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Dialogos Radio & Media
Dear listeners and friends of Dialogos Radio,
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!
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:
Dialogos Radio & Media
Posted by greydogg, 99GetSmart
Michael Nevradakis, scholar and host of Dialogos Radio in Athens, says the low voter turnout of 55% reflects widespread disenchantment with the Greek political system and SYRIZA:
Michael Nevradakis is a Ph.D. student at The University of Texas and a Fulbright Scholar based in Athens who has conducted extensive research on Greek media and politics. He is the producer and host of Dialogos Radio, a weekly radio program featuring interviews with leading Greek and international figures on matters pertaining to Greece, and is a frequent contributor to several Greek and international media outlets.
Following a fiery summer in Greece, during which the Syriza-led coalition government turned its back on the majority of the electorate, which delivered a resounding “no” to austerity in Greece’s referendum, the country is preparing for snap parliamentary elections on September 20, in which it is far from clear whether Syriza will be able to win and form a new coalition government.
Scholar and analyst James Petras, one of the few voices who expressed doubts initially about Syriza’s desire and ability to deliver on its promises, offers his thoughts on the upcoming election.
Petras was an adviser to the Pasok government of Andreas Papandreou in Greece in the early 1980s, another “left-wing” regime elected on promises of radical change that were swiftly broken. He has also served as an adviser to leaders such as Hugo Chávez and Salvador Allende and has written extensively about politics in Greece. In this interview, Petras discusses Syriza’s collapse, how Syriza turned its back on the result of the July 5 referendum, and his thoughts on Popular Unity, the party that broke off from Syriza and that now promises to lead the anti-austerity front in Greece.
Michael Nevradakis: Many in Greece, and outside of Greece, were surprised (some would say shocked) at Syriza’s about-face in the space of just a few months – at how it essentially turned its back on those who overwhelmingly voted “no” toward more austerity in the July 5 referendum and at the very harsh memorandum agreement it signed with the troika. You, however, were not surprised at Syriza’s capitulation. What is your reaction to what happened?
James Petras: Well, it’s very clear that Syriza’s capitulation and subordination to the European Union struck a very powerful blow against the demands of the great majority of the people who voted for them, and disillusioned an enormous sector of the population. I think it wasn’t surprising because Syriza had within it many former leaders and people from Pasok, which had a notorious trajectory of not fulfilling programs and submitting to the European Union.
I think the fundamental problem was in the fact that Syriza never spoke out about an alternative to the European Union. Syriza’s members accepted the European Union as the framework; they accepted paying the debt as a framework, and they never formulated an independent policy. They overestimated their capacity to negotiate a progressive solution within the European Union, and absolutely nothing suggested that.
Their agreement to pay the debt was another fallacy: There was no way in the world that Greece would find the resources to maintain its debt. I think these three things – the composition of Syriza, the framework in which they agreed to orient, and the fact that they continued to channel resources to their creditors – undermined any possibility of a repudiation of the program of austerity and regression.
This debt was also found to be, in large part, odious and illegitimate.
Yes. That was decisively determined by a commission formed by the head of the Greek parliament, who was a leading member of Syriza, but this was completely rejected. [Former Greek Prime Minister Alexis] Tsipras acted as if the commission and the decisions on the debt meant nothing, and I think it was emblematic of his whole attitude towards any dissent. He acted like a Napoleon; he had a Napoleonic complex, in which anything which didn’t correspond to his notion of complying with the debt, complying with the EU, was out the window. It’s a very dictatorial and arbitrary organization, and the membership, the central committee and even some of his cabinet ministers didn’t mount a serious challenge to his dictatorial rule.
What do you believe was the actual message of the Greek electorate in their overwhelming vote of “no” in the referendum, and how do you believe this sentiment might be expressed in the upcoming parliamentary elections?
Well, I think the vote was clearly a rejection of more punishment, more regressive measures. It was a rejection of the dictatorship of the EU. It was an attempt to recover lost income, an attempt to recover sovereignty. It was a way of affirming Greek independence, Greek popular sovereignty, and a desire for Greek priorities to be given a greater importance over the creditors and debt payments and the privatizations and the firings. I think it was a very decisive “no” to everything that preceded it and everything that Syriza and Tsipras subsequently agreed to. So here you have this episode of the “no” in the referendum, sandwiched in-between the Syriza leadership’s compliance and subordination to the EU and continuation of regressive policies.
There are many now in Greece and outside of Greece who have their hopes set on the new political party, Popular Unity, which formed from the members of Syriza’s “Left Platform,” which broke off of Syriza a few weeks ago, with optimism that the likes of former Greek Parliament speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou, who will run in an alignment with Popular Unity, or Popular Unity party leader Panagiotis Lafazanis will stand up for those who voted “no.” Do you believe that this will actually be the case, or do you believe that Popular Unity, like Syriza, is insincere in its rhetoric?
Well, let’s look at the larger picture. Going in to these elections, Syriza is clearly going to decline. The political spectrum is going to become even more fragmented. The voters, going into the election, are highly disillusioned. Whatever they vote for and whoever they vote for, it’s basically a vote of fear rather than hope. It’s a vote that says, “Where can we find our new clients?” Not the instruments of structural change – “Who is the lesser evil?” I think that the hopes and aspirations and the radicalism that went into the January election is absent. I think Popular Unity will do poorly. It stayed in Syriza too long; it didn’t grow a mass organization outside of Syriza; it has very little insertion in any mass movement. Its struggle in the end with Syriza was essentially a parliamentary struggle. They didn’t put people in the streets, and I think people are disenchanted in general with anything associated with Syriza, and I think the level of trust for a second try is very low, especially as they saw many of the Popular Unity people sitting in the cabinet while all the damage was being done, all the capitulations were done.
I think that Popular Unity will be lucky to get representation in parliament. I think voters will hold their noses and maybe a quarter of the electorate will vote for Syriza. Popular Unity will probably get around 5 percent of the vote, and I think that the right-wing parties – New Democracy, Pasok, Potami – probably are going to put together a ramshackle kind of coalition. I don’t think they have objections to bringing Syriza in on a coalition, since they all agree on the latest memorandum. I think politically there is very little reason for them not to form a broad, right-wing regime.
What do you believe such a coalition will mean for Greece?
I think they would implement the very harmful and regressive policies that Syriza has signed off on. I think they will privatize most of the major lucrative resources in the Greek economy. I think there will be massive layoffs in the process of privatization. I think pensions will be cut, wages will be cut, salaries and public sector employment will be cut. I think this will send Greece into a continuing depression, and I don’t think any new investment in new enterprises will take place. The money that will be gained through privatization will simply be recycled to the outside bankers.
I think Greece faces a prolonged depression, prolonged regression and stagnation as a result of this, and hopefully, as people come to realize that Syriza and the right wing have nothing to offer them, I think there will be a return to street demonstrations and perhaps a radicalization of those demonstrations. There will be an increase in popular exodus, capital exodus; I think Greece will become a one-crop economy, essentially a tourist economy, largely controlled by foreign capital. I think the decline of public ownership is simply the increase of foreign ownership.
Popular Unity is said to be running in these elections on the Thessaloniki policy platform, which had originally been proposed by Syriza prior to the January elections, and which Syriza quickly abandoned. Do you believe that the Thessaloniki policy platform, with its ambivalence toward issues such as a “Grexit” and a write-down of Greece’s debt, is even enough for Greece at this time?
I don’t think that the Thessaloniki policy program represents a serious break. First of all because it is very ambiguous on Greece’s exit from the European Union and the eurozone, and that undermines any possibility of developing an alternative policy. Secondly, it doesn’t say anything about a moratorium on the foreign debt, which is necessary to channel new resources into revitalizing and developing an alternative economic strategy. So, whatever reforms the Thessaloniki program proposes are undercut by the framework and the resources which will be available. Whatever the attraction of the Thessaloniki program might have in terms of social reforms, are not viable within the framework, which it refuses to break with.
Furthermore, I think that Popular Unity did not fight on these issues when they were dealt with them. I think that they didn’t make a plausible case that they are willing to break with the renunciation Tsipras made very early on the Thessaloniki program. They mumbled and criticized, but all of it in Parliament. There was no convocation of mass movement, so one wonders whether Popular Unity leaders have that capacity, to put people in the streets, to build up that pressure, to create social consciousness, to sustain an alternative at this point. So, I think Popular Unity is largely a parliamentary tempest in the teapot.
Let’s talk for a moment about the European Union and its behavior in recent months. How would you characterize its stance toward Greece, with the new memorandum and harsh austerity it forced upon the country, and how would you gauge its stance toward the worsening refugee crisis from Syria and the Middle East, which has also greatly impacted Greece?
Well, the European Union was, is and will continue to be an oligarchical organization controlled by Germany, England, France, perhaps the Netherlands, in association with its subordinates in Eastern Europe. I don’t think it has any representation of anything progressive in Europe. I think it’s a very rigid, hierarchical, top-down organization that basically is organized around the idea that any members must accept the fiscal dictates, the economic and income policies dictated by, especially, Germany. And so, I think that the EU functioned as a debt collector for Greece. It took positions of intransigence, no recognition that they had a sovereign government that was democratically elected. They didn’t care. The main thing was to force Greece to meet its external obligations to the debt collectors, even after five years of failed policies – failed from the point of view of Greece getting out from under the depression. So, the question that they raised was, first debt payments and then we’ll talk about growth, and if you don’t meet your debt obligations, there was destabilization and every effort made to precipitate a capital flight and disinvestment in Greece.
I think you can say the European Union is an oligarchical organization that is essentially designed to favor German, English and French bankers, over and above the national interests of the majority of the citizens in Europe, especially those that are under the tutelage of the European Union. I think the European Union bears a great deal of responsibility for the refugees, because the refugees are coming from countries where the EU joined with the United States in wars, in destructive wars in Syria, Iraq, Libya and sub-Saharan Africa. They destroyed economies and fostered mercenaries and terrorist groups, sectarian conflicts, and now they’re reaping the consequences: People that have been uprooted by the wars are now going to Europe because Europe destroyed their households, and they’re saying now, “You created our situation, and now you must deal with it.” I think Europe uprooted the people, and now Europeans want to avoid and evade the consequences, which is essentially resettling these uprooted people, who are products of Euro-US wars.
What do you believe would be the best policy solutions for Greece at this time? Do you believe that a “Grexit” or a departure from the European Union is in Greece’s best interest?
I think the only policy is to break with the European Union oligarchy and to assume an independent state, an independent policy. It’s necessary to get out of NATO and to deepen and develop alternative trade ties and to reverse the privatizations, to set a moratorium on the debt, impose capital controls and expropriate the banks. In other words, to mobilize and concentrate as many national resources and to develop trade with Europe, but on the basis of equality and outside of the European Union. To have their own fiscal policy, their own currency, in order to use their monetary policies if they need to devalue, in order to foster trade, if they need to develop a new development strategy, they need to control their national economy.
There are opportunities to trade and develop ties with Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela and even countries with the European Union, on a different basis. I think that the continuation of the European Union is a total and unmitigated disaster, and it’s demonstrated that it is a very arbitrary and dictatorial group that doesn’t take account of the interests and circumstances of its subordinate members.
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.
Éric Toussaint interviewed by Rosa Moussaoui, Special envoy in Athens for L’Humanité
Has Athens really been subjected to a financial coup d’état over recent weeks as claimed by many Greek and foreign observers?
Éric Toussaint: Yes and no. What was decisive was the result of political decisions made by political institutions, though obviously complicit with financial interests. The coup d’état was not directly led by financial powers, but by institutions, the European Commission and the heads of State and Government of the Eurozone. Germany was not the only country involved. Mariano Rajoy in Spain, or Pedro Passos Coelho in Portugal, not to mention the Finnish, Latvian and other decidedly neoliberal governments clearly wanted to demonstrate to their respective populations that the options presented to the European peoples by the Syriza government were unworkable. So the primary motivation was political. Clearly though the private banking sector and the multinational corporations also wanted to show that it is impossible to turn away from austerity policies. However, it must be remembered that Greece’s principal creditors are public institutions; since 2012 when they managed to unload their Greek debt, private banks are not the most interested party. The debt restructuring that took place permitted them to comfortably withdraw. Today, despite the failure of the economic policies that have been imposed on Greece, the European Commission, the ECB and the Eurozone countries are adamant that Greece continues on the path of neoliberalism. Remember that the IMF is also a political institution.
Alexis Tsipras expected assurances for debt relief in return for his capitulation to the austerity policies. The creditors have merely acquiesced to a discussion scheduled for this year on a possible debt restructuring starting from 2022. Why this obstinacy, while the IMF itself now considers the debt as unsustainable?
Éric Toussaint: I think that a Debt Restructuring is feasible before 2022. The creditors will say “not before 2022” because they know that this plan will not work and that the debt payment will be unsustainable. They will restructure this debt provided the neoliberal reforms are pursued. Debt is a means of blackmail, an instrument of domination. Basically, in the Greek case, the creditors are not so much motivated by profit, pertinent as it is, as by teaching a lesson to their own people and the peoples of other peripheral countries that there is no question of deviating from the model. For Hollande to say, “Look, even Tsipras and the radical left cannot escape the economic stranglehold!” is a way of vindicating his own abdication in 2012 on the promise to renegotiate the European treaty on fiscal stability.
Did Tsipras have any other choice vis- à-vis the violent attacks from the creditors? Does the alternative boil down to an exit from the Euro?
Éric Toussaint: I don’t think so. The choice was not necessarily between Grexit and remaining in the Euro Zone equipped with a new austerity plan and continuing to pay the debt. It was possible to stay in the Euro Zone by disobeying the creditors through legal means. Human rights violations are at stake here. The Greek authorities should have suspended the debt payment; retrieved control over the Bank of Greece (Antonis Samaras appointed its CEO, who has not served the interests of the country); and created a complementary electronic currency that could have helped to cope with the liquidity crisis, whilst remaining within the Euro Zone.
The State should also have taken the following steps:
1. Organize an orderly liquidation of banks and transfer the assets to the public sector (guaranteeing deposits up to € 100,000) whilst ensuring the protection of small shareholders and recovering the cost of cleansing the banks from the wealth of major international shareholders.
2. Reduce VAT on goods and basic utility services; reduce direct taxes on low income and assets; and levy heavy taxes on the income and wealth of the richest 10% (particularly the richest 1%).
3. Stop privatization and reinforce public services.
After the Greek Parliament adopted the disastrous agreement of 13 July, the prospect of a voluntary exit from the Euro is obvious. That there is no favourable solution for the peoples within the Euro Zone is now evident to more and more Greek and other European people. In case of a voluntary exit from the Euro Zone, the above propositions remain fully valid and a redistributive monetary reform must accompany them (see Greece: Alternatives to the Capitulation).
The ECB, one of the masterminds of the coup, is flooding the financial markets with liquidity and boosting speculation. Can capital generation serve the real economy, social needs and human development?
Eric Toussaint: Of course but this not what the ECB has been doing! Mario Draghi is not “independent”. He is the interface between major private banks and the governments of the Euro Zone. The ECB has deliberately destabilized the Greek economy to suit its own as well as other creditors’ purpose.
Translation : Suchandra de Sarkar, Mike Krolikowski and Christine Pagnoulle
Eric Toussaint is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège. He is the President of CADTM Belgium, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France. He is the co-author, with Damien Millet of Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He is the author of many essays including one on Jacques de Groote entitled Procès d’un homme exemplaire (The Trial of an Exemplary Man), Al Dante, Marseille, 2013, and wrote with Damien Millet, AAA. Audit Annulation Autre politique (Audit, Abolition, Alternative Politics), Le Seuil, Paris, 2012. See his Series “Banks versus the People: the Underside of a Rigged Game!” Next publication : Bankocracy Merlin Press, Londres, May 2015 (English version).
Since the 4th April 2015 he is coordinator of the Truth Commission on Public Debt.
By J Iddhis Bing, 99GetSmart
Alex Tsipras and ministers of his government – among them, the Alternate Minister for International Economic Relations, Euclid Tsakalotos, and a certain Minister of Finance, name of Varoufakis – were in Paris on Thursday for a wide- ranging series of talks with the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). After the discussions Tsipras gave a short press conference followed by a speech to OECD member nations and the press. The OECD announced a number of joint initiatives with the Greek government in areas such as job creation, public finance and spending, taxation and, intriguingly, “disrupting oligarchies and cartels.” The organization’s Secretary-General, Angel Gurria, was careful to note that “The OECD is not replacing any other institution that the government works with. We are involved because we were asked by one of our founding member countries to offer help and advice on their reform program.”
Regular readers here will pardon the pro-forma above. I snuck in the OECD’s side door and took notes. I looked pretty good, considering that my hands were covered with bloody scratches courtesy of a cat I met the day before. Events at places like the OECD in the opulent 16th are interesting theatre, at least the first time around. They are rigorously controlled affairs, so you have to lean in if you want to glimpse the human beast.
The Greeks need friends in Europe. They’re looking everywhere, and the trip to Paris can be seen as part of the continuing charm offensive. They need public statements of support and not quiet murmurs of assent such as François Hollande dispenses. (Not too loud, Angela might hear.) They have confidence in what looks like a lonely fight but they seem to be still hoping that the tide will turn, that Europe will join them in replacing the Austerity Drones. That’s one explanation for their presence. But it leaves a lot out.
… The plush little theatre where the press conference takes place is crammed with journalists. In the first two rows, a swirling crowd that speaks only Greek and is constantly hopping in and out of their seats, as if they were making policy decisions at the last second. The camera men are set up with their ridiculous foot-long lenses, the facilitators line the aisle, we’re all waiting. Do my co-workers expect anything new to be said? There’s no bar down here in the basement of the OECD – I haven’t found one anyway. Just fruit juice. It’s nice to be healthy but a drink helps when you have to listen to politicians for a few hours, and without a bar there’s no fraternity. Journalists these days are a quiet lot and far too many of them are staring at the portables on their laps like zombies getting the feed.
And then – swoosh. The doors open and one buzz replaces another as Tsipras and cohorts glide in. The photographers order anyone in their way to sit down. What jerks.
Tsipras and Gurria take the platform. Gurria grips the lecturn like he’s maybe going to pull it out of the floor and hurl it at us, or maybe a bit like a sea captain staring off into the mist on a stormy night. Tsipras’s body language is patient, deferential, waiting his cue. He’s willing to play the game. I wonder if he can understand a word Gurria is saying.
He’s a fast talker this Gurria. Six languages or so the official bio claims. Brooklyn is full of guys like him, always on the up and up, everything positive, always shaking people’s hands, aways trying to sell you something – an idea maybe. (People in Brooklyn have ideas.) They come at you fast on the sidewalk and it’s always too late to avoid them. They’re not so bad, it’s just that they’re always brimming. Well, Gurria has the right, he’s head of the OECD, unofficially known as the “world’s club for the richy-rich.” Readers with memories of old columns will recall that Luxembourg is a member too and that they simply choose to “exercise the privilege” of not signing the organization’s tax avoidance mandates, which they had every right to do. It’s called taking care of business properly.
So Gurria is finishing up, he says again and again that “Syriza has only been in power a few weeks,” and underlines that the OECD is not replacing any other organization at least twice. Who could that be refering to, I wonder? Greece will take help anywhere it can. As the poet Roque Dalton observed, “The drowning man doesn’t ask which way the boat is headed.”
Tspiras is not so nice. The Troika is his voodoo doll: if you bring it on stage, you have to stab it – at least twice. And he obliges. Syriza remains committed to its social program in all its aspects, he says, as well as the Memorandum of reform they signed in mid-February. But he stresses that it is reform their way and not what the Central Bank and the IMF think change looks like. Watch a few videos of the Euro group President Jeroen Tijsselbloem, read his body language as he says, “We are still waiting to see evidence of reform by the Greeks.” (My paraphrase.) The two parties are speaking different languages. In a video after Syriza’s election he talks about how much his organization helped Greece with interest delays and other bookkeeping sleights of hand (heroic acts). Tijsselbloem is a human in functionary drag, passenger on a boat going the wrong way. He is the kind of man who says “water” before he lifts the glass to his lips. It’s a policy statement.
Gurria smacks down a journalist who dares to ask a pointed question about Spain and deficits, and the journalist takes it. It’s a regular love-fest in here, Gurria seems to be saying. Let’s not let reality interrupt.
This “only been in power a few weeks” gets on my nerves. Who’s he saying it to? He sounds like he’s trying to convince a judge in some small Texas town that his client shouldn’t hang – right away anyway. He repeats it, staring over our heads into Nowhereland. Is he addressing it to Christine Lagarde at the IMF? Did they have a spat? “Look, Angel, hang with the Greek boys on Thursday. But don’t even dream about pal-ing around over the weekend. What if you give me the disease?”
If I were a professor of institutional semantics, I’d roll it out like this: the OECD is a parallel international organization that wields power behind the scenes. Corporations are always knocking on their door demanding special privileges and they (the OECD) hold sway within the different national bureaucracies, within the mindset. Greece needs breathing room and if the OECD isn’t offering cash, it’s access, which may be more valuable. Of course they’re “enterprise-oriented.” National salvation isn’t in their tool kit. It will be up to Syriza to resist. In any case, the OECD isn’t issuing diktats.
More interesting to speculate on Gurria’s motives. Why has he so forcefully interposed the OECD between Greece and the Troika? Clearly not “replacing any other organization,” but it’s as if that Brooklyn glad-hander stepped between the bully and his victim and yelled, “Hands Off!” Whose side is he on? Impossible to say. His face is a mask, he speaks in soundbites. (Is there a school for that?) Greece in any case will be able to say to Tijsselbloem et Co., “We’re playing by OECD rules. Good enough for you?” when that all-but-inevitable departure from the Euro threatens again. Greece is playing for time. Syriza has to both implement reforms and see some positive results. In four months. Pasok had ten years to shoot their wad and blow the treasury. I don’t remember the European fright wigs complaining then.
But what! – Hey!- What’s that noise! – breaking glass – in this soft little amphitheatre. Here? It can’t be. But it is. Reality is not so nice. Reality is the Syriza snarl. Here they are showing the OECD what attentive fellows they can be – but just a day before – a bit of mayhem before they arrived in Paris. They went before the world and accused Germany of the systemic pillage of their country.
In December 2014 the Greek finance ministry published a report which calculated that Germany “owed” Greece €9.2bn for the first world war, €322bn for the second and €10bn for money Greece was forced to lend the Nazi regime in 1942.
On Wednesday Alex Tsipras weighed in before the Greek Parliament. “After the reunification of Germany in 1990, the legal and political conditions were created for this issue to be resolved. But since then, German governments chose silence, legal tricks and delay.”
Now we get to the good part of the drama, when the upstart Southerners confront the Northern behemouth. They prick them where it hurts. The worst part of it, for the Germans, is that the Greeks are trying to steal their role, that of the Great Reproover, the Clean Liver, the Prosperous. You’re thieves, the Greeks bellow. And the Greeks were being nice about it. They didn’t even mention the gold bricks the Germans took with them at the end of the Second World War, a theft that William Pfaff, the dean of American foreign policy writing, calls “a legitimate issue.”
To their immense credit there are numerous Germans, individuals and political groups, who have stood up and publicly backed the Greeks in raising the issue.
No one can seriously believe that the Syriza-led government is naïve about what the OECD represents. At the same time the fly on the conference room wall knows more than we do about the OECD’s real strategy for Greece. OECD assistance may help to cauterize the wound; looked at another way it brings Greece closer to the business establishment.
There was more to the afternoon. Tspiras had yet to give his speech. His English is nearly incomprehensible and it got worse as the speech went on. He was saying something, it was the kind of speech the OECD likes to hear, full of initiatives and targets. He did say, “We don’t want to reform Greece, we want to transform it.” For that dream, he will meet obstacles on all sides, international and domestic, not least that part of the Greek left who have already decided he’s a sellout.
In the corridors close to the centers of power, where Power takes the shape of human figures gliding down a passageway surrounded by body guards, Sub-Ministers for various offices, journo-hangers-on desperate for a quote, everything is rumor, opinion, hand-held devices pumping out new info, distraction – buzz. Very little is really known and what is known can change instantly into its opposite. That’s what Syriza is banking on.
What’s the probability that the sea of hemmed-in, shoulder to shoulder journalists, administrators and facilitators would somehow part to allow an awkward young German reporter, tall and a little stiff like he was new on the beat, to step forward and block Varoufakis’s path? Not likely in that crowd – but it happened. He had a question. Not about reparations. “Is it true, Mr. Minister, that Greece will run out of money in seven days?” A short freeze in the crowd surge. Varoufakis gives him a quick look up and down. It’s provocation with a German accent. “Can’t Buy Me Love,” Varoufakis replies softly. “Good song. Do you know it?” The crowd moves on, out of the room.
The journalist looks verklempt, augestorben - overcome, lost. Varoufakis played him. That’s game theory: change the terms of the debate. The reporter hobbles back to his computer. He didn’t get his quote, or so he thinks. Humiliated, he looks around for help.
The OECD is an interesting faction of the elite to have on your side. They can’t say you don’t play by the rules, even if you have to bend them. Everybody does, just look at Luxembourg. But I think we are nearly at the end of the epoch when Greece can be regarded as a pariah. What happened there happened with the full knowledge of the EU, the ECB and the IMF, and therefore, one could argue, with their consent. The OECD plans, I suspect, to play the role of mediator, with or without the blessing of the Troika. So far Syriza has shown that it’s one step ahead of the functionaries of Reality As Such.
American historian D.F. Fleming, writing of the post-World War II period in his eminent history of the Cold War, stated that “Greece was the first of the liberated states to be openly and forcibly compelled to accept the political system of the occupying Great Power. It was Churchill who acted first and Stalin who followed his example, in Bulgaria and then in Rumania, though with less bloodshed.”
The British intervened in Greece while World War II was still raging. His Majesty’s Army waged war against ELAS, the left-wing guerrillas who had played a major role in forcing the Nazi occupiers to flee. Shortly after the war ended, the United States joined the Brits in this great anti-communist crusade, intervening in what was now a civil war, taking the side of the neo-fascists against the Greek left. The neo-fascists won and instituted a highly brutal regime, for which the CIA created a suitably repressive internal security agency (KYP in Greek).
In 1964, the liberal George Papandreou came to power, but in April 1967 a military coup took place, just before elections which appeared certain to bring Papandreou back as prime minister. The coup had been a joint effort of the Royal Court, the Greek military, the KYP, the CIA, and the American military stationed in Greece, and was followed immediately by the traditional martial law, censorship, arrests, beatings, and killings, the victims totaling some 8,000 in the first month. This was accompanied by the equally traditional declaration that this was all being done to save the nation from a “communist takeover”. Torture, inflicted in the most gruesome of ways, often with equipment supplied by the United States, became routine.
George Papandreou was not any kind of radical. He was a liberal anti-communist type. But his son Andreas, the heir-apparent, while only a little to the left of his father, had not disguised his wish to take Greece out of the Cold War, and had questioned remaining in NATO, or at least as a satellite of the United States.
Andreas Papandreou was arrested at the time of the coup and held in prison for eight months. Shortly after his release, he and his wife Margaret visited the American ambassador, Phillips Talbot, in Athens. Papandreou later related the following:
I asked Talbot whether America could have intervened the night of the coup, to prevent the death of democracy in Greece. He denied that they could have done anything about it. Then Margaret asked a critical question: What if the coup had been a Communist or a Leftist coup? Talbot answered without hesitation. Then, of course, they would have intervened, and they would have crushed the coup. 1
Another charming chapter in US-Greek relations occurred in 2001, when Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street Goliath Lowlife, secretly helped Greece keep billions of dollars of debt off their balance sheet through the use of complex financial instruments like credit default swaps. This allowed Greece to meet the baseline requirements to enter the Eurozone in the first place. But it also helped create a debt bubble that would later explode and bring about the current economic crisis that’s drowning the entire continent. Goldman Sachs, however, using its insider knowledge of its Greek client, protected itself from this debt bubble by betting against Greek bonds, expecting that they would eventually fail. 2
Will the United States, Germany, the rest of the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund – collectively constituting the International Mafia – allow the new Greek leaders of the Syriza party to dictate the conditions of Greece’s rescue and salvation? The answer at the moment is a decided “No”. The fact that Syriza leaders, for some time, have made no secret of their affinity for Russia is reason enough to seal their fate. They should have known how the Cold War works.
I believe Syriza is sincere, and I’m rooting for them, but they may have overestimated their own strength, while forgetting how the Mafia came to occupy its position; it didn’t derive from a lot of compromise with left-wing upstarts. Greece may have no choice, eventually, but to default on its debts and leave the Eurozone. The hunger and unemployment of the Greek people may leave them no alternative.
“You are traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. Your next stop … the Twilight Zone.” (American Television series, 1959-1965)
State Department Daily Press Briefing, February 13, 2015. Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki, questioned by Matthew Lee of The Associated Press. 3
Lee: President Maduro [of Venezuela] last night went on the air and said that they had arrested multiple people who were allegedly behind a coup that was backed by the United States. What is your response?
Psaki: These latest accusations, like all previous such accusations, are ludicrous. As a matter of longstanding policy, the United States does not support political transitions by non-constitutional means. Political transitions must be democratic, constitutional, peaceful, and legal. We have seen many times that the Venezuelan Government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela. These efforts reflect a lack of seriousness on the part of the Venezuelan Government to deal with the grave situation it faces.
Lee: Sorry. The US has – whoa, whoa, whoa – the US has a longstanding practice of not promoting – What did you say? How longstanding is that? I would – in particular in South and Latin America, that is not a longstanding practice.
Psaki: Well, my point here, Matt, without getting into history –
Lee: Not in this case.
Psaki: – is that we do not support, we have no involvement with, and these are ludicrous accusations.
Lee: In this specific case.
Lee: But if you go back not that long ago, during your lifetime, even – (laughter)
Psaki: The last 21 years. (Laughter.)
Lee: Well done. Touché. But I mean, does “longstanding” mean 10 years in this case? I mean, what is –
Psaki: Matt, my intention was to speak to the specific reports.
Lee: I understand, but you said it’s a longstanding US practice, and I’m not so sure – it depends on what your definition of “longstanding” is.
Psaki: We will – okay.
Lee: Recently in Kyiv, whatever we say about Ukraine, whatever, the change of government at the beginning of last year was unconstitutional, and you supported it. The constitution was –
Psaki: That is also ludicrous, I would say.
Lee: – not observed.
Psaki: That is not accurate, nor is it with the history of the facts that happened at the time.
Lee: The history of the facts. How was it constitutional?
Psaki: Well, I don’t think I need to go through the history here, but since you gave me the opportunity –- as you know, the former leader of Ukraine left of his own accord.
Leaving the Twilight Zone … The former Ukrainian leader ran for his life from those who had staged the coup, including a mob of vicious US-supported neo-Nazis.
If you know how to contact Ms. Psaki, tell her to have a look at my list of more than 50 governments the United States has attempted to overthrow since the end of the Second World War. None of the attempts were democratic, constitutional, peaceful, or legal; well, a few were non-violent. 4
So NBC’s evening news anchor, Brian Williams, has been caught telling untruths about various events in recent years. What could be worse for a reporter? How about not knowing what’s going on in the world? In your own country? At your own employer? As a case in point I give you Williams’ rival, Scott Pelley, evening news anchor at CBS.
In August 2002, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz told American newscaster Dan Rather on CBS: “We do not possess any nuclear or biological or chemical weapons.” 5
In December, Aziz stated to Ted Koppel on ABC: “The fact is that we don’t have weapons of mass destruction. We don’t have chemical, biological, or nuclear weaponry.” 6
Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein himself told CBS’s Rather in February 2003: “These missiles have been destroyed. There are no missiles that are contrary to the prescription of the United Nations [as to range] in Iraq. They are no longer there.” 7
Moreover, Gen. Hussein Kamel, former head of Iraq’s secret weapons program, and a son-in-law of Saddam Hussein, told the UN in 1995 that Iraq had destroyed its banned missiles and chemical and biological weapons soon after the Persian Gulf War of 1991. 8
There are yet other examples of Iraqi officials telling the world, before the 2003 American invasion, that the WMD were non-existent.
Enter Scott Pelley. In January 2008, as a CBS reporter, Pelley interviewed FBI agent George Piro, who had interviewed Saddam Hussein before he was executed:
PELLEY: And what did he tell you about how his weapons of mass destruction had been destroyed?
PIRO: He told me that most of the WMD had been destroyed by the U.N. inspectors in the ’90s, and those that hadn’t been destroyed by the inspectors were unilaterally destroyed by Iraq.
PELLEY: He had ordered them destroyed?
PELLEY: So why keep the secret? Why put your nation at risk? Why put your own life at risk to maintain this charade? 9
For a journalist there might actually be something as bad as not knowing what’s going on in his area of news coverage, even on his own station. After Brian Williams’ fall from grace, his former boss at NBC, Bob Wright, defended Williams by pointing to his favorable coverage of the military, saying: “He has been the strongest supporter of the military of any of the news players. He never comes back with negative stories, he wouldn’t question if we’re spending too much.” 10
I think it’s safe to say that members of the American mainstream media are not embarrassed by such a “compliment”.
In his acceptance speech for the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, Harold Pinter made the following observation:
Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.
But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognized as crimes at all.
It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.
“The trade embargo can be fully lifted only through legislation – unless Cuba forms a democracy, in which case the president can lift it.” 11
Aha! So that’s the problem, according to a Washington Post columnist – Cuba is not a democracy! That would explain why the United States does not maintain an embargo against Saudi Arabia, Honduras, Guatemala, Egypt and other distinguished pillars of freedom. The mainstream media routinely refer to Cuba as a dictatorship. Why is it not uncommon even for people on the left to do the same? I think that many of the latter do so in the belief that to say otherwise runs the risk of not being taken seriously, largely a vestige of the Cold War when Communists all over the world were ridiculed for blindly following Moscow’s party line. But what does Cuba do or lack that makes it a dictatorship?
No “free press”? Apart from the question of how free Western media is, if that’s to be the standard, what would happen if Cuba announced that from now on anyone in the country could own any kind of media? How long would it be before CIA money – secret and unlimited CIA money financing all kinds of fronts in Cuba – would own or control almost all the media worth owning or controlling?
Is it “free elections” that Cuba lacks? They regularly have elections at municipal, regional and national levels. (They do not have direct election of the president, but neither do Germany or the United Kingdom and many other countries). Money plays virtually no role in these elections; neither does party politics, including the Communist Party, since candidates run as individuals. Again, what is the standard by which Cuban elections are to be judged? Is it that they don’t have the Koch Brothers to pour in a billion dollars? Most Americans, if they gave it any thought, might find it difficult to even imagine what a free and democratic election, without great concentrations of corporate money, would look like, or how it would operate. Would Ralph Nader finally be able to get on all 50 state ballots, take part in national television debates, and be able to match the two monopoly parties in media advertising? If that were the case, I think he’d probably win; which is why it’s not the case.
Or perhaps what Cuba lacks is our marvelous “electoral college” system, where the presidential candidate with the most votes is not necessarily the winner. If we really think this system is a good example of democracy why don’t we use it for local and state elections as well?
Is Cuba not a democracy because it arrests dissidents? Many thousands of anti-war and other protesters have been arrested in the United States in recent years, as in every period in American history. During the Occupy Movement two years ago more than 7,000 people were arrested, many beaten by police and mistreated while in custody. 12 And remember: The United States is to the Cuban government like al Qaeda is to Washington, only much more powerful and much closer; virtually without exception, Cuban dissidents have been financed by and aided in other ways by the United States.
Would Washington ignore a group of Americans receiving funds from al Qaeda and engaging in repeated meetings with known members of that organization? In recent years the United States has arrested a great many people in the US and abroad solely on the basis of alleged ties to al Qaeda, with a lot less evidence to go by than Cuba has had with its dissidents’ ties to the United States. Virtually all of Cuba’s “political prisoners” are such dissidents. While others may call Cuba’s security policies dictatorship, I call it self-defense.
Last month Andrew Lack became chief executive of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees US government-supported international news media such as Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks and Radio Free Asia. In a New York Times interview, Mr. Lack was moved to allow the following to escape his mouth: “We are facing a number of challenges from entities like Russia Today which is out there pushing a point of view, the Islamic State in the Middle East and groups like Boko Haram.” 13
So … this former president of NBC News conflates Russia Today (RT) with the two most despicable groups of “human beings” on the planet. Do mainstream media executives sometimes wonder why so many of their audience has drifted to alternative media, like, for example, RT?
Those of you who have not yet discovered RT, I suggest you go to RT.com to see whether it’s available in your city. And there are no commercials.
It should be noted that the Times interviewer, Ron Nixon, expressed no surprise at Lack’s remark.
Posted by greydogg, 99GetSmart
My intrepid friend, journalist James Graham (a.k.a. J. Iddhis Bing), has been living in Paris and writing about the disastrous conditions in Greece, where financial collapse has led to widespread violence and homelessness. The situation has been underreported in the mainstream press, and Jim is heading to Greece to research what’s happening and ferret out the implications for the rest of the Europe and the world.
Banking shenanigans by the 1 percent appear to be among the causes of the collapse.
He is crowdsourcing his trip and will send gifts from Greece or other alluring perks to you if you can spare a few bucks. Here’s the link:
By Iddhis Bing, 99GetSmart
I’ve been writing and reading about European politics, and Greece in particular, for a while now. Long enough, in any case, to call myself reasonably informed. But Greece is a special case. We stay up on the news and know about the Shadow Cabinet in Westminister in great detail; about Angela Merkel’s telephone and her fall on the ski slopes; about François Hollande’s midnight rides on a scooter across Paris to visit his new girlfriend – and yet, apart from sites like 99GetSmart, there’s a kind of news blackout concerning Greece. Maybe people don’t want to know. They can’t bear it. They suspect they might be next.
But Greece really is an exception, isn’t it? So the argument runs. Its ancient culture, its oligarchs, its Mediterreanan dependence on agriculture, its subterreanean ties to the ancient cults in the Near East, all of these things added together… therein lies the contradiction at the heart of what I am going to propose to you: that Greece is different culturally, that many other European states were opposed to its entry into the Union and it only got in through with the help of some imaginative book-keeping, and yet its fate and ours are now inextricably linked. The only meaningful difference being that Greece is ahead of us on line to the scaffold.
And so I got the crazy idea that I would go to Greece and report what I saw. The proposed trip is now up on Indiegogo, the crowdfunding site. The goal is to write a book which gives us a sense of the human reality in a country trapped between the Scylla and Carybdis of the financiers and the politicos.
This idea is a reality because Linda Ross encouraged me, badgered me, supplied me with endless contacts in Greece – which resulted in articles here on 99 and elsewhere – and essentially wouldn’t give up until I said I was going.
I’ve been writing for 99 since it picked up one of my pieces. Actually, Linda lifted an article from another site and reposted it and I wrote her to ask her who the hell did she think she was. (Little did I know back then. I was a newbie.) I was lucky – theft is the sincerest form of flattery. And thus began a conversation that’s still chugging along fruitfully.
The economy of internet journalism is the pits. Everybody knows that. And if you’re not in the business of taking cheesy ads or innovating your way to the next time-saver app, it hurts on the publishing side as well. Nobody knows what’s coming next but Linda meanwhile plugs away and keeps a terrifically informative site currant. Hats off, says I.
You, the reader, can help out. You read 99GetSmart on a regular basis so you know better than most what’s going on in Greece and maybe you feel we should get the word out to a larger public, especially among the Anglos (as the world calls us when they aren’t inventing much kinder names). You can visit Greece and the Future of the European Union and chip in a few dollars or euros or whatever you have laying around. And you can spread the word, both about 99 and the crowdfunding project. Pass it around, post it, repost it, tweet it, let your friends know that a writer is going to Greece and will report back what he sees and hears.
Merci en avance, as they say in these parts.