Dear listeners and friends,
Dear listeners and friends,
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.
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!
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.
In May, likely for the first time in the post-war history of the Western world, a national parliament willingly ceded what remained of its country’s sovereignty, essentially voting itself obsolete. This development, however, did not make headlines in the global news cycle and was also ignored by most of the purportedly “leftist” media.
The country in question is Greece, where a 7,500-page omnibus bill was just passed, without any parliamentary debate, transferring control over all of the country’s public assets to a fund controlled by the European Stability Mechanism, for the next 99 years. This includes all public infrastructure, harbors, airports, public beaches, and natural resources, all passed to the control of the ESM, a non-democratic, supranational body which answers to no parliamentary or elected body. Within this same bill, the “Greek” parliament also rendered itself voteless: the legislation annuls the role of the parliament to create a national budget or to pass tax legislation. These decisions will now be made automatically, at the behest of the European Union: if fiscal targets set by the EU, the IMF, and the ESM are not met, automatic “cuts” will be activated, without any parliamentary debate, which could slash anything from social spending, to salaries and pensions. In earlier legislation, the Greek parliament agreed to submit all pending bills to the “troika” for approval. For historical precedent, one needs to look no further than the “Enabling Act” passed by the Reichstag in 1933, where the German parliament voted away its right to exercise legislative power, transferring absolute power to govern and to pass laws, including unconstitutional laws, to then-Chancellor Adolf Hitler.
The Greek omnibus bill was preceded by another piece of legislation, “reforming” Greece’s pension system through the enactment of further cuts to pensions while increasing taxes almost entirely across the board. Despite government lies to the contrary, these cuts are regressive and will disproportionately impact the poorer strata of society: the basic pension has been cut to €345 per month, supplementary pensions to poor individuals have been eliminated, the value-added tax on many basic goods has been raised to 24%, the number of households which qualify for heating oil subsidies has been slashed in half while taxes on oil and fuel have again been increased, co-payments on prescription drugs covered by public health insurance have been hiked by 25%, employees’ contributions to the social security fund have been raised (effectively lowering salaries), special taxes have been introduced on coffee and alcoholic beverages, while Greece’s suffering small businesses have been saddled with an increase in their tax rate from 26% to 29%.
In addition to the aforementioned pieces of legislation, the Greek government, in effect, ceded its national sovereignty earlier in the year when, as part of the EU-Turkey deal on the refugee and migrant crisis, Greece unconditionally accepted the presence of NATO warships and Turkish military and police personnel in the Aegean region, while the “patriotic” defense minister of Greece, Panos Kammenos, has publicly proposed the construction of a new NATO base on the island of Karpathos.
While Greece has made global headlines in recent years, the media have remained silent on this latest neoliberal attack on the country’s economy and on Greece’s already suffering businesses and households. But it has not just been the mainstream media which has been quiet. Supposedly “leftist” media outlets such as Democracy Now! have “forgotten” about Greece ever since SYRIZA’s betrayal of the July 5th, 2015 referendum result, where an overwhelming majority (62%) of voters rejected a proposed new austerity package from the EU. “Leftist” intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein have also remained silent. These “left-wing” outlets and intellectuals had all, at one time, openly supported SYRIZA—even while “the signs were there that SYRIZA was not what it claimed to be. Today, these outlets and these intellectual figures refuse to admit that they were wrong or to openly denounce SYRIZA’s betrayal, while also not providing any support to other, true anti-austerity movements in Greece.
Of course, even when Greece was in the news, the truth regarding what was really happening in the country was obscured behind the international media’s overwhelming pro-EU, pro-austerity bias, which masqueraded as “objective” reporting. This is equally true of Greece’s oligarch-controlled media outlets. Let’s examine what they have been hiding.
The economic crisis in Greece has typically been blamed on “lazy” and “unproductive” Greeks who supposedly refused to work, even at their cushy government jobs, retired at age 30, and who lived beyond their means, vacationing in the Greek isles and spending the money of hard-working Europeans to live the high life. “Reality” television programs such as “Go Greek for a Week,” broadcast on the UK’s Channel 4, perpetuated this blatant stereotyping, as did the Greek media back at home. Even the supposedly brilliant anti-austerity “crusader” Yanis Varoufakis repeated the mythology that “hard-working” Germans and other Europeans are now paying to support Greece. The reality, however, is harshly different. Greece is not receiving “free money” from Europe or the troika. It is receiving loans—to repay previous debt—loans which are accompanied by high interest rates and onerous strings attached, such as the aforementioned measures recently passed by the Greek parliament. Greece’s debt as a percentage of GDP was 124% prior to receiving its first “bailout” in 2010. Six years later and after repeatedly being “saved,” this figure is approaching 200% of “bailout” funds never entered the Greek economy but instead went right back to foreign lenders for the repayment of an illegal, odious debt.
What has gone unsaid by both the Greek and international media are the true origins and contributors to the Greek crisis. These factors include the manipulation, by Goldman Sachs, of Greece’s debt and deficit figures through a series of swaps and derivatives, hiding the true figures in circumvention of EU Maastricht criteria for admission into the Eurozone, for a tidy profit. Indeed, a piece of often-repeated mythology was that Greece was the only country which misbehaved by “lying” to enter the Eurozone. In fact, Goldman Sachs as well as J.P. Morgan and other major banks, helped Italy and other countries “lie” as well, while the role of swaps and derivatives in bringing about the global financial meltdown of 2007-2008 is widely known.
Manipulation took place in Greece too, at the behest of international lenders. Greece’s statistical authority, ELSTAT, led by former IMF official Andreas Georgiou, is said to have manipulated Greek deficit figures in 2009 to seem worse than they were in reality, with the goal of providing the political impetus necessary to bring in the IMF and other “saviors” to “bail out” Greece. These allegations were so serious, and so effectively substantiated by ELSTAT whistleblowers such as Zoe Georgina, that criminal charges were filed against Georgiou—charges which were quietly dropped by the “leftist” SYRIZA government in 2015. The ELSTAT scandal has barely been reported upon outside of Greece, if at all, while in Greece today it has essentially been “forgotten.”
Another cause of the crisis is the euro itself. The euro is a debt instrument, produced by a private bank (the European Central Bank) accountable to no government, and lent to member-states such as Greece. The concept of the European common currency was first proposed by economist Robert Mundell, who is also known as the father of “supply-side” economics, and who, in an interview with Greg Palast, had the following to say about the true objectives of the euro: “It puts monetary policy out of the reach of politicians, and without fiscal policy, the only way nations can can compete is by the competitive reduction of rules on business.” The euro was created to strip fiscal and monetary policy-making ability from national governments, leaving them without the ability to increase stimulus spending or devalue their national currency to regain competitiveness. The only option left is austerity and deregulation. What has happened in Greece, therefore, is not an accident or a “failure” of the euro. It was the goal.
Following five years of crisis, SYRIZA was touted, in Greece and abroad, as the “savior.” Sold by the media as a “radical leftist” and “anti-austerity” party, SYRIZA’s pre-election promises included “tearing up” the memorandum agreements and rescinding all of the austerity legislation with “one law and one article.” Millions in Greece and globally were duped—yet, the signs were there: SYRIZA was built upon the ashes of the corrupt PASOK dynasty in Greece, with a dozen of SYRIZA’s initial government ministers (including Yanis Varoufakis) being former PASOK personnel. Similarly, SYRIZA’s coalition partner-to-be, the “anti-austerity” Independent Greeks, stemmed from the corrupt right-wing New Democracy party. SYRIZA continuously waffled on taking a firm position regarding remaining in the EU and Eurozone or departing. And as the January 2015 elections inched closer, SYRIZA continuously diluted its rhetoric.
For those who kept their eyes open, the impending sellout was predictable. It didn’t take long for the naysayers to be proven correct. SYRIZA’s first months in office were marked by agreeing to extend the previous austerity measures; nominating and electing a corrupt pro-austerity conservative, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, as president of the Hellenic Republic; seizing the public sector’s cash reserves to repay further installments of debt to the IMF—even though the legality of said debt was supposedly being audited—while Varoufakis and other government ministers repeatedly stated the government’s intentions to fully repay the Greek debt. Leading up to the referendum of July 5 and the betrayal and third memorandum agreement which followed, SYRIZA itself proposed a 47-page set of harsh austerity measures, cuts, and privatizations, to Greece’s lenders totaling over 8 billion euros.
A dirty secret of Greek electoral politics is that the party which finishes in first place in the national elections automatically earns a 50-seat parliamentary “bonus.” This bonus was enough to allow SYRIZA to form a majority coalition government with the Independent Greeks in January 2015—and again in the snap elections in September. SYRIZA, however, did not have a mandate in either electoral contest, earning 35-36% of the vote in races with record-low turnout. In reality, approximately one in five Greeks voted for SYRIZA, hardly a “mandate.” SYRIZA, as New Democracy and PASOK in recent elections, was helped along by the formation of pro-establishment flank parties, such as “To Potami,” the “Democratic Left,” and the “Centrists’ Union,” parties which absorbed a significant subsection of voters supposedly seeking an alternative to the status quo but which, in reality, were equally pro-austerity, pro-EU, and pro-euro. Such parties have been created prior to each parliamentary election in recent election, for precisely this reason.
Of course, the Greek and international media will have you believe that Greeks are overwhelmingly pro-euro, gleefully reporting the supposed results of public opinion polls which have claimed that 70-80% of Greeks wish to remain in the euro at all costs. Herein lies another dirty little secret of Greek politics: there are no independent polling firms. Instead, these firms all receive government funding, and all public opinion polls are conducted on behalf of major media outlets, all of which are politically aligned and most of which are oligarch-owned. Results are, predictably, tailored to the desires of these outlets and their owners—but are unquestioningly repeated by the international media and their Greece-based correspondents. What haven’t they reported? The results of the annual Gallup International poll, for instance, conducted in several European countries including Greece, which found majorities in Greece in favor of departing the Eurozone in both 2014 and 2015. This poll, conducted across Europe and by a non-Greek firm, is far less likely to be politically tainted. A recent pan-European poll by Pew Global found 71% of respondents in Greece viewed the EU unfavorably
It is nevertheless true, of course, that there is a strong pro-European sentiment in Greece. This mentality is deeply rooted in the country’s modern history. Following independence, the “great powers” promptly installed foreign monarchs at Greece’s helm. For most of the 19th and early 20th century Greece was a Bavarian and British protectorate. Following the Greek Civil War, itself prodded by the British, Greece became an American protectorate, capped off by the U.S.-supported military junta of 1967-1974. Following the fall of the junta, a conservative government laid the groundwork for Greece to cede its sovereignty, as the country joined the EU in 1981 and the Eurozone in 2002. Greece has never been an independent, fully sovereign state, and this reality has created a colonial mindset and fierce divisiveness in the Greek psyche: a division between those who were “leftist” versus those who were “fascist,” and a division between those who believe Greece should be aligned with the West, and those who wish to align with Russia. Those in favor of true independence and non-alignment are few and far between, while the crisis has brought back to the fore the old societal divisions.
European Union membership has often been credited with Greece’s economic growth in the period between 1981-2009. What is less often said is that this period coincided with a tremendous growth in unemployment in Greece, a wholesale attack on Greece’s industrial base as Greek industries were shuttered or swallowed up by multinationals, while Greek agriculture was decimated by the EU’s “Common Agricultural Policy,” which dictated to farmers what to grow, what not to grow, and what Greece could or could not export. Greece’s self-sustainability in many sectors of food production was decimated, leading to an increasing reliance on imports (helped along by strong marketing of the “European way of life” and desire for “foreign” products). EU funds for major public works projects usually made their way back to European banks and firms such as Siemens, which (often through bribery) landed the major contracts to construct these projects, while Greek taxpayers were saddled with the bill.
Nevertheless, the Greek people voted overwhelmingly to reject the austerity proposals in last July’s referendum. But what exactly was the referendum asking? The question on the ballot was purposely convoluted, while the SYRIZA-led government did not present its planned course of action if the “no” vote prevailed. This should have been a warning. Tsipras, as well as Varoufakis, could barely conceal their disappointment that “no” prevailed—and so overwhelmingly—and neither could the media and the polling firms, which predicted that “no” and “yes” were running neck-and-neck, just as their electoral exit polls dating back to 2010 have been woefully inaccurate and always in a pro-austerity direction. The lead-up to the referendum also saw a tremendous wave of “solidarity” throughout Europe and the West—with activists purportedly supporting the Greek people and, somehow, supplied with SYRIZA flags, which I am sure one can’t just easily purchase in a shop in London or New York City. Oddly enough, following the betrayal, this “solidarity” movement dissipated.
The “protest” movement in Greece is not much better. While a general perception exists across the world that Greeks have not been afraid to “riot” and to strike for their rights, the reality is far more mundane. Complacency, apathy, and resignation are the name of the game in Greece. Every so often when a protest is organized, the same old stale, ineffective recipes are followed: gather in Syntagma Square, stand around in front of Parliament with the same old banners, wait for the “rioters” to appear and the tear gas to start flying, and then retreat. And just who are these “rioters”? The media calls them anarchists—but a plethora of documentary evidence suggests that these are provocateurs, who are working in cahoots with the police and are sent in to orchestrate trouble in otherwise peaceful gatherings, providing the impetus for police to fire tear gas—not at the hoodlums, but at the crowd that had gathered peacefully, thereby breaking up the protest. Numerous videos and photos have shown these provocateurs mingling with police officers, or smashing shop windows in front of police, unobstructed. I’ve seen this with my own eyes: hooded men in civilian clothing mingling with police behind the U.S. Embassy in Athens during a protest in 2012.
In the rare event that a demonstration gathers large crowds, as was the case during the protests of the “indignants” in 2011 or the rallies in favor of “no” prior to last July’s referendum, this is invariably because partisan armies have been mobilized to show up en masse. A dirty secret of the large-scale 2011 protests is that they may well have been staged, to serve as a release valve for an increasingly disenchanted populace. An official now with the Independent Greeks party (which had not yet formed in 2011) claimed in an interview I conducted for my academic research in 2012 that he was the one behind the original Facebook invitation which led to the beginning of the “indignants” movement in Greece. When asked why the Facebook page was later taken down, his reply was that “it no longer served a purpose.” Similarly, while large crowds (and celebrity musicians) were mobilized in the days leading up to last year’s referendum, following the referendum and betrayal, the number of protesters in Syntagma Square did not surpass a few hundred. The partisan armies stayed home. Similarly, the mobilization of Greek farmers recently was halted once party-affiliated union bosses got involved, sending the farmers back home.
There is also a global perception that Greece is often crippled by strikes and that Greek workers are not afraid to fight for their rights. Wrong again. One sees more strike activity in France and even in supposedly “disciplined” Germany—where Lufthansa personnel regularly walk out of their jobs—while in Greece, “general strikes” are in name only. Most workers don’t participate, and many that do are under the impression that they are “sending a message” by calling for a three or four hour “work stoppage.” In 2011, in the midst of the indignants’ movement, workers at the Public Power Corporation scheduled “rolling blackouts” to prevent the proposed privatization of the company. Coincidentally, these blackouts were only implemented in the poor and working-class districts, while the lights stayed on in parliament, central Athens, and the wealthier suburbs. The same counterproductive, failed strategies are implemented again and again without change—and quite likely on purpose. In the meantime, SYRIZA not only has not fulfilled its promise to dissolve the violent, out-of-control riot police units, but has instead used them to again attack protesters with tear gas.
Complacency and the lack of critical thought are indeed well-cultivated in Greece. The education system, which also happens to be highly politicized, strongly favors rote learning. Schoolteachers routinely underteach pupils in the classroom, obliging parents to pay small fortunes to send their children to after-school “prep centers,” where they end up learning what they were supposed to learn in school. Having to endure back-to-back schooldays on the same day plus homework for both school and their prep courses, children—particularly those in high school—spend their prime years on top of textbooks without a break. Students are required to choose a course of study at age 14, in preparation for all-or-nothing “national exams” which determine university admission. The endless hours of schoolwork foster rote memorization and discourage any critical skills or “outside the box” thinking. Once in university, students are almost obliged to join one of the political blocs which dominate the campuses and which make arrangements for everything from study guides to weekend getaways. These blocs are all aligned with the major political parties—so that young adults begin a lifetime of partisan dependency. University faculty, star-struck by EU funds and grants, are almost invariably pro-EU and pro-euro, stifling any healthy political debate on campus.
The education system is not the only societal sector that has been purposely compromised. In Greece’s (in)justice system, even the simplest of legal cases can take a decade or more to resolve—with various shenanigans invariably occurring along the way. This suits the powers that be quite well. The endless legal process prices out those who are not wealthy and can’t continuously pay attorneys’ fees. There is also no constitutional court in Greece, while Greece’s highest court, the Council of State, is infamously deferential to the government—which appoints its members. Indeed, the entire state apparatus, from mandatory military conscription for men with essentially no option for alternative civil service, the patronage system, and the notoriously inefficient bureaucracy—seem to operate in the manner it which does not so much due to some inherent societal flaw as by design, as this apparatus suits the interests of the political class and the powerful, discourages critical thought, activism, or the development of a true civil society; and helps encourage the “brain drain”—which is not a product of the crisis but a long-standing societal phenomenon—therefore opening the way for the incompetent but well-connected to attain key positions in both the public and private sectors.
Notably though, the aforementioned “brain drain” is a part of the mentality of complacency prevalent in Greece. With the help of the education system, which for the past three decades has severely diluted the teaching of the Greek language and Greek history while teaching students that they are “European first,” one sees in Greece today an utter lack of respect for the country or for the Greek language. Everyday parlance is dominated by slang and imported vocabulary, primarily English-language words, a cycle perpetuated and furthered by the media. A larger number of radio stations in Athens plays American/international pop and rock music, than in New York City or London. Most businesses and media outlets have English-language names. Young people, for years now, have been raised essentially with the goal of graduating and obtaining a “good career” abroad. Continuing family-run businesses or working in agriculture or even shipping, are options that are perpetually snubbed. There is not even the slightest desire to fight for a better future at home.
Indeed, this phenomenon extends to all sectors of society. Defeatism and self-loathing abound. A long-standing mentality in Greece is that the country is the worst in everything, that phenomena ranging from violence at sporting events to political corruption to ordinary cases of official incompetence, are exclusively Greek. Greeks will readily get into arguments with anyone who says otherwise—passionately arguing against their own country and people even when evidence and lived experiences exist to the contrary. The aforementioned inferiority complex towards the “civilized” West (as it is often described) further perpetuates this mentality, which essentially becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and which itself contributes to the paralysis, apathy, and sclerosis of Greek society. No notable civil society exists outside of the political sphere or, more recently, the equally suspect sphere of mostly foreign NGOs which have inundated Greece. The aforementioned education and legal system, bureaucracy and corruption, are treated as “facts of life” in Greece, with no organized pressures for change.
A major culprit for all of these realities is Greece’s media. The major newspapers and broadcasters are, without exception, owned by oligarchs and/or the politically connected. There is almost no independent media in Greece, except for largely invisible websites and blogs. There is no real public debate to speak of: the entirely of Greece’s media landscape is pro-austerity, pro-EU, pro-euro, and heavily politically aligned, including party-owned broadcast stations and newspapers. Radio and television stations operate without licenses but within a legal framework that is nevertheless so convoluted and tailored to major interests that no outside players or independent voices can enter the marketplace. By way of example, radio and television stations that had not initially classified their programming as “news” programming, are prohibited by law from switching classifications and providing news. This has created a closed broadcast market for news—with all news stations owned by entrenched interests. There is no provision, in practice, for non-commercial broadcasters. Existing major media outlets are not profitable, but “earn their keep” by promoting the political and business interests of their owners and by influencing public opinion.
The SYRIZA government, whose pre-election promises included “cleaning up the airwaves” and attacking the oligarchs, has now launched a bid for nationwide television licenses, a bid based on technical lies regarding the number of stations that can broadcast (in order to limit the number of licenses issued), and a process in which these few licenses will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Not surprisingly, the only candidates for these licenses are the same stations owned by the same oligarchs. SYRIZA’s own radio station began operations completely illegally before being “legalized” via a law passed by the conservative government allowing party-owned stations to operate without a license, while the then-PASOK government sent riot police to shut down 66 radio stations in Athens in one night in March 2001, with the excuse that they were causing “interference” to the operations of the newly-opened Eleftherios Venizelos international airport in Athens, but with the true objective of turning over the entire radio landscape to the oligarchs and their friends. State broadcaster ERT, reopened by SYRIZA last year, has forgotten the activist reporting which it provided following its shutdown by the conservative government in 2013, and now acts as a neutered pro-government, pro-EU mouthpiece, closed off to alternative voices.
It should be mentioned here though that foreign media have not been any more reputable or responsible in their reporting on Greece. Most English-language news websites from Greece are biased, with the same pro-EU and pro-austerity or globalist/internationalist outlook as the major media. Foreign correspondents operating from Greece are even more passionately pro-EU, pro-euro, and pro-austerity: one such correspondent proudly tweeted his “yes” ballot from last July’s referendum. Their reporting, while cloaked in supposedly “objective” language, is heavily biased, with references towards “bailouts” and “necessary reforms” creating specific, one-sided perceptions in readers’ and viewers’ minds, while one newly-launched and supposedly independent English-language news outlet kicked off its operations with a deferential and star-struck “guerrilla interview” with celebrity economist and financial fraudster Yanis Varoufakis. The reporting of these outlets also contains generous helpings of “crisis pornography”—reports which purportedly show the dire impacts of austerity but which instead misreport, misinform, and create the image of a country in such dire circumstances that no one in their right mind would even want to visit, and lest we forget, tourism is one of Greece’s major industries. Reports on mothers abandoning newborn children or giving birth in the middle of the street, claims that one million people migrated out of Greece in a single year, and claims that spendthrift Greeks have the highest percentage of Porsche Cayenne ownership in the world are all blatant lies, but these lies poison public opinion both in Greece and abroad, and fan the flames of sensationalism.
This sensationalism has, for instance, created the impression that ouzo-swilling Greeks were, for decades, retiring during early adulthood and living beyond their means at the expense of hard-working Europeans. What is never reported is that Greece has essentially been a debt colony from the early days of its establishment as a modern nation-state. Debts from the Ottoman Empire continued to be repaid until 1965. For decades upon decades, Greece was obliged to turn over its tax receipts from goods ranging from salt to tobacco products to matches, to a consortium of “great powers” (Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy, Austria, and Russia) to repay debts dating back to the 19th century. Indeed, these same “great powers,” beginning in 1898, established a permanent presence in Athens, overseeing the repayment of the debt, including war reparations to the Ottoman Empire. In other words, over a century before the Greek “debt crisis” and the arrival of the “troika,” Greece was forced to submit to international economic oversight, with the “great powers” maintaining their physical presence in Greece until 1978, a total of 80 years—for those who believe that Greece ceding control of its public assets for 99 years sounds far-fetched.
Indeed, the relinquishment of public ownership of Greece’s valuable utilities, resources, and assets began long before the current crisis. Soon after the end of World War II, German firms, through well-connected Greek middlemen, sidestepped sanctions against Germany and obtained control over valuable mining resources in Greece. In the 1990s, privatizations began in earnest, including the selling of Greece’s national telecommunication provider, OTE, to Deutsche Telecom. These privatizations, as should be clear by now, did nothing to prevent Greece’s economic crisis and likely contributed to it. More recently, the SYRIZA government, which prior to its election promised to put an end to privatizations, sold majority stakes in Greece’s largest port, the port of Piraeus, and 14 profitable regional airports, to Chinese-owned Cosco and German-owned Freeport, respectively. The port of Piraeus was sold for a mere 365 million euros—which amounts to 15 days’ worth of Greek debt repayments—even though its facilities alone are valued at over 5 billion euros, while the agreement with Fraport states that the Greek state is still responsible for paying for all technical upgrades at the 14 airports that were privatized, for the next 40 years. In the meantime, Chinese-owned Cosco, which had already purchased the Piraeus container port in a previous privatization, has imported Chinese-style working conditions to Greece, as workers are not even permitted bathroom breaks while on the job.
Of course, we are supposed to believe that the Greek people had it coming, because they were living beyond their means. Greece’s very high rate of home ownership has often been cited as an example of this. The reality, though, is that traditionally, land ownership has been highly valued in Greece, with homes and property passed from generation to generation. Until recently, with the introduction of the euro, Greeks did not believe in loans or credit. Even today, in the midst of the crisis, per capita private debt in Greece is among the lowest in Europe. This is the opposite of “living beyond one’s means.” And now, the Greek people are being punished for being prudent with their finances.
We are also told that Greeks didn’t pay taxes, ignoring the fact that just as in other countries, salaried workers in Greece are taxed at the source, while an absurdly high value-added tax, which is now as high on 24% even on basic goods such as orange juice, is included in the retail purchase price. Those who evaded taxes in Greece are the same as those who typically evade taxes elsewhere: the rich and the well-connected, those with the means to operate offshore shell corporations in tax havens or to maintain Swiss bank accounts. Many of these individuals were named in the so-called “Lagarde List” of tax evaders with Swiss bank accounts, but the SYRIZA government has not prosecuted any of the individuals on the list.
But Greeks retired at age 30 and sat around in cafes and at the beach all day, right? Wrong. Public employees, particularly those on older contracts, were able to retire after 25 or 30 years of employment—similarly to other countries. With many of these employees having entered the workforce after high school, if not earlier, it makes sense that there would be retirees in their 50s, just as police officers, union employees and other public servants in countries like the United States were also, for a long time, able to retire after 25 or 30 years of service. Are Americans lazy too? How about the Germans or the British or the Swedes, whose social welfare policies have always been far more generous than those of Greece?
In the meantime, the Greek people are saddled with further insane tax increases, including a hike in the unified property tax (ENFIA), which was initially sold as a “temporary” tax and which SYRIZA promised to abolish. Instead of abolishing it, SYRIZA has made this tax permanent—and increased it. Beginning June 1, banks are allowed to seize foreclosed homes and properties electronically, without a physical court hearing, essentially putting an end to a very effective grassroots campaign at courthouses across Greece to block these foreclosures. In the wintertime, Athens and other cities are blanketed by a noxious, unhealthy smog resulting from makeshift fireplaces lit by households unable to afford the absurdly high taxes on heating oil. Schoolchildren are suffering from malnutrition in record numbers. University restrooms lack even toilet paper. And in return, the Greek people are constantly told by the government, by all of the main opposition parties, by the media, and by Greece’s so-called European partners, that “growth” and “development” are coming.
The Greek people have also been told that they are “racist” and “xenophobic” due to their handling of the refugee and migrant crisis. However, it is these claims which are racist—and not the majority of the Greek people. The “concerned” global media typically fail to report the tremendous amount of care and hospitality ordinary Greek citizens have shown towards the refugees and migrants. They also fail to report that this is not a new or recent phenomenon in Greece: refugees and migrants from war-torn areas in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Africa have been streaming into Greece for well over a decade, in hopes of reaching northern Europe. Few media outlets have reported on the realities of the EU’s Dublin II Regulation, which has stranded these refugees and migrants in Greece, because the country of entry is the one legally responsible for processing their paperwork—a regulation which disproportionally impacts countries like Greece. And all of this during a time of tremendous financial and societal strain. While ordinary Greek people commiserate with the plight of the refugees and migrants, as Greece is a country that is no stranger to either, there are legitimate worries about Greece’s ability to absorb tens of thousands of refugees and migrants at a time of economic turmoil and high unemployment. This is interpreted by the “concerned” global media as racism, as is the emergence of the far-right Golden Dawn party, whose electoral share, however, is far less than far-right and xenophobic parties in such “civilized” countries as Austria, France, Germany, and Denmark.
In the face of this reality, the global media and many in Greece continue to treat the “leftist” SYRIZA government as the savior, excusing away the new austerity agreements and the wholesale sell-off of the country as the cost of being “bailed out” and “remaining in Europe,” perpetuating the claim that Greece “has no other choice.” SYRIZA is doing its part, doing anything it can to gain votes using the time-honored tradition of patronage: legalizing fraudulent degrees, legalizing participation in offshore corporations, and proceeding with patronage hires and outright nepotism at all levels of government and the public sector—including the hiring of dozens of relatives and spouses of government ministers. As SYRIZA does this, it sticks its middle finger at the populace. Constitutional scholar Giorgos Katrougalos, who once participated in the major protests in Syntagma Square but who now sends the riot police to tear gas protesters, cynically remarked in response to the new coffee tax that Greeks can go without coffee. SYRIZA’s member of the European parliament Kostas Hrisogonos arrogantly stated that if authorities raided Greek households, they could find another 45-50 billion euros’ worth of undeclared income. This rhetoric does not seem very “leftist.”
So who are the saviors then? Certainly not the Popular Unity party, consisting of former SYRIZA and PASOK retreads, such as the energy minister of the first SYRIZA government, Panagiotis Lafazanis, who failed to fulfill SYRIZA’s promise to put an end to the environmentally destructive mining activities in Skouries, in Northern Greece, during his tenure, and economist Costas Lapavitsas, who prior to his election as a SYRIZA MP touted his so-called “radical economic proposal” but who ended up defending SYRIZA’s economic policies as a form of “moderate Keynesianism.” The Communist Party of Greece bashes imperialism, but in the same breath tells the Greek people that Greece is not ready to leave the Eurozone or EU at this time. Celebrity economist Yanis Varoufakis, with his new pan-European movement supposedly in favor of restoring democracy, is another fraud. His actions as Greece’s finance minister included the acceptance of all previous austerity agreements, a comprehensive proposal for more austerity, a refusal to even entertain the possibility of a Eurozone exit, the full repayment of Greece’s debt that was supposedly being audited, the imposition of capital controls which remain in place today, limiting withdrawals to €420 per week, and the confiscation of the Greek public sector’s cash reserves in order to repay the IMF. Those are not the actions of a supposedly Marxist anti-austerity renegade. His partner in crime, former parliament speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou, is another fraud. She dismissed SYRIZA’s pre-election promises to tear apart the memorandum agreements as a mere “figure of speech,” also voted in favor of all of the austerity measures SYRIZA passed in its first months in office, refused to shut down debate in parliament while these measures—including the betrayal of the July 5 referendum result—were being discussed, and who after the betrayal repeatedly stated her “support” of the SYRIZA government. The reason Varoufakis and Konstantopoulou left SYRIZA has nothing to do with principle, and everything to do with political opportunism, and the fact that Alexis Tsipras stated his intention not to include them on the ballot for the September snap elections. They are political opportunists and frauds of the highest order.
This is the truth about Greece. There is no European dream—but instead a European nightmare. There is no recovery. Greece is not an independent or sovereign country, but a debt colony of the West—a reality which much of the third world is already quite familiar with, and which is very much in the process of being imported to the “first world” as well.
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:
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.
By Andre Vltchek, 99GetSmart
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.
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. “
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.
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.
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 Terrorism. Point 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Does this refer to the burning of books, or to the fact that books lighten up our lives?
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
looking closer, the dedication
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.
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.
This street art that refers to the market.
By James Petras, 99GetSmart
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
With early returns from the referendum coming in, it is clear that a vote of “no” to the austerity measures proposed by the institutions formerly known as the troika will prevail, with a clear majority that will likely surpass 60%. As I write this, the sky is falling on Greece, the sea is drying up, day has become night, trees and flowers and kittens are dying, bullets and missiles are flying, and Greece is feeling the angry wrath of the gods for defying the will of the creditors, the mass media, and the troika.
At least, that’s what the mass media would have had us believe, with their dire warnings as to what a “no” vote would bring for Greece and with their utterly disgraceful coverage of events in Greece over the past two weeks. In reality, as I am writing this, I am sitting on a park bench in an ordinary neighborhood of Athens. It is a beautiful Greek summer evening, there is a light breeze, young people, families, and the elderly are walking about, and there is no sign of anything but life continuing on as normal. A couple of miles away, in Syntagma Square, more Greeks are congregating to celebrate the “no” victory in today’s referendum.
In my previous piece, I strongly questioned the timing of this referendum and the question being posed to the Greek voters, as well as the SYRIZA-led government’s actions throughout its five-plus months in office and in the days leading up to today’s poll. Those criticisms and questions remain. Nevertheless, amidst a climate of pure media and political terrorism, blackmail, and manipulation, Greek voters resoundingly said no to the proposals put forth by the institutions. This, in itself, is a major milestone for Greece and for the Greek people.
Today’s result is not a victory for the government, whose actions continue to betray its pre-election promises and electoral platform, and whose referendum was held under the worst possible circumstances: with banks shuttered, with capital controls enforced, with an out-of-control media freely terrorizing the public, and in the middle of the country’s tourist season. The result is, however, a victory against the scaremongering of the media, of the European institutions, and of Greece’s completely discredited political class, namely the previously establishment political parties (New Democracy and PASOK) and their media-supported allies (To Potami).
The media coverage seen in the previous days, both from Greek and international outlets, is nothing short of disgraceful; a hatchet job against Greece and its people. The Guardian, which remains for some absurd reason a well-regarded publication in Greece despite years of inaccurate and sensationalistic articles about Greece, warned its readers that shelves in Greek supermarkets are barren, that the tourist resorts of Mykonos and Santorini are facing “food shortages,” that gas stations are out of fuel, and that every single ATM in Athens had throngs of people queuing up to withdraw their funds. One visit to travel forums on the Internet, such as TripAdvisor, shows hundreds upon hundreds of postings from prospective visitors to Greece, who have been influenced by this absurd media coverage and who are second-guessing their upcoming holidays in Greece.
The clear bias in favor of “yes” was apparent in the writings and also in the tweets of numerous correspondents based in Greece, whose coverage all throughout the crisis has been nothing short of disgraceful. Some such correspondents, such as Yannis Koutsomitis, could not hide the fact that they voted “yes” in today’s referendum, just as they have been unable to conceal their staunchly pro-austerity views, despite all evidence as to how destructive these policies have been and continue to be. The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN and the BBC warned their audiences about the impending chaos that would be arriving in Greece in the event of a “no” vote, while making sure to warn the audience about the perils that a “grexit” would bring to Greece, connecting the referendum with the issue of whether or not Greece will remain in the Eurozone. Such biased “reporting” is irresponsible and, indeed, criminal and it is a tremendous shame that these “journalists” have such a large audience, including tens of thousands of Twitter followers, to spread their misinformation.
Today’s vote is a response not just to this media terrorism, but to all those around the world who have fallen victim to such media coverage: the clearly ignorant and uniformed and the racist, who continue to fall back on completely untrue and discredited stereotypes that Greeks don’t work hard, don’t pay taxes, retire at age 50, and have been living off of free money provided by “hard-working European taxpayers” (similar to statements, incidentally, also made by celebrity finance minister Varoufakis in the early days of the SYRIZA-led government). Successive Greek governments, including the current coalition, have done nothing to attempt to reverse Greece’s image abroad or to correct the numerous racist and ignorant stereotypes which exist about the Greek people and which continue to be perpetuated by numerous media outlets.
Today’s vote is also a victory against the domestic media system, the oligarch-owned television and radio stations, newspapers and Internet portals, which provided almost wall-to-wall coverage in favor of voting “yes,” in favor of more austerity and further capitulation to the EU. The same media outlets which, despite SYRIZA’s empty rhetoric (something which it is great at), are still allowed free rein to do and say as they please, facts and objectivity be damned. Greek voters overcame this non-stop propaganda campaign not due to the “radical” government that is in office, but because many Greeks finally have had enough and have shut these media outlets out of their lives.
Despite this, 40 percent of voters—four in ten, in other words—said “yes” to Europe, “yes” to more austerity, more cuts, lowered pensions, more privatizations, a continued “brain drain” out of the country. This is hardly a surprise, unfortunately. It is reflective of the deep divisions which exist in Greek society, and a longstanding inferiority complex held by many Greeks that Greece is worthless without being a part of the “civilized West,” which they define as the Eurozone, NATO, and the European Union. It is reflective of the divide-and-conquer efforts of much of Greece’s political class and by the media, where public servants have been pitted against employees of privately-owned corporations and businesses, the latter of whom were among the strongest proponents of “staying in Europe” and voting “yes” while blaming the public sector for each and every one of the country’s ills.
The commonly-heard argument is that without Europe, Greece has no future, Greek children have no future, that the country will be “internationally isolated.” The irony of the “yes” supporters is that they are the ones who, quite typically, are critical of the patronage state and the perceived corruption in Greece, but who then vote for the same parties which perpetuated this system and this corruption for four decades. One also has to wonder what sort of future the children of Norway, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, and Iceland have and how these countries are managing to cope with the apparent “isolation” they must be experiencing, as they are neither members of the Eurozone nor the European Union.
In the days leading up to the referendum, the media and political machine did its very best to convince the world that “yes” would prevail, that the Greek people “wanted to remain in Europe” (where would Greece go? Africa? Antarctica? Mars?). A media manipulation playbook, prepared on behalf of New Democracy, was leaked to the public, explaining just how the message in favor of “yes” would be propagandized to the masses, while stating that any polls showing even a small “no” lead (of up to five percentage points) would be spun into showing a narrow margin in favor of “yes.” This was followed up by the exit polls which were announced moments after the polls closed at 7 pm in Greece, showing, at best, a narrow margin of victory for “no” and leaving open the possibility of a narrow “yes” majority.
The true results, however, show a clear majority in favor of “no,” once again discrediting the polling firms, whose pre-election opinion surveys and exit polls were laughably off the mark in 2010, in 2012, in 2014, and again prior to the elections of this past January. These polling firms (who receive funding from the state apparatus and whose polls are not independently conducted, but instead conducted on behalf of the same pro-austerity and/or pro-government media outlets) and their results (including their repeated “findings” that 70-80% of Greeks want to stay in the Eurozone at all costs) should never be trusted again, or referenced by anyone who cares about facts or reality.
Despite the celebrations though, the true test as to how much the people of Greece have actually “stood up” to the austerity regime will take place in the coming days, and not with the “no” victory today. Because if the “radical” SYRIZA government dares to come back with its own proposals for further austerity, primary surpluses and privatizations (47 page proposal, measures totaling 8 billion euros, etc.) and those who voted “no” today accept this and treat SYRIZA as heroes, then it will be evident that there is no true resistance and that nothing has changed.
The real referendum,, in other words, will follow in the coming days.