Dec 032017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

Greece's Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis answers questions as he leaves his office in Athens, Wednesday, July 1, 2015. About 1,000 bank branches around the country were ordered by the government to reopen Wednesday to help desperate pensioners without ATM cards cash up to 120 euros ($134) from their retirement checks. Eurozone finance ministers were set to weigh Greece's latest proposal for aid Wednesday. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)

Greece’s Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis answers questions as he leaves his office in Athens, Wednesday, July 1, 2015. About 1,000 bank branches around the country were ordered by the government to reopen Wednesday to help desperate pensioners without ATM cards cash up to 120 euros ($134) from their retirement checks. Eurozone finance ministers were set to weigh Greece’s latest proposal for aid Wednesday. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)

There were specific economic decisions that created the Greek crisis. It needn’t have happened if it weren’t deemed useful by the powers-that-be in Europe. The crisis was real, but it was largely manufactured by people who were creating distractions from Europe’s real problems.

ATHENS, GREECE — Greek-born economist Yanis Varoufakis, who served as finance minister of the SYRIZA-led Greek government from its election in January 2015 until July 2015, has regularly been afforded rockstar status by the international mainstream media and by such personalities as Noam Chomsky and Julian Assange.

In the aftermath of Greece’s July 2015 referendum, in which voters resoundingly rejected an EU-supported proposal for further austerity, Varoufakis resigned from his ministerial post (but retained his parliamentary seat) when it became evident that the SYRIZA-led government was preparing to betray the will of the voters.

But had the Greek people already been betrayed by SYRIZA and by Varoufakis himself? Journalist Dimitris Yannopoulos, who served as Varoufakis’ press adviser during the latter’s term as Greece’s finance minister, argues that this is the case.

For Yannopoulos, the true betrayal of the Greek people came not in July 2015 when the referendum result was ignored, but in the first weeks of the SYRIZA-led government in February 2015, when Varoufakis, as finance minister, agreed to the continuation of all previous austerity agreements with Greece’s creditors, while attempting to spin this agreement as a “victory.”

In this interview, which aired on Dialogos Radio over a series of broadcasts in September and October 2017, Yannopoulos describes the fateful proceedings leading up to the February 2015 agreement between Greece and its creditors, and how these agreements set the stage for the harsh austerity that continues to be enforced in Greece today.

MPN: Describe your experience as the press adviser to Yanis Varoufakis during his tenure as finance minister of Greece.

DY: Broadly speaking, my experience was exciting at first and hopeful, but it gradually became hectic, grueling, and ultimately disappointing and anxiety-ridden. In the end, it became depressing.

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis attends a news conference about the launch of a new left-wing pan-Europe political movement called 'Democracy in Europe Movement 2025' in Berlin, Germany, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP/Markus Schreiber)

Yanis Varoufakis attends a news conference about the launch ‘Democracy in Europe Movement 2025’ in Berlin. Feb. 9, 2016. (AP/Markus Schreiber)

That’s because the first two weeks following SYRIZA’s election in January 2015, some 80 percent of the Greek population supported the Greek government in its effort to make a cause of rescuing the Greek people from their predicament.

It was a fair one, it was a just one — and even right-wing people, conservative people, were acknowledging publicly that the government was, for the first time, making the hopes and the grievances and the complaints of Greeks known abroad, after some five or six years of an oppressive “memorandum” regime.

“Memorandum of understanding” is really the code name for a regime of economic discipline and supervision, and surveillance — and after those two weeks of hope and excitement came some grueling weeks of hectic efforts to follow Varoufakis’ communicative strategies. It was really a publicity campaign, one in which Varoufakis believed that he could overturn the negative agreements that he had himself made, both in public and privately with the troika, consisting of the European Union, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund.

That was really the problem of those four or five months, that the agreement of February 20, 2015, between Greece and the troika was an agreement that paved the way for a kind of chicken game, a theatrical kind of negotiation in which both sides were speaking through each other and waiting for the end of the extension that was given to Greece, in order to crash. That’s what happened in the end and it was disastrous for Greece, as I expected at least two months before the fateful end in June-early July.

MPN: In a recent article of yours, you referred to the first major development that took place under the watch of Yanis Varoufakis as Greek finance minister, namely the Eurogroup agreement in February 2015. This was presented at the time as a major victory for Varoufakis and the SYRIZA-led government. You, however, have described it as the first major defeat of Varoufakis and that government. What exactly took place leading up to that agreement?

DY: The irony is that the word “defeat” was first used by Varoufakis himself in an interview with Paul Mason, back in September 2015 after he resigned when he said that of course the February 20 was a big success for the government, but four days later we were defeated. That was the first time I started suspecting that something happened four days later that proved the February 20 to be a defeat from the start.

It’s somewhat complicated — let me say what the February 20 agreement basically involved. It concerned an extension of the so-called debt loan agreement that was valid at the time — the loan agreement that was first signed in March 2012 by Antonis Samaras, the conservative former prime minister. The incoming SYRIZA government inherited from Samaras a two-month extension that was expiring at the end of February. So on February 20, 2015, the government was seeking an extension of that extension, and the February 20 agreement gave it four months.

But what the February 20 agreement said was that the Greek government was going to present a few reforms, which would be in accordance with the current arrangements. Here, “current arrangements” refers to the memorandum agreements, signifying that those memorandum agreements were still valid.

So if the troika — renamed the “institutions” by Varoufakis — agreed to the proposals for reforms listed by the Greek government, then the negotiations would start in order to complete the current assessment. Of what? Well, of the government’s performance in complying with the current arrangements, which is, of course, the memorandum. But what I mean is that the agreement was phrased in such a way as to allow a very tenuous interpretation that really there was no memorandum anymore, that the government will propose reforms and all the troika would do is to accept or reject or amend these reforms.

Well, it wasn’t like that, Varoufakis’ positive interpretation notwithstanding. The troika used a ruse, a very clever trap in order to force Varoufakis to concede that all that they would be negotiating was the same memorandum of understanding that Samaras had left unfinished.

On February 24, 2015, during a teleconference in which the troika was supposed to accept the list of reforms that Varoufakis had presented, the troika said this list was okay, but would not be a replacement for the memorandum of understanding. At that point Varoufakis, according to his own later memoirs — and I’m referring specifically not only to his book but also interviews made after he resigned in July 2015 — protested that position of the troika, saying that this was counter to the logic of the February 20 agreement.

But because the expiry date was only four days away — because there would be a rupture, as he called it, if the government did not abide by or allow the February 20 agreement to be validated by the troika, the institutions and the Eurogroup — he retreated. And he retreated in a way that allowed him to say, “Well I didn’t actually retreat in writing, I retreated just in words and that was my mistake, of course, because the government was then going to split.” In essence, Varoufakis said yes to the troika terms of reviving the memorandum of understanding without admitting that it was a binding agreement.

How did it become binding? Well, three days later, Varoufakis was forced to sign two very specific formal documents. The first was the extension of the master financial assistance agreement, which was really the loan agreement of March 2012, and the second was the memorandum terms. It was the same document that the troika later presented to the government, to Alexis Tsipras through Jean-Claude Juncker, on June 25, 2015. Nothing had changed. For the troika, these were the terms that remained to be complied with after Samaras had failed to complete his obligations.

Basically, the whole four months of later so-called “negotiations” amounted to a very dramatic and almost manic attempt by Varoufakis to overturn this situation by a kind of media blitz, a publicity campaign. He believed that by turning public opinion to his favor — global public opinion, that is — he would be able to force either German Chancellor Angela Merkel or President Obama to interfere, to intervene with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and the Eurogroup and to say give him some crumbs, some concessions, so that we can go ahead and not have another Greek crisis in our midst. That was basically it.

The troika, having secured Varoufakis’ signatures and his silence regarding this particular secret agreement, had no reason to negotiate. All it had to do was wait for the Greek economy to crumble — as it did with a continuous capital flight, flight of deposits as well as flight of businesses abroad — and, in a situation of financial credit asphyxiation, the Greek government was losing support both in Greece and abroad. That was the situation, and all this dramatic effort by Varoufakis only served his own image abroad, rather than Greece’s.

In fact, there were instances where he was losing public support not only in Greece but also abroad — instances like the Paris Match interview, where he was shown to be a bon viveur living in expensive houses and having expensive food, or the other interview with a German TV network, where they showed him giving the finger to Germany in 2013, I think. But anyway, the point is that throughout these four months that followed what I call the defeat of February 24, the government was unable to overturn the situation in its favor.

MPN: In your opinion, what should the SYRIZA-led government have done during this crucial period in February 2015, when this supposedly major negotiation and political battle was taking place?

DY: From the start, it should have refused to negotiate anything with the Eurogroup and the troika at gunpoint, under threat of either a forced “Grexit” or credit asphyxiation and closure of the banks.

It is not a negotiation when an economy is in dire straits; is constantly strangulated through the lack of funds because it has no control over monetary policy and cannot finance banks to finance the market; cannot borrow short-term in order to pay dues; and has to draw funds from the public purse and effectively freeze payments to the private sector. The state stopped paying its arrears to the private sector. That was all the result of being unable to counter the main framework of the situation that the new government had faced, which is a situation of economic blackmail.

The first instance of economic blackmail was when the president of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, arrived in Athens to meet Varoufakis on January 30, 2015, where Dijsselbloem said you either sign up to an extension of the memorandum or we’re going to shut down your banks. Now, at that moment of course, a government that was just elected had enormous political capital in its hand to reject that and to reject that in public — to say to him that, if you want to insist on this, you have to say it to the media people who are waiting next door, and I’m going to tell you that this government under no circumstances will take this blackmail anymore.

I am sure that if Varoufakis’ position had been spelled out on these terms behind closed doors, Dijsselbloem would have retreated and a new framework, a less extortionate framework, would have been developed and built between Greece and its lenders.

Then came February 4, 2015, when Varoufakis was meeting Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank, in Frankfurt, and Draghi told him that he was withdrawing the waiver to Greek bonds that night. There was no reason for withdrawing the waiver after the Greek banks had passed stress tests in December and had a clean bill of health. There was no real justification for the European Central Bank to withdraw the waiver from Greek bonds being accepted as collateral for loans by the Greek banking system. Instead of storming out and protesting this decision, Varoufakis almost justified it by saying well, you know, Greek banks are bankrupt anyway and we’re going to arrive to some kind of an agreement later this week or the next week, and the waiver will be reinstated.

European Central Bank Governor Mario Dragh arrives for a plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels, Feb. 25, 2015. (AP/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

European Central Bank Governor Mario Dragh arrives for a plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels, Feb. 25, 2015. (AP/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Of course, nothing like that happened. Instead, the withdrawal of the waiver was finalized and the government was prevented from making new issues of treasury bills — short-term debt that is — borrowing in the short-term markets, as it had been doing up to that time.

So the Greek economy lost two sources of liquidity. On the one hand, the cost of money to the Greek banking system was raised because Greece had to rely on the ELA, the Emergency Liquidity Assistance fund that works through the Bank of Greece. And, on the other hand, the Greek public-sector could not finance its short-term liabilities with short-term loans, by issuing treasury bills that ordinarily the Greek banks would buy — on very good terms I must say, around 3 to 4 percent for six months, almost 10 times the going interest rate for short-term borrowing in Europe at that time.

Basically, right from the outset, the beginning of February 2015, the government was in a stranglehold. The way I saw things then and see them now is that if, at that time, the government risked something like a resignation, a threat to resign, or the launch of a campaign throughout Europe to protest the treatment of Greece like a protectorate — at that moment, when the political capital it had gained after its election was huge — the chance of the Eurogroup and the Eurozone people, Wolfgang Schäuble, making some concessions was far greater than it would be in June and July 2015. By that time the economy had effectively collapsed and the banks had to close and there was little, really, that one could do other than to call it a day with the euro and go back to the drachma — and of course, the Greek government being totally unprepared for that eventuality, the consequences would be dire for the Greek people and for the government itself.

So, I believe that by not sticking to its original position and by not refusing to be blackmailed in the beginning, the SYRIZA government ended up being blackmailed and facing an ultimatum in the end of the process, after the economy had suffered very severe blows in terms of capital flight, business flight, people withdrawing their deposits, youth leaving the country in hundreds of thousands, et cetera.

MPN: Regarding Varoufakis’ actions as Greece’s finance minister, and especially his actions prior to the finalized Eurogroup agreement of February 2015, you have remarked that Varoufakis is the next Andreas Georgiou, referring of course to the embattled former head of Greece’s Statistical Authority, ELSTAT. Do you believe that Varoufakis must face prosecution for his actions as finance minister of Greece?

DY: No, I never actually said that. I don’t believe that the truth is a blame game. This is, unfortunately, a stance that the Greek establishment has enforced in the Greek people’s minds, that any perceived wrongdoing requires a judicial witch hunt.

I never believed that Varoufakis needed to be taken before a court, because his actions were not the same as Andreas Georgiou’s. Georgiou colluded with the troika and Eurostat in order to falsify the deficit of 2009, which effectively pushed us into this disaster, whereas Varoufakis’ mistakes are really the government’s political errors that need to be understood as such in order to be rectified, rather than in order to send the culprits to jail. If they end up in jail that’s another matter. I don’t believe they should end up in jail because there are other priorities at hand — how to change the regime in Greece. You might want to give an amnesty to the people responsible, to help stop the catastrophe that they are implementing.

The point is that Varoufakis himself has encouraged this idea of being tried in court to use the courthouse as yet another public forum for his positions. Some critics of Varoufakis have implied that Varoufakis was somehow bent on pushing Greece out of the euro and preparing for the drachma, but this is absolutely not what he was doing. Varoufakis is a staunch European, he’s now become even more of a transnationalist and a federalist, and under no circumstances would he fathom taking Greece out of the euro.

MPN: Yanis Varoufakis has established a new pan-European movement, the Democracy in Europe 2025 movement or DiEM25, with the stated mission of democratizing the European Union — and indeed he has not ruled out the possibility that his movement will participate in national elections in Europe, including in Greece. How do you view this new movement, and do you believe that the EU in its current form can even be reformed or democratized?

DY: I think the fact that the same media networks that were lambasting and criticizing and vilifying Varoufakis during his tenure have suddenly become his main supporters — passing him off as something like the new Thucydides or the new Winston Churchill over his so-called memoirs, the book that he’s published now called “Adults in the Room” — shows that his new movement has got a lot of support from certain quarters that are unconcerned with democracy.

Without going further into this topic, I would say that if you are saying that there’s no democracy in any European institution and all of them need to be democratized, what you’re saying in fact is that the government, the EU and the Eurozone, in particular, are a sort of dictatorship, an authoritarian regime, an imperial force under the leadership of Germany.

But Varoufakis is not saying that. In fact, he is saying that the only reason why the EU needs to be democratized is in order to avert what he calls the rebirth of “monsters of the past” — meaning the fringe, far-right groups that have emerged out of the current crisis in Europe — which is complete nonsense of course. The real danger in Europe is a clear and present danger, the danger of an imperial regime that has different tiers or layers of oppression — with Greece being its most suppressed member, so to speak, but also the other countries facing one form or another of arbitrary rule by Brussels.

So, the movement is really not a movement — it is something of a hybrid, in my opinion. DiEM25 is a hybrid of a non-governmental organization and a Varoufakis fan club, and I don’t think he realizes or has any idea what the politics of democracy and democratization involve. You need to be active at every level of the apparatus you want to democratize. And if you believe that it can’t be democratized at that level, you have to fight it — you have to resist, you have to set up alternative mechanisms and institutions, not “revitalize” the current ones. I mean, how can you democratize the European Central Bank, which is really the enforcer of austerity policy and all the neoliberal policies that Europe under German guidance is currently following?

MPN: The SYRIZA-led government is now claiming that the worst is over for Greece, that the country is emerging out of the economic crisis, that unemployment is on the decline, that economic growth has been achieved. We have seen SYRIZA’s triumphant PR concerning the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Greece. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, in his recent annual speech at the Thessaloniki Trade Fair, said that talk of Grexit has been replaced by talk of “Grinvest” and foreign investment coming to Greece. How do you view the economic realities in Greece today?

DY: There are two sides to this. To say that the worst is over in general statistical terms may be right. Why? Because the Greek economy has crashed and lost 25 percent of its GDP, some 30 to 40 percent of its productive capacity in the space of four years between 2009 and 2013 — and since 2013 actually it has stopped crashing, it has stopped collapsing, it has stopped losing GDP by minus five, minus six, minus four, minus three. It has stabilized, but at a very low level that in the past four years it hasn’t managed to grow out of at all.

That’s because the Greek economy, in terms of structure rather than statistics, is an amputated economy, an economy that has seen strategic sectors like the banking sector, the social security sector, the housing sector, the construction sector being decimated, literally decimated. These are the sectors that make up most of an economy’s growth potential in bad or good times, and this is the case for the United States or Germany as well as small countries like Greece. These are the sectors that are moving an economy forward.

The rate of investment in Greece has been very very low. Foreign direct investment in particular — that’s the only investment at the moment that can push the economy to a modicum of recovery — is still extremely low. Of course through privatizations, there is capital coming in, so at least in accounting terms the current account balances are improving and showing investment rising —  but in reality, it’s just money coming in to replace previous state ownership. In the long term, this is going to be detrimental to Greek interests because the profits out of these so-called “investments” are going to go back to the countries where they came from — mainly Germany, France, Italy, et cetera.

Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras greets attendants at the inauguration ceremony of Thessaloniki International Trade Fair, in Thessaloniki, Sept. 9, 2017. As the Prime Minister was delivering his speech, protesters held anti-austerity rallies outside the of the fair. (AP/Giannis Papanikos)

Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras greets attendants at the inauguration ceremony of Thessaloniki International Trade Fair, in Thessaloniki, Sept. 9, 2017. As the Prime Minister was delivering his speech, protesters held anti-austerity rallies outside the of the fair. (AP/Giannis Papanikos)

Really, the [economic] recovery that [Greek prime minister Alexis] Tsipras is talking about is a recovery to ground level or below ground level. The Greek economy is flatlined at the moment. It cannot be revived. Why? Because the major statistical fact most people have underestimated or ignored is the fact that Greek households are showing a negative savings rate of between 15 and 20 percent. This means that they’re consuming or paying out 20 percent more than they earn, which in turn means that there is really no domestic capital available for investment.

In fact, the major impediment to growth and recovery is not a lack of investment, but the fact that every single sector of the Greek economy — the state, the banks, and private household — is over-indebted. Households are over-indebted to the state; the state is over-indebted to its suppliers; the banks are indebted to the ECB. They’re stuck with non-performing loans to the rate of 60 percent of their assets — which is an enormous amount when considering that, before the crisis, non-performing loans in Greece were among the lowest in Europe, around 7 to 8 percent. Now they’re at 60 percent, and people are still saying “Oh, we spent so much in previous years and we should pay for this and be punished for this,” but nothing of that is true!

In fact, the Greek banking sector and household savings, and consumption as well as investment have plummeted, and this has had an effect of long-term stagnation that we are facing now — since 2013, a stagnation against which a growth rate of 0.5 or 1 percent is nothing. It’s a growth rate that will not even pay for the replacement of existing or remaining equipment in the Greek economy.

Quite frankly, I believe that unless there is a radical solution to the Greek debt problem — the Greek over-indebtedness problem which starts, of course, from the foreign debt, which is mostly in the hands of the ECB, the EU and the IMF at the moment — unless there is a very drastic cut or write-off of a very big portion of this debt — and this write-off would have to trickle down to the remaining sectors of the economy, so that there is some breathing space for genuine recovery — nothing is going to improve.

In fact, most Greek people don’t see improvement. Why? Because they are under a constant persecution from the tax authorities. Recently, the deputy minister of finance, Katerina Papanatsiou, said that they are going to “hunt down” 25,000 to 30,000 companies that have fled into the other Balkan countries. She said they fled for tax evasion reasons and their books have to be looked at, et cetera. Basically, the Greek state has become a predator of the Greek people.

The Greek state used to be an oppressive state, a largely undemocratic, corrupt and clientelist state. Now it’s become a predatory state, one that does not allow any kind of economic respite to Greek households. I’m not talking only about households that are now living in poverty; I’m talking about middle-class households that don’t know how to make ends meet from one day to the other, exactly because they don’t know what kind of taxes they will have to pay next month.

The latest news for Greek households is that the “ENFIA” — that barbaric tax against private property in Greece — is going to be due next year in March, rather than in July as it was this year. This means that once you stop paying installments for this year’s tax, you’re going to have to start paying next year’s tax. There’s no end to this, precisely because whatever the government does, there’s always a reduction of its tax revenues, as is happening now. Right now, I think even though there is a surplus of which the government is bragging, tax revenue is still below the target set by the troika in the second evaluation.

MPN: You have said that the economic crisis that has stricken several European countries — including Greece of course, and countries like Portugal and Ireland — is a crisis that has been constructed. How do you support this view, and how would you characterize the role of Germany and the major central banking institutions in creating this artificial, as you call it, crisis?

DY: I would say that, once the Greek and Irish situations were taken into account by the major European economic and political centers of power, it appeared useful to shift attention from the crisis of the banking sector that had erupted in 2008 to a so-called “European public-debt crisis.” The reason I mention Ireland is that Ireland was forced by the ECB, blackmailed by the ECB, to take over and recapitalize its bankrupt banks. That had the result of pushing the deficit of the Irish state up to 15.5 percent in 2009 and 31 percent in 2010. Now how, from that year on, the deficit has disappeared is another matter. It has disappeared somewhere under the table of the ECB, the Bank of England, and the Irish central bank.

The point is that in order to not draw attention to the problem of Ireland —  because Ireland had already suffered a couple of years of very drastic austerity and there was no point in making it an example — they shifted the attention to Greece, and that was the main reason why the Greek public deficit of 2009 had to be blown up to something like 30 or 40 percent above its real level. That was done initially by the first finance minister under George Papandreou, George Papakonstantinou, who initially demanded that the Greek statistical office report back to him a deficit of 15 percent, when the statistical service said that was impossible, it’s nowhere near 15 percent. He said okay, then do it 12 percent. That’s when the game of pushing up, inflating the Greek deficit started. That was really the situation.

Of course, behind that there was political wheeling and dealing — George Papandreou with ex-IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the IMF and requests for help from the EU — and the funny thing was that in late 2009, the EU had already decided to reinstate a regime of supervision that it had done before with Greece. But what happened in early 2010 was that the European Central Bank again — Jean-Claude Trichet was president of the ECB at the time — made a statement saying that Greece should not be confident that the ECB will accept Greek bonds forever as collateral, because its evaluation by the agencies was not going well.

Now, from that statement onward, of course, that’s when the real debt crisis in Greece started. Why? Because, of course, there was negative speculation, the CDS (credit default swaps) started rising, the Greek bonds’ cost skyrocketed, and of course, the country came near bankruptcy.

What I’m saying is that there were specific economic decisions that created the Greek crisis. It needn’t have happened if it weren’t deemed useful by the powers-that-be in Europe. I’m not saying it’s artificial, because from the moment the markets turned against Greece, of course, Greek debt servicing capacity would collapse. The crisis was real, but it was largely prodded and manufactured by people who were interested in shifting the blame or the attention of public opinion against Greece — and away from Ireland and the banking sector in Europe, which remains over-indebted, of course, but nobody talks about it in the past eight years.

For the past eight years, the major banks — Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, Credit Lyonnais, Credit Agricole, etc. — the major banking concerns are steeped in debt and liabilities, they’re over-leveraged by 30 to 40 times their capital. But because the ECB can fund them, finance them indefinitely, and by keeping their records or their accounts nominally in balance, nobody is talking about the real problem.

That problem is over-indebtedness in the European banking system, which is creating all this backlog of debt, especially in the weaker countries: Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and even France at this time. Of course, the rest of Europe may be going through some kind of a recovery, a very tenuous and low-level recovery, but that doesn’t mean that the problems have gone away. They’re constantly reappearing in different forms, as we see in Catalonia, in Eastern Europe, and with the problem of migration.

Really the situation is not very positive, and there are forces that have manufactured the crisis and transformed it from what it was originally — an international banking crisis — into a political, social, and even an environmental crisis.

MPN: There is a major wave of Euroscepticism throughout much of Europe, as exemplified by the referendum result in favor of Brexit in the United Kingdom. We have not seen a similar trend in Greece though, despite the economic crisis. Why do you believe this is the case?

DY: Personally I believe that Euroscepticism in Greece is going through the roof at the moment, but it is passive. It’s not expressing itself as a political imperative, the reason being that the Greek people have suffered a lot by hoping that they could overcome their predicament by changing their relationship, their unequal and oppressive relationship with the Eurozone and the euro, one way or the other. The disappointment of this hope is what creates a passive Euroscepticism.

That passive Euroscepticism, the last time that it was expressed was at the referendum of July 5, 2015. That referendum was to a tune of 62 percent against the troika. It was, in fact, a referendum against the European Union institutions, the way they had treated Greece. It was a vote and a referendum of defiance.

Members of left wing parties shout slogans behind a burning European Union flag during an anti-EU protest in the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki, Sunday, June 28, 2015. (AP/Giannis Papanikos)

Members of left wing parties shout slogans behind a burning European Union flag during an anti-EU protest in the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki, Sunday, June 28, 2015. (AP/Giannis Papanikos)

But of course, that’s where the great responsibility of SYRIZA lay at that time. It was completely unprepared to handle a clash or a rupture, as they called it, with the EU institutions. I’m not saying that they had to push for an exit from the euro, but they would have to push for the return of national sovereignty of one kind or another, some kind of equality that all the other countries of the EU enjoy. But the Tsipras government was not prepared for that. So it succumbed to the blackmail, it succumbed to the pressures, it succumbed to the strangulation of the Greek economy that the European Union had pushed in the preceding five months.

That’s really the tragedy, because from then on the Greek people lost all hope. They couldn’t see any workable alternative — all they saw was a few slogans here and there but no real pathway, no tactics and no strategy of getting out of the crisis. They didn’t see the sort of demands that could mobilize popular resistance to the situation now. Basically, what they’re doing is fleeing the country. Seventy percent of the people say that if they had the chance or the means they would migrate to anywhere else but Greece: Europe, America, etc. And only the young can do that of course — and a portion of the young, not all of them.

This is the situation at the moment, a very difficult situation but not one that is devoid of Euroscepticism. Quite the contrary, I think the Euroscepticism that’s prevalent in Greece at the moment is much stronger and deeper than anywhere else in Europe, including Britain and Eastern Europe, where it’s rising at the moment.

MPN: Do you believe that the current SYRIZA-led government in Greece will complete its four-year term and hold elections in September 2019, or do you believe that we will see electoral developments in Greece sooner, perhaps sometime next year?

DY: That will largely depend on whether the EU is ready to risk setting SYRIZA aside or even pushing it to the parliamentary opposition. That is a very risky decision for the EU to make, because no other government would have applied and implemented the sort of measures that SYRIZA has implemented.

SYRIZA has virtually wiped out the Greek social security system. It is passing one taxation law after another with no parliamentary opposition. It is making all sorts of politically correct decisions on matters of immigration, naturalization of illegal immigrants, recognizing the legal choice of sexual identity, things that no other government would have passed.

It is a situation where the Greek parliament is totally subordinate to the troika, and this is a situation that defines Greece as a protectorate — even in de jure terms, not just de facto — because the third memorandum of understanding specifically demands that every legal bill has to pass through the troika, has to get approval from the troika before it reaches parliament. This means that Greece has completely lost its national sovereignty.

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