Aug 022015
 

By Andre Vltchek, 99GetSmart

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Para gliders are flying over the stunning emerald sea. Summer hordes are descending on the Greek island of Kos from all corners of an increasingly aggressive European Union. On the faces of visitors, there seems to be no regret, no shame, that Europe just raped and humiliated Greece, forcing its government to cancel democracy, instead succumbing to the dictates of the mighty Germany and other dictatorial powers.

Tourists are busy frying themselves, stuffing their stomachs with seafood and boozing it up in countless cafes, bars and restaurants in the old city. Hotels and eateries are packed. It is yet another hot and sunny day. Crisis? What crises? Yes, it is somewhere… there, maybe in Athens, or maybe just outside the city center.

These lucky few Syrians just given papers to go to Athens.

These lucky few Syrians just given papers to go to Athens.

A few minutes away, in a local hospital, which is part of Greece’s collapsing national healthcare system; an Iraqi child is suffering, perhaps dying, from cancer. He is only 3 years old. His mother most likely passed away trying to reach Kos.

“We found him in a park”, explains Hara, a receptionist from the Triton Hotel. “He looked terribly sick. We took him to the hospital, but there, nobody wanted to do anything. We had to scream and demand that this poor child would be attended. They put several IV tubes into his tiny body, and then… nothing else. We called Medicine Sans Frontiers in Athens, but they said they couldn’t deal with such a complicated case. We have no idea what to do. If action is not taken immediately, he will most likely die.”

In Kos, refugees are literally everywhere, but most of them are forced to sleep in the parks, or hide behind the bushes. There is no “official” camp here. Immigrants have been coming from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and several other countries that got destabilized by the Western interventions, sanctions and foreign policy.

Refugees in Kos

Refugees in Kos

At a provisory refugee center, based at a former hotel, “Captain Elias”, several hundreds of mostly South Asians are now living in appalling conditions, with no drinking water and only on one meal a day. Here only 3 social workers come to help, for a few hours a day. Only one doctor pays regular visits to the facility where people suffer from countless serious diseases, as well as from exhaustion and constant stress.

“This is not a living”, I am told in one of big tents inhabited by several Pakistani men. “We don’t know how long it will take to get registered. I have already been waiting for 15 days and it may take much longer. People here are desperate. There is hardly any help. We feel that we are on our own.”

Camps across the water, in Turkey, are much better and much more humane. They count with decent sanitation, food and water, even sports and recreational facilities. But these are just temporary refugee camps, for those fleeing regional conflicts, not some “waiting rooms” for entering the European Union. For those who want to go West, Turkish refugee facilities are basically useless.

Tension in Kos is high. One taxi driver began insulting me, right after learning that I was heading for Captain Elias provisory refugee center. He obviously hated the idea that I will be exposing plight of the refugees. “Are you a journalist? You journalists already destroyed the local economy!” Journalists? I wonder aloud. Not Germans, not the European Union? As far as he, and some others, are concerned, Kos Island should only be promoted, as a paradisiacal tourist destination; it should not be defined as yet another part of the country that is now heading for almost inevitable collapse.

Greek patrol boat returning to Kos.

Greek patrol boat returning to Kos.

Some Greeks show solidarity, by bringing food to the refugees, but others treat them badly, and even stubbornly deny that there are already hundreds, perhaps thousands of them on the island. In fact, around 7.000 refugees crossed the sea and landed in Kos in the first 5 months of 2015. More than 2.000 died or are missing at sea, trying to cross Mediterranean to Southern Europe, in the same period of 2015.

Stories told by the refugees are inconsistent, and each testimony is different. Refugees are scared or desperate or both. Some say that the police are harassing them but that local people are “not bad”, while others blame local people but insist that the police are “OK”, mainly because “they do nothing”.

Lena, a young Russian lady from the Altai Mountains, who has already been living in Greece for more than eleven years, is working in a small inn located just down the road from the Captain Elias facility. She says that refugees who come to Kos are desperate, but decent human beings:

“There has been no increase in the crime rates since they arrived. We are not scared of them, but the entire situation is out of control.”

Battleship patrolling between Turkey and Greece

Battleship patrolling between Turkey and Greece

“Refugees are being smuggled by gangs, or they come on board tiny inflatable boats. When they are crossing from Turkey to Greece, they carry small knifes. If intercepted by coastguard of police, they destroy their boats and jump into the water. Greek authorities then have to rescue them and take them to the island.” Lena has a boyfriend who is a policeman; she is well informed.

***

Bodrum, a Turkish luxury resort and historic city, show no signs of economic hardship. It is a well-organized, beautiful and confident city.

Just half an hour from Kos on board a Turkish high-speed catamaran (or a one hour sail using a slow Greek ferry), Bodrum is elegant, even hedonistic.

Bodrum does not have any refugee camps either, but many immigrants use it as a departure point for the European Union, namely Greece.

Could this really be a refugee camp in EU?

Could this really be a refugee camp in EU?

Turkey is flooded with refugees, who are coming from all over the Middle East, destabilized or out rightly destroyed by the West. Many immigrants are travelling all the way from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and numerous other places. Officially, from Syria alone, there are almost 2 million refugees on Turkish territory. Refugee camps are located in the Southeast of the country (near Hatay), in Ankara and other areas, but not in and around the tourist centers like Bodrum.

Refugees transiting in Bodrum.

Refugees transiting in Bodrum.

At Bodrum central bus station, on the second floor, several Syrian, Bangladeshi, Afghani, Pakistani and other immigrants now inhabit almost the entire market area. These are those who had chosen to go either to Greece/EU or to Turkey’s largest city – Istanbul. Turkish police are closing its eyes, or they simply don’t know what to do.

“Here in Turkey we can easily register and get help”, explains an Afghani man in his early 30’s. “But then we would have to go to one of the official camps and stay in Turkey.”

Alternatives are horrific: unsafe, mostly nocturnal travel over the sea to Greece, to one of the 15 islands that are near the Turkish coast.

I am told that the going rate per person/crossing is around 2.000 euro, and if one wants to travel all the way from Pakistan to Germany, the price could easily go as high as 5.000 to 6.000 euros. Some economic refugees get backing from their clans and villages back home, but for genuine refugees escaping war in places like Syria, such prices are simply astronomical.

I am then told a story: several Afghani and Pakistani refugees recently tried to cross from Bodrum to Kos. Their flimsy boat was intercepted by a Greek armed vessel. I was told that the boat belonged to the coastguard and that the refugees were pulled on board and attacked and severely beaten.

“They beat us up, hit our faces, and kicked us all over. Then they demanded 100 euro from each person. “

They say he was beaten by Greek coast guard.

They say he was beaten by Greek coast guard.

A man had exposed ugly bruises on his arms, legs and back.

I have no way of confirming the story. Was it really Greek authority or some maritime mafia that attacked the refugees? It is the testimony of several people who tried to cross, but did not make it.

I know that they will try again, soon.

Is it worth it?

“Many of us prefer to stay in Turkey,” I am told. “They treat us much better here.”

But others are not giving up. To some, Europe means money. To others it means safety and a future. They are trying; they are getting caught, and trying again. The reception they get in Europe, not just in Greece, is horrific. But they are still ready to go. Back there, where they come from, there are burned villages and nightmares, wars, conflicts, destitution.

Whole countries, entire regions, are destroyed, ravished, by the West. Syria is at war provoked by Washington, London and now fed by Ankara and other NATO and regional allies of the West. ISIS, armed and supported by the West in on an insane rampage. Pakistan and Bangladesh are economically and socially ruined. Afghanistan and Iraq have been destroyed by direct attacks and are occupations of both the United States and members of the European Union.

Most of inhabitants of Kos do not seem to understand the concept. Or they don’t want to. They see their own hardship, that of Greece. There is very little space left for suffering of others.

Flying from Kos to Athens, a Greek traveller had been reading my piece from his back raw seat, shamelessly. After landing, he began protesting:

“Bodrum is a Greek city, not Turkish!”

Then he went further:

“You write about the refugee crises? So why don’t you give us some solution?”

“Because I still did not finish my piece”, I tried to be patient.

“So what is the solution?” He insists. It all feels rough and confrontational.

“The United States and European Union should stop murdering people all over the Middle East and elsewhere. Then the refugees would have no reason to come!”

He does not understand the concept. He does not know what am I talking about:

“But as it is, Europe has no more space for the refugees!” he protests.

“Other countries do not have patience tolerating Western invasions”, I reply. “Refugees are coming only because their nations were ruined by the US and Europe! Before that, Syria, Libya and Iraq were rich countries. They were absorbing migrant workers from the entire region.”

Greece, itself battered, damaged, humiliated and destroyed by the European Union, does not seem to be able to translate its own experience to some global context.

A few hours earlier, a lady receptionist in one of the hotels in Kos suggested, “Several leaders in the Middle East should be assassinated by Europe or the US.” That was her idea of how to end the refugee crises.

Children refugees

Children refugees

***

On June 15, 2015, the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR produced Briefing Notes:

UNHCR is stepping up its field presence in the eastern Aegean islands of Greece where in recent weeks sea arrivals from Turkey have been averaging some 600 people a day, straining limited (and in some cases non-existent) local reception capacities.

In the first five months of 2015, over 42,000 people arrived by sea to Greece, most of them refugees. This is six times the level of the same period last year (6,500) and almost the same as the total for all of 2014 (43,500).

More than 90 per cent of the people arriving are from refugee-producing countries, principally Syria (over 60 per cent of arrivals this year), Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Eritrea.

All of the countries mentioned in this briefing are either totally destroyed or economically and socially damaged (often through crippling sanctions) by the West.

It takes great discipline not to see who is responsible for this crisis.

Greek people were, for years and decades, bombarded by mass media propaganda. Like most of their counterparts in Western Europe, they are now conditioned to blame victims, not the real perpetrators.

Even in neighboring Turkey, there are loud and clear voices declaring: “We wanted to be ‘big boys’ of the Middle East and we helped to damage our neighbors. It is now our responsibility to feed those who were forced to leave”. Editorials like this are all over the Turkish newspapers.

Most of Greeks that I encountered do not see such a connection: NATO – EU – and the destruction of countless countries are triggering the refugee crises.

They should see. Greece is still both a NATO and an EU member. What was done to Greece, very recently, only shows that it is both a victim and a victimizer.

As a victimizer it has to take full responsibility for those whose lives were damaged by the “organizations” of which it is a full member.

As a victim, it should raise and fight against those who insulted and harmed it (and many others) – the EU, the NATO, the IMF – instead of throwing its wrath and spite against the poor, defenseless people who have lost their country, their home; everything except their bare lives!

***

Great cultures are not only based on their past. Great cultures have to be great now, and to be built on true internationalism, on humanism, on solidarity, generosity and compassion.

This little Iraqi boy, fighting for his life in the hospital in Kos, should be a rallying cry for the Greek humanists.

After great pressure, bureaucracy gave way to humanism. Little Mohammed was cleared to get officially admitted to Greece and he is flown from Kos to Athens to receive medical treatment.

After great pressure, bureaucracy gave way to humanism. Little Mohammed was cleared to get officially admitted to Greece and he is flown from Kos to Athens to receive medical treatment.

He should be helped by all means, instead of being abandoned to his terrible fate. But until now he is receiving very little help! He should be assisted, especially now, when Greece itself is in distress. Solidarity is the most precious thing during the most difficult times!

Wake up, people! The boy is not just some “Iraqi refugee”: he is a fellow human being. He is just a 3 years old boy, damn it, and he is suffering from terrible pain, and soon, he may die.

The battle for his life would be the real battle for Greece’s greatness; a country that could show how big her heart is, elevating herself well above that morally declining West!

As a child lies in agony, thousands of tourists nearby are downing expensive food and drinks, while the Greek social net and medical system are basically collapsing. Something is breaking right in front of my eyes, breaking irreversibly. What is left of “Western culture” is being smashed to pieces. Europe, how dare you, shame on you!

Remember, this “Iraqi” boy in the hospital, he is your child too, Greece. But if you don’t act, he will turn to your specter!

Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His latest books are: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire” and Fighting Against Western Imperialism.Discussion with Noam Chomsky: On Western TerrorismPoint of No Return is his critically acclaimed political novel. Oceania – a book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about Indonesia: “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. Andre is making films for teleSUR and Press TV. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and the Middle East. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.

Jul 302015
 

Posted by greydogg, 99GetSmart

Original post @ A Place Called Space 

Text and Photos by Eirene

Exarheia is one of my favourite areas in Athens. It’s portrayed as a hotbed of anarchist radicalism by the media, as an area that should be avoided at all costs. It’s true that an awful lot of students live here as it’s very close to the University the Polytechnic and a large majority of them are anti-establishment and very radicalised – just looking at the posters around the area is testimony to that. A lot of the resistance that Athens has witnessed in the last years has started here. It’s here that the school boy Alexis Gregoropoulos was murdered by the police, and this sparked off large demonstrations in the streets of Athens.

Large parts of the area are very run-down, but there are also an awful lot of quiet, residential streets. There is a real sense of community here, of people using the area and living in it – a real medley of people: grungy youth, trendies, old ladies wearing twin-sets and pearls carrying their shopping, older men, newspaper under the arm, walking to their favourite cafeteria for a coffee and a read.

There is a palpable energy, a real buzz, with a mix of people who peacefully co-exist. We like it a lot.

Lots of street art all around that tells the story of this city.

The period of the crisis is over... No more lies. Freedom or Death (Freedom or Death was the rallying cry of the Greek war of Independence against the Turks)

The period of the crisis is over… No more lies. Freedom or Death (Freedom or Death was the rallying cry of the Greek war of Independence against the Turks)

 

Your system is wrong

Your system is wrong

As a noun, lathos means mistake. As an adjective it means wrong. Except it’s misspelt: it should be an omicron rather than omega.

‘Lathos’ is everywhere, usually just the word, and I have taken it to mean wrong epoch/wrong times. This time, it’s a phrase: your system is wrong.

 

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No to subjugation

No to subjugation

 

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This is a recurring image throughout the city. And no wonder. In a country where the State launches chemical warfare against its own people, gas masks become a necessary protection in any demonstration.

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We (mistakenly, naively?) thought that there would be no more chemical warfare under the new ‘left’ government. I cannot describe the shock we all felt last week when the Syriza government used tear gas against people who were demonstrating against the new and third bailout programme that has just been accepted.

 

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OXI posters, left overs from before the referendum - lots still around

OXI posters, left overs from before the referendum – lots still around

 

NO to bailout programmes and post-third bailout agreement, someone has added: What do we do now?

NO to bailout programmes and post-third bailout agreement, someone has added: What do we do now?

 

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Sisyphus

Sisyphus

Some compare the present Greek predicament and the imposition of continuous austerity to the labours of Sisyphys who was punished by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, repeating this action forever.

 

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Does this refer to the burning of books, or to the fact that books lighten up our lives?

 

Wake up by INO

Wake up by INO

 

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A pity about the red van that was parked in front of this mural that takes up the whole of the ground floor of this house

 

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looking closer, the dedication

 

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On the steps leading to Lykabettus Hill, Asteras 1928, referring to the sports club of Exarheia, founded in 1928. The club has three active sports sections: Men’s baskeball, men’s football and Women’s basketball. The latter team compete in the top division the A1 Ethniki.

 

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The market on the day we visited the area was extremely quiet: very few shoppers, a sign of the times. Our local market is the same – just a fraction of the usual number of people shopping.

 

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This street art that refers to the market.

 

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Jul 272015
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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Introduction

The Greek people’s efforts to end the economic depression, recover their sovereignty and reverse the regressive socio-economic policies, which have drastically reduced living standards, have been thrice denied.

First, the denial came as tragedy: When the Greek majority elected Syriza to government and their debts increased, the economy plunged further into depression and unemployment and poverty soared. The Greek people voted for Syriza believing its promises of ‘a new course’. Immediately following their victory, Syriza reneged on their promise to restore sovereignty – and end the subjugation of the Greek people to the economic dictates of overseas bankers, bureaucrats and political oligarchs. Instead Syriza kept Greece in the oligarchical imperialist bloc, portraying the European Union as an association of independent sovereign countries. What began as a great victory of the Greek people turned into a tragic strategic retreat. From their first day in office, Syriza led the Greek people down the blind alley of total submission to the German empire.

Then the tragedy turned into farce when the Greek people refused to acknowledge the impending betrayal by their elected leaders. They were stunned, but mute, as Syriza emptied the Greek treasury and offered even greater concessions, including acceptance of the illegal and odious debts incurred by private bankers, speculators and political kleptocrats in previous regimes.

True to their own vocation as imperial overlords, the EU bosses saw the gross servility of Syriza as an invitation to demand more concessions – total surrender to perpetual debt peonage and mass impoverishment. Syriza’s demagogic leaders, Yanis Varoufakis and Alexis Tsipras, shifting from fits of hysteria to infantile egotism, denounced ‘the Germans and their blackmail’ and then performed a coy belly-crawl at the feet of the ‘Troika’, peddling their capitulation to the bankers as ‘negotiations’ and referring to their overlords as . . . ‘partners’.

Syriza, in office for only 5 months brought Greece to the edge of total bankruptcy and surrender, then launched the ‘mother of all deceptions’ on the Greek people: Tsipras convoked a ‘referendum’ on whether Greece should reject or accept further dictates and cuts to bare bones destitution. Over 60% of the Greek people voted a resounding NO to further plunder and poverty.

In Orwellian fashion, the megalomaniac Tsipras immediately re-interpreted the ‘NO’vote as a mandate to capitulation to the imperial powers, accepting the EU bankers’ direct supervision of the regime’s implementation of Troika’s policies – including drastic reductions of Greek pensions, doubling the regressive ‘VAT’ consumption tax on vital necessities and a speed-up of evictions of storeowners and householders behind in their mortgage payments.  Thus Greece became a vassal state: Nineteenth century colonialism was re-imposed in the 21st century.

Colonialism by Invitation

Greek politicians, whether Conservative or Socialist, have openly sought to join the German-led imperial bloc known as the European Union, even when it was obvious that the Greek economy and financial system was vulnerable to domination by the powerful German ruling class.

From the beginning, the Greek Panhellenic Socialist Party (PASOK) and their Conservative counterparts refused to recognize the class basis of the European Union. Both political factions and the Greek economic elites, that is, the kleptocrats who governed and the oligarchs who ruled, viewed entry into the EU as an opportunity for taking and faking loans, borrowing, defaulting and passing their enormous debts on to the public treasury!

Widely circulating notions among the Left that ‘Germany is responsible’ for the Greek crisis are only half true, while the accusations among rightwing financial scribes that the ‘Greek people are spendthrifts’ who brought on their own crisis is equally one-sided. The reality is more complex:

The crash and collapse of the Greek economy was a product of an entrenched parasitic rentier ruling class –both Socialist and Conservative – which thrived on borrowing at high interest rates and speculating in non-productive economic activities while imposing an astronomical military budget. They engaged in fraudulent overseas financial transactions while grossly manipulating and fabricating financial data to cover-up Greece’s unsustainable trade and budget deficits.

German and other EU exporters had penetrated and dominated the Greek markets. The bankers charged exorbitant interest rates while investors exploited cheap Greek labor. The creditors ignored the obvious risks because Greek rulers were their willing accomplices in the ongoing pillage.

Clearly entry into and continued membership in the EU has largely benefited two groups of elites: the German rulers and the Greek rentiers. The latter received short-term financial grants and transfers while the former gained powerful levers over the banks, markets and, most important, established cultural-ideological hegemony over the Greek political class. The Greek elite and middle class believed ‘they were Europeans’ – that the EU was a beneficent arrangement and a source of prosperity and upward mobility. In reality, Greek leaders were merely accomplices to the German conquest of Greece. And the major part of the middle class aped the views of the Greek elite.

The financial crash of 2008-2009 ended the illusions for some but not most Greeks. After 6 years of pain and suffering a new version of the old political class came to power: Syriza! Syriza brought in new faces and rhetoric but operated with the same blind commitment to the EU. The Syriza leadership believed they were “partners”.

The road to vassalage is rooted deep in the psyche of the political class. Instead of recognizing their subordinate membership in the EU as the root cause of their crisis, they blamed ‘the Germans, the bankers, Angela Merkel, Wolfgang Schnauble, the IMF, the Troika ... The Greek rulers and middle class were in fact both victims and accomplices.

The German imperial regime loaned money from the tax revenues of German workers to enable their complicit Greek vassals to pay back the German bankers …  German workers complained. The German media deflected criticism by blaming the ‘lazy Greek cheats’. Meanwhile, the Greek oligarch-controlled media deflected criticism of the role of the parasitical political class back to the ‘Germans’. This all served to obscure the class dynamics of empire building — colonialism by invitation. The ideology of blaming peoples, instead of classes, is pitting German workers against Greek employees and pensioners. The German masses support their bankers, while the Greek masses have elected and followed Syriza – their traitors.

From Andreas Papandreou to Alexis Tsipras: Misconceptions about the European Union

After Syriza was elected a small army of instant experts, mostly leftist academics from Canada, the US and Europe, sprang up to write and speak, usually with more heat than light, on current Greek political and economic developments. Most have little knowledge or experience of Greek politics, particularly its history and relations with the EU over the past thirty five years.

The most important policy decisions shaping the current Syriza government’s betrayal of Greek sovereignty go back to the early 1980’s when I was working as an adviser to PASOK Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou. At that time, I was party to an internal debate of whether to continue within the EU or leave. Papandreou was elected on an anti EU, anti NATO platform, which, like Tsipras, he promptly reneged on– arguing that ‘there were no alternatives’. Even then, there were international and Greek academic sycophants, as there are today, who argued that membership in the EU was the only realistic alternative – it was the ‘only possibility’. The ‘possibilistas” at that time, operating either from ignorance or deceit, were full of bluster and presumption. They denied the underlying power realities in the structure of the EU and dismissed the class capacity of the working and popular masses to forge an alternative. Then, as now, it was possible to develop independent alternative relations with Europe, Russia, China, the Middle East and North Africa. The advantages of maintaining a protected market, a robust tourist sector and an independent monetary system were evident and did not require EU membership (or vassalage).

Above all, what stood out in both leaders, Andreas Papandreou and Alexis Tsipras, was their profound misconception of the class nature of the dominant forces in the EU. In the 1980’s Germany was just beginning to recover its imperial reach. By the time Syriza-Tsipras rose to power (January 2015), Germany’s imperial power was undeniable. Tsipras’ misunderstanding of this reality can be attributed to his and his ‘comrades’ rejection of class and imperial analyses. Even academic Marxists, who spouted Marxist theory, never applied their abstract critiques of capitalism and imperialism to the concrete realities of German empire building and Greece’s quasi-colonial position within the EU. They viewed their role as that of ‘colonial reformers’ – imagining that they were clever enough to ‘negotiate’ better terms in the German-centered EU. They inevitably failed because Berlin had a built-in majority among its fervently neo-liberal ex-communist satellites plus the IMF, French and English imperial partners. Syriza was no match for this power configuration. Then there was the bizarre delusion among the Syriza intellectuals that European capitalism was more benign than the US version.

EU membership has created scaffolding for German empire-building. The take off point was West Germany’s annexation of East Germany. This was soon followed by the incorporation of the rightwing regimes in the Baltic and Balkans as subordinate members of the EU – their public assets were snapped up by Germany corporations at bargain prices. The third step was the systematic break-up of Yugoslavia and the incorporation of Slovenia into the German orbit. The fourth step was the takeover of key sectors of the Polish and Czech economies and the exploitation of cheap skilled labor from Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and other satellite states.

Without firing a shot, German empire-building has revolved around making loans and financial transfers to the new subordinate member states in the EU. These financial transactions were predicated upon the following conditions: 1) Privatization and sale of the new member states’ prized public assets to mainly German as well as other EU investors and 2) Forcing member states to dismantle their social programs, approve massive lay-offs and meet impossible fiscal targets. In other words, expansion of the contemporary German empire required austerity measures, which transformed the ex-communist countries into satellites, vassals and sources of mercenaries – a pattern which is now playing out in Greece.

The reason these new German ‘colonies’ (especially Poland and the Baltic States) insist on the EU imposing harsh austerity measures on Greece, is that they went through the same brutal process convincing their own beleaguered citizens that there was no alternative – resistance was futile. Any successful demonstration by Greek workers, farmers and employees that resistance to empire was possible would expose the corrupt relationship between these client leaders and the German imperial order. In order to preserve the foundations of the new imperial order, Germany has had to take a hardline on Greece. Otherwise the recently incorporated colonial subjects in the Baltic, Balkan and Central Europe states might “re-think” the brutal terms of their own incorporation to the European Union. This explains the openly punitive approach to Greece – turning it into the ‘Haiti of Europe’ analogous to the US’ long standing brutalization of the rebellious Haitians – as an object lesson to its own Caribbean and Latin American clients.

The root cause of German intransigence has nothing to do with the political personalities or quirks of Angela Merkle and Wolfgang Schnauble: Such imperial leaders do not operate out of neurotic vindictiveness. Their demand for total Greek submission is an imperative of German empire-building, a continuation of the step-by-step conquest of Europe.

German empire-building emphasizes economic conquests, which go hand-in-hand with US empire-building based on military conquests. The same economic satellites of Germany also serve as sites for US military bases and exercises encircling Russia; these vassal states provide mercenary soldiers for US imperial wars in South Asia, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

Syriza’s economic surrender is matched by its spineless sell-out to NATO, its support of sanctions against Russia and its embrace of US policies toward Syria, Lebanon and Israel.

Germany and its imperial partners have launched a savage attack on the working people of Greece, usurping Greek sovereignty and planning to seize 50 billion Euros of vital Greek public enterprises, land and resources. This alone should dispels the myth, promoted especially by the French social democratic demagogue Jacques Delores, that European capitalism is a benign form of ‘social welfarism’ and an ‘alternative’ to the savage Anglo-American version capitalism.

What has been crucial to previous and current versions of empire-building is the role of a political collaborator class facilitating the transition to colonialism. Here is where social democrats, like Alexis Tsipras, who excel in the art of talking left while embracing the right, flatter and deceive the masses into deepening austerity and pillage.

Instead of identifying the class enemies within the EU and organizing an alternative working class program, Tsipras and his fellow collaborators pose as EU ‘partners’, fostering class collaboration – better to serve imperial Europe: When the German capitalists demanded their interest payments, Tsipras bled the Greek economy. When German capitalists sought to dominate Greek markets, Tsipras and Syriza opened the door by keeping Greece in the EU. When German capital wanted to supervise the take-over of Greek properties, Tsipras and Syriza embraced the sell-off.

There is clear class collaboration within the Greek elite in the destruction of nation’s sovereignty: Greek banker oligarchs and sectors of the commercial and tourist elite have acted as intermediaries of the German empire builders and they personally benefit from the German and EU takeover despite the destitution of the Greek public. Such economic intermediaries, representing 25% of the electorate, have become the main political supporters of the Syriza-Tsipras betrayal. They join with the EU elite applauding Tsipras’ purge of left critics and his authoritarian seizure of legislative and executive power! This collaborator class will never suffer from pension cuts, layoffs and unemployment. They will never have to line up at crippled banks for a humiliating dole of 65 Euros of pension money. These collaborators have hundreds of thousands and millions stashed in overseas bank accounts and invested in overseas real estate. Unlike the Greek masses, they are ‘European’ first and foremost – willing accomplices of German empire builders!

Tragic Beginnings: The Greek People Elect a Trojan Horse

Syriza is deeply rooted in Greek political culture. A leadership of educated mascots serving overseas European empire-builders. Syriza is supported by academic leftists who are remote from the struggles, sacrifices and suffering of the Greek masses. Syriza’s leadership emerged on the scene as ideological mentors and saviors with heady ideas and shaky hands. They joined forces with downwardly mobile middle class radicals who aspired to rise again via the traditional method: radical rhetoric, election to office, negotiations and transactions with the local and foreign elite and betrayal of their voters. Theirs is a familiar political road to power, privilege and prestige. In this regard, Tsipras personifies an entire generation of upwardly mobile opportunists, willing and able to sellout Greece and its people. He perpetuates the worst political traditions: In campaigns he promoted consumerism over class consciousness (discarding any mobilization of the masses upon election!). He is a useful fool, embedded in a culture of clientelism, kleptocracy, tax evasion, predatory lenders and spenders – the very reason his German overlords tolerated him and Syriza, although on a short leash!

Tsipras’ Syriza has absolute contempt for democracy. He embraces the ‘Caudillo Principle’: one man, one leader, one policy! Any dissenters invite dismissal!

Syriza has utterly submitted to imperial institutions, the Troika and their dictates, NATO and above all the EU, the Eurozone. Tsipras/ Syriza reject outright independence and freedom from imperial dictates. In his ‘capitulation to the Germans’ Tsipras engaged in histrionic theatrics, but by his own personal dictate, the massive ‘NO to EU’ vote was transformed into a YES.

The cruelest political crime of all has been Tsipras running down the Greek economy, bleeding the banks, emptying the pension funds and freezing everyday salaries while ‘blaming the bankers’, in order to force the mass of Greeks to accept the savage dictates of his imperial overlords or face utter destitution!

The Ultimate Surrender

Tsipras and his sycophants in Syriza, while constantly decrying Greece’s subordination to the EU empire-builders and claiming victimhood, managed to undermine the Greek people’s national consciousness in less than 6 months. What had been a victorious referendum and expression of rejection by three-fifths of the Greek voters turned into a prelude to a farcical surrender by empire collaborators. The people’s victory in the referendum was twisted to represent popular support for a Caudillo. While pretending to consult the Greek electorate, Tsipras manipulated the popular will into a mandate for his regime to push Greece beyond debt peonage and into colonial vassalage.

Tsipras is a supreme representation of Adorno’s authoritarian personality: On his knees to those above him, while at the throat of those below.

Once he has completed his task of dividing, demoralizing and impoverishing the Greek majority, the local and overseas ruling elites will discard him like a used condom, and he will pass into history as a virtuoso in deceiving and betraying the Greek people.

Epilogue:

Syriza’s embrace of hard-right foreign policies should not be seen as the ‘result of outside pressure’, as its phony left supporters have argued, but rather a deliberate choice. So far, the best example of the Syriza regime’s reactionary policies is its signing of a military agreement with Israel.

According to the Jerusalem Post (July 19, 2015), the Greek Defense Minister signed a mutual defense and training agreement with Israel, which included joint military exercises. Syriza has even backed Israel’s belligerent position against the Islamic Republic of Iran, endorsing Tel Aviv’s ridiculous claim that Teheran represents a terrorist threat in the Middle East and Mediterranean. Syriza and Israel have inked a mutual military support pact that exceeds any other EU member agreement with Israel and is only matched in belligerence by Washington’s special arrangements with the Zionist regime.

Israel’s ultra-militarist ‘Defense’ Minister Moshe Yaalon, (the Butcher of Gaza), hailed the agreement and thanked the Syriza regime for ‘its support’. It is more than likely that Syriza’s support for the Jewish state explains its popularity with Anglo-American and Canadian ‘left’ Zionists…

Syriza’s strategic ties with Israel are not the result of EU ‘pressure’ or the dictates of the ‘Troika’. The agreement is a radical reversal of over a half-century of Greek support for the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people against the Israeli terrorist state. This military pact, like the Syriza regime’s economic capitulation to the German ruling class, is deeply rooted in the ‘colonial ideology’, which permeates Tsipras’ policies. He has taken Greece a significant step ‘forward’ from economic vassal to a mercenary client of the most retrograde regime in the Mediterranean.

Jul 072015
 

By Michael Nevradakis in Athens with Greg Palast in New York, 99GetSmart

Greek journalist Michael Nevradakis and US investigative journalist Greg Palast have a different take on the Greek ‘No’ vote against Europe’s cruel austerity demands.

euro-and-Greece

We Greeks have voted ‘No’ to slavery – but ‘Yes’ to our chains.

Not surprisingly, by nearly two-to-one, Greeks have overwhelmingly rejected the cruel, economically bonkers “austerity” program required by the European Central Bank in return for an ECB loan to pay Greece’s creditors. In doing so, the Greek people overcame an unprecedented campaign of fear from the Greek and international media, the European Union (EU), and most of our political parties.

What’s simply whack-o is that, while voting “No” to austerity, many Greeks wish to remain shackled to the euro, the very cause of our miseries.

Resistance, not Crisis

Before we explain how the euro is the cause of this horror show, let’s clear up one thing right away. All week, worldwide media was filled with news of the Greek “crisis.” Yes, the economy stinks, with one in four Greeks unemployed. But two other euro nations, Spain and Cyprus, also are suffering this depression level of unemployment. Indeed, more than 11% of workers in seven euro nations, including Portugal and Italy, are out of work.

But unlike Greece, these other suffering nations have quietly acquiesced to their “austerity” punishments. Spaniards now accept that they are fated forevermore to be low-paid servants to beer-barfing British tourists. Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, who has enacted a draconian protest ban at home to keep his own suffering masses at bay, has joined in the jackal-pack rejecting anything but the harshest of austerity terms for Greece.

The difference between these quiescent nations and Greece is that the Greeks won’t take it anymore.

What the media calls the Greek “crisis” is, in fact, resistance.

Resistance to nowhere

But it’s a resistance whose leaders are leading them nowhere.
For decades, Greeks have suffered governments that are both corrupt and dishonest. The election of SYRIZA changed all that: the government is now merely dishonest.

Our new SYRIZA Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, correctly called the austerity plan “blackmail.” However, before Sunday’s vote, Tsipras told the nation a big fat fib. He said we could vote down the European Bank’s plan but keep the European Bank’s coin, the euro. How? Tsipras won’t say; it’s part of a policy ploy his outgoing finance minister Yanis Varoufakis calls “creative ambiguity.” To translate: Creative ambiguity is Greek for “bullshit.”

Sorry, Alexis, if you want to use the Reich’s coin you have to accept the Reichsdiktat.

Not a coin, a virus

Tsipras’ claim that Greece can keep the euro while rejecting austerity is crazy-talk. The fact is that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Cruella De Vil of the Eurozone, will ignore the cries of the bleeding Greeks and demand we swallow austerity–or lose the euro.

But, so what if we lose the euro? The best thing that can happen to Greece, and should have happened long, long ago, is that Greece flee the Eurozone.

That’s because it is the euro itself that is the virus responsible for Greece’s economic ills.

Indeed, the sadistic commitment to “austerity” was minted into the coin’s very metal. We’re not guessing. One of us (Palast, an economist by training) has had long talks with the acknowledged “father” of the euro, Professor Robert Mundell. It’s important to mention the other little bastard spawned by the late Prof. Mundell: “supply-side” economics, otherwise known as “Reaganomics,” “Thatcherism” – or, simply “voodoo” economics.

The imposition of the euro had one true goal: To end the European welfare state.

For Mundell and the politicians who seized on his currency concept, the euro itself would be the vector infecting the European body politic with supply-side Reaganomics. Mundell saw a euro’d Europe as free of trade unions and government regulations; a Europe in which the votes of parliaments were meaningless. Each Eurozone nation, unable to control neither the value of its own currency, nor its own budget, nor its own fiscal policy, could only compete for business by slashing regulations and taxes. Mundell said, “[The euro] puts monetary policy out of the reach of politicians… Without fiscal policy, the only way nations can keep jobs is by the competitive reduction of rules on business.”

Here’s how it works. To join the Eurozone, nations must agree to keep their deficits to no more than 3% of GDP and total debt to no more than 60% of GDP. In a recession, that’s plain insane. By contrast, President Obama pulled the USA out of recession by increasing deficit spending to a staggering 9.8% of GDP, and he raised the nation’s debt to 101% from a pre-recession 62%. Republicans screamed, but it worked. The US has lower unemployment than any Eurozone nation.

As Obama scolded the European tormentors of Greece: “You cannot keep on squeezing countries that are in the midst of depression.” Cutting spending power only leads to less spending which leads to further cuts in spending power – a death spiral we see today in the Eurozone from Greece to Italy to Spain—but not in Germany.

“Not in Germany.” There’s the rub. Normally, a nation such as Greece can quickly recover from debt-induced recession by devaluing its currency. Greece would become a dirt cheap tourist destination once more and its lower-cost exports would zoom, instantly increasing competitiveness. And that’s what Germany can’t allow. Germany lured other European nations into the euro in order to keep them from undercutting Germany’s prices in export markets.

Restricted by the 3% deficit rule, the only recourse left for Eurozone debtors: pay the piper with “austerity” measures.

Tsipras in Wonderland

So therein lies the lie. Tsipras tells his fellow Greeks that we can live in a Looking Glass world, where we can have our euro and eat it too; that we can stay handcuffed to the euro but run free without austerity.

The nonsense continues: Following the announcement of the official results of the referendum on Sunday night, Tsipras tweeted that the Greek electorate voted for a “Europe of solidarity and democracy,” while the now-resigned finance minister Varoufakis tweeted that “Greece’s place in the Eurozone is non-negotiable,” claiming that he would not allow the “only alternative,” the old drachma trading alongside the euro.

SYRIZA’s euro-fetish was already evident in its pre-referendum proposals to the IMF and European Bank, a 47-page document which included 8 billion euros in new austerity measures plus a new round of sell-offs of state industries, the maintenance of a primary surplus of 1% this year which would increase in the coming years, the increase of the retirement age to 67, and making permanent the previously “temporary” taxes upon an already overtaxed populace. In Tsipras’ own proposal, there was no word of a debt write-down or stoppage of payments, despite the fact that the government’s own Debt Audit Commission announced on June 17 that the bulk of Greece’s debt is illegal, “odious,” and should not be paid.

Instead, Tsipras has come out in support of the IMF’s proposal for a mere 30% “debt haircut” and a 20-year grace period, effectively sweeping the problem under the rug. Greece is currently running a deficit, meaning that in order for the 1% surplus to be achieved, SYRIZA must cut, cut, cut. Exactly as Mundell and the supply-siders intended.

Death by “Reform”

Like Obama, Tsipras knows that cutting pensions, privatizing and closing industries, slashing wages – in other words, “austerity” — or, to use the latest jargon, “reform” – is not just cruel, it’s plain stupid: it can only push a nation in recession into depression.

That’s not just theory. The Troika (the European Central Bank, IMF and European Commission) first imposed their vicious austerity measures on Greece in 2010. Greeks watched their annual salaries plummet to half of a German’s paycheck. Greece’s supposedly generous pensions have been cut eight times during the crisis, while two-thirds of pensioners live below the poverty line. Everything from Greece’s airports to harbors, the national lottery to prime publicly-owned real estate was sold off, while schools and hospitals were shuttered.

And, for the first time since World War II, widespread starvation had returned. 500,000 children in Greece are said to be malnourished. Students fainting from hunger in frigid schools which cannot afford heating oil is now a common phenomenon.

This cruel “belt tightening,” the Troika promised, would restore Greece’s economy by 2012 (and then 2013, 2014, and 2015). In reality, unemployment went from a terrible 12.5% in 2010 to a horrendous 25.6% today.

Now, the Troika demands more of the same, a continuation of this disastrous policy.

Crashing into Africa?

Meanwhile, following the referendum result which made him a hero, finance minister Varoufakis resigned. Ironically, while Varoufakis rubbed German officials the wrong way with his unorthodox style, he, too, maintained the pro-euro myth. Previous austerity measures continued under his watch. To please the mad austerity masters, he said he would “squeeze blood from a stone” to repay the IMF—which he did in May, when all remaining funds in the Greek Treasury were rounded up by presidential decree to make that month’s IMF loan payment. Varoufakis was so wedded to the euro that he claimed that Greece would be unable to print its old currency, the drachma, because we destroyed our currency printing presses when we joined the euro. In fact, the government’s banknote printing facility in Athens still operates, printing the 10-euro note.

Meanwhile, our future flees. A quarter million university graduates have abandoned our nation. They have no choice: unemployment for those under 25 has hit 48.6%.

I know that many Greeks, Cypriots, Italians and Portuguese all express a visceral fear of leaving the euro. Depending on which polls one chooses to believe, anywhere from a near-majority to an overwhelming majority of Greeks wish to remain in the euro at all costs. From the hysterical statements I heard from some Greeks that, “We cannot leave Europe!”, you’d think that dropping the euro will cause Greece to break off at the Albanian border and crash into Africa.

It would be refreshing to hear political leaders say the honest economic truth: “Workers of Europe unite! You have nothing to lose but the euro—and your chains.”

***

Michael Nevradakis is host of Dialogos Radio in Athens.

The Greek edition of Greg Palast’s book, Vultures’ Picnic, will soon be released by Livanis Publishing.

 

Jul 062015
 

By Michael Nevradakis99GetSmart
Reporting from Athens

66e4c088-9965-4eb9-b864-ce381ac3b932.img

It was November 2011 when I had the opportunity to meet Yanis Varoufakis in person, for the first and so far only time. Upon the invitation of his close friend and promoter James Galbraith, Varoufakis was visiting the University of Texas, where I was studying, to give a talk about the future of the Eurozone and to present his new book. As the host of what was then a locally-produced Greek radio program (Austin Hellenic Radio), I attended Varoufakis’ talk in order to try to get an interview with him on site. And indeed, I did. “Be quick though, eight other media outlets are waiting to speak with me,” Varoufakis told me.

This quote made an impression on me, but is quite indicative of Varoufakis’ personality. His “rock star” status in the world of “anti-austerity” economics was already beginning to be solidified. That same period, Varoufakis made appearances on CBS’ 60 Minutes, on NPR, and on a number of other media outlets across the world. One year later, Varoufakis would be back at the University of Texas, apparently on Galbraith’s invitation, as a visiting scholar. His annual salary of $100,000 (which can be seen through publicly-available records, as the University of Texas is a state university), was more than what many tenured professors earn at the same university. But despite his burgeoning celebrity status, little did I imagine that just a few years later, he would become the finance minister of a Greece which was even deeper in crisis.

Flash forward to Sunday night: the resounding “no” vote in Greece’s dubious referendum on whether or not to accept the already-rescinded proposals of the institutions formerly known as the troika was now official. For many in Greece and also in the global left, which continues to amaze with just how unaware of reality it really is, this “no” vote was the beginning of a new chapter for Greece, a victory for anti-austerity forces led by the darlings of the global left, SYRIZA, with prime minister Alexis Tsipras and finance minister Varoufakis at the helm. Yet, it did not take long for that bubble to burst—for those who were paying attention. Soon after the “no” result became official, Varoufakis tweeted that Greece’s place is firmly within the Eurozone, adding that he would not permit the alternative, a “parallel currency,” to be instituted. No word, of course, about the true alternative which has always been on the table: a return to a national currency. Varoufakis then described the “no” vote as a “majestic, big YES to a democratic, rational Europe,” Tsipras then followed this up with a similar tweet of his own, stating that the voters of Greece responded to the true question at hand in the referendum by stating that they want a Europe “of solidarity and democracy.” Surely that was the exact thing grandma, grandpa, and the unemployed were thinking while filling out their ballot.

The “no” vote led to celebrations in Syntagma Square and throughout Greece despite the deep divisions which exist within Greek society and which remained apparent in the lead-up to the referendum and in the results. Just one day later though, Varoufakis did what he does best: grabbed the headlines, announcing (via Twitter) that he was resigning as finance minister. The timing, while seemingly peculiar to some, couldn’t be better: Varoufakis is exiting the government as a hero, a “leftist” and “anti-austerity” darling who surely has a bright future to look forward to on the lecture circuit, as an author and analyst, and perhaps even with a corner office waiting for him somewhere in Washington or Brussels.

Varoufakis is escaping at just the right time, as a few hours later on Monday, Tsipras was given the “green light” by the leaders of all of the political parties represented in the Greek parliament, sans the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), to come to an agreement with the “institutions.” Tsipras and other SYRIZA officials have, again, stated their repeated intention to keep Greece within the Eurozone. Tsipras and others, including Varoufakis, have never acknowledged the findings of their own government’s “debt truth commission,” which found that most of Greece’s public debt is illegal and odious and the repayment of which would be a violation of the Greek people’s human rights. Tsipras, instead, has stated his intention to follow the recommendations of the “good cop” (the IMF) in merely requesting a “debt haircut” of 30% and a 20-year “grace period.” Following Varoufakis’ resignation, Tsipras was said to be considering a broader cabinet shake-up which would include more “centrist” elements that would then continue negotiations with the creditors.

In case it is still unclear, the writing on the wall is as follows: Tsipras and his government are going hard for a new agreement that will not be popular, and which will not be much different from the proposals which Greek voters said “no” to. A new agreement perhaps not markedly different from the 47-page proposal submitted by SYRIZA prior to the referendum being called, which included the implementation of a primary budget surplus of almost 1% beginning this year (even though Greece is currently in deficit and would therefore need to cut its way back to a surplus), dozens of privatizations in a program that would continue well past 2020, making permanent many previously “temporary” taxes which SYRIZA had declared unconstitutional prior to the elections, and pledges to honor Greece’s debt commitments. And this time around, whatever the proposal is, either on the part of the government or the “institutions,” the Greek people won’t be given the option to say “yay” or “nay.” Notably, with the “vote of support” Tsipras received today, he has the backing of the same pro-austerity political forces—New Democracy, PASOK, To Potami, and the far-right Golden Dawn—which, until yesterday, were urging the Greek public to vote “yes.”

Varoufakis, in other words, is escaping the oncoming train wreck, and with good reason. But does that make him a hero? Anything but. Varoufakis is a master of rhetoric and doublespeak, a man who knows exactly how to tailor his message for the audience he is addressing, saying one thing to his “partners” in the IMF and in Brussels, and something different to the Greek people shaking his hand and patting him on the back on the street in Athens. Despite his carefully-crafted public image, however, there is much evidence which belies Varoufakis’ true intentions:

  • Soon after assuming the post of finance minister, Varoufakis proposed towards his partners in the Eurogroup the continuation of 70 percent of the previously-existing (and illegal) austerity measures, enacted by the unelected government of technocrat Loukas Papademos in February 2012 amidst tremendous popular protest and police violence.

  • When even the continuation of almost three-fourths of the austerity measures proved to be insufficient for the troika, Varoufakis capitulated, agreeing to continue all of the existing agreements “temporarily” (for an additional four months). He then returned to Greece and told the Greek people that this agreement consisted of “creative ambiguity.”

  • In an interview with the Associated Press in early March, Varoufakis flatly stated that he would “squeeze blood from a stone” to repay the IMF, which holds views that he “personally agrees with.”

  • Varoufakis ended up being true to his word: in late April, the Greek government issued a presidential decree (a practice which it had pledged prior to the elections that it would not continue) to essentially confiscate all remaining funds in the Greek Treasury, including pension, health, and education funds. These funds were then used to make the IMF May loan repayment.

  • In May, Varoufakis, along with economy Minister Giorgos Stathakis and then-lead negotiator Euclid Tsakalotos (who is now Varoufakis’ replacement as Finance Minister) hand-picked former World Bank employee Elena Panaritis as Greece’s new representative to the IMF. Panaritis’ impressive CV boasts of her accomplishments in pushing forth hundreds of privatizations in Peru and other Latin American countries, while she is perhaps best known for her role in promoting policies which became known as “Fujishock,” named after the now-jailed (on charges of murder and human rights violations) ex-president of Peru Alberto Fujimori. Panaritis is a former MP with PASOK, who has stated that she is “American, not Greek, and who voted in favor of the memorandum (austerity) agreements. Due to popular outcry, including from voices within SYRIZA, Panaritis eventually withdrew from her new post as IMF representative.

  • Prior to the July 5 referendum, Varoufakis kept stating his intention to “restructure” Greece’s debt, even though his government’s own “debt truth commission” found that the debt is illegal and odious. Varoufakis has not acknowledged this finding, talking only of a “restructuring.”

  • Varoufakis flat-out lied, in a radio interview on ABC Australia, claiming that Greece could not print drachmas even if it wanted to, that they were destroyed in the year 2000, the year before Greece joined the Eurozone. In actually, Greece joined in 2002, and to this day maintains an ultra-modern banknote printing facility in the Athens suburb of Holargos, one of six such facilities in the Eurozone, which is used to print 10 euro notes, and occasionally other denominations. Even if Greece did not have such a facility though, it could follow the example of dozens of other countries and simply outsource its banknote printing to outside firms, based in Switzerland and elsewhere.

  • Varoufakis, prior to the January elections, had his new book presented at the Athens Music Hall by television talking head Mbambis Papadimitriou of Sky TV. Papadimitriou is perhaps best known for stating his views that the previous New Democracy government should not discount a future governing coalition with a “serious” Golden Dawn, while Sky TV, in a sea of pro-austerity media outlets, waved the “yes” flag higher than most, providing exactly zero minutes and zero seconds of televised coverage of the demonstrations in favor of voting “no.”

  • Varoufakis, early in his tenure as Finance Minister, spoke of the need for the Greek people to lead an “austere existence.” He and his wife Danae Stratou then posed for a remarkably obnoxious photo shoot at their Athens penthouse, with a view of the Acropolis, for gossip magazine Paris Match.

  • Varoufakis has repeatedly repeated mythology about the crisis and the Greek people which is untrue: that “hard-working” European taxpayers are supporting Greece (when in fact, their money is being loaned, profitably, to Greece), while referencing the myth that Greece has the highest percentage of Porsche Cayenne ownership in the world, a claim which has been debunked but which remains remarkably persistent to this day.

  • Varoufakis has stated that his homeland is Europe, not Greece, and that he would like to see the formation of a “United States of Europe.”

  • Varoufakis has repeatedly claimed, falsely, that no country has ever not repaid the IMF. He has also stated that he prefers a “European solution” to Greece’s crisis, instead of following the example of countries such as Argentina.

As pointed out by analyst Wayne Madsen, Varoufakis has also been employed as an “economist-in-residence” for the Valve Corporation, closely linked to Microsoft and Bill Gates. He served for six years as an economic adviser to former Greek prime minister George Papandreou, who later dragged Greece under troika supervision after first ensuring that Greece’s debt and deficit figures were falsified (worsened) in order to provide the economic and political impetus for Greece to be dragged under troika oversight. The foreword to one of Varoufakis’ books, “A Modest Proposal,” was written by former French prime minister Michae Rocard, who has called for current European Parliament president Martin Schulz to be apppinted as European “strongman” and who has repeatedly warned SYRIZA to abide by the current austerity agreements.

It is clear that Varoufakis is not a hero or a man of integrity. If anyone is heroic, it is the majority of Greek voters, who in the face of an unprecedented media and political terror campaign, voted “no” to the European creditors’ proposals, even if the referendum itself is dubious in nature. Despite this though, Varoufakis and SYRIZA are receiving heroic treatment, proving once again how easily people are swayed and how easily they are satisfied by words, instead of by concrete actions. Greek voters may have courageously voted “no” to the proposals of the troika, but the ball remains in their court: will they keep up their resistance, or will they accept a SYRIZA capitulation and continue giving a hero’s welcome to a government which has sold them out?

Jul 052015
 

By Michael Nevradakis99GetSmart
Reporting from Athens

Photo by Marios Lolos

Photo by Marios Lolos

With early returns from the referendum coming in, it is clear that a vote of “no” to the austerity measures proposed by the institutions formerly known as the troika will prevail, with a clear majority that will likely surpass 60%. As I write this, the sky is falling on Greece, the sea is drying up, day has become night, trees and flowers and kittens are dying, bullets and missiles are flying, and Greece is feeling the angry wrath of the gods for defying the will of the creditors, the mass media, and the troika.

At least, that’s what the mass media would have had us believe, with their dire warnings as to what a “no” vote would bring for Greece and with their utterly disgraceful coverage of events in Greece over the past two weeks. In reality, as I am writing this, I am sitting on a park bench in an ordinary neighborhood of Athens. It is a beautiful Greek summer evening, there is a light breeze, young people, families, and the elderly are walking about, and there is no sign of anything but life continuing on as normal. A couple of miles away, in Syntagma Square, more Greeks are congregating to celebrate the “no” victory in today’s referendum.

In my previous piece, I strongly questioned the timing of this referendum and the question being posed to the Greek voters, as well as the SYRIZA-led government’s actions throughout its five-plus months in office and in the days leading up to today’s poll. Those criticisms and questions remain. Nevertheless, amidst a climate of pure media and political terrorism, blackmail, and manipulation, Greek voters resoundingly said no to the proposals put forth by the institutions. This, in itself, is a major milestone for Greece and for the Greek people.

Today’s result is not a victory for the government, whose actions continue to betray its pre-election promises and electoral platform, and whose referendum was held under the worst possible circumstances: with banks shuttered, with capital controls enforced, with an out-of-control media freely terrorizing the public, and in the middle of the country’s tourist season. The result is, however, a victory against the scaremongering of the media, of the European institutions, and of Greece’s completely discredited political class, namely the previously establishment political parties (New Democracy and PASOK) and their media-supported allies (To Potami).

The media coverage seen in the previous days, both from Greek and international outlets, is nothing short of disgraceful; a hatchet job against Greece and its people. The Guardian, which remains for some absurd reason a well-regarded publication in Greece despite years of inaccurate and sensationalistic articles about Greece, warned its readers that shelves in Greek supermarkets are barren, that the tourist resorts of Mykonos and Santorini are facing “food shortages,” that gas stations are out of fuel, and that every single ATM in Athens had throngs of people queuing up to withdraw their funds. One visit to travel forums on the Internet, such as TripAdvisor, shows hundreds upon hundreds of postings from prospective visitors to Greece, who have been influenced by this absurd media coverage and who are second-guessing their upcoming holidays in Greece.

The clear bias in favor of “yes” was apparent in the writings and also in the tweets of numerous correspondents based in Greece, whose coverage all throughout the crisis has been nothing short of disgraceful. Some such correspondents, such as Yannis Koutsomitis, could not hide the fact that they voted “yes” in today’s referendum, just as they have been unable to conceal their staunchly pro-austerity views, despite all evidence as to how destructive these policies have been and continue to be. The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN and the BBC warned their audiences about the impending chaos that would be arriving in Greece in the event of a “no” vote, while making sure to warn the audience about the perils that a “grexit” would bring to Greece, connecting the referendum with the issue of whether or not Greece will remain in the Eurozone. Such biased “reporting” is irresponsible and, indeed, criminal and it is a tremendous shame that these “journalists” have such a large audience, including tens of thousands of Twitter followers, to spread their misinformation.

Today’s vote is a response not just to this media terrorism, but to all those around the world who have fallen victim to such media coverage: the clearly ignorant and uniformed and the racist, who continue to fall back on completely untrue and discredited stereotypes that Greeks don’t work hard, don’t pay taxes, retire at age 50, and have been living off of free money provided by “hard-working European taxpayers” (similar to statements, incidentally, also made by celebrity finance minister Varoufakis in the early days of the SYRIZA-led government). Successive Greek governments, including the current coalition, have done nothing to attempt to reverse Greece’s image abroad or to correct the numerous racist and ignorant stereotypes which exist about the Greek people and which continue to be perpetuated by numerous media outlets.

Today’s vote is also a victory against the domestic media system, the oligarch-owned television and radio stations, newspapers and Internet portals, which provided almost wall-to-wall coverage in favor of voting “yes,” in favor of more austerity and further capitulation to the EU. The same media outlets which, despite SYRIZA’s empty rhetoric (something which it is great at), are still allowed free rein to do and say as they please, facts and objectivity be damned. Greek voters overcame this non-stop propaganda campaign not due to the “radical” government that is in office, but because many Greeks finally have had enough and have shut these media outlets out of their lives.

Despite this, 40 percent of voters—four in ten, in other words—said “yes” to Europe, “yes” to more austerity, more cuts, lowered pensions, more privatizations, a continued “brain drain” out of the country. This is hardly a surprise, unfortunately. It is reflective of the deep divisions which exist in Greek society, and a longstanding inferiority complex held by many Greeks that Greece is worthless without being a part of the “civilized West,” which they define as the Eurozone, NATO, and the European Union. It is reflective of the divide-and-conquer efforts of much of Greece’s political class and by the media, where public servants have been pitted against employees of privately-owned corporations and businesses, the latter of whom were among the strongest proponents of “staying in Europe” and voting “yes” while blaming the public sector for each and every one of the country’s ills.

The commonly-heard argument is that without Europe, Greece has no future, Greek children have no future, that the country will be “internationally isolated.” The irony of the “yes” supporters is that they are the ones who, quite typically, are critical of the patronage state and the perceived corruption in Greece, but who then vote for the same parties which perpetuated this system and this corruption for four decades. One also has to wonder what sort of future the children of Norway, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, and Iceland have and how these countries are managing to cope with the apparent “isolation” they must be experiencing, as they are neither members of the Eurozone nor the European Union.

In the days leading up to the referendum, the media and political machine did its very best to convince the world that “yes” would prevail, that the Greek people “wanted to remain in Europe” (where would Greece go? Africa? Antarctica? Mars?). A media manipulation playbook, prepared on behalf of New Democracy, was leaked to the public, explaining just how the message in favor of “yes” would be propagandized to the masses, while stating that any polls showing even a small “no” lead (of up to five percentage points) would be spun into showing a narrow margin in favor of “yes.” This was followed up by the exit polls which were announced moments after the polls closed at 7 pm in Greece, showing, at best, a narrow margin of victory for “no” and leaving open the possibility of a narrow “yes” majority.

The true results, however, show a clear majority in favor of “no,” once again discrediting the polling firms, whose pre-election opinion surveys and exit polls were laughably off the mark in 2010, in 2012, in 2014, and again prior to the elections of this past January. These polling firms (who receive funding from the state apparatus and whose polls are not independently conducted, but instead conducted on behalf of the same pro-austerity and/or pro-government media outlets) and their results (including their repeated “findings” that 70-80% of Greeks want to stay in the Eurozone at all costs) should never be trusted again, or referenced by anyone who cares about facts or reality.

Despite the celebrations though, the true test as to how much the people of Greece have actually “stood up” to the austerity regime will take place in the coming days, and not with the “no” victory today. Because if the “radical” SYRIZA government dares to come back with its own proposals for further austerity, primary surpluses and privatizations (47 page proposal, measures totaling 8 billion euros, etc.) and those who voted “no” today accept this and treat SYRIZA as heroes, then it will be evident that there is no true resistance and that nothing has changed.

The real referendum,, in other words, will follow in the coming days.

Jul 042015
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

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It was just four months ago, though it already seems like a lifetime away, when Greece’s celebrity finance minister Yanis Varoufakis publicly stated that “creative ambiguity” won the country a “loan lifeline” from the institutions formerly known as the troika: the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund. Despite the never-ending soap opera that is Greek crisis politics though, few would have imagined that the SYRIZA-led coalition government would succeed in outdoing itself in terms of its “creative ambiguity,” by calling a referendum which, just days before the polls open, remains remarkably unclear as to its actual meaning and potential consequences.

Setting The Stage for the Referendum

What has been actually happening in Greece though, over the past week? Lots has been heard in the Greek and international media, much of it tainted by either a pro-austerity or pro-SYRIZA bias and a generous dose of sensationalism. Cutting through all of this media-created noise, the realities are as follows: in a peculiarly-timed nationally-televised address which aired live a minute after midnight on June 27, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras announced to the nation that a referendum would be held on whether or not to approve the set of proposals put forth by the “institutions.” The last referendum held in Greece was in 1974, just after Greece’s Western-backed military regime fell, when Greeks overwhelmingly voted “no” for the restoration of the monarchy. This announcement was initially hailed by a majority of the public, as it was seen as a bold step towards giving the Greek people a direct say in the country’s affairs for the first time during the five-plus years of financial crisis.

It quickly became clear, however, that the referendum was not as straightforward as it initially seemed. Just what were the Greek people being called upon to approve or disapprove? Though a lot has been heard in the Greek media about the demands of the “institutions,” these media reports have overwhelmingly been cast through a vehemently pro-austerity filter. The government posted the full, translated text of the proposals on the Internet as well as Sunday’s ballot, but even today, almost half of Greek households do not have Internet access, particularly older generations which happen to have the highest percentage of voter participation (and which are also the heaviest television viewers). Only days before the referendum, the consequences of a “no” vote also remain equally muddled on the part of the government: how will a SYRIZA-led government interpret it and what will its actions be should this be the outcome of the referendum?

So far, the only thing that has been heard from the SYRIZA-led government is that a “no” vote would “strengthen” the government’s “negotiating position.” On Friday, Varoufakis stated that if “no” prevails in the referendum, the government has received “some very decent proposals” from “official Europe,” adding that “a deal is more or less done,” without going into any additional detail about what this supposed deal entails. Varoufakis added that if “yes” ultimately prevails on July 5th, that the government will sign off on the proposals presented by the “institutions”—just days after he and Tsipras strongly indicated that they would resign in the event of a “yes” vote. Notably, the Greek people will not be asked to vote upon any of the other proposals that are apparently on the table, either from “official Europe” or on the part of SYRIZA. In an interview on Australia’s ABC, Varoufakis outright lied, claiming that Greece does not have the capacity to print drachmas. In fact, Greece possesses a state-of-the-art printing facility for banknotes, one of six such facilities in the Eurozone.

In the meantime, two days after calling a referendum, and after allowing sufficient panic to set in, the Greek government decided to impose capital controls, declaring a week-long bank holiday and imposing a daily withdrawal limit of €60 per account, per day, for all Greek bank accounts). Public officials who were to be paid on the 27th and 28th of the month were obliged to queue up at specific bank branches, opened exclusively for them, to withdraw a maximum of €120 from their paychecks. Following this, the ECB embargoed Greece, while the SYRIZA-led government did not enact any measures whatsoever to calm down a jittery populace, including pensioners, who were suddenly left with limited access to cash. Instead, the government offered additional guarantees of €4.92 billion to the National Bank of Greece and €1.91 billion to Eurobank, two banks which have already been heavily recapitalized with taxpayer funds during the crisis. Essentially, the government acted to protect bankrupted banks that have remained afloat with public support, but took absolutely no measures to assuage the nerves of the populace or to protect salaries or pensions.

The SYRIZA-led government, in other words, far from undertaking a “heroic” and “brave” decision in giving Greek voters a say, have instead hastily organized a rather unclear referendum under the worst possible circumstances: with banks shuttered and capital controls imposed. This has given fuel to Greece’s oligarch-owned, pro-austerity media, who have successfully transformed the public debate into a dilemma between voting “yes” to “stay in Europe” and maintain Greece’s “European prospect,” and voting “no” and bringing “catastrophe” and “chaos” to Greece in the form of a “grexit.” In essence, the referendum has been transformed into a yes-or-no vote on staying within the Eurozone or departing, even though SYRIZA continues to maintain, at every opportunity, that it refuses to consider a grexit and that will keep Greece within the Eurozone and the European Union.

Adding to the confusion and contributing to the uneasiness in Greece, various members of the SYRIZA-led government, including Giannis Dragasakis, the government’s vice-president, suggested earlier in the week that the referendum might be withdrawn, before rescinding his statement. It was then reported by the media that Tsipras submitted a new proposal to the “institutions,” a proposal which aimed to settle Greece’s funding from the supra-national European Stability Mechanism in order for Greece’s debt to become “sustainable” while giving emphasis to the “growth perspective.” This proposal would essentially mean that Greek taxpayers would repay the IMF loans with ESM money that would be loaned to Greece at double the interest rate.

This latest proposal, in essence, conceeded on almost all points to the “institutions.” It included the acceptance of a new retirement age of 67, the implementation of which would merely be delayed until October (as if that would make any real difference). It includes significant reductions in Greek military spending, on the order of €200 million in 2016 and €400 million in 2017, at a time when the military is already suffering from shortages of fuel and supplies in an increasingly unstable Eastern Mediterranean. The new proposal also makes mention of a “new framework” for labor markets that would be legislated in the autumn, and accepts recommendations from the OECD’s “toolkit 1″ on “liberalizing” the marketplace. On Friday, this proposal was followed up by a new request by Tsipras, asking for a debt reduction of 30% and a 20 year grace period, as per the IMF’s recommendations.

SYRIZA’s Proposals and the “Debt Truth” Commission

SYRIZA’s “creative ambiguity” is unfortunately not limited just to the referendum which has been declared. In Greece, “kolotoumba” is the word colloquially used to refer to political “flip-flops” or promises that have been reneged upon, and in its five-plus months in power, SYRIZA has gone away from practically all of its key pre-election promises and the proposals of its Thessaloniki policy programme, presented in September 2014. During the first round of Greek negotiations with the “institutions” in February, Varoufakis’ initial offer was for the continuation of 70% of the previously-existing austerity measures from the second memorandum, agreed upon by an unelected, technocrat-led government in February 2012. Even the mere possibility of “grexit” was never placed on a table, nor was a debt reduction, write-off, or stoppage of payments.

That same month, SYRIZA proposed and then proceeded to elect a corrupt conservative former government minister, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, hailing from the New Democracy party, as President of the Hellenic Republic. Pavlopoulos, from 2012 on, had voted in favor of all austerity legislation and has repeatedly stated his pro-euro views, claiming that he will not sign off on a “grexit” as president. The February Eurogroup agreement, which resulted from the aforementioned “creative ambiguity” and extended the so-called “bailout” towards Greece for another four months, was then followed by a series of other broken promises on the part of the government: the restoration of the minimum wage to pre-crisis levels was postponed indefinitely, the levying of the unified property tax (ENFIA), which prior to the elections had been declared “unconstitutional” and “illegal” by SYRIZA, was not only continued, but taxpayers were told that it was their “patriotic duty” to continue paying this previously “temporary” tax. Funds for education, health, housing, and other social services were not restored, despite promises to the contrary, while another series of pre-election pledges, concerning the privatization program, was also violated: not only were the privatizations that had been enforced by previous governments not reversed, but new privatizations were proposed by SYRIZA, including that of the port of Piraeus (Europe’s largest port), the port of Thessaloniki (Greece’s second-largest port), and 14 regional airports of strategic and tourist significance. Indeed, a government delegation traveled to China to discuss the sale of the port of Piraeus and other strategic assets, including railroad lines, to Chinese-owned Cosco, which already owns the Piraeus container port under a previous privatization deal.

The “kolotoumbes” do not stop here, however. Defense Minister Panos Kammenos of the supposedly anti-austerity Independent Greeks political party, which is SYRIZA’s minority partner in the governmental coalition, announced his proposal for a NATO base to be developed on the southern Aegean island of Karpathos. Additionally, the government refused to file charges against a long list of former government ministers and public officials, including the current president of the Bank of Greece and former finance minister Yannis Stournaras, for their actions in imposing the austerity regime upon Greece. More egregiously still, the SYRIZA-led government, after promising prior to the elections to discontinue the practice of legislating by presidential decree (a favored method of the previous New Democracy-PASOK coalition), issued such a decree on April 24 to confiscate the funds available in the Greek Treasury, including the funds of public institutions including public hospitals and the national health service, as well as pension and insurance funds. These confiscated funds were then used to repay the country’s May installment towards the IMF.

Throughout SYRIZA’s five-plus months in office, Varoufakis, Tsipras, and numerous other government ministers and officials have repeatedly stated their intention to repay the country’s debt, including obligations towards the IMF and ECB, in full and to the last penny. In March, Varoufakis, in an interview with the Associated Press, flatly stated that he would “squeeze blood from a stone” in order to repay the IMF, which holds views with which he personally agrees with, while falsely claiming that no country has ever reneged on its payments to the IMF. Once again, government ministers stated that this action was in the “patriotic interest” of the country.

The aforementioned actions set the stage for the latest round of “negotiations” between the Greek government and the “institutions,” negotiations which led to a 47-page proposal submitted by SYRIZA, encompassing austerity measures totaling €8 billion euros. These proposals include the continuation of dozens of privatizations, scheduled all the way past 2020, the maintenance of a primary budget surplus of 1% this year and increasing primary surpluses in the coming years, in order to appease creditors, the maintenance of previously “temporary” taxes including the ENFIA, and agreeing to fulfill the country’s debt obligations, with no mention of a write-down, stoppage of payments, or reduction in the debt level. In light of the fact that Greece finds itself running a small deficit this year, the maintenance of a primary surplus within 2015 would inevitably result in more cuts in order to meet SYRIZA’s own proposed “targets,” while the maintenance of a primary surplus or an economy which has shrunk by 25% over five years equates with making permanent an austerity regime which has strangled the marketplace and Greek households.

Even these proposals, however, were not enough for the “institutions”—and for good reason. While these “institutions” have not budged in their positions since SYRIZA came to power in January, they have seen the “radical leftist” government of Greece enter the initial February negotiations proposing continuation of almost three-fourths of the existing austerity measures, and have seen SYRIZA inch ever closer to full capitulation since then, as demonstrated by the 47-page proposal submitted most recently by SYRIZA. Under such circumstances, why would the “institutions” and the German government agree to anything less than their full demands, seeing that SYRIZA is coming ever close to a full surrender?

Notably, as this latest round of “negotiations” has taken place, the Greek parliament convened a “debt truth” commission to audit the entirety of Greece’s public debt. The final report issued by the commission on June 17 found that Greece is not only unable to pay the debt, but it is not obligated to, as the bulk of the debt is illegal, illegitimate, odious, while the repayment of said debt would contravene the basic human rights of the people of Greece. Despite these findings, however, the government has not demanded the cancellation of the majority of the public debt as part of its “negotiations,” nor has it called a referendum on this issue, in which the Greek people would be asked if they wish to repay this debt. Instead, as mentioned previously, Tsipras has publicly repeated the IMF’s proposals for a 30% reduction of the debt and a 20 year “grace period,” essentially attempting to sweep the problem under the rug for the next generation, and some other future political regime.

This “truth” commission also heard testimony from former members of Greece’s Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), who since 2011 have been publicly making allegations, backed up by a significant amount of evidence, that Greece’s debt and deficit figures were falsified in late 2009 and in 2010 in order to appear worse than they actually were, thus providing the political and economic impetus to drag Greece under the supervision of the troika. It has also been shown that former prime minister George Papandreou had met with Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then-head of the IMF, prior to the 2009 Greek elections which brought Papandrou to power, amidst promises that “we have money.” These allegations led to criminal charges being filed against the president of ELSTAT, former IMF official Andreas Georgiou, in early 2013, charges which are still pending as of today. SYRIZA, instead of taking action against Georgiou, has allowed him to remain in his position as president of the statistical authority.

Wall-to-Wall Pro-Austerity Propaganda

The “creative ambiguity” of the referendum and the government’s evident weaknesses have fueled the pro-austerity, pro-”yes” fire, both on the part of Greece’s establishment opposition parties, as well as the overwhelming majority of the Greek and international media. Every single politician from the previous regimes which governed Greece, including former prime ministers Antonis Samaras, Kostas Simitis, and Kostas Karamanlis (who spoke publicly for the first time since November 2009) have expressed a strong position in favor of voting “yes” in the upcoming referendum. Former television personality Stavros Theodorakis of the upstart To Potami political party has also not been shy in expressing a pro-yes, pro-austerity, and vehemently pro-German viewpoint, while the party is the beneficiary of copious amounts of free airtime on the same television stations which Theodorakis once worked for, while other new political parties are completely shut out of the media. Even the supposedly “patriotic” far-right Golden Dawn party, through its leader Nikos Mihaloliakos, has stated a clear position in favor of the euro, claiming (falsely) that Greece “doesn’t produce anything” and “cannot afford” to leave the Eurozone and the EU.

Even the governing coalition has not been free of voices which have spoken outright in favor of voting “yes” or who have asked for the referendum to be withdrawn, with four members of the minority coalition partner Independent Greeks expressing such views in recent days, leading to the removal of one of these members from his parliamentary position. In essence, this means that the already-flimsy governing coalition has been further weakened.

On top of this, one of Greece’s largest labor unions, the GSEE, publicly called for the referendum to be withdrawn, while the Greek Chamber of Commerce (SEB) called for a vote of “yes.” The aforementioned two organizations, as well as many other purportedly pro-worker labor unions, are viewed by many Greeks as being closely connected to the country’s party structure, essentially forming part of the so-called “deep state.” Numerous actors, celebrities, university professors (that are typically beneficiaries of EU-sponsored funding and grants) and prominent personalities have also chimed in as part of the “yes” chorus. Additionally, many employers and managers in the private and public sector have warned their employees that they will not be paid their salaries unless they vote “yes” or participate in demonstrations in favor of a “yes” vote.

However, the real damage is being done on the part of Greece’s corrupt and oligarch-owned media outlets, as well as by international news organizations through their reporters and correspondents on the ground in Greece. Prior to the January elections, SYRIZA and several of its prominent officials promised to crack down on the country’s oligarchy once in office. Its actions though, upon coming to office, suggest otherwise. On June 11, the two-year anniversary of its shutdown by the previous government, SYRIZA reopened national public broadcaster ERT, amidst great fanfare. However, what was not said was that ERT was reopened based on the law which had initially established its replacement, NERIT. Not all former employees were rehired, while the popular protest programming which had aired during the two prior years that ERT had been operated as a “pirate” station by its workers, was wiped from the schedule. Since its relaunch, ERT has essentially operated as a press wing of the SYRIZA government (which already owns a growing nationwide network of party-owned radio stations and its own nationally-circulating newspaper, Avgi). Tsipras is given unlimited airtime on ERT and is faced only with softball questions by its reporters, while ERT’s social media accounts reflect a clear pro-government slant. Furthermore, after ERT’s relaunch, the government announced its intention to sign a new contract with a private consortium known as DIGEA (jointly owned by the same oligarchs which own Greece’s six largest private television stations) for the digital transmission of ERT’s television signals throughout Greece, albeit “temporarily.”

In the meantime, the government’s rhetoric against the media oligarchs has been limited to a PR stunt in demanding that the stations pay for the usage of public frequencies (they have still not done so), and suggestions that a new licensing bid for these stations (which are still unlicensed) will be declared, a proposal which however calls for a smaller number of TV stations to operate and the auctioning off of this reduced number of frequencies (indeed this was included in SYRIZA’s 47-page proposal). The combination of auctioning the frequencies and making fewer of them available will inevitably drive up their price and mean that only the oligarchs and their ilk can afford them. And as all this has taken place, the SYRIZA government was reportedly prepared to renew the long-expired terms of the National Radio-Television Council (NCRTV)), the country’s “independent” broadcast regulator, despite the fact that this practice of continued renewals has repeatedly been deemed unconstitutional by the Council of State, Greece’s highest administrative court. The three members of the NCRTV finally resigned on their own accord, and in response, SYRIZA has allowed the NCRTV to operate, unconstitutionally, with four members instead of seven. The new, “temporary” president of the NCRTV is Lina Alexiou, the mother of SYRIZA MP and speaker of the parliament Zoe Konstantopoulou.

This muddled media situation has perfectly set the stage for the unprecedented media terrorism campaign that has followed over the past week. The newscasts and talk programs of all major private television stations in Greece and their associated media outlets (radio stations, newspapers, etc.) have provided far more coverage of the “yes” position compared to the “no” position, while this coverage has been accompanied by headlines and on-air proclamations which are clearly designed to terrorize the public into voting for more austerity. In a recent analysis of the main evening television newscasts and their coverage of successive “pro-no” and “pro-yes” demonstrations in Athens, it was found that the “pro-no” coverage across these stations totaled just eight minutes, while the corresponding “pro-yes” coverage received over 46 minutes of airtime. One station, Mega Channel, featured statements and sound bites from 36 different individuals in favor of “yes” and zero in favor of “no” in one of its newscasts. One other station, the self-proclaimed “reputable” and “non-sensational” Sky TV, offered zero minutes of “pro-no” coverage and over eight minutes of “pro-yes” coverage on its newscasts over a two-day period. This coverage has included absurd on-air headlines which have compared, for instance, “pro-no” voting booths that have sprung up, to the political situation of North Korea, while warning of (non-existent) “shortages” at supermarkets, pharmacies, and gas stations and dire warnings of impending catastrophe. One Mega Channel newscast used images from South Africa in 2012 of an elderly woman protecting another elderly woman using an ATM, as if it had taken place in Greece today, while the newspaper Star Press used an image of an elderly individual from Turkey holding loaves of bread in his hands following a catastrophic earthquake in 2011, as if the individual in question was in Greece and was hoarding bread in response to the referendum. Newspaper headlines have spread fear of a “haircut” on bank deposits, of shortages of basic goods, and of pensions which are “in danger,” as well as dire warnings of the “catastrophe” that a grexit would bring, with grexit being equated with a “no” vote.

None of this should come as a surprise in light of the fact that almost the entirety of Greece’s national media outlets are owned by a small cabal of oligarchs, with extensive interests all across the economic spectrum, from shipping and oil refineries to insurance companies and publishing houses. Indeed, Greece’s former representative to the IMF, Panagiotis Roumeliotis, admitted in recent testimony before the “debt truth” commission that numerous Greek journalists had attended IMF-sponsored “seminars,” where they were coached on how to provide reporting with a pro-euro, pro-austerity tilt.

The international media, through its coverage and its reporters and correspondents on location in Greece, has been equally terrible. The usage of the word “bailout” to describe the austerity program and loans which successive Greek governments have implemented has become systematic, lending a positive aura to such policies. Most reports, and most reporters (particularly through their Twitter accounts) have not hidden their pro-austerity and/or pro-SYRIZA biases. Channel 4′s Paul Mason, whose coverage has been strongly pro-SYRIZA, has written the foreword for Varoufakis’ recent book. Another correspondent, Simon Nixon, brazenly tweeted that Varoufakis has made “leftist history” by turning the “fastest growing Eurozone country” into a “basket case” that has “defaulted” to the IMF. One New York Times headline stated “If Greece defaults, imagine Argentina, but much worse.” CNN featured a “default countdown” in its live coverage from Greece, while most international media outlets have painted a completely untrue picture of Greece as a country that has been thrust into turmoil, chaos, and violence, with endless lines at dried-up ATMs, an infrastructure that is not operating, stranded tourists, and violence and protests in the streets, none of which is true.

The reality is that the situation has remained largely calm in Greece, queues at ATMs are usually small or non-existent, most ATMs are still being regularly topped up with more cash, while “capital controls” do not apply to tourists and anyone using non-Greek ATM cards in Greece. Debit and credit cards continue to be accepted as usual, airplanes and ferry boats and trains and buses are operating as scheduled, and there has been no reported violence of any kind. But, as the saying goes, a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes. This highly sensationalistic and false coverage of Greece has done significant damage to Greece in the midst of its money-making tourist season.

One of the favorite punching bags of the international press corps in Greece have been Greece’s purportedly “generous” pensions and retirement system, with a number of highly-followed correspondents and journalists essentially cheerleading in favor of cuts to pensions. What they have not said is that over the years of the crisis, the Greek retirement age has been successively increased to age 65 for men and 60 for women, that SYRIZA itself has proposed a new increase to the age of 67, and that the troika has cut Greek pensions eight times in the past four years. Indeed, most pensions have been slashed in half since 2012, 45% of Greek pensioners receive less than €665 per month (below the poverty line), while one-third of pensioners receive approximately €360 euros per month. The pension fund itself was depleted following SYRIZA’s presidential decree, which emptied public coffers to make the May IMF payment.

Both Greek and international media outlets also repeatedly reference the results of public opinion polls conducted by major Greek polling firms. These surveys show an apparently overwhelming majority in favor of both the government (SYRIZA is said to be 20 points ahead in the polls) as well as, counterintuively, in favor (70-80%) of remaining in the euro…at all costs. What is never mentioned by either the Greek or international media outlets, however, is that public opinion surveys conducted by Greek polling firms are neither independent nor objective. The polls themselves are conducted on behalf of media outlets which are pro-austerity and/or pro-SYRIZA (including the SYRIZA-owned Avgi newspaper), while the polling firms themselves are the recipients of generous government funding, and therefore have an incentive to portray favorably the government of the day.

The media has systematically ignored and buried coverage of polls conducted within Greece by reputable non-Greek firms such as Gallup International, whose pan-European end-of-year survey in December found that 52% of respondents in Greece favor a return to a domestic currency, or Bridging Europe, whose March 2015 poll in Greece similarly found a 53% majority in favor of leaving the euro, and whose most recent poll found that 63% of Greeks are not afraid of grexit. Instead, the international media and even left-wing media outlets and scholars ranging from Noam Chomsky and Tariq Ali, have repeated the myth that a large majority of Greeks want to remain in the Eurozone. Similarly, these media outlets have largely ignored the findings of the “debt truth” commission and have completely ignored the aforementioned ELSTAT allegations.

Similarly, media mythology that the “spendthrift” Greeks lived beyond their means or that Greece “doesn’t produce anything” has not been dispelled by Greece’s media, nor by the journalists and correspondents covering Greece for international outlets, despite the existence of clear facts to the contrary: Greece had, and continues to have, among the very lowest levels of private indebtedness in the entire European Union, lower still than the “fiscally responsible” Northern European countries. Furthermore, annual reports by the Pan-Hellenic Confederation of Unions of Agricultural Co-operatives (PASEGES) show that Greece produces enough of most staple agricultural products to be self-sufficient, while Greek industries still do exist in realms as varied as defense manufacturing, aluminum, steel, cement production, clothing and textiles, and more, accompanied by a burgeoning “start-up” landscape. Indeed, any reductions in Greek industrial and agricultural capability over the past two to three decades can be attributed to EU policies, such as the “Common Agricultural Policies” which have disincentivized the production of many previous staple crops.

IMF “Mistakes,” the Eternal Greek Inferiority Complex, and a Visit to the Heart of the EU and NATO Machine

One of the more ludicrous aspects of the ongoing crisis and “negotiations” have been the IMF’s repeated “admissions” of “mistakes” that it made in Greece’s “bailout” program, with the latest such admission coming in a tweet made by Dominique Strauss-Kahn on June 27. One has to wonder just how “mistaken” the IMF really was in the case of Greece though, when considering that the IMF’s modus operandi in all of the countries it has “saved” has been the same: stifling austerity, reduced salaries and pensions, slashed social spending, and privatizations of key industries, resources, and public assets. The fact that the very same Strauss-Kahn has previously admitted meeting with Papandreou prior to the latter’s election in 2009 shows that the IMF’s actions in Greece, far from being mistaken, were premeditated and par for the course, following the fund’s standard operating procedures.

For this reason, the latest show of “support” towards Greece, a crowdfunding campaign launched on IndieGoGo, proves to be yet another demonstration of “faux solidarity” towards the country and its suffering populace. This crowdfunding campaign, launched apparently by a 29-year old shoe shop employee in Britain, is raising money to cover Greece’s recent unpaid loan installment to the IMF. Far from collecting funds to help support the homeless, the hungry, or those without income in Greece, this “show of support” is instead raising funds to pay one of the prime culprits in Greece’s economic crisis of the past five years, a fund which has, according to the Debt Jubilee Campaign, made a €2.5 billion profit as a result of its “bailout” of Greece, while 92% of the “bailout” funds have gone back to Greece’s lenders and never entered the Greek economy.

This crowdfunding campaign has been a media sensation and a convenient distraction from other, more serious issues at play. Similarly, demonstrations in “solidarity” with the Greek people which have sprung up across the world in recent weeks often come across as demonstrations in favor of SYRIZA (belying, at the very least, a sort of blissful ignorance about the realities of SYRIZA’s actions while in power), while one has to wonder just where this solidarity was during the five previous years and just how extensive it really is, considering that politicians such as German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble are enjoying record approval ratings (if the polls are to be believed), likely in part due to their stance towards Greece.

Within Greece’s borders, once sees a similar phenomenon prevailing within a significant sector of the populace: a longstanding inferiority complex vis-à-vis the more “civilized” countries of the West. It is this nationwide Stockholm Syndrome, this learned helplessness and dependency on being a part of something “bigger and better,” whether it is the Eurozone, the EU, or NATO, which has long been a highlight of the Greek psyche, at least for a significant portion of the population, and helps explain why so many people are still in support of the very institutions which have imposed on Greece the conditions that have resulted in the worst economic depression during peacetime of any developed country during the post-war period. It explains the turnout at pro-”yes” demonstrations. It explains the reluctance with parting with the euro (even if independent polls show a majority in favor of grexit). It also explains the absolute euro-fetish of almost the entirety of Greece’s political class.

A little over two years ago, I personally had the opportunity to travel to the heart of the beast: a weeklong visit to EU institutions and to NATO, as part of an academic program I was invited to participate in. This week was full of misery for me but was nevertheless beneficial in that it was remarkably eye-opening. Hearing statements made by EU and NATO officials about Greece and hearing their viewpoints about such quaint notions about democracy were truly telling and spoke volumes about the regard with which these principles are upheld within these institutions. Throughout meetings with EU and NATO technocrats, a number of very revealing statements were made which I took note of, including:

- “The sovereign state is a 19th century construct, and nothing lasts forever.”
- [Unelected prime minister] “Monti best thing that ever happened to Italy”
- “There are regions of Italy which we wish Brussels could govern directly”
- “The labor force should be ‘flexible’ and should ‘diversify’”
- “Mussolini ‘dealt with the situation’”
- “We believe in a Single European Consciousness”
- Three reasons for European economic crisis: “Bad design. Bad luck. Bad decisions: Greece.”

If anyone has any uncertainties as to the democratic “leanings” of the Nobel Prize winning European Union and of counterpart institutions such as NATO, the aforementioned quotes should dispel any such doubts.

Of course, the EU increasingly does a fine job of demonstrating just how authoritarian and undemocratic it is even in its public statements. This was seen, for instance, on June 29th, when the secretive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is being negotiated behind closed doors and under total confidentiality by the European Union and the United States, was brought to the European Parliament for a plenary vote. In response to previous criticisms about the non-transparent TTIP proceedings, Cecilia Malmström, the European commissioner for trade, stated that she “does not receive her mandate from the European people.” The unelected president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has stated that “there can be no democratic choice against the European treaties,” while Schäuble has publicly stated that “[e]lections change nothing. There are rules.” Furthermore, Article 352 of the EU treaties afford the EU the “necessary powers” to implement coercive measures against member-states without any existing legal basis.

What Are the Alternatives?

It does not take much to demonstrate the EU’s true, undemocratic colors. Yet the common retort heard in response to arguments against the policies of the EU and the institutions is “what are the alternatives?,” or, reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s famous words, “there are no alternatives.” And yet, the alternatives are many, varied, and have been expressed by a number of economists and political figures, both within and outside of Greece.

Iceland serves as a shining example for all who believe that there is another road to be followed instead of assuming that even an illegal or odious debt must be repaid or that banks are “too big to fail” and bankers and politicians “too important to jail.” Iceland refused to pay an odious and illegal debt which, similar to that of Greece, was covered under foreign legal jurisdiction (under the law of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands). Icelanders have been given the opportunity to “crowdsource” a new constitution and to vote in a non-binding referendum, though the new constitution has not yet been implemented. Bankers and former politicians have, in several cases, been imprisoned. And Iceland’s GDP is growing faster than any country in the Eurozone while unemployment is plummeting. Even the IMF was forced to admit, in a May 2015 report, that Iceland is quickly approaching pre-crisis economic levels with the policies that it has undertaken. Yet, the example of Iceland has been completely ignored by the Greek media and in practically all outside media coverage of Greece, just as similar examples from Latin American countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador, have similarly and systematically been ignored.

Instead of blackmailing the voters of Greece to make a difficult and vague choice between a complex set of proposals and a “no” whose consequences have not been clarified on the part of the SYRIZA-led government, a referendum could have been held, with the banks open and daily life operating normally, on whether the Greek people wish to remain in the Eurozone at all costs or whether they wish to return to a national currency. Such a suggestion was, indeed, recently made by renowned analyst and author Tariq Ali, in an interview with aired on Dialogos Radio. The SYRIZA-led coalition government could break free of its Euro-fetish and open a serious dialogue with the voters of Greece, presenting a plan to break free of the EU and austerity stranglehold, explaining that it will be a challenging transition at first, but asking for the popular support and resolve to take this courageous next step. The people of Greece could be presented with an objective explanations of the pros and cons of each choice. The Greek people could also be invited, just as the people of Iceland were, to form popular committees to review the Greek constitution, the immunity laws protecting current and former politicians and government ministers, and a host of other issues pertaining to the structure and function of Greek democracy. Indeed, this referendum (or set of referendums) could have been held on or around February 20th, the date of the “creatively ambiguous” Eurogroup agreement.

The truth of the matter is that alternative voices exist in Greece, and they are plentiful. Despite the commonly-heard rhetoric, SYRIZA is not governing with a popular mandate. It received 36% of the vote—out of those who voted. While approximately 2.2 million voters chose SYRIZA on the 25th of January, over 3.5 million registered voters did not vote for anyone at all, in a country where voter turnout was traditionally very high, pre-crisis. This demonstrates that the largest percentage of Greek voters were not swayed by any of the parties participating in the January elections. Notably though, with the elections called on such short notice, almost two dozen smaller political parties were unable to raise enough funds to qualify for participation and inclusion on the ballot. These parties participated in the 2014 European parliamentary elections and in the two consecutive Greek parliamentary elections of 2012, and several of these parties have expressed clear positions against austerity and the memorandums, and in favor of leaving the euro, declaring a stoppage of payments and write-off of the majority of the debt, and investigating previous governments and politicians for their actions in leading Greece into its impasse. These parties include the United People’s Front (EPAM) and the “I Don’t Pay” Movement, and are joined by other parties which either managed to participate in the January elections (Antarsya) or which have adopted a vaguer approach to the question of grexit (the Pirate Party of Greece) but have adopted a clear “no” position in the upcoming referendum and which have questioned many of the austerity policies of the past five years and have called for more transparency and the implementation of many of the measures seen in countries such as Iceland

Indeed, a number of economists within and outside Greece have presented proposals for just how Greece could manage a grexit, without necessarily devaluing its currency at first (by not floating the currency on the open markets, similar to China), by nationalizing Greece’s central bank, and by writing off, at the very least, a significant portion of the debt. British economist Roger Bootle recently was awarded the Wolfson Prize in Economics for his proposal on how a Eurozone exit could be safely managed by any member-state. Economists Dimitris Kazakis of EPAM, Leonidas Vatikiotis of Antarsya, and many others have repeatedly, steadily, and clearly articulated how a grexit could be implemented and what the next day would bring. However, all of these smaller political parties and movements have been systematically shut out of the pro-austerity media, both in Greece and internationally.

The bottom line is this: SYRIZA, far from giving the Greek people a historic democratic choice, has instead called a referendum whose message is unclear and muddled and which does not tackle the main issue at hand: to grexit or not to grexit. The referendum is being held under the worst possible circumstances, with banks closed, ATMs disbursing limited funds, and with the Greek Treasury and public coffers having been previously ransacked via presidential decree to pay the May tranche to the IMF, while Greece’s high tourist season is being hit hard by the swirling uncertainty and accompanying sensationalized media coverage. This situation has given plenty of fuel to light the pro-austerity fire, spurred on by the Greek and international media and practically all of Greece’s main opposition parties. And while all of this has been happening, SYRIZA is apparently still discussing other proposals, which it is not revealing to the Greek public and which it will not bring to the voters as part of a referendum, though if SYRIZA’s statements over the past week and its pre-referendum proposals are any indication, its proposals are not much different from the final solution put forth by Greece’s so-called European “partners.” This is faux-democracy and faux-radicalism at its finest, and it is par for SYRIZA’s course, based on its actions throughout its five-plus months in office

May 222014
 

Posted by greydogg, 99GetSmart

Written by Afrodity Giannakis, Thessaloniki

Protest against Sunday trading

Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal – “I wish I could leave Greece. I can’t go on living here. I work very long hours and live more frugally than ever, but I still can’t pay the bills, the income tax or the other taxes like the property poll tax. My tax debt keeps building up. I’ll end up losing my home. They are stealing our homes and they are not communists. And people are getting sadder and madder every day. I can’t go on like this.”

This was the response I got when I greeted a stall holder at an open-air market in my area. Due to my own extremely difficult working and commuting conditions, I hadn’t seen him in months. His anger and despair were much stronger than before, as is the case with most ordinary people in Greece.

My friend’s allusion to the communists concerns a decades-long anti-communist argument used by the power elites. The argument went that if the communists came to power, they would confiscate people’s homes. It was recently used by far-right health minister Adonis Georgiadis.

In fact, small real-estate property is being confiscated under capitalism. People are losing their homes to the banks for failing to meet mortgage payments, or to the taxation department for accumulated tax debts.

Home confiscations have been facilitated by a recent law enabling seizure of salaries, pensions, bank savings and property for even small debts to the state. There are specified debt amounts that incur property seizure or jailing. They vary according to the recipient (whether the money is owed to the taxation department, a public insurance fund etc.). The different amounts are often changed by the government. The latest ministerial circular (issued on April 15, 2014) concerning tax debts sets the line at 1500 euros.

The number of confiscated homes has risen in recent years. A big wave of new house seizures is expected soon. The finance ministry has made an agreement with the “troika” (the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) to set the opening bid at auctions at 30% of the houses’ real values.

Financial hardship, combined with recent law changes, has led to a dramatic rise in debt-related jailings. People are kept in barbaric and unconstitutional prison conditions.

The ‘aid’ trap

The vast majority of people are bound to have difficulty paying their mortgages or to run up a tax debt sooner or later. This is due to the extreme austerity measures imposed on Greece at the behest of the “troika” in agreement with Greek governments.

People in Greece are suffering high unemployment (officially well over 27%, the highest in Europe), huge income cuts, rising prices of basic goods, unfair and unpayable taxes and the sky-rocketting fees imposed on many middle-class professionals.

Since the first “memorandum” agreement signed with the troika in May 2010, real-estate taxes have risen by 684%. Overall taxation has risen by up to 900% since 2010.

In addition to many other irrational measures, people are now asked to pay tax on “implied income”. In practice, this means that even if you have no income, chances are you’ll have to pay a considerable amount of tax. “Implied income” is based on the assumption that if you can afford to maintain a home or a car, you have a source of income. This has especially serious implications for most unemployed people, as about only one-tenth of the officially unemployed are currently receiving the unemployment benefit.

What’s more, the income tax for 2014 is set to rise due to the abolition of most tax exemptions and deductions. Individual taxpayers are expected to pay taxes of 800-1000 euros more than for 2013, while the clear minimum wage has dropped below 480 euros per month.

The situation was already pretty bad before the first memorandum. It has been getting much worse since the so-called “aid” from the troika and the required “structural adjustment” reforms it comes with.

Despite their stated aim, the loans given to Greece were intended to destroy rather than help the country’s economy. In May 2010, Greek public debt was 120% of GDP. Today, after four years of savage measures, it is 175% and growing.

Most of the bailout money is used to pay off previous loans and excessive loan interest. It is also handed to parasitic banks and insurance companies. On top of that, the people of Greece have paid 100 billion euros more than the loan given to their government.

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In a cynical statement in January, Greece’s Prime Minister Antonis Samaras confirmed that the people of Greece have suffered a drop in living standards greater than any other people has since the end of World War II.

Even though the people and the economy are all but crushed, the government is triumphant about a supposed current or ever-imminent economic recovery.

But, despite the government’s show of optimism, the disastrous policies it follows are not conducive to development. The “structural adjustment” memorandum-dictated measures are leading to total pauperisation and helplessness, the complete destruction of the country’s economy, the theft of all its public and private property, and the abolition of hard-won social and workers’ rights.

As in most parts of the world, capitalism is again openly showing its hideous face, even in Europe, which has been touted as the stronghold of democracy and welfare.

The deliberate economic and social destruction by big capital in many countries is clearly expounded by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine. Also, the documentaries Debtocracy (2011) and Catastroika (2012) (with special reference to Greece) are enlightening about the ways global capitalism works to subjugate whole countries and their peoples.

Greece is the first eurozone country to be subjected to this fate, being often referred to as a “test case”. The implication is that the same savage policies are to be applied to other peoples if the experiment turns out to be successful. The measures taken in Greece are spreading to other countries too, especially in southern Europe.

The violent destruction of Greece’s economic order was effected through the memorandum agreements. However, it had started decades before, especially after the country joined the European Community (the previous form of the European Union) in 1981. In 1976, industrial production was about 34% of GDP. In 2000 it dropped to almost 21% and in 2008 it reached 19%. The agricultural economy was clearly restricted by European Common Agricultural Policy agreements. Agricultural production was 14% in 1976, 7% in 2000 and dropped to 3% in 2008.Between 2010 and 2013 GDP was further reduced by 40 billion euros.

All-encompassing barbarism

Since the first memorandum, the country’s decline has been much more rapid.

The powers-that-be are blatantly violating common sense, the law and the constitution in total disregard for human, working and political rights. The situation is so mind-boggling, with the attacks so relentless and all-encompassing they cannot be easily described. All areas of life are affected, from financial affairs to cultural, relationships and psychological issues. A bitter memorandum-time joke aptly describes the people’s state of mind: “Anyone who lives in Greece and is not depressed must see a doctor.”

Greek governments have been continuously changing the legislation to enforce more and more anti-people measures. To achieve their ends, they use any means, including breaking their own laws. Ministers or even the prime minister can be appointed at will, as has been the case with ex-prime minister Lucas Papademos and current finance minister Yiannis Stournaras. Important decisions are made by presidential decree and bills are rushed through parliament rapidly and quietly. There is serious criticism by experts that the imposition of the memorandum was unconstitutional. The assertion is based on the grounds that the constitution-specified parliamentary majority of three-fifths of the number of MPs was not adhered to when Greece was put under troika supervision.

Moreover, the governing parties, New Democracy and the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), gave themselves a bonus of 50 extra seats (out of a total of 300 parliamentary seats) through a law expressly introduced before the last election, in anticipation of the election result. In this way, they ensured a parliamentary majority, which at first was made much more comfortable with the participation of the Democratic Left (DIMAR). DIMAR, a nominally left-wing party, has consistently supported memorandum policies. (Seehttp://www.redpepper.org.uk/greek-election-analysis/.)

Like legislation, the judicial system favours the dominant class against ordinary people, who more often than not cannot get justice when they are wronged. The major drawbacks are the expenses involved, long waiting periods and unfair verdicts.

Inequality and injustice are extreme on all levels. The memorandum offensive is all-sweeping. Hospitals and other services are closing down. Thousands of schools have closed and class sizes in the remaining schools have increased. Many job positions are lost and people are left without essential services like education, medical care and medication.

Salaries and pensions have been cut by about 40%. Reduced incomes are compounded by rising prices and unreasonable taxation measures, high unemployment, widespread underemployment and sackings in the private and public sectors. It is the first time since 1911 that public servants have been dismissed.

In both the public and private sectors, working conditions have deteriorated immensely, which is facilitated by newly introduced legislation. Also, many employers get away with further violations of workers’ rights. About 50% of workers have not been paid for up to 18 months.

Unpaid overtime, intensification of work, illegally low wages, extra duties and extra working time are now rampant, especially in the private sector. Working conditions of public employees have also worsened. For instance, in the teaching profession, there has been an increase in face-to-face teaching hours and student numbers per class have increased. These changes have raised stress levels and have affected the quality of teaching and learning. They have meant the closure of thousands of schools with the accompanying loss of thousands of teaching positions, especially since 2011. In recent years, teachers are also forced to do administrative work traditionally done by clerical staff or sub-principals.

People are robbed of their free time when they are forced to do work previously performed by specialised employees. That was the case with recent public servant censuses, which involved the employees’ filling out complicated forms and submitting them online in their own time. In the same spirit, taxpayers now have to download tax documents and file their tax returns electronically, irrespective of their PC and Internet skills or access.

Self-employed professionals are now required to do intricate time-consuming bookkeeping work constantly and submit records to the taxation department monthly. Failure to meet the deadline incurs a fine of 250 or 500 euros. The fines were originally 1000 and 2500 euros respectively, but were subsequently reduced. All tax penalties in the revised tax code are absurd and exorbitant.

Besides eating into people’s free time, these unprecedented measures cause a lot of stress. Some of them directly lead to the downsizing of public services by making job positions redundant. As a consequence, the remaining employees work more hours and more intensively for less money.

And the chain-reaction effect does not stop there. Reduced consumer spending ability is the main cause of the closure of small and medium-scale businesses. State-imposed excessive financial burdens on consumers and shop owners also play a large part in the closures.Thousands of shops fold up every month.

Against this background, social problems such as homelessness, crime and prostitution are on the rise. The same goes for psychological and health problems.

Another big social issue is the electricity cut-offs to hundreds of thousands of households for unpaid bills. This, together with the high cost of other conventional heating methods, has resulted in fatal accidents caused by makeshift heaters.

In keeping with its anti-social policies, the establishment follows blaming-the-victim tactics. In this spirit, it opts for punishment over social and preventive measures.

As a result, prisons have filled well beyond capacity. The conditions are inhumane, as are the conditions in migrant concentration camps. Health care in prisons and migrant detention centres is almost non-existent, so prisoners are left untreated and they often contract diseases. Physical abuse of inmates is another common occurrence.

It is the first time in the country’s history that there are concentration camps for migrants. Thousands of people are detained there in appalling conditions.

Currently, a new prison is being constructed in an ex-military camp in the city of Korinthos by George Bobolas. He is a super-rich industrialist, media magnate, real-estate owner and national roads contractor. He has huge interests both in Greece and overseas. Among these interests are the mine in Skouries, the road tolls on badly constructed national roads and the well-known Keratea dump business, whose construction has been frozen due to the magnificent struggle of the town’s residents.

The prison under construction is reported by certain sources to be the first specialised prison for financial “criminals”, that is, for people unable to pay off even small tax debts,. At the moment, the premises serve as a concentration camp where 1200 “illegal” migrants are confined in harsh and barbaric conditions.

There is a very fine line between living free and being in prison for many people in Greece these days. About 2,500,000 people have outstanding debts to the state at this time, which makes them potential prisoners and highly vulnerable in many ways. Once people lose their freedom, many possibilities are opened.

Not surprisingly, my stall-holder friend who wants to leave Greece is in good company. Hundreds of thousands have emigrated in recent years and about 400,000 are considering it. The emigration rate is rising by almost 40% a year. Emigration has played a big part in Greece’s population decrease. It is the first time in modern Greece that a population decrease has been recorded. The drop in the birthrate, combined with a higher death rate, is another factor.

The rising death rate is due to greater illness levels, compounded by the shocking state of the national health-care system and high medication prices.

Growing numbers of suicides add to the death figures. Greece is leading the world in its rising rate of suicides. Memorandum-related suicides are estimated to be up to 6000. Due to the secrecy around the issue, the exact number is not clear.

Worse in store

As the vast majority of the people suffer, Greek and foreign big capital are making huge profits. Government officials, like Georgiadis, state publicly that suffering is a fact of life. Such statements are intended to make people resigned to the current situation and prepare them for more of the same. And there is worse in store.

Troika officials keep saying the country is not ready for profitable investment yet. At the same time, they are pressing for further salary cuts. The objective is the maximum plunder of Greece’s natural wealth and exploitation of the people.

On May 6, Greek vice-president Evangelos Venizelos made a telling statement during a TV interview. He said that in Moldavia, which he claimed “is practically next to Greece”, there are wages of 70 euros per month. He concluded that Greece is a country with a really high standard of living.

Official papers and statements reveal plans to cut the minimum monthly wage to 200 euros and further increase “flexibility” in working conditions. Other plans include more tax increases and pension cuts, instituting labour hire, pillaging the country’s forests, closing public services and transferring them to private concerns, sacking tens of thousands of public servants in the next few months, creating a permanent public service mechanism for sackings and introducing individual pay for public servants based on performance assessment.

Currently, the government is trying to enforce an evaluation plan that is a pretext for more closures and sackings. The relevant law sets quotas for the classification of public servants in every single workplace into outstanding (25%), competent (60%) and inadequate (at least 15%). Those judged to be inadequate will be sacked.

The law is harsh and unreasonable, something not uncommon in the current political “paranoia”. The presumption that at least 15% of employees in each workplace are incompetent does not stand to reason. What’s more, according to the relevant government circular, failure of the assessor to conform with the quotas specified would constitute a disciplinary offence. The “inadequate” employees will be marked from 1 to 6.9. An illogical stipulation states that only those with marks 1-6 will have a right of appeal, while the ones getting 6.1-6.9 will not. The reaction to the planned assessment has been quite strong, forcing the government to tactical maneuvers.

If the government is not stopped, the consequences will be tremendous. Tens of thousands (the plan is for 150,000 sackings by the end of 2015) will lose their jobs. This will adversely affect the economy, add to the existing social misery, and deprive the people of even more badly-needed services.

Privatisation

As the people of Greece are robbed of their basic rights, public goods and services are being privatised. Electricity, water, ports, beaches, the national broadcasting service, national health care and education are only a few examples.

Greek banks, after robbing taxpayers of tens of billions of bailout money, are now sold out at bargain prices to Greek and foreign capitalists.

In August last year, about 50 public vocational education specialist courses were abolished. About 2500 teachers lost their jobs and about 20,000 students were thrown out of highly popular courses (e.g. nursing, plumbing, hairdressing and physiotherapy). Within days, the same specialist courses appeared in private teaching centres.

Opening up professional fields is another way of transferring material and human resources to big corporations. Deregulation has been viciously pursued by the government in businesses such as pharmacies, taxis and trucks, and more recently in open-air “people’s” markets.

Similar moves include facilitating milk imports at the expense of local producers and the enforcement of extended opening hours, especially introducing Sunday trading, which will wipe out small shops.

While shops have already been closing by the thousands, there is an exception. Pawnbrokers’ shops have mushroomed, being one more way of stealing people’s wealth.

There is a lot of resistance to these policies. However, it hardly has any results, as workers from different professional categories are largely isolated in their struggles. Major reasons for this are the dominant divide-and-rule propaganda, which is promoted by the media, as well as divisive and ineffectual tactics of sell-out trade-union leaderships.

The whole country is up for grabs by privateers. Whole areas are sold out for exploitation, such as the mines in Skouries, Thrace and Kilkis. The struggle against this plunder is dynamic and ongoing, most characteristically in Skouries.

In such places, as well as in ports, Special Economic Zones and Free Zones have started to materialise. Their purpose is to ensure high corporate profits of “investors” through slavery-type conditions for workers and overall unaccountability.

Authoritarianism, violence, fascism

These measures are accompanied by heightened authoritarianism. The erosion of democratic rights and police repression are reminiscent of totalitarian regimes. Police brutality is mainly aimed at those resisting the government’s policies.

Unlawful arrests, detention and prosecution practices have been extreme. Many people are persecuted for their political views and legitimate action. Strikes and political rallies are banned to an extent not seen since the end of the military junta in 1974.

The police have been given excessive powers, including the power to arrest impoverished people for tax debts. Among those arrested, there have been many feeble elderly people.

Also, there have been many reported cases of torture of activists and migrants, for example, in police custody or in detention concentration camps. The case of Ilia Kareli, a prisoner of Albanian origin who was tortured to death by correctional officers last March, is indicative of such practices. Racist attitudes that go unchecked pose a great risk for migrants.

In April last year, about 200 migrants were chased and shot by their employer’s foremen and at least 28 were transferred to hospital. They were working in strawberry fields in the area of Manolada of Ilia. Just before the event, they had met with the foremen and demanded overdue wages of six months.

These kinds of practices are akin to Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn’s actions, whose members, usually in gangs, have been attacking and killing innocent migrants on the basis of their appearance and social standing. Leftist individuals, groups and offices have also been targets. Last September, Golden Dawn thugs murdered a non-migrant, anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas.

Golden Dawn paved the way for an exacerbation of the government’s racist rhetoric and measures. Like extreme-right Popular Orthodox Alert (LAOS) before it, the neo-Nazi gang has been given disproportionate media exposure to suit the needs of the establishment. Even though Golden Dawn pretends to be on the side of ordinary people, it has strong connections with big private interests and works for them against union struggles. The criminal gang’s MPs also vote in favour of big interests in parliament and they even support the country’s sell-out, exposing the falseness of its pro-people and patriotic façade.

LAOS, a “softer”-profile fascist organisation, was a precursor of Golden Dawn. It gave ideological support to the government and participated in the undemocratically formed provisional government in November 2011. In a similar way, Golden Dawn’s racist ideas and criminal action suit the government, as they push forward the government’s political agenda. For this reason, the neo-Nazis are allowed to run wild, committing political and common law crimes, often with police cover. This started many years before the memorandum and has been going on under successive governments of the two ruling parties.

Last year, the government realised it had lost control of the situation and was losing voters to Golden Dawn. So, it decided to take action against the gang, on the grounds of its criminal activity. The government made a big fuss about being anti-fascist, while it implemented racist measures like anti-migrant police pogroms and migrant concentration camps,

At the same time, like its predecessors, the current government enforces inhumane border controls. Such policies have caused a great deal of pain. Many people have died while trying to enter Greece in order to escape terrible conditions in their countries. Two recent examples are the people who drowned off the islands of Farmakonisi and Samos. The great majority of refugees use Greece as a transit point to other European countries.

As the government puts on an anti-fascist act, it violently represses left-wing, anti-fascist actions. Furthermore, Venizelos recognised the far-right government of Ukraine, thus legitimising the neo-Nazi atrocities there and the planned destruction of the country.

Also, there are members of the Greek government who are openly fascist. Two of its ministers, Makis Voridis and Adonis Georgiadis, have a well-known history of far-right activity.

Another far-right government official, Panagiotis Baltakos, who was general secretary of the Greek government and Samaras’ right-hand man, was forced to resign in April. The reason was a big scandal concerning a videotaped private talk between him and Golden Dawn top member, Ilias Kasidiaris. On the tape, Baltakos appeared to be on very good terms with Golden Dawn. The mood and the content of the conversation were quite compromising for himself and the government.

Both the government and the neo-Nazis serve the interests of big business. Fascism is called to the system’s rescue when bourgeois democracy has reached its limits and can no longer serve corporate objectives. The connection between big capital and fascism is clearly shown in the recent documentary of the makers of Debtocracy and CatastroikaFascism Inc.

Backed by big business interests, Golden Dawn has been lying in wait, making methodical moves for many years. The neo-Nazis have infiltrated the police force and the army in large numbers. About 50% of police voted for Golden Dawn in the last elections. (This video deals with Golden Dawn’s infiltration of the state: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiEHGMwud0c.)

On the bright side, an ongoing strong anti-fascist movement from the whole of the left has helped raise consciousness and contain neo-Nazi activity.

Some gains

The anti-fascist movement has had some apparent success. Other successes of the people’s fightback include a judicial win by sacked school guards and the government’s withdrawal of a planned 25-euro hospital admission fee.

Although such victories can boost people’s confidence and increase awareness, the tangible gains do not last long, with the government always finding ways to realise its plans.

A sign of increased political consciousness is the shift to the left of the balance of forces in some trade unions. Furthermore, the left is making conscious efforts to set up new union groups and counter sell-out top-tier leaderships.

With the coming combined Greek local and European Parliament election on May 18 and 25, a lot of hope is invested in an electoral victory of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA). SYRIZA representatives express a belief that it will win the highest vote of any Greek political force in these polls, which will instigate national general elections.

But the system has so many means of manipulating voting choices that a SYRIZA win is not certain. For one thing, new capitalist parties have formed and some are promoted by the media to diffuse the vote. Forty-three political parties are going to take part in the coming elections.

As part of the effort to fool the electorate, the Greek government has tried to keep secret its new agreement with the troika, which has been revealed.

At the same time, the government is handing out a one-off 500-euro benefit to the most disadvantaged. Ostensibly, the intention is to share around a supposed budget surplus. The government and the mainstream media have been making a big deal of this surplus, which they attribute to economic development. In reality, the extra money comes from the merciless robbery of ordinary people. Besides, due to strict eligibility criteria, the benefit is given to very few.

The ruling parties are running an election campaign on accusations against SYRIZA, fear-mongering, lies and deceit. In the 2012 general national elections, they maximised their vote through false promises and scare tactics. They are employing similar methods this time and they may also have last-minute tricks up their sleeves.

There is a strong likelihood of early national elections. But even if SYRIZA wins government in the next national elections, it would need the support of a strong popular movement. Therefore, SYRIZA should step up its efforts to stand by the grassroots movement, increasing political consciousness and rallying support.

The powers-that-be are well aware of the implications of this radicalism. So they have been trying hard to tame SYRIZA and cut it off from the people’s struggle.

Although SYRIZA keeps promising it will annul all memorandum-related laws, some left-wing forces are questioning it. They accuse SYRIZA of being an establishment party and deliberately misleading the people. These practices do not help promote the badly needed unity of the left, which SYRIZA is trying to encourage.

It is imperative that left forces stick together against vested interests. They must not compromise, but find effective ways to organise and earn the people’s trust, so they can work with the people to reverse the catastrophe. If this can trigger a similar change in other countries, there might be some hope for a better future. Coordination of the struggle across Europe and other neighbouring countries could prove essential in the current circumstances.

Afrodity Giannakis is part of the Left Platform in SYRIZA, which is currently more than one-third of the party’s forces.

Apr 152014
 

Posted by greydogg, 99GetSmart

Vassilis Papadopoulos, Linda Ross (aka greydogg) and Theodosis Temzelidis

Vassilis Papadopoulos, Linda Ross (aka greydogg) and Theodosis Temzelidis

A delegation from the Den Plirono (“I Won’t Pay”) Movement in Greece met Friday, April 4, 2014, in Barcelona with Linda Ross and other activist comrades to deepen relations between the civil disobedience movements of the two countries.

Vassilis Papadopoulos, president of the Movement, and Theodossis Temzelidis, member of the political secretariat of the Movement, represented Den Plirono in Barcelona.

Linda Ross is a well-known activist who has supported the Den Plirono Movement in many ways and is now living in Barcelona.

During the meeting, they exchanged experiences between the movements of the two countries and laid the foundations for the further deepening of relations. 

The delegation of the Movement will meet with other political forces in the region.

Greece and Spain are in the midst of the storm of the capitalist crisis. Common problems include the closing of stores in Barcelona as in Athens and in other cities of the two countries.

The solution to the problems of 99% of the people can be found in the common struggle of the peoples of Europe and the overthrow of the system of exploitation through the assertion of human rights.

The people united will never be defeated.

Den Plirono movement
Feb 042014
 

Posted by greydogg, 99GetSmart

My intrepid friend, journalist James Graham (a.k.a. J. Iddhis Bing), has been living in Paris and writing about the disastrous conditions in Greece, where financial collapse has led to widespread violence and homelessness. The situation has been underreported in the mainstream press, and Jim is heading to Greece to research what’s happening and ferret out the implications for the rest of the Europe and the world.

Banking shenanigans by the 1 percent appear to be among the causes of the collapse.

He is crowdsourcing his trip and will send gifts from Greece or other alluring perks to you if you can spare a few bucks. Here’s the link:
http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/greece-and-the-future-of-the-european-union