Dec 052017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

Andreas Georgiou...Greece's new statistics agency chief Andreas Georgiou, who took up his position on Thursday, July 22, 2010, talks outside the entrance of the Statictics agency,in Piraeus, near Athens. After years of false reporting by Greece, the countries new Greek statistic agency chief promised clean financial data.The agency now has been placed under parliamentary oversight and not under direct government control.Serious errors in Greek deficit data, revealed last year, helped trigger the European government debt crisis rattled world markets and confidence in the euro.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Andreas Georgiou…Greece’s new statistics agency chief Andreas Georgiou, who took up his position on Thursday, July 22, 2010, talks outside the entrance of the Statictics agency,in Piraeus, near Athens. After years of false reporting by Greece, the countries new Greek statistic agency chief promised clean financial data.The agency now has been placed under parliamentary oversight and not under direct government control.Serious errors in Greek deficit data, revealed last year, helped trigger the European government debt crisis rattled world markets and confidence in the euro.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

This furious effort of all Georgiou’s supporters to prevent his case from being brought to trial reveals their panic as well as their guilt, because they know that in the forthcoming court hearing all the evidence will be revealed proving their involvement in the great national betrayal of Greece.

ATHENS, GREECE — The mainstream narrative regarding the cause of the severe economic crisis Greece has experienced is that the Greek people and Greek state were irresponsible with their finances, lived “beyond their means” at the expense of EU taxpayers, and provided overly generous social benefits and pensions to an underproductive, uncompetitive, and lazy populace.

These characterizations have then been used to justify the successive memorandum agreements, or “bailouts,” and the austerity measures that have been imposed in Greece since 2010, as the country’s “just deserts” —  the “bitter medicine” that must be prescribed to correct Greece’s previous ills.

A different view exists, however — one that is based on allegations that Greece was driven into the memorandum and austerity regime not by economic incompetence and cultural deficiencies, but by a fraud that was perpetrated against the Greek people and the country of Greece.

In this interview, which aired in November on Dialogos Radio, Nicholas Logothetis, a former member of the board of the Greek Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), describes allegations that have been made against Andreas Georgiou, ELSTAT’s former president, and against EU statistical authority Eurostat, regarding how Greece’s deficit and debt figures were illegitimately inflated in 2010, providing the rationale to drag Greece under a regime of austerity and extreme economic oversight.

Logothetis details how debt swaps and other questionable financial dealings were added to Greece’s debt and deficit, as well as the consequences of these actions, the criminal and civil convictions against Georgiou, and the court cases that are still pending.

MPN: Let’s begin with a discussion about Andreas Georgiou, the embattled former president of ELSTAT, who oversaw the augmentation of the Greek deficit and debt. Describe for us Georgiou’s background prior to taking on the role of president of ELSTAT. Was Georgiou even a statistician?

NL: No, he wasn’t. The operation of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), as a continuation of the initial National Statistical Authority, as we called it, officially began in late June of 2010. This was the time that the members of ELSTAT’s management board were selected and approved by the conference of parliamentary presidents, with the required supermajority of four-fifths.

Georgiou has been working at the International Monetary Fund since the late 1980s. For a few years before he came to Greece, he was deputy head of a division of the IMF’s statistics department, the financial institutions division. However, the Greek Ministry of Finance announced the appointment of ELSTAT’s board of directors through a press release to all Greek newspapers. In that press release, it presented Georgiou as deputy head of the entire IMF statistics department, a very big department in the IMF and a very important one, hiding his actual organizational position in the IMF, a position of an economic nature rather than a statistical nature, in a subordinate division of the statistics department.

Obviously, the objective of the Greek Minister of Finance was to present Georgiou as an experienced statistician with a significant management position at the IMF, who supposedly left America and came here to “save” Greece by putting in order all of its statistics. In fact, this gentleman was not only unable to run an important institution such as ELSTAT, with over 1,000 employees, but he wasn’t even a statistician, with no academic publications and no knowledge of statistics.

Moreover, for at least six months after assuming the ELSTAT presidency, Georgiou still held his organizational position at the IMF, something that was explicitly forbidden by ELSTAT’s founding law.

MPN: What were the actions undertaken by Georgiou as president of ELSTAT? In other words, how were the Greek deficit and debt figures manipulated and in what other ways were Greece’s official economic figures altered?

NL: First of all, Georgiou’s first moves were to remove from the other members of the board any ability and initiative to propose discussion topics or to be involved in the calculation of the deficit or the debt. They were forbidden even to communicate with the remaining staff of ELSTAT! This behavior of Georgiou was not only due to his inability to act as a manager but also due to the fact that he understood from the very beginning, even from the second meeting of the board in September 2010, our refusal to adopt the deficit and debt calculation procedures he wanted to follow. He knew that eventually, the majority of the board members would not approve his deficit figures to be officially published before the end of October 2010.

Andreas Georgiou, stands outside the headquarters of the Statistics agency, in Athens, Greece. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Andreas Georgiou, stands outside the headquarters of the Statistics agency, in Athens, Greece. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Shortly after the last meeting of the board in early October 2010, the final silencing of the whole board followed and we were never convened again, thus leaving the way free for Georgiou, always under the auspices of senior Eurostat executives, on the one hand, to change the founding law—as he always wanted, to turn ELSTAT into one-person authority—and on the other hand, to inflate the 2009 figures. Exactly how he did this became clear later, but we had suspected soon enough what he was going to do.

My first disagreement with him was when I realized he would add to the deficit figures and to the national debt of Greece the Simitis swaps — that is, the swaps that former Greek prime minister Costas Simitis had made use of in 2001 in order for Greece to get accepted to the Eurozone. Allow me to briefly explain what these swaps are, as they indicate clearly an activity typical of the statistical mishandlings that had always been used and are still taking place in our country, every time the government’s leaders want to achieve something with communication or financial benefits for themselves or for third parties. Swaps are a type of a bond, a banking derivative or simply a stock exchange bet, a currency exchange bet. Many countries do it, even now they are doing it, converting their existing debt into currencies of other countries, say in Swiss francs or Japanese yen, betting that the value of that currency will rise and at the maturity of this debt, the owner will gain from the difference in the value of currencies.

In a way, what happened in 2001 is that much of Greece’s debt was converted into yen, but at the value that the yen had in 1995, which was higher than that of 2001! Remember, the swaps were made in 2001, but the price of the yen in 1995 was the one used for this swap. We can put a big question mark here because I don’t know how legitimate this was, to consider as valid the exchange value of the yen of six years ago. But anyway, this was what happened.

From this action, Greece was theoretically gaining an amount of 2.8 billion euros, which theoretically reduced our debt by this amount, and also reduced the annual deficit below 3 percent, thus meeting the requirement of the Maastricht Treaty for Greece’s entry into the Eurozone. But let us not forget, however, that this was a bet. It’s not unlike, say, a bond that matures and is redeemable after 30 years: at the time of the swap, there was no applicable European regulation allowing the “bond” to be cashed in prior to maturity, and therefore the swaps were of indeterminate value.

However, Walter Radermacher — at the time the general director of Eurostat, the EU’s statistical authority — decided only for Greece and only for that time and while the value of the yen had collapsed, that this swap value had to be included in our total debt, thus raising our national debt by 21 billion euros because of the losses of the yen. So we found ourselves with an additional fiscal debt of 21 billion euros.

Radermacher’s additional act was to instruct Georgiou to divide this amount by four and to include what came out of it in the deficits for the years 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2006. So eventually, for 2009 and all the three previous years, we found ourselves with an additional deficit of about 5.5 billion euros. But I’m pointing out again that swaps should not be used in any way before their maturity, in order to manipulate negatively or positively the fiscal debt, let alone the yearly deficit.

Another illegal augmentation of our deficit made by Georgiou included the addition of 3.6 billion euros in hospital costs that were not even approved by the Court of Auditors. The Court of Auditors is one of the three institutions of Greek justice, along with the Supreme Court and the Council of State. With regards to this cost, as it turned out later, no one committed to it and no one was paying for it. And finally, the major swelling of the budget deficit was accomplished by the overnight inclusion of the deficits of 17 public utilities, violating many Eurostat criteria and rules. That alone added 18.2 billion euros, equivalent to 20 billion dollars, to the fiscal debt of Greece.

As a result of all the above, Greece ended up with a huge deficit for the year 2009 — 36 billion euros, or equivalently, 15.4 percent of gross domestic product. This legitimated the first memorandum, paved the way for the second and worst memorandum, and justified the imposition of these cumbersome austerity measures, such as the pension cuts, social insurance and healthcare, and the tax increases — huge tax increases — measures that we are still suffering today.

MPN: Dominique Strauss-Kahn himself, the former president of the International Monetary Fund, has gone on the record as saying that he met with George Papandreou to discuss an IMF “bailout” of Greece in April 2009. This was several months before Papandreou was elected as prime minister and at a time when Papandreou was saying, while campaigning, that plenty of money existed to fund the social programs he was promising to Greek voters. Do you believe that the economic “crisis” in Greece was pre-ordained or pre-planned?

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, right, shakes hand with the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, during a joint news conference in Athens, Dec. 7, 2010. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, right, shakes hand with the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, during a joint news conference in Athens, Dec. 7, 2010. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

NL: Yes, I do. In my opinion, joining these medieval memorandums, which have brought about this economic crisis that Greece is still experiencing, was beyond any doubt pre-planned and predetermined. This arises not only from Strauss-Kahn’s own admission that the IMF had been preparing every detail of this with Papandreou, it also arises for other reasons that subsequently became known — that Greece was chosen by the designers of the European Union to become the guinea pig for the implementation of harsh austerity and other forms of economic punishment, set up for all as an example to be avoided, in the context of a new EU economic policy for handling the member countries with fiscal problems.

Indeed, the policy of the memorandums gave the opportunity not only to the IMF to put a foot in Europe — until then its activities always were, with devastating consequences, limited to developing countries in Africa and Latin America — but also gave the opportunity to the French and German banks to get rid of their so-called toxic bonds, that were loaded onto the Greek people by turning a private debt into a state debt.

In order to achieve all of this, of course, they had to plant the appropriate person in ELSTAT at a time when certain statistical adjustments were required, in order to support their treacherous plan. Where did this lead eventually? To the bankruptcy of the Greek state.

MPN: Andreas Georgiou is no longer in Greece, despite the fact that various legal cases and judicial decisions are outstanding against him. Where does Georgiou find himself today and what is he presently involved with?

NL: He’s away, because he knows what he’s faced with, with trials and legal cases. Georgiou is currently in hiscomfortable villa in Maryland. He left Greece in the summer of 2015, one month before the end of his five-year term as ELSTAT chairman. Coincidentally, this was shortly after the call from the House of Parliament to testify before the examination committee that had been formed at that time to investigate the reasons for our accession to the first memorandum. He never came to the examination room, pretending to be in the hospital with “pneumonia.” Who on earth has ever heard of a pneumonia case in the middle of the Greek summer?

Anyway, immediately after his “discharge” from the hospital, he left for America. I repeat, one month before the end of his term and without requesting a renewal of the chairmanship position for another five years. He could have done that, but he didn’t, apparently having realized that he could not have avoided the imminent court hearing on the prosecutions for breach of duty and for the felony of inflating the deficit figures — which in the legal language is expressed as “felony of false certification at the expense of the state” together with the “aggravating order for public abusers,” a very impressive legal phrase. This is a legal category that leads to life imprisonment.

I presume that he’s engaged at this time in preparing his defense, through statements via his lawyers in Greece, while he remains absent, missing from every trial that has taken place regarding him.

MPN: A few months ago Georgiou was found guilty by the Greek justice system. What were the charges for which Georgiou was convicted and sentenced?

NL: There are two convictions Georgiou had this year. In March, in a criminal court, he was convicted for libel and for written defamation, and he was given one-year imprisonment with a three-year suspension. He appealed through his lawyers, but the Penal Court of Appeals condemned Georgiou again, giving him the same sentence.

Georgiou’s crime was that, in an official ELSTAT news release, he accused former ELSTAT board member Dr. Nicholas Stroblos of being a statistical swindler, obviously trying to divert guilt from himself for statistical fraud. I’m pointing out here that Dr. Stroblos is the former director of the national accounts department of ELSTAT, whom Georgiou illegally replaced with one of his now co-defendants. Consequently, Stroblos sued him in both criminal and civil courts and, apart from the one-year imprisonment imposed by the criminal court, the civil court fined Georgiou 10,000 euros for damages resulting from libel.

Georgiou’s most recent conviction is concerned with one of the three accusations included in the prosecution for breach of duty. The first accusation was related to the fact that he was in parallel for several months, from July to November 2010, as head of the statistical authority in Greece but also as an employee of the IMF, a duplication of employment explicitly prohibited by ELSTAT’s founding law 3832 of 2010. That law required him to work exclusively and with full employment in the ELSTAT board. Georgiou deluded the Greek parliament about his ongoing post with the IMF — and note that the IMF is one of the lenders of Greece — while at the same time he had accepted the post as president of ELSTAT’s board. He would not have been selected as ELSTAT president, not even as a simple member of the board, had the parliament known about his double post.

The second accusation concerned the fact that Georgiou did not convene the ELSTAT board for a whole year, violating the law that required meetings at least once a month.

The third accusation, and the most important of all three, concerned the fact that the decision to endorse the revised figures for 2009’s deficit was taken only by Georgiou, without the agreement of the other members of the board — which had been selected, I remind you, and approved exactly for this purpose by the conference of the parliamentary presidents with a majority of four-fifths. For this accusation, he was convicted in the context of breach of duty, and this had to do with the publication of deficit figures without our approval, as required by law. Georgiou appealed this conviction to the Supreme Court, and we are waiting to see what the Supreme Court will decide.

Georgiou was acquitted on the charge that he did not timely convene the ELSTAT board, although this is intimately interconnected with the non-convening of the board for the approval of the data, for which he was convicted. So we ended up with a paradoxical situation here. He was also acquitted of the charge that while he was a member of the IMF — that is to say, a servant of the lender — he was also chairman of ELSTAT — that is, a servant of the borrower — something that is inconceivable worldwide and yet happened in today’s occupied and economically enslaved Greece.

Naturally, the people who were present in the courtroom were annoyed and protested these acquittals, but when they heard the announcement of his conviction on the third charge they were relieved, of course, and for this charge he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with a three year suspension — without being granted, of course, any mitigation.

I, together with fellow whistleblower and former ELSTAT board member Zoe Georganta, filed an objection against the court judgment for the two accusations for which he was acquitted, and we expect a Supreme Court decision as to whether or not Georgiou will go to a new trial for these new accusations. At the moment, the two acquittals cannot be considered irrevocable. But it is true that the most important accusation, for which Georgiou desperately wanted to be acquitted, was the one for which he got convicted.

Indeed, the fact that Georgiou published the inflated elements of the deficit without approval by the ELSTAT board not only proves his guilt of the second accusation, of not convening the board as he should have, but it also implies a deception, because he knew that his swollen deficit figures would never be accepted by a majority of the board members. He further recognized that such a disagreement would sooner or later become public and reveal the irregularities he used with the help of Eurostat itself. Such a revelation would result in the failure of the plan to legitimize the first memorandum and thence to impose onerous austerity measures on Greece. That was not acceptable by the initiators of this plan, who I believe had to use Georgiou and instructed him to silence the rest of the ELSTAT board.

MPN: Following the guilty verdicts against Georgiou this past spring, a barrage of positive coverage and PR in favor of Georgiou appeared in the Greek and international media — including Bloomberg, the Washington Post and Politico. We also heard numerous statements of support from major political figures in Greece, the European Union, and elsewhere. These statements criticized the supposed lack of independence of the Greek justice system in the verdicts against Georgiou. How would you describe or characterize Georgiou’s network of support within and outside of Greece, and these arguments made in his favor?

NL: Yes, indeed, various statements have been heard and continue to be heard in support of Georgiou, trying to sanctify him, to elevate him as a serious personality and as an honest scientist. All this in order to justify everything he did illegally as ELSTAT president. All that has been said rests on myths that have been circulated by the domestic and foreign supporters of Georgiou, who are desperate that the case not be brought to the court of justice — the major case of the inflation of the deficit figures.

But this also proves their own guilt in the matter. If they really believe that Georgiou is innocent and that we are the slanderers and the liars, why don’t they let Greek justice do its job and prove his presumed innocence in a court hearing? I would even expect Georgiou himself to be the first to grab this opportunity to be redeemed. This furious effort of all his supporters to prevent the case from being brought to trial reveals their panic as well as their guilt, because they know very well that in the forthcoming court hearing all the evidence will be revealed proving that Greece has suffered the greatest national betrayal since the time of the Thermopylae treason, 2500 years ago, when Efialtes betrayed the Greek army which was fighting the Persian invasion.

The participation of all those major political figures in Greece and the European Union in the betrayal perpetrated by Georgiou will also be revealed. Indeed, the core of this support network includes first and foremost Eurostat, whose senior staff advised Georgiou on how to inflate the 2009 deficit and also how to change ELSTAT’s founding laws in order to neutralize the rest of the board.

Imagine therefore what impact Georgiou’s conviction would have on Eurostat’s image! Eurostat’s political chief is the European Commission, Brussels — that is, one-third of the troika — with all that implies, of course, for many high-ranking political figures in the European Union and beyond. So one can clearly understand why high-level managers from Eurostat and major political figures from the EU itself are continuing to build a wall of protection and support for Georgiou — in the hope that the government and the Supreme Court of Greece will believe all these myths they are promoting.

Greece's Statistics agency employees walk past the logo of the agency in Piraeus, near Athens. Serious errors in Greek deficit data, revealed last year, helped trigger the European government debt crisis rattled world markets and confidence in the euro. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Greece’s Statistics agency employees walk past the logo of the agency in Piraeus, near Athens. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

The first myth is that in recent years Georgiou was acquitted many times but the persecution against him continues. That’s what they say. The supporters of Georgiou claim again and again that Georgiou was acquitted, but it’s not true. The acquittal may occur only after the irrevocable final judgment in a court trial, or after an exonerating court order is accepted by the Supreme Court. As appeals against all rulings in Georgiou’s case have been filed with the Supreme Court, he has not been acquitted irrevocably for any charges brought against him.

On the contrary, he has had an irrevocable conviction for defamation, as I said before, and a conviction for one of the three accusations for breach of duty — regarding which the Supreme Court decision is awaited, whether or not it will become irrevocable. But the other two accusations for breach of duty for which he has been acquitted, as I have already said, for these we have filed a complaint and they cannot, therefore, be considered irrevocable or a final acquittal. So it’s in keeping with due process that the prosecutions against him still continue.

The second myth goes as follows: Georgiou took over the presidency of ELSTAT after the first memorandum. He cannot, therefore, be regarded responsible for the memorandum and the economic crisis that followed. Well indeed, when Georgiou took action in ELSTAT, we were already under the first memorandum. If you remember, our entry into the first memorandum was announced by George Papandreou in his speech made on the Greek island of Kasterllorizo in April 2010, and the reason for this was allegedly the high level of the 2009 deficit, which was put by Papandreou at 13.6 percent of GDP. That’s equivalent to about 30 billion euros.

However, it was not the actual deficit, but the prediction by Papandreou of what it would be after all relevant calculations took place. Papandreou did not have the right to take such an important decision, one that would affect Greek society so much, based only on a prediction that had not even been approved by the Court of Auditors. We would be the ones, as ELSTAT’s management board, to supervise the calculations of the actual deficit, to approve it and publish it in October 2010, six months later.

Actually, if we had been given the opportunity to do that and found these deficit figures to be less than 10 percent, we would have been able to denounce the first memorandum and cancel it! And of course, the rest of the memorandums that followed. But obviously, this would not be something that the designers of the first memorandum wished to happen, and so the appropriate person must be found who, with specific statistical adjustments, could make the deficit of 2009 “confirm” the “validity” of Papandreou’s deficit “forecast” in April 2010, and fully justify our entry into the first memorandum. This is what they wanted.

Furthermore, in order to avoid any controversies with the rest of the board that could endanger their plan, it was decided to neutralize not only the dissidents on the board but the whole of ELSTAT’s board. As a result of all these unlawful actions, the first memorandum was legitimized — and the door opened for the second and worst memorandum and obviously the rest of the memorandums that have followed, and for the austerity measures that have been imposed since then. Therefore, it’s perhaps wrong to say that the first memorandums was due to Georgiou. It’s more appropriate to say that all memorandums and their related medieval austerity measures that we still have on our backs are actually due to Georgiou!

The third myth: since Eurostat has approved Georgiou’s practices and figures, they must be right, they must be correct. But would it have been possible for Eurostat not to approve these statistics, provided by Georgiou, and the methods of administration that he was using? It was Eurostat’s director himself, Walter Radermacher, who gave orders to Georgiou as to what data to add to the deficit. Correspondence has been revealed, from Radermacher to Georgiou, that shows how to add this amount of debt that was incurred by the Simitis swaps, how to add it into four years’ deficits until 2009 — prior to the expiry date, as we previously explained, and although no European regulation existed at the time that would allow this.

Also, it was the permanent representative of Eurostat at ELSTAT, Hallgrimur Snorrason, who — with the assistance of Eurostat’s legal adviser, Per Samuelson — advised Georgiou on how to change ELSTAT’s founding law in order to transform ELSTAT into one-man authority. It’s hardly surprising therefore that Eurostat approved the practices and the deficit figures of Georgiou. Of course, that does not mean that they were correct.

The final myth that I want to mention is that his proponents are saying Georgiou applied all proper European regulations. On the contrary, most European regulations and Eurostat’s own criteria for the deficit and debt calculations were violated by Georgiou and his advisers from Eurostat, in order to justify the unjustifiable integration of deficits of many public utilities into the 2009 deficit — a decision that would require a thorough study of several months for each public utility. You can’t just decide to include the deficit of a utility in the public debt; you need a thorough study, for several months, six months. So what kind of European regulations did Georgiou actually apply, I wonder? No one knows.

MPN: What is plainly evident is that there is a very extensive and very powerful network of support for the likes of Andreas Georgiou, a network that includes powerful media voices, major politicians and political figures, major centers of power and influence and decision-making. How can such a powerful and seemingly unified network of political and media forces even be countered by the Greek people?

NL: Indeed, Georgiou’s support network, composed of high-ranking political figures — domestic and foreign — is powerful. But no matter how much influence this network can have on political affairs in Greece, I think that it is not in a position to influence the Greek justice system, which I consider impartial. The fact that the case has reached up to the level of the Supreme Court, which so far has justified many of our objections and appeals against Georgiou, gives us hope that ultimately the systemic power network that exists supporting Georgiou can be successfully dealt with.

At the end of the day, our justice system, perhaps the only irreproachable institution in our country, seems to have borne the burden of this matter. I believe that the truth will soon be revealed, no matter how many powerful political and media forces try to force an acquittal of Georgiou.

MPN: What are the judicial cases still outstanding regarding the ELSTAT case and Andreas Georgiou? What are the charges which Georgiou is still facing? And what is your expectation regarding the outcome of these cases?

NL: Most importantly, the cases of the false inflation of data and of the breach of duty by Georgiou, involve crimes of public document forgery and violation of ELSTAT’s founding law. As I have already said, Georgiou was convicted of one of the more important accusations related to the breach of duty — that of the publication of the 2009 deficit figures without the approval of the ELSTAT board. He has been acquitted on the other two charges — the duplication of his appointment in the IMF and ELSTAT and the non-convening of the board — but we have appealed these two verdicts, and we hope that the Supreme Court will decide to repeat the trial for these two related charges.

If this affair is remanded back to the trial courts, we certainly expect Georgiou to be convicted, because the evidence we have against him is rock solid and undeniable. This is what Georgiou’s supporters know. That’s why they push as hard as they can to prevent the case from reaching the high court of justice.

MPN: In what way do you believe the verdicts that will be reached by the Greek justice system concerning the ELSTAT and Georgiou cases impact the future of Greece, particularly with regard to the austerity policies and memorandums that are being imposed and the non-serviceable public debt of Greece?

NL: I agree with you that Greek debt is non-serviceable. Even if we get away from the memorandums, we don’t get away from the related loan agreements, and we will continue to be under supervision by the EU until we pay 75 percent of our debt, something impossible for the next 60 years!

If, however, as we hope, there is an irrevocable conviction of Georgiou for the act of inflating the deficit figures, this will prove that all these medieval memorandums were imposed on the basis of false figures — which gives Greece the right to claim compensation from the European Union for the damage we suffered in the last seven years of the financial crisis.

Article 340 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union gives us the right to claim this compensation, and we have even estimated the financial loss since Georgiou set foot in Greece, a cost that may well exceed 210 billion euros. A compensation of this magnitude would certainly overturn the disgraceful economic situation we are experiencing today. However, I emphasize again that a necessary condition is an irrevocable conviction of Georgiou regarding the felony of inflating the deficit figures.

And what about these instigators who used Georgiou to carry out their treacherous plans? Even Grigoris Peponis — the impeccable investigator who proposed the criminal prosecution of Georgiou in the first place — has suggested that the possible existence of certain instigators within the Greek and European political systems, who directed Georgiou on what to do, has to be taken into consideration. These are the ones who do not want the case to reach an open court hearing — the ones who are so desperate for the acquittal of Georgiou as early as possible, in order to cover their own involvement in the above crime, because they’re well aware that we have evidence of their unlawful intervention in inflating the deficit and also in transforming ELSTAT from an independent authority into one-man authority.

If the Supreme Court sends Georgiou to trial in the high court of justice, all his supporters know that this will mean a likely conviction for him. The support network will then collapse, and they will find themselves accused for their betrayal of their homeland and crimes against its citizens. Our country will then pass from an underprivileged position of a beggar, to the strong position of a challenger, on the basis of specific articles of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union itself.

Protesters hold a banner during a rally in Athens, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. A nationwide 24-hour general strike called by unions against austerity measures disrupted public services across Greece on, while thousands marched in protest in central Athens. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

Protesters hold a banner during a rally in Athens, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. A nationwide 24-hour general strike called by unions against austerity measures disrupted public services across Greece on, while thousands marched in protest in central Athens. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

As far as we are concerned, we do not really care about the strict or non-strict punishment of Georgiou, who is now a pensioner of the IMF. What interests us is to prove his guilt and thereby to remove the injustice that has been committed against Greece through the false inflation of the public debt and deficit of 2009, and also prove the criminal involvement of the European Commission and Eurostat. This will only be done when the case is referred to an open court hearing, in which Eurostat and Georgiou will have to be present, in order to testify under oath whether or not they have falsely inflated the statistical figures of Greece, and the reasons for doing so.

I do not know when and if this will happen, and how many battles we have to give from now on in order to achieve this. Some tell us that there’s no point in continuing to fight, as it seems that with such a front of support for Georgiou by strong decision-making centers, the battle has already been won against us. We reply by saying that if we stop fighting, there will simply be no other battle — something we don’t want, because let’s not forget what Bertolt Brecht said once: “He who fights, can lose. He who doesn’t fight, has already lost.”

MPN: Looking at the situation in Greece today and the economic claims that are being made by the Greek government — that the country has returned to economic growth, that Greece has turned a corner — do you believe that the Greek statistical figures today are credible, or are they perhaps still being manipulated?

NL: Unfortunately, the statistical figures have already been exploited by any government in power so far in Greece. We have seen this happen with the alchemies of swaps in order to get into the Eurozone. By the way, I wish that we had never gotten into the Eurozone in the first place! Our economy was not in a position to handle such a strong and competitive currency. We saw another exploitation of the statistical figures, of the deficit, this time. They became the reason for an economic crisis of the past seven years.

I cannot say what is happening these days with the statistical figures, as I am not in ELSTAT. But we will find out sooner or later what is happening. The truth always comes out for any case of mishandling of statistical figures. We’ve seen this happen. But unfortunately, as long as there is no reliable team to correctly manage the handling of the statistical data in the Greek Statistical Authority, I’m afraid we should again expect irregularities and alchemies of the data.

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.

Nov 082017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Dear listeners and friends,

nikoslogothetis31This week on Dialogos Radio, the Dialogos Interview Series will feature an interview with Nikos Logothetis, former member of the board with the Greek Statistical Authority, also known as ELSTAT.
 
Logothetis will discuss the allegations that have been made that Greece’s deficit and debt figures were augmented fraudulently by ELSTAT and its former president, Andreas Georgiou, to provide the impetus to drag Greece under troika supervision and under the destructive austerity and memorandum regime. Logothetis will speak to us about these allegations, the recent judicial decisions against Georgiou, and the court cases which are still ongoing.
 
For more details and our full broadcast schedule, please visit http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=7216.
 
Best,
Dialogos Radio & Media
Oct 102017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

savvidis_0-1600x900To become a modern Greek oligarch, you don’t need a vast shipping empire a la Onassis. You just need some seed money, a sports team or two, some media properties, a curated public image, and some quid pro quo with the SYRIZA government that once promised to crush you.

ATHENS, GREECE — Greece is a country that is famously known for its strong tradition in the maritime sector, and for its many wealthy shipowners. Names such as Onassis and Latsis have become globally known and are synonymous with great wealth and with a playboy lifestyle of mingling with the rich and famous.

Greece is also a country whose language boasts a particularly rich and diverse vocabulary. There is seemingly a Greek word for anything and everything, and one such word is “diaploki.” A uniquely Greek word, diaploki neatly sums up the specific relationship and interplay that has developed in Greece among successive governments, politicians, and big-business and media magnates.

Prior to the initial election of the purportedly “radical leftist” SYRIZA party in Greece’s parliamentary elections of January 2015, one of the party’s main campaign promises was that it would “crush” Greece’s oligarchs, who hold preeminent positions in the country’s media landscape and in such key sectors as energy, infrastructure, insurance, and of course shipping.

After SYRIZA’s election, though, an about-face quickly followed across multiple fronts, including its stance towards Greece’s oligarchs. Today, instead of “crushing” them, it is actively favoring them. Following last year’s botched television licensing attempt, in which SYRIZA was apparently going to “crush” the oligarchs by auctioning off an artificially limited number of television licenses to the very deepest pockets — in other words, those of the oligarchs — SYRIZA is trying again. It is now planning to auction off television as well as radio licenses to the highest bidders — with no provision for any non-profit, non-commercial or community broadcasters of any kind.

A new breed of corruption and “diaploki”

CEO of media conglomerate 24 Media, Dimitris Maris (left) and Soviet-born businessman and former United Russia MP, Ivan Savvidis. (Right)CEO of media conglomerate 24 Media, Dimitris Maris (left) and Soviet-born businessman and former United Russia MP, Ivan Savvidis. (Right)

Amongst those who are flourishing under the reign of the SYRIZA-led coalition government, however, are not just the “old guard” of shipowner-oligarchs, such as Giannis Alafouzos (owner of Skai TV and Radio and Greece’s neoliberal newspaper of record, Kathimerini), the Kyriakou family (owners of the Antenna Media Group, including national broadcaster ANT1 Television), or the Vardinogiannis family (owners of national broadcaster Star Channel and extensive media and publishing interests). Now there is a new breed of businessmen-oligarchs who have risen to prominence under the SYRIZA regime, oligarchs who have quickly amassed holdings in the mass media and other industries, and who have access to and the ear of the current government and its personnel.

Two of Greece’s most notorious nouveau-oligarchs are Dimitris Maris and Ivan Savvidis. Maris is the CEO of one of Greece’s fastest-growing media conglomerates, 24 Media, which boasts a portfolio of numerous print, radio, and online properties. Savvidis is a Soviet-born businessman and former member of parliament with the United Russia party, who has turned his sights on his purported country of origin, Greece — amassing there, in recent years, significant business holdings across several sectors.

Using these two nouveau-oligarchs as examples, the following steps will describe exactly how one can become a Greek oligarch — and obtain the privileges and power that this position of status affords.

Step one: Build a business profile

In order to gain a foothold in the country’s political and economic system, the first decisive step for any budding oligarch-to-be is to construct a profile as a seemingly legitimate — or successful, at any rate — businessman.

In the case of Dimitris Maris, this successful — even if its legitimacy is arguable — business is none other than online gambling, as he is a shareholder in stoiximan.gr, one of Greece’s and Europe’s largest online gambling and sports betting operations. Founded in 2007 and based in Malta under the corporate umbrella of “Gambling Malta Ltd.,” stoiximan.gr is said to be operating in Greece with a “temporary” license (not unlike the country’s television and radio broadcast stations).

At the same time that the SYRIZA-led government is going as far as to confiscate pocket change from the already decimated bank accounts of newly impoverished Greek citizens, seizing monies owed in “back taxes,” stoiximan.gr and a few dozen other online gambling services operate in Greece with “temporary” licenses issued to offshore corporations, generating over 1 billion euros in revenue that is entirely tax-free. Indeed, in late 2016, allegations emerged that stoiximan.gr was being probed by prosecutors in Greece for tax evasion totaling over 35 million euros.

Nevertheless, stoiximan.gr continues to operate — and, as will be seen, Maris’ business empire has expanded beyond online gambling to the online- and mass-media landscape.

Ivan Savvidis took a somewhat different route to the top: he first became a Russian oligarch, before spreading his business and financial empire to Greece. Born in the former Soviet Union in what is now Georgia, Savvidis was employed in the Don State Tobacco Company in various positions. Following the collapse of the USSR, the company was privatized and Savvidis somehow emerged as its general manager. By 2012, he had entered the Forbes list of the wealthiest Russians in the world.

It was around this time that Savvidis expanded his business activity to crisis-hit Greece – a peculiar choice at face value, in light of the country’s economic instability and uncertain future, and also because there is some doubt as to whether Savvidis had ever visited or spent much time in Greece prior to this decade. As will be detailed below, his current business holdings in Greece – all acquired within the past few years – include media outlets, major infrastructural assets, tourist properties, tobacco, and soft drinks.

Step two: Purchase a sports team

Sports is politics and, in Greece, owning a sports club is a surefire way to snag power, influence, and a legion of fanatic supporters. All of Greece’s major football and basketball teams are owned by wealthy oligarchs, competing with each other both on and off the playing field.

Much more so than in North America, one’s affiliation with a sports team in Greece is treated with an almost religious fervor. This degree of support typically extends to the team’s management, ownership, and president, particularly when the team is playing well. In Greece, each major team is also affiliated with one or more sports newspapers (which have lost less of their circulation than the political press) and websites. These outlets provide not only “partisan” reporting of the team’s doings, but also full coverage of all of the owner’s other business activities. In this way, through ownership of these teams, the oligarchs in control inherit a ready-made “fan” base that will identify with and support all of the owner’s activities – support that is blindly reinforced in the athletic press.

Maris is the founder of 24 Media, which is the umbrella corporation of his various media endeavors and whose corporate website is only in English. One of Maris’ first media properties was the online portal sport24.gr, a site that — despite having been established later than other such websites in Greece, and lacking the “name brand” of the existing sports media outlets — has nevertheless managed in a short time to become perhaps the preeminent sports news website in the country.

Maris’ sports media holdings are buffered by contra.gr, a sports and lifestyle website that was bought out by 24 Media, and by radio station Sport 24 Radio, broadcasting in Athens and networked with stations throughout Greece. This, of course, is in addition to his aforementioned activity in the sports betting sector.

Savvidis followed the more traditional route, beginning in Russia, where between 2002 and 2005 he was the chairman of the FC Rostov football club, and since 2005 has been chairman of FC SKA Rostov-on-Don. In 2012 his presence in the sports world expanded to Greece, following the purchase of one of Greece’s major football clubs, PAOK FC. Having paid off the previously struggling club’s debts and enjoying the support of the pro-PAOK sports media of Thessaloniki, the city where the team is based, Savvidis inherited an immediate and automatically loyal fan base through his takeover of PAOK.

More recently, Savvidis has forayed into the world of Greece’s sports media, purchasing sports portal SDNA, while it is rumored that he is in the market to purchase another, more prominent sports website.

An additional bonus that comes from having control of or influence over the sports media is this: in Greece, such media outlets are well aware that their target audience, primarily younger adult males, are often unemployed or underemployed and wholly miserable and dissatisfied with their lives amidst the economic crisis. Largely apolitical, and wholly awestruck by the glitzy stadiums and high priced superstars of the foreign football leagues that they invariably follow, they do not miss an opportunity to put down Greece for all of its real or perceived shortcomings.

In turn, the sports media caters to this sentiment. For instance, one of 24 Media’s properties is the website oneman.gr, which exclusively targets young men with glamorous stories about life in “civilized” countries and heaps of sensationalist “only in Greece” stories — which are invariably negative. These stories are then heavily cross-promoted across 24 Media’s sports portals.

Step three: Establish or purchase media outlets

Once you’ve become a nationally known and perhaps notorious figure through your activity in the sports world, the next step is to enter the day-to-day lives of all Greeks through the purchase of or establishment of one or more mass media outlets. Having already inherited a base of popular support via the ownership of a sports club, the next step – ownership of mainstream, general-interest media and news outlets – affords oligarchs even more power and influence.

“Diaploki,” as mentioned earlier, refers to the corrupt interplay of politicians and the owners of major industries and the media. In Greece, a country that boasts a plethora of media outlets, most newspapers and broadcast stations are not profitable. Indeed, they are not necessarily intended to be profitable. The real value that they provide to their oligarch owners stems from the influence that these channels afford them. This encompasses influence over public opinion, cross-promotion of their own business and sporting activities and holdings, and, perhaps most significantly of all, influence over and pressure on politicians and the government of the day.

An old adage of those seeking or exerting influence in Greece was (and largely remains) “give me a [public works] contract or I’ll open a newspaper” – insinuating that the “dirty laundry” of the government or specific political figures would then “leak.” With most oligarchs entrenched in the construction sector, their co-owned media outlets have traditionally been employed for the purposes of pressuring governments for lucrative public contracts of all sorts. This tactic has been successful and continues to the present day, even with the supposedly left-wing SYRIZA-led government that at one time was pledging to keep the oligarchs in check.

In a sense, Maris breaks with this tradition. He did not develop, and as of yet has not turned to, holdings in sectors such as construction, banking, insurance, or heavy industry. His media properties began to grow largely in parallel with his activity in the sports gambling sector. Starting small, with a small number of online outlets such as sport24.gr and news247.gr, the 24 Media empire has dramatically grown during the years of SYRIZA’s governance of Greece.

In part, 24 Media’s strategy has been to import brand names from the United States, including launching the Greek versions of the Huffington Post, Dailymotion, and NBA.com. Following these intermediate footsteps, though, 24 Media has recently taken the big leap into radio — first through its launch of Sport 24 Radio and then, earlier this year, through the launch of news radio station “Radiofono 24/7” in the cities of Athens, Thessaloniki, Patra and Volos, with a network of affiliated stations in other parts of Greece.

Maris also expanded into the world of print in a rather peculiar fashion, through his ownership and management of the “populist-right” newspaper Dimokratia. Though, as will be shown below, Maris’ media outlets are staunchly pro-SYRIZA, Dimokratia maintains a populist-right facade while “protecting” SYRIZA and attacking its main parliamentary opposition.

In turn, SYRIZA, which at one time campaigned for social justice, looks the other way while 24 Media has earned a reputation among journalists for not insuring employees and for forcing unpaid overtime.

Aside from his influence over pro-PAOK sports media outlets, Savvidis’ first somewhat clumsy foray into the media landscape came through his participation in last year’s unconstitutional television licensing bid, touted by SYRIZA as a centerpiece in its “fight” against the oligarchs, but in which an artificially low (four) number of nationwide television licenses was auctioned off to the very highest bidders — oligarchs, in other words.

This licensing bid was struck down in late 2016 by Greece’s Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, while Greece’s existing television stations are on the air under a regime of temporary legality.

In this bidding process, Savvidis did not initially emerge as one of the four highest bidders, but after one of the winning bidders was disqualified, Savvidis inherited that license with the fifth-highest bid. Savvidis, however, did not actually own or operate a television station, television studios, or any other similar media property. This detail temporarily became moot when the bidding process for these licenses was overturned.

Savvidis re-emerged into the media forefront in Greece this year, initially through his purchase of 19 percent of the shares of the heavily indebted and struggling Mega Channel, formerly a powerhouse in Greece’s television landscape. Along with this purchase, Savvidis also obtained the Ethnos tabloid newspaper and the Imerisia financial newspaper. This buying spree concluded – for now at least – with the purchase of 100 percent of national television broadcaster Epsilon TV in August.

In turn, management of Savvidis’ new press holdings, Ethnos and Imerisia, was quickly handed over to — who else? — Maris’ 24 Media, a coming full circle of sorts for these two budding oligarchs.

Step four: Use these media outlets as partisan propaganda organs

Savvidis and Maris have more in common than just their management deal regarding the Ethnos and Imerisia newspapers. Both of these oligarchs are unabashedly and fanatically pro-SYRIZA, as evidenced by the political stance maintained by their respective media properties.

This was apparent, for instance, upon the return of Ethnos to newsstands on September 16, following an absence of many months and under the new management of Savvidis and 24 Media.

Ethnos front page on the day of its relaunch - September 16, 2017.

The Ethnos front page on the day of its relaunch, September 16, 2017.

The main front page headline of the relaunched Ethnos boasted, in large letters, of Greece’s “RETURN” to normality and its emergence out of the economic crisis under the stewardship of SYRIZA. This return to normalcy, crowed Ethnos, will be accompanied by foreign investments and by social benefits.

This banner headline was further accompanied by a front page editorial touting Greece’s turn “from fear to hope.” These headlines are, of course, laughable in light of the continued crisis Greece finds itself in and the austerity commitments the SYRIZA-led government has signed up for all the way through to 2060.

Indeed, all the outlets operated by 24 Media are notorious in Greece for their largely pro-SYRIZA tilt. On September 14 — with the SYRIZA-led government basking in the aftermath of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ triumphant State of the Union speech in Thessaloniki and French President Emmanuel Macron’s official visit to Greece — news of a “relatively small” oil spill in the Saronic Gulf, off the Athenian coastline, finally made its way into the news — even though the spill had occurred on September 10 — as the oil from the spill finally began to wash up on Athens’ shores.

For news247.gr, though, this environmental disaster played second-fiddle to an exultant story about the SYRIZA government’s fruitful efforts to bolster relations with Italy and form a “southern European front.” On the front page of the relaunched Ethnos, the oil spill story was buried in the bottom right corner, accompanied by a headline that was a play on a famous Greek proverb insinuating that the uproar over the spill was an overreaction.

The News247.gr front page on the afternoon of September 14, 2017. The story of the oil spill in the Saronic Gulf is downplayed, the headline concerns the SYRIZA-led government’s efforts to bolster relations with Italy and create a “Southern European front.”The News247.gr front page on the afternoon of September 14, 2017. The story of the oil spill in the Saronic Gulf is downplayed, the headline concerns the SYRIZA-led government’s efforts to bolster relations with Italy and create a “Southern European front.”

Such is the traditional modus operandi of media outlets in Greece: aside from exerting pressure upon governments and politicians for economic favors, these outlets are also used to shamelessly promote specific parties and particular political figures. Media outlets that “play ball” with the government of the day accordingly are afforded favors that go beyond lucrative contracts for their owners. For instance, state advertising expenditures traditionally were generously doled out not on the basis of circulation figures and audience size, but based on partisan favoritism. This practice continues today, even if outlays have dropped as a result of the crisis.

Therefore, it should come as no shock that Dimitris Maris is the founder and newly re-elected president of the Union of Online Publishers of Greece. Why is this significant? One of the highly touted initiatives of the current SYRIZA-led government is the formation of a “registry of online media outlets.” Maris, via the aforementioned Union, lobbied hard for the establishment of this registry, the primary purpose of which seems to be none other than establishing a formal structure for the allocation of state advertising monies to the online media. Those online outlets most favorable to the current government (such as 24 Media) stand to benefit the most, at least in the short term. Once again, diaploki comes full circle in Greece.

Step five: Leverage your influence to further expand your business empire

So you’ve gotten past your “entrepreneurial” stage. You’ve entered the sports world and made your presence felt in the media industry. And thanks to all of this, you have the government and key politicians in your pocket. What now? It’s time to put all that sweat and hard work to good use by leveraging your existing holdings and, even more so, your influence over the political system and over public opinion, to fatten up your business empire.

Maris has, for now at least, largely focused on feeding his online gambling operation, stoiximan.gr, which has begun sponsoring sports teams and entire leagues. For instance, stoiximan.gr is this season’s sponsor for Greece’s professional basketball league, one of the top leagues in Europe and home to perennial European powerhouses Olympiacos and Panathinaikos. And once again coming full circle, Maris’ stoiximan.gr is this season’s sponsor for Savvidis’ PAOK football club.

Savvidis, however, is quite the seasoned business figure. He got his start in the tobacco industry of the former Soviet Union – “taking over” a state-owned company that was privatized following the USSR’s collapse. This company then bought out Greek tobacco firm SEKAP, based in the northern Greek city of Xanthi, in 2013. That same year, Savvidis also took over management of the historic Macedonia Palace Hotel, with a prime location on the Thessaloniki waterfront. Earlier this year, Savvidis also took a controlling ownership share in Greek mineral water bottler Souroti. In another confluence of business and sports, Souroti is this season’s sponsor for the Greek soccer league, in which PAOK participates. And as reported by Maris’ sport24.gr, Savvidis launched a private aviation firm, Northern Wings, earlier in 2017.

Perhaps the centerpiece of Savvidis’ recent “investments” in Greece, however, derived from the privatization of the port of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest port. Thessaloniki serves as a strategic gateway to the Balkans, Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region, via the port’s road and rail connections to the north and the coast-to-coast Egnatia motorway linking Italy (via a ferry terminal) with Turkey.

The sell-off of Thessaloniki’s port is part of a package of privatizations imposed by Greece’s lenders in the “troika”—consisting of the European Commission, European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund—as part of their so-called “bailout” packages for Greece. These privatizations are faithfully being implemented by the SYRIZA-led government, which prior to its election had campaigned against the selling off of publicly-owned assets, infrastructure, services, and utilities.

And who purchased the port of Thessaloniki? You can probably see where this is going. The port’s new owner is aconsortium consisting of the German private-equity firm Deutsche Invest Equity Partners, Terminal Link of France, and Belterra Investments, owned by none other than … Ivan Savvidis. In other words, Savvidis, openly a SYRIZA supporter, is one of the main buyers of a critical piece of national infrastructure being privatized by the SYRIZA-led government at the behest of its European and international lenders – despite pre-election promises to abolish such privatizations!

Put differently, it pays to cozy up to the government in charge — which will ensure that leveraging the assets you’ve worked so hard as an oligarch to attain pays dividends, in more ways than one. “Radical leftist” rhetoric is merely for the consumption of the gullible voting public. Privatizations (now euphemistically referred to as “investments”) and business deals are for the big boys in suits (with or without ties).

Step six: Cultivate a public image

Now that you, as a full-fledged Greek oligarch, have established firm footing in the business world, it’s time to cultivate that public image. Ownership of a sports team and control over major media outlets is no longer enough. Positive public relations and a sterling public image are absolute necessities at this point to keep the whole operation running smoothly.

In building his profile, Savvidis has sought to tug at the hearts and emotions of the community of Pontic Greeks, whose roots hail from the Black Sea region. Among his other positions, Savvidis is president of the Federation of Greek Communities of Russia, president of the Association of Greeks of Russia, coordinator of the World Council of Hellenes Abroad of the Former Soviet Union, deeply involved with the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches, and a regular visitorto the autonomous Orthodox monastic community of Agion Oros.

For his apparent contributions to the cause of the Pontic Greeks, a community that faced genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks between 1914 and 1922, Savvidis was named grand marshal of New York City’s Greek Independence Day Parade in March 2017. More significantly, while Savvidis is no longer a member of the Russian parliament, since 2012 he has been a member of Presidential Council on International Relations of the Russian Federation. A promotion, one could say, for his exemplary work. It doesn’t hurt that Vladimir Putin had long been eyeing investments for Russian firms in Greece.

Maris, like Savvidis, has also looked outward. For instance, Maris and 24 Media have sought to foster “synergies” with the Hellenic Initiative, a Greek-American organization based in New York City, one of many non-profits that developed, around the time the economic crisis began in Greece, to “assist” in Greece’s “recovery.”

Former president Bill Clinton spoke at the Hellenic Initiative’s October 2013 banquet, while Maris and other executives and journalists from 24 Media and its outlets spoke at the 2017 Delphi Economic Forum, a mind-numbing conclave with a speaker list reading like a globalist Who’s Who. Included were the Hellenic Initiative’s executive director, Mark Arey, as well as countless politicians, journalists, academics, business figures and representatives of establishment “think tanks,” every last one of which could accurately be described as pro-EU, pro-euro, pro-austerity — in a word: neoliberal.

To be more specific, what kind of crowd can you mingle with once you’ve made your way up the stepladder and established yourself as a bona fide Greek oligarch? A review of the Delphi speaker list reveals the many possibilities. These include:

  • High-ranking members of the current SYRIZA-led government that once claimed to be “anti-establishment.”
  • Politicians from former Greek governments who were largely responsible for laying the foundations for the present-day economic crisis (and some of whom have gone on to lofty posts in the EU or international NGOs).
  • Politicians from almost every “opposition” party represented in the Greek Parliament — all of whom though, notwithstanding their “opposition,” maintain the same pro-EU, pro-euro, pro-austerity stance.
  • Academics and representatives of various think tanks, whose body of work also belies a definite pro-EU, pro-euro, pro-austerity stance.
  • Representatives from such institutions as NATO, the World Bank, the European Central Bank, the Trilateral Commission, and Stratfor.
  • Executives from state-owned utilities, which are purportedly fiercely resisting privatization but mingling with those who wish to privatize.
  • Scandal-ridden current and former members of Greece’s regulatory body for broadcasters, as well as the government ministers overseeing this “independent” body.
  • EU favorites such as the former non-elected prime minister of Greece, Lucas Papademos, and the former non-elected prime minister of Italy, Mario Monti; central bankers from various countries; and representatives from various well-connected NGOs.

And, last but not least, establishment journalists at media outlets that (surprise!) are also pro-austerity, pro-euro and pro-EU in their entirety. This impounds a full slate of journalists and executives from 24 Media, including a former government minister with the “center-left” Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), Petros Efthimiou, who is now acting as executive adviser for 24 Media.

Many of these same speakers were also present at the 2017 Thessaloniki Forum. Also present? Ivan Savvidis. Who else? Representatives of, you guessed it, 24 Media! In turn, Maris attended the Northern Lights Summit in Finland (covered hereby the Greek edition of the Huffington Post) earlier this year, a conclave with a stated agenda of “saving open societies and free markets” and featuring a full slate of current and past politicians, central bankers, prominent journalists, and corporate CEOs.

As is painfully (or pleasantly, depending on your point of view) evident, membership in the club of Greek oligarchs has many perks and benefits!

Step seven: Hold down the fort

You’ve made it. You’re mingling with politicians, foreign ambassadors, representatives of the EU and World Bank and NATO, and prominent journalists who gladly will do your bidding. What’s next for a Greek oligarch?

Toe the line. Hold down the fort. Don’t make waves. And make sure to strike the perfect balance between keeping the government of the day in check, and being favorable and even deferential towards it when necessary.

One way to accomplish this is to bring them on board with you, as with the previously noted example of Petros Efthimiou, formerly of PASOK (as is much of SYRIZA’s cabinet). Laudatory headlines, as seen in the aforementioned examples of Ethnos and news247.gr, are sure to score some brownie points as well.

Another way to accomplish this is through fluff interviews and profile pieces where no difficult or remotely controversial questions are posed, as seen in this recent example where Greece’s general secretary of press and communication, Lefteris Kretsos, batted softball questions, about the government’s renewed efforts to move ahead with the auctioning of television and radio licenses, out of the park. The interview, broadcast on the Maris-owned radio station Radiofono 24/7 — itself operating in violation of Greek law (unjust as it is) prohibiting news programming on a registered non-news station — was hosted by Kostas Arvanitis, formerly general manager of the SYRIZA-owned radio station Sto Kokkino.

As seen before with the issue of 24 Media’s uninsured workers and questionable labor practices, obeying the law is optional once you’ve reached this stage. It should further be noted that Radiofono 24/7’s sister station in Thessaloniki, also classified as a non-news station, went on the air on an FM frequency previously owned by SYRIZA.

On the flip side, as a self-respecting oligarch with a media empire at your disposal, you won’t waste all your airtime, column inches, or pixels only on promoting favorable governments and politicians. You now have in your hands a virtually unlimited opportunity for unchecked self-promotion without any worries about criticism or formalities such as objectivity.

Looking for a media outlet to write up a profile of yourself describing you as a “game changer” in the media sector? Look no further than your very own media outlets. Need to promote your football team’s superstar? Simply prominently emblazon the interview on the front page of your own newspaper, Ethnos. True, this is an unusual move for an Athens-based paper, as PAOK’s fan base is largely in Thessaloniki and northern Greece — and in constant rivalry with the “Athens-centric” establishment — but who cares? You’re the boss!

Need to promote your newly-purchased newspaper, as in the case of Ethnos? Look no further than a friend and partner, as seen in this sport24.gr write-up for the aforementioned Ethnos interview. After all, what are friends and business partners for?

There you have it, easy as pie. Just follow these seven simple steps and you, too, can become a Greek oligarch!

Oct 042017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

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. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says the Bank of Greece has recommended that banks remain closed and restrictions be imposed on transactions, after the European Central Bank didn't increase the amount of emergency liquidity the lenders can access from the central bank. (AP Photo/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. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says the Bank of Greece has recommended that banks remain closed and restrictions be imposed on transactions, after the European Central Bank didn’t increase the amount of emergency liquidity the lenders can access from the central bank. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

ATHENS, GREECE — In the second and previous installment of this series, which generated a great deal of consternation — reflecting the inferiority complex and pro-EU dogmatism prevalent in much of Greek society — the grim future Greece would face by opting to retain its protectorate status with the EU and eurozone was examined. It was shown to be a future of essentially perpetual austerity and almost no upside prospects. An array of good reasons for considering the Grexit alternative — departing those trans-national power centers and restoring a measure of cultural and currency independence — were presented.

Rumor still has it, however, that there is no practical pathway to that end, even if the end itself were conceded to be desirable. It is widely claimed that no one has ever presented an articulate departure plan.

The reality, however, could not be farther from that canard. The fact is that multiple economists, scholars, and analysts have presented a variety of plans regarding how Greece or other eurozone member states could leave the common currency bloc, or how a European Union member-state could depart from the EU entirely.

Existing plans for departure

A pedestrian passes anti-austerity graffiti in front of Athens Academy. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

A pedestrian passes anti-austerity graffiti in front of Athens Academy. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Proposal “A”: Perhaps the most well-known of these EU/eurozone departure plans has been presented by British economist Roger Bootle, of Capital Economics in London. The plan developed by Bootle and his team, titled “Leaving the euro: A practical guide,” was awarded the 2012 Wolfson Prize in Economics, the second most prestigious prize in that field.

Bootle’s plan calls for preparations for a eurozone exit to be undertaken initially in secret and to be implemented swiftly. Debt would be redenominated into the new currency and would fall under the jurisdiction of domestic law. All bank deposits and loans would also be redenominated into the new currency.

Capital controls would be imposed to prevent capital flight resulting from a possible initial panic or bank run. The transition period until the new currency circulates would be mitigated by allowing continued use of the euro and by promoting non-cash transactions. Devaluations of the new currency would occur and a moratorium on government debt service be imposed under this plan, which would also include a potential for a haircut of the public debt and debt relief for private firms with substantial foreign exposure. The option of bank nationalization would be on the table if necessary. Bootle also makes recommendations for how the ECB and the EU can, in turn, manage the departure of a eurozone member.

Bootle’s plan is essentially what has been put forth by CNBC economist John Carney, who points out something seemingly obvious, yet apparently lost on Greek and EU politicians as well as eurozone supporters: that there is no realistic way to get around austerity within the eurozone. Similarly, bestselling author Greg Palast, trained as an economist, has described SYRIZA’s idea of ending austerity within the eurozone as “fantasy.”

Proposal “B”: Economist Warren Mosler, a known proponent of modern monetary theory (MMT), describes larger deficits as a solution for the economic depression in Greece. It follows that if the EU is unwilling to relax its deficit rules—a refusal that seems a virtual certainty in light of the agreement between Greece and the EU for the maintenance of budget surpluses through 2060—then exiting is Greece’s best, next, and only option.

Mosler’s plan calls for the introduction of the new currency via taxing and spending, meaning that taxes would be levied in the new currency and spending would occur in the new currency as well, including payment of public-sector salaries. The denomination of the new currency would follow that of the euro: i.e., one euro would become one drachma.

Initially though, the currency would exist only in electronic form. Euro notes and coins would remain in circulation. However, a process Mosler describes as a “short squeeze” would follow: with tax obligations due in the new currency and accepted only in the new currency, individuals and businesses will have to sell euro notes to purchase the new currency.

This will actually place upward pressure on the new currency, alleviating fears of a devaluation and the loss of value of deposits. Gradually, this process will lead to the withdrawal of euros from circulation. The supply of euros would essentially become a foreign reserve currency for the country, while the new domestic currency would gradually make its way into circulation.

Notably, even Yanis Varoufakis, famous for his opposition to Grexit or the abolition of the eurozone, presents essentially this very plan for leaving the euro, essentially as a “last resort” for fleeing “a sinking ship.” It is therefore interesting that Varoufakis refused to consider raising the prospect of “Grexit,” even as a “Plan B,” in his negotiations with the troika during his tenure as Greece’s finance minister. Instead, he agreed to continue 100 percent of the previous austerity agreements before putting on a final show of “defiance.”

Proposal “C”: An academic paper written by Yiannis Athanasiadis of the Erasmus University of Rotterdam puts forth yet another course of action for departing from the eurozone. This plan analyzes the breakup of several currency unions, including the cases of the problematic breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the somewhat more optimistic examples of the breakup of the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. It also highlights the examples of Iceland and Argentina as being more similar to the Greek case—and points to the more propitious outcome experienced by those countries as a further reason for optimism.

In his proposal, Athanasiadis calls for the suspension of debt payments, along with an audit of the debt and outstanding liabilities; introducing the new currency at a 1:1 conversion rate (meaning no devaluation); and introducing capital controls to prevent capital outflows.

Proposal “D”: A team of Finnish economists and mathematicians has also put forth a plan for eurozone departure. They highlight the many challenges that would face a country seeking to depart from the common-currency bloc–problems that nevertheless are not deemed to be insurmountable. The need for secrecy before the transition is also emphasized, as well as the necessity for maintaining a functioning system of payments. They also leave open the possibility of the devaluation of the new currency and the potential conversion of loans to the new currency.

Proposal “E”: Greek economist Spiros Lavdiotis, a former analyst with the Central Bank of Canada, recently presented his own departure plan. He highlights a six-month transition period during which a country like Greece would remain in the eurozone while negotiations are held with EU officials and creditors. He points out that putting the very real threat of an exit on the table would encourage creditors and EU officials to negotiate a deal beneficial for both sides in order to prevent an uncontrolled exit.

During this initial period, a stoppage of payments on debt and interest would be imposed. The money saved during this period would be utilized to finance an initial growth plan for the economy post-exit. The new currency would be ready to circulate after a few months, and a law would be implemented making it the exclusive legal tender. The exchange rate would remain at a 1:1 parity between the euro and the new currency. Loans would be redenominated but deposits would remain in euros while withdrawals would be in the new currency. Exiting the eurozone would also be accompanied by a departure from the EU.

Proposal “F”: Another Greek economist, Dimitris Karousos, has presented a blueprint for departing the eurozone. This twelve-step plan includes the immediate declaration of a stoppage of payments; disputing the legality of the public debt; canceling all existing memoranda and austerity agreements, and repealing associated legislation; and nationalization of the central bank and liquidation of existing commercial banks.

Imposition of capital controls would follow, as well as the development of a payment system to allow transactions to take place until the new currency is in circulation; maintaining some level of price controls to prevent gouging and abuse; restoring wages and pensions to pre-crisis levels; and debt forgiveness for households and small- and medium-sized businesses, mirroring debt forgiveness that actually was implemented in Iceland. This plan would also entail a departure from the EU.

Proposal “G”: Finally, in the United Kingdom, the Leave Alliance presented its blueprint for departure from the EU in the absence of any such plan from the country’s political parties. This plan identifies six phases of departure, covering such ground as trade negotiations, regularization of immigration policy and controls, breaking with Brussels-centric trade regimes, developing wider global relations, and implementing some degree of direct democracy for future decision-making.

What should be evident and obvious from this analysis of a small sample of the proposals that have been put forth is that, contrary to a common anti-exit argument that no one has actually developed a plan for how such a transition can take place, many such plans exist and have been developed by credible economists, based on reasonable economic assumptions as well as historical precedent and experience.

How to depart: some further thoughts and considerations

A tourist makes his way as youths make a transaction at an automated teller machine (ATM) of a Eurobank Bank branch in Athens, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015. The European Central Bank says Greece's battered banks need 14.4 billion euros ($15.8 billion) in fresh money to get back on their feet and resume normal business. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

A tourist makes his way as youths make a transaction at an automated teller machine (ATM) of a Eurobank Bank branch in Athens, Greece. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

In order to better understand the intricacies surrounding a departure from the eurozone in particular, certain additional issues require examination. This analysis will demonstrate that a departure from the common currency is indeed feasible based on current conditions while introducing some additional thoughts and proposals to the discussion.

Foreign reserve assets: As mentioned in Part Two of this series, in the pre-euro days, European countries with weaker economies, including Greece, paid for imports of vital goods such as oil and medicine with foreign currency reserves. This is also how other countries without a “hard” currency import goods today.

It, therefore, should be noted that, according to official data from the Bank of Greece, the country’s reserve assets total 6.378 billion euros, including 1.731 billion euros in foreign exchange. However, to this figure we can add the outstanding loans of Greek banks to external borrowers (approximately 27.4 billion euros as of 2015); the long-term bond portfolio of the Greek banking system, exceeding 55 billion euros; and the foreign stocks and securities held by the Greek banking system, exceeding 9 billion euros as of 2015.

Furthermore, the total circulation of euro banknotes in Greece (an estimated 27.4 billion euros in 2015) would essentially be converted to foreign exchange, as these notes cannot be canceled. In all, this creates a supply of foreign reserve assets that, according to Karousos, can cover Greece’s needs for the next five years, even if no further foreign reserves were to enter the system.

Balance of payments and trade: As pointed out by both Lavdiotis and Karousos, Greece continues to maintain a trade deficit, totaling approximately 15 billion euros. However, the difference is covered by services, specifically shipping and tourism, which generate foreign reserve and income for Greece. In short, Greece has achieved a balance of payments and services.

What this means is that Greece will continue to be in a position to import necessary goods and services during and after a transition to a domestic currency.

To float or not to float: One of the fears that is often expressed regarding a eurozone exit is a potentially catastrophic or uncontrolled currency devaluation that may follow–though this presumes that the new currency will be floated on the international markets.

Flotation, however, is not a necessity, and an excellent example exists: China. Between the late 1940s and the late 1970s, with a gradual rollback that spanned until relatively recently, China maintained its currency at an artificially overvalued level instead of allowing it to be freely floated in the global markets.

What this did was allow China to import technology relatively inexpensively with a strong currency–using this technology to promote the country’s domestic industrial base and to promote domestic consumption at the expense of exports. Once China’s industrial machine was ready to take the next step, this import-substitution model began to be carefully rolled back, opening up Chinese products to the world and eventually anchoring China as a global export powerhouse.

Conversely, in adherence with the aforementioned proposal put forth by Mosler, it would be possible to allow the new currency to float on the international markets. The domestic “short squeeze” would then be likely to counterbalance any downward, speculatory pressures on the new currency from the international markets. Furthermore, Greece could threaten to redenominate its debt into euros. This could act as a check against devaluatory pressures on the new currency, as the debt would, in turn, be devalued.

To devalue or not to devalue, to peg or not to peg: There are pros and cons to both options that bear examination.

One option is to maintain a peg with another currency, such as the euro or the U.S. dollar. There are actually two separate issues here: the initial conversion rate of the euro to the new currency, and a possible peg of the new currency to another currency, whether the euro or something else.

Here I will argue that setting the initial rate of exchange between the old and new currency is simply a conversion–essentially an arbitrary arithmetic choice without objective (i.e., non-psychological) monetary implications. Therefore, it actually should not matter whether the conversion rate is, say, one euro to one drachma, or one euro to one hundred drachmas. Either denomination would still be equal to the initial one euro. This relates to an old economic idea, that of money illusion, coined in the early 20th century by economist Irving Fisher, who pointed out the tendency to confuse the nominal value of currency with its real value.

Here, I will posit that large denominations, such as those that Greece and Italy had pre-euro with the drachma and lira, actually are beneficial to weaker economies, as they serve as a check of sorts upon inflation. It’s much easier, for instance, to raise a price from, say, one euro to 1.50 euros (a 50 percent increase) than to, for instance, raise a price from 10,000 drachmas to 15,000 drachmas (an equivalent percent increase). The psychology of money should never be downplayed and, psychologically, a hypothetical 5,000 drachma increase has a greater impact than a seemingly minor 50 cent increase. So, following this view, the drachma could be redenominated back at the original exchange rate of 340.75 drachmas to one euro.

This line of thinking is similar to the ideas proposed by professors Priya Raghubir and Joydeep Srivastava. Their 2009 paper titled “Denomination Effect” found that people are less likely to spend larger units of currency than their equivalent amount in smaller units; while their 2002 paper titled “Effect of Face Value on Product Valuation in Foreign Currencies” found that tourists underspent when the face value of foreign currency was a multiple of the equivalent amount in their home currency, and vice versa. This rule, of course, is applicable not just to tourists: psychologically, one is less likely to spend, say, 1000 drachmas than the equivalent amount of less than 3 euros.

These rules of economic behavior were evident in Greece and some other countries immediately after the transition to the euro. Amounts that previously seemed significant, such as 500 or 1000 drachmas (denominations represented by banknotes), were the equivalent of loose change with the euro, with amounts up to 2 euros minted as coins. Furthermore, businesses across the economic spectrum took advantage of this psychological effect to round up prices while seemingly still keeping them low. For instance, a 100 drachma (0.29 euro) bottle of water was “rounded up” to 1.00 euros (340.75 drachmas). Inevitably, purchasing power diminished almost overnight.

A post-conversion peg can take place independent of the currency conversion rate. Here though, it is important to consider that a peg will tie the new currency to the fiscal policy being implemented for the foreign currency to which it is pegged. This was the case in Argentina, which led to the country’s economic collapse in 1999.

Pegging the new currency to, say, the euro, might have negative consequences: the euro itself might begin a downward spiral in the markets if one or more of its members depart. On the other hand, a peg could allow a country like Greece to essentially do what China did: maintain an artificial value of the currency for a period of time until the initial difficulties of the transition to a new economy have been surmounted.

Capital controls: In Greece, capital controls have been in place since June 2015, just prior to the July 2015 referendum. These restrictions have essentially limited withdrawals to an average of 60 euros per day–having changed during this period from a daily withdrawal limit, to weekly, to biweekly, to monthly, without significantly changing the bottom line rate.

The truth is that these capital controls have posed tremendous difficulties to Greek businesses in particular. However, in a post-transition period they might be a necessary evil until economic jitters have been overcome. If this is the case, what will be imperative is for a clear and reasonable capital control plan to be developed and to be communicated to the public, free of the uncertainty that exists with the current controls that are in effect in Greece, and with a clear forecast of when they will be loosened and/or eliminated.

Taxes: In a country like Greece, and with the economy in the condition its in, less is more when it comes to taxation. Greece’s sky-high tax rates have stifled consumer spending and have placed a chokehold on small- and mid-sized businesses, freelancers, and independent contractors. They have imposed a great burden on households and, ironically, they have encouraged the practice of which Greeks are stereotypically accused: tax evasion. For many in Greece today, it’s a simple choice between paying taxes or paying for bare necessities in order to survive.

Post-transition, a new tax regime must be ready to be enforced. One that is simple and easy to understand and fair to citizens and households, the self-employed, and to the small- and medium-sized businesses that have been a cornerstone of the Greek economy for decades.

Stability is key: in Greece, tax laws invariably change every year or even every few months, and retroactive taxation is often imposed! This makes it practically impossible for households and businesses alike to plan ahead or to make investments.

Furthermore, the Greek tax system unfairly presumes a certain level of income simply by virtue of owning a house or property (which may have been inherited), or owning a car or some other valuable asset—even if one is currently unemployed. This blatantly unfair practice must immediately be eliminated.

The value-added tax on goods–particularly vital necessities such as food, clothing, medicine, and heating oil–must also be abolished. Incentives could also be offered to lure back emigrants and businesses that have fled the country during the crisis.

Privatizations: The vast majority—perhaps all—of the privatizations that have taken place in Greece, particularly during the crisis, have been on blatantly unfair, vulture-like terms that have been completely unfavorable for the Greek state. Furthermore, many of the assets that were sold off, such as regional airports or the national lottery, were profitable—meaning that they provided income to public coffers each and every year. Many of these assets, such as airports and harbors, are also of high strategic importance.

Greece should, therefore, consider following the example of many other countries by re-nationalizing assets of vital national importance and assets that were profitable for the public sector. Other privatizations for non-vital and underutilized assets can and should be audited and reviewed–and canceled if need be. These assets can then be retained by the state as part of a public redevelopment plan, or tendered again at terms more favorable to the state, perhaps even as a long-term lease instead of an outright sale.

Red tape and bureaucracy: No matter what currency you use, your economy will be stymied if it is drowned in red tape and bureaucracy. Traditionally in Greece, this endless bureaucracy has been employed as a weapon to curtail any entrepreneurial initiative, such as the many attempts to develop an automotive industry in Greece.

Simply starting a business or forming a corporation in Greece can take months or years. In turn, the judicial system is, to put it mildly, slow as molasses. Simple “open and shut” legal cases are not “open and shut” in Greece, and almost invariably last a decade or more. This is not an environment within which businesses—particularly small businesses—or entrepreneurs can operate in an optimal fashion.

In other words, a change of currency is not enough. A change in public policy is also in order.

Legal changes: European Union membership meant that domestic law had to be “harmonized” with EU law. In order for an exit from the eurozone and the EU to be a true exit, these laws must be repealed.

But what about human rights? That’s a question that is often hysterically asked in Britain regarding Brexit. This is based on the silly assumption that human rights cannot exist without a supranational guarantor such as the EU. It also presupposes that the EU itself protects human rights. As has been determined by the UN and other bodies, this has not been the case in crisis-stricken Greece. Domestic law and international treaties are perfectly suitable for protecting human rights.

In the case of Greece in particular, what must be repealed are any and all laws pertaining to the memorandum agreements and austerity measures that have been imposed. A “clean break” cannot be considered to have been accomplished barring this. And if it is, for instance, determined that the economy is not in a position to immediately sustain a rollback to pre-crisis salaries and pensions, a clear road map for the process must be presented and communicated openly and clearly to the public.

Trade: No one is arguing that a country such as Greece should isolate itself from the world. But it is clear that EU-style “free trade” has not benefited the country, with agriculture being a case in point.

Outside of the eurozone and EU, countries are free to pursue trade agreements and partnerships with any other country in the world, without the need for approval from some other institution. Greece, which maintained strong agricultural trade with Russia, for instance, would no longer be hindered by EU sanctions, as it would be free to repeal them. Greece would be free to pursue trade relations with the BRICS nations, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, North America, and indeed even Europe. But it would have the ability to negotiate terms more favorable to its economic needs, rather than being covered by blanket EU trade rules.

One word of warning here: the BRICS, often touted as saviors, are themselves proponents of the neoliberal tenets of so-called “free” trade, including opposition to “protectionism,” which in the realm of economics has attained the same derogatory status as “nationalism” has in the political context. But what is protectionism? It’s merely the practice of defending domestic industries of vital or strategic significance from foreign competition. Especially for a vulnerable economy, the ability to protect key industries is indispensable.

Protectionism does not mean isolationism: While these two concepts are increasingly conflated, there is no argument for a country like Greece to isolate itself from Europe or the rest of the world post-exit. For instance, visa-free travel regimes can and do exist outside of a supranational context. International trade can continue. Tourism would still be welcome. And indeed foreign investment would be welcome, provided that it was on terms favorable to the local economy and domestic workers.

Protectionism can also be viewed as a means of protecting local culture from the homogenizing forces of economic and cultural globalization. Diversity and heterogeneity of course neither cause nor imply isolation.

Banking: This may be the stickiest issue of all. It is likely that, as part of a eurozone exit, commercial banks may need to be nationalized. In a sense this has already happened, as Greek banks have been recapitalized three times with taxpayer monies during the economic depression. These banks are essentially bankrupt and have been kept afloat using the tried-and-true logic of “too big to fail.”

Then there is the issue of the central bank to contend with. Greece’s central bank, for instance, is largely a privately-owned entity and 94 percent of its shareholders are not publicly known. Reforming Greece’s central banking system would seem to be the trickiest issue of all and larger-scale economic changes on a global scale would likely be a prerequisite for this to occur.

Economic development: In Greece, a mantra uttered all too frequently is that “we are a poor country” that “doesn’t produce anything.” This is not true. Greece is a land blessed with an incredible amount of natural resources; energy resources (including great potential for solar and other “green” energy sources); a rich culture and history; a large shipping fleet; an educated population and an innovative younger generation; strong agricultural capabilities and an excellent climate; and an entrepreneurial spirit—despite the culture of red tape and a supposedly “bloated” public sector. Greece has much to offer the world, and much to offer its citizens—if only its potential were to be tapped into.

To take just the example of tourism’s and the possibilities it offers: despite record tourist numbers now visiting Greece, there are many types of tourism that remain largely undeveloped or underdeveloped, including conference tourism, winter tourism (Greece has numerous ski resorts and chalets, for instance), natural tourism and camping, medical tourism, gastronomy tourism, sports tourism and sporting events that would utilize the country’s underused athletic infrastructure, and much more.

There’s a lot of potential in Greece, but the country must be free to tap into it. As long as it is not in control of its own economic destiny, this will not be possible.

Challenges real and imaginary: the impact of fear

Pro-Euro demonstrators, wearing t-shirts depicting the one Euro coin, sit on a sidewalk during a rally at Syntagma square in Athens, Thursday, July 9, 2015. (AP/Emilio Morenatti)

Pro-Euro demonstrators, wearing t-shirts depicting the one Euro coin, sit on a sidewalk during a rally at Syntagma square in Athens, Thursday, July 9, 2015. (AP/Emilio Morenatti)

An exit—and a post-exit transition—will not be easy. Nobody has claimed otherwise. But what Greece is currently experiencing–and what its government has committed to for the next four-plus decades–is also painful, with no realistic light at the end of the tunnel. Having committed to decades of austerity within the eurozone context and with no control over its fiscal or monetary policy or its economic destiny, it is hard to make a convincing argument that Greece’s economy can recover within the eurozone and the EU.

The main challenge though, as I see it, has nothing to do with the eurozone, the EU, or the obstacles that might be faced during the transition process. The primary difficulty Greece faces concerns its political class and the willingness of its people to move ahead with change—true change. To be perfectly frank, this author does not believe that any entity, any individual or any party or movement within the present-day political landscape–and particularly among those in parliament today–is competent or decisive enough to oversee a smooth transition to a post-euro and perhaps post-EU future, whether this transition were to happen by choice or involuntarily.

I do not believe a “Plan B” is in place even as a worst-case scenario, such as if there were to be a sudden collapse of the eurozone or Greece were to be forced out for other reasons. I also do not believe that the track record of Greece’s political class—replete with corruption, cronyism, irresponsibility and impunity—leaves much room for optimism. This is a political class that is most likely compromised as a result of its corrupt practices, and one that has proven that it places neoliberal interests and personal gain ahead of the public interest and well-being. And frankly, if such a transition were to be handled by a corrupt, compromised government with a poor track record, Greece might be better off standing pat for now.

It would not surprise this author, for instance, to see the current government or other so-called “leftist” forces like the DiEM25 movement of Yanis Varoufakis, if they were to ascend to power, introduce a parallel currency and sell it to the public and to the markets as “a return to a domestic currency.” The disastrous history of parallel currencies and bimetallism does not provide much hope that this would be a viable solution for Greece.

This means that it’s up to the citizenry of Greece to be the force that delivers change. This too seems something of a tall order, however. Learned helplessness and misery are deeply rooted in Greece, as has been demonstrated. It is not uncommon to hear, for instance, people react to suggestions not to vote for any of the existing political parties and to look instead to support new political forces or develop new political movements, by retorting “and who else is there to vote for?”

Another dangerously prevalent viewpoint is that Greece is “the worst in everything” and, by extension, that “Greeks are the worst people in the world,” a populace that brought economic disaster upon itself. In a climate of such helplessness, fear, misery and complacency, it’s hard to imagine any sort of motivation or clarion call that would allow the people to overcome these sentiments.

Such expressions are usually accompanied by fears of the “external threats” Greece faces due to its geopolitical location. As this line of thinking goes, Greece cannot afford to leave the “umbrella of protection” provided by EU membership (and also by being part of NATO). It bears noting though that EU membership has done nothing to stop Turkish aggression in the Aegean, including violations of Greek territorial waters and airspace. This has not been a victimless activity: for example, in 2006, Greek air force pilot Konstantinos Iliakis was killed in an aerial exercise near the Greek island of Karpathos, while attempting to intercept Turkish fighter jets.

EU membership has also done nothing to put an end to the Turkish occupation of nearly 40 percent of Cyprus. Indeed, the EU supported the UN’s “Annan Plan,” which would have granted permanent status to the Turkish military presence and the illegal settlers from the Turkish mainland on the island. All of Greece’s major political parties openly supported this plan.

Indeed, while the EU has recently been posturing against Turkey, with threats to put a permanent end to its hopes for EU membership, it is the EU that succumbed to the bullying of autocratic Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan, his demands for EU money, and his threats to allow refugees and migrants to freely pass through Turkey into European territory. Turkey is the West’s favored son in the region (and increasingly Russia’s as well), and seemingly can do no wrong.

As for NATO, this author’s experience at NATO headquarters during an academic visit in 2013 sums up its arrogance and Greece’s second-class standing within the “alliance.” In a roundtable meeting with then-U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder, and in response to an audience question regarding which countries were candidates for NATO membership, he asked whether anybody in the room was of Greek descent. When I raised my hand, he arrogantly retorted that because I was present, he’d make a reference to the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” instead of simply “Macedonia” — referencing Greece’s longstanding dispute with its northern neighbor over its usage and historical appropriation of the name “Macedonia.”

Greece’s geopolitical position and threats existed prior to eurozone and EU and NATO membership. Today, with membership in these institutions, these threats continue to exist. And yet the perception that Greece would be “destroyed,” not just economically but militarily, the moment it leaves the eurozone or EU, still persists.

Grexit a first step, not a cure-all

Greece

Credit: SOOC

Returning to a domestic currency isn’t a panacea or a cure-all. The right policies, and perhaps more importantly, the right attitudes must be in place. Corruption must be rooted out. The judicial system must be reformed and must work for its citizens for perhaps the first time in Greece’s modern history. Learned helplessness and dependency must be overcome. And the various banes of austerity, privatizations, and high taxation are all just as possible with your own currency as with the euro. To wit, privatizations in Greece began in earnest in the early 1990s, a decade before joining the eurozone.

Nevertheless, the debate must be opened. As evidenced by Varoufakis himself, even the staunchest pro-EU, pro-euro supporter would be foolish not to have a plan for a transition in place, for any number of scenarios that might make an exit inevitable. Yet these plans have been systematically excluded from the public discourse in Greece and internationally, and have never been used as a negotiating tool by successive governments. It’s time this discussion was introduced into the public debate.

Sep 232017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

Protesters hold a banner during a rally in Athens, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. A nationwide 24-hour general strike called by unions against austerity measures disrupted public services across Greece on Thursday, while thousands marched in protest in central Athens. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

Protesters hold a banner during a rally in Athens, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. A nationwide 24-hour general strike called by unions against austerity measures disrupted public services across Greece on Thursday, while thousands marched in protest in central Athens. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

With the Greek psyche itself the victim of a relentless shaming campaign, the idea of Greece “going it alone” begins to seem outlandish and quixotic. It is not. But it is as much tied to a revival of spirit and self-esteem as to the nuts and bolts of economic transformation.

Eight years into the deepest economic depression that an industrialized country has ever experienced, we are now being told that Greece is a “success story.” Having accepted the “bitter medicine” prescribed by the “troika”—the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund—the storyline today is that Greece is on the road to recovery, firmly within the European Union and the eurozone.

This narrative was recently echoed by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in his annual speech at the Thessaloniki Trade Fair, Greece’s equivalent to the State of the Union address. In this speech, Tsipras triumphantly declared that talk of “Grexit”—or a Greek departure from the eurozone and the EU—has been replaced by that of “Grinvest.”

Within such a context, there is seemingly no room for discussions about whether it is in Greece’s best interest, even after so many years of implementing the troika’s austerity diktats, to consider a departure from the eurozone and the EU. Indeed, the narrative is that the people of Greece overwhelmingly have never supported the prospect of “Grexit.”

All throughout the economic crisis in Greece, it has been reported that polls have consistently shown clear majorities favoring the country’s “European trajectory” and rejecting the possibility of a departure from the eurozone and EU.

So the Greeks want the euro at all costs, even if it means more harsh austerity measures and cuts to wages, pensions and social services. Or so we are told. These claims would be believable if they were the product of robust public debate and deliberation on the respective pros and cons of remaining within the “European family” or departing. But in Greece, and in most of the global mainstream media, there is no such debate and never has been.

Instead, what has taken place in Greece during the economic crisis has been the complete elimination from public debate of opponents of the prevalent economic and political doctrines. Those who oppose the eurozone, the EU, or simply the austerity measures, are stamped with the “scarlet letter” of being “nationalists,” “xenophobes,” or “fascists.” Such rhetoric became even more polarized following the Brexit referendum result. The Brexit result and the rise of “populism” have themselves been demonized, while poll results that contradict the mainstream narrative are habitually buried by the supposedly “objective” major media outlets.

Following the first installment of this series – in which the less-than-democratic roots of the EU, the zeal with which the EU is lionized by the global media today, the EU’s present-day democratic deficit and hypocrisy, and the attempts to discredit opponents of the EU and neoliberalism were analyzed — this piece will focus on what has long been the “elephant in the room” in Europe: the possibility of departure from the eurozone and from the EU, and why it must, at the very least, be debated on equal terms in economically suffering countries such as Greece.

Fostering fear and lies

French president Emmanuel Macron, right, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, and Vlasia Pavlopoulou wife of the Greek President toast their drinks at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. Standing at a Greek site where democracy was conceived, French President Emmanuel Macron called on members of the European Union to reboot the 60-year-old bloc with sweeping political reforms or risk a "slow disintegration. (AP/Charalambos Gikas)

French president Emmanuel Macron, right, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, and Vlasia Pavlopoulou wife of the Greek President toast their drinks at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. Standing at a Greek site where democracy was conceived, French President Emmanuel Macron called on members of the European Union to reboot the 60-year-old bloc with sweeping political reforms or risk a “slow disintegration. (AP/Charalambos Gikas)

Throughout the crisis, the austerity measures that have been imposed on Greece, the arguments in favor of the necessity of remaining “in Europe,” the mythos surrounding the “European dream,” and the horror that would result from “Grexit” have been propped up by a series of lies and scare tactics that have been repeatedly propagated by politicians and media outlets alike.

This has fostered a form of learned helplessness in Greece, a belief that the country is incapable of surviving outside the eurozone and EU and therefore must remain, even if the preconditions for doing so are harsh.

One such myth pertains to the idea that Greece “doesn’t produce anything” and is therefore reliant on imports. These imports must, of course, be paid for with hard currency; therefore, the conventional line of thinking suggests that Greece would be unable to import vital necessities with its own “soft” currency.

Case in point: a 2012 Eurobarometer survey found that 94 percent of Greeks were concerned about national food security, the highest level in the EU. In addition, Greece was the only EU member-state where a majority (61 percent) expressed concern with national food production. Moreover, 79 percent of Greeks expressed the belief that Greece does not produce enough food to meet domestic needs. Again, this was the highest percentage recorded in the EU.

The claim that Greece doesn’t produce anything and is not nutritionally self-sufficient is constantly repeated by the media and used to justify remaining in the common market, but is it true? As of 2010, the most recent year for which complete statistics seem to be available, Greece met, exceeded, or came close to meeting domestic demand for staples such as eggs, meat and milk derived from sheep and goats, olive oil, several crops (including oranges, peaches, tomatoes, cucumbers, apricots, potatoes, and grapes), honey, whole grains, and poultry.

Furthermore, according to data from 2012, Greece is second worldwide in the production of sheep’s milk, third in olive and olive oil production, fourth in the production of pears, fifth in the production of peaches and nectarines, sixth in pistachio production, and in the top ten in goat’s milk, chestnuts, cantaloupes, cherries, and cotton. It is also just outside the top ten in the production of almonds, cottonseed, asparagus, figs, and other legumes. Greece is third in the world in the production of saffron and sixteenth in the world in the production of cheese products.

Outside of food production, Greece is a strong producer of such resources as aluminum and bauxite (first in Europe), magnesium (meeting 46 percent of Western Europe’s production), second in the world behind the United States in the production of smectite clay, and is the only European country with significant nickel deposits. Greece is also a significant producer of laterite and marble, as well as steel and cement.

Outside of production, Greece possesses one of the world’s largest shipping fleets, ranking second worldwide in total tonnage, while the Greek flag fleet and merchant fleet rank second in the EU and seventh globally. In addition, Greece is fourteenth in the world in tourist arrivals (but twenty-third in tourist revenue).

It is these three sectors — agriculture, shipping, and tourism — that have traditionally sustained the Greek economy, alongside domestic small businesses, which themselves have suffered during the crisis under the weight of decreased spending and increased taxation. Prior to the euro, the agricultural, shipping, and tourism sectors provided Greece with the hard currency with which it financed imports.

Indeed, it is membership in the EU that has led to a sharp decline in the domestic production of numerous staples in Greece. In 1961, twenty years before joining the EU, “impoverished” Greece produced 169,200 tons of figs, 6,374 tons of sesame, 52,000 tons of dry beans, 13,365 tons of chickpeas, and 19,246 tons of quince. In 2011, the respective figures were 9,400 tons of figs, 33 tons of sesame, 22,744 tons of dry beans, 2,200 tons of chickpeas, and 3,432 tons of quince.

In 1981, the year Greece joined the EU, production of fresh vegetables was at 123,298 tons, lemon production was at 216,874 tons, apple production was at 337,091 tons, almond production at 73,181 tons, tobacco production at 130,900 tons, tomato production at 1,884,600 tons, and potato production at 1,056,000 tons.

Thirty years later, the figures for each of these crops had sharply declined: 74,393 tons of fresh vegetables, 70,314 tons of lemons, 255,800 tons of apples, 29,800 tons of almonds, 20,287 tons of tobacco, 1,169,900 tons of tomatoes, and 757,820 tons of potatoes.

A major factor in this decline is the EU’s common agricultural policy, which sets production quotas for each country and each sector of production, and dictates to each country what to produce and which crop varieties to cultivate, what not to produce, where to export, where not to export, how much to export and at what price.

For example, until 2005 Greece’s sugar production sector was profitable and met a large part of domestic demand. In a 2006 deal with the EU, however, Greece agreed to reduce its domestic sugar production and increase imports. In 1980, the year before Greece ascended to the EU, pork meat production met 84 percent of domestic needs, while beef production met 66 percent of domestic demand. Those figures have declined to 38 and 13 percent, respectively.

The decline in beef production has also impacted the dairy sector. The EU’s influence is evident here as well: in 2000, Greece was fined 2.5 billion drachmas (over 7.3 million euros) for exceeding EU-imposed quotas for the production of cow’s milk.

And yet the myth persists: Greece “cannot survive” outside of the eurozone and EU. And while the lack of production—whether imagined or real—is one of the main arguments used by proponents of remaining in the EU, the lies do not stop there.

Greece wants to stay in the eurozone and EU — or does it?

A man walks past a graffiti made by street artist N_Grams that read ''NO'' in German but also ''YES, IN'' in Greek language in Athens, June 28, 2015. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

A man walks past a graffiti made by street artist N_Grams that read ”NO” in German but also ”YES, IN” in Greek language in Athens, June 28, 2015. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

One of the most prevalent and recurring myths to come out of crisis-stricken Greece is that despite the austerity measures and cuts that the Greek people have been faced with, the overwhelming majority wishes to remain in the EU “at all costs.”

This exact wording has been used in numerous public opinion polls, such as one published on July 5, 2015, the day of the Greek referendum on whether to accept or reject a new troika-backed austerity proposal. According to this poll, conducted by polling firm GPO on behalf of one of Greece’s most notoriously pro-austerity TV stations, Mega Channel, 74.1 percent of respondents wished to remain in the EU at all costs.

Is this really the case? It is worth considering that in Greece, there are no polling firms which conduct public opinion polls independently. Surveys are conducted on behalf of large media outlets which are, without exception, favorable to the policies of austerity and continued membership in the eurozone and the EU. The polling firms themselves also belong to similarly entrenched interests. The aforementioned GPO, for instance, was co-founded by construction and publishing magnate Christos Kalogritsas, who is said to still maintain a close friendship with GPO’s main shareholder, Takis Theodorikakos.

Further limiting their independence, Greece’s major public opinion polling firms are all recipients of state funding. Between 2010-2013, Kapa Research received 3,126,900 euros, MRB received 877,423 euros, GPO received 395,003 euros, Metron Analysis received 273,574 euros, Marc received 82,650 euros, VPRC received 55,500 euros, and ALCO received 50,677 euros.

Despite this though, the question remains: are the polling results accurate? What has been evident throughout the crisis is that poll results have often been woefully inaccurate. For example, prior to the 2015 referendum, major public opinion polls showed “yes” and “no” in a statistical dead heat. In reality, over 61 percent of voters rejected the EU’s austerity proposal, even if this result was itself overturned by Greece’s subservient SYRIZA-led government, which itself seemingly wishes to keep Greece inside the eurozone and EU “at all costs.”

More evidence can be found from the results of the few relatively independent public opinion polls which have taken place in Greece in recent years. For example, in a pan-European survey conducted by the Gallup International polling firm in December 2014, 52 percent of Greeks favored a return to a domestic currency, while only 32 percent favored remaining in the eurozone. Notably, Gallup International’s respective 2016 end-of-year poll found less than overwhelming support in Greece for remaining in the EU: while 54 percent of respondents stated that in a hypothetical referendum they’d vote to remain, 46 percent would vote to leave.

Furthermore, a March 2015 poll by Bridging Europe—an upstart polling firm which has since openly and unabashedly supported SYRIZA—found that 53 percent of respondents favored a return to a domestic currency. Together, these results contradict polling results which claim that overwhelming majorities of Greeks wish to remain, and at all costs to boot. However, these poll results have never been reported by either the Greek or the international media.

What the mainstream public opinion survey results in Greece aim to accomplish is threefold. First, they seek to impact public opinion in Greece by making it seem like there is such an overwhelming majority in favor of continued EU and eurozone membership that resistance is futile—and the product of “fringe” elements of society. Secondly, it impacts the international media in their reporting on Greece and the crisis, as they regurgitate these poll results without question.

Third, it reinforces the pro-EU, pro-euro, pro-austerity politics enforced by Greece’s current and previous governments, and the respective pro-EU and pro-euro positions of the entirety of the political spectrum that is represented in parliament.

Varoufakis: more blatant lies and pro-EU propaganda

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis speaks during a parliamentary session in Athens, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. (AP/Yannis Liakos)

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis speaks during a parliamentary session in Athens, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. (AP/Yannis Liakos)

When concealing inconvenient public opinion survey results isn’t enough, more blatant lies are employed. A characteristic example comes from the statements made by former finance minister and “heroic” celebrity economist Yanis Varoufakis, who in an interview with ABC Radio in Australia in 2015 stated that even if Greece wanted to return to a domestic currency, its printing presses were destroyed in 2000 prior to joining the eurozone. In reality, Greece’s mint is still in operation in the Athens suburb of Holargos and prints euro banknotes today.

In the minds of many Greeks, the old drachma is also associated with crippling inflation and economic instability, a perspective which the major media outlets have done nothing to dispel. Listening to certain Greeks discussing the pre-2002 era, one would think that prior to the euro Greeks must have lived in caves, without electricity, automobiles, or running water—and that such days will swiftly return if Greece dares to depart from the common currency.

Particular fears are expressed about inflation. However, this ignores the fact that from the 1950s through the early 1970s, inflation in “impoverished” Greece hovered at or below 5 percent. In the late 1990s, as Greece prepared to meet Maastricht criteria to join the eurozone, inflation once again fell into the single digits. Throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, other southern European countries, such as Italy and Spain, also frequently attained double-digit inflation levels similar to those seen in Greece.

When all else fails, stereotypes and collective guilt are employed to great effect. Greece lied in order to enter the eurozone, we are told, and therefore is reaping its just rewards. But as was pointed out in the first installment of this series, other countries such as Spain and Italy performed similar accounting tricks, but no similar calls to “punish” these countries have been heard.

What is heard though, by both the Greek and international media, is that the Greek people “lived beyond their means.” This viewpoint is consistent, whether you consult with the “leftist” Guardian, the right-wing Daily Telegraph, German finance minister-for-life Wolfgang Schäuble, or former EU economy commissioner Ollie Rehn. The head of the Eurogroup—the committee of eurozone finance ministers—and member of Holland’s Labour Party Jeroen Dijsselbloem stated earlier this year that Greeks spent their money on “drinks and women.” In turn, Dutch “eurosceptic” politician Geert Wilders claimed that Greeks spent their money “on souvlaki and ouzo.”

Never mind that Greece’s private sector debt has consistently ranked at the lowest levels among OECD countries and still does today. This has not stopped the Greek media and Greece’s politicians from repeating such claims, ascribing collective blame to the entire populace when it was a small cohort of politicians and crony capitalists who largely benefited from the public spending bonanza and augmentation of Greece’s public debt.

"Swindlers in the euro family:" A controversial cover has come back to haunt Germany's Focus magazine.

“Swindlers in the euro family:” The controversial cover of Germany’s Focus magazine.

Nevertheless, such statements are coupled with heavy doses of racism from Greece’s “European partners.” In 2010, the “reputable” German magazine Der Spiegel published, on its front cover, an image of the goddess Aphrodite, cloaked in a Greek flag, giving the finger to Europe, accompanied by the headline “Swindlers in the euro family.” Two studies, commissioned by the Hans Böckler Foundation and by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, have found that German media coverage of Greece’s crisis has been rife with stereotypes, bias, and superficial reporting.

The Feb. 13, 2010 edition of the Wall Street Journal featured a parody of ancient Greek art—now well-concealed on the Internet—displaying an ancient god begging for change. The Telegraph has referred to the crisis in Greece as the “ouzo crisis” while referring to the suffering economies of southern Europe as “Club Med.”

One of the many end results of this constant barrage of disparagement and insults towards the Greek people is that they have become ingrained in the national psyche. A common refrain heard in Greece in reference to anything negative occurring within the country is that “this is who we are.” Greece lied and therefore it must be punished. Greeks lived beyond their means and are now getting their just dues. Greeks were corrupt and “ate it all together,” in the words of ex-politician Theodoros Pangalos, and therefore collectively must share the blame.

Herein lies a paradox: on the one hand, Greeks are consistently ranked as among the unhappiest people in the world. Greece ranked fourth in this year’s Bloomberg misery index, and has been found to be the unhappiest country in Europe by both the Eurobarometer survey and by Gallup International. In such a toxic environment, the prevailing policies of economic austerity, cuts, and privatization are therefore met with tacit acceptance.

Collective guilt has set in for Greece’s supposed sins, and these painful austerity measures—and the misery they bring—are considered an inevitable result of these “sins.” On the other hand, the actors in large part responsible for the austerity that has delivered such misery, such as the EU, continue to receive support from a significant percentage of the population.

As for those who dare to openly speak out against austerity and in opposition to the EU and the eurozone? They are swiftly labeled. A favorite retort in Greece concerns the supposed existence of a “conspiracy of the drachma” in which diaspora Greeks and wealthy Greeks who have moved their money offshore favor a return to the drachma. As this line of thinking goes, these individuals would then move their money back to Greece and take advantage of a sharply devalued local currency, getting wealthier in the process.

Other attacks are simpler, often branding opponents of the prevailing European order as “fascists,” “xenophobes,” “nationalists” and “populists”—the latter two, of course, being rather dirty words in the present-day context.

When insults and labels don’t do the job, fear is effective. According to a European Commission adviser and as reported by Newsweek in 2015, Greece would promptly find itself out of oil and medical supplies once it leaves the eurozone and EU. In the lead-up to the 2015 referendum, both Greek and international media outlets, including the Washington Post—which later replaced the image on this article—circulated untrue and undated photos of supermarket shelves devoid of food. Greece’s Mega Channel broadcast images of senior citizens using ATMs in fear—images which actually were from South Africa.

Greek tabloid newspaper Press Star published a “heartbreaking” photo of an elderly man in tears while holding a solitary loaf of bread—even though the photo was actually from the aftermath of the Istanbul earthquake of 1999. The photo was shamelessly recycled one more time earlier this year, in the aftermath of an earthquake on the Greek island of Lesvos.

Another national TV broadcaster, Antenna TV, reported that in the 2015 referendum, Greeks were choosing between a future “as Europe” or “as Zimbabwe.” The same station, prior to the June 2012 parliamentary elections, circumvented a pre-election freeze on political broadcasts by airing, on the eve of the polls, a “documentary” on the (obviously adverse) impacts of “Grexit,” laughably insinuating that a SYRIZA victory would result in “Grexit.”

Never mind that Greek domestic production and industry have been decimated during the years of EU and eurozone membership. Never mind that the EU allowed for the debt of Greece’s national railway to be waived in order to facilitate its privatization—but refuses to allow the same for Greece’s national debt. Never mind that 92 percent of the “bailouts” (loans) Greece has received during the crisis have gone right back to its lenders. Never mind that even EU monies for major infrastructure projects often went right back to European contractors or consultants, in a process of crony capitalism described by former “economic hitman” John Perkins. Never mind that the austerity regime itself has been found to violate the fundamental human rights of the people of Greece. As the title of part one of this series suggested, for the Greek and international media and a substantial portion of the Greek populace, it is “EU über alles”—Europe or bust—even if Greece is the one that goes bust in the process.

The argument for leaving the eurozone and the EU

Pedestrians pass a poster depicting a map of Greece with the letter E being replaced by Euro symbols in Athens, Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Pedestrians pass a poster depicting a map of Greece with the letter E being replaced by Euro symbols in Athens, Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

If we truly support and believe in open and robust public debate, then the discussion as to whether Greece (or any other EU member-state) will be better served by departing from the EU or eurozone must be a part of that dialogue. So far, however, it has largely been excluded from the public sphere and from anything resembling equal footing in public discourse—whether that discussion is occurring in the media, in academia, or in the political arena.

Even if one is not a proponent of leaving the eurozone or the EU, the fiscally and politically prudent thing to do would be to have a plan in place for such a possibility. If, for instance, there is a collapse of the Italian banking system—which is presently teetering on the edge—or some other large-scale economic disaster in the eurozone, it’s not outside the realm of possibility for a domino effect to impact the entirety of Europe, forcing out some eurozone member states or resulting in the collapse of the eurozone system itself.

If this sounds far-fetched, consider the following: there are several examples of currency unions breaking apart, such as that of the Austro-Hungarian empire, or more recently the cases of the breakup of the Czech-Slovak union or Latvia leaving what was essentially a currency union with Russia in 1992.

While not exactly like the eurozone today, in the 19th and early 20th century, the Latin Monetary Union and the Scandinavian Monetary Union attempted to create a currency peg across multiple countries—which also occurred more recently in the lead-up to the launch of the eurozone via the creation of the European Monetary Union. For different reasons, both monetary unions ended up dissolving, with member-states eliminating currency pegs between them.

More recently, the United Kingdom departed the EMU in 1992 amidst doom-and-gloom scenarios highly similar to those heard today about departing the eurozone. Instead, what followed was one of the strongest periods of economic growth in the UK’s history.

Further precedent exists in the well-known examples of Argentina, which repudiated the IMF’s austerity diktats and declared a stoppage of payments on its public debt in 1999. What followed was over a decade of economic growth which exceeded the global average, and indeed even the eventual repayment of much of its previous debt at new terms that it negotiated with most of its creditors.

Iceland, following its banking collapse in 2008 which was, proportionally, the largest collapse sustained by the banking sector in a developed country in history, enacted policies which were in direct opposition to those being recommended by the IMF. Banks were allowed to collapse, foreign creditors were initially not repaid, bankers were jailed. The economy soon boomed, with GDP growthexceeding EU and eurozone averages and Iceland’s GDP eventually eclipsing pre-collapse levels. Meanwhile, a devalued currency led to a tourism and export boom. Eventually, creditors were repaid as well.

While Iceland and Argentina were not a part of a common currency bloc, their examples highlight how a nation can reject the austerity demands of institutions such as the IMF, can declare a stoppage of payments on its debt, roll back austerity, devalue its currency, and swiftly return to economic growth. Moreover, Argentina broke its 1:1 currency peg to the U.S. dollar — which, while not the equivalent to departing a currency union, had the result of restoring the Argentine government’s ability to enact monetary policy instead of being reliant on U.S. policy.

Therefore, even the most vociferous supporter of “remain” would be well advised to support the development of an exit plan in preparation for a worst-case scenario which may well emerge from outside the country’s borders. Unlike the “heroic” Yanis Varoufakis, who negotiated so fiercely as finance minister in 2015 that he openly stated he had no “plan B” and would not place “Grexit” on the table even as a negotiating tool, such a plan would be the most prudent option even for the most enthusiastically pro-EU regime.

The paragraphs which follow will outline why a country like Greece must consider leaving the eurozone and the EU, the various proposals which have been put forth as to how this could be accomplished, and how a departure could occur.

Why leave?

Protesting hospital staff sit in front of a wall that they built at the entrance of the Greek Finance Ministry with a banner depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Thipras , Deputy Health Minister Pavlos Polakis and Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos wearing ties reading in Greek ''Ministry of broken promises" and " We drown in debt and bailouts" in central Athens. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Protesting hospital staff sit in front of a wall that they built at the entrance of the Greek Finance Ministry with a banner depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Thipras , Deputy Health Minister Pavlos Polakis and Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos wearing ties reading in Greek ”Ministry of broken promises” and ” We drown in debt and bailouts” in central Athens, June 16, 2017. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

The euro is essentially a debt instrument: According to economist and former central banker Spiros Lavdiotis, the European Central Bank does not lend directly to its members—i.e. the member states of the eurozone. It instead lends to the private sector, at interest. In turn, the private sector lends to states who seek to borrow money, at higher interest. This perpetuates the debt cycle, while the higher interest is often financed in the form of budget cuts or higher taxes.

Restoring monetary sovereignty – external devaluation instead of internal devaluation: What has taken place during the years of the economic crisis in Greece is essentially a process of “internal devaluation.” This means that the cost of labor in Greece—that is, wages, insurance contributions and the like—have been slashed, purportedly in an attempt to boost the country’s competitiveness.

Traditionally, however, many countries have employed a different remedy for responding to an economic downturn: external devaluation. Instead of cutting wages and pensions at home, the value of the national currency would be devalued, immediately making the country’s exports, services, and labor cheaper and more competitive on a global level, compared to other stronger currencies.

External devaluation also helped foster much-vaunted foreign investment (as the cost of investment would decrease) in economic sectors such as tourism, as the country proceeding with an external devaluation would automatically become cheaper for foreign visitors. With domestic wages, pensions, and social services unaffected, quality of life was largely not impacted by an external devaluation.

The main disadvantage with external devaluation is that the cost of imports rises. This, however, was traditionally offset in two ways: paying for imports with foreign hard currency reserves (which can indeed increase if foreign tourism and investment in the economy increases), and by increasing domestic production, where possible, to alleviate the need for imports. This promoted domestic industry and a policy of full employment.

But today, countries such as Greece are saddled with a hard currency that is overvalued for the needs of the domestic economy, and where there is no level of control on monetary policy. If this seems like a mere unfortunate consequence of the euro, think again: Roger Mundell, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and architect of the euro, foresaw precisely this eventuality.

In Mundell’s vision, as eurozone economies were squeezed with the first sign of an economic downturn, all of the traditional monetary policy tools would be unavailable in their policy-making toolkit. Unable to devalue the currency or to increase deficit spending due to EU rules, governments would be left with one choice: austerity. Cut wages, cut pensions, slash social services to the bone. It’s a neoliberal wet dream—and it is the European “dream” today.

Escaping stifling EU fiscal rules: Currently, EU member-states must abide to strict EU fiscal rules as part of its Stability and Growth Pact. The main rules are that total government debt must not be more than 60 percent of GDP, and government deficits must not exceed 3 percent of GDP.

At face value, this sounds reasonable and prudent. However, the problem with these rules is that they eliminate many of the traditional tools that were available in the fiscal policy toolkit during times of economic recession. Deficit spending, for instance, has enabled many sputtering economies to get back on track, as cash re-enters the economy, encouraging consumer and business spending and private lending. Limiting this ability handicaps countries which are stuck in a recession.

Indeed, one of the primary ideas behind such rules is, quite cynically, to reduce the political cost of what would otherwise be unpopular policies: cuts to social services and pensions and the like.

A man stands in front of a banner during an anti-austerity rally by workers in the health sector outside the Labour ministry in Athens, March 2, 2017. Monitors from Greece's European Union creditors and the International Monetary Fund re-launched talks in Athens on Tuesday on the country's stumbling bailout program. The banner reads : "Medical Association of Athens, We demand the immediate withdraw of the pension bill". (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

A man stands in front of a banner during an anti-austerity rally by workers in the health sector outside the Labour ministry in Athens, March 2, 2017. The banner reads : “Medical Association of Athens, We demand the immediate withdraw of the pension bill”. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

It should be noted here that leaving the eurozone or even the EU does not mean an automatic green light to act recklessly. But it will afford a country like Greece the freedom to take control of its fiscal and economic policy. Notably, for Greece, the EU has determined that the aforementioned strict rules do not go far enough. Greece’s current “leftist” SYRIZA-led government, entirely subservient to Brussels and Berlin, agreed earlier this year to achieve a primary budget surplus of 3.5 percent annually each year through 2023, and primary budget surpluses of 2 percent annually through 2060.

This certainly contradicts Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ current rhetoric regarding the official end of the crisis coming sometime in 2018. A primary budget surplus means that the state spends less than it takes in. For a country with a stagnant or shrinking GDP such as Greece, this means spending an ever-shrinking amount of money. And as government revenues dry up, the surplus target is met by further cutting spending, creating a perpetual austerity death spiral. As of now, this is the economic future Greece faces, no matter what Tsipras, the EU, or the media claim.

Increased competitiveness on the global markets: Free of EU fiscal and monetary shackles, Greece will be free to enact its own policy, including future devaluations of its newly-restored domestic currency (more on devaluation below).

When a country such as Greece is ready to take this step and devalue its domestic currency, it will be able to better compete globally in its three cornerstone economic sectors: tourism, agriculture, and shipping. Greece will be a less expensive destination for foreign tourists, while Greek agricultural products and Greek services will be comparatively less expensive. And this will take place via a process of external devaluation, rather than cutting domestic wages and reducing the quality of life.

Greece has an educated and multilingual workforce, as well as lots of untapped or deprecated (due to EU) agricultural potential. Tourism, while increasing in raw numbers, has a lot of potential for growth, especially since average spending per visitor is far less than other countries.

An increase in foreign trade, exports, and tourism will, in turn, ensure that Greece will maintain the necessary foreign hard currency reserves with which it will import vital goods that it cannot produce domestically. This is how the Greek economy operated prior to entering the eurozone in 2002, and it is how even the poorest of states are able to import oil, automobiles, medicine, or other necessities.

Rolling back austerity: Every sector of the Greek economy has been impacted by the austerity measures that have been imposed by Greece’s lenders in the troika since 2010.

Free of a requirement to sustain a primary budget surplus, Greece would have the ability to increase spending in vital social sectors such as healthcare and education, to at least partially restore pensions and salaries that have been repeatedly slashed, and to cut taxes, such as the heating oil tax which has resulted in most Greek households not being able to afford to heat their homes in the winter. Other cuts could be applied to the value-added tax (VAT), which even for many staple items is a hefty 24 percent, as well as high business taxes that are choking the life out of Greece’s traditional economic base of small businesses.

Even without funding coming from the EU, the ability to increase spending could also allow the state to jump-start infrastructure projects or to continue existing public works. Measures could also be financed to reverse the country’s “brain drain” and to attract some of the 600,000 Greeks who have emigrated back to Greece.

Protecting and promoting industry: Free of the requirements of participating in the European common market, a country like Greece will be less exposed to unequal or unfair competition from industrial powerhouses such as Germany, which has flooded domestic markets with cheap imports, while domestic industries have been shuttered or bought out.

Furthermore, liberated from the requirement of enforcing production quotas under such policy frameworks as the EU’s common agricultural policy, Greece will be able to enact measures to return agricultural production to its much higher pre-EU levels, thereby alleviating many of the concerns regarding the country’s self-sufficiency and “dependence” on Europe for its survival.

Think people don’t want it? Think again: As was shown earlier, public opinion poll results which claim that overwhelming majorities of Greeks wish to remain in the eurozone and EU at all costs are likely “fake news”—meant to influence public opinion and marginalize opposition. What independent polls have indicated is that, at the very least, a departure from the EU and, in particular, the eurozone will not be nearly as unpopular as claimed—and may perhaps even enjoy the support of a small majority.

Leaving the “Hotel California”?

Yanis Varoufakis has famously uttered that the EU (and by extension, the Eurozone) are like the Hotel California: you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. It’s one thing, of course, to understand why a country like Greece—and its economy—may be at a disadvantage within the Eurozone and the EU. It’s another thing, however, to actually leave these institutions.

In the next and final installment of this piece, it is the very process of leaving that will be analyzed. Contrary to a commonly-expressed sentiment that no coherent plan for a country to depart from the Eurozone has ever been presented, the third and final part of this series will present some of the proposals that have been developed by economists and scholars for an orderly departure from the Eurozone–and how some of the challenges and obstacles, which will inevitably be faced, may be overcome.

Sep 202017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

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Dear friends and listeners of Dialogos Radio,

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Αυτή την εβδομάδα: Συνέντευξη με το δημοσιογράφο Δημήτρη Γιαννόπουλο
 
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Φιλικά,
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Aug 192017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

A resident tries to extinguish a forest fire at Kalamos village, north of Athens, on Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017.  A total of 53 wildfires broke out in Greece Saturday and more have done so Sunday, including on the beach resort of Kalamos near Athens. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

A resident tries to extinguish a forest fire at Kalamos village, north of Athens, on Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017. A total of 53 wildfires broke out in Greece Saturday and more have done so Sunday, including on the beach resort of Kalamos near Athens. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

Selling a struggling nation to the highest corporate, oligarchic, and state bidders may be just the way things work in the world, but please stop trumpeting it as a great “success story.” Greece’s forests are burning, its economy sold out, its citizens struggling more than before they were “saved.”

ATHENS, GREECE — (Analysis) Exactly two years ago, on August 14, 2015, the “leftist” SYRIZA-led Greek coalition government — just over a month removed from a referendum that saw 62 percent of voters rejecting a new austerity plan proposed by the “troika” of Greece’s lenders, the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund — put the final nail in the coffin of the referendum result, passing the third, and most onerous to date, memorandum proposal, foreseeing ever-harsher austerity measures, cuts, and privatizations.

Today, the sweet smell of “success” is in the air.

If by success, of course, you meant the smell of charred forest, then you would be correct.

Greece is burning, and not just due to the high summer temperatures. Dozens upon dozens of forest fires throughout the country, which broke out in the space of less than a week, have covered Athens and much of Greece with a choking, smoky haze. Outside of Athens, huge forest fires have raged over a span of over 25 kilometers and, as of this writing, a period of three days, inundating the city with a smoky haze.

It could be said that this is the perfect complement to the winter atmosphere in the city, when Athens is blanketed by a noxious smog, the result of the burning of makeshift fireplaces and furnaces keeping many of the city’s residents warm; residents who can no longer afford absurdly-taxed heating oil or to run electric inverters.

In a 24-hour period between August 13 and 14, 91 fires broke out in Greece. On the island of Zakynthos alone, 22 fires occurred during this period, just a few weeks after earlier fires burned parts of the island, which is a popular tourist destination. Across the strait, the mainland region of Ileia—which was heavily impacted by destructive and large-scale fires a decade ago, in the summer of 2007—once again fell prey to fires that ignited in multiple locations.

Both a blessing—due to their capacity to moderate scorching summer temperatures—and a curse, Greece’s famed August winds, known as the “meltemi,” helped fuel many of these fires and aided in spreading them across large areas, igniting multiple fronts. But the outbreak of all of these fires and the scale of their intensity cannot be attributed to heat and wind alone.

The large fires in Zakynthos and outside of Athens, for instance, began along multiple fronts within minutes, hinting at coordinated arson attacks.

Indeed, evidence of arson, including gas canisters and large convex lenses, have already been discovered in Kalamos, the location near Athens where one of the blazes originated.

Two convex lenses placed next to a large canister of natural gas found near Kalamos, a suburb of

Two convex lenses placed next to a large canister of natural gas found near Kalamos, a suburb of Athens.

On August 15, a 62-year-old man, said to be an employee of the Labor Ministry, who was in possession of numerous tools with which a blaze could be lit, was caught and arrested near Mount Parnitha, which itself had been previously reduced to ashes following destructive fires in August 2007. According to Gianna Tsoupra, adviser to the SYRIZA-affiliated regional governor of the Athens region Rena Dourou, such fires are an unfortunate “natural phenomenon.”

Greece burns: who benefits?

Volunteers try to extinguish the fire outside a military base at the village of Varnava , north of Athens, Aug. 14, 2017. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Volunteers try to extinguish the fire outside a military base at the village of Varnava , north of Athens, Aug. 14, 2017. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

These fires could be described as a microcosm of much of what is wrong with Greece — as well as with the institution the country supposedly cannot survive without, the European Union. Greece today is the only European country without a national cadastre (forest registry). While areas classified as forestland are constitutionally protected, this classification is largely based onaerial photography dating back to 1945 or earlier. The results are often comical.

For instance, a portion of the site of Athens’ former international airport—slated for privatization and development by the same SYRIZA government which prior to its election promised to abolish these very actions—has beenclassified as “forestland,” due to the vegetation which existed on the site in the 1937-39 time period. Indeed, the lack of an actual complete registry has led to a number of unintentional — or perhaps intentional — consequences.

Burned land can, for instance, be sold to developers and then reclassifiedafter the fact. A 2011 study by the Athens Polytechnic Institute found that approximately one million structures in Greece were constructed illegally (including on land previously covered by forest). Flexible legislation, such as Greek Law 4014/2011, allows such illegal properties to be “legalized” upon the payment of a fine—a practice viewed favorably for its lucrative income-generating potential by both the Greek government and its “partners” in the troika.

In turn, this practice fuels—pun intended—more and more fires. According to GlobalForestWatch, over 150,000 hectares of Greek forest have been destroyed since 2000, one percent of the total land area of the country.

At the onset of the Greek economic crisis, former government minister Theodoros Pangalos—whose governments oversaw and tolerated many of the aforementioned practices—stated, in an attempt to ascribe collective guilt and blame to the entire populace for the causes of the crisis, that the Greek people “ate it all together,” implying that the citizenry collectively took advantage of corruption and graft for its own benefit.

As with many attempts at stereotyping, there is a grain of truth in this statement. On the island of Crete for instance, the “Residents Outside Town Planning” club represents approximately 45,000 illegal homeowners.

However, the beneficiaries of such practices extend beyond just a certain segment of the Greek populace. “Ex-pats” who have relocated to Greece from countries considered by many self-loathing Greeks as “civilized” and “law-abiding” have taken advantage of such laws to purchase properties constructed illegally. Indeed, “ex-pats” looking to purchase property in Greece are even advised as to how an illegal property can be legalized. These very same “ex-pats” — reflecting arrogant, time-honored colonial habits that die hard — are known for lecturing the clearly lazy, wayward, and corrupt Greeks for engaging in such terrible practices as “tax evasion” through the withholding of receipts for small purchases.

Meanwhile, Greece continues to reap the benefits of its membership in the “European family”—where, we are told, in a position supported by the entirety of the political representation in the national parliament, the country must remain “at all costs.” With Greece in flames, the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism obliged Greece’s fire service, already stretched thin due to fires at home and EU-supported economic austerity, to send two firefighting planes to Albania to battle forest fires in that country.

A woman with a bucket walks among burnt forest land during a wildfire near the suburb of Kaisariani in eastern Athens, on, Aug. 10, 2017. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

A woman with a bucket walks among burnt forest land during a wildfire near the suburb of Kaisariani in eastern Athens, on, Aug. 10, 2017. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Conversely, no corresponding mobilization seems to have occurred at the EU level to fight fires in Greece. France, for instance, felt no need to display “solidarity” towards its “European partner,” refusing a request to send aerial firefighting aircraft to Greece, citing its own difficulties with fires. It is unclear why Greece could not respond in the same manner to the EU’s demands to send planes to Albania.

In a tacit admission of who truly controls the purse strings in Greece, Giorgos Patoulis, the mayor of the northern Athens suburb of Maroussi and president of the Hellenic Union of Municipalities (KEDE), admitted in a radio interviewthat Greece’s limited resources to fight fires via aerial means are a direct consequence of the actions of those who control the country’s public spending. Since 2016, when the Greek Parliament essentially voted itself voteless, Greece’s annual budget has been determined by the EU itself.

Greece: Business as usual?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, talks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during their meeting in Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city on Thursday, June 15, 2017. Under heavy security Netanyahu is in northern Greece to discuss plans to become a key supplier of European energy through an ambitious Mediterranean undersea natural gas pipeline project. (AP/Giannis Papanikos)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, talks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during their meeting in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city on Thursday, June 15, 2017. Under heavy security Netanyahu is in northern Greece to discuss plans to become a key supplier of European energy through an ambitious Mediterranean undersea natural gas pipeline project. (AP/Giannis Papanikos)

Following the 9/11 attacks in the United States, with a country in mourning, then-president George W. Bush famously uttered that America was “open for business.” The current government in Greece is apparently following the same playbook.

The SYRIZA-led government, many of whose members once participated in protest movements against apartheid Israel’s actions in Palestine, recently agreed to expedite efforts on the development of the EastMed pipeline, which would transport natural gas from Israeli gas fields to Greece, Italy, and Cyprus, in a project co-financed by the European Union and previously supported by the Obama administration.

Oddly enough, the proposed pipeline route includes a 600-kilometer overland route in mainland Greece, passing right through the Mani region of the Peloponnese that burned to the ground in early July.

Legislation currently being considered would officially declassify urban green spaces, such as parkland, that are currently considered “forestland” and protected by existing constitutional provisions. Loosening these protections would open the door to the economic “development” of the little remaining green space in Greece’s overcrowded, densely-populated, and haphazardly-planned cities. Meanwhile, in December the Greek Parliament passed Law 4442, Article 33 of which relaxes prior regulations on economic activity and the economic development of Greece’s archaeological sites. This law was passed at the behest of Greece’s so-called “saviors” in the troika.

According to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras though — as well as to the global neoliberal press that fawns over him and his commitment to the “bitter medicine” of austerity — all is well in Greece and the sweet smell of success, rather than that of smoldering ashes, is indeed in the air. In an absurd and comical interview published by the bible of “leftists” worldwide, The Guardian, on July 24, Tsipras described a reality in which apparently only he, his fellow government ministers and members of parliament, and his supporters in the press and the troika apparently reside.

In this interview, Tsipras claimed that “the worst is clearly behind us,” that Greece’s economy is “on the up,” and that his government “will extract the country from the crisis.” He excused his rejection of the referendum result of July 2015 as a “compromise” that prevented Greece from turning “into Afghanistan.” This statement reflects the same blatant fearmongering about the impact of a Greek departure from the EU and Eurozone that is practiced by the Greek and international mass media — which purportedly have fought the “leftist” government of Tsipras — and by the main Greek opposition, the neoliberal-right New Democracy party.

The “objective” Guardian could not conceal its support for Tsipras’ brand of neoliberal “leftism,” peppering the article with language excusing away the actions of Tsipras and his government. SYRIZA’s first-place finish with 36 percent of the vote in the September 2015 elections amidst record voter abstention is described as a “mandate,” while the austerity measures imposed by the troika are described as a “rescue programme” that may be accompanied by “much-needed debt relief.”

Tsipras himself defended his government’s position — to never consider an exit from the Eurozone and the EU — on the grounds that Europe would lose an important part of its history and heritage, an ironic statement when one considers that it is Greece that is losing its history, heritage, culture, language, and especially its sovereignty as a result of its membership in these institutions. This statement did, however, echo Tsipras’ January 25, 2015 victory speech that accompanied his initial ascent to power, a speech that contained constant references to “saving Europe” but no references to saving Greece, the country he was elected to govern.

One day after this puff piece was published by The Guardian, the SYRIZA-led government and the international media (including, you guessed it, The Guardian) triumphantly proclaimed Greece’s “return to the markets” — as Greece “successfully” held its first bond sale in three years, selling 3 billion euros’ worth of five-year bonds at a yield (interest rate) of 4.625 percent.

Compare this to the yields of other EU member-states as of August 15, including Belgium (-0.191 percent), France (-0.146 percent), Germany (-0.284 percent); crisis-hit countries such as Italy (0.7 percent), Portugal (1.089 percent), and Spain (0.217 percent); or even Romania (2.6 percent). It is evident that the idea of a common market and a common currency falls flat on its face. Greece’s 4.625 percent yield can also be compared to those in such economic powerhouses as Malaysia (3.622 percent), Botswana (4.2 percent), the Philippines (4.659 percent), and Vietnam (4.681 percent).

The government of EU and Eurozone member-state Greece is — in honor, it would seem, of Pyrrhus and his “victory” — celebrating its ability to once again borrow on the international markets, at rates comparable to those of Vietnam and the Philippines and worse than Botswana, in order to repay the “bailouts” (in reality, loans) received from its creditors in the troika — which were used to repay the debt that is blamed for thrusting Greece into its current economic predicament in the first place!

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, welcomes European Commissioner for Economy Pierre Moscovici at Maximos Mansion in Athens, July 25, 2017. Greece is poised to tap international bond markets for the first time in three years in a move the government claims will signal the country is ready to emerge from its bailout era. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, welcomes European Commissioner for Economy Pierre Moscovici at Maximos Mansion in Athens, July 25, 2017. Greece is poised to tap international bond markets for the first time in three years in a move the government claims will signal the country is ready to emerge from its bailout era. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Reality, however, must not be allowed to interfere with the sweet scent of success. Hence another one of the Greek government’s and troika’s recent success stories, the purported “loosening” of Greece’s capital controls, imposed under the watch of the supposedly “heroic” former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, which have restricted withdrawals from Greek bank accounts since June 28, 2015. Earlier in August, the Greek government announced a new limit on withdrawals from Greek bank accounts of 1,800 euros per month, replacing the previous limit of 840 euros every two weeks.

Simple math, however, demonstrates that the Greek government and its backers in the troika must consider the Greek people extremely stupid: an 840 euro withdrawal limit each two weeks amounts to a maximum of 21,840 euros per year, while a 1,800 euro monthly withdrawal limit equates to 21,600 euros annually — a reduction, in other words. The Guardian, however, joined the Greek government and most of the press corps in describing this as a “relaxation,” and further evidence of Greece’s “success story.”

Notably, this is not the first time that “fuzzy math” has been used to “loosen” Greece’s capital controls. When initially imposed, a limit of withdrawals of 60 euros per day was established. This 60 euro daily limit was “relaxed” in September of 2015 to a weekly limit of 420 euros, which again equates to 60 euros per day.

In July 2016, this limit was again “loosened”—by permitting withdrawals of 840 euros every two weeks, which again equated to 60 euros per day and 420 euros per week. The current annual limit of 21,600 euros comes out to a daily mean of 59.18 euros per day, less than when the capital controls were initially imposed in 2015!

Greece’s “success story” is indeed so great that Greek justice minister Stavros Kontonis, in interviews with Greek state television ERT and state news agency ANA-MPA, stated his belief that the recent spate of fires in the country is the result of an “organized plan to destabilize the country” hatched by unnamed elements who do not wish to see Greece’s economic “recovery” continue.

EU and media hypocrisy at its finest

On August 1, the former head of Greece’s Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), one-time IMF staffer Andreas Georgiou, was issued a two-year suspended prison sentence by a court of appeals in Athens on charges of breach of duty. Georgiou had been accused by whistleblowers such as Zoe Georganta, a former member of ELSTAT’s board of directors, of manipulating Greece’s deficit and debt figures to cause them to appear worse than they were in reality, thereby providing the political impetus necessary to drag Greece under the troika’s austerity and privatization regime. While the charges of breach of duty related to the lesser crime of having sent data regarding Greece’s 2009 budget deficit to Eurostat without consulting with ELSTAT’s board, this nevertheless represented a victory for those in Greece who have stood opposed to the austerity policies of the past eight years.

Opponents of “Brexit” and proponents of the European Union often hysterically claim that without the EU, human rights would somehow fly out the window. They must not have seen the reaction to the Georgiou case and the eventual verdict, on the part of the Nobel Prize-winning EU. European Commission coordinating spokesperson for Economic and Financial Affairs, Annika Breidthardt, expressed “concern” over the Georgiou ruling, claiming that ELSTAT’s independence was breached and that its members were not being “protected in line with the law,” further adding that the case would be examined by the Euro Working Group this autumn and that an appeal would be a possibility.

Prior to the verdict, Margaritis Schinas, the Greek-born chief spokesperson of the European Commission and former member of the European Parliament with the New Democracy party in Greece, again relayed the Commission’s disappointment and waning trust in Greece over the charges Georgiou was facing. Most damningly though, it was revealed that one of the requirements that the Greek government was obliged to enforce, in order to receive an 8.5 billion euro tranche of loan funds (which had already been earmarked for Greece due to the prior implementation of other troika demands), was to fully cover the cost of Georgiou’s legal defense. Coincidentally, of course, soon after these concerns were raised, a clause inserted into legislation pending before the Greek parliament provided for the full payment of Georgiou’s legal defense costs by the Greek state, via ELSTAT.

Andreas Georgiou, stands outside the headquarters of the Statistics agency, in Athens, Greece. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Andreas Georgiou, stands outside the headquarters of the Statistics agency, in Athens, Greece. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Following the European Union’s lead, the press corps could not conceal their disappointment, seething over Georgiou’s guilty verdict. In an August 4 editorial, Bloomberg described the prosecution of Georgiou as “scandalous” and as “punishment” for “cleaning up” Greece’s finances. That same day, The Washington Post — owned by Jeff Bezos of Amazon and CIA fame, and quick to label independent news sites such as Mint Press News as “fake news” — stated in an editorial that Georgiou was “scapegoated” and was “only doing his job.” The Financial Timescharacterized the Georgiou trial as a “farce,” warning that the decision would “drive a wedge between Athens and euro area creditors.”

In turn, a ludicrous Politico hit piece claimed that Greece “condemned itself” by “convicting an honest statistician” in a decision that “raises questions about the integrity of the country’s institutions.” The author of this particular article, Megan Greene, seems to have taken on the side job of being Georgiou’s public advocate on Twitter, where she also has publicly demonstrated comfortable relationships with editors from Greece’s neoliberal newspaper of record, Kathimerini, and with Greek politicians.

Interestingly, the “integrity” of Greece’s “institutions” was not called into question when, for instance, the Areios Pagos, Greece’s supreme court, ruled in early July that legislation rolling back Greek worker rights — which was implemented as part of Greece’s second memorandum agreement with the troika, and passed by the government of the non-elected technocrat prime minister and former central banker Lucas Papademos — was constitutional. According to the decision issued by the court, the laws in question had the purpose of increasing the “competitiveness” of Greek businesses and it followed that the resulting decrease in labor costs (wages) was therefore in the public interest.

Not a word of protest was uttered by the European Commission, the Financial Times, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, Politico, Megan Greene, or Kathimerini over this decision. Nor was the integrity of Greece’s judicial institutions questioned when, later in July, an appeals court in Athens ruled that wage reductions of up to 45 percent were “legal and constitutional.” Again there was silence from the European Commission and its supporters in the press corps.

Indeed, instead of protest, the president of the Areios Pagos was rewarded: just days after the decision that found that the troika-imposed cutback in worker rights was constitutional, the president of the court, Vassiliki Thanou-Christophilou, was hired as the supervisor of the legal office of prime minister Tsipras, purportedly on a non-salaried basis. Notably, Thanou-Christophilou had also served as Greece’s caretaker prime minister for approximately one month, prior to the September 2015 parliamentary elections.

A “success story” – on paper only

Clearly congratulating himself on a job well done, Tsipras is now reportedly taking a vacation, while much of the country is up in flames, literally and figuratively. And why not? Tourism is said to be breaking records; unemployment is claimed to be on the decline; a primary budget surplus has been achieved; the current austerity program is claimed by Tsipras to be set to finish in 2018; the government is again claiming it will launch a television and radio licensing process to “go after” Greece’s oligarchs, and Greece is even reported to be launching talks to join the BRICS’ development bank. Sounds great, right? Let’s deconstruct these claims.

The August full moon has become an annual commemoration in Greece. Occurring during the peak of Greece’s tourist season, the night of the August full moon is a time when museums and historical sites throughout the country open their doors to the public, hosting free tours and live concerts.

This year, the August 7 full moon was accompanied by a partial lunar eclipse. And, this year’s crowds at museums and historical sites were larger than in previous years. This could be attributed, in part, to tourism. Greece is expecting to achieve record tourist arrivals, which this year are projected to surpass 30 million visitors.

The August full moon rises above the 5th Century BC Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounio, south of Athens, on Aug. 7, 2017. More than a hundred of Greece's ancient sites _ but not the Acropolis in Athens _ and museums were kept open until late Monday and concerts organized to allow visitors to enjoy the full moon, which is accompanied by a partial lunar eclipse. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

The August full moon rises above the 5th Century BC Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounio, south of Athens, on Aug. 7, 2017. More than a hundred of Greece’s ancient sites _ but not the Acropolis in Athens _ and museums were kept open until late Monday and concerts organized to allow visitors to enjoy the full moon, which is accompanied by a partial lunar eclipse. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

There is another factor, however: while foreign tourists are arriving in Greece in droves, Greek residents are increasingly stuck at home — unable to afford even a brief vacation inside their own country and deprived of the opportunity to enjoy Greece’s beautiful beaches, islands, and countryside even for a few days. A 2016 study found that domestic tourism has decreased by 45 percent during the crisis.

Athens neighborhoods that used to resemble ghost towns during August, were this year only moderately less vibrant than during the rest of the year. Unable to afford a vacation, many Greeks stayed home—and likely attended those free full-moon events in record numbers.

Of course, privatizations were supposed to “save” Greece, including Greek tourism, justifying the sell-off of 14 profitable Greek regional airports and the port of Piraeus, the largest port in Greece and one of the largest in Europe. The 14 airports were purchased by a consortium of investors led by Fraport, owned by the German state.

Proponents of privatization in Greece, conditioned over many decades to demonize anything and everything that is publicly owned or operated, argued that this investment was necessary to “improve” these airports and their “efficiency.” Those “improvements” are already evident, as complaints have been rolling in from travelers and employees alike: extremely long queues and a lack of air conditioning have been reported to be commonplace to a far greater extent than in the past, indeed the new normal, while parking privileges for employees at the Fraport-owned airports have all but been curtailed.

Quite fittingly, the final agreement that was reached between the Greek government and Fraport for the privatization of the 14 airports was based on a royal decree enacted by Greece’s “pro-western” post-war government in 1953 and signed by King Paul, of German lineage through the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg.

Such privatizations have been touted as “investments” that provide far-reaching benefits and jobs to the Greek economy, and as signs of investor confidence in Greece. The benefits they have actually provided Greece, however, are dubious, as seen in the case of Fraport. This is also evident in the case of the Chinese-owned Cosco, which purchased a controlling share in the entire port of Piraeus from the Greek state in 2016, and which had previously purchased the container port of Piraeus in an agreement with the then-government of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) in 2011. What Cosco seems to have actually delivered to Piraeus are Chinese-style labor conditions, under which workers are, for instance, encouraged to urinate into the sea instead of taking toilet breaks.

From a tourism standpoint, however, these privatizations are part of a larger negative trend that goes largely unreported: the profits from these airports and seaports, which previously entered public coffers, now go straight to Germany and China. In the meantime, the “all-inclusive” and cruise-ship models of tourism are those that have been most vigorously developed in recent years.

This means that foreign visitors often arrive in Greece via foreign-owned charter airlines or cruise ships, on vacations that are usually booked with foreign travel agents and tour operators. They then spend most of their time on the cruise ship or inside an all-inclusive resort, contributing very little spending to the real economy. This is evidenced by statistics showing that despite Greece’s record arrivals, spending per tourist is on a decline, at a mere 430 euros per visitor, 15 percent less than Greece’s nearest competitor in the region.

China, of course, is also a member of BRICS, and it has been reported in recent weeks that Greece has entered talks to formally apply for membership in the BRICS’ New Development Bank. Many opponents of neoliberalism around the world have touted BRICS as an alternative to the existing economic order. But is it really? China’s labor record, for instance, suggests otherwise — as does the Temer regime currently at the helm in Brazil, a favorite of Washington, which is currently enforcing troika-style austerity and is embroiled in corruption scandals. The same could be said of India, which is on board with much of the Western world’s efforts to eliminate cash and physical currency.

But what about Russia? Many in Greece believe that Russia and Vladimir Putin can “save” Greece—if only Greece would turn its back on the Eurozone, EU, and NATO. Throughout the crisis, it has been rumored that there were secret plans for Greece to turn to Russia if it could not achieve “bailout” deals with the troika, but there seems to be no real evidence that Russia ever had such an aid package prepared for Greece, or that it was ever willing to provide such assistance. What is clear, however, is that Russia,  like China and like Germany, sees fertile ground in Greece for its own investments.

In Febrary 2016, a series of economic deals were signed between Greece and Russia. At the time, the Russian government expressed its interest in a number of potential privatization deals in Greece. Flashing forward to April of this year, a majority share (67 percent) of the port of Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki, which is viewed as a strategic gateway to the Balkans, was privatized. The buyer? The Deutsche Invest Equity Partners-CMA consortium, in which a major investor is a business figure by the name of Ivan Savvidis.

Who is Savvidis? Born in Georgia when it was part of the former Soviet Union, Savvidis was employed in a state-owned tobacco factory during the Soviet years, becoming its general director soon after the collapse of the USSR and subsequent privatization of the factory. Savvidis was previously a deputy with Russia’s ruling party, United Russia, in the country’s parliament. He is also chairman of the SKA Rostov-on-Don football club in Russia.

Prior to the 2010s, he was unknown in Greece, and there is some question as to whether he had even visited the country. In recent years, however, he has made his presence felt in Greece—especially since SYRIZA ascended to power. It could be said that he’s followed the path to power and influence that is preferred by the Greek oligarchic class.

His first big splash was through the purchase of the PAOK football club in Thessaloniki, joining the ranks of other oligarchs who own football teams in Greece. His group of companies has made various investments in Greece, such as in the field of tourism, where he has bought out various hotels and established an aviation company.

More recently, Savvidis began his foray into Greece’s utterly corrupt media sector, first via his participation in last year’s licensing bid for nationwide television licenses — a process ultimately struck down by Greece’s highest administrative court due to constitutional irregularities. Unabated, he has purchased the major daily tabloid Ethnos and financial newspaper Imerisia, as well as a share in the financially struggling national television station Mega Channel. These purchases were followed by his buyout of another national television station, Epsilon TV, earlier this month.

These purchases have solidified Savvidis’ place in the Greek media landscape, just in time for the relaunch of the licensing bid for nationwide television stations by the SYRIZA-led government. Following the rejection of last year’s bidding process by Greece’s administrative high court, the government has set up a new bidding process, this time in conjunction with the purportedly independent national broadcasting regulator, but which repeats many of the same lies that were heard prior to last year’s bid.  These lies pertain particularly to the number of stations that the television spectrum can “fit” — a number that has now increased to seven national stations from four last year, but that is still far fewer than in other countries (such as Italy), and that all but ensures the continuation of an oligopoly controlled by a few powerful actors, namely Greece’s traditional oligarchs and more recent entrants like Savvidis.

For the SYRIZA-led government, however, this forthcoming television licensing bid—which is said to be likely to extend to radio as well, with onerous requirements that smaller and rural stations will likely be unable to fulfill—represents another part of its “success story,” via the “fulfillment” of one of its many campaign promises, namely to “restore law and order” to the broadcast landscape. In reality, though, whereas the main opposition party SYRIZA promised to “crush” the oligarchs once in power, it is now preparing to turn the media landscape over to them officially. It should be noted at this point that the entirety of Greece’s major media owners have maintained, throughout the crisis, a staunch and unflinching pro-EU, pro-Eurozone, pro-austerity line.

The puff piece published by The Guardian touted the drop in Greece’s official unemployment rate to 21.7 percent, from a peak of 27.9 percent in 2013, as yet another aspect of SYRIZA’s “success story.” Much is left unsaid, however: the long-term unemployed, who are not counted in the statistics; the 500,000-plus person “brain drain” out of Greece during the crisis years; the poor working conditions and paltry wages of many of those who are still employed; part-time jobs that are counted as “full” employment; the aforementioned rollback of worker rights; the job insecurity that workers face, including going months at a time without pay or enduring unpaid overtime, and their fear of leaving due to the uncertainty of being able to find any other job; and so forth.

Just the 500,000-plus person brain drain alone would be enough for Greece’s unemployment rate to skyrocket, had these individuals not emigrated.

Ah, but Greece has attained—and maintained—a primary budget surplus, which reached 3.05 billion euros in the first seven months of 2017. That’s good news, right? Not if one considers what a primary budget surplus actually is. Briefly, it means that the Greek state is spending less than it is taking in as revenue. While this may sound prudent, what decades and centuries of experiments in economic austerity have demonstrated is that for countries experiencing a severe economic depression, as in the case of Greece, maintenance of a primary budget surplus merely exacerbates the problem: money is sucked out of the real economy and not returned to it.

As spending continues to decrease in a cash-starved economy where taxes are increasing and wages are declining, more and more cuts have to be made to government spending in order to meet surplus targets, perpetuating a never-ending death spiral.

In the case of Greece, the SYRIZA-led government, in an agreement with the troika earlier this year, pledged to maintain a primary budget surplus of 3.5 percent of its GDP each year through 2023, and 2 percent annual surpluses thereafter until 2060. Tsipras’ claims, therefore,  that Greece’s austerity program will come to a close sometime in 2018 are laughable: the maintenance of primary budget surpluses is, by definition, the continuation of austerity—which Greece has pledged to continue for (at least) the next 43 years!

But nevertheless, the smell of success is in the air. Prime Minister Tsipras and The Guardian say so, after all. The problem is, that scent hasn’t been detected by ordinary Greeks or by small business owners. Just in the first half of 2017, more than 15,000 businesses shuttered in Greece. But while the SYRIZA-led government is preparing to “crush” Greece’s oligarchs — who, like oligarchs the world over, evade their fair share of taxes by shifting profits offshore — the state has gotten to the bottom of Greece’s supposed problem with tax evasion via other apparently more effective means.

In July, a man who has been unemployed since 2010 and whose income consisted of 24 cents in interest from his bank account, was issued a 4,470 euro tax bill, as the Greek tax system presumes that citizens have a certain income level if they have a bank account, home, or automobile in their possession—even if they are unemployed, even if the property was inherited, even if the citizen is in fact currently impoverished.

In another case, a 49-year-old man in the town of Almiros was arrested and fined for the offense of selling 20 watermelons and 12 cantaloupes without a valid license. Greece’s television and radio stations, however, have operated without official licenses for decades, without anyone so much as batting an eyelash.

In yet another example, if you are a property owner in Greece, rental leases must now be submitted electronically to the tax authorities, with the owner immediately taxed on a percentage of the foreseen rental income for the entire year—before that income has been earned for the year! If, as in the case of a neighbor of this author in Athens, a renter skips town without having paid rent, the owner is nevertheless taxed on this “income.” The deadbeat tenant’s inability to pay–and your consequent taxation on “income” never received–is apparently your problem, not that of the tax office or finance minister!

An uncertain future, not a “success story”

A house damaged by the forest fire stands among pine trees north of Athens, at Kalamos, on, Aug. 16, 2017.  (AP/Ioanna Spanou)

A house damaged by the forest fire stands among pine trees north of Athens, at Kalamos, on, Aug. 16, 2017. (AP/Ioanna Spanou)

As this piece is being written, the smoky smell of the fires raging outside of Athens still hangs ominously in the air, on a day that is supposed to be a national holiday in Greece. For the prime minister and the members of the SYRIZA-led coalition government — as well as for the unabashedly pro-EU, pro-euro, pro-austerity press corps — it is the sweet smell of success that is hanging in the air. Success that exists, if at all, on paper only, as far removed from reality as the government that is nominally in control of the country, and the European and international institutions that are actually at the helm — in Brussels, Berlin, and elsewhere.

A decade ago, in the summer of 2007 and in the aftermath of the aforementioned destructive fires on Mount Parnitha and the Ileia region, an anonymous call went “viral” via SMS text messaging and bloggers, calling upon citizens to wear black and to descend upon Athens’ Syntagma Square, and other central points throughout Greece, for a “non-partisan” protestagainst the then-New Democracy government for its response to the blazes. This was perhaps the first such protest in the country’s modern-day history. Strangely, following the destructive fires of this summer and despite almost ubiquitous smartphone and social media usage, no such similar calls have been extended.

 

Were the 2007 protests an aberration? Possibly. In Greece, the “Indignants” movement disappeared, never to reappear again, after the summer of 2011 and a last hurrah in February 2012 consisting of protests against the second memorandum. In the weeks leading up to the 2015 referendum, a “Solidarity with Greece” movement emerged in major cities in Europe and North America, where academic leftists and ivory-tower activists who somehow were able to procure large quantities of SYRIZA flags, organized rallies against the “blackmail” and “coup” SYRIZA and the Greek people were facing at the hands of the European institutions — which were apparently not evil enough, however, to warrant advocating in favor of “Grexit.”

Following SYRIZA’s wholesale rejection of the referendum result though, an interesting thing happened: this “solidarity” movement largely disappeared — as did its rallies, though perhaps not the SYRIZA flags. Today, a key participant in these rallies, Irish author and “eurocommunist” activist Helena Sheehan, is shilling her recently-published book, Syriza Wave: Surging and Crashing with the Greek Left. Sheehan has taken advantage of the public catfight between Tsipras and Varoufakis to generate some extra publicity for her book, which she admits she was not the best qualified to write.

Nevertheless, Sheehan gently chides SYRIZA for its capitulation and its supporters’ broken dreams, but does not question the European path followed by SYRIZA and by its predecessors before it. The “European dream” and open borders are a good thing, whereas restoration of national sovereignty is “fascist.” Sadly, there was no word from Sheehan as to when the “solidarity” rallies would take to the streets once more.

Returning to political reality, opinion surveys in Greece, to the extent that they can be trusted, consistently show the former governing party, New Democracy, with a steady and sometimes overwhelming lead. Popular sentiment on the street is that whenever new elections are held again, New Democracy will emerge victorious—though it is likely that they too will fall far short of a parliamentary majority, even with the 50-seat parliamentary bonus undemocratically awarded to the winner.

Just in case anybody believes New Democracy will represent a change in direction for Greece though, they would be wrong. It was two years ago when, following the referendum that overwhelmingly rejected the troika’s new austerity proposal for Greece, the SYRIZA-led government turned its back on the result and rammed through memorandum agreement number three for Greece, upon which much of today’s continued cuts, privatizations, and austerity are based.

However, the third memorandum could not have been successfully passed in parliament without the votes of the members of former ruling New Democracy and “socialist” PASOK parties, as well as upstart pro-establishment party To Potami. New Democracy, like SYRIZA today, brought Greece back to the international financial markets via a bond tender in late 2013 with a similarly high yield — and, like SYRIZA, declared Greece a “success story” and claimed the end of the crisis was nearing.

For Greece’s “saviors,” there’s a scent of success in the air. But for the rest of the Greek populace, what’s in the air, literally and figuratively, is the scent of destruction. In a country where, over the past decade and more, Greece’s agriculture, industry, economy, the dreams of its people, and the country’s future have been methodically burned, why not the nation’s forests as well?

Jul 282017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

A woman uses her fan to cool down outside the Bank of Greece headquarters in Athens, July 24, 2017. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

A woman uses her fan to cool down outside the Bank of Greece headquarters in Athens, July 24, 2017. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

As Greeks look inward, they see a country that produces nothing of value and is inferior to the rest of the world – despite evidence to the contrary. The country has been mentally colonized, with outside powers convincing the Greeks that they can do no better.

ATHENS (Analysis)– Oscar López Rivera, the Puerto Rican activist, and advocate for independence whose 70-year prison sentence was commuted earlier this year, resulting in his release after serving 35 years, once had this to say about patriotism and colonialism:

To love the homeland costs nothing, what would be costly is if we lose it… As Puerto Ricans we have to accept the fact Puerto Rico is a colony… If we accept this truth then we must be ready and prepared to kickstart a decolonization process.”

For Rivera, this process begins with the decolonization of the mind:

Let’s face the problem of our colonial status. Let’s work to find a solution for it. Let’s decolonize our minds and spirits and become real citizens of Puerto Rico.”

Rivera’s words were, of course, made in reference to Puerto Rico. However, it can be said that they are also applicable to many other nations, including nominally independent states such as Greece, a country which has been ravaged by almost a decade of stifling economic austerity imposed by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF); a country which could be described as a modern-day debt colony.

Having been raised in the United States as a “third culture kid,” with one foot in the U.S. and one foot in Greece, allows me to see things in both societies simultaneously as a native and as a relative outsider. This has particularly been true during the past four-plus years, a period in which I have resided almost full-time in Athens as a doctoral student and journalist.

Interviewing hundreds of individuals in my academic and journalistic capacity, from politicians to journalists to academics, while being immersed in the mundane day-to-day realities of life in Greece, has been a truly unique experience. And what I often have observed in Greek society is disheartening, to say the least.

What follows are insights into a country which has been colonized not just economically and politically, but mentally as well. It is a case study on how a crisis can be perpetuated through divide-and-conquer techniques and by making an entire nation and its people feel worthless, guilty, inferior and demoralized. This process of colonization and globalization is followed through several steps: the minimization of a country and its people, the fostering of feelings of inferiority and collective guilt, the diminishing and depreciation of local culture, and the lionization of anything foreign and “civilized.”

Modern-day Greece: Fatalism, defeatism and hopelessness

The extent of the demoralization of the Greek people is plainly evident through everyday conversations and encounters. Ordinary Greeks, upon learning that I came to the country to perform academic research, react in surprise and confusion, wondering why anyone would be crazy enough to come to Greece to stay for an extended period. Years ago, soon after the onset of the crisis, two different taxi drivers, upon realizing that I was from overseas, questioned why I chose to come to Greece. “Why are you here? Don’t you see what is happening?” I was asked. “Leave now, as quickly as you can!”

Farmers stand behind a makeshift fire in front of tractors, near Kerdilia, Greece. (AP/Giannis Papanikos)

Farmers stand behind a makeshift fire in front of tractors, near Kerdilia, Greece. (AP/Giannis Papanikos)

Another driver interrogated me about job conditions in the United States, clearly because he had emigration on his mind. When I would mention that I was in Greece to perform academic research, but more importantly, because it was my homeland, people looked at me, quite simply, as if I were crazy.

On other occasions, upon learning that I am an autodidact in the Greek language, Greeks openly wondered why I chose to learn such an “insignificant” language as Greek, instead of a language which offered “potential,” such as German.

I could not escape this pessimism, even back in the United States in faraway Texas. At a farewell party for two Greek-American students who were graduating from my university, one of the students expressed interest in teaching English in Greece and living there for six months or a year. A student from Greece who was part of the conversation, however, warned her against such folly. “Don’t do it, you won’t like it,” he exclaimed. “Greece is only good for summer vacations.”

As far back as the “good old days” of the 1990s, when as a child I was privileged enough to travel to Greece with my family during the summer, I often used to hear mutterings about how much better things would be if Germans ruled Greece instead of the Greeks. Today, eight years into the worst economic crisis a developed country has endured in modern history and at a time when Greece is essentially governed by Brussels and Berlin, one still hears such sentiments expressed with alarming frequency.

Interviews, both academic and journalistic, that I have conducted dating back several years have revealed an overriding sentiment of hopelessness, a belief that the economic crisis that had befallen the country would not be overcome for many, many years. And while the crisis has indeed dragged on, one wonders to what extent such sentiments are self-fulfilling, as a result of the inertia and paralysis which result from the belief that nothing can or will change.

Mental colonization

In a 2013 interview which originally aired on Dialogos Radio, John Perkins, author of the bestselling book “Confessions of an Economic Hitman,” described how “economic hitmen” from institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, as well as from the private sector, combine their economic takeover of an indebted nation, such as Greece, with a process of mental colonization:

…[T]hat’s part of the game: convince people that they’re wrong, that they’re inferior. The corporatocracy is incredibly good at that… It’s a policy of them versus us: We are good. We are right. We do everything right. You’re wrong. And in this case, all of this energy has been directed at the Greek people to say ‘you’re lazy; you didn’t do the right thing; you didn’t follow the right policies.”

An observer will quickly determine that Perkins’ words ring true in the case of Greece. Complaining, which was practically a national pastime in the pre-crisis years, has reached stratospheric proportions. A general sense of collective guilt permeates Greek society, and it is common to hear discussions and statements about how “we elected these leaders, we were corrupt, we weren’t good citizens, therefore we deserve our current predicament and everything that is being done to us.” If you note a fatalistic undertone in these utterances, you’re not alone.

This collective guilt has been strongly encouraged by Greece’s political class, who ironically are responsible to a significant degree for Greece’s present-day crisis. Former longtime government minister Theodoros Pangalos, infamous for his salty mouth and previously described by best-selling author Greg Palast as a “fat bastard,” cynically stated at the onset of the crisis that “we ate it all together,” insinuating that Greek citizens benefited collectively from the corruption, nepotism, and cronyism that previous governments (including his own) habitually engaged in.

Following from this collective guilt is a new trend in Greece in which people insist in engaging in what they believe to be the sort of “self-criticism” practiced in other “civilized” countries. In reality, as will be demonstrated, it is sentiments of self-loathing and inferiority which are expressed instead of frank and constructive criticism of the nation’s ills. In turn, these sentiments foster feelings of apathy, hopelessness and paralysis on a national scale, acting as obstacles to any positive transformation.

Greece: The worst in everything?

Contributing to the general sense of helplessness and hopelessness is a commonly-held view that Greece and Greek society are inferior to the “civilized” – as they are often called – countries of the West. This inferiority complex deeply pervades the Greek psyche and every aspect of present-day Greek society.

Greek Protesters hold European flags during an anti government rally outside the Greek parliament, central Athens, June 20 , 2017. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Greek Protesters hold European flags during an anti government rally outside the Greek parliament, central Athens, June 20 , 2017. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Such a mentality has long been present in Greece. Successive waves of immigration out of Greece throughout the 20th century and into the 1970s resulted in a mentality which still lingers, that the “grass is always greener” overseas. With the onset of the economic crisis in 2008-2009, a new wave of emigration out of Greece commenced and approximately 600,000 individuals left Greece during this period. This new wave of emigration has resulted in the re-emergence of these old mentalities.

Old attitudes die hard, and in hearing many Greeks describe their country, one detects an overriding attitude, a prevailing sentiment that views Greece as a “banana republic” and “uncivilized” and that everything is better overseas in the aforementioned “civilized” countries of Northern Europe and the West. There is indeed a Greek word for this mentality: “xenomania,” literally meaning a fascination with anything foreign. Xenomania is rampant in Greece: ranging from the use of “Greeklish” instead of the Greek language, to the all-encompassing preference for seemingly anything foreign, from food to music to fashion.

A common refrain that is heard in Greece whenever anything negative occurs in the country, no matter how minor or inconsequential, is that such things occur “only in Greece.” These assertions often reach epically absurd proportions.

In February, a horrific car accident on one of Greece’s national highways resulted in the death of four people, including a pregnant woman and her three-year-old child who were sitting in an automobile parked at a rest stop. Immediately, a chorus of comments was heard throughout the traditional and social media about how terrible Greece is in all aspects. An ex-race car driver and current driving school owner, known popularly as “Iaveris,” stated on national television in response to the tragedy that “Greeks are the worst people in the world,” a remark which was met with overwhelming agreement in Greece’s public discourse.

This same “logic” is regularly and consistently applied to every real or perceived negative story, event, or facet of life in Greece. Cost overruns on a public works project? Only in Greece! Government corruption? Nowhere is it worse than in Greece! Major bankers and politicians going unpunished for their crimes? Only in Greece! Destructive forest fires? Football fans rioting? Doctors practicing medicine without a license? Workers being obliged to work unpaid overtime hours? Crooked taxi drivers that overcharge passengers? Cruelty towards animals? Small businesses that don’t issue a receipt for a minor purchase? Unfair judicial decisions? Low quality, sensational media outlets? Garbage strikes, or strikes of any variety? You get the point. Apparently, all of these terrible things are the exclusive traits of, exist in, or occur only in Greece.

A motorcyclist looks on as he drives next to a pile of garbage in Piraeus, near Athens, on Monday, June 26, 2017. Municipality workers have been on strike for almost a week , hindering trash collection across the country. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

A motorcyclist looks on as he drives next to a pile of garbage in Piraeus, near Athens, on Monday, June 26, 2017. Municipality workers have been on strike for almost a week , hindering trash collection across the country. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Compounding this confounding line of thinking, most Greeks seemingly do not want to hear anything contradicting these widely-held beliefs that Greece is a corrupt, worthless, useless nation, the worst in anything and everything. Evidence or arguments to the contrary are not ordinarily received in a positive manner.

Indeed, it is quite likely that one will be attacked, frequently quite nastily, for pointing out that, for instance, German aviation workers were on strike for more days than their Greek counterparts, or that corruption and crime and violence exists in other developed countries and are not the exclusive realm of Greece. When all else fails and they find themselves devoid of a counterargument, a simple “yes, but we’re worse anyway” serves as an all-purpose catch-all to continue insisting what a horrible species Greeks are. It truly has attained the status of a fetish.

Related to this mindset is a longstanding need for positive affirmation from “outside.” The opinions of foreigners and visitors to Greece are held in high regard – certainly much higher than the thoughts of fellow Greeks. Evening television newscasts invariably accompany significant stories about Greek economic or political developments with a rundown of how the foreign press and overseas news agencies are evaluating these stories.

A favorite of the news media are the seemingly never-ending “evaluations” of the extent to which Greece is meeting the fiscal targets set for it by its “saviors” in the troika of Greece’s lenders: the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF. Like a teacher lecturing a wayward student, the Greek media breathlessly report on the evaluation of foreign bankers and credit rating agencies, pedantically informing the public whether Greece is a “model student” of sound finance or not.

Ironically, when hatchet jobs have been performed against Greece by the international media – such as during the onset of the crisis, where numerous foreign (particularly German, British and American) media outlets published highly derogatory and racist accounts of the Greek crisis, portraying Greeks as lazy, culturally deficient and reckless, there was nary a word of organized protest out of Greece. The same was true in the 1990s, when Greece was, for example, absurdly blamed by Western media for the TWA Flight 800 disaster and described as a hotbed of terrorism, or deemed too incompetent and incapable of organizing the 2004 Summer Olympic Games prior to the event.

The evaluation of foreigners is valued, so long as they are foreigners from “civilized” countries which, in the eyes of many Greeks, are paragons of virtue and rule of law and can do no wrong. By comparison, Greece is viewed by Greeks themselves as a country that can barely do anything right.

Even positive news is often dismissed. Stories of Greek students who earned an award or distinction are met by comments about how they should “go abroad” to “save themselves.” A significant sporting achievement, such as Greece’s recent gold medal in the European under-20 basketball championships, inevitably leads to comments such as how “basketball is the only thing that functions properly in Greece.”

As with purported self-criticism, so-called self-deprecation is popular in Greece. Dating back well before the economic crisis, the material of stand-up comedians and television satire programs airing on outlets owned by corrupt oligarchs with specific political and social agendas invariably focused on corrupt, thieving or incompetent Greeks, the crooked government and the “dysfunction” of “Greek reality.” As with many stereotypes, there is a degree of truth – but when repeated ad nauseum, even in satirical form, such portrayals attain the de facto status of being the whole, entire truth.

Indeed, the media, just like the politicians, love to foster hopelessness and despair in the populace, whilst pushing a globalized diet of programming down people’s throats. Television newscasts frequently feature stories about Greeks who “made it” abroad, with their success generally attributed to the fact that they left Greece and found their fortunes in a “civilized” country. The “success stories” of those who opened a café in Helsinki or landed a job with NASA in Houston are touted; accounts of the less successful are ignored.

Life in these countries is idealized, and is often accompanied by stories of the Greek “brain drain,” or of innovative Greeks who found their entrepreneurial ideas stifled by “Greek bureaucracy”—without, however, ever performing any deeper investigation into exactly why the bureaucracy and public sector operate in such a manner. Foreign movies and TV series further paint an idealized portrait of the “civilized West.”

Years ago, pre-crisis, I recall being asked, in one conversation, if my family’s home in the United States was similar to that of “the Winslow family” (referencing the TV series “Family Matters”). This mentality is further reinforced by the experiences of many Greeks, whose only time spent abroad may have been a shopping trip to London, a vacation to the tourist attractions of Paris or Rome, or a few years spent in the artificial bubble of the “ivory tower” of academia, studying at a foreign university campus.

Exceptions do exist, and where they do, ridicule oftentimes follows. In a 2011 interview, Greek-American actress and television presenter Maria Menounos, who resides in the United States, stated her desire of eventually making Greece her permanent home. Reporting on this interview, privately-owned national broadcaster Alpha TV—at the time owned by the German RTL Group—heavily ridiculed Menounos for her interest in moving to a country whose residents all wish to leave. Through the tone of its report, Alpha TV portrayed Menounos (and by extension, anyone else who might harbor similar thoughts) as delusional, while reflecting the status quo school of thought that people are better off leaving the country, rather than staying – or, for that matter, moving to Greece from abroad.

In another example from 2012, Greek actress Katerina Moutsatsou, who also resides in the United States, produced a YouTube video titled “I Am Hellene,” a production which was meant to raise the spirits of the Greek people and to express some pride that was (and still is) sorely lacking. The video quickly went viral, soliciting a tremendous response from the media and the public – largely consisting of derision, insults, and vitriol. Some accused Moutsatsos of being a “fascist,” others mocked anyone who would even consider saying anything positive about Greece.

One particularly insidious form of conditioning is performed by Greek sports journalists. Knowing that they are reaching a demographic largely comprised of young men who are often frustrated and jobless, and resentful towards the Greek state for obligating them to spend nine months performing useless and menial tasks as military conscripts, these journalists, somewhat subliminally, use their platform to play with their audience’s frustration while delivering messages meant to further perpetuate the Greek inferiority complex.

For instance, the beautiful football palaces of England or Spain, the “well-behaved” spectators, the amazing and superior athletes, are all touted ad infinitum, which constant references to “corrupt Greek athletics” and “decrepit stadiums” and “incompetence,” messages which are taken to heart by a demographic that likely doesn’t watch television newscasts or regularly visit online news portals. The behavior of, say, British or German or other European football fans outside the stadium and outside the country is conveniently overlooked, while Greek spectators are lectured about their “lack of civility,” criticisms then parroted by legions of sports fans across Greece.

Devaluing the domestic, lionizing the foreign

The cultural and mental colonization of Greece has also resulted in the phenomenon of mimicry. The behaviors and habits of the “civilized West” are increasingly being adopted and naturalized, at the expense of anything Greek. Domestic products and culture are often viewed as passé, old-fashioned, or outdated.

The examples are numerous. For instance, it is fashionable for Greek women to ensure their skin is as white and pale as possible—quite an accomplishment in a Mediterranean climate and with a Mediterranean skin tone—while blonde is the hair color of choice. Young men have fully adopted hipster fashion, including full beards and “retro” mustaches, in another trend that has arrived from abroad.

In the movie “National Lampoon’s European Vacation,” a stereotypical French waiter snidely remarks in French, “two American champagnes” when the Griswold family orders two Coca-Colas. Today, a more apt description might be “Greek champagne.” Attentive guests at restaurants in Greece, in observing the habits of Greek patrons, will notice that Coca-Cola products are consumed at practically every table, while beer, instead of wine or retsina or ouzo, is overwhelmingly the alcoholic beverage of choice.

Greek commuters stand near a McDonald's restaurant in Marathon, Greece. (AP/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Greek commuters stand near a McDonald’s restaurant in Marathon, Greece. (AP/Lefteris Pitarakis)

In everyday conversation, more and more English words are making their appearance, not just in order to describe new, foreign concepts or ideas for which there may not necessarily be a Greek translation, but also words for which there is a perfectly ordinary Greek equivalent. For instance, “live” is now used to denote a live broadcast or a live concert, instead of the Greek equivalents of “live.” “Off” is uttered instead of the Greek equivalent, while other words and phrases such as “air conditioning” or “parking” are now far more commonly used than their well-known and easy-to-remember Greek language versions. Looking at Greece’s burgeoning startup scene, the lingua franca is English, even in social media conversations between Greeks, residing in Greece, who are active in this sector. Insisting on speaking only in Greek is a surefire way to be branded “old-fashioned” or “nationalist.”

An examination of storefronts in any city, town, or tourist resort in Greece will show that the majority of business names are non-Greek. Most television and radio stations have adopted foreign or transliterated names: “Skai” (Sky) TV and Radio, Star Channel, Antenna TV, Alpha TV and Epsilon TV (written in English), Real FM, Athens Deejay, Sport FM, Kiss FM, and numerous others. Foreign names are considered “hip” and “marketable,” Greek names old-fashioned and backward.

Indeed, as a radio producer, I’ve found that scanning a city’s radio stations often provides great insights into the local culture and tastes. In Athens, more radio stations play non-Greek music than Greek music. More radio stations in Athens play American and British pop and rock music, than in New York City or London. The aforementioned “xenomania” in all its glory.

The pale-skinned women and the men with bushy hipster beards and Uncle Pennybags mustaches are often seen adorning apparel and accessories, such as t-shirts or handbags, which prominently display the British or American or even German flags. Wearing anything depicting the Greek flag, however, is a swift and certain way to be branded a member of the “far-right,” a “nationalist,” an “ethnocentrist,” a “racist,” and a “xenophobe.”

In Athens and in all cities and towns throughout Greece, many of the major thoroughfares are not named after prominent Greeks of the country’s ancient and modern past (save for politicians, who ensured certain roads were named after themselves), but are named after members of Greece’s foreign-imposed and long-abolished Bavarian royalty, such as Queen Amalia and King Constantine. These street names serve as everyday reminders of Greece’s neo-colonial past. Famous ancient Greek figures such as Socrates and Plato are typically relegated to the names of secondary thoroughfares and back streets.

Divide and conquer in action

Divide and conquer is a technique that historically has been utilized by colonizers to weaken colonized peoples, turning native populations against each other instead of against their conquerors. However, this is a technique which is equally effective in countries which are nominally independent, as in the case of Greece.

Employed to perfection by Greece’s “guardians,” such as the British and the Bavarians, in the early years following independence from the Ottoman Empire, divide and conquer has been employed repeatedly since then, such as in the aftermath of World War II, when the main Greek resistance movement, accused of supporting communism, was pitted against far-right collaborationist forces, resulting in a two-year civil war. The collaborators, with the help of “allies” such as the British, emerged victorious and asserted their control over the country.

Divide and conquer is still used in a number of clever and carefully cultivated ways in Greece today. One of the main dividing lines that has been developed over a series of decades is that between the public and private sectors. Fueling this division has been decades of public sector ineptitude and inefficiency. Public sector employees have been viewed as privileged, coddled, and corrupt; public services and utilities have themselves been considered spendthrift, mismanaged, and havens of corruption and nepotism.

Employees in the private sector are resentful of these public sector privileges and advantages, real or imagined, and the media and politicians have gladly taken advantage of the divide. When, for instance, wages in the private sector are slashed, at the insistence of the troika, private sector employees, instead of questioning why their salaries should be cut, openly question why the public sector is not subjected to similar reductions (even if, in reality, public sector wages have also been repeatedly cut).

What nobody seems to ask or understand is exactly why the Greek public sector operates in the manner in which it does. Instead, it’s assumed that it’s the result of some sort of general deficiency of the Greek populace – the “lazy Greeks” meme that is also often repeated in the foreign press. The true answer, however, may be hinted at in an intriguing document, openly featured by the CIA on its website, titled “Timeless Tips for Simple Sabotage.”

In this manual, strategies to destabilize adversaries from within via their public sector and bureaucracy are outlined. Some of these strategies may seem familiar to anyone who has dealt with Greek bureaucracy: lowering morale by issuing undeserved promotions while discriminating against efficient employees, making simple tasks and processes as complicated as possible, and putting off more pressing priorities for endless meetings of “committees.” While this document supposedly is no longer in use, there is no reason to believe that its strategies were not, and are not, still utilized – or that such methods were only used against “enemy” states.

Still, the damage has been done, and the hatred and disgust which many in the Greek private sector and the populace at large feel towards the public sector and its employees has helped pave the way for the tacit acceptance of privatizations of key public assets, utilities, and services, such as airports, harbors, and telecommunications infrastructure.

A simple example suffices to illustrate just how deeply ingrained this divide is. While 90 percent of OTE, the former state telecommunications monopoly, is now owned by Deutsche Telekom and other private investors, and while the privatization of OTE began in 1996, it is still largely considered state-owned (the state actually owns only 10 percent of OTE) and its employees “public servants.” In a recent visit to an isolated Greek island where OTE was the only broadband provider, Internet access was consistently “down” for at least 16 hours per day. Locals I spoke with blamed “lazy public servants” for the problem – but were unaware that OTE has, for over 20 years, been privatized.

“We don’t produce anything”

Contributing further still to the misery and defeatism in Greece is a commonly-held perception that the country “doesn’t produce anything.” And this ostensibly being the case, it means that Greece is in a helpless position, reliant upon foreigners and particularly the EU. It is not unusual to hear Greeks talk about how “we are the beggars of Europe” and how “we cannot survive” without the EU.

The reality, however, is far more complex. It is certainly true that Greece’s production base has diminished since the early 1980s (Greece entered the EU in 1981). There are several reasons for this. Some of these reasons have to do with the EU and its regulations, such as its common agricultural policies, which dictates to member-states what to grow, what not to grow, what seeds and crop varieties are permitted or prohibited, where to export and at what prices, and where not to export. Greece’s agricultural base has, as a result, been battered since 1981.

During this same period, increased foreign influence and the arrival of “easy money” from “Europe” led more and more people to desire what they perceived to be a more “European” lifestyle and career. Working the land was old-fashioned and backwards; a desk job or studying to become a lawyer or doctor was the thing to do. Never mind that even if there was no economic crisis, Greece could not possibly absorb so many doctors and lawyers – and even more so when very few doctors, if any, are willing to go to smaller islands and rural regions which are truly in need of their services.

A tractor carries crates of grapes at a vineyard in Tirnavos, central Greece. The European Union has given Greece two months to double taxes on tsipouro, arguing it does not have the right to keep a reduced duty that is reserved for some traditionally made products. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

A tractor carries crates of grapes at a vineyard in Tirnavos, central Greece. The European Union has given Greece two months to double taxes on tsipouro, arguing it does not have the right to keep a reduced duty that is reserved for some traditionally made products. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

These areas, unfortunately, did not offer the “European lifestyle,” complete with hipster pubs and sushi bars, that the new generation, encouraged by their parents, craved. Even in cases where young adults are in a position where they can take over a successful family-owned business, they often opt to pursue a profession seen to deliver more status and prestige – even if it means leaving Greece in the process.

Since the early 1980s, Greece’s borders were also opened up to imports from other EU member-states, particularly Europe’s export powerhouse, Germany. Greece’s previously successful industry, producing everything from buses and tractors to refrigerators and stoves, was wrecked. Many industries were bought out, shuttered, or operations were outsourced. Under the dictates of Greece’s so-called “bailout” agreements, many remaining industries, including the Hellenic Vehicle Industry (which, for example, produces buses, trolleys, and military vehicles) and the Hellenic arms and defense industries are slated for privatization or closure.

Meanwhile, a visit to any supermarket and careful observation of the purchasing habits of ordinary Greeks reveals a marked preference for foreign products, even when similar (and often higher quality) domestic products are available. Oftentimes, Greek products simply go unnoticed. At other times, they are considered old-fashioned, while many shoppers complain that they are expensive – which, actually, is frequently not the case.

This author, in keeping with a “shop local” philosophy which was also practiced in the United States, purchases almost exclusively domestically-produced products without breaking the bank. According to many, this is simply not possible, for “we don’t produce anything,” and as one purportedly “anti-EU” activist once told me, “we need to buy [European] cheese for our kids’ sandwiches.”

Such “European cheeses” are found at the breakfast buffets of most Greek hotels, very few of which engage in any effort to promote domestic dishes and products to foreign visitors who, perhaps, might be interested in trying something different from what they are used to – or at least having something authentically Greek available as an option. Instead, one will invariably find butter from Denmark, marmalade from Bulgaria, milk from Germany, cheese from Holland and honey from Turkey. Locally-produced fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh-baked breads and pies, local juices and beverages, Greek yogurt and cheeses, and a host of other high-quality and widely-available domestic products, are not so widely available precisely at those locations where they should be exposed to the country’s visitors: hotels.

As one hotel owner in the island of Karpathos is said to have uttered, regarding the lack of local goods offered: “why should I make [local producers] big shots by offering their products?” Divide and conquer in action.

This fear of leaving Europe extends beyond just the material world. Academics at all educational levels are infamous for their love and support towards the EU. Many of them are beneficiaries of various European funding and grant programs or of scholarship and mobility programs such as Erasmus+, and are terrified of losing such privileges. What these educators fail to realize is that Erasmus+ is not limited to EU member-states, and that international and academic cooperation is not something that cannot exist independently of the EU.

In keeping with “European” norms, it should be no surprise, then, that changes to the educational curriculum have consistently reduced the emphasis on the Greek language, Greek history and ancient Greece, while since the 1980s, students are taught that they are “European first, then Greek.”

An abject lack of pride

In crisis-hit Greece, seemingly any positive statement about Greece or any refutal of “woe is me” statements such as “we’re the worst in everything,” is met with an immediate response, ranging from jeers to personal attacks and insults. Any expression of pride in anything pertaining to the country is construed as “ethnocentrism” and “nationalism.” Even insisting on speaking proper Greek, instead of throwing in English for every second word uttered, is clearly a sign of “nationalism” and “far-right” tendencies. Wanting to stay in Greece for anything more than summer vacation is met with astonishment, while any suggestion that other “civilized” countries are not as perfect as thought, is met with anger.

If, like this author, the individual delivering that message happens to be, say, a Greek-American, diminutive remarks about “hazoamerikanakia” (gullible little Greek-Americans) who “don’t know anything about Greece” swiftly follow. Interestingly, a lack of knowledge about life abroad does not prevent the same individuals from relentless insistence about the perfection of “civilized” countries.

A man walks next a graffiti in central Athens on Tuesday, June 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

A man walks next a graffiti in central Athens on, June 19, 2012. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

This lack of pride is reflected in more mundane everyday realities as well. Approximately half of Greece’s population has piled into the greater Athens area. Internal migration led to the population of the city skyrocketing in the postwar period. Built (very much intentionally) without any planning, zoning, or suitable infrastructure to handle this influx, the urban area faces a number of problems, from a lack of green space to crowded narrow streets, and for many decades, smog and pollution (though public transportation projects such as the metro system, and now the economic crisis, have minimized this problem).

Athens is a city where practically everybody is from somewhere else. And even after two or three generations of residing in Athens, most inhabitants don’t consider themselves Athenians, but instead, part of whatever region of Greece they trace their roots to. Since Athens is not “their” city, little emphasis is placed on striving to improve quality of life and living conditions in the city – such as cleaning up garbage, removing ugly graffiti, or repairing the city’s often tumultuous sidewalks.

A great deal of emphasis, however, is placed on grumbling about these quality of life issues. And, at the same time, most Athenians insist on remaining in Athens (even if jobless), and bristle at the suggestion of returning to their region of origin, even if they consider themselves members of that community and not Athenians. If they must leave, they’d rather emigrate abroad. It’s a complex mentality that an outsider cannot explain with anything resembling logic.

Of course, many do choose to leave – the country, that is. And if one thing is certain, it’s that many of the 600,000 or so who have departed Greece during the crisis have no intention of ever repatriating. Indeed, many Greeks who have left for “greener pastures” have actively attempted to conceal their Greek identity. This author has encountered numerous Greek students studying overseas – almost none of whom have any desire to return – who deliberately make efforts never to speak Greek or to ever associate with others of Greek origin.

Older generations of the Greek diaspora, in turn, often view Greece not much differently from many scholars of the classics and archaeology – that is, that nothing good has happened in Greece in 2,500 years. Many are highly critical of every aspect of Greek society, crossing the boundary from “tough love” to invective, while wearing permanent “blinders,” extolling the virtues and conveniently ignoring the deficiencies of their new homelands. Other members of the diaspora restrict their connection to Greece to summer vacations, folklore and partying. Interestingly, many are just as fanatical and divided along the lines of the corrupt political party system of Greece as their counterparts in the motherland.

A losing battle

Greece, like other countries of the Mediterranean, is a country whose people have a flair for the (over)dramatic. Sensationalism rules the roost, and in times of crisis, that sensationalism is of a highly negative, toxic nature. A brush fire near a historic site, for instance, is portrayed by yellow journalists and bloggers as the “DESTRUCTION OF A HISTORICAL MONUMENT.” An increase in imports of seafood—likely due to overfishing in the Greek seas—is headlined as “THE DEATH OF GREEK FISHING.” This scaremongering easily permeates the psyche of ordinary Greeks.

Exaggerations in the opposite direction are made about everything happening in the “civilized” countries. There is no crime – police officers patrol every corner. There is no nepotism or corruption – all these countries operate as total and complete meritocracies. Public works projects never go over budget, media outlets aren’t irresponsible, football fans never turn violent, higher education and university campuses are models of perfection, and all these countries are, of course, fiscally responsible and elect only politicians who care, first and foremost, about the best interests of their country and their people.

Constant comparisons are made to the perceived or real shortcomings of anything that is done in Greece with statements such as “oh, in the civilized countries, this is how it’s done.” In none of these countries are there economic difficulties, poverty, or homelessness, while Greece is, as one individual recently kept insisting to me, now a “third-world” basket case for these very reasons. I must have imagined all the homeless people that were an everyday part of life during my years in New York City or, say, my 2013 visit to Brussels!

In such an atmosphere, it’s no surprise that most faces I see on the street in Athens seem to have etched into permanent frowns. It’s not a shock that suicides – once rare in this sunny Mediterranean nation with a pleasant climate – have skyrocketed and are in a sense lionized, viewed as an unavoidable inevitability and a heroic act of “resistance.”

A man sleeps at the entrance of a bank branch in Athens, July 24, 2017. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

A man sleeps at the entrance of a bank branch in Athens, July 24, 2017. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Meanwhile, real resistance on the streets and the picket lines is conspicuously lacking, as it mostly has been since early 2012, when the second memorandum was rammed into effect. Five years later, Greece has now enacted its fourth memorandum, or “bailout.” Protests are largely confined to spasmodic, isolated grievances – such as over measures permitting retail shops to operate on Sundays – which are ineffective, quickly forgotten, typically have low turnouts, and easily broken up by riot police if needed.

The entirety of the political representation in the Greek parliament is pro-EU and pro-Euro, even if this is couched in slightly different rhetoric from one party to another. Voter abstention has sharply increased in Greece and is likely to increase further. A significant amount of voters have given up – and many are simply waiting for a “savior” to arrive, or be imposed – from above, or from outside the country’s borders.

Here, divide and conquer rears its head again: between “Europhiles” who believe Greece’s place is “in Europe” (where would it go, Antarctica?); those who desire closer alignment with the United States, NATO, and Israel; those who fall into some combination of the first two categories; and those who believe that Russia, Vladimir Putin, and the BRICS countries are Greece’s “saviors” despite there being absolutely no evidence that this is the case.

This divide mirrors, in many ways, the post-war left-right, fascist-communist dichotomy which resulted in the civil war and the deep societal wounds which followed, which was further exacerbated by regimes such as the U.S.-backed “regime of the colonels” between 1967-1974. Notably, none of these positions foresees a Greece that will stand up on its own and assert its sovereignty. It’s assumed and ingrained in the national psyche that Greece must be aligned with some power, operating as a vassal state in exchange for some marginal benefits and “protection.”

Just as with the claims that Greece “doesn’t produce anything,” we see nationwide Stockholm Syndrome in action again: Greece cannot survive without being ruled from outside. In the meantime, collective guilt abounds in Greece; guilt that frequently leads to shame, which often results in hopelessness or depression, as evidenced by the alarming increase in suicides. Throughout Greece, one encounters abandoned automobiles and motorcycles, left on the street, often with personal belongings still inside and license plates still attached. No effort is made to even attempt to sell these vehicles, even for scrap.

Storefronts are abandoned, often for years at a time. Mail piles up inside, garbage piles up outside, and the owners of these properties can’t be bothered to make an effort to clean these properties and make them presentable, if for nothing else than out of respect for neighbors and to prevent the neighborhood’s further decline into blight. Just in my neighborhood in Athens, a bookstore has been closed for a year or more, its books still on display in the window, covers slowly fading from exposure to sunlight. Nearby, increasingly petrified baked goods remain in the window of a suddenly shuttered bakery. Newly-closed businesses invariably post signs in their window announcing “renovations.” This is an attempt to “save face, ”as these signs are quickly replaced by “for rent” signs. Increasingly, Greeks are not just giving up, they’re throwing in the towel.

Jean-Paul Sartre once famously stated that “a lost battle is a battle one thinks one has lost.” The tragic reality in Greece today, most Greeks, beaten down by the crisis and by the effects of what can be described as savage globalization, are plagued by feelings of collective guilt, self-loathing, hopelessness, feelings of inferiority, and apathy. The “inferiority” of Greece and the Greek people, and their “guilt,” are accepted as “facts of life.” It is, therefore, no surprise to see Greece ranked fourth worldwide in Bloomberg’s misery index for 2017.

When one believes they have lost a battle, that means that they also recognize some other entity as the victor. In the case of Greece, that victor could be recognized as the EU and countries considered by average Greeks as “superior” and “civilized.” Writing in 1377, North African historian and historiographer Ibn Khaldun provides us with insights which could help explain Greece’s “xenomania” and nationwide Stockholm Syndrome today:

The vanquished always want to imitate the victor in his distinctive mark, his dress, his occupation, and all his other conditions and customs. The reason for this is that the soul always sees perfection in the person who is superior to it and to whom it is subservient. It considers him perfect, either because the respect it has for him impresses it, or because it erroneously assumes that its own subservience to him is not due to the nature of defeat but to the perfection of the victor. If that erroneous assumption fixes itself in the soul, it becomes a firm belief. The soul, then, adopts all the manners of the victor and assimilates itself to him. This, then, is imitation.

It is, unfortunately, this very imitation that one observes in crisis-stricken Greece today. A society where the majority whines and complains, or simply gets up and leaves, but does not demand. A nation that is demoralized; defeated; consumed by hopelessness; devoid of pride, self-respect, and self-confidence; paralyzed by fear; hampered by ignorance; and gripped by feelings of inferiority, cannot deliver change.

This situation, of course, suits the powers that be magnificently. A society of self-loathers, a nation that is defeated and demoralized, will not pose a threat to those responsible for that oppression, while other “civilized” countries reap the ancillary benefits of the crisis, as the economic beneficiaries of the mass exodus and “brain drain” from Greece. This is savage globalization in action.

In other words, Greece is a prime candidate for, in the words of Oscar López Rivera, the kickstarting of a decolonization process. His words may have been intended for Puerto Rico, but they are similarly applicable to Greece. But will the people of Greece heed Oscar’s words?

Jul 182017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

Ancient Greece is perhaps best known for its contributions to mankind in the areas of philosophy, architecture, and science. But a modern-day economist suggests that some of the economic practices that were used in ancient times could help to solve Greece’s current debt crisis.

A man waves a Greek flag in front of the Greek Parliament during a rally against new austerity measures in Athens, May 18, 2017. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

A man waves a Greek flag in front of the Greek Parliament during a rally against new austerity measures in Athens, May 18, 2017. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

ATHENS (Interview) — Closing in on a full decade in duration, the Greek economic crisis is unprecedented in the modern history of economically-developed nations. During this period, Greece’s GDP has declined by over a quarter, unemployment has skyrocketed to record levels, salaries and pensions have been decimated and a significant percentage of Greece’s population, particularly its young university graduates, have migrated abroad.

Four separate memorandum packages that allegedly “bailed out” Greece have instead squeezed the economy to its limits through the imposition of harsh austerity measures, cuts, and privatizations even of profitable public assets. Meanwhile, most of the “bailout” funds, which are actually monies that have been loaned to Greece, have been routed right back to European banks, with very little of that money actually entering the Greek economy.

MintPress News recently spoke with economist and author Spiros Lavdiotis in an interview that initially aired on Dialogos Radio in two parts in May and June. Lavdiotis is a former analyst for the Bank of Canada and has written several books and articles on the Greek economic situation during the crisis. He has also extensively researched the economics of ancient Greece and the connections of ancient philosophy with modern-day economic challenges.

In this interview, Lavdiotis discusses austerity, the present-day Greek economic situation, the reasons why he believes Greece must exit the eurozone and the manner in which it can do so, while also explaining what ancient Greece can teach us about dealing with debt today.

MintPress News (MPN): Share with us a few words about austerity as an economic doctrine, and how this doctrine developed.

Spiros Lavdiotis (SL): The modern form of austerity developed in the meeting of Toronto of the G20 [in 2010]. There was a split in the opinion, in that high-level meeting. The Americans espoused the principles of Keynesianism in trying to recover from the financial crisis of 2008, when the whole of the financial system collapsed, particularly after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. Together with the United States in espousing the principles of Keynes were India, Russia, and China. At the same time, the Europeans split from this idea. They thought that in order to save their own weak financial system, that austerity is the only way to do it.

The crisis that started in the United States with the subprime loans and developed in a snowball fashion, to a great extent it disseminated its waves to the European system, which was weaker than the U.S. system. [The fact is] that the eurozone does not have and is not built on sound principles. It is a legal construction which is incomplete because there is no political union, banking union, or financial union. There is no such thing, it was simply a “reverse creation,” starting from a legal structure of the monetary union, and then trying to instigate a political union. It’s very unusual, it’s never happened in the history of civilization.

As a result, when the crisis came, everything fell apart. They didn’t know what to do. In a bulletin which was issued by the European Central Bank (ECB) in May 2010, they admitted that they were in a state of complete collapse. They didn’t have any mechanism, nothing. So they tried to save themselves—particularly the Germans, who had the biggest exposure to the system, the German and the French banks. They decided not to apply Keynesian principles and to follow austerity.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, right, welcomes the head of the International Monetary Fund Dominique Strauss-Kahn at his office in Athens on Dec. 7, 2010. Strauss-Kahn was in Greece to negotiate terms of the repayment of the three-year euro110 billion ($150 billion) bailout loan intended to saved the debt-ridden country from default. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, right, welcomes the head of the International Monetary Fund Dominique Strauss-Kahn at his office in Athens on Dec. 7, 2010. Strauss-Kahn was in Greece to negotiate terms of the repayment of the three-year euro110 billion ($150 billion) bailout loan intended to saved the debt-ridden country from default. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Austerity is a dangerous policy because it means that a country has financial problems due to the budget and due to deficits in the foreign exchange, in other words in the balance of payments. In order to alleviate itself, it has to impose austerity measures. How does this work? The theory says, through “confidence.” What does “confidence” mean? The theory says that when people and investors see that there is stability and the country can be saved, then “confidence” is going to build. These are unbelievable things. That’s why the measures of austerity were called “friendly to growth” measures. There is no such thing! These things never work.

In Greece, they miscalculated the “multiplier effects” of the policies which they imposed on debt and incomes. As a result, the Greek economy collapsed completely. In the second year of the imposition of the austerity measures, in 2011, GDP collapsed by 7 percent. All these measures were called “reforms,” but were not reforms. They killed the economy, salaries, pensions.

I remind you that in Greece, 50 percent of the national income arises from pensions. It was a total catastrophe. The unemployment rate, from 7.8 percent, shot up to 28 percent, and it is still measured artificially at 23 percent. This is a dismal situation. People have no hope about finding jobs, and they immigrate. The immigration rate has surpassed more than 600,000 people, from which 250,000 are educated people with degrees who are unable to find anything decent [in Greece].

Overall, the GDP from 2008 until now has fallen by 28 percent. This is the longest, in time and magnitude, drop in growth in economic terms of any developed country. This has never happened before. Even in the Great Depression in the United States, unemployment reached 25 percent and it took only three years to start recovering.

MPN: Why is there such a great insistence on economic austerity, such as in the case of Greece, and are there any examples that you can identify where any country was able to emerge from a financial crisis and return to growth as a result of austerity?

SL: Not to my knowledge. Herbert Hoover tried to impose austerity, and in two years the situation was very severe. There is no such example in the history of economics. I do not know how they developed this type of “friendly to growth” austerity. This is unbelievable, this is a myth, there is no such thing. They have tried to save the financial system of Europe, which was collapsing, and at the same time Germany went ahead and accepted this because it wants to keep the European free trade zone intact.

As you know, there are only nine EU countries which do not participate in the eurozone. The main thing was for Germany to maintain the primacy of its export power. In order to do that in this modern era, you have to maintain the financial system following the principles of free trade, the three basic principles of the Maastricht Treaty: freedom of commerce, freedom of services, and freedom of labor, and of course that presupposes the freedom of capital.

The euro is based on irrevocable exchange. In other words, it’s not like the Bretton Woods agreement, [based on] the gold standard. If a country was in a fundamental disequilibrium, they could devalue up to 10 percent and get out more easily from the predicament. Now with the euro, you cannot. As long as you entered with an exchange that was determined then, that’s it, there’s nothing you can do. It’s like an iron chain, and if you cannot fit from the very beginning—as was the case in Greece—but the European Union knew that, that the Greeks were cooking the numbers.

But the Germans wanted to sell frigates and planes to Greece, the same with the French, and therefore they closed their eyes. They wanted to have Greece there, due to the fact that they could expand their own markets to Greece, due to the different economic and industrial development of the country while at the same time not having to be afraid of devaluation. That was the main goal of Germany.

At the beginning, Germany was exporting two-thirds of their products to European countries. Then it shifted and started exporting to Asia, with its biggest market being China. But just remember that even now, exports constitute 46 percent of Germany’s GDP. They had the power to institute this policy, and the Greek politicians decided to protect the banks. This was a mistake. There were always interlocking interests between the politicians and the banking system in Greece, but I think it was also ignorance, they didn’t know the extent of that relationship in passing the losses of the banking system to the Greek taxpayer.

The amounts are tremendous. They involve a sum of 240-plus billion euros. [By comparison], Greece has a GDP of 175 billion euros. You have a small economy producing 175 billion euros [of economic activity] and you transfer 240 billion in banking system losses that have nothing to do with the Greek economy, this is close to 150 percent of GDP. This would be the same as a $25 trillion bank recapitalization in the United States.

The United States can still print money though, but in the eurozone, all the countries have to give up their monetary sovereignty. It was given to the EU, where in effect you had only one institution, the ECB, and therefore you are transferring all the rights of creating money to one institution which then, in order for you to have money, they will [fund] you by charging interest, but not directly to the member-states, only to the banking systems. The state, to finance its expenditures and the coverage of all programs for health and for welfare and whatever expenses were necessary for the state, had to borrow.

And to borrow from whom? Because the ECB does not directly lend to states, it had to borrow from the private sector, and the private sector had to borrow the funds from the ECB, which was charging interest. The commercial banks then had to charge extra interest to lend money to the Greek state. What happened then? The Greek state had to charge taxpayers with higher taxes to cover these expenditures. Greece entered the European Monetary Union in 2002. By 2008 we were already bankrupt, but they simply did not announce it to the public.

Internationally they did not know that the problem of the Greek state was mostly the banking system. They were talking about “corrupt Greeks.” Yes, there were corrupt Greeks, and the politicians are very corrupt in Greece, this is acknowledged, but the politicians never behaved in placing the common good ahead of themselves.

Right now we are faced, according to the latest budget, with more than 563 billion euros—which is the sum of all of the debt that occurred due to all the banking losses which entered the Greek budget—because there is no fiscal union in Europe.

MPN: “Seisachtheia” is a concept that many are not familiar with. It is also the topic of one of your books. Tell us about this ancient Greek concept and what it may teach us about debt today.

SL: There are a lot of similarities with what happened then, in the 6th century BC, in ancient Athens, with what is happening now. Back then, ancient Athens was in a great economic ordeal due to the fact that the wealth of the city was accumulated among the richest people, and the richest people of that period were landowners. They charged interest between 16 and 36 percent for those who did not have money and wanted to borrow money.

If an agrarian wanted to cultivate the fields, which were all owned by the landowners, they either had to pay one-sixth of the gross cultivation to them as a rent, or they had to go and borrow at the aforementioned rates. Eventually, it was impossible. If there was a bad crop one year, how could they give the one-sixth to the landowner? Therefore they had to borrow and they were going bankrupt.

In this Feb. 2, 2016 photo farmers stand behind a makeshift fire in front of tractors, near Kerdilia, Greece. Combine a rapidly aging population, a depleted work force and leaky finances and any country’s pension system would be in trouble. For debt-hobbled, unemployment-plagued Greece, it’s a nightmare.(AP/Giannis Papanikos)

In this Feb. 2, 2016 photo farmers stand behind a makeshift fire in front of tractors, near Kerdilia, Greece. Combine a rapidly aging population, a depleted work force and leaky finances and any country’s pension system would be in trouble. For debt-hobbled, unemployment-plagued Greece, it’s a nightmare.(AP/Giannis Papanikos)

At that time in history, it was not instituted to give land or other items as collateral. You were placing as collateral your own body, your wife, and your children. So if you were unable to pay, the debtor was given the right by law—not only in Greece but in all ancient regions, including Asia Minor, Sumeria, and Iraq—to be captured and sold as a slave. A famous site for slave exchanges at that time was the island of Aegina, just outside the port of Piraeus.

Solon was the highest official elected by the Athenians to solve this problem, because they were evacuating, just like right now the Greeks are evacuating Greece because they cannot find jobs. This is a very serious situation here in Greece because there isn’t even unemployment insurance. They say there is, but right now there are more than 1,200,000 people officially unemployed, and they pay unemployment insurance for less than 10 percent. And what kind of unemployment insurance? Its 260 euros per month, and only 10 percent [of the unemployed], or 117,000 people, get unemployment insurance.

This is the European system, which exists because there is no law or regulation or principle within the EU, particularly in the eurozone, which gives a right to work. While in the United States the Federal Reserve law says that all monetary policy will be in accordance to maximum employment, price stability and low long-term interest rates. The constitution, according to the Maastricht treaty, of the ECB says there is only one goal, and that goal is price stability. That’s it. Nothing about employment, they don’t even care about it.

This is why Greeks have to immigrate because at the same time there is no law to determine the minimum wage rate, which is the level at which a human being can survive decently. There is now a law which determines that the minimum wage rate for unskilled labor is 486 euros per month. Just think about all of you who are living in Canada or in the United States or Australia and you visit Greece. Is it possible, with 486 euros per month, for a person to live decently?

No, they cannot. You’re reduced to a pauper. It is undeclared slavery. And even the salaries, even as a civil servant, the monthly salaries are lower than that in many instances. As the minister of labor in Greece has announced, about 125,000 people are employed with a salary of fewer than 100 euros per month.

I say this because the situation in Greece is really very severe, and it’s not an accident that recently a report released by the Cologne Institute of Economic Research has said that Greece is in last place of all EU nations in terms of its poverty level, which has reached 40 percent. That’s not far from what the International Monetary Fund (IMF) acknowledged with the data of 2015, [showing] the poverty level in Greece then as 36 percent.

However, people think this is not important, particularly academics who completely dismiss all these things and say that we must remain in the eurozone, without taking into consideration the severe economic situation and the predicament that many people are in and the suffering that keeps going.

[In ancient Greece], Solon resolved those problems. The Athenians were deserting Athens and the fields were uncultivated. As a result, even the rich people said that a solution had to be found. The city was on the verge of civil war. So they elected Solon because he was famous for his integrity and knowledge and because he was middle class, not rich and not poor. Therefore, the rich trusted him and the poor also trusted him, because when he was young he showed characteristics of patriotism.

Solon enacted the “seisachtheia,” and this word remained for centuries, and even now as a word it is extremely powerful. It means “I remove the weight of debts.” It was the first macroeconomic plan that was instituted in the history of civilization. The first thing that Solon thing was institute laws which abolished lending by placing your body as collateral. That was the first time such a law was established in the history of humanity. That’s why Solon’s name remains today as such a significant light in the development of human civilization.

The next thing that he did was to devalue the Athenian currency at the time, which was the Greek drachma. He devalued the Greek drachma to make the foreign trade of Athens more competitive. At the same time, he created incentives for people to come and work in Athens, from other cities that were highly developed, promising to issue Athenian citizenship.

He tried to augment or develop foreign trade in the context that the exports of the city had to be equalized with imports. Solon was the person who instituted the principle that, in order for a country to have self-sufficiency and to be an independent nation, the revenues achieved from exports have to be equalized with the revenues given to imports. This was something that no Greek state politicians have achieved since Greece became an independent nation.

Solon was the person who instituted the “church of the demos,” meaning direct democracy. Officials were directly elected by the people, and Solon was elected as an archon of Athens for 21 years continuously because back then you were elected for one year. This was enough time for him to take [Athens] out of its economic morass and to develop its place as one of the highest civilized nations of the ancient period.

MPN: How and in what way could Greece denounce its public debt, and what does international law and international legal precedent foresee for the issue of its debt?

SL: It is very difficult to really try to eliminate the debt legally, because there is no international law which establishes the principles between creditors and debtors when nations are involved. International law, and every state have bankruptcy laws that concern companies and individuals, but in terms of international law, there are no specific principles [for nations]. This is why a national delegation, the debtor, has to sit down with creditors and determine bilaterally how they’re going to resolve this issue, because nobody can benefit by squeezing the other, like what is happening right now to Greece.

Protesting hospital staff sit in front of a wall that they built at the entrance of the Greek Finance Ministry with a banner depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Thipras , Deputy Health Minister Pavlos Polakis and Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos wearing ties reading in Greek ''Ministry of broken promises" and " We drown in debt and bailouts" in central Athens. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Protesting hospital staff sit in front of a wall that they built at the entrance of the Greek Finance Ministry with a banner depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Thipras , Deputy Health Minister Pavlos Polakis and Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos wearing ties reading in Greek ”Ministry of broken promises” and ” We drown in debt and bailouts” in central Athens, June 16, 2017. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Greeks have nothing to do with the losses of the banks. They’re responsible for about 70 billion [euros] due to corrupt politicians, but 70 billion is manageable because it is less than 50 percent of GDP. Why does the Greek taxpayer have to pay because of irregularities and anomalies in the eurozone, due to the fact that this is a legal institution and is not a political or fiscal union? Why do the Greek people have to pay for all these losses?

There is no international law that can resolve this issue, and this is one of the reasons why we have a big advantage, legally and ethically, to tell them that we’re stopping payments because our country is impoverished, we’re in a humanitarian crisis, why should we pay unilaterally? When you make a deal of lending and borrowing, you have two parties. Why do banks get excluded and the borrower has to carry all the weight? It’s unbelievable.

The banks did all this damage because they invested in toxic bonds in various futures markets, in securitized products which they didn’t even understand, and they carried enormous losses, hundreds of billions, and they’ve placed it on the shoulders of a small country with a GDP of 175 billion euros. What type of justice is this? With the Greek situation and the suffering imposed on all Greeks, who are not all crooks, why should they be destroyed economically?

This is going to take more a generation, to put Greece back where it was. And probably not even that because right now, Greece’s national income and GDP growth are below 2003 levels. Greece has lost about 15 years. But in terms of moral values and general values, they’ve been completely demoralized. Only 3 percent of the public now believes in politicians. This is why this situation is not going to go away either. It’s the biggest economic crime that has ever been committed.

How is it possible for all these losses, which involve not just the Greek banks but also the German banks, the French banks, the Dutch banks, to have been passed only to Greece? The international system is connected, through the euro, which creates an international platform for capital to move freely from one country to another. At any time, any money can be transferred from Athens to Berlin, from Berlin to Frankfurt, from Frankfurt to Paris. All of these losses were in the end sustained by the Greeks because the politicians accepted this. This is why it’s going to be an issue that’s going to last, because the sums are huge.

According to the [Greek] national budget, which was voted and passed in December 2016, it has receipts from credit money—in other words, borrowed money—of 563 billion euros. The total budget of the Greek state, in other words, is 614 billion euros, while the revenues of the Greek state are 50 billion euros, of which 46 billion comes from taxes. This is 320 percent more than the GDP of Greece, and it’s signed by the Greek president and by the minister of finance! How is it possible to claim that Greece is benefiting from this money while at the same time the economy has collapsed by more than 28 percent?

You can understand here, the impasse and the unfairness and what has happened to the Greek state. A lot of people outside [Greece] have realized this. They are talking about the looting of Greece, because now in order to [pay the debt], they are saying to Greece that it has to sell all the public assets. Now we have to sell what our fathers and our ancestors tried to create. They fought for this land, now they have to sell it to pay interest upon interest which has already been paid.

Since we have entered the memorandums, we have paid over 60 billion euros [in interest], and they call this “solidarity.” And according to the new calculations, the payments the Greek state [is responsible for] up to 2030 total 160 billion euros just in interest. This is usury! This is one of the most extreme forms of usury. How is it possible to survive? Everything is going to fall apart.

If in the epoch of Solon they were escaping Athens to save their skins and not to be sold as slaves, here [in Greece] no decent person can remain. This is the situation of the eurozone, the legal laws that were passed creating this union which have nothing to do with humanity. It’s simply an interest scheme, a payment scheme for those countries that are richer. And the countries that are richer are the countries of northern Europe. This is why southern Europe has almost collapsed, and we’ll see this year whether Italy can save their own banking system.

MPN: Would it be correct to say that Greece would be able to undertake unilateral action to declare a stoppage of payments or to denounce or write down the debt once it leaves the eurozone and returns to a national domestic currency?

SL: We should remember that we [Greece] are a member of the eurozone. In other words, we cannot take unilateral action. The de jure bankruptcy of the nation will take place while the country is still a member of the eurozone. In other words, the government can declare a moratorium, a temporary stoppage of payments of six months to foreign lenders. At the same time, the government can immediately start negotiations with the European authorities: the European Commission and the ECB.

The main problem of the Greek debt is that the Greek debt that has been accumulated, [placed] in the budget of 2016, having the signature of the Greek state, amounts to 563 billion euros, which are credit receipts. The lenders forced the Greek government to pass all future debt of the Greek state [into the budget], and the problem, the time schedule of the Greek debt [repayment] is stretched to 2060. The ratio of debt to GDP exceeds 320 percent.

This amount, most of it—about 95 percent—has not accumulated due to the extravagance and excesses of the Greek state. Ninety-five percent of it is debt which has been incurred by the banking system as a whole, not just Greek banks, but also the whole eurozone system, involving mainly German and French banks who have lent to the Greek banks. Therefore, these payments are related to the whole eurozone system and not to the Greek state alone. Yet the taxpayers of the Greek state [are on the hook].

For that reason, we [can] expose all of the official records through a task force appointed by experts from other states—an international task force—that will verify what was published recently, one year ago by the Technical University of Berlin, which determined that the two initial memorandums, involving amounts [totaling] 240 billion euros that were given to the Greek state and named “bailouts,” weren’t given to bail out Greece. They were given to bail out the banking system!

According to this study, less than 5 percent has gone to the Greek economy, and the rest, about 95.5 percent, went for the repayment of the debt and losses of the banking system of Europe as a whole. That’s the problem that was created due to the inflexibility of the euro system. Because the euro has an irrevocable exchange rate, and after the global crisis in 2008, which was actually a financial crisis, it was impossible for the eurozone to cope with this.

For some reason, politicians accepted this, for the losses of the entire euro system to be taken by Greece, to be paid by the Greek taxpayers, while these losses involved the whole system, because the eurozone system is a system which is very incomplete, has many faults. It’s a creation where they put the carriage in front and the horse in the back.

MPN: What happens in the event that Greece does not find that the Europeans are willing to negotiate on the issue of the debt?

SL: In my view that would be almost impossible and it would be irresponsible, because Greece represents a huge bomb of debt. If they do not accept [a write-down], they’re going to expose the whole system to great dangers, due to the systemic risk that is involved in the banking system. The European banks are not only connected with the Greek banks, which are bankrupt, but also with the American banks – which according to certain financial analysts are exposed to a tune of more than 3 trillion euros to the European banks. Therefore, some analysts say that the Greek case is like Lehman Brothers squared.

This is why it’s so dangerous. This actually explains the political stance of previous governments in joining hands with the European authorities, for Greeks to bear this huge burden that doesn’t belong to them. As I said, 95 percent of the loans [given to Greece] are to save the banks and not the Greek state.

MPN: Recently, we have again begun to hear murmurs about the possibility of “Grexit,” as well as statements from various sources, such as the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises, and a joint statement by 14 Greek economists who are based outside of Greece, about the many “dangers” and “perils” of a Greek exit from the eurozone, and the economic “catastrophe” that would follow. How do you respond to these claims, and to this fear that is being repeatedly expressed?

SL: That’s why they don’t want Greece to get out from the eurozone, precisely for their own benefit. Greece holds a huge bomb of debt. Most of it, the Greek public was not responsible for. There were losses due to the imperfections in the architecture of the European system, and these losses have to be divided and shared by the other countries, not only by Greece. Greece and the Greek taxpayer are not responsible to pay taxes, a 24-percent value-added tax (VAT) and enormous prices for gasoline. Now we pay more than 1.50 euros for a liter of gasoline. How is it possible for this country to develop? It cannot.

Everybody is terrified of a Greek exit, but Greece has to exit in order to save itself. But Germany doesn’t want that. Why? Because of the domino effect, because of the systemic risk of the banking system. Germany wants to save their own system, a banking system which is also in terrible shape. [Germany] wants to maintain its status and the benefits that it gets from the eurozone.

The eurozone is a platform where all countries give up their monetary sovereignty and there is no convertibility of the euro. It is an irrevocable exchange, and therefore Germany has a uniform platform to export its own goods, to mobilize its great exporting machine, without having to fear a country devaluing. Since, from the very beginning, it was the net exporter, it was obvious that through time, all the wealth would be accumulated [in] Germany.

Right now, Germany sits on hundreds of billions of euros of net surpluses. Germany is following a neo-mercantalist model and has a tremendous benefit by exporting those goods. The other countries that have deficits, eventually they have to borrow the funds from the German surpluses. But Germany doesn’t do that. It makes direct investments in other countries, like Greece.

FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015 file photo, a man walks past street art depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Athens, Greece. Tsipras' decision to sign off on a bailout led to many in his left-wing Syriza party to quit in protest.

A man walks past street art depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Athens, Greece. Tsipras’ decision to sign off on a bailout led to many in his left-wing Syriza party to quit in protest.

Right now, OTE [the formerly state-owned telecommunications company of Greece] doesn’t belong to Greece. Greece doesn’t have even 1 percent of shares in OTE. The majority of OTE now belongs to Deutsche Telekom, and the rest belongs to other international funds. Greece has no position there. Can you imagine if [there is a national emergency], what happens?

It is a fact that they call this “privatization,” but Deutsche Telekom is not a private company. It belongs to the German Federation. It’s a public institution. Similarly, [Greece] recently sold 14 airports to a German company [Fraport] that belongs to the German state, it’s not a private company. The [Athens international airport] Eleftherios Venizelos was sold initially to Germans, to Hochtief. Forty percent remains with the Greek state, but this [is also up for privatization]. But we already sold 14 airports. Why were they sold? Because we have to pay interest on the loans that have been imposed on us.

This is a situation where, I think, a decent politician with integrity can go ahead and try to tell the creditors “enough is enough, we have to settle this issue,” not to accept all these conditions just because Germany doesn’t want to resolve the issue because it has [upcoming] elections and because [German finance minister] Schäuble says that “debt is debt” and that it must be repaid. No, debt is not debt in this particular case, because [Greece] did not create that debt! You created it and passed it to us!

That’s why the banks are bankrupt, because the central bank decided, in order to fight the Greek people and to humiliate them, [prior to] the referendum of July 2015, to close the Greek banks. There is not even a legal definition to give the ECB the power to close the banks. Similarly, they closed the banks because they tried to affect the vote of the electorate. It was so obvious to close the banks and destroy all of the accounts, and nothing was said internationally!

The stocks of the banking issues in the Athens Stock Exchange had three “limit downs” consecutively, [a loss of] 30 percent. They lost 90 percent of their value, people were destroyed, firms were closed, and nobody said anything, people were waiting in line at ATMs to get money, [feeling] threatened and [worried] that they would be unable to feed themselves. They internationally humiliated the Greeks. Why did this happen? To frighten [the public] in order to [stay in] the eurozone.

The same tactic [is being used] now. Even though we have defaulted before, such as with the phony “PSI” [a “haircut” on Greek bonds enacted in late 2011 and early 2012] that supposedly “saved” Greece. By doing that, [this brought] the second memorandum, a loan of 130 billion euros. This did not save Greece. This money went, again, to recapitalize banks and to pay the debts that the Greek banks had from borrowed funds from the French and the German banks.

The creditor has a responsibility when lending money and therefore must accept losses from the borrower. But unfortunately this is not the story, and this is why “Grexit” is so important.

MPN: One option that we have been hearing about from analysts is the possibility of introducing a dual or parallel currency in Greece. What is the distinction between a dual or parallel currency on the one hand, and a national domestic currency on the other hand? And what would be the consequences of introducing a dual or parallel currency?

SL: First of all, a dual or parallel currency in Greece doesn’t solve the problem. This is simply a gimmick. The ECB has the monopoly power and according to the laws of the ECB, there is no such law or ordinance which allows nations to create a second currency. That would violate the principles of the treaty. That’s why the ECB [designed this system], to have control over the issue of money. For them, they have only one goal: price stability. Therefore, how would it be possible to give Greece the right to create a parallel currency when, at the same time, Italy is almost ready to default?

The debt-for-GDP [in Italy] now exceeds 132 percent, but at the same time, because Italy is a huge economy—it exceeds 2.3 trillion euros in debt—if something happens to Italy, the whole system is finished. It finishes because this is actually what they have developed in the eurozone with this primary purpose of the ECB to have the absolute control of money. It’s like creating another gold standard, and the gold standard died because it created so many anomalies and irregularities in the international system, and wealth inequalities.

Given this experience and given the fact that the eurozone is built on a gold standard—[one] based on fiat currency, which gives the right to the ECB to create unlimited money, like right now with the quantitative easing, it has already purchased one trillion-plus euros in securities. But Greece is not allowed [to participate in the quantitative easing program]. Why? Because they want to subjugate this nation in the form of “reforms.” These are not reforms! Simply, they didn’t purchase the Greek securities, just to make Greece pay the interest [to the ECB], and to subjugate and demoralize Greece, to not be able to provide resistance.

All this talk of dual currencies, all this is just to create a sundry understanding of the situation, providing false expectations that this can save the situation. It cannot save the situation. Nothing can really be saved or be improved by introducing this type of [dual or parallel currency] system, but I don’t think it will be introduced.

The only solution is the national currency, because then you are going to take back the power of creating your own money, and together with this, taking back the freedom of your country and getting out from this system, like England [with Brexit]. England has established the existing monetary system. That system is called the British model, where at the top of this system is the Bank of England. Now they see that system is collapsing and they’re leaving [the EU], because they created that system.

At that time [when this system was created], England prevailed globally because it established the gold standard. Having an advanced industrial [and shipping] sector, they were able to control other nations economically. At the same time, as with India, taking surplus value from India to England, and establishing the gold standard in a position to control deficit nations and [be paid] interest, because they did not have gold, like Greece.

Remember John Maynard Keynes. Interest reproduces so fast. “Tokos” [the Greek word for “interest”] means “to bring something into existence.” Aristotle said that it was hated by the whole society, because it creates [wealth] with no effort. The same thing has been instituted now. The Greek state gave the power to the ECB, and this ECB, through usury mechanisms, lends to the Greek state, but the Greek state pays double interest to the ECB and to the commercial banks because the ECB is not a lender of last resort! This abolishes the basic principle of central banks. That’s a function of a central bank, to be a provider of last resort funds if something goes wrong in the system. The ECB does the opposite!

The Cyprus situation shows exactly what I’m trying to say. This is why it’s crazy to talk about parallel currencies. What happened in Cyprus? One day, because [the ECB] did not properly supervise the banking system—which is one of the duties of the central bank, to have good supervision—and there were certain irregularities with certain banks, like Marfin Bank and the Bank of Cyprus. Instead of helping [Cyprus] alleviate the problem, the [ECB] went and did the so-called “bail-in.” A “bail-in” means “to capture,” to go and take money out of accounts. Whoever had their money in Cyprus banks, above 100,000 euros, lost money.

This is the situation, the banking institution that Greece wants? This is extraction, an extraction mechanism! This is like the old tyrants of Syracuse, which if you did not obey his order—and I mention this because Plato went there to educate him, and he didn’t like what Plato was saying, so he wanted to kill him. His supervisors intervened and he was sold as a slave in Aegina, and since then he was recovered from an old student and he was saved. The same thing [exists] in the eurozone.

I think all of these plans [for a dual or parallel currency] were publicized more to confuse the public.

MPN: Describe the steps that Greece could follow in order to depart from the eurozone in an orderly fashion, to transition to a national domestic currency and to avoid the dangers that many believe Greece would face, such as devaluation, high inflation or difficulty importing goods.

SL: A number of these things are a creation of imagination. Let me provide the basic steps of the exit of Greece from the eurozone and the adaptation of a national currency, based on two fundamental premises. First, that democratic institutions are maintained, and the constitution of the country, and second, that there is political will. Now, [those] are very important, fundamental assumptions, which right now do not exist. This is the system of exit for Greece, under the assumption that a light finally comes to the brains of the Greek politicians. If that happens, these are the steps that should be taken.

The country is declared in a “state of necessity,” and Article 44 of the Greek constitution is implemented, which means that after the suggestion of the council of ministers, which the prime minister presides over, power is transferred to the president of the nation. This declaration of the “state of necessity” is not required to be passed through the current representative assembly.

Then, the president declares a temporary stoppage of payments, an international moratorium. That moratorium is going to take a period of six months. During these six months, there is a plan for the reconstruction of the country—because it will be a reconstruction, it is economic devastation. So, at the same time when you declare a stoppage of payments—and this is going to be only for the foreign lenders, internally everything is going to be okay—this saves about six billion euros that are being paid in interest at this time, but also we stop payments of capital.

Therefore, we’ll have the ability to feed the nation and also to maintain salaries and pensions at the same level, because at this particular stage there is a slight surplus in the national accounts. Then we’ll have the benefit that we save six billion euros in interest payments, which would go directly to the reconstruction of the country and programs of employment.

This is what’s most important, to alleviate poverty and unemployment. That’s the primary thing, and that requires, of course, great coordination, to employ the people and to stop or to minimize the scourge of [outward] immigration. We need our educated people. This country cannot survive with old people, which continuously this is the case. It’s an aging population in Greece.

Then at the same time, we establish various capital controls, because we need the capital to remain here and not be exported abroad. Those are the major steps that should be taken simultaneously with a declaration of the nation in a “state of necessity.” It should not frighten [anybody], it’s a normal procedure which is [a result of] the extraordinary crisis taking place right now in Greece. Also it gives you the power to [declare] illegal all the measures that were taken through the austerity measures, which were based not on law, not on humanity, not anything, they were just horizontal measures [impacting] everybody without taking into consideration the principles of justice.

By placing the country in a “state of necessity,” immediately you can re-institute laws which would completely determine the unacceptability or the illegality of the existing laws of the memorandums, including the first memorandum of May 2010, the second memorandum of 2012, and the third memorandum of 2015, a total of 236 billion euros. Out of this sum, only 5 percent went to the Greek economy and for reducing poverty. Ninety-five percent went to payments. Those are known facts.

The third step after this is that you [create] a commission. We have to institute an agency which will go on to audit the Greek debt and to be confirmed officially, through the help of a task force of international [experts], to be a completely objective commission to determine which is the lawful debt and which is the unethical, unacceptable and odious debt.

In the meantime, the country, through its own people—Greek officials—start negotiations with the European authorities, whether this is the European Commission, the Eurogroup or the ECB. Of course, all those discussions have to take place when, first, the Bank of Greece is completely nationalized. This is important, because the Bank of Greece is a company and 92 percent of the shareholders are not yet known to the Greek public. This is an offense to the democratic spirit of the Greek people.

At the same time, things are not so straight, they are highly complicated because of the collapse of the Greek banks, the ECB has lent about 73 billion to “save” the banks after the fact, meaning that initially it was not accepting Greek state bonds as collateral. As a result, the banks could not really find funds to finance growth or to finance projects for businesses. [The ECB] did that, again, just to indicate that they are the power and they determine all political consequences in Greece. They decided to do so when the international public was misled that SYRIZA was a “radical left” party.

[Soon after SYRIZA] was elected on Jan. 25, 2015, the ECB, on Feb. 4, went and declared unilaterally that Greek bonds, the bonds of the Greek state, are not acceptable, they are junk bonds. That meant that they were not accepted as collateral. So the banks would not be borrowing money from the ECB, and therefore the loan activity in Greece has fallen apart, going into [negative territory]. That further aggravated the situation.

Therefore, this situation should be taken into consideration, and that’s why the banks, initially, should go to a bank holiday. It’s a necessary thing that has to be done. The banking system is going to be closed, because you need to protect whatever savings there are.

This is the situation, and I’m sure that this is inconceivable to all of you living abroad, that this is the European model of a monetary system, but it’s not a monetary system. It’s an extractive system that lives on the blood of small and [minimally-]industrialized countries.

The next step after the banks are placed on a necessary bank holiday is the nationalization of the Bank of Greece, like the Bank of England, [which was] nationalized in 1946 and the Bank of Canada was nationalized in 1938. It’s to the benefit of all the parties to agree on this, [since] this whole situation is explosive. Why is it explosive? Because that huge amount that is owned by Greece, that exists 560 billion euros, it is something that can trigger like a bomb and the whole monetary system can collapse.

It would be another situation like the great global financial crisis of 2008, and the reason is that the U.S. system is interconnected with the European system. According to the latest reports, the U.S. banks have exposures of more than $3 trillion in European banks.

That’s the situation, that’s why it’s very important, that’s why everybody is talking about the Greek exit, because if Greece decides to pull the trigger then there’s going to be a very dangerous situation around the European, the Italian banking system. Italy has exposure of more than 2.3 trillion euros. If something happened there, then the whole European monetary system is going to collapse. We have power, in other words.

If one considers the benefits of this nation and the people that live in Greece, then we can achieve tremendous results. At the same time, in order to avoid this chaotic situation which a lot of people and particularly the academics are [predicting] but which is not going to be chaotic, but a normal situation after so many years in another currency, simply we will establish a three-month freeze of salaries and prices, so as not to have the problem of inflation.

Let me tell you how we’re going to determine the first exchange rate between the drachma and the euro. The initial exchange rate is introduced at parity, one new drachma equals one euro. This is the conversion [rate] for all accounts. All the loans now would be paid in Greek new drachmas, and whatever accounts remain in the banks, in the form of accounting—in other words, electronic money—those remain in euros, but simply whatever money is [withdrawn] is paid in new drachmas.

In other words, what you do is you stamp the existing euros with an indication that this is a new drachma. All the money, therefore, that is circulating outside the banks, [becomes] new drachmas, until the new currency is ready. So there is no problem with changing the existing banking system in Greece or the ATM system. Everything remains the same, we simply stamp the existing euros into a new currency. So a 10-euro bill becomes 10 drachmas. Salaries, again, are frozen, the same for prices, for a three-month period.

People queue in front of a bank for an ATM as a man lies on the ground begging for change, in Athens. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

People queue in front of a bank for an ATM as a man lies on the ground begging for change, in Athens. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

This is not something new. President Nixon did this in 1971 when he decided to get out of the fixed relationship of the dollar with gold. Then, the relationship was that one ounce of gold equaled 35 dollars. This was the beginning of the collapse of the Bretton Woods agreement, as he let the dollar be exchanged in the free markets. This was very successful, because the U.S. had problems at that time because it lost the Vietnam War and they were experiencing deficits, like Greece.

All these myths that a vacuum will follow, this is nonsense, because at this stage, the Greek trade balance account is balanced, because the imports are equal to the exports. We export 25 billion euros’ worth, we import about 40 [billion euros], but the difference is covered by services, and the services are tourism and the shipping fleet that Greece has, one of the greatest shipping fleets in the world. Knowing from Solon that the expenses of imports are covered by exports, this means that we have currency, foreign currency to pay [for our imports].

Again, we should remember [that during] the bankruptcy, we are still in the eurozone. You don’t go to the drachma [immediately]. This is a six-month period [of transition]. At the same time, you have the money to feed your people and to buy medicine, to buy oil, to buy whatever items are needed and are not produced in Greece.

And in the meantime, you save the six billion euros [in interest payments]. We don’t pay them any capital for the repayment of debt, and according to the Bank of Greece’s latest report, we still have foreign exchange funds right now, which are mostly in gold—about 5 billion euros. Therefore, from where does all this fear arise?

It’s going to take two or three months until the first newly-produced drachmas are placed in the market. Don’t think it’s a huge amount of money, cash, that is floating in the market. It’s about 20 billion euros. It’s enough, this money, to be circulating around, because multiplied by the velocity effect of money, it’s enough to start motivating the Greek economy. Here we do not have that either, everything is collapsing, the velocity is collapsing, because they’re taking out [money] by taxes.

Taxes destroy money, they do not create money. Paying the unfair interest to the Europeans that they call “solidarity,” six billion euros is an enormous amount with the multiplier effect. So simply, it requires guts. Freedom requires to be courageous and to be just, and I would add to this, to really work hard to achieve this objective.

Those are the most important measures. Just to add: in order for the new drachma to get validity, immediately you institute a law through which only the Greek drachma is acceptable as a payment to the Greek tax authorities. This is something that was said by Aristotle, [who] said that money is the creation of the law. That’s why it’s called “nomisma,” from “nomos” [the Greek word for “law”]. Itis a product of law and not of nature.

All these are myths that there’s going to be a collapse, that [the new currency] will not be accepted. Why won’t be accepted if the tax office accepts the money at the same rate as one euro? As long as it’s accepted at [a ratio of] one for one, why is the market not going to accept it?

One of the benefits during this period is that we will be able to lower tax rates. This is very important, to bring out the necessary steps for motivating foreign capital, but also the growth and development of businesses, because you are going to print the money to recapitalize.

All this ideological bias, that the euro is the only solution for Greece, is completely disastrous. It’s no solution. It’s the only catastrophic element for the complete elimination of the Greek state eventually. This is an extraction mechanism and a mechanism where all the loans, if you are not able to pay them, you are going to pay them by selling the public assets of the country.

Those are the basic steps. As long as it’s understood that it’s going to take a couple of months before the new national currency is cut, in Greece from Holargos [location of Greece’s mint], and still has the old machines through which the drachma was circulated. It’s going to take some time, but as long as there is patience and a belief that our freedom and future prosperity is based on reacquiring the capacity to create our own money, then the last necessary thing is that we and the European authorities understand that we have to find, together, a solution. Otherwise, it’s going to be a situation where everybody loses.

I conclude with the hope that finally, a light comes to the brains of the Greek politicians.

michael-120x120ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Nevradakis

Michael Nevradakis is a Ph D candidate in media studies at the University of Texas at Austin and a US Fulbright Scholar presently based in Athens, Greece.