourage or discourage EAM's ambitions, as Greece belonged to the British sphere of influence. Pravda did not mention the clashes at all. If this position of the Soviet leadership had been brought home to KKE's leadership, the Dekemvriana might have been averted. It appears that Stalin did not intend to avert the Dekemvriana, as he would profit no matter the outcome. If EAM rose to power, he would gain a country of major strategic value. If not, he could use British actions in Greece to justify to the Allies any intervention in his own sphere of influence.

By early January, ELAS had been driven from Athens. As a result of Churchill's intervention, Papandreou resigned and was replaced by a firm anti-Communist, General Nikolaos Plastiras. On January 15, 1945 Scobie agreed to a ceasefire, in exchange for ELAS' withdrawal from its positions at Patras and Thessaloniki, and its demobilisation in the Peloponnese. This was a severe defeat, but ELAS remained in existence and the KKE had an opportunity to reconsider its strategy.

KKE's defeat in 1945 was mainly political. The exaltation of terrorism on the communist side made a political settlement even more difficult. The hunting of "collaborators" was extended to people who had not been involved in collaboration. Several Trotskyists had to leave the country in fear for their lives (Cornelius Castoriadis fled to France). After the fighting in Athens, KKE support declined sharply, and as a result most of the prominent non-Communists in EAM left the organisation. However, terrorism amongst rightwing extremist gangs was strengthened.


Greek Civil War
Dekemvriana
December 1944


On 3 December 1944, during a banned EAM demonstration of approximately 250.000 people in central Athens, an outbreak of shooting of so-commanded X and LOK (Lochos Oreinon Katadromon, the Greek stay-behind) members and "British troops and police with machine guns posited on the rooftops" in Syntagma Square against the unarmed demonstrators, which resulted in 28 deaths (including a six-year-old boy) and 148 wounded people. This led to full-scale fighting between ELAS and the Government the following days. The role of the LOK in the Syntagma massacre was never investigated.

Western Allies tried to stay neutral but when the battle escalated, they intervened with artillery and aircraft being freely used. At the beginning the government had only a few policemen and a brigade without heavy weapons. On 4 December, Papandreou attempted to resign but the British Ambassador convinced him to stay. By 12 December ELAS was in control of most of Athens and Piraeus.

The outnumbered Western Allies flew in the 4th Infantry Division from Italy as reinforcements. During the battle with ELAS, local militias fought alongside the Western Allies, triggering a massacre with the ELAS fighters. Although the British were fighting openly against ELAS in Athens there were no fights in the rest of Greece. In certain places, like Volos, some RAF units even gave equipment to ELAS fighters.

Conflicts continued through December, (hence the name Decemvriana) with the Western Allies slowly gaining the upper hand. Curiously, ELAS forces in the rest of Greece did not attack the Western Allies. It seems that ELAS primarily preferred a legitimate rise to power but, drawn into the fighting by the indignation and the awe of its fighters due to the slaughter on 3 December and after, it chose Stalinist methods and violence.

Only this version of the events can explain the, simultaneous to the fight against Western allies, large-scale ELAS operations against trotskyists and other political dissenters in Athens and many contradictory decisions of EAM leaders. Videlicet, KKE's leadership, was supporting a doctrine of 'national unity' while eminent members like Stringos or Makridis and even Siantos where elaborating revolutionary plans.

The outbreak of fighting between Western Allied forces and an anti-German resistance movement, while the war was still being fought, was a serious political problem for Churchill's coalition government and caused much protest in the British and American press and in the House of Commons. To prove his peace-making intention, Churchill himself arrived in Athens on 25 December where he presided over a conference, in which Soviet representatives participated, to bring about a settlement. It failed because the EAM/ELAS demands were considered excessive and thus, they were rejected.

The Soviet delegation in Greece wasn't encouraging or discouraging EAM's ambitions, as, according to the Moscow agreement, Greece belonged to the British sphere of influence. Any notification about this fact of the Soviet sided towards KKE's leadership, could have staved off the December's clash. It seems that Stalin didn't have the intention to avert the Dekemvriana as he would profit no matter the outcome. If EAM rose in power, he would add a country of major strategic value in his realm. If not, he could justify any intervention in his sphere of influence, like the British had done in Greece.

By early January ELAS had been driven from Athens. As a result of Churchill's intervention, Papandreou resigned and was replaced by a firm anti-Communist, General Nikolaos Plastiras. On 15 January 1945, Scobie agreed to a ceasefire, in exchange for ELAS' withdrawal from its positions at Patras and Thessaloniki and its demobilization in the Peloponnese. This was a severe defeat but ELAS remained in existence and the KKE had an opportunity to reconsider its strategy.

KKE's defeat in 1945 was mainly political. The exaltation of terrorism on the communist side made a political settlement even more difficult. The hunting of "collaborators" was extended to people who had not been involved in collaboration. The KKE made many enemies by summarily executing up to 8.000 people for various political "crimes", during their period of control of Athens and they took another 20.000 hostages with them when they departed.

Several Trotskyites had to leave the country to save their lives (i.e. Cornelius Castoraidis fled to France). After the Athens fighting, KKE support declined sharply and, as a result, most of the prominent non-Communists in EAM left the organization. However, terrorism among the right-wing extremist gangs was strengthened.



1941-1945: Andartiko - the Greek Resistance

In September 1944 as the Red Army threatened to cut them off, German morale collapsed. Gradually troops were withdrawn from various parts of the country, allowing the EAM and ELAS to liberate new towns and cities. Battalion units still held on in some towns, refusing to surrender to the andartes, preferring to stick it out and wait for the British to come. As they were defeated by the insurgents, the enraged communities they terrorised often carried out brutal reprisals. Meanwhile, the EAM set out to restore order rather than seize power, though the de-centralised nature of their army meant some bands behaved with more moderation than others. Athens was liberated on October 12th and celebrations embraced everything; Greek flags, red flags, singing the Marseillaise and the Internationale, even priests chanting the EAM slogan – 'Laokratia' (People's Democracy). When the British arrived, they too were greeted with enthusiasm, like elsewhere showered with kisses and flowers.

Yet politically, the capital was rapidly being turned into a tinderbox, ready to ignite. The government of national unity invited former collaborators into its ranks, even heading the particularly sensitive security services. Churchill had prepared his troops for war with the ELAS (who he expected to try and seize power), and tension continued to rise in the city, as workers and youth pressed their grievances in the streets. Returning after liberation an exiled Greek leader had his landmark speech constantly interrupted by the crowd shouting 'LA-OK-RA-TIA' over and over again, finally urging them to quiet by saying “I'm not here to talk about laokratia.” Finally on December 2nd, the EAM broke with the national government after negotiations over disarming the andartes broke down. The following day, the police opened fire on an EAM demonstration. Their supporters responded by attacking police stations, and the city was pitched into open warfare (the Dekemvriana). This caught resistance leaders off-guard and left them once again without a plan. British troops now set out to clear the city in 2 to 3 days, but were still fighting over a month later, finally reaching a ceasefire on 11 January. ELAS snipers turned central Athens into a 'little Stalingrad', and after failing to retake the city with ground troops, the British resorted to strafing apartment blocks and wooded areas from the air.

Churchill was unrepentant, falsely claiming that the EAM had sought to seize power and had to be put down, even though the partisans had spurned a better chance of victory before Allied troops arrived. British forces then rounded up 15,000 leftists, deporting 8,000 of them, with ELAS responding by seizing thousands of wealthy Greeks. The tragic struggle in Athens broke the EAM. The agreement they came to with the British forced most of the guerrillas to turn in their weapons, with only a minority refusing and taking to the hills. Aris – one of the most prominent Kapetans – led one band that refused; he was eventually caught and beheaded. A White Terror gripped Greece as the newly formed National Guard (mostly ex-Security Battalionists) set about persecuting the EAM. War-crimes went unpunished, as former guerrillas were arrested, sometimes for acts of resistance; by the end of 1945 ten times as many resistance fighters as collaborators had been convicted, a trend that was to worsen with the beginning of the Civil War. Even in the 1960s Greek jails still held people whose only crime was fighting Nazism.


'In a Rather Emotional State'? The Labour Party and British Intervention in Greece, 1944–5

Andrew Thorpe

University of Exeter

In December 1944 events in Greece intruded briefly but violently onto the Labour party's political agenda. When police shot Communist-sympathising civilians in British-occupied Athens, and the Coalition government under Churchill appeared to support the act, constituency Labour parties and trade unions all over Britain passed angry resolutions of condemnation. The impact of the crisis was all the greater because the delayed annual conference of the Labour party was about to convene. The crisis was, in the event, soon overcome by adroit party management, a softening of Churchill's own position, the conclusion of a ceasefire in Greece, and the difficulty of sustaining grassroots anger over a complex and unfamiliar issue, while clear indications that Greece was not, for the time being, a Soviet priority inhibited British Communists from agitating more strongly on the issue. But the crisis did briefly threaten the carefully-crafted unity that had enabled Labour to profit from the circumstances of the war and which was to stand it in good stead at the July 1945 general election. It is also argued, however, that the extent and depth of Labour anger cannot be understood without a wider appreciation of Labour's rather febrile mood in the final winter of the war, in which events in Greece could be seen as yet another manifestation of an increasingly anti-Labour line being taken by the Coalition. The extent of Labour's crisis over Greece in that last wartime winter was at least as much about the future of Labour as it was about the present and future of Greece.

Ecuador calls foreign debt 'illegal,' defaults on payments

President Rafael Correa declared on Friday that Ecuador would not make a $30.6 million interest payment on $510 million in bonds due in 2012, calling the debt illegal.

The default on the Global Bonus 2012 bonds means that Ecuador is also defaulting on Global 2015 and 2030 bonds. The default totals $9.937 billion, 19 percent of the country's GDP. Ecuador has assembled a legal team to fight expected lawsuits and hopes to use the default as leverage to renegotiate the debts.

Civil society organizations have long criticized foreign debt as a means of exploiting impoverished countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The anti-debt organization Jubilee USA says “countries are paying debt service to wealthy nations and institutions at the expense of providing these basic services to their citizens.” In addition, lending institutions often use indebtedness to force cuts in social spending and impose business friendly economic policies.

The Confederation of Ecuadorian Kichwas (ECUARUNARI), the powerful Andean branch of the country's indigenous peoples movement, has long called the foreign debt illegal and illegitimate. “We have not acquired any debt. The so-called public debt really belongs to the oligarchy. We the peoples have not acquired anything or been benefited, and thus we owe nothing.”

~ more... ~

Europe’s ruling elite fear the "contagion" from Greece

By Chris Marsden

15 Dec, 2008

It is necessary for working people, especially the young, to consider the broader implications of the past week's events in Greece. It is, after all, a question that is occupying the thoughts of senior figures within the ruling elites of Europe and the United States.

The rioting that has engulfed Greece had its spark in the police killing of a 15-year-old boy, Alexis Grigoropoulos. But this ignited a seething mass of discontent, especially amongst Greece's youth and its student population. Despite the efforts of the New Democracy government and its nominal opponents on the official left to blame anarchist agitators, only this social opposition can account for the sustained character of the protests and their spread throughout the country, even in the face of brutal repression.

Numerous reports have drawn attention to the dire situation facing the younger generation in Greece, even those who have graduated from university. Unemployment affects one in four 15-to-24-year-olds, even in advance of the full impact of the slump in the world economy. Post-graduates are routinely forced to take minimum wage jobs at just €600 a month, if they are lucky. Some work two jobs in order to survive.

Andre Gerolymatos wrote in Canada's Globe and Mail that “the predominant factor for the actions of such young people is a sense of hopelessness,” noting that unemployment for those between 15 and 20 is “just over 22 per cent.” He continued: “It's no coincidence that most of the rioters fall within that age group. In effect, one in four young men and women face a future of low-paying jobs and poverty.”

The situation in Greece is dire, but it is by no means the exception. Across Europe a similar picture is developing. Hence the commentaries to the effect that Greece is emblematic of what the Wall Street Journal acknowledges to be “growing discontent among youths in many European countries.”

The Journal noted that young people in Greece have been “dubbed 'Generation 600'—referring to the country's national minimum wage of €600.” It then listed similar designations: In Germany it is “Generation Intern” because graduates “have found themselves working as interns for no or low pay for long periods.”

In Spain, young people are referred to as “mileuristas” — “loosely, those who scrape by on a thousand euros a month … entering the workplace with few benefits or protections, often moving between temporary contracts.”

In a more extensive December 9 comment on Spain, Bloomberg noted that its “Best Generation” is being hit hardest as “boom turns to bust.” Some 28 percent of Spain's young people are out of work, twice the European Union average. Fully 63 percent of those between the ages of 15 and 24 who were working were on temporary contracts last year, “so the young people are the first ones to lose their jobs and they're losing them massively,” explained Gayle Allard, vice-rector of the Instituto de Empresa business school in Madrid.

The average net monthly salary for people under age 29 is just €964. Only 55 percent of young workers can afford all their costs, according to a government report.

The day before Alexis Grigoropoulos was killed, Forbes ran a report by Selcuk Gokoluk warning, “Rising unemployment among young Turks threatens to fuel social unrest.” Bulent Pirler, general secretary of an employers' group, stated, “Turkey has a young population. If they are not educated and employed, it means you have a bomb in your hands.”

Forbes continued: “Data shows that 1.09 million people are registered at the state unemployment agency, but it is advertising only 14,526 job offers. More than one third of the jobless claims registered last month were made by people aged 15-24.”

The Telegraph in Britain featured an article in its December 8 business pages by Constantine Courcoulas insisting, “Investors are wrong to ignore the Greek riots.”

After warning that the present “uproar is unprecedented” and “no longer limited to an anarchist fringe” due to “widespread anger at the government,” Courcoulas wrote that “the tensions created by unemployment, marginalised youth and incompetent governments are far from exclusively Hellenic. Similar outbreaks are possible in other countries. Recessions are always tough on the young. And while the Greek rioters' slogan— 'bullets for your youth, money for your banks'—may not qualify as sound socioeconomic analysis, it has a catchy ring.”

He concluded, “Social protests have sometimes changed the world. Think of the French and Russian revolutions.”

Writing for the Associated Press, a similar appraisal was made by Paul Haven, who stated that the “authorities in Europe worry conditions are ripe for the contagion to spread” as the continent “plunges into recession.”

Most tellingly, the Scotsman newspaper drew attention to the response of French President Nicolas Sarkozy to the Greek events. Rejecting budget proposals from his own party that he considered too obviously biased toward the wealthy, he remarked, “Look what is going on in Greece.”

Sarkozy expressed concern that unrest could spread to France, the Scotsman reported. “The French love it when I'm in a carriage with Carla, but at the same time they've guillotined a king,” he said.

The citations above are drawn from leading financial journals, newspapers with a distinctly right-wing colouration and organs generally designated as newspapers “of record.” They are serious appraisals made of a growing threat to the capitalist system posed by a generation of young people, often educated, highly intelligent and articulate, who are living on next to nothing. Told for years that an education was all that was required to succeed, they have no prospects for the future despite their sacrifices and those of their parents.

Faced with governments of the official left and right seeking to make working people shoulder the full weight of the economic crisis, and opposition parties that offer no real opposition to this agenda, young people in Greece have taken to the streets in a mass display of anger and frustration. But make no mistake. We are witnessing the beginning of a profound social shift that must assume political forms that will not be confined to the compromised and discredited trade unions and organisations of the official left.

~ World Socialist Website ~

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