May 192016
 

By Mihalis Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

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Dear listeners and friends,

This week, Dialogos Radio returns after a brief hiatus! On our broadcast this week, the Dialogos Interview Series will feature a timely and relevant interview with Nikos Chatziandreou of the Acropolis of Athens online campaign, for the return of the Acropolis Sculptures from the British Museum in London, to Greece.

In this week’s interview, Chatziandreou will talk about the sculptures and their historic and cultural significance, about the efforts that are taking place to secure their return and the various legal and diplomatic issues that are involved, and about his online campaign and petition calling for the sculptures’ return to Greece.

In addition, we will feature our commentary of the week segment, plus some great Greek music! All this and more, this week exclusively on Dialogos Radio!

For more details, our full broadcast schedule, our podcasts and show archives, and our online radio station Dialogos Radio 24/7, visit http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=6288.

Best,

Dialogos Radio & Media

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Αγαπητοί ακροατές και φίλοι,

Αυτή την εβδομάδα, ο «Διάλογος» επανέρχεται με νέες μεταδόσεις ύστερα από ένα μικρό διάλειμμα, παρουσιάζοντας μια ενδιαφέρουσα και επίκαιρη συνέντευξη με το Νίκο Χατζηανδρέου από την διαδικτυακή καμπάνια «Acropolis of Athens», που διεκδικεί την επιστροφή των γλυπτών της Ακρόπολης από το Βρετανικό Μουσείο του Λονδίνου, στην Ελλάδα.

Στην συνέντευξη μας, ο κ. Χατζηανδρέου θα μας μιλήσει για την καμπάνια που ξεκίνησε, για την πολιτισμική και αρχαιολογική σημασία των γλυπτών, για τις κινήσεις που γίνονται σήμερα σε νομικό και διπλωματικό επίπεδο, για τα επιχειρήματα της Ελληνικής πλευράς και των Βρετανών, και για το νομικό καθεστώς των γλυπτών και άλλων παρόμοιων υποθέσεων.

Επίσης αυτή την εβδομάδα θα παρουσιάσουμε τον σχολιασμό μας για την τρέχουσα επικαιρότητα. Όλα αυτά και πολλά άλλα, αυτή την εβδομάδα αποκλειστικά στο «Διάλογος»!

Για περισσότερες πληροφορίες, το πρόγραμμα μεταδόσεων μας, το αρχείο εκπομπών και συνεντεύξεων μας, και το διαδικτυακό ραδιόφωνο Διάλογος Radio 24/7, μπείτε στο http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=6278.

Φιλικά,

Διάλογος Radio & Media

Feb 062016
 

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Dear listeners and friends of Dialogos Radio,

This week on Dialogos Radio, the Dialogos Interview Series will feature a timely interview with Mona Amanatidou and Christos Triarchis, representatives of Greece’s Popular Stoppage of Payments movement. They will speak to us about the movement and its actions, particularly their weekly blockades of courthouses to prevent the auction of foreclosed residences. In addition, they will speak about the many other popular movements which are active in Greece at the moment and about current political and social circumstances in the country.
 
In addition to this interview, we will feature our commentary of the week segment, which will shed light on the true Yanis Varoufakis, behind his facade as an “anti-austerity” crusader, while we will also air plenty of great Greek music. All this and more, this week exclusively on Dialogos Radio!
 
For more details and our full weekly broadcast schedule, visit us online at http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=5943, where you can also find our podcasts, our archived on-demand programming, our articles and written work, and our online radio station, Dialogos Radio 24/7.
 
Best,
Dialogos Radio & Media
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Αγαπητοί ακροατές και φίλοι,
 
Αυτή την εβδομάδα στο «Διάλογος», θα παρουσιάσουμε μία εξαιρετικά επίκαιρη συνέντευξη με τον Λεωνίδα Λαγογιάννη από το κίνημα Λαϊκή Στάση Πληρωμών. Ο κ. Λαγογιάννης θα μας μιλήσει για το κίνημα και τις δράσεις του, ιδίως στα ειρηνοδικεία για την αποτροπή των πλειστηριασμών. Επίσης θα μας μιλήσει για τις τρέχουσες πολιτικές και κοινωνικές εξελίξεις, για τα μπλόκα που έχουν στήσει οι αγρότες σε όλη την Ελλάδα, και για τις επόμενες δράσεις που ετοιμάζει η Λαϊκή Στάση Πληρωμών στο άμεσο μέλλον.
 
Επίσης, θα μεταδώσουμε όπως πάντα τον καθιερωμένο μας εβδομαδιαίο σχολιασμό, όπου αναλύουμε τον πραγματικό Γιάνη Βαρουφάκη και το «έργο» του ως υπουργός οικονομικών της Ελλάδας, εν όψει της έναρξης λειτουργίας του καινούριου του πολιτικού κινήματος. Όλα αυτά και πολλά άλλα αυτή την εβδομάδα αποκλειστικά στο «Διάλογος»!
 
Για περισσότερες πληροφορίες και το πλήρες εβδομαδιαίο πρόγραμμα μεταδόσεων μας, μπείτε στο http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=5936. Στην ιστοσελίδα μας επίσης μπορείτε να βρείτε τα podcast μας (αρχεία συνεντεύξεων), το αρχείο εκπομπών μας, την αρθρογραφία μας, και το διαδικτυακό μας ραδιόφωνο, Διάλογος Radio 24/7
 
Φιλικά,
Διάλογος Radio & Media
Nov 172015
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

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The transcript of Dialogos Radio’s interview with Panagiotis Oikonomidis of Greece’s “No Middlemen Movement.” This interview aired on our broadcasts for the week of November 5-11, 2015. Find the podcast of this interview here.

MN: Joining us today on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series is Panagiotis Oikonomidis from the “No Middlemen Movement,” or Κίνημα Χωρίς Μεσάζοντες, in Greece. Oikonomidis will speak to us about the movement and its work in crisis-hit Greece, and more broadly on issues that have to do with local food production and the social economy in Greece. Panagiotis, thank you for joining us today.

PO: Great to be here with you and with your listeners.

MN: To get us started, share with us an introduction to the No Middle-Men Movement and what it does.

PO: Specifically, I am part of a group named “Breaking Up the Middle Men,” which is located in Petroupolis, one of the suburbs of Athens. This group is a member of the national No Middle-Men Movement. All of these local organizations, all of these solidarity groups which comprise the social economy in Greece through the national structure of the No Middlemen Movement, are interconnected with each other. This movement, aside from dealing with the practical issues of coordination and the exchange of information and know-how, also meets the needs which are expressed collectively through the national network of the No Middlemen Movement.

MN: Share with us some history about the No Middlemen Movement and how it first began.

PO: This movement first got started in 2012. At the time, it was first called the “Potato movement” and it got started with an initiative in the northern Greek city of Katerini from a local group there which decided to take action in response to the increasingly worsening Greek crisis and its impact on Greek society. This initiative had an immediate impact on both consumers and food producers. The founding members of this movement were attempting to find a solution that would allow them to assist both consumers and food producers at the same time, without there being any middle men involved. As you know, when an agricultural product is produced, this product is purchased by a merchant, who then usually packages it, distributes it, and resells it, before that product finally makes it to the market, whether it is on the shelves of a supermarket or at a farmer’s market.

In Greece, the farmer’s markets were revived beginning in the 1980s, as a means for farmers to bring their products direct to consumers, in specified locations within a municipality and in collaboration with the local municipal authorities. This is significant to keep in mind, because over time, these farmers’ markets have been transformed into markets which are dominated by middle men. At the present time, the best case scenario is that only perhaps 20 to 25 percent of the sellers who are at any given farmers’ market are actually farmers, while the rest are retailers and middle men.

So, as I was saying, what happens is that the product leaves the farm at its initial price, and then its price increases, both due to the fact that there is value added to the product by packaging or processing it, but also due to the profit margin of the middlemen involved. As a result, an agricultural product which might cost 35 cents per piece when it leaves the farm, reaches a cost of 1 euro and 10 cents once it hits the shelves. Obviously, this is a huge markup, and an added consequence of this market structure is that the middlemen end up wielding a tremendous deal of influence over the marketplace, allowing them to create artificial shortages of certain items, for instance, in order to inflate prices.

As the crisis in Greece deepened, all of these things, with regards to how the agricultural marketplace operates, began to rear their ugly head. This is where the No Middlemen Movement came in, to attempt to rebalance the situation, addressing the issue of cost for consumers, while also promoting the production of local, Greek-made produce. This is another extremely significant issue in Greece. There are agricultural products which are indeed produced in Greece, but there are also similar items which are imported from other countries at much lower prices and which somehow manage, through some illegal process, to end up labeled in the marketplace as products produced or grown in Greece and are promoted as such to consumers. This, of course, adversely impacts Greek agricultural production.

The No Middlemen Movement is attempting to address all of these issues, such as ensuring that items are accurately labeled as to whether they are produced in Greece or not or ensuring that they are sold at a fair price that would be good for consumers and allow them to purchase quality, locally-grown produce at an affordable price, while also guaranteeing that the farmer would earn enough in order to be able to prepare for his next harvest. The first efforts of this movement began in the city of Katerini in March of 2012 and was quickly dubbed by the media as the “Potato movement,” because the initial item that was sold were potatoes. Over time though, our movement began to provide directly to consumers a more diverse range of items, such as olive oil and honey, and at this time we offer around 90 or 100 different categories of goods.

MN: We are on the air with Panagiotis Oikonomidis of the No Middlemen Movement from Greece here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series, and Panagiotis, with how many farmers and producers does the No Middlemen Movement presently work with throughout Greece, and how are they able to distribute their products through your network?

PO: As of the end of 2014, the No Middlemen Movement had 45 active groups operating throughout Greece. 26 of those groups are based in the Athens region. On average, 23 farmers and producers participate in each region where we are active, and between our foundation in 2012 and the end of 2014, our movement distributed a combined total amount of food totaling approximately 5,000 tons. This should give us an initial picture of what our movement has been able to accomplish during this time.

Now, how do we select farmers and producers to join our movement? Some of our criteria include that the food items offered are produced in Greece, that the individual who is joining our movement is a farmer and not a middleman or distributor, and that a fair price is offered for their goods. It is either our movement that comes in contact with a farmer or producer initially, or they can get in contact with us, either through our national network or one of our local organizations. Upon expressing their interest in participating in our movement and providing their produce to us, we ask them to name their selling price for the goods they are offering, how the food will be packaged, and from that point forward, in order to confirm that they are indeed a professional farmer, we ask for a copy of their tax return as well as for a copy of the declaration they have made to the Ministry of Agriculture, specifying the produce that they are growing and the total acreage they are dedicating to each item. This allows us to confirm that they are indeed a food producer and that the price that they have set is reasonable.

From that point, we perform a market study and determine the price levels for various goods in supermarkets, greengrocers and at the farmer’s markets, and based on that information, we agree to a final price with each producer who is interested in joining our movement. The next step is to make these items available via our website, where consumers can find an order form allowing them to pre-order for the types of items that they would like to purchase and the quantity of each item. On the day of distribution in each region, each producer sets up their stand with the produce that they are offering, and each consumer who has pre-ordered items can come by and pick up the items that they ordered, directly from the producer. The transaction, in other words, takes place directly between the producer and the consumer. Our movement does not participate at all in the final transaction.

This is the general idea as to how the No Middlemen Movement operates. There are of course small differences and variations from group to group throughout Greece, but in general each of our participating groups operates in this way.

MN: You mentioned earlier that the No Middlemen Movement is active in 45 regions throughout Greece. What are some of the areas you are active in outside of Athens, and how many families or households do you estimate have been able to obtain food and produce from your movement since its inception?

PO: There is of course our founding organization in the city of Katerini, as well as in cities such as Larissa, Volos, Rethymno in the island of Crete, Komotini, Thessaloniki, while our team in the city of Ioannina may have been inactive this past year. In Thessaloniki, our participating groups have faced many difficulties as of late and are currently in the process of reorganizing and rebuilding. They were targeted by the local farmer’s markets and by local municipalities who disagreed with the operation of the No Middle-Men Movement in the city or by groups who wanted to appropriate the actions of our movements for their own gain.

Now, in terms of how many households we have been able to provide food and produce to, we don’t have exact figures. What I can tell you though is just in the Athens region alone, we were able to provide food to 2,200 households in need, through one of the parallel actions of our movement. One of the things that the No Middlemen Movement does is that when a farmer provides part of their harvest to be sold direct to consumers through our network, our movement keeps 4 percent of the food and distributes it for free to families and households who are most in need. In 2014, the families we helped in Athens alone through this program surpassed 2,000, and so far what we have been seeing from this year’s figures is an increase of 20 to 25 percent of those numbers for this year.

MN: How does the No Middlemen Movement come in contact with households who are in need?

PO: We have a support structure in place which provides assistance to such households, either through the provision of ready-cooked meals, or through the distribution of packages of food which are comprised of food items donated through the No Middlemen Movement or which are collected by our volunteers, who stand outside of supermarkets and other establishments and ask for donations of items such as pasta or rice or flour from shoppers. These items are then sorted and distributed to households who are in need of this food. We operate through our nationwide network in order to distribute this food, and even though the percentage that we withhold from the food made available to our movement from each farmer is small, at 3 or 4 percent, the quantity adds up, if you consider that just at one market in one region we may have 15 producers who are providing a total of 10 tons of produce.

MN: We are speaking with Panagiotis Oikonomidis of the No Middlemen Movement from Greece here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series, and Panagiotis, you mentioned earlier the fact that the No Middlemen Movement was targeted in the city of Thessaloniki…share with us more details about the various problems and challenges that your movement faces, either in terms of its outreach to the greater public, or at the hands of the government and other authorities.

PO: The No Middlemen Movement has created new conditions in the existing marketplace. Earlier, I mentioned the fact that the operation of farmers’ markets in Greek cities was restarted in the 1980s, especially in the largest cities such as Athens, Thessaloniki, Patra, and Iraklio. Conversely, farmers’ markets are les common in the smaller city, because these cities have much easier and much more direct access to their local producers, who are only a short drive away for anyone who wants to visit a farmer and buy their produce directly from them. Obviously this isn’t possible in the bigger cities, and so the farmers’ markets were reborn, even though they had actually been around since prior to World War I. Soon after the war these farmers’ markets largely disappeared from the urban landscape, but they were resurrected beginning in the 1980s, as a result of political decisions that were made at the time to combat the middle-men and their distribution networks, which had originally sprung up during the years of the military government in Greece. Along the way though, the farmers’ markets were used as a political tool, and increasingly, more and more permits were given to individuals who were not farmers, but rather wholesalers and middlemen, in direct contradiction of the whole idea of a farmers’ market.

Within the No Middlemen Movement, we are not claiming to have invented something new. What we believe we have accomplished though is to create a new method for operating something which already exists in Greece. The No Middlemen Movement operates with its members and volunteers at its core. It is a leaderless organization, without any political affiliation. It is a movement which concerns all citizens, both producers and consumers, while proving to food producers that there is another way in which the structure of food production and distribution could be organized in Greece.

Something which we need to take into account is that in the 1970s, Greece produced over 80% of the food which it consumed domestically, while today these numbers have been reversed, with 80% of food consumed in Greece being imported and only 20% produced domestically. This percentage has gradually increased over the years, as a result of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policies, and with the tacit acceptance of successive Greek governments, which never lobbied for better terms for Greek agriculture within the framework of the Common Agricultural Policies. As a result, not only is Greek agriculture and food production not supported, but farmers have grown into the habit of simply receiving a subsidy from the European Union and being satisfied with this. In the meantime, the productive capacity of Greece has been diminished. One of the things that we are trying to do as part of the No Middlemen Movement is to help revive Greek agricultural production.

The No Middle-Men Movement, as you might understand, is facing challenges not just from the middle-men and distributors themselves, the ones who are profiting off the backs of the Greek public, but also from organized political interests which support the demands of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policies and the European Union as a whole. It therefore is to be expected that we will face challenges from these circles. In terms of what actually took place in, the attacks against our movement began in 2013, perhaps because political conditions in the region were conducive to such an organized attack against us.

That same year in Athens, one of the local municipalities fought the activities of our movement, and then created his own copycat version of our movement in his municipality, apparently in an effort to score political points prior to the local elections. The biggest challenge for us though followed in 2014, when the Greek parliament passed a law concerning outdoor markets. The passage of this law led to a 10 day strike conducted by the farmers’ markets throughout Greece. Within this law, there were certain articles which pertained to the operation of farmers’ markets, while the law essentially abolished the operation of open-air markets throughout Greece. This of course encompassed farmers’ markets, as well as farmers who could stand at the side of the road with their truck and a sign and sell their produce. This was essentially abolished by law. The result of the 10 day strike which I mentioned a moment ago was for the law to be passed without the articles concerning the farmers’ markets but with all of its other clauses intact, including those covering open-air commerce more broadly. Those who were impacted were small farmers and the No Middlemen Movement, because the farmers who were participating in our movement were doing so with the permits that they already possessed as farmers to sell goods publicly in open-air locations. This covered their operations within the framework of the No Middlemen Movement. Essentially, the then-agriculture minister shelved the articles of the law which pertained to the farmers’ markets, to use them for future political pressure and clientelistic dealings, and in order to favor certain parties. This was essentially the climax of the battle against the operations of the No Middlemen Movement.

Of course, certain things have changed since then. There is now a discussion as to how the current law might be changed in some ways and how the No Middlemen Movement might be recognized, not as a body that is operating in opposition to the existing farmers’ markets, but as a complement to them. Because, as you may know, then these farmers’ markets begin operations in the morning, the items for sale are offered at a certain price, but if you go in the afternoon, before closing time, the prices on the same food may be reduced by as much as 50% compared to the starting price, as sellers are trying to get rid of inventory to avoid having to carry a large load back with them and incur higher transportation and fuel costs as well. However, this is dishonest, because if they are able to sell products at a profit at 50 cents, why is the starting price set at 1 euro or more?

The No Middlemen Movement does not operate this way. Our prices are unified, and are valid from the beginning to the end of each market we organize. It is the price which we advertise to our consumers, allowing them to budget their purchases, and we make every effort to keep these prices steady throughout the entire season. In other words, we attempt to keep the same price for each item we sell from the beginning of the season in September or October, all the way until the end of the season in June. This helps the farmers who are participating in our movement as well, since they know that they will come to our markets and be able to sell their produce, their harvest, receive their money immediately instead of being given a check, which is typically the case with the wholesalers and middlemen, and they know that they will have a steady price for the entire season. This setup allows families to budget their food purchases in advance, while the farmer knows that after every delivery of food to our movement, they will be able to pay their workers, and for their supplies, their seeds and fertilizer, their equipment and for their maintenance costs, and to plant their seeds for next year’s harvest. This setup lays the groundwork for a complete and total restructuring of the primary sector of the economy.

MN: You mentioned earlier the issue of domestic agricultural production in Greece, and despite the major decline that we have seen in recent decades in terms of production, there are statistics which show that Greece does still have self-sufficiency in certain sectors of food production even today. On a more general level, do you believe that Greece could once again become self-sustaining in terms of its food production and reduce its reliance on imported food products, and how could this take place?

PO: This is a major topic, one which we could discuss all day. Essentially you are referring to the complete restructuring of the primary sector in Greece. It is clear that our movement, the No Middle-Men Movement, is a successful example of how an alternative economic model could work and how it could ensure self-sufficiency on a small scale. At the same time, numerous scientific and university studies show that Greece could indeed once again attain self-sufficiency in terms of its food production. In fact, in many sectors of food production, Greece has the capacity to produce a plethora of food, which would allow it to export these products in exchange for food products in which it does not have enough production, allowing Greece to attain a balance of trade. For example, we used to have an overproduction of sugar, and recently, Greece’s sugar production industry was reopened once again. The surplus sugar could be traded for something else that the country needs to import. However, when you get to the point where you are unable to produce even those things which you are capable of producing, and you import these goods instead, it follows that you will run a trade deficit, that you will be forced to take loans and that you will therefore be dependent on the whims of those who are loaning money to you.

Aside from the agricultural sector though, Greece also has the capabilities to boost its capacity in the industrial sector, and particularly in the light industries and in the production of specific parts. Greece is privileged to have a well-educated, well-trained workforce, and it has the capacity to produce industrial products on demand. My belief is that Greece’s comparative advantage in terms of industrial production is not in the mass production of goods, which other countries are better able to do. Greece’s advantage is in the know-how that its workforce possesses for the production of specialized products, on demand.

Until relatively recently in Greece, around 15 or 20 years ago, there were many light industries in existence in Greece, which received subcontracts to produce specialized parts. This is Greece’s major strength in the industrial sector. And this sort of production can, of course, develop in conjunction with the development of the agricultural sector. Indeed, the agricultural sector is in need of machinery, parts, and supplies, and there is such production in Greece even now which could meet such demand. However, there needs to be a strategy and a plan in place. For instance, if you have major agricultural production in the regions of Macedonia or Thessalia, which are significant agricultural regions, you need to ensure that these regions also have producers who will make supplies, such as fertilizers or packaging or feeds, which the farmers in these regions could use, and that farmers would have local mechanics to go to in order to repair and maintain their equipment. Such industries co-existing lead to the creation of a local economic cycle. And all of this has to happen at the local level, but within a national planning framework, with a strategy as to what direction the national economy will go in.

In order for this to happen, it is necessary for the people to be on board with such change as well, as they will be the ones who will be participating in this process. No matter what we say, no matter which political forces, which government ministers, which government enforces such changes or supports them, those who will actually do the work in the fields, in the factories, and in the workshops, and those who will actually produce the wealth, are the ordinary people. Therefore, they are the ones who should have the first say over how this process of change should take place and have the belief instilled in them that such a process is possible. Such a process essentially represents a collective way in which a country can survive. It has been proven that a country cannot survive based on loans. With loans, a country is entirely dependent on its lenders, and as a consequence, it ends up being sold off, piece by piece, one airport at a time and one harbor at a time, to its lenders.

MN: We are on the air with Panagiotis Oikonomidis of the No Middlemen Movement from Greece here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series, and Panagiotis, do you believe that the current economic model can sustain itself, or does it have an expiration date? And as a second part to this question, how do you believe that the social economy could contribute to a different economic model?

PO: Yes, I do believe that the current economic model has an expiration date. Though in the past several decades it has shown a tremendous resiliency to overcome internal crises, I would say that since 2008, it is experiencing great difficulties. The issue is that it is not simply experiencing another cyclical crisis. What we are seeing now is a basic, structural crisis of the economic system, and I believe that it has finally reached its limits. Now, how long this stage will last, it is hard to say. It could be 5 years, or 10 years or 50. It will depend on the actions of that other major factor in the economy: the people, those who produce goods, those who produce the wealth, who have begun to see that they can have a say, that they can have an opinion in the direction of the economy.

Within this framework, the structures of the social economy and the solidarity movement, which comprises the so-called “third sector” of the economy, can play a major role in improving the quality of life of the people to an extent, and also to serve as a tool of political emancipation and education for the people, to enable them to understand that they have the ability to create politics, to realize their political goals, and to create small, successful examples which could be built upon to create a broader and overriding economic structure.

This is part of the obligatory, I would say, daily political struggle, if we choose to define it in such terms. Now, the existing political and economic system has the ability, to an extent, to absorb such challenges, or to eliminate them, by force if necessary, if it cannot absorb them. However, this system cannot absorb nor can it stop everything new that is created, especially when these new structures that are being born are created completely outside the framework of the existing system. We are witnessing the birth of a new logic, of a new mode of thinking on a global scale and not just in Greece, though Greece does receive a lot of attention as a result of the crisis.

The social economy in Greece is not a fluke. We are talking about the No Middlemen Movement, with the existing family support structure, with community pharmacies and medical clinics, with community kitchens, with community tutoring pools which provide services to those students who cannot afford private lessons. It is clear that a sense of solidarity is ingrained in the Greek culture. What has changed though, particularly in terms of politics? The indignants’ movement, which spilled out into the streets in 2011 and 2012, the mass demonstrations and gatherings which took place, gave the people the opportunity to think, to learn, and to act. When these movements were violently suppressed, the participants of these movements returned to their local communities and brought with them all of the know-how and experience that they had attained, and began to implement it at the neighborhood level. Therefore, it could be said that this network of solidarity movements that we are seeing today is a continuation of the mass demonstrations of 2011 and 2012. The two are connected.

And to be clear, I am talking about solidarity movements, which are separate from NGOs. To give you an example, right now we are seeing the tremendous crisis with the refugees who are arriving from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries. The first people who arrived on the scene to assist these refugees came from the solidarity movements which I have been talking about, whereas after the end of the summer, after their summer vacations in international resorts, only then did the members of various NGOs show up. However, these NGOs only operate in economic terms, meaning that they will only participate and take action if they have first received funding. And so, we have seen various NGOs that were formed 15 or 20 years ago and which were continuously pursuing funding from European and Greek state sources, who are suddenly presenting themselves as groups who have been formed to help the refugees, but which in reality are organizations behind which are people who have close relations with previous government regimes in Greece.

What is noteworthy about this whole situation is the fact that the ordinary people, if you follow tools such as Facebook, support those structures which have a direct relationship with society, with those volunteers who are your next door neighbors, people the local communities know and see every day, people whom the local communities know are not profiting from such a crisis, because they are volunteers in the genuine sense. We are not talking about volunteerism in the sense that we saw it in Greece during the Athens 2004 Olympics, during a time of national euphoria, when there was a call for volunteers at the Olympic Games simply to solve the economic problem of the games’ organizers, bringing in volunteers while huge sums of money were consumed elsewhere. By all means I am not speaking poorly of those who volunteered, their intentions were good, but perhaps they did not realize that they essentially fell into a trap, that someone else pocketed money that had been allocated for the work that they ultimately performed as volunteers.

MN: In closing, where can our listeners find out more information about the No Middlemen Movement?

PO: There is a structure within our movement known as “Solidarity For All,” which pays a central organizing role in terms of collecting information and connecting our various local organizations. Its website is at www.solidarity4all.gr. On this site, you can find continuous updates about our movement’s actions and its structure. Our annual report for 2014 is also posted, which is available in English, French, German, and Spanish, in the international section of our website. This report contains a tremendous amount of information, both from international statistics, as well as data that our movement has collected. Also from our website, any citizen can find out about our movement’s actions at a local, neighborhood basis and can find out what is happening in their area and can come in contact with their local group.

MN: Well Panagiotis, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series, and best of luck with your continued efforts!

PO: I thank you as well for your efforts, because while groups like ours are able to tackle the issue of solidarity on a local and national level, there is also the issue of global solidarity, and it is radio programs like yours which play a major role in this regard. So we thank you for your efforts and for your invitation.

MN: Thank you once more!

Nov 052015
 

By Michael Nevradakis, Truthout.org

Truthout.org / Interview:

Gürkan Ozturan

Gürkan Ozturan

Turkey is experiencing increasingly tumultuous times. A string of terrorist bombings have targeted rallies organized by left-wing and peace groups throughout the country. These violent incidents have been followed by crackdowns by the Erdogan government. At the same time, Turkey finds itself embroiled in the ongoing war in Syria and in an ongoing conflict with its sizable Kurdish minority, while an unprecedented wave of refugees from Syria has been traveling through Turkey towards Greece and other European Union member-states.

Gürkan Ozturan is a journalist, blogger, academic and activist who was a key participant in the Gezi Park protests in 2013, and who has often been outspoken in his criticisms towards the Turkish government. In this interview, he speaks about the recent bombings in Ankara and other Turkish cities, the government crackdown which has followed, the Gezi Park protests of 2013 and the conflicts in Syria and against the Kurds and the refugee crisis which has followed.

Michael Nevradakis: Let’s begin with the recent deadly bombing incident at a peace rally in Ankara, the capital of Turkey. What was the nature of the rally that was being held, what was the reaction of the authorities to the bombing, and who do you believe was actually behind this bombing?

Gürkan Ozturan: This bombing reminds me of many other bombings that have taken place before election periods in Turkey in the past few decades. There has always been political violence, but never at this level. Five years ago, I was about to take a bus, the bus exploded right in front of me, and that was during a pre-election period again. Just four or five months ago, in Diyarbakir, there had been another explosion at a HDP [The People’s Democratic Party, the left-wing party in the Turkish parliament] rally. The left parties in Turkey have been seen as a threat to the state, and for some reason, they always get subjected to violent attacks.

On the one hand, I want to become a more realistic person and say that I’m not very surprised that this attack took place, because I personally expect anything from this government, that they would hang on to power with all they have. They would not shy away from any kind of tactics or methods that include hurting people. So on the one hand, I was expecting it, on the other hand I was being so naive as to hoping that they would never do such a thing. I believe that the government somehow is linked with this. We have seen the reactions of the ministers and the state officials in the aftermath of the attacks. The first reaction was to blame the HDP. They declared that the HDP were self-bombing, which doesn’t sound very realistic, given that the explosion took place at the heart of the state. All the major state offices are just in a few kilometers’ distance to the explosion site, and it is a major square in the capital city. How can the opposition just carry bombs and kill over 100 people? It’s like a self-harm.

Another significant aspect of this attack is that the reaction of the police in the aftermath of the attacks. In three cases, in Diyarbakir and Suruç, and [recently] in Ankara, the police, in the aftermath of the attacks, actually started shooting rubber bullets and using water cannons against the survivors. This gives you a bit of an idea who might be behind the attacks, and this does not very look very hopeful, of course. Unfortunately people are getting killed, and I consider this as a part of political violence, and I guess all the fingers are pointing towards the government.

After the Ankara bombings, Selahattin Demirtaş, the chairman of the HDP, gave a very powerful speech, pointing fingers at the governmental authorities for the bombings and the attacks that took place. What did he say, and how did this speech resonate with the public?

He just spoke sincerely for ten minutes, he just spoke his heart. And in those ten minutes, he just gave his impression of what has happened, that the party and the Turkish youth have been targeted, and he was saying that this is not the first time that it’s happening, but every time they are being shown as those being responsible for the attacks. Even though the government is obviously controlling everything, they are trying to shy away from responsibility. He was stating that if he was in charge, if he was a part of the government and such a thing had happened, he would resign immediately and do the responsible thing. But in the Turkish political culture there is no resignation culture, unfortunately.

The government ministers, evaluating the situation, have been claiming that there is no security problem and that the state has full control of the situation, and Demirtaş has been asking, “If the state has full control of the situation, how can two bombs explode in the same square? And, if the state is unable to control the situation, why are you still not resigning?” He was asking this, and of course, these questions are echoed among the society, but when it comes to the media, the majority of the media is under government control and his words are actually getting subverted when being brought to the agenda. The pro-government media is using his earlier images – more joyful looking images – to represent his outlook on what has happened, and they distort his messages. So, the spread of propaganda is going on regarding the incidents.

Before the previous national elections [in June 2015], there was an explosion at another HDP rally in Diyarbakir. Back then, again, it was declared that the Islamic State – ISIS – had been responsible for the attack, but there was a very significant moment. When the attack took place, and when there was an explosion, the policemen started laughing and attacking the civilians with rubber bullets and water cannons. Since then, peace rallies, antiwar rallies have been arranged, also in relation to the Syrian situation, by people who did not want a war with Syria, people who did not want bombs to explode in the public squares in Turkey. They came out to the streets and they shouted with one voice. They have set a very simple agenda: that they want peace whatever the costs might be. And then, there has been another explosion.

If you remember the Kobani resistance, the activists from all around Turkey were set to go to Kobani and bring toys to the children. Unfortunately, their meeting in Suruç was subjected to a bombing, and at least 35 of our friends died. Again, right after the explosion, the police were standing right across the street from them and laughing at the suffering. And after that, the political violence has actually been escalating, in the sense that the state has been putting more and more pressure, seeing the HDP and the opposition crowds as a valid threat to the government’s sustainability. This has led to even more violence and the pumping of the far-right ideology that at some point has turned into a political mob on the streets. [There have been] violent mobs across the country, and dozens of people have been killed, and in hundreds of locations the far-right groups had been bussed in and had been marching on the streets, putting up flags and attacking people. This has been escalating, when there were more people at the peace rallies. So the more people joining the peace rallies, the more people would be brought towards the mobs that are becoming violent on the streets.

Unfortunately, I was hoping that this would never happen, but on the other hand, I was almost expecting that the government would indulge in such a thing, knowing how much they’re trying to put the blame on some other groups. It’s obvious that there is a security problem in Turkey, or, there is a problem of approach to human rights by the government of Turkey.

Following the attacks, the government in Turkey enforced a blackout on coverage of the bombings in the media and also online, through the social media. What is the Erdogan government’s typical stance towards the media?

Social media as a whole has been seen as a “menace to society,” as our dear president Erdogan has put it years ago. He has always been targeting social media because it is uncontrollable. And the media, at the hands of the government, is almost solidly submissive to the government control. Only a very few media corporations can actually write something that is out of the government’s scope. But even then, they are subjected to huge tax fines and they get subjected to violence, they get subjected to threats, and all kinds of other pressure. We have a system called “accreditation” which can be seen all around the world, but in Turkey, it is being used for the cause of censorship. Certain media groups are not invited to any event, they are not allowed to write about certain things, and right after the explosions in Ankara, there has been declared a broadcast ban. All kinds of media – including social media – are not allowed to talk about the event. This is the deadliest terror attack in Turkey, no matter where the bombs might have come from, and the government’s response is to declare a broadcast ban.

There is now a meme going around in Turkish social media that there have been six massacres in Turkey and six times there has been a broadcast ban and no one has resigned, and no one has taken responsibility. So in this sense, one can feel that as a citizen of the country, we are dispensable.

There was recently another terrible, shocking video that has been leaked online: a young man being dragged on the streets – a dead body being dragged on the streets. There has been an investigation started on this, there has been declared a broadcast ban on the visuals, and the investigation has been started not because someone has been tortured until death and his dead body was dragged on the streets, but because the videos have been leaked online. So the people who took the video and who leaked it online are being investigated, not the people who have killed and tortured.

You were a participant in the Gezi Park protests and rallies back in 2013. These were rallies that garnered worldwide attention and they were said to have begun in response to plans to replace an urban park in Istanbul with a shopping mall, but it seems that the protests were over much broader issues than just the park. Tell us about what happened back in 2013, what the climate was like at these protests and how the government responded.

In political theory, there is a line that I recall from Joseph Raz, a liberal theoretician. He said if you unnecessarily put pressure on the people, some day will come and they will react to this, they might start reacting regarding the color of the pavement stones even. So that has basically happened. The Turkish public space has been surrounded and put under pressure from all sides and at all levels, and the last point, the last drop came as the cutting down of the trees in Gezi Park.

Until that moment, there had been minor reactions, but the reactions could not get unified for some reason. When the park was to be demolished, only then were people able to unite for one cause, and I think the main reason for this was that it was seen as neutral, it didn’t have any political affiliation. For the first time in Turkish history, the citizens took up their cause and they did not expect someone to lead them.

I see the Gezi Park protests as the uprising of millions of people who decided to take their own fate into their own hands, and unlike the previous times, there were no political leaders to guide people, no one putting words into people’s mouths. Prior to the protests, there had been legislation passed for two months regarding alcohol prohibition, regarding men and women in the same house, regarding unmarried couples living together, regarding who is going to do what and where. There was too much intervention into personal lives, and of course there was to be a reaction to this. Combined with the excessive use of force by the police, it turned into a nuclear event.

Turkey under the Erdogan government has often been portrayed as an economic “success story” and as a regional economic powerhouse, and as a model for the rest of the Middle East region. Does this rhetoric match reality for the ordinary people of Turkey, for their economic freedoms and for their freedom in their everyday lives?

In fact, the Erdogan government has not been completely bad. The first five or six years actually saw economic growth. Due to that economic growth, there is a slightly better competitive market right now. Compared to the ’90s or ’80s or ’70s, the market situation is, of course, more risky, but at the same time it bears more opportunities. I can say that the citizens being able to take up their own rights in their own hands is partly due to Erdogan’s economic and financial policies. Unless the people could feel financially stable for themselves, they wouldn’t be able to dare react to this kind of government.

In order for there to be peaceful progress in the country, there had to be two basic elements: that the personal lives of the people would not be interfered with, and economically there would be progress. However, in the past two years and starting with the protests, there has been more and more pressure on the economy, and because of that, right now it doesn’t seem to have a very bright future. However, thanks to some of the economic advancements in the past 12-13 years, the citizens, to some extent, have been able to expand their circle of influence. But of course, whoever is able to sustain an economic level of guarantee for themselves, whenever they feel secure and safe, they would ask for more rights, and that is basically what has happened in Turkey, and unfortunately the government has failed this test, to listen to the citizens’ demands.

How has Turkey and its military been involved in the war in Syria?

There is not so much information in the [Turkish] media going around about Syria and Russia’s involvement. But the people seem to be making fun of the government’s approach towards Syria. Previously it has been fatal, the involvement of Turkey in Syria, the training of the rebel groups and especially al-Nusra and forces of the Free Syrian Army, jihadist Islamist groups. This has taken a lot of reaction from the citizens, but when Russia’s planes have started going through Turkey to Syria to bomb the rebel grounds, that has caused a sour reaction from Turkey.

The Turkish government has recently been announcing that the economic ties between Turkey and Russia might be hurt. But the losing end in this situation would be Turkey, because Turkey is the one to buy gas and oil from Russia, Turkey is the host country when it comes to Russian tourism and Turkey is also a net benefiter from trade in terms of vegetables and fruits to Russia, and also in terms of clothing and textiles. There has been a huge market between Turkey and Russia, and if there were to be any kind of cooling down of the economic situation, this would not reflect well on the side of Turkey.

How has the Turkish government been reacting towards the Kurdish population and towards the Kurdish struggle for independence?

After the Suruç bombing, it was declared that the Islamic State has taken responsibility, and then, the government declared that it would start bombing the Islamic State grounds and that it would start operations against the Islamic State. But in the past four months, there have been many bombardments, many house raids and thousands of Kurds have been taken into custody. They have been arrested, even though the Kurds have been the victims of attacks. They have been declared responsible, and Turkey has started the “low-frequency” civil war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as they put it, or “low-frequency armed conflict.” However, this is not really low frequency, it is basically declaring curfews in the Kurdish cities, up to eight days for example, and curfews that last for 24 hours in cities where there is no electricity, water or food supplies. This is treating citizens as subjects of siege during the war.

The conflict in Syria and in other Middle Eastern countries has led to a tremendous wave of refugees who are fleeing the region and travelling in many cases towards Europe, and many of these refugees are travelling through Turkey. How do these refugees manage to get through Turkey and into Greece and other countries, and what is being said or being done about the refugee issue in Turkey?

As part of the UN charter on refugees, Turkey has opened borders to Syria. [Turkey has] accepted anyone coming through, but there have been some complications regarding the documentation of the people coming in because, due to international humanitarian crisis, they did not have enough resources to build up the systems, so a lot of people came in to Turkey without any kind of documents to put them in to proper housing.

There are more than 2 million refugees in Turkey, and this population has started rising due to people giving birth. The Turkish capacity to handle the refugee situation is very limited. The Turkish budget obviously cannot handle this – there are very few facilities that the refugees can go to, and even then, there are not so many services. There needs to be schools; there needs to be hospitals for the refugees; there needs to be proper, basic citizen or resident services to be supplied to these people. They have originally entered Turkey through the south-eastern border, but currently, most of them have started going towards the west. Both Greece and Bulgaria have a fence on the Turkish border, so it’s becoming very hard for them to pass the border through there. Thus, many of them can be seen taking boats from the Aegean coast or the Black Sea coast of Turkey, which is very dangerous, especially in this season.

The refugees in Turkey, many of them live in miserable conditions, and I can say that even slavery is re-emerging. There are many places that offer food and shelter to Syrian refugees in return for having their labor, and it is a very worrying situation, but unfortunately I have to say that the European Union (EU) has prevented a more peaceful solution to be brought to this issue, that the EU has been the one to actually raise this situation up to this level by not sharing the burden with Turkey and Greece and Italy. Many countries at the borders of Europe have to suffer with dealing with so many crisis situations, while the other countries can say that they will eventually help by taking a few thousand [refugees]. The Polish government said that 2,000 refugees would endanger the Polish national culture. Well, the Turkish national culture, it’s over 2 million refugees, should already have been devastated.

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission

MICHAEL NEVRADAKIS

Michael Nevradakis is a Ph.D. student in media studies at the University of Texas at Austin and a US Fulbright Scholar presently based in Athens, Greece. Michael is also the host of Dialogos Radio, a weekly radio program featuring interviews and coverage of current events in Greece.

Oct 222015
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

maxresdefault

Dear listeners and friends,

Gürkan Ozturan

Gürkan Ozturan

Beginning TODAY and all this week on Dialogos Radio, the Dialogos Interview Series will feature a timely and exclusive interview with Turkish journalist, blogger, academic and activist Gürkan Ozturan, who played a key role in the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Turkey and who, as a result, is a wanted man by the Erdogan government in Turkey. 

Ozturan will speak to Dialogos Radio about all of the latest developments in Turkey and the wider region, including the recent terrorist attaks in Turkey, police and state violence in Turkey against protesters and the left, censorship that is imposed in the Turkish media and on the internet, the 2013 Gezi Park protests, the armed conflict against the Kurds, the ongoing war in Syria and the Middle East and Turkey’s involvement, and the refugee crisis which has resulted.

Along with this interview, we will feature our commentary of the week segment, as well as some great Greek music. All this and much more, this week exclusively on Dialogos Radio.

For more details and our full broadcast schedule, which begins today, visit http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=5662.

Our Interview with Déborah Berman-Santana Featured in Truthout!

Our recent radio interview with Déborah Berman-Santana, retired professor of Geography and Ethnic Studies at Mills College in Oakland, California, on the ongoing economic crisis in Puerto Rico, the island’s long history of colonial subjugation, and the similarities with the situation in Greece, has been featured in Truthout and 99GetSmart! 

Check it out here: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/33275-puerto-rico-s-debt-crisis-greece-isn-t-alone-in-struggling-against-austerity.

And here: http://99getsmart.com/puerto-ricos-debt-crisis-greece-isnt-alone-in-struggling-against-austerity/

Best,

Dialogos Radio & Media
 **************************
Αγαπητοί ακροατές και φίλοι,
 
Αυτή την εβδομάδα στην εκπομπή μας, παρουσιάζουμε μία εξαιρετικά επίκαιρη συνέντευξη με τον Τούρκο δημοσιογράφο, μπλόγκερ, ακαδημαϊκό και ακτιβιστή Gürkan Ozturan, ο οποίος ήταν βασικός συντελεστής των διαδηλώσεων του πάρκου Γκεζί το 2013 και που είναι πλέον στοχοποιημένος από την κυβέρνηση Ερντογάν για τον ρόλο του στις διαδηλώσεις. 
 
Ο Ozturan θα μας μιλήσει για όλες τις τελευταίες εξελίξεις στην γείτονα χώρα και για σημαντικά ζητήματα όπως τις πρόσφατες τρομοκρατικές επιθέσεις, την κρατική και αστυνομική καταστολή στην Τουρκία, την λογοκρισία που επιβάλλεται στα Τουρκικά μέσα ενημέρωσης και στο διαδίκτυο, τις διαδηλώσεις στην πλατεία Τακσίμ και στο πάρκο Γκεζί το 2013, τον πόλεμο κατά των Κούρδων και τον πόλεμο στη Συρία, και για την προσφυγική κρίση.
 
Μαζί με αυτή την ενδιαφέρουσα συνέντευξη, θα παρουσιάσουμε τον καθιερωμένο μας εβδομαδιαίο σχολιασμό της επικαιρότητας. Όλα αυτά και πολλά άλλα, αυτή την εβδομάδα αποκλειστικά στο «Διάλογος».
 
Για περισσότερες πληροφορίες και το πλήρης πρόγραμμα μεταδόσεων της εκπομπής μας, μπείτε στο http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=5659.
 
Φιλικά,
Διάλογος Radio & Media
Oct 202015
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Puerto Rican Flag via Shutterstock

Puerto Rican Flag via Shutterstock

Over the past several years, global headlines have frequently been dominated by the ongoing financial crisis in Greece. Far less has been heard about a similar crisis that has been unfolding during this same time period in Puerto Rico, which officially remains a colony of the United States. Despite the different political status of the two nations, the crises in both Puerto Rico and Greece bear similar hallmarks. The political and economic responses to the crises have also been remarkably similar, involving the implementation of strict austerity measures, privatizations of key public assets and the threat of further cuts in the future.

Déborah Berman-Santana is a retired professor of geography and ethnic studies at Mills College in Oakland, California. Throughout her academic career, she has closely studied the forces of colonization and neoliberalism and their impact on Puerto Rico and other nations, and has taken part in the struggle for the freedom of Puerto Rico. She spoke to Truthout recently about the current crisis in Puerto Rico, its colonial roots and its many similarities to the crisis in Greece, a country she recently visited, while also describing her own personal process of decolonization as a Puerto Rican.

Michael Nevradakis: Share with us a brief history of the colonial exploitation of Puerto Rico.

Déborah Berman-Santana: Puerto Rico [and] Cuba were the last of Spain’s colonies in the Western Hemisphere and were both on their way to independence. Puerto Rico had an autonomous situation and Cuba was winning a war against Spain when the US intervened in the Spanish-American War of 1898. Cuba received a conditional independence, and Puerto Rico was outright given to the US. It was, you might say, war booty, and since then, the United States has enforced strategies of exploitation of the natural and human resources of Puerto Rico. First with the sugar cane exploitation, then after World War II, the world’s first third-world development via [an] export-led industrialization program, known as “Operation Bootstrap,” which depended on generous exemptions to foreign (mostly US) corporations.

In the 1990s, there was a transition to eliminate some of these exemptions, which was completed in 2006, and with the end of those exemptions, a lot of corporations left, but there was a tremendous expansion of big-box corporations such as Walmart. Puerto Rico actually has more Walmarts per square inch than anywhere else in the world, and before that it was the world capital of pharmaceuticals.

The latest method of exploitation is through the debt and the demands of the creditors, who are now mostly vulture funders, to impose the harshest austerity and privatization regime on Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico has been referred to in the press as the “Greece of the Caribbean,” while Greece has also at times been referred to as the “Puerto Rico of the Mediterranean.” Describe for us the so-called debt crisis in Puerto Rico as it is manifesting itself today, who is actually responsible for it and what the people are being told about it.

If you listen to the media, you will think the government has been spending beyond its means, it has taken on much more debt than it could pay for and the people of Puerto Rico are simply not industrious enough. [You would believe] that we have expensive first-world tastes but third-world pockets, and that now we have to take some “bitter medicine.”

But if you actually look at the crisis you will see that it is a very small percentage of those in Puerto Rico who have benefitted, mainly the local oligarchy and the big corporations, mostly from the US. If we did an audit, they would probably find that much of the debt is odious and/or illegal, but I would say that since we are a colony and don’t have sovereignty, the United States is responsible for this debt.

One of the ironies here is that when the United States took over colonial control after defeating the Spanish, it refused to take over the debt that had accumulated under Spanish colonial rule. Now the United States is insisting that the people of Puerto Rico burden this new debt. Is this indeed the case?

Yes, it is. When they were negotiating the terms of the Treaty of Paris, Cuba was supposed to become independent, and the Spanish insisted that the Cuban government had accumulated a tremendous amount of public debt. The US argued that [the debt] had been accumulated under a colonial regime and therefore was odious debt, and therefore should not be paid by Cuba, and in effect it was not paid.

This is part of the basis for the whole idea of odious debt, unsustainable debt, that we see the anti-debt movements use. It’s ironic that the US helped Cuba to not pay that debt with that argument, but there’s not even discussion of anything similar happening with its own colony, Puerto Rico.

What has the official response to the debt crisis been on the part of Puerto Rico’s government and on the part of Washington? It seems similar to what has happened in Greece, with new austerity measures and authority granted to unelected technocrats.

We have two alternating colonial parties, one that says that we can improve the current political status, while the other says that we need to become a [US] state. The current government has said that the debt is not sustainable and we need to find a way out of this. Washington says that it can “help” with some technical assistance, but that it’s not their problem.

What they mean by “technical assistance” is they will tell the government of Puerto Rico to contract certain “experts” from the US to take care of this problem. Of course, it is with the Puerto Rican people’s tax monies that we’re paying for these “experts.” Who are these “experts”? To give an example, Puerto Rico is not an independent country, so we don’t deal directly with the IMF [the International Monetary Fund]. However, one of the more important reports that have come out recently is called the “Krueger Report,” from Ann Krueger, a former chief official of the IMF. She is now working on her own and has other former IMFers that have been contracted by the government of Puerto Rico to prepare a report. It’s very lucrative for these top firms in New York.

They were paid half a million dollars to spend three to four months in Puerto Rico, interviewing some Puerto Rican economists and taking a report from the New York Federal Reserve, and they came out with, for their half a million dollars, a 26-page report that cherry-picked some information, only looking at Puerto Rico’s economic situation since 2000, and their recommendations all come from the IMF playbook. The judge who presided over the bankruptcy of Detroit has also been contracted by the government of Puerto Rico.

The Puerto Rican authorities have recently released their own “fiscal adjustment plan.” This phrase should be familiar to anyone who has followed the crisis in Greece. What are the similarities in the two cases?

I’ve taken a look at the memorandums and while there are certainly differences, I find a lot of striking similarities in the language. They speak about the “sustainability” of the debt and about the issue of making Puerto Rico more “competitive,” for example, reducing or eliminating the minimum wage for young workers. Also, streamlining the bureaucracy and making Puerto Rico a more “business-friendly” or “investment-friendly” environment, as if a colony isn’t friendly enough, and getting rid of the Christmas bonus for public employees, because that’s supposed to be a really terrible thing that’s very wasteful. Additionally, [they speak about] the “restructuring” and the privatization of the electric energy authority, the water and sewer authority and our highways. One of the highways has already been privatized, and guess who’s running it: It’s Goldman Sachs.

What has been the impact of “foreign investment” in Puerto Rico, and how has this also impacted local business and industry?

Walmart has received subsidies and tax incentives in order to establish itself in Puerto Rico, far more than the local businesses receive. As is true elsewhere in the world, where Walmart establishes itself, it tends to drive out local businesses. Instead of full-time employment, with circulation within Puerto Rico of our income and our spending, you have part-time workers with no benefits, and Walmart takes most of the profits outside of Puerto Rico.

I’ll say a bit about Donald Trump. He has this reputation of being a billionaire who, if he is interested, is going to bring in a lot of investment, and of course he gets heavily recruited. He was going to do the “Trump Estates,” a luxury golf resort. He [makes these investments] through his various businesses, and he didn’t actually invest his own money; he received a big loan from the Puerto Rico Development Bank. Not only did he not build this luxury investment, but that particular company went bankrupt and Puerto Rico cannot collect on that money. So Donald Trump can go bankrupt and owe Puerto Rico money, but Puerto Rico does not have the right to go bankrupt.

Additionally, there is some interest in trying to connect all of the islands of the Caribbean and to generate energy in Puerto Rico, more than we need, in order to sell to the rest. There is a project, which Puerto Ricans are fighting against, to build a giant incinerator, supposedly a waste-to-energy incinerator, which will fill up Puerto Rico with toxic waste. And, since we don’t have enough garbage, they would be looking to burn the garbage of other places.

What has been the impact of the cabotage rules [rules governing trade or transport in coastal waters or airspace or between two points within a country] being enforced by the United States in Puerto Rico?

Since the early 20th century, Puerto Rico has been forbidden from having anything come into or go out of the country except on US-registered ships with US crews. The US merchant marine is the most expensive, least efficient, most obsolete and least competitive on the planet. If we were able to do our business with anyone else, Liberia, Greece, anybody, it would immediately lower our costs for everything.

We have been lobbying for years to get this changed, and this is a point of agreement among all of the political persuasions in Puerto Rico. The US Virgin Islands don’t have this, and the reason why we have it is that the US merchant marine would probably disappear if it were not for Puerto Rico.

Something that is often heard in Greece is that the country does not produce enough food and resources in order to sustain its population, so that the country cannot survive without the European Union and the eurozone. Is this a narrative that is heard, even about issues such as food production, in Puerto Rico?

Absolutely. At the time that the US invaded and occupied Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico was not only self-sustaining, but was exporting to other islands as well. Nearly all arable lands were then taken over by sugar, and the local production of foods dropped dramatically. [As a result], the big corporations, for example California Rice, began to import into Puerto Rico to feed people. [We were told] that we need to industrialize, that our water resources weren’t that important, our soil wasn’t that important, that we needed to fill them up with cement, industrialize, urbanize, that we could import all of the foods we needed.

What has happened in Puerto Rico is a preference has been created for imported goods. To this day, somewhere between 70-80 percent of the food consumed in Puerto Rico is imported, and it’s not the good stuff. It is the eggs and the chicken that they can’t get rid of in the United States. Not coincidentally, the incidence of diabetes and cancer and all kinds of hypertension and gastrointestinal diseases has increased.

What is the political and electoral system like in Puerto Rico, what representation does the island have in Washington and what is the mentality of voters in Puerto Rico toward the political parties?

Puerto Rico has been defined by the Supreme Court as an “unincorporated territory, belonging to but not a part of the United States.” In the early 1950s, the US promoted a cosmetic change in the government of Puerto Rico and defined it as a “commonwealth” or “associated free state.” We say that we’re not associated, not free and not a state. This was meant to get Puerto Rico taken off the United Nations’ list of non-self-governing territories because if you’re on that list, the colonizer needs to report every year. For the past 33 years, Puerto Rico has come before the committee on decolonization in the UN; they have voted every year to bring it before the General Assembly, and the United States has vetoed it every year.

We have two houses, we have a governor, and we vote every four years. We also have a non-voting resident commissioner who sits in committees in the House of Representatives in Washington but does not have a vote. He does vote on committees and can speak, but he cannot vote on the floor. So that is our representation, which is less than what we had under Spain. We cannot make our own economic treaties; if there’s ever any issue, the US can step in and veto it. We have the US federal court, which is only in English. The judges are all Puerto Rican, but you have to do everything in English. You go in there and they’re all speaking in English, even though most Puerto Ricans do not speak English. They call it “el difícil,” the difficult one, because people don’t want to speak it. In the federal court proceedings, people will not speak Spanish, so you have to have a translator, and many times the translator knows less English than the people in the audience. So this is a real carnival.

At the same time, the Puerto Rican courts are based on Roman law, just like all of the Latin American and the Mediterranean countries, whereas the federal court is based on Anglo-Saxon law, and one will supersede the other.

To give an example, Puerto Rico does not have the right to declare bankruptcy, Chapter 9, as do the states. So in order to try to deal with this debt crisis, the Puerto Rican government actually passed a law, our local Chapter 9, and the creditors sued in federal court and won. So we can’t do that either.

An issue that is a political hot potato in Puerto Rico is that of independence, similarly to how “Grexit” is a hot potato in Greece. How is the issue of independence viewed in Puerto Rico?

The issue of independence has been criminalized in Puerto Rico. There has been tremendous repression. We have had many political prisoners, including one at the moment named Oscar López Rivera, who has been in prison for 34 years of a 75-year sentence for “seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government of the United States in Puerto Rico.” He has not been accused of or convicted of any violent crime, and there is currently an international campaign to pressure President Obama to free him.

There have been many violent deaths, many forced exiles, a tremendous amount of fear and repression, and we’ve been taught that Puerto Rico does not have either the human capacity or the natural resources to be independent, and most people believe this. [In schools] in Puerto Rico, there used to be a geography book, by a North American named Mueller, which said that “Puerto Rico is a small island without natural resources and it’s overpopulated, and so it cannot be independent and it needs to rely on the United States.” That was the first thing you learned.

One of the things I have had to do is to decolonize myself. This has been one of my inspirations for going off to school and becoming a professor. It was the whole idea of “why am I told that I’m less than everyone else? Why am I told that I have to depend on someone else?”

Currently, the people who openly support independence – and there’s open and also hidden support for independence – is small. We do have an Independence Party that gets maybe 4-5 percent of the vote. Most pro-independence supporters don’t actually support the party because there’s a tremendous amount of division among the Puerto Rican independence supporters. When we unify, we can achieve some wonderful things, but we are incredibly divided for many reasons. Other people will vote for one of the majority parties for some strategic reason, to keep the other one out. Some people will actually vote for the statehood party because they think that if Puerto Rico asks for statehood Congress will say no, while others will vote for the colonialist party, saying we can’t vote for statehood under any circumstances, that maybe we can get some autonomy. And there are many people who refuse to vote because it is a colonial process.

I believe that we really have no way out unless we can take some responsibility and have some power to decide our own future. Independence does not guarantee it by itself, but there is no way that you have the possibility of having enough sovereignty to make your own decisions without independence. We could join with the wonderful unifying collaborations that are happening in Latin America right now. We are a Latin American country. There is a saying in Latin America that the independence of Latin America is not complete without Puerto Rico. I believe that. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Latin America, and the thing that’s always impressed me is that we have been so isolated, so part of a “iron curtain” of colonialism, so affected by an embargo at least as strong as that of Cuba and less known, that we don’t even know that we’re not isolated, don’t even know that we have a “patria grande,” a greater country, and that’s Latin America. I believe it’s our destiny; I believe we won’t survive unless we do it.

Based on your own experience from Puerto Rico, and having visited Greece and having followed the developments there, would you characterize Greece as a sovereign country or one that resembles a colony?

Speaking as an outsider, Greece of course officially has all the trappings of a sovereign country. It reminds me of Latin America before the last 20 to 30 years, where you have those trappings of sovereignty, but in terms of real governance [it was] very colonial, with an oligarchy that benefitted from this and was only too happy to serve the interests of the outside powers.

It seems to me that the membership in an unequal union, such as the EU and especially the eurozone, has taken away much of Greece’s sovereign ability to make its own decisions. If you want to do things with your economy, say devalue the currency, control what comes in and what goes out, it’s impossible to do in the eurozone. [In Greece], I found it very interesting to see the EU flag next to the Greek flag almost everywhere. All I could think of is Puerto Rico, where we are often forced to have the United States flag next to the Puerto Rican flag. We call the US flag “la pecosa,” which means “the freckly one,” and I was looking at the EU flag and I was saying, “That’s another pecosa.”

“Where would we be without her?” That’s a saying in Puerto Rico for the people who are pro-statehood. I find that so similar to the things that I’ve heard from Greeks in discussing their fears about going back to the “bad” days of the drachma. There’s a part of me that says, “What are you afraid of?” You at least have the trappings of sovereignty. We have much further to go than you do. And I’m saying, as a Puerto Rican, do it and give us hope that we can do it too.

MICHAEL NEVRADAKIS

Michael Nevradakis is a Ph.D. student in media studies at the University of Texas at Austin and a US Fulbright Scholar presently based in Athens, Greece. Michael is also the host of Dialogos Radio, a weekly radio program featuring interviews and coverage of current events in Greece.

 

Sep 262015
 

Posted by Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

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Dear listeners and friends,

This week on Dialogos Radio, we will feature coverage of this past Sunday’s snap parliamentary elections in Greece, including an exclusive interview with journalist and political analyst Dimitri Lascaris of The Real News Network, as part of the Dialogos Interview Series. Lascaris will analyze the results of the elections, the new SYRIZA-led coalition government, the record high abstention level, and the failure of the Popular Unity party to enter parliament. Additionally, Lascaris will discuss his own candidacy in the upcoming Canadian parliamentary elections, as a member of the Green Party.

In addition to our exclusive interview, we will feature our own commentary and analysis of the Greek election results, plus some great Greek music! All this, exclusively on Dialogos Radio!

For more details and our full broadcast schedule, visit http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=5544. On our website, you can also find our podcasts, our on-demand programming, our articles and written work, our past playlists, and you can listen to our online radio station, Dialogos Radio 24/7.

Greek Election Interviews Featured on The Real News Network

Following the outcome of the September 20 snap parliamentary elections in Greece, Michael Nevradakis, producer and host of Dialogos Radio, spoke with The Real News Network about the results and what they might mean politically and economically for Greece going forward, including an analysis of the high abstention rate, the failure of the Popular Unity party to gain representation in the Greek parliament, and the first-place finish of SYRIZA, despite the political events of the past summer.

Videos and transcripts of the interview are available at the following links:

Part 1: http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=14757

Part 2: http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=14759

Sincerely,

Dialogos Radio & Media

Sep 232015
 

Posted by greydogg, 99GetSmart

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

Part 1

Part 2

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

Sep 072015
 

Posted by greydogg, 99GetSmart

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DIALOGOS RADIO’S NEW BROADCAST SEASON COMING YOUR WAY!

We are excited to announce that the new broadcast season of Dialogos Radio programming will begin in just a few days! We will launch our new season with a special pre-election broadcast, featuring exclusive interviews, commentary, as well as good music. In addition, we are preparing new articles and interviews which will soon be published on prominent Greek and international news sites.

Stay tuned for our new broadcasts, our new articles and analyses, and many new surprises, as we prepare to celebrate the five year anniversary of Dialogos Radio & Media!