Nov 092017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

People carry a large Puerto Rican flag as they protest looming austerity measures amid an economic crisis and demand an audit on the island's debt to identify those responsible, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Monday, May 1, 2017. Puerto Rico is preparing to cut public employee benefits, increase tax revenue, hike water rates and privatize government operations, among other things. (AP Photo/Danica Coto)

People carry a large Puerto Rican flag as they protest looming austerity measures amid an economic crisis and demand an audit on the island’s debt to identify those responsible, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Monday, May 1, 2017. Puerto Rico is preparing to cut public employee benefits, increase tax revenue, hike water rates and privatize government operations, among other things. (AP Photo/Danica Coto)

Part of the problem with the colonized mentality is that the one who is colonized begins to believe the lies that have been told by the colonizer: that we are inferior, we are backward, that we would be poor, that we would have no hope if it were not for a more developed, more civilized, more powerful entity.

ATHENS, GREECE and LAS PIEDRAS, PUERTO RICO – Until recently, the similarities were stunning. Puerto Rico, mired in a deep economic crisis for the past decade, has often been dubbed “The Greece of the Caribbean.” While there are a great many similarities in the “debt crises” both Greece and Puerto Rico have been experiencing, this superficial description hid a deeper truth: that colonial Puerto Rico, under the control of Washington and a Washington-imposed “fiscal control board” or “junta,” strongly resembles neocolonial Greece, under the thumb of the “troika” (the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund), on many levels above and beyond the economic difficulties both nations are experiencing.

This all changed after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. While the hurricane itself left a trail of destruction all across the island, the real catastrophe is the perfect storm of colonialism, bureaucracy, cronyism, and disaster capitalism that has followed. Almost two months after the hurricane, much of Puerto Rico remains without access to electricity, water, or telephone and internet service.

As the humanitarian crisis on the island continues to deepen, Puerto Rico’s colonial governing regime, and its U.S.-imposed “fiscal review board,” could be accused of sabotaging recovery efforts on behalf of monied interests.

Déborah Berman-Santana is a retired professor of geography and ethnic studies at Mills College in Oakland, California. Now permanently residing in Puerto Rico, she was fortunate enough to be in Greece when Hurricane Maria struck the island. Part One of the interview with Berman-Santana that follows was recorded in Athens in early September and broadcast on Dialogos Radio.

It largely focuses on the colonial similarities between Puerto Rico and the nominally independent country of Greece. Part Two of this interview occurred with Berman-Santana safely back in Puerto Rico, describing the destruction Hurricane Maria left behind and how recovery efforts are actively being stymied by colonial and U.S. authorities.

MPN: Puerto Rico has been facing a severe economic assault across multiple fronts. Just as Greece has the so-called troika, Puerto Rico has the so-called junta, which of course is also a historically loaded word in Greece. Describe the austerity measures and cuts and reforms that the junta has been imposing, or attempting to impose, in Puerto Rico.

DBS: The United States Congress imposed a fiscal control board, which in Spanish is “junta de control fiscal.” It has been in place for a year. Basically, when they do not approve of something in the Puerto Rican government’s budget, they say no, this is not acceptable, you need to cut this, this, this, and this.

They do not necessarily have information on how best to operate — for example with the university, the public university of Puerto Rico, they want massive cuts. They do not even have information on the university, they have not asked for information to see if there must be cuts, where might be the best place to cut. It’s just basically taking a machete and chopping it up. However, they have also increased the budget for themselves.

A protester holds a sign that reads in Spanish, “We didn't take out a loan. We didn't see a dime. We're not going to pay” during a protest in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on July 15, 2015.

A protester holds a sign that reads in Spanish, “We didn’t take out a loan. We didn’t see a dime. We’re not going to pay” during a protest in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on July 15, 2015.

The U.S. Congress bill, the PROMESA bill that we talked about last year, directed Puerto Rico to pay $2 million per month for the expense of the junta. The new budget the junta inserted said that they must be paid $5 million per month! And of course they use this for all their expenses; they use this to hire dozens of contractors for publicity, for legal fees, for lobbying, for who knows what. These are all their friends.

They have also created a new entity, which is basically in charge of seeing how we can privatize and sell off public resources. I believe that [German finance minister] Schauble, last year or two years ago, created some fund in Greece, basically the privatization fund. Well, this is basically what they inserted into our budget just now. And of course, they’re saying that the pensions must be slashed and there must be more furloughs of public workers.

The government of Puerto Rico is going through a theater; they’re saying “oh, we’re not going to cut.” We all know that the government of Puerto Rico is not going to really fight this. This is just a theater so that their supporters think that it is fighting the junta.

MPN: A big issue during the hurricane, of course, is the proposed privatization of Puerto Rico’s energy utility. How have the junta and proponents of privatization attempted to use the hurricane and its aftermath to make a case for the privatization of the electric company?

DBS: Interestingly, the case was actually made before [Hurricane Irma], for years now. Also, the government lackeys who are the managers of the [energy] authority — not the actual workers of course — have been cutting and cutting and cutting and not re-hiring and re-training enough people to work, and trying to get contractors to work for less money. And so, the infrastructure has been deteriorating — and of course, when people get upset, they say that it’s because it’s public and if it were privatized if we had more competition, it would work out better.

The interesting thing is that the only reason we are recovering much more quickly [from Hurricane Irma] is that [the privatization argument] is a complete lie. For example, before the hurricane hit, the government head of the [energy] authority said that it can take five to six months before we can put [the grid] together because the electric energy authority is so bad.

Well, here we are a week later, almost all of Puerto Rico is back online. San Juan is, interestingly, not completely, although the mountain towns are, and the union of workers are claiming that they are being deliberately impeded from finishing in San Juan, so that people will still be angry and demand privatization.

This is the most militant union in Puerto Rico, and they’re wonderful. They are really our best union that’s left, and they’re of course “left.” They’re working 16-hour shifts — unbelievable photos if you saw them — and they are working, doing heroic things to get Puerto Rico back online. So the interesting thing is, Irma has actually not been good for the arguments for privatization.

MPN: Just as in Greece, Puerto Rico is being sold the promise of foreign investment and large-scale, critical infrastructure projects that supposedly are meant to foster economic growth and development and recovery on the island. What sorts of projects are being proposed and what would their actual impact likely be?

DBS: Part of the PROMESA bill is for “critical infrastructure energy projects,” not for the distribution infrastructure but for [combustible] energy — gas or coal. That’s not what we actually need. If they actually wanted to do something, maintenance, and reconstruction of the transmission infrastructure, that might be helpful — but that’s not where the money is, that’s not where the profits are.

The critical-infrastructure energy projects basically say “we want to streamline the permitting process.” There are many processes — of course, we are a colony of the United States, so we have their laws and ours; and the process of permits takes years for any massive project because there are the environmental issues, there are land use issues, there are public hearings you have to do. They want to streamline it to, I think, 90 days — which means that we have a project and we don’t want to tell the public, we want to get it done as quickly as possible. Also because they want to avoid protests.

For example, the popular protests have stopped two projects for gas ducts. This is over the past years, not just now. These would be gas lines that they would start from natural gas [fields] in the south and they would blast through the mountains — remember that Puerto Rico is very mountainous — and go to the northern side where San Juan is. We have had civil disobedience; we have had legal teams basically challenge these in the courts; we’ve prepared testimony for all the public hearings. Well, they want to bring [the pipeline proposals] back, but without the public hearings, and the local government has passed laws to criminalize civil disobedience.

So this is how they intend to do this: they have an energy-generating project, burning garbage to create energy, and we don’t even have enough garbage! And they don’t say this, but what the project really is, is to burn the garbage [from] all around the Caribbean. But of course, it doesn’t matter what happens to us because they’d like us to emigrate anyway.

We have managed to stop it, but they have just contracted a coordinator of the critical energy projects. He is a Puerto Rican-born — I’m not going to say he’s Puerto Rican — U.S. military man whom they’re going to put in charge of putting this together. I have seen him interviewed several times. He knows nothing! He is completely ignorant —  he is just there to facilitate this [project], the gas ducts.

I am sure they have other things that they are planning, things that they have tried to do before that they could not do because of protests. If they get rid of the protesters, then they can just shove it all through. Of course, gas projects, coal projects, maybe mining. We have copper, we stopped the copper mining plans 20 to 30 years ago. Maybe that’s coming back again.

MPN: Recent big news in Greece is the sudden departure of Canadian mining firm Eldorado Gold from the Skouries gold mine in northern Greece (since postponed), which has been a hotbed of activist activity in recent years, owing to its environmental impact and dubious economic benefits, despite its being described as the biggest foreign investment in Greece. We are seeing something similar in Puerto Rico, with the controversy over a privately-owned coal-powered plant and the dumping of the coal ash from this plant. Tell us about this issue.

DBS: Even though our electric energy authority is public, we do have a few private plants, and of course some of the energy-generating implements are private. For example, we do have a couple of projects of windmills from Siemens. They’re looking at Puerto Rico, I guess, as Greece in the Caribbean.

In the 1990s, Applied Energy Systems (AES), which is a multinational corporation based in the United States, proposed a “clean coal” plant in Puerto Rico that was supposed to give more energy generation capacity for Puerto Rico. And of course there’s a myth that Puerto Rico does not have enough energy-generating capacity, and that is [supposedly] why our energy bills are so high. So that was their argument.

I actually participated in the campaign to stop it from getting built. So what they did — this was on the south coast — was to bring the local community to one of their clean-looking plants in the United States, and they took them out and basically told them we’ll give you many jobs and it’s very clean and you shouldn’t listen to these “radicals,” like me, who don’t even live in your community, since they’re against everything.

So they finally did get the permits to build, because they promised that they would not dump the coal ash in Puerto Rico. They finally built it — starting in 2004 — and they were dumping the coal ash in the Dominican Republic. What happened in the Dominican Republic, people started getting sick and launched a campaign against AES. There was a trial, they had a settlement, and part of the settlement is that they would stop dumping in the Dominican Republic. In the Dominican Republic, they have other types of plants; they don’t have coal plants. But they still had the contract [which said] they could not dump in Puerto Rico. So there were some illegal dumps.

A coal ash mountain, part of the AES Guayama plant in Puerto Rico. (Photo: CPI file photo)

A coal ash mountain, part of the AES Guayama plant in Puerto Rico. (Photo: CPI file photo)

Finally, they also had another idea — that they would take some of the ash, you put water on it and it becomes something called “agrimax,” and you can use that as a building material, and they built roads in Puerto Rico, they built homes in Puerto Rico. This is the asbestos of the 21st century. [Agrimax has been used] in many, many communities, mainly in the south of Puerto Rico, and San Juan is in the north. In San Juan [the prevailing attitude] is, what happens in the provinces stays in the provinces.

So in 2014, the government of Puerto Rico did a secret amendment to the contract, which allowed AES to dump the ashes in two of the landfills in Puerto Rico. One of them is actually not far from where I live, and the other one is in Peñuelas [in the south], in an area where we had the old petrochemical complexes, still dealing with a legacy of pollution.

So they filled up the one near where I live and they couldn’t dump there anymore for a while. They started dumping in 2015 in the one in Peñuelas, but that community has been dealing with the legacy of contamination for many years, and they started the protest camps, they started doing civil disobedience. It became an issue. With this government, the government agreed because there was a lot of pressure, and we’ve had a lot of arrests, a lot of civil disobedience.

[Recently] there was a trial, in San Juan, of the last group of people arrested there. At this point, the government of Puerto Rico had said we’re going to pass a law that prohibits the dumping of the ash, but they inserted a little amendment at the last minute, written by the company, that said that the ash is only what’s dry. If you put water on it, it becomes Agrimax. And so, they started again with the dumping. They’ve had to dump at night with four hundred police [officers] to protect them, and there are still people protesting, so this is a big deal.

Of course, they couldn’t do anything during [Hurricane Irma]. We found out that they did not even bother to cover the mountain of ash that they have next to the plant. Who knows where this ash is right now. It’s everywhere! And so the struggle continues. That is the story, and they’ve also said “Oh, you need our generating capacity,” because they have a plant. But they only generate maybe 11 percent of what we need.

They close every time there’s a problem. The public plants never close. We don’t even need their plant because Puerto Rico has twice the generating capacity that it needs, and if we maintained everything we would never need them. In fact, we don’t need them now.

MPN: In yet another similarity with contemporary Greece — where there is an activist movement that has sprung up surrounding the case of a student by the name of Irianna, who is facing charges under Greece’s anti-terror laws for participation in a terror group — in Puerto Rico there is the case of political prisoner Nina Droz. Why has she been imprisoned and what in your view are the similarities with the Irianna case?

DBS: I think the main similarity has to do with using a test case to see if you can turn the public against such a person — and also to scare people, to make them afraid to protest. Specifically in the case of Nina Droz, [she] was not really involved in any organized critical activism; she’s a student, a model, teaches also. She is a party girl, lots of tattoos, so there could be a lot of prejudice against her because of how she looks.

[On] May 1, we had a massive demonstration in Puerto Rico against the junta, against austerity, and, for most of us, against the [colonial status], because some of us know that the real problem is not the junta. The problem is that we’re a colony.

It was a massive protest. On one side there was a group of masked students or masked people — who knows who they were! — all dressed in black. Many of the banks were actually boarded up and protected, except for our most important bank, Banco Popular de Puerto Rico. The nephew of the head of Banco Popular is the president of the junta, to give you an idea. They did not cover up their windows, and there was a moment where all the police withdrew, and there was a group of people in masks who broke the windows. No police around.

According to some of the TV coverage and some photos, there was a young woman who has since been identified as Nina [Droz] who was with an unidentified masked man. They are on the sidewalk next to one of the windows that’s been busted. It looks like perhaps they’re trying to light a piece of paper, and nothing happens.

But one of her feet is inside the bank, and based on that, the U.S. federal government says—there were some other people arrested but they were processed in the Puerto Rican system—they said Nina is in the U.S. system, because she is inside the bank and the bank is involved in interstate commerce and it’s [covered under federal law]. So she has been charged in the media and by the federal court with conspiracy, attempted terrorism, for trying to “blow up” this building with a little piece of paper which may or may not have had some fire on it.

[As of the time of this interview], Nina has not had a trial. She was assigned a federal defense attorney, a public attorney. There is a gag law against her attorney, so they cannot respond to anything in the media, and she’s been demonized in the media. She is in the federal holding court — she originally pled not guilty to all charges. After about two months she agreed to a plea deal to conspiracy, which is very vague, in exchange for reduced time.

Alejandra "Nina" Droz Franco, 37, pleaded guilty to "conspiring to commit an offense against the United States," during the May 1 protest, she is accused of trying to set fire to a building that housed Banco Popular and other interstate businesses. (Josian E. Bruno Gómez/EL VOCERO)

Alejandra “Nina” Droz Franco, 37, pleaded guilty to “conspiring to commit an offense against the United States,” during the May 1 protest, she is accused of trying to set fire to a building that housed Banco Popular and other interstate businesses.
(Josian E. Bruno Gómez/EL VOCERO)

But she still [as of the time of this interview] has not been sentenced, and there have been issues such as, for example, her birthday. Some of us were going to [organize] something outside the prison with a sign, “Happy Birthday,” just a little thing, and the prisoners can normally see that. Right before that, there was some “infraction,” who knows what, and they put her in solitary, and she was in solitary for almost a month. She was not given the reasons for it — because there’s a process, everything was delayed — and now they say she cannot even have visitors, not even her mother, if you can imagine that.

The sentencing [was] supposed to be at the end of October, and even the prosecutor has suggested two years [imprisonment]; her attorneys have suggested one year, but the judge could give her more. You never know what can happen. Evidently, she is not as obedient as they’d like, and she has complained about things, and the only reason we know anything about what’s happened is that she can send and receive letters. I myself have received a letter from her. And, there is a friend who is an attorney — not her attorney but able to visit her and able to talk a little bit about the situation, with a lot of care. She’s very careful.

Actually, I’ve talked to [theattorney] before I came here [to Greece] to discuss what she thought I could talk about here in Greece. So when I heard about the Irianna case, it struck me — I know there are differences, but it nevertheless struck me — that the system criminalized her for supposed associations, alleged associations that may or may not be true. And it used these charges to justify a very long sentence for a young woman who basically, if she has to serve a whole sentence, it’s a terrible thing. The same thing with Nina [Droz].

Nina, her letter is wonderful to read; it made me cry when I received it, and she says:

We should never be afraid to speak up for justice, to speak up for what’s right, and to give a voice to those who have no voice, and you can count on me to give my voice until the end of my days.”

So I just wanted to share that. People are writing to her and we want her to know that she’s not alone. This is a little different situation from some of our early political prisoners, who spent many years in organizations and they had a very strong political formation which enabled them to survive many years in prison. Nina doesn’t have that background, but she’s one of us.

MPN: Continuing this theme of parallels between Greece and Puerto Rico, in Greece the current U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Pyatt was until recently the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. In Puerto Rico, an individual by the name of Natalie Jaresko, who herself attained infamy in Ukraine, is now the executive director of the junta in Puerto Rico. What is Jaresko’s background and what is her role now in Puerto Rico?

DBS: Natalie Jaresko was born in Chicago of Ukrainian parents. She has a graduate degree in economics from the University of Chicago, which is infamous for its economics department, widely views as the birthplace of neoliberal economic theory. She has worked in the State Department, she has worked with the IMF [International Monetary Fund], and we think she is a CIA asset. She’s also a fellow at the Aspen Institute, and you can even see pictures of her with “Open Ukraine” behind her — and that may ring some bells to some people, anything that’s “Open Society.”

She is definitely accused of enriching her own company in Ukraine from the privatization and sale of the telecommunications network there. She was only there for a couple of years. They gave her Ukrainian citizenship, I think, within one day. She was named to be the finance minister right after the coup, so she was basically put in as Ukraine’s finance minister by the United States, and the little minor detail that she wasn’t a Ukrainian citizen [was overlooked], so they gave her Ukrainian citizenship.

Natalie Jaresko, executive director, with the financial oversight and management board for Puerto Rico, speaks during a House Committee on Natural Resources hearing to examine challenges in Puerto Rico's recovery and the role of the financial oversight and management board, on Capitol Hill, Nov. 7, 2017 in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)

Natalie Jaresko, executive director, with the financial oversight and management board for Puerto Rico, speaks during a House Committee on Natural Resources hearing to examine challenges in Puerto Rico’s recovery and the role of the financial oversight and management board, on Capitol Hill, Nov. 7, 2017 in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)

Natalie Jaresko, she still goes back and forth to Ukraine, and part of her contract with Puerto Rico is we pay for business-class trips once a month from Puerto Rico to Ukraine. She was named by the junta to be the executive director. She is of Ukrainian background so she at least speaks Ukrainian, but she knows nothing about Puerto Rico — zero. She is there to do the same thing or worse in Puerto Rico as she did in Ukraine.

When I write about her, I always say Natalie “Carnicera de Ukrania” Jaresko — that’s Natalie “Butcher of the Ukraine” Jaresko. I just have to give you some of the terms of her contract. Her annual salary, which we are paying for, [is] $625,000 a year. That is more than $200,000 more than the president of the United States earns. And she has all of her expenses [paid for]; she has a private suite in a luxury hotel; she has an entire security detail and all of her communications, and she has her nice business trips to the Ukraine and anywhere else she wants to go.

In exchange for that, she comes in and says well, you need to cut and slash — for example, the university budget: the University of Puerto Rico needs to be more like the United States’ public universities. In other words, we should slash the government’s share of the budget to the university and students should all go into debt and become debt slaves, like they are in the United States. It’s [currently] relatively inexpensive.

The University of Puerto Rico is an excellent, excellent university. It is the best university system [on Puerto Rico], with 11 campuses (of course, they want to slash, cut all the campuses, maybe two or three left). Much better than the private universities, and it is the vehicle for people — the best students in Puerto Rico, especially if they’re poor — to get an education and to contribute to the future of Puerto Rico. They’re an incredible resource, and it is also a very militant university.

The students have had many strikes. They had one a few months ago — they shut it down for two months, and the issue was the cuts. It was interesting, they actually had a personal meeting with the junta, face-to-face, that lasted all day, which is something that the government of Puerto Rico has not even had. The students managed to do that and actually had a list of demands, none of which have been fulfilled, but just to give you an idea.

Natalie Jaresko has also said that I am here to help Puerto Rico, you need to listen to me, I’m going to cut everything. By the way, the government of Puerto Rico said we are not going to hurt the most vulnerable. Of course, they never identify who are the most vulnerable. The PROMESA bill says “essential services” must be protected. Of course, they are never defined, what “essential services” are.

They also have hired a special security detail and they are lobbying to expand the new criminalization law to further criminalize protests against the junta. So this should give you an idea of what the “Butcher of the Ukraine” wants to do in Puerto Rico.

MPN: Let’s turn now to the hot-button issue of Puerto Rico’s political status. A few months ago we saw a nonbinding referendum on statehood take place — an issue that, from what I understand, remains extremely divisive in Puerto Rico and parallels the debate that we see in Greece regarding continued membership in the European Union. Describe for us the current state of affairs regarding the island’s political status and the political divisions in Puerto Rico.

DBS: As I have noted in speaking with you before and have published before, Puerto Rico is a colony, is an “unincorporated territory belonging to but not part of the United States.” That is its official designation according to the U.S. Supreme Court. We do not even have the limited sovereignty of a Native American tribe, just to give you an example. In the United Nations, we’ve been trying for many years to get the issue [of Puerto Rico’s colonial status] on the agenda of the General Assembly, but have not managed to do so.

It has been extremely divisive because the advocacy of independence has been demonized and criminalized for many, many years in Puerto Rico. There have been many, many imprisonments; there have been many deaths; there have been many disappearances, many people who were unable to find work. And so, many people, most people in Puerto Rico are either very afraid of [independence], or they believe we have no chance, we need to depend on the United States. Most Puerto Ricans are not quite knowledgeable about our own history.

A woman photographs a burning U.S. flag set on fire during protesters in favor of Puerto Rico's independence after a referendum was held on the island's status in the financial district, known as the golden mile, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sunday, June 11, 2017. The U.S. territory overwhelmingly chose statehood on Sunday in a non-binding referendum held amid a deep economic crisis that has sparked an exodus of islanders to the U.S. mainland. Voter turnout was just 23 percent. (AP/Carlos Giusti)

A woman photographs a burning U.S. flag set on fire during protesters in favor of Puerto Rico’s independence in San Juan, Puerto Rico, June 11, 2017. (AP/Carlos Giusti)

At the present time, one of the major parties is a party that says our current status is okay if we can increase our autonomy. The other major party, which is currently in power, says no, we need equality, we need to become a state, the 51st state of the United States. And then there’s a smaller party and many people who do not vote at all, who say that without independence we cannot even begin to have this conversation because we don’t have control over our own affairs.

Puerto Rico has had five referendums since the 1960s about our political status. None of them was binding. The U.S. Congress has never committed to respecting the results. The last one was in June, and I actually wrote an article that was published in Greece in March, highlighting the interesting thing about that particular proposal, that there would be only two options: one was statehood, and the other was some kind of sovereignty.

Now, that’s kind of a loaded term, not always understood, but many independence supporters thought that this might be an opportunity, if we can actually have a very good showing of people who reject statehood and want some kind of sovereignty, then we might be able to push something. So many people who don’t even ordinarily vote were going to register.

Well, at that point the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, said to the governor of Puerto Rico that in order to have this referendum, you also need to include the current status. Now this is a referendum for the decolonization of Puerto Rico, that’s the name of it, and he said one of the options has to be to remain a colony. So one of your options to “decolonize” is to stay the way you are. The government said okay! And with that, all of the pro-independence, pro-sovereignty people said forget it, we’re boycotting. Then the other major party, the one that wants the current status with autonomy, also boycotted.

You had, in June, only one party [that] was represented, the pro-statehood party. No more than 23 percent of the voters even voted — and, because there was no oversight by the other parties, it may have been even less than 23 percent. Ninety-seven percent of voters voted in favor of statehood.

With that, the government went to Congress and said “97 percent of the voters want statehood.” They were completely ignored! Then they chose seven people and said “here are our Congressmen and we’re sending them anyway,” and they’re completely ignored, but they’re spending Puerto Rican public money that we supposedly don’t have, and they’re all sitting in Washington.

I’m not sure what they’re doing there, probably eating well and staying at a nice hotel, but Congress is completely ignoring them. They said “we’re going to meet with President Trump.” As far as I know there’s been no meeting. So we have not solved any problem — everything is exactly the way it was, except they spent $10 million of money that we don’t have on the stupid referendum.

MPN: Within this context of the broader economic crisis that Puerto Rico is experiencing, has the independence movement been able to gain any traction?

DBS: That’s always an interesting question. It’s not really easy to answer. One of the problems is that the independence movement, the left in general, is extremely divided. We have many, many little groups. People spend a lot of time, for example, on Facebook attacking each other. It’s very tiring. Sometimes when we have a meeting or protest people do show up together.

The interesting thing is, it’s not easy to say if we have support for independence or more support for independence. What I can say is, maybe there is more understanding that the United States is not going to help us — as if they ever did — that perhaps we need to figure out some way of not waiting for them to “rescue” us or to give us more power or to give us statehood.

A woman holds a sign up to police that reads in Spanish "The people are awake. Today we'll make history" during a May Day protest against looming austerity measures amid an economic crisis and demanding an audit on the island's debt to identify those responsible in San Juan, Puerto Rico, May 1, 2017. Puerto Rico is preparing to cut public employee benefits, increase tax revenue, hike water rates and privatize government operations, among other things. (AP/Danica Coto)

A woman holds a sign up to police that reads in Spanish “The people are awake. Today we’ll make history” during a May Day protest against looming austerity measures amid an economic crisis and demanding an audit on the island’s debt to identify those responsible in San Juan, Puerto Rico, May 1, 2017. Puerto Rico is preparing to cut public employee benefits, increase tax revenue, hike water rates and privatize government operations, among other things. (AP/Danica Coto)

The other thing is, because of what’s visibly happening in the United States — it’s always been happening, but the visible attacks, the visible oppression that is now getting a lot of media attention throughout the world — people are starting to believe that well, even if we became a state, we’re still Spanish-speaking, we’re still to a large extent of African descent.

How is it for the Blacks and the Latinos who live in the United States? They have statehood, do they have equality? So it’s beginning to open up things a little more.

The problem that we had is a question of getting rid of our own colonized mentalities, our colonized minds. I think that’s probably our biggest challenge. And to not just speak to ourselves, the people on the left, but to speak to our neighbors, to talk about this, and I constantly am talking to many of my neighbors, none of whom are independence activists, but they always want to ask me what I think about what’s going on.

MPN: One of the biggest stories of the past few months in Puerto Rico is the release of Oscar López Rivera, who was imprisoned in the United States for 34 years and was granted clemency by President Obama in the last days of his administration. Oscar is now back in Puerto Rico. What has the response to his release and repatriation been and what has he been doing since his release?

DBS: Oscar is now physically free — he has been spiritually free for a very long time, freer than many people I know, but he has been physically free, without restrictions, since the 17th of May. There has been a tremendous, overwhelming response among Puerto Ricans to his release, to basically being around. To be around him — I’ve been around a lot of political prisoners, and many of them, it takes a long time to adjust. His adjustment — he may have some adjusting to do that you don’t see, but you meet him in person, the smile, the hugs, he is very, very physical with everyone, for very good reasons.

He is constantly talking about unity, he is talking constantly about the decolonized mind, he is constantly asked to speak. So he has been not only speaking at many activities in Puerto Rico, but also elsewhere,  for example in the United States. He wants to thank communities all around the world for supporting him and for campaigning for him, so he’s been in many, many activities

Puerto Rico's activists show a picture of independence fighter Oscar López Rivera, center, jailed in the United States, during an event celebrating Revolution Day in Santiago, Cuba, Sunday, July 26, 2015. Cuba marks the 62st anniversary of the July 26, 1953 rebel attack led by Fidel and Raul Castro on the Moncada military barracks. The attack is considered the beginning of Fidel Castro's revolution that culminated with dictator Fulgencio Batista's ouster. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Puerto Rico’s activists show a picture of independence fighter Oscar López Rivera, center, at the time, jailed in the United States, during an event celebrating Revolution Day in Santiago, Cuba, Sunday, July 26, 2015. (AP/Ramon Espinosa)

He also went to Nicaragua, was at a conference, and President [Daniel] Ortega gave him the highest recognition of Nicaragua. He is scheduled to visit Cuba in November, and of course they were very, very active in working for his release, as well as release of earlier prisoners. So he is making a lot of the rounds still.

His plan, actually, is trying to set up a foundation to give him a little bit of [financial] independence, so that he can work in Puerto Rico. He was a community organizer before his imprisonment. He wants to do it in Puerto Rico, and he says he specifically wants to work on community-based alternatives, which already exist, but to unify them. He wants to unify the various activists, unify the people of Puerto Rico, speak to the people who are not necessarily activists and to break through this division that we have. He has the stature to force people to at least listen.

I can’t wait — I mean, some of us are a little impatient, we want to do this already, but he’s still speaking on many occasions. Sometimes it’s difficult to contact him — he has some people helping him because he will never say no to anybody, so some of the people who are helping him are trying to shield him a little bit. It’s a little bit of a coming out process, so to speak.

MPN: A famous quote from Oscar López Rivera concerns the struggle for independence and the anti-colonial struggle, which according to Oscar, begins with the decolonization of the mind. How are his words relevant in the present day, both for Puerto Rico and also for Greece, even if the country is nominally independent?

I think part of the problem with the colonized mentality is that the one who is colonized begins to believe the lies that have been told by the colonizer: that we are inferior, we are backward, that we would be poor, that we would have no hope if it were not for a more developed, more civilized, more powerful entity — for example, the United States, and in parallel, Northern Europe and Germany for the European Union. That we need to be developed, we need to be more advanced, we need to be more like them and less like the Global South.

I mean, Puerto Rico is without a doubt part of the Global South. But you get that idea, that we need for them to help us because we cannot help ourselves. We should not depend on ourselves because look how advanced they are, how happy they look, how well off they are, even if it’s not true. And if we believe that, it’s very difficult to do any of this. We won’t believe that we can make decisions on our own. We won’t demand our sovereignty, because we will think that we’re not capable of making those decisions by ourselves.

For many years we were told that if we were independent, Puerto Rico would be like Haiti. That, of course, completely ignores that Haiti, although nominally independent, is under military occupation, which benefits a very small oligarchy and keeps everyone else poor. If Haiti really could take sovereignty for itself, you would see a different Haiti. But that’s what they say to us.

There’s also the issue of our not being a European people — we have some European ancestry from the colonizers, but we are mainly not a European people. We are a Latin American-Caribbean-African-indigenous people with a very long history. We didn’t start our history when Columbus came. We have a history that goes back 7,000 years, and we have a lot of information about it. So we could draw on that and also our own history as Latin American people.

We’re in a lot of isolation. Everyone knows about the blockade the United States has against Cuba, but we have one also [the Jones Act]. It’s different, it’s very difficult for us to have direct contact, direct trade with the rest of the world. We have to do everything through the United States. And so we’re isolated.

I’ve heard many people in Greece say “I don’t know this story, why haven’t I ever heard this story?” I respond that you haven’t heard this story because it’s a blockaded story, it’s blockaded history. It’s one of the reasons that I’m here [in Greece]. And I think that the colonized mind is our biggest obstacle. I have seen that when we work together and we fight against the oppressor, the oppressor cannot stand against that. So that’s our biggest problem — I think it’s a bigger problem than U.S. military might or anything else that they can threaten us with.

MPN: The anti-colonial and independence movements that we’ve seen across the world, including those of the 1960s and 1970s, were by and large nationalist movements. Today though, we see arguments from many who associate nationalism with fascism, with racism, with xenophobia. How do you view the issue? Do you believe nationalism can be compatible with internationalism and a more cooperative worldview?

DBS: This is a very interesting question. I’ve had this conversation with many people. I know that in people there is a specific historical context of nationalism and fascism. I understand that. But the interesting thing, particularly in Latin America, is that the issue of nationalism has to do with national sovereignty, of controlling our own destiny, making our own decisions and not allowing the imperialists or neo-imperialists to make those decisions — whether it’s a European power or whether it’s the United States or whether it’s another country.

So in the context of Latin America, there is a nationalism that is called “anti-imperialist nationalism.” There is a tremendous amount of literature. It is not a nationalism that says we are better than everyone and we want to control others. We want to control ourselves.

Pro-independence demonstrators march demanding the release of political prisoners in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, June 14, 2011. Obama's trip marks the first visit to Puerto Rico by a sitting U.S. President since John F. Kennedy's 1961 visit. (AP/Ramon Espinosa)

Pro-independence demonstrators march demanding the release of political prisoners in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, June 14, 2011. Obama’s trip marks the first visit to Puerto Rico by a sitting U.S. President since John F. Kennedy’s 1961 visit. (AP/Ramon Espinosa)

Puerto Rico has had a very long history with the Nationalist Party. It’s very small right now, not very active. It was tremendously repressed. Our great martyr, Dr. Albizu Campos, was martyred, really, literally. He was the leader of the Nationalist Party. His politics, his economics, you could say were social democrat, more or less. But one of the main leaders was also Juan Antonio Corretjer, who was a communist. There are some revisionist historians who want to say that he was fascist, [but] there is no evidence for that.

I just want to share something very interesting: only a few months ago I was in Cuba, and we had this conversation because I had my conversations in Greece in mind when we had this conversation [in Cuba]. The people with whom I was talking said:

Of course, you will never find people more nationalist than Cubans. We love our country. We want to keep our culture. We want to defend our country against outside control, but we are internationalists. We want other countries to be able to defend their own sovereignty as well. We want to have relationships of mutual respect.”

And that, for them, is nationalism. And they also said, we understand there is a different history in Europe, but I think we need to rescue this word.

Now I am seeing with the very open racist attacks in the United States, I have heard some European friends say “oh, fascism is coming to the United States.” I say “No, that’s not it exactly. You’re seeing white supremacy, which is the founding principle of the United States, because it’s a European settler-colonizer regime that destroyed many indigenous nations and it maintains power through white supremacy.”

That’s not necessarily the same as fascism, and I believe the word “fascist” is thrown around a lot, but we are not talking about the actual alliance of the state and the private industry and the oligarchy. That seems to be lost a little bit.

So that’s a conversation that I think is very important also in Puerto Rico, because sometimes there are people who have read a lot of literature from Europe and they start saying “I don’t care about independence because it’s nationalist, I care more about socialism,” and I say “okay, but if we’re not independent, how are we going to be socialist? As a colony or as a state of the United States, are you expecting to be socialist? Are you expecting the communist ideal this way?” It’s less likely, I would say, and so I think it’s important to have this conversation in Greece as well.

MPN: This is the third consecutive year that you have visited Greece. What has brought you back to Greece for the third time, and where will you be speaking?

DBS: I’m very happy that I [was] invited back to speak at the Resistance Festival, which [occurred on the] 29th and the 30th of September at the Fine Arts School [in Athens]. I’m very, very happy to be working together with Dromos tis Aristeras, the wonderful weekly which I’ve also been able to send some updates on Puerto Rico and which was very, very active in the campaign to free Oscar.

I have a lifelong interest in and affinity with Greece. I even have some Greek ancestry — this is going way back. but it’s been a lifelong interest, a lifelong appreciation of the popular culture, the music And of course, with the issue of the austerity, with the resistance, and what’s happened with the troika, I immediately saw the similarities with what was happening in Puerto Rico.

And then they started calling Puerto Rico “the Greece of the Caribbean.” It’s a very superficial way that it’s used in the news, but there is a deeper truth there. Sometimes in my writings, I’ve talked about Greece as the “Puerto Rico of the Mediterranean,” because I think that we can learn from each other.

I’m hoping to increase the solidarity, increase learning about each other. At first, it was really just me, I kind of had this idea; now there is starting to be more interest. There are a couple of organizations in Puerto Rico that have contacted me to try to bring some people to speak from Greece, and there is more interest here. There are a number of different organizations [here] that are now trying to make contact with me.

I am open to speaking anywhere, with anyone, in English, in Spanish. I’m learning Greek — I’m still not speaking very well, but I’m reading more and I’m hoping at some point to be able to speak well enough to be able to present. If we have someone come [to Puerto Rico] from Greece who does not know Spanish or English, I hope I’ll know enough to help with that.

But I am hoping that we can continue this collaboration, continue solidarity. Maybe we can have young people from both countries visit each other, cultural exchange with the idea of helping each other’s struggle for a just society, for the ability to take care of ourselves and to stop this continued bleeding of our countries — the continued bleeding of our people, where our young people feel the need to leave.

I don’t want to see a Greece without Greeks. I don’t want to see a Puerto Rico without Puerto Ricans!

Part Two of Michael’s interview with Professor Berman-Santana, conducted in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, will be presented in an upcoming article.

Nov 082017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Dear listeners and friends,

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

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

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

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

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

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

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

A new breed of corruption and “diaploki”

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

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

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

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

Step one: Build a business profile

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step two: Purchase a sports team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step three: Establish or purchase media outlets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step four: Use these media outlets as partisan propaganda organs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step six: Cultivate a public image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step seven: Hold down the fort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct 042017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

Members of left wing parties shout slogans behind a burning European Union flag during an anti-EU protest in the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki, Sunday, June 28, 2015. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says the Bank of Greece has recommended that banks remain closed and restrictions be imposed on transactions, after the European Central Bank didn't increase the amount of emergency liquidity the lenders can access from the central bank. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

Members of left wing parties shout slogans behind a burning European Union flag during an anti-EU protest in the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki, Sunday, June 28, 2015. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says the Bank of Greece has recommended that banks remain closed and restrictions be imposed on transactions, after the European Central Bank didn’t increase the amount of emergency liquidity the lenders can access from the central bank. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

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

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

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

Existing plans for departure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to depart: some further thoughts and considerations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenges real and imaginary: the impact of fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grexit a first step, not a cure-all

Greece

Credit: SOOC

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

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

Sep 232017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fostering fear and lies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Varoufakis: more blatant lies and pro-EU propaganda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The argument for leaving the eurozone and the EU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why leave?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaving the “Hotel California”?

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

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

Sep 202017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

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Dear friends and listeners of Dialogos Radio,

A new season of Dialogos Radio is approaching, and this week our Greek-language broadcasts are set to launch. More details are available below, or on our Greek-language webpage, http://dialogosmedia.org/?lang=el.
 
New Dialogos Radio affiliate stations
 
Dialogos Radio’s Greek-language broadcasts will now be heard on Sunday mornings at 8 am Eastern time on Greek-Canadian radio station CHIR, heard on Rogers and Bell Fibre digital cabale in Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, Hamilton, the Niagara region, and other regions throughout the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
 
In addition, our English-language broadcasts are now heard on the following Global Community Radio affiliate stations:
 
WLRI 92.9 FM (Gap/Lancaster, PA) – Saturday 5 am local time
KIEZ 106.7 FM (Monroe, LA) – Saturday 5 am local time
KLQS 96.7 FM (Agua Dulce, CA) – Saturday 2 am local time
KFZR 93.3 FM (Frazier Park, CA) – Saturday 2 am local time
 
More affiliate stations are set to be added to our growing network… stay tuned!
 
Best,
Dialogos Radio & Media
 
***************************************
 
Αυτή την εβδομάδα: Συνέντευξη με το δημοσιογράφο Δημήτρη Γιαννόπουλο
 
Αυτή την εβδομάδα, η εκπομπή «Διάλογος» επιστρέφει, ξεκινώντας τη νέα ραδιοφωνική σεζόν 2017-2018. Στην εκπομπή μας, θα φιλοξενήσουμε το δημοσιογράφο Δημήτρη Γιαννόπουλο, πρώην σύμβουλος τύπου του τότε υπουργού οικονομικών Γιάνη Βαρουφάκη, με σημαντικές αποκαλύψεις για την θητεία του Γιάνη Βαρουφάκη ως υπουργός οικονομικών, και συζήτηση για τις τρέχουσες οικονομικές και πολιτικές εξελίξεις.
 
Περισσότερες πληροφορίες εδώ: http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=7087
 
Νέοι συνεργαζόμενοι σταθμοί στο δίκτυο μας
 
Οι Ελληνόφωνες εκπομπές μας θα μεταδίδονται από το ομογενειακό ραδιοφωνικό σταθμό CHIR, που μεταδίδεται μέσω καλωδιακών δικτύων στις ευρύτερες περιοχές του Τορόντο, του Μόντρεαλ, της πόλης του Κεμπέκ, της πόλης Οτάβα, του Χάμιλτον και του Νιαγάρα.
 
Επίσης, η Αγγλόφωνη εκπομπή μας θα μεταδίδεται από τους ακόλουθους ραδιοφωνικούς σταθμούς των ΗΠΑ, μέσω του δικτύου Global Community Radio:
 
WLRI 92.9 FM (Gap/Lancaster, PA) – Σαββάτο 5:00 π.μ. (τοπική ώρα)
KIEZ 106.7 FM (Monroe, LA) – Σαββάτο 5:00 π.μ. (τοπική ώρα)
KLQS 96.7 FM (Agua Dulce, CA) – Σαββάτο 2:00 π.μ. (τοπική ώρα)
KFZR 93.3 FM (Frazier Park, CA) – Σαββάτο 2:00 π.μ. (τοπική ώρα)
 
Φιλικά,
Διάλογος Radio & Media
Sep 082017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

A pro-remain supporter of Britain staying in the EU, wears an EU flag mask whilst taking part in a protest to coincide with politicians returning to work after the summer recess, outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Sept. 5, 2017. (AP/Matt Dunham)

A pro-remain supporter of Britain staying in the EU, wears an EU flag mask whilst taking part in a protest to coincide with politicians returning to work after the summer recess, outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Sept. 5, 2017. (AP/Matt Dunham)

The unflinching support for the EU and its institutions is not about preventing European countries from becoming “Afghanistan.” Not about preventing collapse. Not about the inconvenience of long lines at passport control. It is about promoting an ideology, a specific worldview, a vision for the way the world should work.

ATHENS, Greece & LIMASSOL, Cyprus (Analysis) It was way back in the ancient 1990s, when protesting crippling economic austerity measures, the economic imperialism of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, and free trade deals such as NAFTA and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), was a mainstay of the progressive or left-wing political agenda and worldview.

Today, that same worldview apparently makes one a “nationalist” or a “fascist,” in the eyes of self-described leftists and progressives. Oh, the irony!

Opposition to free trade agreements or open borders is now a surefire way to be branded with the modern-day scarlet letter, that of being a “nationalist.” Opposing unchecked migration—and the war and conflict that spur mass waves of migration in the first place—apparently makes one a “xenophobe.” Standing up to the crippling austerity prescribed by the open-borders project known as the European Union towards some of its own member-states makes one a “fascist.” Independence and sovereignty are bad, open borders and unrestricted free trade benefiting certain industrial powerhouses and large multinational corporations are good.

In another irony, the anti-colonial independence movements of the 1950s and 1960s were by and large nationalist movements, and were supported by many progressive forces around the world. But at the time, the “n-word” (nationalism, of course) was not the dirty word that it is today.

Back in the distant 1990s, the United States was described by western commentators as the leader of the free world, the beacon of liberty and democracy. This worldview continued unabated up through the end of the term of President Barack Obama. The election of President Donald Trump in November on a populist platform — on the heels of the British referendum result in favor of Brexit, which also drew heavy support from populist political elements — put an end to this worldview.

In yet another irony of ironies, it is now the “iron lady” of one such industrial powerhouse, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who is widely viewed as the global beacon of liberal democracy and freedom. According to Politico, it is Merkel who is now the “leader of the free world,” anointed as “global savior.” Online feminist publication Jezebel has dubbed Merkel the “last pillar of liberal democracy in Europe.” And Kati Marton, wife of the late U.S. Ambassador and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, described Merkel as “the last real democratic leader standing” and “the most powerful woman in the world,” in a highly laudatory profile piece written for fashion and lifestyle magazine Vogue.

The aforementioned sources are quite varied in style and substance, but they all adhere to the same worldview: neoliberalism, or if you prefer, globalism. And it is “free” trade, “open borders,” and the dominance of supranational institutions such as the EU that are some of globalism’s basic tenets. In the eyes of Politico, Jezebel, Vogue and their ilk, leaders like Merkel — among the staunchest supporters of open borders, and of economic austerity for suffering EU member-states such as Greece, towards which the EU supposedly displays “solidarity” — epitomize the ideal global leader, in the mold of other globalist favorites such as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

This tacit, blinding acceptance of institutions such as the EU, the World Bank, and the IMF and their policies and practices is a slap in the face to all those—whether they are in Greece, Mexico, Argentina, Tanzania, Indonesia, or elsewhere—that have suffered as a result of the economic doctrines that these institutions have imposed upon their countries. And no criticism or opposition shall be brooked by the purportedly tolerant supporters and backers of such institutions!

Case in point: Naomi Klein. The out-of-nowhere celebrity author and “activist” with a hazy biography first became widely known in the late 1990s for her anti-corporate globalization treatise No Logo, though the pinnacle of her anti-economic globalization work is her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine. Following the election of the supposedly “radical leftist” SYRIZA in Greece on January 25, 2015, Klein could barely contain herself, gushing like a teenage schoolgirl over its victory in social media postings that now seem to have been scrubbed—although some evidence of Klein’s enthusiasm still remains. As SYRIZA and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras have sold Greece and its people down the river, overturning the July 5, 2015 referendum result and enacting a third (and since then, a fourth) memorandum agreement, Klein has remained conspicuously silent.

To be clear, this is not an argument in favor of political figures such as Trump (more on this later). Instead, using the EU as a case study, neoliberal doctrine and the prevailing orthodoxy observed in the overwhelming majority of the world’s mainstream media outlets—and in such sectors as business and academia—will be deconstructed. By examining what a supranational institution such as the EU actually is, how it was created and how it operates today — as well as by analyzing why so many entities have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and how they attempt to discredit any opposition to it — readers will (I hope) come away with a clearer understanding of the purpose such institutions serve in the global order today, and why they are not quite what they seem.

A Case Study In Neoliberalism: What The EU Actually Is

The signing, March 25, 1957, of the Treaty of Rome, creating the European Economic Community, forerunner of today's European Union. (AP Photo)

The signing, March 25, 1957, of the Treaty of Rome, creating the European Economic Community, forerunner of today’s European Union. (AP Photo)

The EU’s not so humble beginnings:

The EU’s innumerable backers in government, the press and mass media, academia, the intelligentsia, and the general public describe the supranational institution as a force for peace, indeed as the sole and exclusive reason why there supposedly has been no war or conflict—itself a false claim—in Europe since the end of World War II. The EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 based on this argument, that “for over six decades [it had] contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.”

For its proponents, the EU signifies the beginnings of a “brave new world” without war and indeed without borders, a force for peace where capital—including “human capital”—can travel freely. An entity where millennials hop aboard their favorite budget airline and travel from Berlin to Milan to enjoy some prosecco without having to lose precious minutes standing on line at passport control or to exchange currency.

The EU’s beginnings, however, are hardly as benign as the official propaganda. Indeed, there exists significant evidence indicating that, at the very least, the foundations of the European Economic Community (EEC), as it was first known, may have been inspired by Third Reich plans for European “integration” and German hegemony.

At a public meeting at the British House of Commons on February 26, 2008, author, political economist, former British Ministerial Adviser and then-lecturer at Germany’s University of Mainz Rodney Atkinson described the backgrounds of Nazis and fascists who became key founding members of the EEC. In this speech, Atkinson highlighted the backgrounds of such prominent figures as Walter Hallstein and Walther Funk.

Who were Hallstein and Funk? Hallstein was one of the twelve signatories of the Treaty of Rome, the founding document of the EEC, and was the first president of the non-elected European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, between 1958 and 1967. EU proponents describe Hallstein as a “visionary,” while mainstream biographies of Hallstein note that while he was a member of some “nominally” Nazi organizations, he was not a Nazi Party member or part of the SA.

Let’s look at these “nominally” Nazi organizations. Hallstein was a member of the Association of National Socialist German Legal Professionals, which later morphed into the National Socialist Association of Legal Professionals (or “Law Protectors”), membership in which was restricted to only those who displayed the most unwavering and active support for Nazi ideology. Indeed, in 1933 Hitler purged Jews and socialists from the organization. Hallstein, in a memo to Nazi administrators, confirmed in 1935 that he was a member of both of these organizations.

Following Hitler’s official state visit to Italy and meeting with Mussolini in May 1938 in the lead-up to World War II, a bi-national commission was established to create the framework for the European dictatorship that was to be achieved. Soon thereafter, the first meeting of this commission’s legal team was held, with Hallstein representing Nazi Germany.

The following year, just before the outbreak of the war, Hallstein gave an infamous speech—the handwritten manuscript of which is available online. In this speech Hallstein referred, among other things, to “the creation of the Greater German Reich” and “legal Germanization of the new territories,” via the “link up” of Austria and much of Czechoslovakia with Germany and creation of a “unified legal system” for this new territory — citing the failure to create such as system as one of the “unfinished tasks” of the Second Reich. Most egregiously, in this same speech Hallstein also advocated in favor of a “law for the protection of the German blood and the German honor,” or what were to become the Nuremberg Race Laws.

On to Walther Funk. Funk served in the Nazi Propaganda Ministry under Goebbels, and later as Nazi Germany’s minister of economics, president of the Reichsbank, and president of the Bank of International Settlements, he was responsible for dispossessing Jews of their assets, for which he was later convicted at the Nuremberg trials. Released from prison in 1957—the year the Treaty of Rome was signed—he served in Lower Saxony’s ministry of education between 1957 and 1960. To state it differently, just over a decade after the war, one of the founding member-states of the EEC offered a significant position in public administration to a convicted Nazi criminal.

Funk’s direct relevance to the EEC, however, is evident through a report produced in 1942 under his watch as economics minister and president of the Reichsbank, titled “Europaische Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft,” or “European Economic Community.” Indeed, this term was apparently first introduced by the Nazi regime. This report presented a plan for how Germany would administer the economies of conquered post-war Europe, and encompassed sections on currency, trade and economic agreements, agriculture, industry, and more. More specifically, the report called for the “harmonization” of Europe’s currencies. A uniform planning and management system that would erode the economic sovereignty of individual European states—shades of the EU and such things as the “Common Agricultural Policy” today—was foreseen. And, foreshadowing today’s “identity politics” and “freedom of mobility,” national sovereignty was to be displaced by the so-called “sovereignty of the people.”

When Gerard Batten, a member of the European parliament with the UK Independence Party (UKIP), referred to Funk’s past in a posting on his blog, Labour Party MP Chuka Umunna described these claims as “crackpot conspiracy theories.” But are they? “Europaische Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft,” with Funk as one of the co-authors, is readily locatable today. Daniel J. Beddowes and Flavio Cipollini, who together authored a book titled The EU: The Truth About the Fourth Reich – How Hitler Won the Second World War, argue that Funk put the finishing touches on the plans for what is today the EU.

According to Beddowes and Cipollini, “[i]t was Funk who predicted the coming of European economic unity. Funk was also Adolf Hitler’s economics minister and his key economics advisor.” The authors indicate that Hitler’s post-war plans foresaw a federalized, economically integrated European Union free of “the clutter of small nations,” and that these plans were themselves based on a belief held by Lenin, that “federation is a transitional form towards complete union of all nations.” Therefore, argue the authors, it is not by chance that the EU closely resembles Hitler’s blueprint for a unified Europe, and that most EU member-states are getting poorer while Germany is continuously getting richer.

An alleged U.S. military intelligence report, EW-Pa 128 — also known as the “Red House Report” and said to have been written in November 1944 — describes the proceedings of a secret meeting that took place earlier that year where Nazi officials, recognizing that defeat and the end of the war were near, ordered German industrialists to plan for the post-war future and to lay the groundwork for a new “strong German empire.” The secret report was said to have been copied to British officials and to have made its way to the U.S. Secretary of State. The industrialists, including representatives of such companies as Volkswagen, were joined by representatives of the German Navy and the Nazi ministry of armaments.

This report, if indeed legitimate, describes a post-war Europe that would eventually come to be dominated by Germany, but with this domination being economic rather than military. The economic reserves of German front companies located abroad would be exploited, and this money would later be funneled to German industrialists via other front companies in “neutral” Switzerland. These overseas front companies would maintain a direct line of communication with the top political echelons of Germany, with the goal of eventually reasserting their dominance over Germany—and over Europe.

This report dredges up memories of the infamous Merten affair, involving Dr. Max Merten, who had been installed as a Nazi administrator in the city of Thessaloniki. Infamous for having looted Thessaloniki’s substantial Jewish community of their wealth and jewels in exchange for protection—before betraying their trust—Merten maintained close ties with prominent Greek politicians, particularly the inner circle of Konstantinos Karamanlis, who in the 1950s became Greece’s Western-supported prime minister.

Merten, wishing to recover his hidden booty, returned to Greece in 1957 under the assumption that no warrant existed for his arrest. Merten was arrested, however, and served some months in prison before being amnestied by Karamanlis. Merten had been threatening the Karamanlis government with evidence that Merten was said to have in his possession, proving that Karamanlis and key ministers of his government had collaborated with the Nazis during the war.

One of Karamanlis’ closest allies, Konstantinos Gertsos, appears in the declassified intelligence files on the Merten affair. Gertsos headed a German front corporation, landing a lucrative mining concession on behalf of German businessmen. He later became Greece’s ambassador to Switzerland, where he participated in investment schemes with Karamanlis, and later was named honorary ambassador of Greece. Serving again as Greece’s first post-junta prime minister, Karamanlis himself oversaw the negotiations for Greece’s accession to the European Community in the late 1970s. His nephew, also named Konstantinos Karamanlis, served as prime minister between 2004-2009, the years that led up to Greece’s catastrophic economic crisis.

On the topic of industry, there is the example of Hermann Abs, founder of the pro-integration European League for Economic Cooperation (still in existence), a board member of Deutsche Bank, and also a board member of I.G. Farben, a union of German industrial titans such as BASF and Bayer. This consortium sought to obtain control of the global marketplace in such sectors as pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals. In 1933, it also became the largest financier of the Nazis’ rise to power, and continued to collaborate with the Nazis thereafter, to the tune of over 80 million Reichsmark during the war. In exchange, I.G. Farben took over key industries in each Nazi-occupied country.

What was I.G. Farben’s endgame? A letter presented at the Nuremberg War Crimes tribunal, which had been written by I.G. Farben director August von Knieriem and addressed to the Nazi government, foresaw a common European currency, legal system, and judicial system—not unlike today’s EU and Eurozone.

The Nazi foreign ministry itself crafted a draft blueprint for a “united Europe,” which—in shades of today’s hysterical anti-Russian sentiment in the West—called for a European mobilization against the USSR through the implementation of a “European image of German foreign policy” and the formation of a confederation of 14 European states that would be led by Germany and ultimately promote German interests.

None other than celebrity economist and former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis himself has pointed outseveral quotations that could fairly describe today’s EU, including: “There must be a readiness to subordinate one’s own interests in certain cases to that of the European Community;” and “The solution to economic problems … with the eventual object of a European customs union and a free European market, a European clearing system and stable exchange rates in Europe, looking towards a European currency union.” Oddly enough, or perhaps not so oddly, these striking similarities with Nazi rhetoric do not lead to any hesitation on Varoufakis’ part to wholly and enthusiastically support EU institutions.

“There is no alternative”

A protester take part in a rally against the proposed privatization of the state-run water utility, in the Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Greece’s highest administrative court has ruled against the sale, arguing that the sale could affect water quality. (AP Photo/Nikolas Giakoumidis)

A protester take part in a rally against the proposed privatization of the state-run water utility, in the Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Greece’s highest administrative court has ruled against the sale, arguing that the sale could affect water quality. (AP Photo/Nikolas Giakoumidis)

Just as with opposition to international “free” trade and the policies of institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, there was a time where the left and progressive forces were opposed to the politics of TINA—“there is no alternative,” exemplified by the original iron lady, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Today though, we are told by a wide range of voices, including purported leftists such as Varoufakis, that for countries such as Greece there is no alternative to EU and Eurozone membership, categorically ruling out any thoughts of departure.

But Greece lied by presenting false economic data to enter the Eurozone, did it not? And therefore it must accept “bitter medicine,” should it not? That’s what many “well-meaning” leftists and progressives retort when the topic of the EU and IMF’s cruelty towards Greece is brought up. But this also exposes what could, depending on one’s perspective, be described as either the EU’s incompetence or its insidious nature. If Greece lied and the EU did not perform due diligence and was fooled, then it is incompetent. If it knew what was going on and went along, then it is complicit in what has followed.

Furthermore, Greece wasn’t alone in its “creative accounting:” countries like Italy and Spain also brokered deals with the likes of Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan to massage the numbers in order to meet the Maastricht criteria to qualify for Eurozone membership. Even Varoufakis, in a 2012 Dialogos Radio interview, has suggested that many other Eurozone members fudged the numbers.

Membership in the EU and the Eurozone provided an ephemeral economic boom and a period of false prosperity for Greece. The negative impacts, however, are more long-lasting, if indeed not permanent, in nature. Privatizations, which began in earnest in the early 1990s and did nothing to prevent the crisis, resulted in the wholesale sell-off of strategic state assets, resources, and public utilities that were often profitable. Introduction of a “hard” currency, overvalued for the Greek economy, made Greek exports and tourism uncompetitive compared to lower-priced alternatives in the region. Greece’s previously modest industrial base was decimated while agricultural production has dropped sharply since 1981, the year Greece joined the EU, due in large part to the EU’s common agricultural policy.

Greece, as did several other countries, may have presented questionable data in order to enter the Eurozone. In yet another biting irony though, similarly “fudged” numbers may have been presented, very much on purpose, in order to drag Greece into the IMF-EU austerity mechanism. Whistleblowers such as Zoe Georganta have made allegations and presented evidence indicating that Greece’s debt and deficit figures were purposely worsened in order to drag Greece under the austerity mechanism.

Fueling these allegations is the revelation that former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn had met with then-opposition leader George Papandreou in April 2009, months before Papandreou was elected as Greece’s prime minister. The allegedly augmented deficit and debt figures were revealed soon after Papandreou’s election, signifying the start of the economic crisis.

We might ask, why sabotage a national economy? The corrected question, though, should be, why not? The austerity regime enabled the EU and successive subservient regimes in Greece to impose unpopular and socially harmful measures that would never have had a chance of being enacted under ordinary conditions — including harsh cuts to social services, wages, and pensions, plus fast-tracking the privatization of key national assets.

Notably, the Greek economy was subject to EU audits and oversight during the 2004-2007 time period. For some unexplained reason, this oversight did nothing to prevent the crisis that followed. And while the international press has habitually focused on Greece’s falsifying of its economic data to join the Eurozone (without focusing on other countries which also engaged in this practice), any discussion of the allegations made by whistleblowers about the alleged augmentation of Greece’s deficit and debt figures is denounced as conspiracy theory. Indeed, the chief statistician who oversaw this possible falsification of the data is lauded in the press.

The EU’s democratic deficit, hypocrisy, and the human cost

A man looks on a pile of trash as he walks behind a flower pot in Kaminia neighborhood of Piraeus, near Athens, June 27, 2017. Striking garbage collectors who fear job losses from EU-imposed regulations governing short-term contract workers in the public sector, were on the 11th-day of protest that left huge piles of trash around Athens. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)The austerity regime in Greece has been far from victimless. Repeated reports from the United Nations and the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) have found that the austerity measures imposed in Greece are in violation of international law and the basic human rights of the Greek people, who have increasingly been impoverished during the crisis as a result of the successive pension and wage cuts and reductions to social services that have been imposed.

For a while, the “European family” demonstrated “solidarity” with Greece and its people. Such “solidarity” movements cropped up in early 2015 in particular—movements that were fully supportive of the SYRIZA-led coalition government, notwithstanding the signs that were evident from the very beginning that SYRIZA was not the leftist, anti-austerity force it was portrayed as being. Instead, their “solidarity” protests in European and North American cities, replete with SYRIZA flags, and their accompanying social media hashtag #ThisIsACoup, gently chastised the “bad Europeans” for “blackmailing” the well-intentioned “leftist” government of Greece.

Peculiarly, these mild protestations against the “bad Europeans” were never, ever accompanied by suggestions that Greece consider a departure from the EU or the Eurozone, even as a negotiating tactic. Instead, the Greek people have, by the very same people who displayed “solidarity,” often been lectured about Greece’s responsibility towards the rest of the “European family” and chastised for such matters as the petty corruption of not issuing a receipt for small purchases.

Indeed, it has often been Greece that has been called upon to display “solidarity” without reciprocation. With Greece beset by many dozens of destructive forest fires in recent weeks, the EU obliged Greece to send two firefighting airplanes to Albania—itself not a EU member-state—but France refused a request to send planes to help Greece’s overextended fire brigades extinguish the Greek blazes.

This mentality has made its way into the Greek political psyche. Prime Minister Tsipras’ victory speech on January 25, 2015 was full of pro-EU zeal, featuring many references to saving Europe, but none to saving Greece. The main opposition party, New Democracy, has helped organize several “remain in Europe” rallies since 2015 and has repeatedly positioned itself as a “responsible” and “outward-looking” alternative to the “leftist” SYRIZA.

Nary a word is mentioned, however, about the EU’s apparent disdain for democracy. As mentioned earlier, its executive branch, the European Commission, is wholly non-elected. Nor, for that matter, are the EU commissioners themselves. One such commissioner, EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström of Sweden, has said quite accurately that she “does not receive her mandate from the European people.”

The non-elected president of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, himself embattled by the LuxLeaks scandals in the recent past, has stated that “there can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.” Sadly though, he hasn’t addressed the hypocrisy of lecturing Greece about “reform” whilst being embroiled in scandals of his own.

In turn, Germany’s apparent finance minister-for-life, Wolfgang Schäuble, who apparently also acts as finance minister of Greece and Spain and Italy and Portugal, has said “[e]lections change nothing. There are rules.” The sovereign judicial institutions of an EU member-state have also been openly questioned when decisions don’t go the EU’s way, as was the case recently in Greece. Solidaridad!

This author received an in-your-face taste of the EU’s brand of democracy in a 2013 visit to EU institutions in Brussels and Luxembourg. During this visit, a succession of technocrats shed all pretense and demonstrated their disdain for democracy and the very concept of the nation-state. Their talks were peppered with such quotes as “The labor force should be ‘flexible’ and should ‘diversify;’” “Mussolini dealt with the situation;” “There are regions of Italy which we wish Brussels could govern directly;” and “We believe in a single European consciousness.” Compare these with the Nazi quotations presented earlier in this piece.

During this series of talks, the technocrats and their partners in academia arrogantly attributed the EU’s economic perils to three simple factors: “Bad design. Bad luck. Bad decisions: Greece.” Revealing the EU’s possible endgame, we were further told that “the nation-state is a 19th-century construct, and nothing lasts forever.”

Further demonstrating the utter lack of democracy and accountability in the Nobel Prize-winning EU, it should be noted that the European Central Bank (ECB), which holds the economic fate of the EU’s member-states in its hands, has only one mandate in its governing documents: maintaining price stability — reflecting a longstanding German aversion to inflation of any sort. Nothing in the ECB’s constitution requires it to enact policy with social mandates, such as full employment, in mind. Indeed, the ECB itself does not lend directly to member-states but exclusively to private banks, from which states are then obliged to borrow at higher interest rates.

Perhaps best demonstrating the contempt with which the EU elite and its supporters view democracy and popular will, numerous parliamentary votes and referendum results that have not gone the EU’s way have systematically been subject to re-dos and overturned. For instance, Ireland rejected the EU’s Lisbon Treaty by referendum in 2008. A “relatively small member state” daring to “hold up” attempts at further EU integration was considered intolerable by the powers that be, and a new vote was called. Amidst tremendous pressure, voters wilted and accepted the treaty in the new referendum.

Similarly, Irish voters rejected the EU’s Treaty of Nice in 2001. This surprise result was also deemed unacceptable. A new referendum was scheduled in 2002, the usual pressure on voters piled on, and the Treaty approved by Irish voters the second time around.

In 2013, Cyprus’ newly-elected government of President Nikos Anastasiadis rejected an EU-proposed “bailout” that would have resulted in a “haircut” of bank deposits ranging from 6.6 percent to 9.9 percent. Indeed, not one vote in favor was cast in parliament. De facto EU boss Germany was not impressed. Under stifling pressure and amidst threats of “imminent” bankruptcy, the parliament caved and passed a modified, but still onerous, “bailout” bill and haircut in a second vote.

In Greece, of course, the “leftist” SYRIZA government felt no obligation to even pretend to show resistance, despite the absurd “#ThisIsACoup” rhetoric that it tacitly supported behind the scenes. The July 2015 popular referendum overwhelmingly rejecting the EU’s austerity proposals was swiftly overturned and replaced by an even more severe austerity package, all in the name of keeping Greece “in Europe” (as if it would float away to Antarctica otherwise).

Following the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom, elitist, pro-EU scholars from such “safe space” institutions as the London School of Economics recoiled in disgust at the “tyranny of the majority.” Clearly, voters were not as well-informed as pro-EU ivory tower intellectuals. This sentiment is not a recent phenomenon, however: similar views were expressed over a decade ago following the rejection of the proposed EU “constitution” by French and Dutch voters in 2005.

Therefore, it is no surprise that in the EU today, non-elected authorities are the ones who, for instance, tell countries what to grow and what not to grow (EU common agricultural policy), or whether or not a state-owned national air carrier can be allowed to continue to operate. A private and high-cost quasi-monopoly (Aegean Airlines) along with a smattering of low-cost airlines with a limited range of destinations has replaced Greece’s Olympic Airlines, which undoubtedly had been mismanaged but nevertheless connected Greece to North America and Australia.  In neighboring Turkey, Turkish Airlines—unimpeded by EU “competition” regulations and half-owned by the Turkish state—flies to the most countries and fourth most destinations in the world.

Why the fear of losing the EU?

A man looks up at a model of a pigeon on top of a banner as anti Brexit campaigners gather at Hyde Park Corner in London, March 25, 2017, before they march towards Britain's parliament. (AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

A man looks up at a model of a pigeon on top of a banner as anti Brexit campaigners gather at Hyde Park Corner in London, March 25, 2017, before they march towards Britain’s parliament. (AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

For some of those who favor the EU, their support often approaches levels of blind dogmatism. The main issue to contend with here though is why do such large segments of the political, business, and media elite so strongly support the EU, the Eurozone, and all of its associated institutions and policies?

In a word, the reason is neoliberalism. Based in part on “third way” politics, which burst to the political forefront in the 1990s with the likes of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, it is the idea that capital, including “human capital,” should be able to flow freely across borders—or better yet, that borders should be abolished altogether. It is an idea that pays lip service to democracy and social justice but that preserves the primacy of international financial capital and so-called “free trade” über alles.

Greek Prime Minister Tsipras, defending his government’s policy of maintaining Greek membership in the Eurozone, argued in a recent interview that Greece would turn “into Afghanistan” if it left the common currency bloc. However, as evidenced by Tsipras’ aforementioned victory speech, the end goal is preserving the idea of “Europe”—as conceptualized by today’s European Union—at all costs, even if it means breaking campaign promises (or outright lying, if you prefer) and implementing policies that are toxic for the country and its people.

Some of the more laughable defenses that have been heard in favor of EU membership—as exemplified by the heated pre- and post-Brexit referendum rhetoric, concern such awful inconveniences as having to wait on line at customs control or at currency exchange. Somewhat more serious arguments concern the loss of the right to seek employment in other European countries. Doom-and-gloom scenarios, such as the one put forth by Tsipras and also much of the press and mass media, predict economic failure and catastrophe for those who dare depart from the Eurozone or the EU.

This unflinching support for the EU and its institutions, though, is not in reality about preventing European countries from being transformed into “Afghanistan.” It is not about preventing collapse. It is not about the laughable inconvenience of waiting on long lines at passport control. It is about promoting an ideology, a specific worldview, a vision for the way the world should work.

How exactly does this new, visionary world work in reality? What is the end goal? Let’s take the “free movement of labor” as an example. The positive spin that is often placed on this issue points out the advantages of being able to seek work in 28 EU member-states, increasing options for those seeking jobs and the pool of potential workers for employers.

In actuality though, such policies promote a “brain drain” from poorer EU member-states towards those that are wealthier. This perpetuates a spiral of impoverishment in countries such as Greece, from which an estimated 600,000 people have emigrated just during the years of the economic crisis, draining the country of a significant percentage of its educated professionals, the know-how and innovation they could provide, and the contributions their employment would make to the national tax base and pension system–further perpetuating the vicious economic cycle.

Indeed, it can be surmised that a portion of the still significant levels of support for EU membership in Greece stems from individuals who do not view EU membership in terms of the country’s best interest but in terms of self-interest — such as the opportunity to escape the “hellhole” that is Greece and to move to other, wealthier countries that are deemed more “civilized.” Motivated self-interest can also be seen in certain professional categories, such as academics for instance, who fear losing such benefits as EU-provided or EU-supported financial grants.

On their end, employers do not wish to lose what amounts to a pool of surplus labor. This has nothing to do with meritocracy, competition, or finding the best candidate to fill available positions. It has much more to do with increasing labor supply and lowering wages accordingly, essentially pitting labor against itself. As an ancillary benefit, the impoverishment of EU member-states such as Greece creates an internal bloc of countries with educated working populations, proximity to the rest of Europe, free trade and the same currency, and labor conditions and wages rapidly approaching third-world levels. This leads to “investments” (including the aforementioned privatizations) in these nouveau-poor nations, while “free” trade allows cheaply-made imports from economic powerhouses such as Germany to be dumped on local markets.

The same holds true for economic migrants and refugees, for whom we are often told there must be “no borders.” But what this influx of peoples actually represents from an economic point of view is further surplus labor, including labor willing to perform undesirable jobs at pitifully low wages. It represents a new labor pool which is, in essence, pitted against the domestic labor of European countries, suppressing wages across the board. As an additional bonus for employers, those migrants and refugees who are undocumented are far more likely to be amenable to long workdays, extremely low wages, and employment without insurance, benefits, or union membership — essentially held hostage by fear of deportation or starvation.

In other words, these migrants and refugees are exploited, and this exploitation occurs under the guise of “open borders” and “solidarity.” As this exploitation takes place, the true causes of the mass waves of migration and outflows of refugees from these countries are ignored. These, in turn, are closely related to the geopolitical ambitions and activities of Western actors, including the EU and Brussels-based NATO.

While many of those who are opposed to unchecked migration are indeed racist and xenophobic, there also exist those who oppose such migration on the aforementioned grounds, while further recognizing that states already battered by domestic unemployment are in no position to absorb a new labor pool. There are obviously non-racist and non-xenophobic grounds for  opposition to the destruction, impoverishment and exploitation of these countries in the first place There are then equally sound and benignant grounds for further opposition to the exploitation of the migrant workers and the suppression of wages and elimination of jobs for the domestic workforce, especially at a time when double-digit unemployment already officially exists in much of Europe and the Eurozone.

The way this induced “free” movement operates, a significant percentage of the labor force within “united” Europe is exploited or driven out of work and forced into internal migration within the “common market,” while migrants from outside Europe add to the pool of surplus labor and drive down wages even further. Both categories of workers are exploited by the “big fish,” namely economic and industrial giants such as Germany, and by international financial capital, which together benefit quite handsomely from this situation. This is as far from a xenophobic argument as one can get.

If this all sounds far-fetched, consider the following remarks made by British Labour Party MP John Reid on the BBC’s “Sunday Politics” television program on April 14, 2013: “The Treasury insisted in having a free flow of labor because they thought it would have brought down the cost of labor.” Reid further noted that he was attacked by members of his own party for suggesting that it was not racist to discuss the issue of immigration.

This is the prevalent ideology: “open borders” under a veil of “humanism” but with the goal of the economic exploitation of workers and entire countries alike. War and conflict is fomented in some countries, economic oppression in others. The migrants fleeing these countries in search of survival and employment are then exploited by the wealthier countries, which benefit and profit off of their work and very presence in these countries, such as through the broadening of the tax base. Conversely, the countries that raised these individuals and invested in their education are left largely empty-handed, at best awaiting remittances from abroad. And all of this is couched in pseudo-humanitarian terms: open borders, free movement, and “free” trade.

Discrediting the EU’s opponents

Guest speaker British politician George Galloway makes a speech at a rally held by the Grassroots Out (GO), anti-EU campaign group at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in London, held to coincide with the EU summit in Brussels, Feb. 19, 2016. (AP/Matt Dunham)

Guest speaker British politician George Galloway makes a speech at a rally held by the Grassroots Out (GO), anti-EU campaign group at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in London, held to coincide with the EU summit in Brussels, Feb. 19, 2016. (AP/Matt Dunham)

As I conclude this piece, I find myself at a fascinating conference on journalism and digital media taking place on the divided island of Cyprus. Notably, Cyprus, just like the United Kingdom, is not yet part of the Schengen Zone, which allows for passport- and visa-free travel. This means long lines at passport control—the horror! Interestingly enough, despite the U.K.’s having been exempted from participation in the Schengen Zone, “freedom to travel” was one of the arguments put forth to oppose “Brexit.”

But back to the conference: I’ve attended fascinating panel discussions and talks by brilliant academic colleagues from all across the world. But there is one problem: the prevailing viewpoint seems openly in favor of all of the institutions and beliefs that are shared by those who could be described as proponents of neoliberalism: pro-EU, anti-Brexit, vilification of the type of so-called “fake news” (i.e., news that does not fit a globalist agenda) allegedly practiced by outlets such as MintPress News, as well as heaps of shock and horror at the election of Donald Trump in the United States. All of this reflects prevailing viewpoints in the media, in the business world, and in academia.

So, Trump and Brexit. These electoral results have been blamed, sometimes in their entirety, on racism and xenophobia and “nationalism” and the ever-evil “populism.” But academia, and particularly the liberal arts and humanities, for all of their lofty talk of “interrogating hegemony,” do not question why populism is successful, and whether there are factors other than poorly-informed and racist voters taking advantage of democratic processes to, believe it or not, vote for their preferred candidate!

Earlier, the example of voters in Missouri counties that had previously voted solidly in favor of Barack Obama but who supported Trump in last year’s election, was used to question the idea that all voters who perhaps supported “populism” or who wished to “make America great again” were racists and xenophobes. Similarly, while the mass media has heaped attention on the racist and xenophobic element of the Brexit referendum result, left-wing campaigns for Brexit, such as “Lexit” and “Left Leave” and prominent left-wing and decidedly non-racist, non-xenophobic figures such as Tariq Ali, are habitually ignored—by journalists, by the media, by academia. In turn, any political development that contradicts the long march towards further neoliberalism and globalism is conflated with the likes of Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Nigel Farage, and Marine Le Pen among others.

What seems increasingly apparent is that these aforementioned populist political figures are being used—though not entirely incorrectly—as weapons to discredit any policies that are not favorable to the neoliberal status quo. What isn’t clear is whether this was the plan all along — for the likes of Trump to be anointed for this purpose as a real-life “manchurian candidate” and for the Brexit referendum to take place smack in the midst of Europe’s refugee and migrant crisis — or if it simply represents a strategic response by the establishment to an inconvenient situation. But the disgust that has accompanied some of the few actual positive developments of the Trump presidency — such as the elimination of TPP and TTIP (also opposed by Bernie Sanders amidst censorship), the types of “free trade” agreements once vigorously opposed by progressive forces — perhaps elucidates the true nature of opposition to “populism.”

One of the end results of such a divisive and often extreme political climate is the occurrence of horrible, unfortunate, and tragic events that directly reflect this emerging polarization. The recent occurrence in Charlottesville is a case in point. Once they have taken place, such incidents — driven by extremists and pent-up anger on either side — are further used as weapons to discredit any argument against the prevailing political and economic order.

International cooperation and repairing what’s broken

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

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

A lack of willingness to question the aforementioned political and economic order may help explain why even those individuals who expressed “solidarity” with Greece—at least up until Greece and its crisis were largely forgotten following the July 2015 referendum—nevertheless refused to question the very core issues of the EU, its policies in Greece and other crisis-stricken countries, and continued membership in the EU and the Eurozone. Even during the “#ThisIsACoup” phase of “solidarity” towards Greece, the “bad” Europeans who were said to be blackmailing the Greek government were apparently never considered quite bad enough to necessitate “Grexit”—or to later support Brexit. At worst, the Greek situation could be said to be viewed by these elements as merely a momentary hiccup on the path towards a borderless European—or global—utopia.

It seems to be the case that questioning the project in purported European “unity” that is the EU is enough for ordinary individuals to be branded “racists” and “xenophobes,” “isolationists” and “reactionaries.” I suppose then that Tariq Ali, who also questioned SYRIZA when it was not yet fashionable to do so, is a racist and a regressive force—as are Glenn Greenwald, Julian Assange, and George Galloway, who also adopted positions in favor of Brexit.

So why not simply fix the EU if it is broken? That’s what the likes of Yanis Varoufakis have repeatedly argued. But if Grexit is unreasonable and unrealistic, is it more reasonable and more realistic to presume that entrenched institutional structures — such as a non-elected European Commission, an unaccountable European justice system, and thousands upon thousands of regulations and directives dictating many aspects of life and economic activity in Europe, right down to the shape of bananas sold for human consumption (regulations which do in fact exist despite insistence to the contrary by the EU’s supporters) — can simply be changed or eliminated? Or that the issue of surplus labor and downward pressures on wages can be solved within such an institutional and regulatory context? I have not heard a satisfactory answer to these questions, not even from Varoufakis himself. Can an institution that is rotten and undemocratic to the core be salvaged?

Having mentioned Varoufakis, it bears noting that he has, on several occasions, openly praised Mrs. TINA herself, Margaret Thatcher (see also here, here, here, and here). This should come as no surprise, as it is Varoufakis who told us that There Is No Alternative to the euro for Greece, refused to even bring the Grexit option to the negotiating table as Greece’s finance minister, and accepted all of the EU’s austerity demands in the name of keeping Greece in the Eurozone at all costs.

It’s quite ironic that “anti-establishment” leftists and anarchists find themselves precisely on the same side as much of the establishment itself when it comes to the existence of institutions such as the EU, in the name of “open borders”—or no borders whatsoever. The very same establishment that praises one of the harshest prescribers of austerity, Angela Merkel, as a bastion of liberal democracy and as the newly anointed leader of the “free” world.

Those who do not conform to this orthodoxy often do not go unpunished. In various ways, three other purportedly “leftist” or “progressive” publications made it clear that this author’s contributions were no longer welcome. Ditto a radio station and Voice of America affiliate in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, which once carried my radio program. So much for tolerance.

Yet, in the name of journalistic integrity — and in the face of injustice, hypocrisy and intolerance — there are things that must be said, if we are to engage in the type of healthy, robust and open democratic dialogue that we’d like to believe we stand for. For this, and as I prepare to begin a professional career in my chosen field, shall I expect to be confronted with a dressing-down akin to that seen in the classic 1976 film Network, where journalist Howard Beale was kindly informed that he had meddled with the primal forces of nature and that he will atone? Perhaps!

The lecture to which Beale was subjected in Network, whether intentionally or not, was accurate: by and large there is no left or right. There are no Democrats or Republicans. There is a prevailing globalist, neoliberal worldview, and there is a smattering of various elements from a wide range of sharply different and often incongruent belief systems that, each for its own reasons, oppose this prevailing trend. And because of the actions of fringe groups that truly are racist and violent, anyone who even so much as simply questions the orthodox worldview is lumped together with such genuinely reactionary elements.

There is true beauty in diversity and cultural difference. But what is diversity and what is cultural difference? I don’t wish to see the same Starbucks in Los Angeles, Lisbon, Lima, and Lesotho. I don’t desire to see one global “lingua franca” prevail while “unimportant” languages (like Greek) die out. I would not like to see the same corporations and the same lifestyle imposed worldwide via the process of globalization. When I am privileged enough to travel, I’d like to enjoy the local food and music and culture, to hear the local language and learn a few words (or more), to appreciate a way of life and a worldview different from my own. That’s diversity, and it is endangered by the homogenizing process of globalization, which is itself brought further along by the elimination of national sovereignty.

If I am a Greek voter, I want my elected prime minister, whether it is Alexis Tsipras or anyone else, to talk about the country that they were elected to govern and to represent me, my children and my family, not to discuss some abstract entity known as “Europe” which he or she was not elected to represent. Democracy works at a local level, while imperialism and empire are what prevail at the global, supranational level. And if the price of that democracy is waiting in a queue to exchange currency (which preferably would be in physical form) then so be it.

The idea of unity is often treated as a zero-sum game with the idea of the nation, that only one or the other is possible. But is this truly the case? International cooperation and understanding can and does exist across nations and peoples in an astounding myriad of ways. These could include trade agreements that are not parasitic or based on exploitation, visa-free travel regimes across countries, and academic exchange programs that help foster cultural mixing and collaboration. Those academics who are also EU backers and are worried about losing, say, the Erasmus+ exchange program, may wish to consider that it is open to non-EU citizens, just as the United States’ Fulbright exchange program is open to participants from all around the world. Those are concrete examples of international cooperation and cultural bridging in action which can exist, should exist, and often times do exist without the necessity of a bloated supranational behemoth micromanaging every aspect of life and serving the interests of a select few.

Nation-states and borders do not necessarily mean isolationism. They don’t necessarily mean hatred, nor do they mean a lack of cooperation. Indeed these elements can and do exist even absent of borders, such as within societies or within supranational entities. We are told that the EU has served as a force for peace and that the nation-state as an institution promotes war. But the EU and EU member-states allied with NATO have participated in countless conflicts, both on the European continent and elsewhere, and have no problem allying themselves with oppressive, violent, authoritarian and genocidal regimes for reasons of economic or geopolitical expediency. War itself has existed since prehistoric times, long before the advent of the nation-state. It has also indeed contributed to the breakup of larger supranational entities. And as demonstrated earlier, whether due to conspiracy or coincidence, the idea of European economic and political unity is not necessarily incompatible with fascist and extremist ideology.

So what of the EU and Eurozone? A commonly heard retort is that no one has suggested any practical alternatives or a course of action that would allow a country such as, say, Greece, to depart from these institutions without a catastrophic meltdown taking place. This therefore raises the question: should a country like Greece depart and, if so, how can it accomplish this? What are the alternatives, and are they viable? Will Greece be transformed into Afghanistan, as Tsipras suggests? The next installment of this series will address these questions—and more—in detail. Stay tuned.

Aug 192017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greece burns: who benefits?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greece: Business as usual?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EU and media hypocrisy at its finest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A “success story” – on paper only

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An uncertain future, not a “success story”

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jul 282017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern-day Greece: Fatalism, defeatism and hopelessness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mental colonization

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

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

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

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

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

Greece: The worst in everything?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Devaluing the domestic, lionizing the foreign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Divide and conquer in action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We don’t produce anything”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An abject lack of pride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A losing battle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jul 182017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

michael-120x120ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Nevradakis

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