What do the Prespes agreement, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Boris Johnson have in common? They are all involved with nationalism, populism, lies, half-truths and illegality. The rallying cry for nationalist opposition to Prespes, “Macedonia is Greek,” was a half-truth. Half of Macedonia is certainly Greek. The other half is Macedonian.
Turkey successfully invaded a neighboring sovereign state, Cyprus, 45 years ago, and has yet to be punished for illegal annexation. Today, further Turkish claims to Greek islands are made in defiance of binding treaties and the international law of the sea. Turkey recognizes the sea, but not the law that governs it.
All politicians tell lies and half-truths. If they told the whole truth, there would be permanent riots in the streets. But they tell them in the public interest, for “the greater good.” It is when they tell lies for their own personal gain, like Johnson and Donald Trump, that we know we have been hijacked. Johnson has, in effect, hijacked the UK, and hijacking is piracy.
Johnson has been proved a cheat in his career as a journalist, a deceiver of the public during the referendum campaign, and a liar in his attempt to override Parliament. Only once has he been thwarted: when the UK Supreme Court ruled him outside the law. It’s quite an ambitious move, to deceive the national parliament, and Johnson nearly won. In the USA, he would be impeached. As it is, he can now shout “fake news” to anyone who contradicts him.
“We pulled it off, didn’t we?” Johnson called as he won. The expression says more about trickery than democracy. Pulling off a big trick puts him in the same league as a president who can imprison 120,000 opponents on the basis of an alleged coup. In Johnson’s case, he himself has been the author of a coup so daring and so underhand that he has imprisoned half the population of the UK who voted not to leave the EU.
This is the greatest irony of what has been a deeply divisive three years, with little prospect of the country overcoming its social and geographical fissures and facing the appalling economic consequences of Brexit. This doesn’t bother Boris: He has won.
The writer of spy thrillers, John le Carre, taught at Eton, the exclusive public school where Johnson and his predecessor David Cameron were pupils. Carre, whose books describe masters of deceit, said that Eton “doesn’t teach you to govern. It teaches you to win. That’s what it’s about.” In his latest novel, “Agent Running in the Field,” he gives a veiled description of Johnson as “that f****ng Etonian narcissistic elitist without a decent conviction in his body bar his own advancement.” Except he didn’t use asterisks.
I am not against elites, since every form of association is an elite, excluding more than it can possibly include. But I am against elitism, and Johnson has made “elite” and “clique” into obscenities in the national lexicon.
I have never, until now, been ashamed of my nationality. Embarrassed sometimes, but never ashamed. I left Britain in 1967, after attending a school within a stone’s throw of the Houses of Parliament, and 10 minutes’ walk from Trafalgar Square, Soho and the concert halls of the South Bank. This leaves an indelible mark on one’s character.
To this, I have added the quite different aspects of Irish culture, living in the republic for 40 years before moving to Greece. Culturally, I am a European, even if I am harshly critical of the EU itself. I can relate, however obliquely or tangentially, to where I live: Greece. After January 31 I shall no longer be a citizen of the EU. The passport I carry bears little relation to who I am. I shall be, in effect, stateless.
Having myself been educated at an elite school (we actually looked down on Etonians as enjoying social status at the expense of their intellects), I can understand the resentment that Cameron and Johnson’s background has enabled them to callously disunite the “United” Kingdom (since Scottish independence is certain within the next decade). I cannot understand how it enabled them to “win” in the power game.
Le Carre says of Brexit: “This is not patriotism. This is nationalism.” And, despite the smirking face which betrays his arrogance and callousness, Johnson has harnessed nationalism at the expense of his – and my – patria.
Denis Staunton, London editor of The Irish Times, describes Johnson’s “vanity, mendacity and callousness.” It is not merely that Johnson himself is a liar but that the so-called democratic system could have allowed such a man to become mayor of London, then minister of foreign affairs, and now prime minister. This, to me, is shameful.
One wonders what Johnson’s Turkish cousin, Sinan Kuneralp, would make of it all. An historian, he is a critic of Erdogan and seems to disapprove of his British cousin’s politics also. They share a great-grandfather, Ali Kemal, and Johnson’s name comes from an adroit name-change by his grandfather, from Osman Kemal to “Wilfred Johnson.”
Johnson’s father has even said, “Strictly speaking, I ought to be a Turk.” Boris Kemal, as he should be known, is now the British prime minister. The next time he sits down with Erdogan, a fellow artist in mendacity and callousness, they will have much to discuss.
Richard Pine was voted “Critic of the Year” in the 2018 Irish Journalism Awards. He lives and works in Corfu, and is the author of “Greece Through Irish Eyes.”