Hilary’s Blog 20-01-2015

The ‘Evil Empire’ is not Russia

Here’s something I bet you don’t know: They used to make cars on Corfu.
Mind you, we’re not talking Beemers or Mercs, or even Ladas. The vehicles were those little tinny three-wheel, two-stroke pick-ups, similar to Piaggios. But the point is, they manufactured proper stuff here.
P7120005Once upon a time, dozens of factories manufactured soap from the last pressing of Corfu’s olives. Now only one remains: Patounis, which occupies the same premises – and uses the same equipment – as it did in 1891. Patounis, just off San Rocco Square on the ‘Green Bus’
street, boasts a lively wholesale export trade, with Japan and Germany its top customers.
One success story, at least.
What happened to the vehicle factory I mentioned in the first paragraph? Apparently, the owners received a massive order to supply hundreds of the vehicles to, of all places, Saudi Arabia. Since their factory was inadequately sized and equipped to deal with the order, they applied to the government for a loan to enable them to expand.
They were turned down. The factory lost the order and also its aspirations. They gave up on motorised vehicles and continued making the odd bespoke trailer instead. Today, the premises near Gouvia seem abandoned.
The fine entrepreneur Dimitris Bouas, who brought us the Castelli Hotel and Danilia Village (both now closed), established in the early 90s a ceramic factory in partnership with an internationally renowned Stoke brand. In state-of-the-art premises on the Paleokastritsa road, Ceraco employed over 70 people and exported top quality goods all over the world. Then, just at a time when it was running into competition with cheap Chinese wares, the government reneged on its loan promises.
Ceraco closed down.
Corfu once had its own dairy industry, a cooperative under the umbrella of AEBEK; its fiery-tasting graviera-type cheese was famous all over Greece. The industry died, closed down by a politician, and the cheese disappeared with it. Another recent attempt to restore the sector under the brand-name Farma hit the rocks when its fresh milk could not compete with the big international firms. AEBEK still processes olive oil waste in a factory in Messaria.
Once, the island even ‘sold coals to Newcastle’, with a pasta firm called Zafiropoulos sending substantial exports to Italy. It closed down in the 70s.
Imperial Strom still makes mattresses, and Corfu Charcuterie a variety of pork products, but I don’t know what volume of their goods is exported off the island. Other than that, we have a number of crafts workers and skilled artisans – pottery, olive wood, traditional woodwork, glass art and so on – plus various kumquat works and a still-small-but-growing band of olive oil bottlers. But they all supply only the local market, and exports are minimal. Or they pitch their wares at tourists. No elegant dinner services to grace a stately table, just pretty souvenir bowls and plaques.
I am sure some of you are shrugging your shoulders and mumbling: ‘So what? That’s globalisation at work.’ And you are right. But it seems to me more pernicious than that. Does anyone find it rather sinister that – at the very least – the government has failed to support Corfu’s industries, even going so far as to close down a successful one? This matters.
To examine why it matters, we shall go back to Ancient Rome, but at this stage we’ll only revert as far as the Venetian Empire, which at the time called itself ‘the Serene Republic’. Everyone knows that the reason we have so many olive trees in Corfu is that the Venetians encouraged their planting, offering a gold bounty as an incentive (incidentally altering the rural population’s way of life and brutalising them in the process). But the decision to turn Corfu into one great olive grove was not an altruistic gesture aimed at ensuring the peasants had a better diet (pre-Venice, they actually grew masses of vegetables, barley and vines), but was enacted in order to supply lamp-oil for Venice. Yes, all done for the rulers’ own benefit. A similar action forced Kefalonia to grow currants.
This is how empires behave. They exploit the resources – water, land, labour, material assets – of their vassals to their own advantage, sucking wealth to the centre. Look at the British in India. The Roman Empire behaved in exactly the same way; for example, they turned North Africa into their ‘bread basket’. (I bet the rural people were not too pleased when they discovered that the consequence of being part of Rome was that they would slave in the fields to keep Roman bellies sated instead of growing their own food.) This is also why most of our potatoes come from Cyprus and Egypt.
The Roman Empire also exploited its outlying regions through tax-harvesting. They would appoint a governor (usually a Patrician general, as thanks for services rendered in war), who would be ordered to gather a specified sum in taxes. Anything he gathered over and above this amount was his to keep, a wonderful incentive for squeezing the locals.
Does this all begin to sound horribly familiar? Industries are run down so that a region is forced to rely an a single economic activity (in Corfu’s case, tourism). Subsidies are offered to populations to produce a desired outcome, like the Venetian gold bounty for the planting of olives. Placeman politicians trouser a vast proportion of the subsidies as bribes to keep them on-project. Unexpected taxes are raised to fund the demands of central government (what will the Greek government have to tax next to pay for the recent demand for several hundred million euros? Our dogs?). Farmers are told what they can and cannot grow in their own fields. The Empire grows steadily by ‘persuading’ sovereign nations they are better in than out (Ukraine being the latest), if not by armed conquest (Yugoslavia). Populations are treated as a market for goods produced elsewhere, because this can be more easily taxed.
Disregarding the evidence to the contrary, some people actually believe that the European Union is benevolent, but it is an empire in all but name (remember that the body called the ‘Soviet Union’ was in fact the Russian Empire). Increasingly, the EU even behaves like an empire. It wants us ‘globalised’ so that it can control us and hoover up the wealth of nations and individuals. The European Empire is malignant, not benign, and the sooner naive, deluded and gullible folk wake up, the better for all of us.
Before I woke up, I asked a local aspiring politician friend – who worked for years as an advisor at the heart of the Empire in Belgium – why the Greek government (Brussels-run nowadays) was taking actions which very obviously would be detrimental to small businesses. His reply? ‘They. Don’t. Care.’
So there you have it, out of the mouth of one of their own. This Empire is not good for us.

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