Dear listeners and friends,
Dear listeners and friends,
Originally published at MintPressNews:
‘That’s not a democracy, when three two-bit punk judges who don’t amount to anything overrule the majority vote of the British people! … There are not any democracies in the West,’ Roberts tells Michael Nevradakis in this wide-ranging interview.
ATHENS, Greece — The post-election climate in the United States has been nothing short of bizarre. Recount efforts in several states are being championed by Green Party candidate Jill Stein, accusations have repeatedly been made that the “Russian menace” influenced the presidential elections and the victory of Donald Trump, and that Russia is also behind an online disinformation campaign which the mainstream media describes as “fake news.”
One of the websites accused of delivering “fake news” is that of former assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury under President Ronald Reagan, Paul Craig Roberts. An author and analyst and former Wall Street Journal editor, Roberts has become a vocal critic of neoliberalism, austerity, and those who seek confrontation with Russia and China.
In this interview, originally aired on Dec. 8 on Dialogos Radio, Roberts discusses Trump’s electoral victory and Hillary Clinton’s defeat, what interests may be behind the electoral recount efforts, the “Brexit” vote and recent Italian referendum result, and the conflict in Syria. He also shares his reaction to the accusations of delivering “fake news.”
MintPress News (MPN): Why did Donald Trump win the election, and what does a Trump presidency mean for the United States and for the world?
Paul Craig Roberts (PCR): We don’t know yet what it will mean. We know what we hope it will mean. Trump won because he spoke directly to the people in a way that they haven’t experienced in my lifetime. He told them that the ruling oligarchy did not and would not have their interests in mind, that they had been sold out with the oligarchy moving their jobs offshore to where labor is cheaper while still expecting from the unemployed American workforce to buy the products that are brought in from China and Indonesia and India and elsewhere. This resonated with people, as they have been experiencing this now for roughly a quarter of a century. There’s been no growth in real median family income in decades. Young people can’t find jobs to support an independent existence. The value of a university education is collapsing because there is no employment for that type of an education, and people realize that the economic policy of the country has been captured by the oligarchs and serves only a very few interests. The consequence has been a massive change in the distribution of income inside the United States. The United States now has one of the worst income distributions in the world. In fact, it’s worse than income distributions in many Third World gangster states.
[Trump] spoke directly to these things. He also said that he would not see the point of conflict with Russia, which no one sees in an era of thermonuclear weapons, and he also said that he didn’t understand the function of NATO, 25 years after the Soviet collapse. This also resonated with the public, because they understand that all of these supposed threats are bleeding them in order to put hundreds of billions of dollars into armaments industries. That’s the reason why he won the election, and the reason we are hopeful is that we assume he is sincere about this. We assume he’s sincere because of the fierce opposition he has from the ruling oligarchy and from their media “presstitutes,” who did anything they could to demonize Trump, to turn him into a “Putin agent,” and so forth. But the public ignored them, or at least enough of the public ignored them for Trump to carry almost all of the states except for a few really large cities on the coast.
MPN: Do you believe President-elect Trump will keep his campaign promises, and what do you make of his Cabinet selections thus far?
PCR: We don’t know if he will be able to. The oligarchy’s candidate, Hillary Clinton, lost, so the oligarchy lost the election, but they did not lose it by such a great margin that they’ve given up. They’re still in the fight, they’re still there. Trump has a billion dollars but they have trillions. They’re well-established. They have many, many servants and think tanks and university faculty and the media [on their side], and of course, the neoconservatives, who have dominated American foreign policy since the Clinton regime. So they’re still there, and Trump is in combat with these people.
Trump’s appointments, we don’t know whether they will support what he wants to do or not. If they support him, they are the type of people he needs. They are well-to-do, they’re self-confident, they don’t need money from the oligarchs, they don’t have to worry about their careers when they leave government. So he does have the kind of person you’ve got to have if you’re president, to bring about any change. So the real question is, will they support him or will they go with the oligarchs? We don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see what happens. We can’t judge them based on their past associations. I don’t think any of them are actual representatives of an oligarch’s agenda. So there’s a chance they will support him and that they will be strong enough people that he’ll have the government that will actually do something. But you can’t take it for granted, because as I said, the oligarchs lost but they weren’t routed. They’re still there.
MPN: What would a Hillary Clinton victory have meant for the United States and the world, particularly in terms of foreign policy?
PCR: It would have meant war with Russia and China and the end of life on Earth. She’s an insane warmonger, she demonizes Russia and the president of Russia, calling him the “new Hitler.” She said that the South China Sea is an area of the United States’ national interest. You can’t be more provocative than this, and if you have a president who convinces Russia and China that they’re going to be attacked, they’re not going to sit there and wait. So we really have escaped Armageddon by the defeat of Hillary Clinton. This would have been the worst possible outcome imaginable. Of course, it would have been bad on the other score — jobs, I mean, she’s the agent of the big banks, they made her rich! She and her husband have a personal fortune of $120 million, given to them by the oligarchs, and their foundation has $1.6 billion, also given to them but not just by domestic oligarchs, but by oligarchs abroad. [The Clintons] sold influence for money.
MPN: What is your reaction to the recount effort being led by Jill Stein? Who do you believe is behind all of these efforts?
PCR: The oligarchs, obviously. I mean, Jill Stein couldn’t get any funding for her presidential campaign, but she instantly got something like five or six or seven times the amount of funding she got for her entire campaign, for the recount! Where did that money come from? Not her supporters. And what this is about … the oligarchs were positioned to steal the election for Hillary. But they got deceived by their own propaganda, that she was the shoo-in winner, The New York Times telling them that it was 94 percent certain that she would be elected. They didn’t bother to steal the election, because they didn’t think they needed to. And they were shocked, everyone was shocked — that is, not the people voting for him, but the media, the oligarchs, the established interests. They were shocked by the election results, and so they’ve used Jill Stein, who really has no standing in this issue, since it doesn’t involve her campaign, she has no chance of benefiting from a vote recount. So they’re using this corrupt woman, who sold out the Green Party, to try and throw a monkey wrench into the Electoral College. The only states being recounted are the three that he won which he wasn’t expected to win [Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin], and his margin in these three states is not very great. They’re not recounting votes in states that he lost by small margins, only where he won by small margins. This is an effort to steal the election from the working class who elected him, and Jill Stein is part of it.
MPN: One of the reactions of the mainstream media has been to attack online news outlets which they claim are delivering so-called “fake news.” Your website was included on this list of alleged “fake news sites.” What’s your response to these claims, and who do you believe are the true purveyors of fake news?
PCR: We know the true purveyors are the media, the press prostitutes. We call them “presstitutes.” The mainstream media throughout the West is totally corrupt and has no integrity. What you see happening is that the independent internet media is taking away the oligarchy’s control over the explanations that people receive. So everywhere you see the subscription rates of newspapers falling dramatically, the viewers of TV programs falling dramatically, and internet readership rising. And so this is an effort to try to discredit the people who actually tell the truth by identifying them with Russia. They are hoping that all the demonization of Russia during Obama’s second term has aroused fears that the “Russian menace” is back, and they’re hoping this fear is substantial and that by associating those of us who challenge their lies, with Russia, they will discredit us.
Who’s funding it? We don’t know, because the people who prepared this list, no one knows who they are. When the Washington Post gave it [the group PropOrNot] all that publicity, they very carefully did not say who these people are. It is a new internet site that didn’t exist before a couple of months ago. Who is funding it? I would say the National Endowment for Democracy, which is a U.S. State Department-funded [organization]. It could be the CIA. It could be George Soros. But it is an oligarch operation, which, of course, involves the military-security complex, because they are the greatest beneficiaries, in terms of money and power, of all the threats, all the wars. They want a Russian threat, for their budgets and for their police state powers. Those are the people who are most likely funding it, but it hasn’t worked! All it did was to provide people with 200 sites they could go to, to find out what the truth is!
I think it’s failed, but it shows the desperation of the oligarchs, and what they will do now is, they will use the people they still control, in the House and the Senate — the oligarchs will get some type of legislation passed that will put pressure on people who dissent from official lines of the oligarchy, that dissent from stories they plant in the “presstitute” media. And so it’s going to be perhaps harder to express dissent or tell the truth in the United States, but we’ll just have to see what they do to Trump. Some people say that he was always a fake, but that doesn’t make sense to me because the oligarchs didn’t need him when they had Hillary. And they clearly didn’t want Trump in the election. They tried to deny him the Republican nomination, and then they used the media against him in very vicious ways during the presidential campaign. Trump said once that he believes in revenge, and I hope he does. I hope he exacts revenge on the oligarchs.
MPN: What has been the aftermath of the Brexit vote for Britain, and have the doom-and-gloom scenarios regarding the impact on the British economy come to fruition?
PCR: No, of course not. The opposite! What’s happened with Brexit is, I think it’s been overturned. The United States is not going to permit Brexit, Washington won’t permit it. Now, this may change with Trump, but under Obama, you may remember he traveled to London to tell the British prime minister to forget all about leaving the EU. The EU is a creation of the CIA. It was created so that the United States could more easily maintain control of Europe. It’s easier to control the EU Commission than to control 20-something different governments. What has happened is, the United States government used three corrupt British judges that decided, “Well, the people may have voted, but you did not really have to pay attention to them, it’s all up to Parliament and Parliament can decide that we’re not [leaving].” And, of course, Washington is now lobbying the Parliament very hard, with promises and money and, no doubt, threats.
So I don’t think Brexit will happen, it’s being overturned. The notion that it would take two years to get out — when that came out, instantly I said, “They’ll never get out.” Two years is all Washington needs to overturn it. I think it’s already overturned with that court ruling. So we had three two-bit punk judges overruling the majority vote of the British people, and they call it democracy! What kind of democracy is it? That’s not a democracy, when three two-bit punk judges who don’t amount to anything overrule the majority vote of the British people! And they call it democracy, oh boy! What a joke! There are not any democracies in the West. Europe is a collection of American vassals. It’s been that way since World War II.
MPN: Italian voters recently voted no in a referendum on amendments to the nation’s constitution. What does this vote, in your estimation, mean for Italy and for Europe?
PCR: It’ll end up being overturned, like the Brexit vote. Just like they are trying to overturn Trump’s election! I mean, that’s what this vote recount is about. It’s the oligarchy trying to overturn the people’s will, just like the three judges in Britain, like what happened in Greece [in the July 2015 referendum]. The vote, in itself, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. Brexit hasn’t happened, I don’t think it ever will. We don’t even know if Trump is going to be president. But that’s the whole purpose of the vote recount, to block it. They wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. They’ve got all kinds of agents to use, all kinds of things to do.
One of our best journalists, Chris Hedges, who has had to go independent because the prostitute media no longer will publish his work … he’s concluded that elections can’t change anything, only revolution can change things. I think that’s what the oligarchy is proving. They are proving that you can’t change things with elections, because it’s really not a democracy, it’s a facade, and when the people vote, in come the oligarchs and they overturn it one way or the other. How will they overturn the vote in Italy? I don’t know, but they’ll overturn it, or they’ll ignore it, or some judge will rule that Italian law is subject to EU law, that EU law is supreme. They can do all kinds of things.
MPN: Do you believe that we are heading toward that revolution that Chris Hedges spoke of?
PCR: I don’t know. It depends on the people. They don’t seem to be nearly as feisty as they used to be. In previous times in the United States, when we reached this kind of situation, the government was scared of the people and had to make concessions. I don’t see the government afraid of the people today. They’ve got a police state established, they’ve got internment camps built, they’ve militarized the police, the police are as well armed as the military, the police routinely shoot people down the streets. I just don’t know how hard the people have to be pressed. Maybe they just simply will cease to have any gain in their living standards and some slight declines over time but won’t actually be facing starvation and homelessness, as they have in the past. So who knows? I don’t know. But I don’t think they will succeed in changing anything with elections. Possibly, Trump being the kind of very strong-willed, determined, ego-type person that he is, that’s the kind of person you need for a leader if things are going to be changed. You can’t have some conciliatory, shrinking violet who wants to get along with everybody. You can’t get change out of that.
It could well be that Trump is already rich, he doesn’t need any more money, he has a big ego, and he wants to go down in history as the man who saved America, “Trump the Great.” So if he has that kind of a goal, then the oligarchs are up against a real formidable president. If he can find other people to back him, we can get some change. But it remains to be seen. We can’t know that in advance. That’s the hope. What the result is, we don’t know, but that’s the hope. The hope is … Trump has a huge ego, wants to be “Trump the Great,” wants to save America, and that that’s more important than having a few more billion dollars, that he doesn’t care about all these people, these oligarchs, they haven’t supported him. So maybe something will happen, we’ll just have to see. Maybe they’ll prove Chris Hedges wrong. But it’s hard to bet one way or another.
MPN: What’s your take on recent developments in Syria, including the attempted invasion of Syria by Turkish troops, and what do you believe we’ll see in Syria going forward in light of a Trump presidency?
PCR: As far as I can tell, the Russians and Syrians have won that war. They’ve defeated the Washington-supported ISIS. The Obama regime sent ISIS to Syria to overthrow [Syrian President Bashar] Assad when the Russians prevented our involvement. So that way we can pretend we don’t have anything to do with it. But I think the Russians, as I said, defeated ISIS. I think it could have happened much sooner, but [Russian President Vladimir] Putin kept pulling out, kept trying to appease the Europeans, hoping they would see they didn’t need to be American puppet states, but he seems now to have finished the job, more or less. I don’t think the Turks would be permitted to invade Syria, the Russians would just tell them no. And, I don’t think the Turks think they are a match for Russia or that the Turks are stupid enough to think Europe and the United States are going to come to their aid if they get in a war with Russia.
These nuclear weapons are very, very powerful. Russia can wipe out all of Europe in a few minutes. For these itty-bitty European politicians to be running around fomenting trouble with Russia, they’ve got to be insane. There’s no way Europe can come out of this. The same with the United States. Here we are demonizing Russia and China. These are powerful nuclear powers. We can’t possibly survive a conflict with them, no one can. It’s all insanity, it’s nonsense. Europe is unable to produce leadership that’s intelligent. Putin, he’s intelligent. For some reason the Chinese can produce intelligent leadership. Who in Europe has intelligent leadership? Nobody. Maybe we finally have it with Trump, we don’t know yet. But there’s not any intelligent leadership, none in Europe.
Dear listeners and friends of Dialogos Radio,
This week on Dialogos Radio, the Dialogos Interview Series will feature an interview with Duke University professor of political science Bahar Leventoglu. Prof. Leventoglu will speak to us about all of the political developments in Turkey, especially in light of last summer’s attempted coup, will discuss the ongoing conflict with the Kurds in Southeastern Turkey as well as Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, government crackdowns on opposition political parties and media outlets, and a host of other hot-button issues relevant to the entire Eastern Mediterranean region.
Hear this interview, as well as some great Greek music, this week on Dialogos Radio! For more information and our broadcast schedule, visit http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=6532.
Announcement – Ανακοίνωση
Due to the launch of a new FM radio station by our parent organization in New York State and the necessary preparations which will take place this month, Dialogos Radio’s broadcasts will be on hiatus for the remainder of the month of November. In their place, hear some of our best interviews from the past two years, on issues which remain timely and relevant today.
Ανακοινώνουμε στους ακροατές μας πως εξαιτίας της έναρξης λειτουργίας νέου ραδιοφωνικού σταθμού FM στην πολιτεία της Νέας Υόρκης από τον μητρικό φορέα μας, αναβάλλονται οι εκπομπές του “Διάλογος” για το υπόλοιπο του μήνα. Στην θέση των εκπομπών μας, θα μεταδώσουμε μερικές από τις καλύτερες συνεντεύξεις από το αρχείο μας, συνεντεύξεις που παραμένουν εξίσου επίκαιρες σήμερα.
Dialogos Radio & Media
Originally published at MintPressNews:
ATHENS — This has been another eventful year in Greece. Almost one year after it turned its back on the July 2015 referendum result which rejected further austerity, the Syriza-led government has pushed forward a program of even harsher austerity, spending cuts, and privatizations.
Following the British vote to proceed with “Brexit,” or a departure from the European Union, fears that Greece might follow suit led Greece’s lenders to demand even more austerity measures from a country already mired in an economic depression.
In this interview, Dr. Jack Rasmus, a professor of economics and politics at St. Mary’s College of California, analyzes these issues and the many challenges facing the Greek and European economies today.
The author of such books as “Looting Greece” and “Systemic Fragility in the Global Economy,” Dr. Rasmus shares his insights into the consequences of austerity for Greece and other peripheral European economies, and presents his proposed solutions for an end to the crisis and austerity.
MintPress News (MPN): In September, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras gave his annual “state of the nation” address, where he boasted that the Greek economy has turned the corner, that unemployment is going down, that salaries will be increased, and that the country is returning to growth. Is this what Greece’s economic indicators actually show?
Dr. Jack Rasmus (JR): No, not quite. Greece’s debt is still the same as it was in 2011, roughly 180 percent of GDP. Unemployment has come down by only 3 to 4 percent, so instead of 27 percent, it’s about 23 to 24 percent. That’s depression-level unemployment. All the other indicators in the economy are flat or declining, so I don’t see anywhere that Greece is really “recovering,” and neither, really, is the entire eurozone economy. It’s been bouncing along the bottom.
As I said in my book “Systemic Fragility,” it’s a case of chronic stagnation. [The eurozone] might grow a little, 0.5 percent or 1 percent above GDP, mostly as a result of Germany’s growth, then it flattens out or goes below. Most of the periphery economies in Europe are stagnant or in a recession, as they have been for quite some time.
As far as raising wages, Greece cannot raise, at least in the public sector, any wages without the approval of the troika [Greece’s three major lenders: the European Commission, European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund]. It’s a real stretch to say that Greece is recovering. It’s kind of moving sideways, in the condition of still chronic economic depression.
MPN: One of the perceptions that has been prevalent in global public opinion with regard to the economic crisis in Greece is that the country has been “bailed out” with billions upon billions of euros in free money. Is this really the case, and where has the so-called “bailout” money to Greece actually gone?
JR: Countries don’t get bailed out. Governments, banks, businesses, and sometimes, though not so frequently, households get bailed out. So the question is, who got bailed out here, in the debt restructuring deals of 2010, 2012, 2015, and this past spring? The banks got bailed out several times. Foreign investors and speculators in Greek bonds and other securities clearly got bailed out in 2012. If you look at where the money has gone, there’s $400 billion in debt in Greece still, that they have to pay off, with an economy that is less than half that size, so it’s impossible.
Where has all this money gone? Recent studies by the European School of Management and Technology documenting the 2010 and 2012 bailouts indicate that 95 percent of all the loans to “bail out” the Greek government, which then bailed out the Greek banks — 95 percent of that went back to Northern Europe, mostly to the German and Northern European banks that had loaned so much money to Greece. [Bailout funds also went] to the troika, particularly the European Commission, that then distributed it to the banking system and investors in turn. The EC is the big player here, and to some extent the European Central Bank, and to a minor extent now the International Monetary Fund. So, 95 percent of all the money loaned to Greece went right back to [Europe] and less than 5 percent of that went back into the Greek economy. Greece has been subsidizing the financial system elsewhere in Europe.
MPN: What do you believe needs to be done about the Greek debt?
JR: You might ask what needs to be done about debt throughout the eurozone, because it’s not just Greece. Greece is perhaps the most serious case, but other places in the periphery of Europe are still heavily indebted. You cannot sustain, with austerity measures designed to pay the interest and principal on debt, a $400-plus billion debt based on an economy that’s less than $200 billion. Even the IMF has come to that conclusion and is maneuvering with the other troika members on that particular point.
Is [the debt] legitimate? Well, you have to understand the origins of this debt. It was originally private sector debt that was created as a result of the formation of the eurozone in 1999, the ECB as part of that creation, and other elements of the eurozone agreements, particularly the Lisbon Strategy that Germany adopted. Germany and other Northern European businesses and bankers pumped money and capital into the periphery, including Greece, from 2005 onward. Germany had a strong competitive advantage in exports, so a lot of the money and capital was pumped into the periphery, including Greece, in order to purchase German and other exports. So the money went in and circulated around, leaving a pile of private sector debt in Greece, Italy, and other places.
Then we had the crash of 2008-2009 and the debt could not be repaid, and the troika stepped in to [offer] the governments of Greece and other countries money in order to continue to bail out the private sector and enable the repayment of the private debt. So it starts out as private debt, because of this great imbalance in exports within the eurozone, and then that gets converted to government debt, and then the big crash of 2008-2009 adds even more debt, and then you have the recession of 2011-2013 in the eurozone and the 2012 bailout, which piled on more debt in order to pay the old debt, and then in 2015 the same thing. So the troika’s piling more debt on Greece in order for Greece to pay the previous debt, and that’s totally unsustainable. They’re going to have to expunge some of that debt.
Of course, the Germans, Wolfgang Schauble [the German finance minister] and the coalition in the north, does not want to allow that. And they don’t really want to change the eurozone, because the eurozone, while very imbalanced for the periphery, has benefited Germany significantly. [The Germans] dominate the finance ministers’ council in the EC and they dominate the ECB, and they’re just keeping the situation the way it is because it’s profitable for them.
MPN: Why must Greek banks be nationalized, in your view?
JR: Look at the debt negotiations of 2010, 2012, and 2015. What happened was the ECB, which pretty much controls the Greek central bank — the ECB is just a council of central banks dominated by the Bundesbank [the German central bank] and its allies, so they have control — and what you saw in the negotiations is that in 2015, the ECB put the screws to the Greek economy, and Syriza collapsed and agreed each time the screws were tightened, bringing the economy to a halt. They couldn’t deal with the squeeze on the economy by the ECB. This brought the economy to a halt, squeezing it and of course not releasing loans that [the troika] had agreed to provide Greece under previous agreements. There was an economic squeeze that Syriza did not have a strategy to deal with, and eventually it capitulated.
You’ve got to nationalize, make the Greek central bank and the banking systems independent of the ECB. Gain control over your economy once again, and that is one of several key steps to prevent the squeeze every time you attempt to renegotiate the debt or restructure the debt. Without an independent, Greek, people-controlled banking system, the eurozone and the troika will squeeze and bring Greece to its knees every time. We’ve seen that three times. You’ve got to nationalize the banking system, including the central bank, or if you want to just leave the central bank as part of the ECB structure, go ahead, but create an independent central bank authority elsewhere in the Greek government.
In the U.S. during the Great Depression, the U.S. central bank had screwed up badly, and [President Franklin Delano] Roosevelt took over and had his Treasury Department take over and run the economy. Greece would have to set up a parallel central bank in its finance sector, and isolate and bypass the influence of the ECB through the Greek central bank. You would have to create a parallel currency as part of this and impose serious controls on bank withdrawals and capital flows outside the country, which Syriza did not really do, because the ECB and the troika opposed it. When you have all the capital, bank withdrawals and capital flight is another way of squeezing the country economically.
MPN: The current government in Greece has been continuing a policy of massive privatizations of Greek public assets, with profitable airports and harbors having been privatized in the past year, in addition to the recent selloff of the Greek national railroad for a total of €45 million ($49 million). What are the short- and long-term impacts of the privatization of such public assets?
JR: The short-term is that when you privatize them, under the aegis of the troika, if you sell below market prices, which a lot of these assets are being sold at, that’s profit on the sale for the investors who are buying up these assets. But once the assets are in private hands, where does the revenue go? Does it go back into Greece or does it go back into the pockets of the investors and the corporations and the banks outside Greece that are buying it up? Well, it goes out. It’s a form of capital flight. Money that is needed in Greece flows out of Greece.
This is a new form of financial imperialism, wealth extraction in other words, that is being structured and managed on a state-to-state basis. It’s not 19th century British imperialism where they set up a factory in India, paid them low wages, and brought the textiles back to London to re-sell at a higher price. It’s not that kind of production imperialism. This is financial imperialism imposed on Greece, and it’s a new form that’s emerging everywhere, where you indebt the country and then you force the country to engage in austerity in order to pay the principal and interest on the debt, and you extract the income from the country. Privatizations are another form of that.
You privatize public goods, you get them at fire-sale prices, and then the income flows from those assets flow back to the coffers of the private companies or the banks, outside of Greece.
The other consequence is when you privatize, they come in and they cut costs, which means they lay off people in mass numbers, they put a hold on wages, they get rid of benefits, and they do everything else to maximize their revenue.
Finally, longer term, it means that Greece has less control over its own economy if it can’t control its infrastructure and everything is owned by foreigners. Then you can’t influence it as much, and if you’re part of the eurozone, you’re legally prohibited from what you can do to make sure that these foreign-owned infrastructure companies are behaving in terms of the benefit for the public sector, for the rest of Greece.
MPN: You have argued in your book, “Systemic Fragility in the Global Economy,” that there are nine major trends which account for the economic troubles that are seen on a global scale. What are some of these trends?
JR: Everywhere, and particularly since 2008, we see central banks and monetary policy to be ascendant, and that means creating money, pumping it into the economy to bail out the financial systems, the financial institutions, the banks and the shadow banks, meaning speculators, hedge funds, private equity firms, asset management companies, and so forth. We’ve seen bailouts of tens of trillions of dollars since 2008. All of that liquidity injection into the economy has driven interest rates down to zero or even, in Europe and Japan and elsewhere, negative rates, and that fuels debt. With rates that cheap, corporations and businesses float new corporate bonds, and they use the money not to invest necessarily, they use it to buy back the stock and drive up the stock prices and pay out dividends, or they sit on it, they hoard it, or they send it to emerging markets. That’s a problem everywhere, and that’s the result of massive liquidity injections, which have really been escalating since the 1980s, when controls on international capital flows were eliminated everywhere.
After the 1970s, when the Bretton Woods system collapsed and central banks took over, the combination of those has led to the financialization of the global economy in the 21st century, where profits are far greater for investing and speculating in financial securities than they are in investing in real assets and real things that create real jobs and real income and real consumption. We’re becoming dependent on debt more and more. The economy is increasingly credit- and debt-driven, and that’s the result of this massive liquidity injection, and it also leads to a shift from real asset investment — investing in real things that create jobs that people need — toward financial asset investment. That means that real investment collapses over time and productivity collapses over time as well, and we see that happening everywhere.
That’s a major point that I argued about in my book, “Systemic Fragility,” this financialization of the global economy based on liquidity and debt and squeezing out. It’s diverting money and capital from real investment into financial speculation. What’s going on in Greece is a concrete expression of this, the reliance on financial means and financial manipulation. The periphery in the eurozone is at a great disadvantage to Germany and others, and they’re being manipulated financially. All the payments on interest and the debt flow back to the north. This is all flowing through the EC to the private sector, and it’s a nice constant money capital flow from interest payments and privatization and speculation on government bonds and securities and stocks in these countries as the volatility occurs.
It’s a reflection, in Greece, of what’s happening on a broader scale elsewhere in the global economy, and that’s why we haven’t seen much of a recovery in the global economy. Global trade is stagnant and real investment everywhere is drifting toward zero, productivity is negative almost everywhere, even in the U.S., and we’re seeing growth rates of barely 1 percent, 1.5 percent, at best, when it should be double that. We see these growing, non-performing bank loans, almost $2 trillion in Europe, the worst in Italy with about $400 billion. We see the same thing in Japan and in China. We’re becoming more systemically fragile financially because of this shift to financial speculation.
MintPress: What is your outlook for the eurozone economy and the difficulties that it is currently facing?
JR: The European banking system has never fully recovered from the 2008-2009 crash. The ECB is pumping money into the banking system in various ways, long-term refinancing options and all the bailout funds and qualitative easing and negative interest rates and so forth. They’re desperately pumping money into the banking system, but the banks aren’t really lending, at least to those businesses that would reinvest in real assets to create jobs. It’s far more profitable to make money now. Investors make more money from financial speculation than they do from investing long-term and expecting to get a return over 10 to 20 years for investment in a real company that creates real things.
We can see the strains now with the non-performing loans, in particular in Italy. Of course, we know the situation with the non-performing bank loans in Greece. Portugal is in bad shape as well in terms of non-performing loans, and now we see even institutions like [Germany’s] Deutsche Bank and others beginning to feel this strain, and the further impact on the European banking system of the “Brexit” [the departure of Great Britain from the European Union].
The problem is that the private banks are either hoarding the cash, they won’t invest in real growth, or they’re sending their money offshore to emerging markets, or they’re using it, as in the U.S., to buy back stock and pay out dividends and loaning money to companies to do just that. The global economy has changed dramatically in ways that make it much more fragile than ever before. A lot of debt has been building up everywhere: Over $50 trillion in additional debt has occurred since 2009, and when the next recession comes, how are they going to pay that debt?
When times are stable or growing, you can add debt without a great crisis emerging, but when you have a recession or a downturn that’s significant, where are you going to get the money capital to pay the principal and interest on the debt? Then you start seeing defaults and you start seeing financial asset price collapses going on, and now you’re back in 2008-2009. That’s the picture of the global economy.
MPN: What would be the steps for Greece to follow, in your view, in order to escape the spiral of economic depression and austerity?
JR: Syriza made it clear, when it came into power, that it was not in favor of “Grexit” [a Greek departure from the eurozone], and it has always maintained that position. An unprepared, “we’re leaving the eurozone and the euro” kind of decision would cause a collapse of values, particularly among those who have investments in some savings in Greece. To some extent, Syriza was caught between a rock and a hard place here. They couldn’t or didn’t want to advocate an exit, and at least those who had investments didn’t want it because of the potential effect on their investments. The broader Greek populace thinks, still, that to be European you have to be in the eurozone. That’s a big mistake.
I think what Greece and Syriza should have done is to create a parallel currency and to take over its banking system. In other words, make the banking system truly independent, including the Greek central bank, and if that was not possible, bypass the Greek central bank and set up a central banking function in the finance ministry, as the U.S. has done at different times. Create a parallel currency, and policies and programs to get people to convert their euros into the parallel currency. Maybe declare that henceforth all taxes to the Greek government will be paid with the parallel currency, and that means that people would then trade in their euros for the parallel currency to pay their taxes.
Then tell the troika [the EC, the ECB, and the IMF — collectively, Greece’s lenders] that we’re going to pay you in your euros, but if we run out of euros here as a result of the conversion, well, tough luck, we don’t have a way of paying you, let’s negotiate a final deal where you expunge some of it and we pay you off and we go our separate ways. Of course, you would have to create significant capital flow controls, which has always been a problem every time there’s been a crisis; the money flows out of Greece. Take the economy out of the control of the troika without a formal exit.
That could have been done, but for some reason Syriza and its finance advisers either didn’t want to do that or didn’t know how to do that.
MPN: Arguments that have been heard against a parallel currency include the claim that the existence of two currencies would create a situation where there would be “haves” and “have nots” — between those who would hold a stronger, hard currency, compared to those holding a weaker, devalued currency. How do you respond to this?
JR: There are policies and approaches you can take that entice and require people to convert their euros into the new currency. That would raise the demand and therefore the value, the price of the new currency. If you just had the currency and you didn’t have this forced trade-in, then of course you would have “haves” and “have nots,” the new currency would collapse, and pretty soon no one would want to use it. But, for example, saying that taxes could only be paid with the new currency, would force people who had corporations and businesses and so forth to purchase the new currency with the euro. It would undermine the value of the euro in Greece and it would raise the value of the new currency in Greece as well. That might set off a parallel elsewhere in the eurozone with other countries thinking the same thing, which would undermine the value of the euro and put the squeeze on the troika for once. Greece never put the squeeze on the troika, it was just the opposite in all of these negotiations that occurred, they never really hurt the troika in negotiations, and that’s the only way you prevail in negotiations. You’ve got to make it unpleasant for the opposition. Syriza never did that, they played along and made concession after concession.
Syriza thought that their example would strike a spark elsewhere in Europe of other social democratic forces and governments. They thought that they would get the rest of the social democracies behind them and together they would reform the eurozone. That was a fiction, a fantasy thought on the part of Alexis Tsipras and others, but that was the core of their whole strategy. European social democracy is a dying force, and that’s why you see the growth on the fringes, both to the right and the left.
Tsipras and [former Greek finance minister] Yanis Varoufakis’ problem was that they thought they could get all these elements behind them and that together they would have enough weight to force Schauble and other finance ministers to make concessions. Well, Schauble and the other ministers, the “German faction,” as I call it, within the finance ministers’ council in the EC, remained dominant. At every step along the way, whenever Syriza and its few allies tried to make a compromise where some concessions were made to them, the German faction squelched it. We saw that, for example, at the very end, when [Greece held] the referendum in July 2015. Greece held the vote, and the vote said “go back and negotiate a better deal for us,” and what did Tsipras do? He totally caved in to the Schauble faction, and then the Schauble faction said, “The offer we made last week is now off the table, you’re going to have to accept an even worse one.” So they put the screws to Syriza, and Syriza looked to its allies in the EC, and they totally caved in as well. Things just got worse and worse until you had the final [austerity] agreement on August 20, 2015.
It was a step-by-step retreat from [Syriza’s election in] January 2015, because Syriza had the wrong strategy and was not engaged in certain necessary tactics. Of course, the troika itself had a lot of cards to play. It would have been an uphill fight for Syriza. The time where they might have been able to strike some concessions from the troika was 2012, but New Democracy [the center-right party in power at the time in Greece] was totally in the pocket of the troika, so that was impossible.
[This past spring], the IMF and the troika were worried about “Brexit” and what impact that might have on renewing “Grexit.” So they put the screws to Greece again, raised the debt even more, austerity even more, and I think another round of that is coming, because the IMF wants out of the troika deal. We’ll see what happens at the IMF meeting, but they haven’t endorsed even the 2015 agreement because they know it’s unsustainable. I think the IMF is maneuvering to have the EC to buy its portion of the debt, and once that happens, the EC will demand even more austerity from Greece.
MPN: In the event that a parallel currency is implemented and steps are taken to maintain or strengthen its value, could that be a prelude to a switch to a national, domestic currency?
JR: Yes. At some point, one currency will become dominant. You can’t have two equal currencies like that. Another advantage of the new currency is that it will start out at less value than the euro, and that will be used as the trading currency. That will stimulate Greek exports to elsewhere, outside the eurozone.
Part of the problem is that the periphery in Europe is so dependent on exports and imports to Germany and the north, that it can’t really engage in its own independent export strategy without cutting wages. Throughout Europe, you have what’s called “internal devaluation,” when you are stuck with a currency and someone else’s central bank, the ECB and the euro. You can’t really engage in independent monetary policy to stimulate your economy and you can’t engage in lowering your currency in order to gain some advantage in exports. You’re stuck, and only the most powerful country that’s most efficient and has the lowest costs is able to take advantage of global exports, and that’s Germany. The weaker economies of the periphery will always be at a disadvantage to Germany when it comes to trying to push their exports anywhere else outside the eurozone.
That’s the lesson. The lesson is that you’ve got a 1999 agreement in which you have this quasi-central bank, the ECB, and you have [the euro], and that arrangement significantly benefits the most efficient, low-cost producer, which is Germany, at the expense of the periphery. Until you have a true central bank and fiscal union to some extent, that will pump the money into the periphery to help it grow when it doesn’t, you will always have the situation you have in Europe right now.
Compare that to the U.S., where there’s a fiscal union, so that if certain states have economic problems … the federal government can pump money into those specific locations. If you don’t have a true federal government and fiscal union, you can’t do that, and if your central bank is dominated by the largest economy — Germany — even the monetary policy has no effect. And if it’s a single currency, it’s to the advantage of the stronger economy at the disadvantage of the weaker.
The eurozone economy is structured to emphasize the growth of the strongest economies at the expense of the weaker, and that’s not going to change. It’s built into the eurozone. You cannot create a currency union and a customs union without a true banking union and fiscal union. More and more countries in the eurozone are beginning to come to that conclusion, but it was foreordained. Economists knew this from the beginning, and that’s the tragedy. Greece has tied its tail to the eurozone, dominated by Germany, and it can never get out of this situation as long as Germany dominates the institutions, which it does, because the whole arrangement is great for Germany.
MPN: Tell us about your most recent book, “Looting Greece.”
JR: It’s really a case study of the consequences of financialization and globalization and integration. I argue that there is this phenomenon of the smaller economies being tied into the larger economies through free trade agreements, which lead to currency unions, which lead to banking unions, and then you’ve got a situation like Greece and the euro periphery and the problems associated with that.
The book also takes a historical look at the origins of the Greek debt, that starts in 1999 with the [creation of the] eurozone, the adoption of the euro by Greece in 2002 and the consequences of that, how the debt developed, first in the private sector because of German export domination and then conversion of the private debt in 2008-2009 to the public debt, and then the collapse of 2008-2009, which added to the government debt. Then you had the 2012 agreement where the private sector was bailed out, and that added more debt, and then 2015 and so forth. All this is described in detail in the early chapters, and then most of the book is a step-by-step look at the negotiations between Syriza and the troika, from [Syriza’s January 2015 election] through the spring of 2016, and what were the strategic and tactical errors of Syriza and the strategic and tactical moves by the troika which enabled it to prevail.
At the end, [the book discusses] how this is a form of a new emerging financial and wealth extraction from smaller economies by the larger economies, because of the globalization and integration arrangement that exists, the emergence of financial extraction and financial exploitation, and how central banks are feeding that all. This will lead to my next book, which is about global central banks and the problems they’ve created as we move to another crisis, which I think is coming in the next five years.
Originally published at MintPressNews:
Far from representing truly alternative voices, three Syriza leaders crafted empty public images as anti-austerity renegades and champions of democracy and justice.
ATHENS — (Analysis) In January of 2015, opponents of neoliberalism and the harsh policies of economic austerity rejoiced at the electoral victory of Syriza in the Greek parliamentary elections.
Touted as the “first-time left,” the new Syriza-led government was portrayed as a “would-be savior” for Greece. It was further hailed as the regime that would reverse the country’s fortunes and stand up to the demands of Greece’s lenders in the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund–the trio collectively known as the “troika.”
Flash forward to today: One year after ignoring the result of a referendum which rejected further austerity measures proposed by Greek lenders, the Syriza-led government is enforcing the dictates the third memorandum, an even more onerous austerity agreement agreed to in August 2015. In the interim, further legislation has been passed which has ceded control over the entirety of Greece’s publicly-owned assets for 99 years and relinquished the sovereign parliamentary right to pass legislation on key budgetary and economic issues.
The end results of these agreements and the new austerity plan which has followed have been catastrophic. Already-battered pensions have been further slashed by as much as 50 percent or more. The port of Piraeus, 14 profitable regional airports, the national railway system, and the prime site of Athens’ former international airport have been sold off to foreign investors at bargain-basement prices and privatized. The sell-off of Greece’s municipal water utilities, which Syriza officials at one time claimed would occur “over our dead body,” is the next in line to be completed. Further, automatic budget cuts lurk ominously ahead, to be implemented automatically if Greece does not meet its troika-imposed fiscal targets.
After a long period of dormancy, lulled by the promise of a government that was purportedly engaged in hard negotiations with Greece’s lenders, the people of Greece have roared back to life. Air traffic controllers recently staged a wildcat strike, walking off from their jobs in protest of the privatization of Greece’s airports–a process slated to be expanded to the remaining facilities in which the Greek state still owns a share. With nothing left to lose, pensioners have taken to the streets to protest the virtual elimination of their already meager pensions.
While back in January of 2015, the world celebrated as the “saviors” in Syriza removed barricades around the Hellenic Parliament and promised to dissolve the violent, corrupt riot police, nowadays the Syriza government prefers to unleash the very same riot police on elderly, impoverished protesters, who are also targeted with generous sprays of tear gas. Instead of tearing up the memorandum and austerity agreements, as had been promised prior to January of 2015 by current Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and other Syriza officials, Syriza officials now express regret that the word “memorandum” has been “demonized.”
Within Greece at least, the hero worship previously afforded Syriza has transformed into a wide-ranging sentiment in which many citizens and voters now openly support “anyone but Syriza.” In such a climate, voters have once again begun searching in earnest for a new “savior” to rescue Greece from its death spiral of austerity, hopelessness, and crippling economic depression. Several such political personalities loom large in the imaginations of many voters, including “radical” economist and former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, former speaker of the Hellenic Parliament and founder of the “Course of Freedom” party Zoe Konstantopoulou, and former energy minister and founder of the Popular Unity party Panagiotis Lafazanis.
Do these personalities represent a true hope for change and optimism? Or are they merely the next in line to follow Syriza’s footsteps in promising radical change but delivering continued austerity instead? Their respective backgrounds and actions while in positions of power reveal the likely answer.
Yanis Varoufakis has crafted a reputation for being a “radical,” “anti-austerity” renegade economist who is unafraid to break conventions and tackle the status quo.
However, his record–particularly during his time as Greece’s finance minister from January to July 2015–tells a different story.
In his early days as Syriza’s finance minister, Varoufakis entered negotiations at the February 2015 Eurogroup summit proposing the continuation of 70 percent of previously implemented austerity measures for an additional six months. He refused to raise the possibility of a eurozone departure for Greece, not even as a “plan B” or a negotiation tactic. The 70 percent proposed by Varoufakis ultimately became an agreement for the continuation of 100 percent of the existing austerity measures for four additional months. Varoufakis, in his usual style, described the agreement as an exemplar of “creative ambiguity,” while suggesting that the troika now be referred to as the “institutions” instead.
In these early days of the “first-time left” government, Varoufakis hired Wall Street firm Lazard to advise the Greek finance ministry. This is the same firm which advised the government of George Papandreou (whom Varoufakis advised for six years) on the signing of the first memorandum agreement in 2010, the government of unelected technocrat Lucas Papademos on the introduction of further austerity in 2012, and the previous New Democracy-PASOK coalition government on the privatization of public assets.
Varoufakis’ “radical” rhetoric continued when he repeatedly stated, as finance minister, that Greece’s debt was legal and would be repaid “ad infinitum,” even while a parliamentary committee which was purportedly investigating the legality of this very same debt was in session.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Varoufakis stated that he would “squeeze blood out of stone” in order to repay the IMF, while in another interview, Varoufakis stated that he sought to develop good relations with Christine Lagarde and the IMF, which holds views that he said he personally agreed with. In an interview with Australia’s ABC, Varoufakis further stated that even if the government wanted to proceed with the “Grexit,” it was unable to mint its own currency, claiming that Greece’s mint was destroyed when the country joined the eurozone. In reality, Greece’s mint is still operational; it’s where €10 notes are printed today.
Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, explains why he thinks Brexit could trigger dire economic consequences for the European Union.
As finance minister, Varoufakis tapped Elena Panaritis as Greece’s representative to the IMF. This is the same Panaritis who was a former World Bank official and who was the architect of the catastrophic “Fuji Shock” policies implemented in Peru under the regime of the now-jailed Alberto Fujimori.
These policies drove millions of Peruvians into poverty, resulted in price increases of up to 8,000 percent on basic goods, and led to the privatization of hundreds of public assets. Later, as a member of parliament with PASOK, Panaritis voted in favor of austerity and the memorandum agreements. In turn, Varoufakis, as finance minister, stated that previously implemented privatizations would not be rescinded and that he supported the privatization of public airports and harbors “under certain conditions.” He also spoke out favorably of the so-called “investments” of China’s COSCO, including the privatization of the port of Piraeus, describing this as a “positive development” for Greece.
Forging ahead in the spring of 2015, Varoufakis, in his capacity as finance minister, oversaw the implementation of a governmental decree which confiscated the cash reserves of the entirety of the Greek public sector. Later ratified by parliament, including Varoufakis’ vote, the decree authorized the payment of the May 2015 installment of Greece’s loans to the IMF with the confiscated funds. This action was then followed up by a 47-page proposal crafted by the finance ministry under Varoufakis’ watch as part of supposedly “fierce” negotiations with the troika. That proposal foresaw €8 billion in new austerity measures, including a perpetually increasing primary budget surplus (which would mean more cuts in order to maintain a surplus in a sinking economy) and the privatization of major public assets.
At around this time, Varoufakis presented a proposal for the introduction of a parallel currency, similar to the IOUs that had been issued by the state of California in 2009. He also announced the impending implementation of capital controls in the form of weekly limits on withdrawals from domestic bank accounts. These capital controls remain in place today and have significantly crippled the Greek economy, particularly small and medium-sized businesses which have been stripped of access to their own capital.
This set the stage for the July 5, 2015 referendum which was scheduled soon thereafter. Varoufakis did not present any proposals to the people of Greece nor give any indication of what the government’s plan would be should the “no” vote against austerity prevail, as it ultimately did. Following his resignation from his post as finance minister–a well-timed move which allowed him to make a heroic exit in time to avoid the forthcoming trainwreck, Varoufakis was absent from the parliamentary vote which ultimately authorized Prime Minister Tsipras to make a deal with the country’s lenders. Varoufakis did publicly state, however, that had he voted in parliament, he would have voted to give Tsipras authorization to reach an agreement—authorization which led to the third, and harshest, memorandum agreement for Greece.
Other highlights of Varoufakis’ tenure include his vote for corrupt conservative former New Democracy minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos as president of the Hellenic Republic, his asinine plan to hire tourists as “tax snitches” to report on cases of tax evasion, his high praise for Margaret Thatcher, and his statements calling for Greeks to lead an “austere existence” while he posed alongside his wife for a photoshoot at his luxury residence in Athens with a view of the Acropolis and a table set with a rich lunch spread.
A scion of a family of wealthy Greek industrialists, Varoufakis is comfortable mingling with a crowd far removed from the “leftist” rhetoric he supposedly embodies. In January of 2015, just prior to that month’s elections, Varoufakis’ new book in Athens was presented by television talking head Babis Papadimitriou, infamous for proposing that the conservative New Democracy consider a future governing coalition with a “more serious” Golden Dawn, Greece’s far-right party.
This is the same Varoufakis who is now poised to “save Europe from itself” through his new pan-European “pro-democracy” movement, DiEM25. The movement claims to have a plan to “reform” EU institutions, yet ignores the deeply undemocratic, authoritarian foundations upon which it has been constructed. And it further refuses to raise the specter of abolishing the grossly neoliberal European common currency project or to advocate for the bloc’s weaker economies to depart from the eurozone, including Greece.
Even more so than Yanis Varoufakis, the political figure who has been presented as a beacon of hope and change in Greece in recent months is Zoe Konstantopoulou, president of the Hellenic Parliament during the first Syriza-led government of January to August 2015. Like Varoufakis, she stems from a prominent family: Her father, Nikos Konstantopoulos, had been the head of Syriza’s predecessor party, Synaspismos, while her mother, Lina Alexiou, is the acting president of the (essentially defunct) National Committee for Radio and Television, a rough equivalent of the United States’ FCC.
As president of the Hellenic Parliament, Konstantopoulou (via the same mass media which was purportedly battling her at every turn) engineered an image of a fierce champion of law and justice. This perception was formulated both as a result of the establishment of a parliamentary commission to audit Greece’s debt—overseen by Konstantopoulou—and by seemingly not being afraid to speak out against the male-dominated Greek political establishment.
The devil is in the details, however, and many of the details of Konstantopoulou’s tenure were overlooked. The debt audit commission began its investigation in parallel with statements repeatedly being made by Yanis Varoufakis, Prime Minister Tsipras, other Syriza government ministers, and even the newly-elected president of the Hellenic Republic, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, promising that Greece’s debt would be repaid in full.
The otherwise outspoken Konstantopoulou did not respond to these statements, nor did she address actions such as the implementation of a decree to confiscate the cash reserves of the Greek public sector for the purpose of repaying an IMF loan installment. In fact, Konstantopoulou voted for Pavlopoulos in the parliamentary vote to confirm him as the Hellenic Republic’s president, just as she voted to confirm all of the austerity bills passed by the Syriza-led government during its initial term in power.
Far from speaking out, Konstantopoulou publicly stated in May 2015 that Syriza’s pre-election promises to “tear apart the austerity agreements” were a mere “figure of speech.” These are hardly the actions of a dynamic anti-austerity advocate of justice, and neither was her show of support in favor of the Tsipras government following the betrayal of the July 5, 2015 referendum result which rejected the lenders’ austerity proposals. Instead of speaking out against the government or resigning from her post–even at that late moment, even following the passage of the third and harshest memorandum agreement to date, Konstantopoulou continued to publicly support Tsipras and the Syriza-led government, just as she, as president of parliament, never suspended parliamentary debate as further austerity bills were being debated. Konstantopoulou courageously voted “present” (as opposed to “no”) in the parliamentary vote ratifying the third memorandum agreement. The public proclamations of support for the Tsipras government only ceased when Konstantopoulou and other Syriza “renegades” were informed that they would not be included on the ballot for the September 2015 snap parliamentary elections.
This tenure has apparently served as the perfect preparation for Konstantopoulou to now swoop in and save the day for Greece and its people. This past spring, she announced the establishment of the Course of Freedom political party, which promises to deliver an end to austerity and to chart a course for a “plan B” for the country—a plan, however, which does not encompass a departure from the eurozone or the European Union, but instead proposes a parallel domestic currency in circulation alongside the euro and the likely formation of a two-tiered economy of “haves” and “have nots.”
Panagiotis Lafazanis is no stranger to the political landscape. An old mainstay of the Greek “left,” Lafazanis has passed through Greece’s Communist Party (KKE), Syriza’s predecessor party Synaspismos, and Syriza prior to founding the Popular Unity political party ahead of the September 2015 elections.
In the first Syriza-led government of January to August 2015, a particularly sensitive time for such issues in Greece, Lafazanis served as energy and environment minister. His portfolio encompassed the issue of the controversial and environmentally damaging gold-mining activities in Skouries in northern Greece, as well as the potential privatization of Greece’s largest water utilities. Syriza, prior to being elected, campaigned heavily against the activities in Skouries and against the privatization of water utilities, which Tsipras had once said would occur “over our dead body.”
While Lafazanis did suspend two licenses issued to the operators of the Skouries mine, the Canadian-owned Barrick Gold Corp., gold mining activity in the region continued, as did the government’s talks with Suez and other foreign corporations which are interested in buying up Greek water utilities. Lafazanis deliveredmixed messages, stating his opposition to the mining activities while referencing Greece’s “commitments” to its investors. Like Yanis Varoufakis and Zoe Konstantopoulou, Lafazanis voted in favor of the election of Prokopis Pavlopoulos as president of the Hellenic Republic; he also voted yes for all of the austerity bills presented by the Syriza-led government leading up to the July 5, 2015 referendum.
Like Konstantopoulou, Lafazanis also continued to support the Syriza-led government even after the betrayal of the July 5, 2015 referendum outcome. This support continued until Lafazanis, like Konstantopoulou, was not included on the Syriza ballot for the September 2015 snap elections. It was at this time that Lafazanis hastily announced the formation of Popular Unity, a purportedly anti-austerity party which essentially regurgitated the old Syriza promises from prior to its initial elections, while presenting mixed messages regarding its stance on a “Grexit” and whether Greece should remain in the eurozone or return to a domestic currency.
Far from representing truly alternative voices, Yanis Varoufakis, Zoe Konstantopoulou, and PanagiotisLafazanis have acted as political opportunists. They’ve crafted a public image as anti-austerity renegades and champions of democracy and justice, even as their real actions while in a position of power and authority belied that empty rhetoric.
This matches Syriza’s ascension to power and its current ludicrous efforts to pass off the harsh austerity and privatization regime that they are enforcing as an example of “leftist” politics and a triumph of “social justice.” It is absurd to believe that political figures who voted for and justified the policies that they are supposedly denouncing, are capable of delivering on those same promises.
Instead of placing all their hopes with the next establishment-anointed political savior or an official electoral process, Greek voters have a golden opportunity to make their voices heard and demand real change. Each day is a chance to call for an end to stifling austerity and privatizations that are further crippling the domestic economy, the much-needed reform of Greece’s corrupt justice system and collapsing educational and health care systems, and a departure from the European Union and the eurozone, two institutions which have been so destructive for Greece, its people, and its economy.
Even as more and more rumors circulating in Greece of impending snap parliamentary elections, the time has come for the people of Greece to become their own saviors rather than place their homes with tired, discredited political retreads.
The transcript of Dialogos Radio’s interview with Déborah Berman-Santana, retired professor of geography and ethnic studies at Mills College in Oakland, California. This interview aired on our broadcasts for the week of September 15-21, 2016. Find the podcast of this interview here.
MN: Joining us today on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series is Déborah Berman-Santana, recently retired professor of Geography and Ethnic Studies at Mills College in Oakland, California. Deborah will speak to us about the latest economic and political developments in Puerto Rico, which is facing an economic crisis similar to that in Greece, and she will discuss the similarities that she has seen between Puerto Rico and Greece, after spending some time in Greece recently. Deborah, welcome to our program today.
DBS: Thank you!
MN: Getting us started, describe for us the history of the economic exploitation of Puerto Rico. What has the impact of colonialism been on Puerto Rico’s economic viability?
DBS: Colonies exist so that the colonizer will benefit economically and politically. Since the U.S. invaded and occupied Puerto Rico in 1898, it has extracted profit in numerous ways: First, through converting it into a sugar colony. After World War II Puerto Rico was transformed through “Operation Bootstrap” into a special economic zone to benefit U.S. corporations under the guise of “development via export-led industrialization.” As a captive market, Puerto Rico also became the home to the most WalMarts per square meter in the world. Finally, Puerto Rico’s colonial “neither U.S. state nor independent state” political status allowed the U.S. bond market to give special exemptions to investors, which has brought Puerto Rico to its current debt “crisis.”
During the 1930s, the anti-imperialist congressman Vito Marcantonio sponsored a study which revealed that since 1898, U.S. corporations had extracted as much as $400 billion in profits from Puerto Rico. Recently, independent researchers in Puerto Rico have estimated that since the 1950s, more than half a trillion dollars has been extracted from Puerto Rico. Both estimates encompass the free usage of Puerto Rican resources and the restriction, via U.S. cabotage laws, requiring all imports and exports to use U.S. merchant marine ships and U.S. crews. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the U.S. has taken more than a trillion dollars away from its colony, which certainly dwarfs Puerto Rico’s $73 billion public debt.
MN: We are speaking with professor Déborah Berman-Santana here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview series, and Déborah, how did this ongoing exploitation contribute to the present-day “debt crisis” in Puerto Rico, and what has been the role of Washington, Wall Street, and the so-called “vulture funds” in perpetuating this crisis?
DBS: With the eventual elimination of industrial tax incentives beginning in the 1990s, Puerto Rico’s governments increasingly looked to loans to balance its budget and continue practices of rewarding political cronies with contracts for large infrastructure projects. Subsequently, President Clinton’s elimination of the Glass-Steagall Act allowed for investment bankers to increasingly engage in bond market speculation. Puerto Rico received “triple exemption” because of its colonial status, which meant that every pension fund and every municipal and state government, among others, bought Puerto Rico bonds, ignoring the fact that its economy began shrinking once the special industrial exemptions were completely eliminated in 2006.
Election of a protege of the Koch Brothers, Luis Fortuño, as Puerto Rico’s governor in 2008 resulted in a “bitter medicine” law that eliminated tens of thousands of public jobs, which accelerated the descent of an economic recession into a depression. By 2011 the major credit agencies began degrading Puerto Rico’s ratings, with the result that it increasingly resorted to short-term, high interest loans similar to “payday loans.” Bondholders increasingly unloaded their Puerto Rico bonds in the secondary bond market, which were then swooped up by vulture funders such as Paul Singer and John Paulson – often at 10 to 20 percent of the bond’s value. Today, these vulture funders possess up to 50 percent of Puerto Rico’s public debt, and are the creditors who are least willing to renegotiate the terms of the loans. They have been the major lobbyists for the Congressional law known as “PROMESA” that recently became law.
MN: “PROMESA” been touted by some as a “bailout” for Puerto Rico. What does this bill actually mean for Puerto Rico, in your view, and what is the significance of the acronym that was used, “PROMESA”?
DBS: The new law, which President Obama signed on June 30, is entitled the “Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act” (PROMESA). In Puerto Rican popular parlance, a “promesa” is a pledge that someone makes when dealing with a family crisis. The person promises to do something for the community if the crisis is resolved. Often this is an annual fiesta, including traditional music, food and drink, and may last for decades. That the U.S. Congress would give this name to a law that strips away any pretense of self-governance, [it] has caused a tremendous amount of resentment in Puerto Rico.
This law allows President Obama to appoint a seven-member board — paid for by the Puerto Rican people — which will take control of the budget, eliminate environmental laws, dismiss public employees, abolish public agencies, cut the minimum wage by half for young workers, close schools and hospitals, increase utility bills, and cut pensions. These measures are justified by the priority of making payments on the public debt. There is no provision for economic development or restructuring of the public debt, let alone canceling it. There is no acknowledgment that such measures are likely to greatly increase emigration of working age Puerto Ricans while severely deteriorating quality of life for those who remain. Any “bailout” that might occur as a result seems directed only at the Wall Street vultures who now control most of the debt.
On August 31 President Obama announced the names of the members of the junta. Four were born in Puerto Rico. Two of those were in the government of former Puerto Rico governor Fortuño. One of them, Carlos “Caco” García (his nickname, used in Puerto Rico to refer to criminals) was directly involved in the “bitter medicine” law in 2009 that began massive layoffs of public employees, and was also responsible for billions of dollars of short maturity bonds that have now virtually bankrupted the government development bank. Were it not for such actions it’s possible that the “promesa law” would not have been exacted. Was he named to cover up the tracks of his patrons? Certainly, he was not chosen for fiscal responsibility. Among the other three junta members is Andrew Biggs, who is known for crusading in favor of privatizing Social Security and other public pension funds It is not difficult to imagine what role he will likely play in Puerto Rico.
MN: We are on the air with professor Déborah Berman-Santana here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview series, and Déborah, There’s a lot that has been written about the economic crisis in Puerto Rico recently, including a report by the Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM), which has also written about the Greek debt in the past as well. What do you make of these reports, and were any Puerto Rican economists given the opportunity to provide their own input into these reports?
DBS: CADTM’s article was odd in that there did not appear to be any effort to read up or try to understand Puerto Rico, but simply to use information from Europe and change names where needed. For example, it referred to Puerto Rico as a member of the “Commonwealth of the United States,” an entity that does not exist (unlike, for example, the British Commonwealth). Puerto Rico is defined by the U.S. as a “territory belonging to, but not part of, the United States”, with not a single iota of sovereignty. A White House report on Puerto Rico in 2006 claimed that the U.S. could give Puerto Rico away to another country should it choose to do so. The term “commonwealth” is used for Puerto Rico to give the illusion that Puerto Rico achieved some form of self-governance in 1952, which resulted in the United Nations removing it from their list of colonies. There has been a movement to get Puerto Rico reinstated to that list for decades.
Another weakness of CADTM’s analysis was its use of secondary sources of statistics about Puerto Rico, such as the Pew Foundation, instead of Puerto Rico’s own government, or any of several Puerto Rican independent research institutes. Perhaps most egregious of all is that it does not mention the fact that, as a colony with no sovereignty, all of Puerto Rico’s public debt may be considered illegal. One might presume that an international organization dedicated to cancellation of debt would know that it was the successful insistence by the U.S. in 1898 that Cuba did not need to pay any of its debts because they were contracted by Spain, that helped shaped the concept of odious debt. I am not sure of the purpose of CADTM’s article — I hesitate to call it a “report” — other than to jump on the Puerto Rico misinformation bandwagon.
MN: In what ways has the colonial administration of Puerto Rico made the island economically dependent on the United States, and how does this dependency impact the national psyche of Puerto Ricans?
DBS: There used to be a geography book, written by a North American named Muller, which was the first textbook studied in all Puerto Rican schools. The first sentence read: “Puerto Rico is a small, overpopulated, poor island, lacking in natural resources, which cannot survive without the United States.” Puerto Rico has served as a laboratory for generations of U.S. academics, most of whom were awarded government and foundation grants to prove that Puerto Rico and its people were geologically, biologically, and socially inferior. Their claims were often absurd, such as that Puerto Ricans were afraid of the sea and that there [are] hardly any fish in the surrounding Caribbean — both of which could easily be disproved — or that somehow Puerto Rico’s rich soils could not feed the population, which was not the case until most arable land was diverted to sugar cane and later covered in cement for the industrialization strategy.
Puerto Ricans were constantly told to look to the U.S. for all sources of innovation and progress, and warned that independence would be economically and socially disastrous. A favorite slogan was, “Where would we be without her?” alongside the U.S, flag. Never mind that all of the disastrous economic and social consequences about which we were warned, have occurred precisely because of our colonial relationship to the U.S. You simply cannot extract the amount of profits from a country that the U.S. has taken from Puerto Rico, plus restrict our ability to protect our own resources or capital, and expect to have a positive economic result.
MN: We are speaking with professor Déborah Berman-Santana here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview series, and Déborah, describe for us the political system of Puerto Rico, the major political parties, and to what extent the island enjoys any degree of “self-governance.”
DBS: For the first 50 years after the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico, the president named a governor and most directors of government agencies. Since the establishment of the “Associated Free State” (commonwealth) in 1952, Puerto Rico has elected its own governor and legislature, as well as a non-voting representative to the U.S. Congress. Elections are held every four years. The two majority parties are the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP) and the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), which favors the current status with greater autonomy. The Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), once the second-largest party, has been relegated by decades of political repression and extreme factionalism among pro-independence and left organizations to the status of a small party that barely manages to elect some representatives at municipal and island-wide levels. There is also a Puerto Rican court system, using only Spanish and based on Roman law, as is true of Latin American countries, which, however, is subordinate to the English-only U.S. federal court, located in the U.S. federal building in San Juan, a concrete reinforced stronghold that is the official seat of U.S. colonial rule.
The Puerto Rican government has not had the power to truly protect local businesses against product dumping from U.S. companies, nor to make economic treaties with other countries without U.S. approval. However, it has had control over its budget and taxes, which both majority parties have used to curry political favor with contractors and corporate sponsors. This has encouraged a culture of corruption, which would appear to confirm the dominant narrative, that Puerto Ricans lack the capacity to properly govern themselves. But at no time since 1898 has any Puerto Rican government been able to exercise sovereign decision-making against the wishes of Washington. That the so-called “commonwealth” did not change its status was confirmed by two rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court in June, one of which dealt with Puerto Rico’s exemption from use of Chapter 9 bankruptcy while at the same time nixing its government’s attempt to write its own bankruptcy law. Briefly, the Supreme Court affirmed that Puerto Rico lacked even the limited sovereignty that a U.S. Indian tribe might possess, and that Puerto Rico’s constitution had about as much validity as the Puerto Rican peso had after the U.S. takeover. In addition, President Obama said that “there is no alternative” to the PROMESA bill and the imposition of a junta, which of course means that Puerto Rico’s elected government, laws, and constitution mean nothing.
MN: What do you make of the summertime visit of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to Puerto Rico and what came out of this visit?
DBS: Sanders’ primary campaign strategy was to attract independents to vote for him in the primaries. Even though Puerto Ricans and other residents of U.S. colonies do not vote for president and have no voting representation in Congress, they do have delegates to the Democratic and Republican conventions and so usually hold primaries. By far the largest of the colonies in terms of population is Puerto Rico, and so Sanders’ strategy was to encourage independentistas — supporters of independence who do not vote in U.S. primaries — to vote for him. In his congressional career Sanders had never appeared to be aware of Puerto Rico’s existence, yet suddenly he was promoted as a “savior” who would decolonize Puerto Rico, all based upon his criticism of Wall Street and a supposed reputation as a “radical leftist.” Sanders never could bring himself to mention the “c” word — colony — when speaking about his country’s relationship with Puerto Rico. More than once he referred to Puerto Rico as a “protectorate,” and his harshest words accused Washington of using the PROMESA bill to “treat Puerto Rico as a colony” — without, of course, admitting that Puerto Rico already is a colony! Unfortunately, colonies foster colonized mentalities, so Sanders did manage to divide independentistas yet again, when what is most needed at this time is unity.
Sanders introduced an alternative bill to PROMESA in the Senate after PROMESA had already been approved by the House of Representatives and endorsed by Obama, so his bill did not even get a hearing. The proposed bill itself was a hodgepodge of measures that may have been marginally better in economic terms, but it also included a section on holding yet another referendum on political status — though at least five have already been held. It provided detailed instructions on how to fast-track statehood, should that option win, but nothing about U.S. responsibility for ensuring free determination and indemnification for eventual independence. I should also add that many U.S. politicians, from George Bush and Ted Kennedy to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, have made extravagant promises while campaigning for Puerto Rican delegates to their parties’ conventions. In sum, Sanders used Puerto Rico exactly as have other U.S. politicians before him.
MN: We are on the air with professor Déborah Berman-Santana here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview series, and Déborah, how is the issue of independence viewed in Puerto Rico today, and how has Washington typically responded to the independence movement?
DBS: There have been independence movements in Puerto Rico ever since the 19th century, when Spain was still the colonial power. Since the 1898 invasion, Washington has combined violent repression of independence groups with selective co-option of broad sectors of Puerto Rican society, using church officials and entrepreneurs, politicians and civil society leaders to divide Puerto Ricans against each other while promoting Uncle Sam as benefactor. Neighbors were paid to spy and report on every aspect of the lives of independence supporters, while many lost their jobs or were expelled from universities. Leaders were often arrested on a variety of charges, and many served long prison sentences. Not even leaving Puerto Rico for the diaspora exempted them from persecution. For example, Oscar López Rivera is currently imprisoned, having served 35 years of a 55-year sentence for “seditious conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government and its territories” — in other words, for struggling for Puerto Rican independence. Oscar grew up in Chicago, and has not been accused nor convicted of any violent act, yet his refusal to defend himself in a U.S. criminal court, and demand that he be tried as a political prisoner in an international tribunal helped lead to such a disproportionately long sentence. There is currently an international campaign to pressure President Obama to release Oscar from prison before the president leaves office. Many countries – including Greece – have held events in support, and important figures such as Bishop Desmond Tutu and Uruguay President Pepe Mujica have advocated directly for his release. In Puerto Rico support is massive and includes all political and social sectors.
Puerto Ricans as a whole do not support independence, at least not openly, because they have been taught that Puerto Rico has no choice but to be associated with the U.S., either as a state or in some kind of autonomous association. Yet every single environmental, social, political and cultural struggle and campaign has had independence supporters as key members. Puerto Rican pride and self-identification with a Puerto Rican nationality is much broader than open support for independence. It is obvious in sports, in music, in cultural celebrations, even in jokes and everyday life. Even many statehood supporters will often refer to Puerto Rico as their nation, as contradictory as that may sound to outsiders. Especially given the recent actions of the U.S. government — and the realization by many Puerto Ricans that Uncle Sam does not have their best interests in mind, it would be interesting to see if support for independence would increase, should a serious proposal include some indemnification by the U.S. for over a century of colonial rule.
MN: The “PROMESA” bill has triggered a wave of demonstrations in Puerto Rico all throughout the summer months, which are continuing up until now. How have these protests taken shape?
DBS: As soon as Obama signed the bill, a number of organizations set up a “civil disobedience encampment” in front of the main entrance to the federal building in San Juan. This is a very common feature of activism in Puerto Rico, as it serves as a semi-permanent focus for education, organizing, and resistance, and has been used to block environmentally dangerous projects as well as the U.S. Navy’s former bombing range on Vieques Island. The encampment has been continuously occupied since the end of June, and is a focus for seminars, cultural events, picketing, and “community building.” For now, the Puerto Rican police have said they do not plan to remove the protesters, although federal agents often conduct provocative actions, such as blasting diesel generators near the tents and walking bomb-sniffing dogs through the encampment.
On August 31 there were massive protests which successfully blocked a planned conference by the colonial Chamber of Commerce to promote business opportunities under “promesa.” It was very inspring to see union members, students, women’s groups, and others join together to resist the attempts of opportunists to profit from a dictatorial imposition. The most dramatic monent came when hundreds of riot police tried to force the protesters out of the street, but were pushed back by people of all ages despite batons, pepper spray, and brute force. Several days later protesters forced the largest Walmart in Puerto Rico to close early. This took place on “Labor Day” which was renamed “Unemployment Day” since Walmart has destroyed thousands of local businesses. (There are more Walmarts per square meter in Puerto Rico than anywhere else in the world; it receives incentives and went to federal court to validate its refusal to pay a reasonable amount of taxes in Puerto Rico.)
Other protests include a massive and broad-based movement against a plan by the U.S. government to use military planes to fumigate all of Puerto Rico with dangerous pesticides, supposedly to kill mosquitos carrying the Zika virus. To this are added a large number of ongoing protests and campaigns, all of which now refer to the coming junta de control as possibly complicating even more the scenario. Activists in the large Puerto Rican diaspora also hold seminars and stage protests, many times in coordination with the groups in Puerto Rico. Of course, most Puerto Ricans are not protesters, and [they] try to go about their daily lives while listening with alarm, resignation, or both to the news. Puerto Rican activist organizations face many challenges as they try to work through decades-long factionalism and develop more effective ways to educate the public. Most of all, the challenge is to not burn out, and convince others that there is hope!
MN: We are speaking with professor Déborah Berman-Santana here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview series, and Déborah, describe the difficulties in forming alliances in Puerto Rico today, within this fractured and divided political landscape that you have described.
DBS: Pro-independence organizations in Puerto Rico have always suffered from severe repression, including efforts by the colonizers — both Spain and the U.S. — to infiltrate and divide them. Some of the earliest campaigns by the FBI upon its establishment in 1908 included the criminalization and repression of independence activism in Puerto Rico, and such activities continue today. Recent examples include grabbing well-known activists in the street and forcing them to give DNA samples for supposed “ongoing terrorism investigations.” This operation included activists who had previously been imprisoned, and for whom the U.S. government would already have had DNA samples. This is just one example of a century-long campaign of repression that has included murders, disappearances, long incarceration, blacklisting, and spying. The Puerto Rican government has also been complicit in the criminalization of independence, including creating discord among activists and organizations.
However, we cannot simply blame outside forces for the divided state of independence and left activism. Besides the personal antagonisms — many of which are due to the same societal ills that afflict leftist organizations, such as sexism — there are also ideological disputes, such as the roles of nationalism and socialism in colonial struggles. One new political party, for example, declines to take a position on Puerto Rican political status even though most of its leaders have been identified as independentistas. They expect that by doing so they can attract pro-statehood workers to vote for them. I would argue that it would repel more statehood supporters, because they would be seen as dishonest. Of course, this divides the votes of those who no longer want to vote for the two majority parties. The Puerto Rican Independence Party is running a full slate of candidates and is trying to position itself as the alternative. But they have in the past been quite sectarian and have alienated many independentistas. Despite such divisions, we have seen many activities that include representatives of both parties, as well as other independence and left organizations. This indicates that many understand that somehow we need to overcome our divisions, if not our disagreements.
MN: Puerto Rico has often been described as the “Greece of the Caribbean.” You have had the opportunity to visit Greece twice in the past year, including this past summer. How similar are the crises in the two nations in your view?
DBS: I would say they are strikingly similar, and in fact that the same playbook is being used in both countries, despite the differences between them. For example, the acronym TINA, “There Is No Alternative” to continued policies of austerity, privatization, and increased taxes in order to pay off an unsustainable public debt, is constantly repeated, as is the myth that “There is no Plan B,” and that political independence for both (in Greece’s case, leaving the European Union and the eurozone) would be disastrous — as if U.S. and EU colonial rule is not already a disaster! In Greece there is a proposal for an eight-member junta de control fiscal named by the EU which must approve — and often even write — laws that the Greek government must implement, such as automatic budget cuts and further privatizations. While as a classic colony Puerto Rico cannot officially deal with the IMF, in practice the PROMESA bill follows the IMF playbook, as was prescribed by “former” IMF officials who were hired by the Puerto Rican government — as ordered by their masters in Washington — to produce a report with recommendations for dealing with the debt crisis. In addition, you see “vulture capitalists” such as Paul Singer and John Paulson swooping into both Greece and Puerto Rico to buy up assets such as banks and land, plus debt — at a discount. The fact that Puerto Rico is a classic colony actually makes the problems of lack of sovereignty much clearer. Greece is still officially an independent country, so for some people its de facto colonial status may not be quite as clear. Also, the problem of equating national sovereignty with fascism is particularly acute in Greece as a European country. In Puerto Rico we have some of that confusion, but it is not as strong since in general Latin Americans, including Puerto Ricans, understand the necessity for national sovereignty as part of anti-colonial struggles.
MN: We are on the air with professor Déborah Berman-Santana here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview series, and Déborah, in your estimation, what is the best solution for Puerto Rico and its people, economically and politically?
DBS: The international community recognizes the right of all peoples to self-determination, including freely and unilaterally choosing their political status. There are three recognized statuses: first, union with another independent state under conditions of equality; second, association with another state, with the right to unilaterally change its status; and independence. The U.S. has historically added new states whose native populations have been reduced to a small and powerless minority. The three Associated Republics of Micronesia complain of a lack of sovereignty and the unwillingness of the U.S. to renegotiate their compacts. There is zero interest in the U.S. to add a new state comprised of Spanish-speaking people with a distinctly different culture, and which additionally has a per capita income less than half of Mississippi, the poorest state in the Union. I believe that political independence represents the only possibility for Puerto Rico to exercise its sovereignty, and it should be accomplished — with international pressure — as part of a negotiation that includes indemnification for more than a century of colonial exploitation. Certainly, Puerto Rico’s colonial debt belongs to the colonizer. Far from seeing independence as “separation,” I would argue that it would actually open up Puerto Rico to the rest of the world, instead of being chained behind the iron curtain of U.S. rule. There is a saying in Latin America that its independence will not be complete without Puerto Rico, and I believe that time is now.
MN: Before wrapping up, do you have any message that you would like to share with our listeners and with the Greek people?
DBS: I would say that I appreciate the solidarity of the people in Greece, much solidarity and much understanding that they showed towards Puerto Rico that they showed during my visits there. I would encourage the people in Greece to not give up hope, and to not accept the notion that there is no alternative to the ongoing loss of sovereignty and the ongoing economic deterioration that you are facing. There’s always hope, but also, love of country is not necessarily fascist. I have to say that here in Puerto Rico as well, and basically, free people in free countries, individual freedom and freedom of people go together. I don’t think you can separate one from the other. I have much love for the people in Greece and for people in solidarity everywhere. Viva Puerto Rico libre!
MN: Well Déborah, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series, and for sharing with us your experiences from both Puerto Rico and Greece.
DBS: Thank you very much.
Originally published at MintPressNews:
Rather than casting off the shackles of the EU, eurozone and IMF, the Syriza-led Greek government favors the ‘oligarchs’ it once vowed to tear down and doubles down on austerity measures, leaving Greek people to suffer through a modern colonial nightmare.
ATHENS — (Analysis) Stories of human suffering continue to multiply in present-day Greece, which is loosely governed by the “first time left” government of Syriza and more directly by the European institutions and the International Monetary Fund.
In the city of Patra, an elderly woman whose only source of income is her severely battered pension, from which she supports her two grandchildren, had her electricity service cut in the presence of a police SWAT team, despite her reliance on an oxygen concentrator to live. Her son was arrested for protesting the action and brought before a prosecutor.
Police in the city of Katerini, implementing the government’s crusade against purported “tax evaders” to the letter, arrested a father of three, whose spouse is unemployed, for selling pastries on the street without a license, fining him €5,000 ($5,627) for the infraction. The man is well-known in his community for donating his unsold pastries to local children and a local home for seniors at the end of each day.
I’ve also heard the story of an impoverished cancer patient in Thessaloniki, who, according to the eyes of the law, was another one of those lazy, corrupt Greeks guilty of dipping their hands too deeply into the public trough. Her meal card which allowed her to eat at a local soup kitchen was revoked, simply because she was concurrently receiving state aid for being a cancer patient.
On the island of Samos, a short distance from the Turkish coast, uniformed German police freely patrol the streets of the main town, Vathi, purportedly on the lookout for refugees, while German coast guard boats sit docked in the harbor. A few kilometers away, in the mountain village of Manolates, residents and shopkeepers listen to Turkish music on the radio—as no reception of Greek broadcasters was possible.
Finally, in my own neighborhood in Athens, 17 out of 22 storefronts lie vacant in a three-block stretch, “for rent” signs fading slowly from view. A once-beautiful park and playground lies vacant, entrances chained shut, while overgrown weeds cover this former piece of urban green space.
None of these stories are likely to make it into Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ forthcoming state of the union speech at the Thessaloniki Trade Fair. The prime minister is much more likely to tell us that unemployment has purportedly decreased, that Greece has emerged from recession (just as it supposedly did in 2014), that industrial production has dramatically increased, that the country is returning to economic growth, and that it is pursuing closer defense and military ties with the United States and NATO.
Reality, however, is much more grim. In May, without parliamentary debate, the Syriza-led government passed a 7,500 page omnibus bill that transferred control over Greece’s public assets to a fund controlled by the European Stability Mechanism for the next 99 years.
These assets include airports, harbors, public beaches and coastline, and natural resources.
Earlier this year, 14 profitable regional airports were sold to the German publicly-owned corporation Fraport, while a majority stake in the port of Piraeus, one of the largest ports in Europe, was sold to Chinese-owned Cosco for €365 million—equal to 15 days’ worth of debt repayments—while its facilities alone are valued at more than €5 billion. The national railway, TRAINOSE, including all infrastructure and trains, was sold to Italy’s Ferrovie Dello Stato Italiane for a mere €45 million, with the company’s debt was written off as part of the sale. The site of the former international airport of Athens, once slated to become Europe’s largest urban park, was sold to a consortium of investors from Greece, China, and the United Arab Emirates, led by the Latsis family of Greek shipping tycoons, who plan to construct luxury resorts and shopping malls on the site.
In May, Syriza’s cabinet presented plans to sell a 49-percent stake in the water utilities of Athens and Thessaloniki, plus 18 additional privatizations instead of the nine initially agreed to with creditors in the third memorandum. Prior to being elected in January 2015, Syriza promised to put an end to the privatization of public assets, and it vowed not to privatize water in its September 2015 platform.
Nevertheless, the Syriza government has committed to completing the privatization of numerous key assets, including the natural gas utility and the state’s stake in Athens’ Eleftherios Venizelos international airport, by November.
Also as part of the omnibus bill, the Greek parliament rendered itself voteless, as the legislation annuls the role of parliament to create a national budget or pass tax legislation. In earlier legislation, the government had agreed to submit all pending bills to the group of lenders known as the “troika” (European Commission, European Central Bank, and the IMF) for approval, reminiscent of the German Reichstag’s willful relinquishment of legislative power to then-Chancellor Adolf Hitler in 1933.
Further illustrating just how much sovereignty has been stripped from the Greek state, the omnibus legislation also foresees the activation of automatic spending cuts, including salaries, without any parliamentary intervention if Greece fails to achieve targets for a primary surplus. In order to attain a primary surplus, spending has already been slashed dramatically, furthering the spiral of austerity Tsiprashad once promised to end with “one law and one article.”
Instead of austerity being abolished with one law and one article, Greek citizens have a new, crippling tax avalanche to look forward to beginning this autumn. On Aug. 29, this year’s unified property tax (ENFIA) was sent out to all property owners, with seven in ten businesses facing an increase this year. This is the same tax which members of the Syriza-Independent Greeks coalition government had denounced prior to being elected, claiming it was unconstitutional, promising to repeal it once in office, and instructing citizenson how to avoid paying it.
Once Syriza and the Independent Greeks came to power, however, payment of the ENFIA was described by the government as a “patriotic duty.”
Meanwhile, the Greek government is preparing to introduce a nationwide “asset registry” for taxation purposes, in which citizens will be obliged to declare not only their incomes and real estate, but everything from jewelry to family heirlooms, and even the amount of cash in their possession. This Orwellian measure will be supplemented by a national transaction registry, where essentially every bank transaction and purchase from each citizen will be tracked. Within five years, owners of homes and commercial buildings will be required to hire civil engineers to submit detailed blueprints and videos of their structures in order obtain a “structural identification” certificate—or risk steep fines or demolition.
These new taxes and measures are set to be enforced despite the growing inability of citizens and businesses to pay. The first half of 2016 saw a €1 billion shortfall in the collection of the value-added tax, while €272 million worth of income taxes for this year—about 25 percent of total expected revenue—remains unpaid. This is not due to a purported culture of “tax evasion,” but due to declining incomes and a general inability to pay.
Evidence of citizens’ inability to pay abounds. Deposits in Greece’s shattered banking system declined by €160 million in July alone. The number of employed people not being paid has reached 1 million, and 500,000 Greeks are paid less than €412 per month for their labor.
Eurostat figures from the fourth quarter of 2015 show that just 4.3 percent of the unemployed in Greece were able to find jobs. Greek families, who once took pride in passing property down from generation to generation, leading to the highest rate of homeownership in Europe, now find themselves rejecting inheritances from deceased relatives in record numbers, due to the tremendous tax burden.
Further fueling the oncoming storm, the Syriza government has committed to sweeping home foreclosures and auctions this autumn, while confiscations of funds from ever-dwindling bank accounts for unpaid debts to the state continue unabated. The government estimates it will collect over €2 billion from these confiscations by the end of the year.
In the meantime, the omnibus bill passed in May lowered the basic pension to a paltry €345-384 per month, while the value-added tax on many basic goods, including necessities like soap, was hiked to 24 percent. Following the initial slashing of basic pensions by up to 48 percent in June, aid for poor families and the disabled has been slashed almost in half beginning with this month’s payments.
Supplementary pensions for 150,000 recipients have been cut further, by as much as 38 percent, with further reductions slated for October. In response to the cuts, Giorgos Katrougalos, the labor minister who participated in the 2011 protests of the anti-austerity “indignants,” stated that the new system will “protect all Greeks from poverty,” adding that had pensions not been reduced, they would not be issued at all. Not convinced, pensioners have already begun to protest outside government ministries.
Meanwhile, the number of households which qualify for subsidized heating oil has been cut in half, the fuel and oil tax has once again been hiked, co-payments on prescription drugs covered by public insurance funds have been raised by 25 percent, while suffering small businesses have been further burdened by an increase in their tax rate from 26 percent to 29 percent. In a recent televised interview, Syriza MP Hara Kafantaristated that “the days where a shop owner was his own boss are over.” This perhaps helps explain why Greece’s burgeoning startup scene is being driven out amid Syriza’s excessive and unpredictable taxation.
Syriza’s recent licensing bid for national television broadcasters is emblematic of its reign in office thus far. Diaploki is a Greek word which perfectly sums up the triangle of corruption and interplay between major political and business interests and the state. One of Syriza’s numerous pre-election pledges was to rout the “oligarchs” who control the media and much of the economy and put an end to this diaploki.
On Sept. 1, the Syriza-led government triumphantly claimed to have fulfilled this promise through the completion of the auctioning process for four licenses for national “general-interest” television stations. This announcement was accompanied by claims that “fairness” and “rule of law” had been “restored” after 27 years of “lawlessness” on the Greek airwaves (broadcasters have up until now been operating under a framework of provisional legality).
In Greece, the rabbit hole of diaploki runs deep—and this has not changed in the slightest during Syriza’s reign. The bidding process was both farcical and inhuman: The bidders were said to have been locked in isolated rooms in the headquarters of the Greek Secretariat for Press and Media, without any ability to communicate with each other or with the outside world for 70 hours, purportedly to ensure a “clean” bidding process.
In reality, though, the process was rife with illegalities, contradictions, inconsistencies, and absurdities, and it completely lacked transparency. It has also put six of Greece’s eight largest private television broadcasters in danger of being forced off the airwaves by the year’s end, including the top station in the ratings, Alpha TV.
Most significantly, perhaps, is the fact that the licensing process was conducted by the government itself, instead of by Greece’s independent licensing body for broadcasters, the National Commission for Radio-Television (NCRTV), which has remained defunct for most of the past year. This contradicts both the Greek constitution and European regulations which call for licensing processes to be conducted by independent bodies. The bid was based on the false premise that there were only enough frequencies available to license four national privately-owned broadcasters—two frequencies with two HD outlets each.
Further, while the government has repeatedly hinted that licenses for national “thematic” (special-interest stations) will be issued, it has not stated when this will happen, how many licenses will be issued, or through which process.
This immediately contradicts the government’s claim that, aside from technical reasons, the number of national general-interest licenses was limited to four due to the limited size of the Greek advertising market and the purported desire to ensure economically “viable” licensees.
How could bidders gauge their viability and bid accordingly, without knowing what the future marketplace will look like?
Adding to the confusion, upon completion of the licensing process, the government announced that it is pushing back the licensing process for “thematic” stations indefinitely and intends to instead focus next on the licensing of regional broadcasters through a similar process which would put most of Greece’s 100-plus regional stations at risk of being forced off the air. Already having been battered by the economic crisis, these regional stations would be unable to afford the steep cost of participating in the bidding process.
Following this, thematic licenses may be issued on a national basis, while similar licensing procedures for radio have been forewarned.
The licensing process also does not include any criteria whatsoever for the quality of programming, for balanced news presentation, or for public service programming. The only criterion which mattered was money, and with a limited amount of licenses being issued, the cost of each license was artificially driven upward, ensuring only the deepest of deep pockets–oligarchs, in other words–could participate.
It also ensured that should this licensing process be finalized and not legally struck down, Greece might just become the first country where fewer television stations will remain on the air in the digital era, instead of more.
Syriza has repeatedly promised to “clean up” the airwaves and end diaploki. But just who are the oligarchs who successfully bid for licenses? Two of them, Giannis Alafouzos and Theodoros Kyriakou, own incumbent broadcasters Skai TV and Antenna TV, respectively. These two stations led the vociferous “pro-yes” media brigade prior to the July 2015 referendum.
Alafouzos, a shipowner, was found to be in possession of over €50 million in undeclared funds and had his assets frozen last month, pending an investigation for tax evasion. One of Skai’s main commentators, Bambis Papadimitriou, is notorious for having suggested that the previous conservative government of New Democracy could benefit from forming a coalition with a “serious” Golden Dawn, Greece’s far-right party.
Antenna TV, like Skai, is owned by a family of shipping and oil magnates. Antenna Group’s investments span multiple industries and over a dozen countries, while the station’s founder, Minos Kyriakou, has had his share of legal troubles in the past, including a jail sentence for illegal structures constructed in the resort region of Porto Heli (this sentence was later appealed down to a fine). Antenna, like Skai, also vehemently supported the pro-austerity “yes” vote in the 2015 referendum, likening the “yes” versus “no” option to a choice between being like Europe or “becoming Zimbabwe.”
The cases of the other two licensees, neither of whom are currently in possession of a television station, are even more egregious. One of the winning bidders is Vaggelis Marinakis, a shipping mogul and football magnate, who is facing at least five criminal investigations on charges ranging from match-fixing to directing a criminal organization.
Marinakis is also said to have been involved in the case of the “Noor 1,” a ship which Greek authorities found to be transporting 2.1 tons of heroin and which may be linked to Marinakis through close associates of his. Marinakis is a city councilman in Piraeus, while his right-hand man from the Olympiacos football club, Yannis Moralis, is mayor. Together, they exert control over the municipal radio station of Piraeus, Kanali 1. On Tuesday, prosecutors in Greece recommended that Marinakis be jailed pending trial on charges of match-fixing.
But perhaps the most flagrant case of all is that of Christos Kalogritsas, a former publisher-turned-construction magnate, and his son, Ioannis-Vladimiros Kalogritsas. Christos Kalogritsas’ construction firm, Toxotis S.A., is the recipient of numerous state contracts issued by the Syriza-led government for public works projects throughout Greece.
Toxotis S.A. recently purchased Medousa, a competing construction firm. It was formerly known as Tsipras ATE and owned by Pavlos Tsipras, father of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Christos Kalogritsas and his wife are currently facing civil and criminal charges for an alleged €51 million in unpaid taxes, while employees at Toxotis S.A. have previously gone on strike over six months of unpaid wages. The Kalogritsas family also owns significant shares in Attica Bank, one of the banks which has been repeatedly recapitalized by Greek taxpayers.
It is from Attica Bank that Ioannis-Vladimiros Kalogritsas provided a letter of guarantee worth €3 million in order to participate in the television licensing bid. This letter was submitted past the deadline set by the government for participation in the bid, but was nevertheless accepted.
Additionally, Christos Kalogritsas has close ties to current defense minister, Panos Kammenos; the current minister of infrastructure, transport and networks, Christos Spirtzis (whose ministry oversees public works projects and matters pertaining to broadcast frequency allocation); and celebrity television personality Nikos Evaggelatos. Kalogritsas is also said to maintain a “brotherly” friendship with current minister of state, Nikos Pappas, who oversaw the television licensing process. He is also a primary shareholder of polling firm GPO, one of the many Greek polling firms which receives state funding and which has repeatedly produced grossly inaccurate public opinion and exit poll results.
Further adding to the web of corruption, both Marinakis and the Kalogritsas family are represented by the attorney Giannis Mantzouranis. Mantzouranis also happened to represent the Greek state in the recent television licensing process. Clearly, conflicts of interest are not a concern for Syriza. In the late 1980s, Mantzouranis had been jailed as part of the wide-ranging Koskotas money-laundering scandal.
He is also one of the attorneys of investigative journalist-turned-Syriza cheerleader Kostas Vaxevanis, who through his involvement in the HellasNet network of regional television stations, stands to be one of the beneficiaries of any bid for regional TV licenses.
While Syriza is making triumphant claims of “restoring rule of law” in the television landscape, its own party-owned radio station, Sto Kokkino, went on the air illegally in 2005 after purchasing the frequency of a radio station that went unlicensed during a 2001 bid (when, again, there were claims that there was “no room” for more stations). The station in question, NRG 105.5 FM, which is under the same ownership as Athens’ Kiss FM, had illegally returned to the airwaves.
In 2006 and 2007, Sto Kokkino was shut down by authorities for broadcasting without a license, but the New Democracy government under Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis later passed a law which legalized party-owned broadcast stations, permitting them to operate without a license. Sto Kokkino was therefore “legalized.”
Meanwhile, Syriza continues to enforce a law passed by the previous conservative government which allows broadcast stations classified as “news” stations to switch classifications to “non-news,” but which does not provide the same privilege to “non-news” stations which wish to switch to news programming, thus creating a closed broadcast news marketplace. Sto Kokkino’s subsidiary stations throughout Greece violate this rule, but rather than changing the law and creating a level playing field, as Syriza is claiming to be doing now with the television licensing process, it keeps this blatantly undemocratic law as is and simply violates it for its own ends.
All of this has taken place while the NCRTV remains defunct, with no frequency table having been publicized for television stations, and with 1,000-2,000 employees in the television sector facing unemployment if their stations are forced to close. This would also create a restricted and highly centralized and controlled television market. Prime Minister Tsipras, in a recent speech celebrating the opening of a new stretch of highway (constructed by Toxotis S.A.), promised to turn over the €246 million in revenue from the licensing bid “to the poor.”
Of course, this assumes that money, which would be paid in three annual installments and only if the stations are profitable, is ever paid. Even so, EU officials have already stated that it will go toward Greece’scommitments to its lenders, not to the impoverished. They’ve also questioned the licensing process itself.
Tsipras also omitted from his speech the loss of tax receipts and insurance fund contributions from the six stations slated to shut down, and the combined €700 million in debts they owe to Greek banks, which would likely go unpaid if they go off the air and be thrust upon the shoulders of Greek taxpayers instead via yet another recapitalization.
Make no mistake: Syriza’s “efforts” are not just contained to broadcast licensing. Syriza intends to create astate-run body to allocate advertising across media outlets, retaining a 30-percent commission for the state. Earlier in the year, government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili announced the government’s intention to “restore order to the internet,” beginning with the creation of a registry of online news outlets and blogs. Registration was mandatory for all outlets which wished to be considered for state advertising expenditures—an easy way for any government to pay its way into the hearts of media owners.
Another way is through patronage, as in the case of Giorgos Christoforidis, publisher of the (once) anti-austerity newspaper To Xoni and former candidate for parliament with the Independent Greeks. Christoforidis was appointed to a post in the government’s press office while continuing to publish To Xoni.
In the meantime, the Syriza-led government continues to operate with stunning arrogance and insensitivity. Proclamations are made for the “record” number of tourists visiting Greece—even while most tourist resort towns lay idle during the tourist season. In Samos, patrolled by German police, there were not many refugees in sight—nor many tourists. The vice president of the Syriza government, Giannis Dragasakis, hasstated that it was a mistake for Syriza to have “demonized” the word “memorandum.”
Syriza MP Makis Balaouras recently claimed that “austerity is not in Syriza’s DNA.” Economist Rania Antonopoulou, who holds the ironic portfolio of “alternate minister for combating unemployment,” recently wrote in the Syriza-owned Avgi newspaper that “the third memorandum has strengthened Greece’s position.” Nikos Xydakis, the foreign minister, recently said that Greece has renounced much of its national sovereignty. In a “let ‘em eat cake” moment, Deputy Minister for Social Solidarity Theano Fotiou remarkedthat “stuffed peppers could feed an entire family.” The start of the football season has been postponed, purportedly to stamp out corruption stemming from the same “oligarchs” who received television licenses.
Defense Minister Panos Kammenos has proposed the construction of a NATO base in the southern Aegean island of Karpathos, while German-owned Fraport is preparing to install a new €13 per passenger tax at the regional airports it now controls. Over the summer, the government proudly proclaimed the “loosening” of stifling capital controls—as the restriction on bank withdrawals was changed from a €420 weekly limit, to an €840 cap every two weeks. Do the math. Schools go without janitorial staffs, university restrooms without toilet paper.
All of this while there is nary a thought of departing the eurozone or following the example of British votersand waving goodbye to the EU. The signs were there about Syriza, its neoliberal tendencies, and the ensuing betrayal of its pre-election promises. Some warned about Syriza again, and again, and again, but those warnings fell on deaf ears.
Most of the world celebrated Syriza’s victory in January 2015, while “leftist” media outlets and commentators ranging from Democracy Now! to Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and others, have long forgotten about Greece or have excused away Syriza’s betrayal as simply the result of being “bullied” and “blackmailed” by the EU—which Greece must nevertheless remain a part of at “all costs.”
In this modern-day debt colony the “leftist” government has demonstrated an astonishing arrogance in not only violating its pre-election promises and July 2015 referendum result, and agreeing to a third—and the most onerous to date—austerity program, but also continuing to pretend that it is acting in a “leftist” and “progressive” manner.
All the while, it’s keeping Greece firmly shackled to the chains of the EU, eurozone, and IMF, while the Greek people seemingly have lost their pluck, devoid of any fight, resigned to their EU shackles.
Michael Nevradakis is a PhD candidate in media studies at University of Texas, Austin and a US Fulbright Scholar presently based in Athens, Greece.
Dear friends of Dialogos Radio & Media,
While our radio programming is off the air during the summer months, our presence in the written press continues uninterrupted, with a series of new articles and interviews on Greece, Brexit, and more:
It’s time somebody told you the truth. The truth about Greece. A detailed piece highlighting the realities of life in a debt colony.
Our piece on the one year which has passed since the Greek referendum, the manner in which the referendum result was unclear but was nevertheless betrayed, and the differences with Britain’s recent referendum.
Our piece analyzing the real reasons behind “Brexit” and the true undemocratic nature of the European Union.
Our interviewwith investigative journalist and bestselling author Greg Palast, on Greece and the realities of austerity and the euro, on events unfolding in Latin America, and on election fraud in the United States.
Στα Ελληνικά, σας προωθούμε το πρόσφατο άρθρο μας για τις διαφορές ανάμεσα στο Ελληνικό δημοψήφισμα της 5ης Ιουλίου του 2015, και το πρόσφατο Βρετανικό δημοψήφισμα:
Thanks – ευχαριστούμε,
Dialogos Radio & Media
Διάλογος Radio & Media
In May, likely for the first time in the post-war history of the Western world, a national parliament willingly ceded what remained of its country’s sovereignty, essentially voting itself obsolete. This development, however, did not make headlines in the global news cycle and was also ignored by most of the purportedly “leftist” media.
The country in question is Greece, where a 7,500-page omnibus bill was just passed, without any parliamentary debate, transferring control over all of the country’s public assets to a fund controlled by the European Stability Mechanism, for the next 99 years. This includes all public infrastructure, harbors, airports, public beaches, and natural resources, all passed to the control of the ESM, a non-democratic, supranational body which answers to no parliamentary or elected body. Within this same bill, the “Greek” parliament also rendered itself voteless: the legislation annuls the role of the parliament to create a national budget or to pass tax legislation. These decisions will now be made automatically, at the behest of the European Union: if fiscal targets set by the EU, the IMF, and the ESM are not met, automatic “cuts” will be activated, without any parliamentary debate, which could slash anything from social spending, to salaries and pensions. In earlier legislation, the Greek parliament agreed to submit all pending bills to the “troika” for approval. For historical precedent, one needs to look no further than the “Enabling Act” passed by the Reichstag in 1933, where the German parliament voted away its right to exercise legislative power, transferring absolute power to govern and to pass laws, including unconstitutional laws, to then-Chancellor Adolf Hitler.
The Greek omnibus bill was preceded by another piece of legislation, “reforming” Greece’s pension system through the enactment of further cuts to pensions while increasing taxes almost entirely across the board. Despite government lies to the contrary, these cuts are regressive and will disproportionately impact the poorer strata of society: the basic pension has been cut to €345 per month, supplementary pensions to poor individuals have been eliminated, the value-added tax on many basic goods has been raised to 24%, the number of households which qualify for heating oil subsidies has been slashed in half while taxes on oil and fuel have again been increased, co-payments on prescription drugs covered by public health insurance have been hiked by 25%, employees’ contributions to the social security fund have been raised (effectively lowering salaries), special taxes have been introduced on coffee and alcoholic beverages, while Greece’s suffering small businesses have been saddled with an increase in their tax rate from 26% to 29%.
In addition to the aforementioned pieces of legislation, the Greek government, in effect, ceded its national sovereignty earlier in the year when, as part of the EU-Turkey deal on the refugee and migrant crisis, Greece unconditionally accepted the presence of NATO warships and Turkish military and police personnel in the Aegean region, while the “patriotic” defense minister of Greece, Panos Kammenos, has publicly proposed the construction of a new NATO base on the island of Karpathos.
While Greece has made global headlines in recent years, the media have remained silent on this latest neoliberal attack on the country’s economy and on Greece’s already suffering businesses and households. But it has not just been the mainstream media which has been quiet. Supposedly “leftist” media outlets such as Democracy Now! have “forgotten” about Greece ever since SYRIZA’s betrayal of the July 5th, 2015 referendum result, where an overwhelming majority (62%) of voters rejected a proposed new austerity package from the EU. “Leftist” intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein have also remained silent. These “left-wing” outlets and intellectuals had all, at one time, openly supported SYRIZA—even while “the signs were there that SYRIZA was not what it claimed to be. Today, these outlets and these intellectual figures refuse to admit that they were wrong or to openly denounce SYRIZA’s betrayal, while also not providing any support to other, true anti-austerity movements in Greece.
Of course, even when Greece was in the news, the truth regarding what was really happening in the country was obscured behind the international media’s overwhelming pro-EU, pro-austerity bias, which masqueraded as “objective” reporting. This is equally true of Greece’s oligarch-controlled media outlets. Let’s examine what they have been hiding.
The economic crisis in Greece has typically been blamed on “lazy” and “unproductive” Greeks who supposedly refused to work, even at their cushy government jobs, retired at age 30, and who lived beyond their means, vacationing in the Greek isles and spending the money of hard-working Europeans to live the high life. “Reality” television programs such as “Go Greek for a Week,” broadcast on the UK’s Channel 4, perpetuated this blatant stereotyping, as did the Greek media back at home. Even the supposedly brilliant anti-austerity “crusader” Yanis Varoufakis repeated the mythology that “hard-working” Germans and other Europeans are now paying to support Greece. The reality, however, is harshly different. Greece is not receiving “free money” from Europe or the troika. It is receiving loans—to repay previous debt—loans which are accompanied by high interest rates and onerous strings attached, such as the aforementioned measures recently passed by the Greek parliament. Greece’s debt as a percentage of GDP was 124% prior to receiving its first “bailout” in 2010. Six years later and after repeatedly being “saved,” this figure is approaching 200% of “bailout” funds never entered the Greek economy but instead went right back to foreign lenders for the repayment of an illegal, odious debt.
What has gone unsaid by both the Greek and international media are the true origins and contributors to the Greek crisis. These factors include the manipulation, by Goldman Sachs, of Greece’s debt and deficit figures through a series of swaps and derivatives, hiding the true figures in circumvention of EU Maastricht criteria for admission into the Eurozone, for a tidy profit. Indeed, a piece of often-repeated mythology was that Greece was the only country which misbehaved by “lying” to enter the Eurozone. In fact, Goldman Sachs as well as J.P. Morgan and other major banks, helped Italy and other countries “lie” as well, while the role of swaps and derivatives in bringing about the global financial meltdown of 2007-2008 is widely known.
Manipulation took place in Greece too, at the behest of international lenders. Greece’s statistical authority, ELSTAT, led by former IMF official Andreas Georgiou, is said to have manipulated Greek deficit figures in 2009 to seem worse than they were in reality, with the goal of providing the political impetus necessary to bring in the IMF and other “saviors” to “bail out” Greece. These allegations were so serious, and so effectively substantiated by ELSTAT whistleblowers such as Zoe Georgina, that criminal charges were filed against Georgiou—charges which were quietly dropped by the “leftist” SYRIZA government in 2015. The ELSTAT scandal has barely been reported upon outside of Greece, if at all, while in Greece today it has essentially been “forgotten.”
Another cause of the crisis is the euro itself. The euro is a debt instrument, produced by a private bank (the European Central Bank) accountable to no government, and lent to member-states such as Greece. The concept of the European common currency was first proposed by economist Robert Mundell, who is also known as the father of “supply-side” economics, and who, in an interview with Greg Palast, had the following to say about the true objectives of the euro: “It puts monetary policy out of the reach of politicians, and without fiscal policy, the only way nations can can compete is by the competitive reduction of rules on business.” The euro was created to strip fiscal and monetary policy-making ability from national governments, leaving them without the ability to increase stimulus spending or devalue their national currency to regain competitiveness. The only option left is austerity and deregulation. What has happened in Greece, therefore, is not an accident or a “failure” of the euro. It was the goal.
Following five years of crisis, SYRIZA was touted, in Greece and abroad, as the “savior.” Sold by the media as a “radical leftist” and “anti-austerity” party, SYRIZA’s pre-election promises included “tearing up” the memorandum agreements and rescinding all of the austerity legislation with “one law and one article.” Millions in Greece and globally were duped—yet, the signs were there: SYRIZA was built upon the ashes of the corrupt PASOK dynasty in Greece, with a dozen of SYRIZA’s initial government ministers (including Yanis Varoufakis) being former PASOK personnel. Similarly, SYRIZA’s coalition partner-to-be, the “anti-austerity” Independent Greeks, stemmed from the corrupt right-wing New Democracy party. SYRIZA continuously waffled on taking a firm position regarding remaining in the EU and Eurozone or departing. And as the January 2015 elections inched closer, SYRIZA continuously diluted its rhetoric.
For those who kept their eyes open, the impending sellout was predictable. It didn’t take long for the naysayers to be proven correct. SYRIZA’s first months in office were marked by agreeing to extend the previous austerity measures; nominating and electing a corrupt pro-austerity conservative, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, as president of the Hellenic Republic; seizing the public sector’s cash reserves to repay further installments of debt to the IMF—even though the legality of said debt was supposedly being audited—while Varoufakis and other government ministers repeatedly stated the government’s intentions to fully repay the Greek debt. Leading up to the referendum of July 5 and the betrayal and third memorandum agreement which followed, SYRIZA itself proposed a 47-page set of harsh austerity measures, cuts, and privatizations, to Greece’s lenders totaling over 8 billion euros.
A dirty secret of Greek electoral politics is that the party which finishes in first place in the national elections automatically earns a 50-seat parliamentary “bonus.” This bonus was enough to allow SYRIZA to form a majority coalition government with the Independent Greeks in January 2015—and again in the snap elections in September. SYRIZA, however, did not have a mandate in either electoral contest, earning 35-36% of the vote in races with record-low turnout. In reality, approximately one in five Greeks voted for SYRIZA, hardly a “mandate.” SYRIZA, as New Democracy and PASOK in recent elections, was helped along by the formation of pro-establishment flank parties, such as “To Potami,” the “Democratic Left,” and the “Centrists’ Union,” parties which absorbed a significant subsection of voters supposedly seeking an alternative to the status quo but which, in reality, were equally pro-austerity, pro-EU, and pro-euro. Such parties have been created prior to each parliamentary election in recent election, for precisely this reason.
Of course, the Greek and international media will have you believe that Greeks are overwhelmingly pro-euro, gleefully reporting the supposed results of public opinion polls which have claimed that 70-80% of Greeks wish to remain in the euro at all costs. Herein lies another dirty little secret of Greek politics: there are no independent polling firms. Instead, these firms all receive government funding, and all public opinion polls are conducted on behalf of major media outlets, all of which are politically aligned and most of which are oligarch-owned. Results are, predictably, tailored to the desires of these outlets and their owners—but are unquestioningly repeated by the international media and their Greece-based correspondents. What haven’t they reported? The results of the annual Gallup International poll, for instance, conducted in several European countries including Greece, which found majorities in Greece in favor of departing the Eurozone in both 2014 and 2015. This poll, conducted across Europe and by a non-Greek firm, is far less likely to be politically tainted. A recent pan-European poll by Pew Global found 71% of respondents in Greece viewed the EU unfavorably
It is nevertheless true, of course, that there is a strong pro-European sentiment in Greece. This mentality is deeply rooted in the country’s modern history. Following independence, the “great powers” promptly installed foreign monarchs at Greece’s helm. For most of the 19th and early 20th century Greece was a Bavarian and British protectorate. Following the Greek Civil War, itself prodded by the British, Greece became an American protectorate, capped off by the U.S.-supported military junta of 1967-1974. Following the fall of the junta, a conservative government laid the groundwork for Greece to cede its sovereignty, as the country joined the EU in 1981 and the Eurozone in 2002. Greece has never been an independent, fully sovereign state, and this reality has created a colonial mindset and fierce divisiveness in the Greek psyche: a division between those who were “leftist” versus those who were “fascist,” and a division between those who believe Greece should be aligned with the West, and those who wish to align with Russia. Those in favor of true independence and non-alignment are few and far between, while the crisis has brought back to the fore the old societal divisions.
European Union membership has often been credited with Greece’s economic growth in the period between 1981-2009. What is less often said is that this period coincided with a tremendous growth in unemployment in Greece, a wholesale attack on Greece’s industrial base as Greek industries were shuttered or swallowed up by multinationals, while Greek agriculture was decimated by the EU’s “Common Agricultural Policy,” which dictated to farmers what to grow, what not to grow, and what Greece could or could not export. Greece’s self-sustainability in many sectors of food production was decimated, leading to an increasing reliance on imports (helped along by strong marketing of the “European way of life” and desire for “foreign” products). EU funds for major public works projects usually made their way back to European banks and firms such as Siemens, which (often through bribery) landed the major contracts to construct these projects, while Greek taxpayers were saddled with the bill.
Nevertheless, the Greek people voted overwhelmingly to reject the austerity proposals in last July’s referendum. But what exactly was the referendum asking? The question on the ballot was purposely convoluted, while the SYRIZA-led government did not present its planned course of action if the “no” vote prevailed. This should have been a warning. Tsipras, as well as Varoufakis, could barely conceal their disappointment that “no” prevailed—and so overwhelmingly—and neither could the media and the polling firms, which predicted that “no” and “yes” were running neck-and-neck, just as their electoral exit polls dating back to 2010 have been woefully inaccurate and always in a pro-austerity direction. The lead-up to the referendum also saw a tremendous wave of “solidarity” throughout Europe and the West—with activists purportedly supporting the Greek people and, somehow, supplied with SYRIZA flags, which I am sure one can’t just easily purchase in a shop in London or New York City. Oddly enough, following the betrayal, this “solidarity” movement dissipated.
The “protest” movement in Greece is not much better. While a general perception exists across the world that Greeks have not been afraid to “riot” and to strike for their rights, the reality is far more mundane. Complacency, apathy, and resignation are the name of the game in Greece. Every so often when a protest is organized, the same old stale, ineffective recipes are followed: gather in Syntagma Square, stand around in front of Parliament with the same old banners, wait for the “rioters” to appear and the tear gas to start flying, and then retreat. And just who are these “rioters”? The media calls them anarchists—but a plethora of documentary evidence suggests that these are provocateurs, who are working in cahoots with the police and are sent in to orchestrate trouble in otherwise peaceful gatherings, providing the impetus for police to fire tear gas—not at the hoodlums, but at the crowd that had gathered peacefully, thereby breaking up the protest. Numerous videos and photos have shown these provocateurs mingling with police officers, or smashing shop windows in front of police, unobstructed. I’ve seen this with my own eyes: hooded men in civilian clothing mingling with police behind the U.S. Embassy in Athens during a protest in 2012.
In the rare event that a demonstration gathers large crowds, as was the case during the protests of the “indignants” in 2011 or the rallies in favor of “no” prior to last July’s referendum, this is invariably because partisan armies have been mobilized to show up en masse. A dirty secret of the large-scale 2011 protests is that they may well have been staged, to serve as a release valve for an increasingly disenchanted populace. An official now with the Independent Greeks party (which had not yet formed in 2011) claimed in an interview I conducted for my academic research in 2012 that he was the one behind the original Facebook invitation which led to the beginning of the “indignants” movement in Greece. When asked why the Facebook page was later taken down, his reply was that “it no longer served a purpose.” Similarly, while large crowds (and celebrity musicians) were mobilized in the days leading up to last year’s referendum, following the referendum and betrayal, the number of protesters in Syntagma Square did not surpass a few hundred. The partisan armies stayed home. Similarly, the mobilization of Greek farmers recently was halted once party-affiliated union bosses got involved, sending the farmers back home.
There is also a global perception that Greece is often crippled by strikes and that Greek workers are not afraid to fight for their rights. Wrong again. One sees more strike activity in France and even in supposedly “disciplined” Germany—where Lufthansa personnel regularly walk out of their jobs—while in Greece, “general strikes” are in name only. Most workers don’t participate, and many that do are under the impression that they are “sending a message” by calling for a three or four hour “work stoppage.” In 2011, in the midst of the indignants’ movement, workers at the Public Power Corporation scheduled “rolling blackouts” to prevent the proposed privatization of the company. Coincidentally, these blackouts were only implemented in the poor and working-class districts, while the lights stayed on in parliament, central Athens, and the wealthier suburbs. The same counterproductive, failed strategies are implemented again and again without change—and quite likely on purpose. In the meantime, SYRIZA not only has not fulfilled its promise to dissolve the violent, out-of-control riot police units, but has instead used them to again attack protesters with tear gas.
Complacency and the lack of critical thought are indeed well-cultivated in Greece. The education system, which also happens to be highly politicized, strongly favors rote learning. Schoolteachers routinely underteach pupils in the classroom, obliging parents to pay small fortunes to send their children to after-school “prep centers,” where they end up learning what they were supposed to learn in school. Having to endure back-to-back schooldays on the same day plus homework for both school and their prep courses, children—particularly those in high school—spend their prime years on top of textbooks without a break. Students are required to choose a course of study at age 14, in preparation for all-or-nothing “national exams” which determine university admission. The endless hours of schoolwork foster rote memorization and discourage any critical skills or “outside the box” thinking. Once in university, students are almost obliged to join one of the political blocs which dominate the campuses and which make arrangements for everything from study guides to weekend getaways. These blocs are all aligned with the major political parties—so that young adults begin a lifetime of partisan dependency. University faculty, star-struck by EU funds and grants, are almost invariably pro-EU and pro-euro, stifling any healthy political debate on campus.
The education system is not the only societal sector that has been purposely compromised. In Greece’s (in)justice system, even the simplest of legal cases can take a decade or more to resolve—with various shenanigans invariably occurring along the way. This suits the powers that be quite well. The endless legal process prices out those who are not wealthy and can’t continuously pay attorneys’ fees. There is also no constitutional court in Greece, while Greece’s highest court, the Council of State, is infamously deferential to the government—which appoints its members. Indeed, the entire state apparatus, from mandatory military conscription for men with essentially no option for alternative civil service, the patronage system, and the notoriously inefficient bureaucracy—seem to operate in the manner it which does not so much due to some inherent societal flaw as by design, as this apparatus suits the interests of the political class and the powerful, discourages critical thought, activism, or the development of a true civil society; and helps encourage the “brain drain”—which is not a product of the crisis but a long-standing societal phenomenon—therefore opening the way for the incompetent but well-connected to attain key positions in both the public and private sectors.
Notably though, the aforementioned “brain drain” is a part of the mentality of complacency prevalent in Greece. With the help of the education system, which for the past three decades has severely diluted the teaching of the Greek language and Greek history while teaching students that they are “European first,” one sees in Greece today an utter lack of respect for the country or for the Greek language. Everyday parlance is dominated by slang and imported vocabulary, primarily English-language words, a cycle perpetuated and furthered by the media. A larger number of radio stations in Athens plays American/international pop and rock music, than in New York City or London. Most businesses and media outlets have English-language names. Young people, for years now, have been raised essentially with the goal of graduating and obtaining a “good career” abroad. Continuing family-run businesses or working in agriculture or even shipping, are options that are perpetually snubbed. There is not even the slightest desire to fight for a better future at home.
Indeed, this phenomenon extends to all sectors of society. Defeatism and self-loathing abound. A long-standing mentality in Greece is that the country is the worst in everything, that phenomena ranging from violence at sporting events to political corruption to ordinary cases of official incompetence, are exclusively Greek. Greeks will readily get into arguments with anyone who says otherwise—passionately arguing against their own country and people even when evidence and lived experiences exist to the contrary. The aforementioned inferiority complex towards the “civilized” West (as it is often described) further perpetuates this mentality, which essentially becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and which itself contributes to the paralysis, apathy, and sclerosis of Greek society. No notable civil society exists outside of the political sphere or, more recently, the equally suspect sphere of mostly foreign NGOs which have inundated Greece. The aforementioned education and legal system, bureaucracy and corruption, are treated as “facts of life” in Greece, with no organized pressures for change.
A major culprit for all of these realities is Greece’s media. The major newspapers and broadcasters are, without exception, owned by oligarchs and/or the politically connected. There is almost no independent media in Greece, except for largely invisible websites and blogs. There is no real public debate to speak of: the entirely of Greece’s media landscape is pro-austerity, pro-EU, pro-euro, and heavily politically aligned, including party-owned broadcast stations and newspapers. Radio and television stations operate without licenses but within a legal framework that is nevertheless so convoluted and tailored to major interests that no outside players or independent voices can enter the marketplace. By way of example, radio and television stations that had not initially classified their programming as “news” programming, are prohibited by law from switching classifications and providing news. This has created a closed broadcast market for news—with all news stations owned by entrenched interests. There is no provision, in practice, for non-commercial broadcasters. Existing major media outlets are not profitable, but “earn their keep” by promoting the political and business interests of their owners and by influencing public opinion.
The SYRIZA government, whose pre-election promises included “cleaning up the airwaves” and attacking the oligarchs, has now launched a bid for nationwide television licenses, a bid based on technical lies regarding the number of stations that can broadcast (in order to limit the number of licenses issued), and a process in which these few licenses will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Not surprisingly, the only candidates for these licenses are the same stations owned by the same oligarchs. SYRIZA’s own radio station began operations completely illegally before being “legalized” via a law passed by the conservative government allowing party-owned stations to operate without a license, while the then-PASOK government sent riot police to shut down 66 radio stations in Athens in one night in March 2001, with the excuse that they were causing “interference” to the operations of the newly-opened Eleftherios Venizelos international airport in Athens, but with the true objective of turning over the entire radio landscape to the oligarchs and their friends. State broadcaster ERT, reopened by SYRIZA last year, has forgotten the activist reporting which it provided following its shutdown by the conservative government in 2013, and now acts as a neutered pro-government, pro-EU mouthpiece, closed off to alternative voices.
It should be mentioned here though that foreign media have not been any more reputable or responsible in their reporting on Greece. Most English-language news websites from Greece are biased, with the same pro-EU and pro-austerity or globalist/internationalist outlook as the major media. Foreign correspondents operating from Greece are even more passionately pro-EU, pro-euro, and pro-austerity: one such correspondent proudly tweeted his “yes” ballot from last July’s referendum. Their reporting, while cloaked in supposedly “objective” language, is heavily biased, with references towards “bailouts” and “necessary reforms” creating specific, one-sided perceptions in readers’ and viewers’ minds, while one newly-launched and supposedly independent English-language news outlet kicked off its operations with a deferential and star-struck “guerrilla interview” with celebrity economist and financial fraudster Yanis Varoufakis. The reporting of these outlets also contains generous helpings of “crisis pornography”—reports which purportedly show the dire impacts of austerity but which instead misreport, misinform, and create the image of a country in such dire circumstances that no one in their right mind would even want to visit, and lest we forget, tourism is one of Greece’s major industries. Reports on mothers abandoning newborn children or giving birth in the middle of the street, claims that one million people migrated out of Greece in a single year, and claims that spendthrift Greeks have the highest percentage of Porsche Cayenne ownership in the world are all blatant lies, but these lies poison public opinion both in Greece and abroad, and fan the flames of sensationalism.
This sensationalism has, for instance, created the impression that ouzo-swilling Greeks were, for decades, retiring during early adulthood and living beyond their means at the expense of hard-working Europeans. What is never reported is that Greece has essentially been a debt colony from the early days of its establishment as a modern nation-state. Debts from the Ottoman Empire continued to be repaid until 1965. For decades upon decades, Greece was obliged to turn over its tax receipts from goods ranging from salt to tobacco products to matches, to a consortium of “great powers” (Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy, Austria, and Russia) to repay debts dating back to the 19th century. Indeed, these same “great powers,” beginning in 1898, established a permanent presence in Athens, overseeing the repayment of the debt, including war reparations to the Ottoman Empire. In other words, over a century before the Greek “debt crisis” and the arrival of the “troika,” Greece was forced to submit to international economic oversight, with the “great powers” maintaining their physical presence in Greece until 1978, a total of 80 years—for those who believe that Greece ceding control of its public assets for 99 years sounds far-fetched.
Indeed, the relinquishment of public ownership of Greece’s valuable utilities, resources, and assets began long before the current crisis. Soon after the end of World War II, German firms, through well-connected Greek middlemen, sidestepped sanctions against Germany and obtained control over valuable mining resources in Greece. In the 1990s, privatizations began in earnest, including the selling of Greece’s national telecommunication provider, OTE, to Deutsche Telecom. These privatizations, as should be clear by now, did nothing to prevent Greece’s economic crisis and likely contributed to it. More recently, the SYRIZA government, which prior to its election promised to put an end to privatizations, sold majority stakes in Greece’s largest port, the port of Piraeus, and 14 profitable regional airports, to Chinese-owned Cosco and German-owned Freeport, respectively. The port of Piraeus was sold for a mere 365 million euros—which amounts to 15 days’ worth of Greek debt repayments—even though its facilities alone are valued at over 5 billion euros, while the agreement with Fraport states that the Greek state is still responsible for paying for all technical upgrades at the 14 airports that were privatized, for the next 40 years. In the meantime, Chinese-owned Cosco, which had already purchased the Piraeus container port in a previous privatization, has imported Chinese-style working conditions to Greece, as workers are not even permitted bathroom breaks while on the job.
Of course, we are supposed to believe that the Greek people had it coming, because they were living beyond their means. Greece’s very high rate of home ownership has often been cited as an example of this. The reality, though, is that traditionally, land ownership has been highly valued in Greece, with homes and property passed from generation to generation. Until recently, with the introduction of the euro, Greeks did not believe in loans or credit. Even today, in the midst of the crisis, per capita private debt in Greece is among the lowest in Europe. This is the opposite of “living beyond one’s means.” And now, the Greek people are being punished for being prudent with their finances.
We are also told that Greeks didn’t pay taxes, ignoring the fact that just as in other countries, salaried workers in Greece are taxed at the source, while an absurdly high value-added tax, which is now as high on 24% even on basic goods such as orange juice, is included in the retail purchase price. Those who evaded taxes in Greece are the same as those who typically evade taxes elsewhere: the rich and the well-connected, those with the means to operate offshore shell corporations in tax havens or to maintain Swiss bank accounts. Many of these individuals were named in the so-called “Lagarde List” of tax evaders with Swiss bank accounts, but the SYRIZA government has not prosecuted any of the individuals on the list.
But Greeks retired at age 30 and sat around in cafes and at the beach all day, right? Wrong. Public employees, particularly those on older contracts, were able to retire after 25 or 30 years of employment—similarly to other countries. With many of these employees having entered the workforce after high school, if not earlier, it makes sense that there would be retirees in their 50s, just as police officers, union employees and other public servants in countries like the United States were also, for a long time, able to retire after 25 or 30 years of service. Are Americans lazy too? How about the Germans or the British or the Swedes, whose social welfare policies have always been far more generous than those of Greece?
In the meantime, the Greek people are saddled with further insane tax increases, including a hike in the unified property tax (ENFIA), which was initially sold as a “temporary” tax and which SYRIZA promised to abolish. Instead of abolishing it, SYRIZA has made this tax permanent—and increased it. Beginning June 1, banks are allowed to seize foreclosed homes and properties electronically, without a physical court hearing, essentially putting an end to a very effective grassroots campaign at courthouses across Greece to block these foreclosures. In the wintertime, Athens and other cities are blanketed by a noxious, unhealthy smog resulting from makeshift fireplaces lit by households unable to afford the absurdly high taxes on heating oil. Schoolchildren are suffering from malnutrition in record numbers. University restrooms lack even toilet paper. And in return, the Greek people are constantly told by the government, by all of the main opposition parties, by the media, and by Greece’s so-called European partners, that “growth” and “development” are coming.
The Greek people have also been told that they are “racist” and “xenophobic” due to their handling of the refugee and migrant crisis. However, it is these claims which are racist—and not the majority of the Greek people. The “concerned” global media typically fail to report the tremendous amount of care and hospitality ordinary Greek citizens have shown towards the refugees and migrants. They also fail to report that this is not a new or recent phenomenon in Greece: refugees and migrants from war-torn areas in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Africa have been streaming into Greece for well over a decade, in hopes of reaching northern Europe. Few media outlets have reported on the realities of the EU’s Dublin II Regulation, which has stranded these refugees and migrants in Greece, because the country of entry is the one legally responsible for processing their paperwork—a regulation which disproportionally impacts countries like Greece. And all of this during a time of tremendous financial and societal strain. While ordinary Greek people commiserate with the plight of the refugees and migrants, as Greece is a country that is no stranger to either, there are legitimate worries about Greece’s ability to absorb tens of thousands of refugees and migrants at a time of economic turmoil and high unemployment. This is interpreted by the “concerned” global media as racism, as is the emergence of the far-right Golden Dawn party, whose electoral share, however, is far less than far-right and xenophobic parties in such “civilized” countries as Austria, France, Germany, and Denmark.
In the face of this reality, the global media and many in Greece continue to treat the “leftist” SYRIZA government as the savior, excusing away the new austerity agreements and the wholesale sell-off of the country as the cost of being “bailed out” and “remaining in Europe,” perpetuating the claim that Greece “has no other choice.” SYRIZA is doing its part, doing anything it can to gain votes using the time-honored tradition of patronage: legalizing fraudulent degrees, legalizing participation in offshore corporations, and proceeding with patronage hires and outright nepotism at all levels of government and the public sector—including the hiring of dozens of relatives and spouses of government ministers. As SYRIZA does this, it sticks its middle finger at the populace. Constitutional scholar Giorgos Katrougalos, who once participated in the major protests in Syntagma Square but who now sends the riot police to tear gas protesters, cynically remarked in response to the new coffee tax that Greeks can go without coffee. SYRIZA’s member of the European parliament Kostas Hrisogonos arrogantly stated that if authorities raided Greek households, they could find another 45-50 billion euros’ worth of undeclared income. This rhetoric does not seem very “leftist.”
So who are the saviors then? Certainly not the Popular Unity party, consisting of former SYRIZA and PASOK retreads, such as the energy minister of the first SYRIZA government, Panagiotis Lafazanis, who failed to fulfill SYRIZA’s promise to put an end to the environmentally destructive mining activities in Skouries, in Northern Greece, during his tenure, and economist Costas Lapavitsas, who prior to his election as a SYRIZA MP touted his so-called “radical economic proposal” but who ended up defending SYRIZA’s economic policies as a form of “moderate Keynesianism.” The Communist Party of Greece bashes imperialism, but in the same breath tells the Greek people that Greece is not ready to leave the Eurozone or EU at this time. Celebrity economist Yanis Varoufakis, with his new pan-European movement supposedly in favor of restoring democracy, is another fraud. His actions as Greece’s finance minister included the acceptance of all previous austerity agreements, a comprehensive proposal for more austerity, a refusal to even entertain the possibility of a Eurozone exit, the full repayment of Greece’s debt that was supposedly being audited, the imposition of capital controls which remain in place today, limiting withdrawals to €420 per week, and the confiscation of the Greek public sector’s cash reserves in order to repay the IMF. Those are not the actions of a supposedly Marxist anti-austerity renegade. His partner in crime, former parliament speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou, is another fraud. She dismissed SYRIZA’s pre-election promises to tear apart the memorandum agreements as a mere “figure of speech,” also voted in favor of all of the austerity measures SYRIZA passed in its first months in office, refused to shut down debate in parliament while these measures—including the betrayal of the July 5 referendum result—were being discussed, and who after the betrayal repeatedly stated her “support” of the SYRIZA government. The reason Varoufakis and Konstantopoulou left SYRIZA has nothing to do with principle, and everything to do with political opportunism, and the fact that Alexis Tsipras stated his intention not to include them on the ballot for the September snap elections. They are political opportunists and frauds of the highest order.
This is the truth about Greece. There is no European dream—but instead a European nightmare. There is no recovery. Greece is not an independent or sovereign country, but a debt colony of the West—a reality which much of the third world is already quite familiar with, and which is very much in the process of being imported to the “first world” as well.
Dear listeners and friends,
This week, the Dialogos Interview Series will feature an exclusive interview with bestselling author, filmmaker, investigative journalist, and economist Greg Palast, who will speak about his latest film project on election fraud in the United States, economic and political developments in Latin America, and on the latest set of austerity measures in Greece and the need for Greece to leave the Eurozone.
In addition, we will air our commentary of the week segment, plus some great Greek music.
This is the season finale of Dialogos Radio. For more details and our full broadcast schedule, visit http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=6317 – where you can also find our podcasts, articles and written work, program archives, and online radio station Dialogos Radio 24/7.
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