Jul 282017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern-day Greece: Fatalism, defeatism and hopelessness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mental colonization

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

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

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

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

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

Greece: The worst in everything?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Devaluing the domestic, lionizing the foreign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Divide and conquer in action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We don’t produce anything”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An abject lack of pride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A losing battle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 252017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

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Dear listeners and friends,

This week on Dialogos Radio, the Dialogos Interview Series will feature part one of a two-part interview with economist and author Spiros Lavdiotis. A former analyst for the Central Bank of Canada, Lavdiotis is the author of three books and numerous articles on the Greek economy.
 
In part one of our interview, Lavdiotis discusses the modern history of austerity as an economic doctrine, what ancient Greece can teach us about how to deal with a debt crisis, and what modern Greece can do today to alleviate its debt burden. This will lead to part two of our interview, on our next English-language broadcast, regarding solutions to Greece’s economic crisis, which according to Lavdiotis, involve a Greek exit from the Eurozone.
 
Tune in for this highly interesting and detailed interview, this week on Dialogos Radio.
 
For more details and our broadcast schedule, visit http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=6937.
 
Best,
Dialogos Radio & Media
May 242017
 

By Michael Nevradakis99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews:

“We had the role of a rubber stamp…” – a former board member of Greece’s national statistical authority has revealed that she and other members were forced to sign off on falsified deficit and debt figures that plunged their country into an ongoing economic depression.

ATHENS (Interview)– On May 18, a new chapter was written in Greece’s economic odyssey, as the Greek parliament, with the votes of the SYRIZA and Independent Greeks coalition government, approved Greece’s fourth memorandum loan package since the onset of the country’s depression. The strings attached to this new deal with the “troika” of Greece’s lenders include 140 new austerity measures, including tax hikes and additional pension cuts.

This comes just weeks after the Greek government triumphantly announced the achievement of a 4.2-percent budget surplus for 2016, exceeding expectations. Greece is in the midst of its eighth full year of economic depression, a crisis that emerged in late 2009 when it was revealed that Greece’s deficit and debt figures were larger than had previously been publicized.

Was this really the case though? Several former board members of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) have spoken publicly in recent years, revealing evidence that they argue proves that Greece’s debt and deficit figures were indeed falsified in 2009.

But the evidence provided by these whistleblowers shows that the figures were actually falsified in order to appear worse than they were in reality, providing the political impetus to bring Greece under the supervision of the “troika” (consisting of the IMF, European Commission, and European Central Bank) and leading to successive memorandum agreements and the enactment of strict austerity measures.

Further fueling these claims, former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn has publicly admitted that in April 2009 he met with George Papandreou, who was then campaigning in Greece on a platform of promises of new social services and benefits, claiming on the campaign trail that “we have money” for these programs.

Former ELSTAT board member, Georganta Zoi a

Former ELSTAT board member, Zoe Georganta,

Papandreou, who had not yet been elected, came to power following the Greek elections of Oct. 4, 2009. A few months later, the new government publicly announced that the deficit and debt figures for 2009 were higher than originally claimed by the outgoing government.

One of the whistleblowers involved is University of Macedonia professor of applied econometrics and productivity Zoe Georganta. A former member of the board of ELSTAT and former visiting professor at Harvard University’s National Bureau of Economic Research, Georganta was the first whistleblower to publicly contradict the previous government’s claims.

These accusations have resulted in a succession of judicial cases centered around former president of ELSTAT Andreas Georgiou, who is also a former IMF official. MintPress News recently spoke with Georganta in an interview that was first broadcast on Dialogos Radio in May 2017. In this interview, Georganta discusses the evidence she presented and the status of the legal cases that followed as a result of these accusations, as well as shares her thoughts regarding the economic figures currently being publicized by the Greek government, including the recently announced primary budget surplus.

MintPress News (MPN): Share with us an overview of the information that you revealed against the Hellenic Statistical Authority regarding how the Greek deficit and debt figures for 2009 were falsified and inflated.

Zoe Georganta (ZG): As an econometrician and economic statistician appointed in August 2010 by the Greek Parliament to be a member of the seven-member Hellenic Statistical Authority, I had the responsibility by law to express my scientific opinion – first within the meetings of ELSTAT, in which all seven members, the president (or chairman) included, were supposed to discuss the statistical issues of the agenda and make a decision by majority rule.

What actually happened from the first meeting of ELSTAT on August 3, 2010 was very strange and seemed extremely peculiar to all six of us, since the president, Andreas Georgiou, supposedly an ex-vice president of the Statistics Department of the IMF—this was declared as his position in the IMF—insisted that he had to be the only person who could speak and decide, while the remaining six of us had to agree and sign his proposals without questions.

According to him, we had the role of a rubber stamp. He said that openly to us. He also insisted that we should not keep minutes of the meetings, and when we all threatened to resign and publicize the issue, he agreed to keep minutes but he added that the minutes would report only his opinion and nobody else’s. So as you can imagine, there were minutes [of these meetings] but they were not signed by any of us.

ELSTAT, as a seven-member board, had only four meetings, because the president [maintained] extremely strange attitudes. As the main issue was the measurement of the final estimate of the public, or general government debt and deficit for 2009, Mr. Georgiou kept presenting to us ad hoc numbers and he refused to answer our questions about how he came to those numbers.

Consequently, all six of us then insisted that the director of the national accounts division of ELSTAT, Nick Stroblos, come to our meeting and explain to us those numbers. Mr. Stroblos’ comments were a catapult. He said that those numbers were wrong and they were fixed by violating Eurostat regulations and methodology, which are described in the ESA manual. ESA [refers to the] European System of Accounts, and this is legally constituted under European Commission regulation 2223/1996.

By investigating the issue, we found out that Mr. Stroblos was right. I must report here the fact that Mr. Stroblos was sacked from his position the very next day after he expressed his reservations about the 2009 debt and deficit numbers that were fixed by Mr. Georgiou and by the general director of Eurostat, as we found out later.

After he sacked Mr. Stroblos, Mr. Georgiou went on to neutralize all six members of the ELSTAT board, with the help of the IMF representative in the troika Poul Thomsen, who, according to evidence, asked ECOFIN, the group of the finance ministers of the EU, to force the Greek government to change the statistical law so that ELSTAT would [fall under] Mr. Georgiou’s rule without a board of directors. This was finally done in 2011 and all six of us were sacked without explanation, just [as a result of] a clause within a law of economic austerity measures.

As you said, I was the first one to report in the press evidence of [falsely] augmenting the debt and deficit of 2009. Not mere allegations, but by indicating the exact violation of the Eurostat regulations and by referring to particular sections of the European methodology which were violated. I did that for the first time in October 2010. Then, I tried to inform the parliament and the government, but as they said to me, they had to obey orders by the IMF and the European Commission, who seemed to be covering for Georgiou.

Apparently, as we found out later, [this was] in order to justify their unnecessary loans to Greece according to the memorandums of understanding that they had signed with the Greek government, and also to justify the second memorandum of understanding, after the augmentation of the deficit figure to 15.6 percent of GDP.

My criticisms were subsequently supported by former Vice President of the ELSTAT board Nikos Logothetis, [plus] another member of the board. The whole issue as it became public, was ex officio investigated by the economic prosecutors, who after one year of [investigating] came to the decision to press charges against Mr. Georgiou for two crimes.

[The first charge] regards breach of duty for three instances: first, by lying to the Greek state that he had resigned from the IMF, while the truth was that he continued being an IMF employee. Second, by not inviting meetings of the board according to law, and third, transmitting falsified debt and deficit data to Eurostat without even discussing it with the board, as he should have done according to law. The second [charge refers to] the felony of forging data on the 2009 public debt and deficit.

The economic prosecutors decided that Mr. Georgiou committed all his criminal actions intentionally for personal benefit and for the benefit of others. Mr. Georgiou is [facing] these accusations today, and on May 29, we have a court case in the second degree regarding his breach of duty. We hope that the truth will show, because these are simple and exact accusations.

He lied to the Greek state in order to gain the post of ELSTAT president, and second, he stopped [convening] board meetings because all six members of the board were “bothering” him, as he stated in his letter to the Greek Parliament, and because he transmitted the augmented [debt and deficit] data that was actually dictated to him, as we found later, in correspondence between him and Eurostat’s general director Walter Radermacher.

He [did this] without even discussing this data with the board, even though he had an obligation, under the law, to have a vote on that data, a majority vote. So he transmitted [this data] illegally. These three instances of his breach of duty will be tried in court on May 29.


(Editor’s note: Zoe Georganta describes the evidence she presented in an earlier interview, recorded in December 2012, that aired on Dialogos Radio).

MPN: Who is Andreas Georgiou, and what was his background prior to becoming the president of the Hellenic Statistical Authority?

ZG: After his strange behavior, I started [investigating his background] and I found out that his post at the IMF was not vice chairman of the statistics department, as he declared and as the former minister of finance declared, but [that] he was a simple employee of the IMF in the financial institutions division. His duty was to supervise the implementation of IMF terms by underdeveloped countries receiving IMF financial assistance.

I also found out he was very rarely in Washington, [spending most of his time] in Africa. I know people, real statisticians at the IMF, and I contacted them as part of my job as an applied econometrician, and I also found out that he is not a statistician and his only publication is a book about martial arts!

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

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

He has no scientific publications, only a discussion paper [co-authored] by another three people, and he is not the first name, at first. So far, he has no scientific publication in any field, and in particular in the fields of economics, finance and statistics. Obviously, he was imposed on Greece because the IMF and the European Commission knew, in my opinion, that he could be their man, I mean a puppet of his bosses. This is his character, as far as I understood him from his “collaboration” with us.

By my opinion and not only my own opinion, he was the most unsuitable person for the Greek case. He did not even write in Greek, and he had not been in Greece for 25 years after completing high school at the American Community Schools, not even for holidays.

Now, at the age of 53 or 54, as I read in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, he escaped from Greece [to his Maryland mansion] when he [faced prosecution]. And now, at an early age, he is an IMF pensioner while everyone in Greece and in Europe [receives their] pension at the age of 67 and not before that.

I want to say at this point that the IMF calculated wrong multipliers for Greece, [but this does not come as a surprise] because the statistics were based on incorrect data. It was not only the debt and deficit data that were wrong, but also the data on expenditures and production that Mr. Georgiou manufactured, together with Eurostat.

The result was unnecessary loans to Greece and the deep recession we [have been] experiencing for seven years now. You know, correct economic policies are based on correct data, and this was not the case for Greece.

Was the selection of this particular man an IMF mistake? All Greeks are wondering about that. Or [maybe] it was a plan to save the French and German banks by loading debt upon debt on the Greek people. It is a real Ponzi scheme, what has been done to Greece, and this is a shame on the part of the IMF, the European Commission and the ECB. After so many loans, the Greek debt has tripled between 2009 and 2016. Is this justice [that is being] shown by our supposed partners, with whom we have fought together in world wars?

MPN: Share with us some additional details about the forthcoming court case against Mr. Georgiou, for which from what I understand you and fellow whistleblower Nick Logothetis from ELSTAT will appear as witnesses.

ZG: After so many unacceptable interventions with letters threatening the Greek government from the European Commission, under the guise of the International Statistical Institute or the administrative personnel of the American Statistical Association, asking the Greek government to intervene in the Greek court system and to stop the court cases against Georgiou, there were three proposals by three individual judicial representatives who asked for Georgiou’s exoneration. All three were turned down by the court committees.

He was not exonerated, as some foreign and Greek newspapers wrote. Those “exonerations” were just proposals by three judicial representatives, but they were turned down by the official court committees.

Now, we have the May 29 court case against him for breach of duty. We are also expecting the actionable date for the felony [charges]. I would like to mention that Georgiou has been sentenced twice to one year of imprisonment for libel against the ex-director of the national accounts division of ELSTAT, Nikos Stroblos, who was [fired] when he simply expressed his scientific opinion and reservations about the numbers, which were coming as if they were falling down from the sky, without any explanation.

It is not only me and Logothetis as witnesses against him. We are three out of the six members of the ELSTAT board who were brave enough to be witnesses. The other three members include two representatives of the ex-minister of finance [Giorgos Papakonstantinou] because he committed other crimes, fraud, against Greece, and the other was a representative of the Bank of Greece [and former governor] George Provopoulos.

Those people were afraid to come out, although within the meetings, we were all together against Georgiou, asking questions about the ad hoc numbers that he was bringing to us. There are also other witnesses, other officials from ELSTAT and other statisticians. Regarding the breach of duty, all six members of the board have come out against [Georgiou] as witnesses, not only in court, but in the Greek parliament.

I would like to say at this point that the European Commission keeps accusing Greece’s judicial system of intervening in [Greece’s handling of] financial data. This is ridiculous and outrageous. It is clear that Georgiou broke the law and he has to be brought to court.

He broke the law, it is very simple, and all the rest is to cover up the IMF’s and Eurostat’s responsibility for Greece’s deep recession, because of the unnecessary laws that they gave to Greece due to the wrong and untruly augmented numbers for Greece.

MPN: Georgiou is no longer the president of the Hellenic Statistical Authority, having been replaced by Athanasios Thanopoulos. However, in your estimation, is the Hellenic Statistical Authority today continuing the same practices as before, through the falsification or alteration of Greece’s economic figures?

ZG: Tell me which statistical authority or statistical office in Europe, or [in the rest of the world], is under one person’s rule, as has been imposed on Greece. Thanopoulos was actually appointed not by the Greek parliament, but by the European Commission, and they forced the Greek parliament to sign off on their decision to appoint Thanopoulos as the head of ELSTAT, without a board [of directors]. So ELSTAT today is under one person’s rule. How unbiased and independent can the numbers be? That’s why there are all these arguments between the IMF and the Europeans—not between the IMF and Greece or the Europeans and Greece—because Greece has no say. Eurostat manufactures the data about the debt, and they claim that the debt is viable. But the debt is not viable.

Thanopoulos, in my opinion, has shown…[that] he has to obey the orders of the Eurostat and the European Commission regarding the numbers, and especially numbers regarding Greece’s debt and deficit. And of course, he has to support the deep depression policies for Greece.

Are these policies [implemented] due to the incompetence of the Europeans and Thanopoulos? No. Our German pseudo-partners have said it openly, that Greek people are undisciplined and must be broken. Because of this, I think that the Eurozone is going to be doomed.

Greece’s economic history has been forged, first by Georgiou, and Thanopoulos continues in the same way because they have changed the data. Since 1995, the data has been changed in a completely ad hoc manner. I have all the old data, and they wanted to show a smooth increase in Greece’s indebtedness, which is wrong. I have evidence because I have worked for 42 years as an applied statistician, as an economic researcher, as a professor at the University of Macedonia, and as a visiting professor at Harvard’s National Bureau of Economic Research.

I have not managed [to publish] yet because of my court cases, but very soon my bombshell book will be out in English. However, Thanopoulos’ behavior, I must admit, is not as absurd or stupid or nonsensical as Georgiou’s behavior was towards everybody, even towards the MPs of the parliament, the prime minister and the ministers. Thanopoulos seems smarter but more secretly cunning, so he can survive better than Georgiou.

MPN: The current SYRIZA and Independent Greeks coalition government is claiming to have achieved a primary budget surplus, initially 3.9 percent and now 4.2 percent, well above the targets Greece’s lenders had initially set for 2016. Does this surplus exist in reality or is it a product of creative accounting?

ZG: This is a very good question. It is for sure creative accounting. It’s not the people, the statisticians of ELSTAT who measure the numbers, according to the European methodology. But Thanopoulos employs a lot of Eurostat experts, some Eurostat pensioners and European Commission pensioners who come to Greece, within ELSTAT to manufacture the data, distant from the statisticians of ELSTAT.

And of course, when there is sunshine, they go to the nearby island of Aegina, where they have good fresh fish and enjoy themselves with their wives. But they do their job and they are paid very generously. Well, in questioning them, Eurostat says that it pays them, but that Greece provides a portion of Eurostat revenues.

Those surpluses are not healthy, if they exist. How can a country whose GDP has shrunk by 28 percent have primary surpluses? If it does, of course those surpluses are not healthy. They do not come from growth, but from squeezing public expenditures for health and education, from stealing the revenues of the research organizations of Greece, changing them into public servants and public corporations so that [the state takes] their revenue that they make out of collaborating with foreign institutions.

Also, those surpluses come, of course, from taxes that are choking any private entrepreneurial initiatives made by Greeks, and of course by giving nothing for growth. The Greek debt has come to a point that it cannot be served anymore, because as I said, the troika, or “institutions,” load Greece with debt in order to pay previous debt. Isn’t it crazy? All of this is creative accounting, unfortunately.

MPN: In 2015, you presented evidence to the Greek Parliamentary Debt Audit Commission, which had been convened at that time. What did the evidence that you presented contain, and what was the outcome of this commission’s proceedings?

ZG: The Greek parliament has actual correspondence between the former European commissioner of economic affairs, the general director of Eurostat, the IMF representative Poul Thomsen, and Georgiou, as well as the former minister of finance of Greece, showing the involvement of the European Commission and Eurostat in untruly augmenting the Greek debt and deficit for 2009.

This correspondence exists because Logothetis pressed charges against Georgiou for wrongly accusing [Logothetis] of “hacking” [Georgiou’s] personal email. I want to say here that all charges against Logothetis have been dropped, although the Wall Street Journal had a recent article by Marcus Walker which completely distorts the facts, showing his outrageous bias in favor of Georgiou. It is a pity, but it has happened. I am saying that to be clear, because Logothetis was not hacking anybody. His [proficiency with] computers is not at that level. How could he break passwords and all this that Georgiou accused him of?

Regarding the parliamentary debt audit commission, its work was interrupted because the prime minister [Alexis Tsipras] sacked Zoe Konstantopoulou as president of the parliament and also as member of the governing party [SYRIZA].


(Editor’s note: Georganta added, in a Greek-language version of this interview, her belief that Konstantopoulou was insincerely adopting a populist pose).


However, although my name is not mentioned in the final report, I gave data to that committee in parliament, but not all of it was publicized. Still, the outcome is that a sizable portion of the Greek debt is illegal and odious. I want to say at this point that the restructuring of the Greek debt that is under discussion now is completely nonsensical because it means a time extension of its repayment schedule, which is unfair for the future generations of Greece. Now, it is in the next 50 years that the Greek debt is to be repaid, but they want to extend it to 80 or 100 years. Actually, [the institutions] have set a number: 99 years.

The Supreme Court of Greece came to the conclusion, in August 2016, that 210 billion euros is the measured damage done to Greece by the false augmentation of the public deficit of 2009. This damage to the Greek state has to be paid back to Greece, because the European Commission and Eurostat are among the partners in Georgiou’s crimes, with evidence which has been kept in parliament and in the Greek justice system.

MPN: Indeed, at the same time that this parliamentary debt audit commission was convening, a number of Greek government ministers of that time, including then-finance minister Yanis Varoufakis and even Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, were making public statements claiming that Greece’s debt would be repaid in perpetuity.

ZG: Yes, you’re right. Well, the Greek government, we all know, has a gun to its head. I mean, [the institutions say] that you will pay all debt, otherwise we destroy you in the next minute, by completely turning off the taps of your banks. Of course, I think that a patriotic government would have publicized such threats without being afraid, but unfortunately, our government has not done so.

I believe that [the institutions] are aware of fraud committed by [members of the Greek government], and they tell them, if you go on to publicize the threats, we are going to reveal to the Greek people your actual fraudulent behavior, the bribes you receive from German companies like Siemens, which has come out actually, and then a lot of other organizations in Europe.

For example, the Greek government has purchased submarines, spending a huge amount of money for submarines that go down to the bottom of the sea and never come back up. The Greek people have paid all this money, in addition to huge bribes on the side for particular [government] ministers, for “well-working” submarines and a lot of other weapons actually, planes which fall down and all these kinds of things. All of these European governing [authorities] know of this fraud [that has been perpetrated] by Greek politicians, so they actually tell them, “go on, publicize our threats, we’ll reveal everything you’ve done so that you will not be re-elected by the stupid Greek people.”

MPN: Could you share with us your opinion regarding the role of foreign banks and financial firms in the development and outbreak of the Greek economic crisis?

ZG: There is evidence that the German and French banks were bankrupt in 2008, because they had a lot of toxic American debt. Also, they owned a sizable quantity of Greek state bonds. Falsely augmenting the Greek deficit [was done] in order to load us with unnecessary loans which go back to their banks, so that Greece buys back [its] bonds, so that the German and French banks can refinance their debts. This was a very appetizing idea [for the banks]. This has been actually said by people like [Paul] Krugman and a lot of other researchers and scientists, American and European.

MPN: In your estimation, what should be done and what can be done in order for Greece to turn the page and change direction?

ZG: This is a very difficult question. Greece has through the centuries been under [the thumb of] foreign invaders, first military and now economic, but we have always survived. Greece is a rich country in terms of physical and human resources. However, our politicians have systematically been generously bribed by Western foreigners in order to be able to rob Greece’s wealth.

Also, our geopolitical situation is very attractive to world powers in their struggle to govern the world. These days, Germany is trying its last, and I hope unsuccessful, attempt to rule Europe and the world, using our long-suffering little country as a guinea pig to [conquer] the rest of the European countries.

In my opinion, in Greece, a patriotic and caring government has to get out of the Eurozone. We have to have our own monetary policy to control our banks and to have our own currency. This will be difficult, of course, because we have sold such a great portion of our wealth, but a good government can reverse this. We have to have our own monetary policy and our own central bank that we control, in order to go on to growth.

Also, we have to ask the United Nations to implement the human rights clauses of international law, because Greece has a large portion of people who are very hungry. I live in a rich suburb of Athens [and also] in Thessaloniki, and I see, in the night, old people in these suburbs, previously good-standing people who worked until 65 or 67 years of age—and all claims to the contrary are nonsense and lies—and they are searching in the waste bins in the street to find vegetables thrown out by other people.

The supermarkets in Greece ask customers to buy rice and milk for children of families who are in absolute hunger and poverty. I have seen people, families with two and three children in Thessaloniki, who live in their own cars, they don’t live in a house. They come to the university, where there are rooms for the visiting scholars and professors to have a place to stay, and they come there to take a bath. This situation is a shame for Europe.

Also, they have loaded us with lots, with millions of refugees. The Syrian people are suffering and we have to accept them and we are caring for them, but also there are people who are not refugees. They come to Greece from a lot of other places in the world, from Africa, from Asia, from Bangladesh, from India and from a lot of other places. We don’t hate these people, we are actually helping them and we are famously, from antiquity, people with good intentions towards foreigners and visitors.

But you can’t have so many young people in Greece who have no work. The unemployment among young people in Greece, from 25 to 45 years of age [is very high]. We have all these young people who have a lot of energy, and what are they going to do? It’s natural and logical. We have a lot of crime here, by Greeks, they will steal even one euro or ten euros. All this is known to the United States government and the European Commission and the governing parties, the European Parliament, officials who receive such high salaries, 25,000 euros per month with all the privileges. It’s a shame.

At the same time, the Greek people are suffering here. Very few people are those, the politicians and their friends, who are doing well. Also, people who have married [foreigners] and who have some other sources of income, like myself. I have married an Englishman, and he helps me with my 99-year-old mother. I have worked for 42 years, and my salary is not enough to support the medicine and all the care for my mother. There are other people in much worse situations than me.

A patriotic Greek government should go to the United Nations and ask for the implementation of the humanistic clauses of international law [so that it can] stop paying the debt [immediately]. Later, when we start growing we can pay the debt, but [only] debt which is legal, not the odious debt. We have to find out which is the odious debt with a real accounting committee.

[I would like to add] that Greek people can go on with only bread and olives to feed themselves if they have hope that we are going to get our country back and we are going to have some growth. They can suffer some sacrifices and be happy about it, but now they have lost hope and they are desperate, a lot of them commit suicide. We can survive if we get out of the terrible euro, which is a disguised German Deutschmark that serves only German interests and nothing else.

Greece may be small and governed by corrupt and unpatriotic governments, but it [is reluctant to] die. The Germans and whoever else will learn this the hard way, I believe.

Sep 232015
 

Posted by greydogg, 99GetSmart

Michael Nevradakis, scholar and host of Dialogos Radio in Athens, says the low voter turnout of 55% reflects widespread disenchantment with the Greek political system and SYRIZA:

Part 1

Part 2

Michael Nevradakis is a Ph.D. student at The University of Texas and a Fulbright Scholar based in Athens who has conducted extensive research on Greek media and politics. He is the producer and host of Dialogos Radio, a weekly radio program featuring interviews with leading Greek and international figures on matters pertaining to Greece, and is a frequent contributor to several Greek and international media outlets.

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.

 

P1400831

 

 

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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P1400840

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

 

P1400846

looking closer, the dedication

 

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P1400849

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.

 

P1400857

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.

 

P1400855

This street art that refers to the market.

 

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Jul 272015
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

OXIbanner-main

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

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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?