Needed, a ballad for the Olli Rehn empire

Featuring Umberto Eco on Orgasmus, an obscure Restoration Scottish nationalist on London, Mexico’s revolutionary and narco-corridos, and Italian Renaissance bandit- and Camorra-praise poetry, all for the benefit of the European Union’s commissar for provincial affairs.

Michele Pezza aka Fra Diavolo leading Neapolitans against Frankish imperialists.

Michele Pezza aka Fra Diavolo leading Neapolitans against Frankish imperialists. Image: Wikipedia.

In an interview the other day (it/en), in covert reference to the EU’s Erasmus for All initiative,

[Umberto] Eco mentions Erasmus, Europe’s university exchange program, which is rarely mentioned in the business sections of newspapers. “But Erasmus has created the first generation of young Europeans,” he says. “I call it a sexual revolution [Trebots: hence its popular nomer, “Orgasmus“]: a Catalan boy meets a Flemish girl, they fall in love, get married — and they become European, just like their children.”

“The Erasmus idea should be compulsory,” Eco continues, “not just for students, but also for taxi drivers, plumbers and others. Spending time in other countries within the European Union is the way to integrate.”

The idea is indeed seductive; and yet from newspapers and political parties across Europe, pride looks to be giving way to populism, with E.U. members growing increasingly hostile toward each other.

“That’s why I said that our identity is shallow,” he says. “Europe’s founding fathers– Adenauer, De Gasperi, Monnet – may have traveled less. De Gasperi spoke German, but only because he was born within the Austro-Hungarian empire, and he didn’t have the Internet to read the foreign press. Their Europe reacted to war and shared their resources to build peace. Today, we must work towards building a deeper identity.”

Andrew Fletcher made the culture vs legislature point perhaps even better three centuries ago in a splendid tract, An account of a conversation concerning a right regulation of governments for the common good of mankind:

I said, I knew a very wise man so much of Sir Christopher’s sentiment, that he believed if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation. And we find that most of the ancient legislators thought they could not well reform the manners of any city without the help of a lyric, and sometimes of a dramatic poet.

The superiority of heroic ballads over institutional anthems in persuading people to help you capture the state was understood in revolutionary Mexico. Here are three classic corridos of that era, Francisco Villa, Toma de Zacatecas and Toma de Celaya (you’ll find more info over at the late, lamented Jaime Nicolopulos’s mini-site):

These formed the basis for the sponsored artists of a narcoterrorism with goals not hugely different from those of the PRI. Here from Los Cuates de Sinaloa is the narcocorrido “Heisenberg,” which deals with the chemistry-teacher-turned-meths-baron who protagonises the brilliant US telly series, Breaking Bad:

The same successful continuation can be observed in Napolitan bandit balladry, from the epics celebrating 16th and 17th century brigands like Benedetto Mangone and Marco Sciarra (see for example “The tale of the life and death of Pietro Mancino, bandit leader“) to contemporary Italian narcocorridos by the so-called neomelodici, who I met via Jordi, but who also turned up the other day in the Guardian in the person of “Nello Liberti”, stage name of Aniello Imperato, whose most notorious lyrics are widely available in transcription and translation into standard Italian:

Then, in contrast, there’s the Olli Rehn approach to the destruction of state sovereignty: obey my rules or the troops will come marching in with orders to detain ballad-singers, and himself with nary a trace of shame for letting in Romania and Bulgaria in 2007. Here he is publicly humiliating Luis de Guindos, who as Spain’s new economy minister is responsible for some quite savage reforms, but who in the corridors of genuine power is a mere flunkey:

So will Rehn be remembered as an archetypal Brussels Nazi – a colourless Teddy Roosevelt – who contributed greatly to the destruction of his own institution? Or will he get smart and commission from this blogger a ballad describing him, like Pietro Mancino, as someone who may have done great wrong but was always a friend to the poor? Dollars preferred, but whatever.

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  1. The PRI/Zeta comparison is rather silly: the PRI was a quasi-religious, Stalinist kleptocracy dedicated to stealing from Mexicans while the Zetas’ goal is to get a bad deal for US consumers, which may incidentally involve taking command of parts of the Mexican state. NAFTA etc. have involved a clear erosion of Mexican sovereignty, but the US is managing its leading role far better than the EU, partly by keeping eternal basket cases (Greece, Guatemala) at a distance.

  2. One of the interesting things about the EU now is how successfully it will be able to manage its collapse. Mexico is so fucked up because once the PRI fell there was no popular legitimate alternative and lots of well-armed illegitimate would-bes. Spain was far more successful, replacing an authoritarian central power with a plethora of authoritarian local powers and Brussels. When Brussels goes, though, who’s going to run Spain? Can anyone see the residual central state or the chaotic autonomies taking on the dope mafias long-term?

  3. Olli Rehn and his friends are megalomaniacs. He doesn’t care that Turkey is even worse than the Balkans or whether people starve or can vote. More “citizens” = bigger lunches for him.

  4. By the way, if Greece leaves the euro as you seem to want what chance is there of them making the reforms they need?

  5. Salvation through starvation? Don’t think they’re buying that. And someone needs to explain to the German press that it’s all sorted.

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