Apr 282017
 

By Michael Nevradakis99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews:

According to economist Roger Bootle, the EU has grown unsustainable and due to various factors, is about to burst. (AP/Francisco Seco)

According to economist Roger Bootle, the EU has grown unsustainable and due to various factors, is about to burst. (AP/Francisco Seco)

Britain’s departure from the EU, a process that will take about two years, has formally gone into motion. MintPress News had the opportunity to speak with prize-winning economist Roger Bootle about what Brexit will ultimately mean for the country’s economy, as well as the European Union as a whole.

LONDON– The recent triggering of Article 50 of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty by the United Kingdom has formally set into motion the process of Britain’s departure from the EU, an action that is in line with the result of last June’s referendum, where 52 percent of British voters chose to leave the union.

Europe is now faced with the prospect of a turbulent period ahead, with the upcoming French presidential elections and the possibility of a victory for populist candidate Marine Le Pen, as well as snap parliamentary elections declared in the UK, German elections in September, a rising tide of Euroscepticism across the continent and the process of Brexit now formally put into motion.

Economist Roger Bootle, chairman of Capital Economics in London and specialist adviser to the British House of Commons Treasury Committee, is the lead author of the report “Leaving the euro: a practical guide,” which was awarded the prestigious Wolfson Prize in Economics in 2012. The report presents a comprehensive proposal for how any eurozone member could depart the zone in an orderly fashion. Bootle discussed his findings extensively in a March 2015 interview with Dialogos Radio.

MintPress News recently had the opportunity to speak with Bootle, in an interview that also aired on Dialogos Radio, about the prospects of the British economy following Brexit and the future of the EU and eurozone following Britain’s upcoming departure.

MintPress News (MPN): The British government has recently gone ahead and invoked Article 50, formally triggering the process for Great Britain’s departure from the European Union. Many doom-and-gloom scenarios have been voiced, particularly by media pundits, regarding the adverse impacts of “Brexit” on Great Britain’s economy. In reality, how has the British economy performed since the referendum vote and, more recently, since Article 50 was invoked, and what are its prospects going forward?

Roger Bootle (RB): The British economy has done extremely well since the referendum. In fact, you can’t really see any adverse effects at all. It’s just bowled along much as before. In the immediate weeks and months after the referendum, there was some hesitation and some business sectors undoubtedly felt a bit of a slowdown, but that didn’t last long.

As things are at the moment, they’re looking really very strong. Surveys suggest that economic growth will continue roughly at the level we’ve seen recently. Of course, the pound has dropped quite considerably, and that’s helped British exports. They are looking very strong. Even if there’s a bit of a squeeze on consumers, which there may well be, I think all the signs are that the British economy is going to sail through this period.

MPN: From an economic point of view, what are the next steps in the Brexit process for Great Britain? For instance, do you believe that Great Britain will still maintain access to the European common market, and more so, do you believe that Great Britain should maintain access to the European common market?

RB: Now of course we are in a difficult phase, which could go on for up to two years because the Lisbon Treaty allows for a period of up to two years for negotiations for a country leaving. Of course, there’s been no country apart from Greenland, a long time before, that’s actually left the European Union, so we’re in uncharted territory really.

I think that what we’re going to see, what I hope we’re going to see, is some sort of free trade deal hammered out between Britain and the EU. Now if that doesn’t happen, it’s very important that this word “access” is nobbled, that Britain needs “access.” I think it really is very misleading, this word.

Every country in the world has got access to the single market – the United States, India, China, Japan, all these countries trade with the single market, they’ve got access to it, it’s just that not being part of the single market, not having a free trade deal with the European Union, they have to pay the

European Union common external tariff, and of course they have to meet all the standards and certificates and so on that the EU demands.

Now, if Britain doesn’t reach some sort of free trade agreement with the EU during this two-year negotiating period, then we’re effectively going to be in the same sort of situation that the United States, China, Japan and India are all in. That doesn’t sound to me to be too bad.

MPN: There have been many rumors and many press reports regarding the pound of flesh, if you will, that the European Union will demand from Great Britain as an exit bill for leaving the EU. Do you view this as a distinct possibility, or does Great Britain have bargaining chips of its own to possibly avoid this as it navigates the exit process?

RB: Various figures have suggested bills as high as 60 billion euros that the UK will have to hand over to the EU. I think the chances of the EU being able to secure anything like that are vanishingly small, next to zero. There was a report by the British House of Lords recently which obtained expert legal opinion, and the result of that expert legal opinion was that Britain was obliged to pay nothing at all. That is to say, the common sense interpretation of this would apply, that once you leave the club you’re no longer asked to carry on paying your membership dues.

Now, I suspect that there might be reasons of political and economic self-interest such that Britain might end up paying rather more than zero, but 60 billion euros, well they’ll have to whistle for that. I think there’s plenty of room for some sort of reasonable deal.

MPN: Part of the exit process, from what I understand, would have to do with Great Britain’s share of the European Central Bank’s cash reserves, which amount to 16 percent of the ECB’s total cash reserves. Can these cash reserves be returned to Great Britain as part of the Brexit process?

RB: I don’t see that as being a factor to be taken on its own. As a shareholder in the ECB, we do have a claim on the ECB’s net assets. The ECB’s got liabilities as well, so it isn’t reasonable to just look at the cash the ECB holds, you have to look at the balance sheet as a whole, and then you’ve got to put that into the context of the whole position of the EU. I can’t see the UK walking away with 16 percent of the ECB’s cash holdings. I think there’s going to be some overall totting-up of assets and liabilities and whatever the EU thinks are the UK’s continuing obligations after it’s actually left the club, and that’s something that’s going to be a major argument. These ECB cash reserves will be just one factor among very many that will affect this question of how much the UK has to hand over.

MPN: What are the possibilities that Great Britain has on the table as it prepares to depart the European Union, in terms of new trade deals or other beneficial agreements outside of the European Union?

RB: We’ve heard President [Donald] Trump say that he’s keen on a prospective U.S.-UK trade deal, and he’s made it pretty clear that he thinks that can be accomplished very quickly. There’s a whole series of other countries that are interested, including former members of the British Empire that are now members of the British Commonwealth: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India. Countries outside, such as Japan and China, I think will be able to secure some sort of agreement pretty soon.

I think it’s very important not to overplay the significance of trade deals. Britain trades all around the world with all sorts of countries with which it does not have a trade deal, the United States being one of them, Britain’s biggest single export market. The UK does not have a trade agreement with the United States, and the reason it doesn’t have one is because at the moment it can’t make its own trade policy! It’s the EU that has to do that, and the EU hasn’t been able to make a trade deal with the United States!

I think very much [that as] a result of “euro-brainwashing,” in the European Union most people seem to think that prosperity emerges at the end of the fountain pens of these wonderful official trade negotiators in Brussels and elsewhere, and that all our futures depend on these people. This is complete hogwash. It’s a fairy tale. Around the world, all sorts of countries do extremely well and trade with each other without having anything to do with these panjandrums in Brussels. Britain could be in exactly the same position.

MPN: How does the City of London and the business community in Great Britain view the prospects of the British economy following Brexit?

RB: In the run-up to the referendum, there was a majority of the leaders of big business in Britain, including in the City of London, the financial interests, in favor of Britain staying in. That hasn’t changed very much, and accordingly there’s a preponderance of voices, although it’s less strident than before, worried about exactly what sort of arrangement Britain is going to put in place.

But even before the referendum vote, this description of the state of business opinion was far from uniform. There were a lot of businesspeople who were in favor of Britain leaving. A lot of people in the City were in favor of Britain leaving. On the whole, it was the more entrepreneurial City firms that were in favor of Britain leaving, as opposed to the big established banks and brokerage houses and so forth, who on balance were in favor of Britain staying.

I think that now the debate has moved on a lot. It’s been helped by some of Mrs. [British Prime Minister Theresa] May’s speeches and by the triggering of Article 50. It’s now pretty clear that we are leaving; accordingly, business opinion has switched from trying to operate as some sort of rear-guard action to realizing that it’s going to happen. Obviously, there’s a difference of opinion.

There are still some business leaders, including some in the City, who are a bit concerned and they want to make sure that we get the softest of soft Brexits. But a lot of business leaders are more optimistic than that. I think the mood, though, has changed. It’s changed towards, as I thought it would and hoped it would, towards making the most of Brexit, getting on with it, getting on with the job, getting the job of leaving the EU done and then making sure that Britain is best placed in the world that follows.

MPN: A recent survey of reserve managers at 80 central banks around the world found that there is a recent tendency for central banks to cut their euro exposure, while viewing British currency as a safer prospect for their banks’ portfolios. Is this a trend that you have observed in the markets and is this likely to continue?

RB: I don’t find it surprising that central bank reserve managers should find the prospect of having substantial amounts of their reserves in euros alarming. I don’t find that surprising at all, because there is a mega-crisis in the European Union. For the last year or so, the media has been obsessing about the so-called “British crisis” triggered by the fact that we voted to leave the European Union.

But fundamentally, putting aside for a moment the possible question of a second Scottish referendum — that is a big worry for the UK — that aside, the UK is a pretty stable place, and I think all the signs are that although there might be a few wobbles over Brexit, it can continue to be both successful and stable in the years ahead. And of course, famously it’s got extremely liquid financial markets. So I can see why international money managers, including central bank reserve managers, would find the UK fairly attractive.

By contrast, you can paint a scenario that’s deeply alarming for the countries of the EU. It’s still, I think, more than possible that another country is going to leave the euro over the next few years. The Italians remain very weak, the Greek economy is in a very, very serious state. Either one or both of those countries can leave. You’ve got a political crisis in France, with the possibility of far-right leader Marine Le Pen becoming president.

Even if that doesn’t happen, there’s no doubt over what way France is going over the next couple of years. So there are really fundamental questions about the integrity of the EU as a political unit, and the euro currency alongside that. Why would you want to expose substantial amounts of your reserves to that?

From a British point of view, there is a danger, I think, in all of this. I happen to think that the lower pound brought on by Brexit is a great boon for the British economy. I wanted the pound to be weaker for a long time. I think we needed it, it’s improved our competitiveness, so the last thing I would want to see is international capital holders becoming really worried about the euro and the EU, moving money into the pound with the result of the pound rising a lot in the exchanges. I think that would be extremely unhelpful for Britain.

MPN: Even though Great Britain was not in the eurozone, many people forget that it had been a part of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, the ERM, before departing in 1992. This departure had, like Brexit, been accompanied by doom-and-gloom scenarios for what the impact on the British economy would be. In reality, how did exiting the ERM impact the British economy at the time?

RB: It’s very funny, this, because I remember extremely well that before Britain left — ”left” is too dignified a word, it sort of fell out of the ERM. What happened in September 1992, the UK Treasury was telling anyone who wanted to listen, and quite a few who didn’t, that we absolutely had to stay in the ERM, because otherwise inflation would soar, interest rates would soar and the economy would go down the tubes.

Various economists, myself included, said this was rubbish and that the opposite would happen, and dare I say it, after Sept. 16, 1992, the Treasury was proven wrong. That’s to say, the currency fell a long way, and exactly as a few of us had said, interest rates would not have to go up. Indeed they fell, inflation carried on falling too, and the economy recovered. After that, there were five years of very strong growth under the Conservatives before Labour won the election in 1997. So that was an earlier occasion where the Treasury forecasts of doom and gloom were proved comprehensively wrong.

MPN: Looking at economic and political developments in Europe, with an emphasis on the upcoming presidential elections in France and the candidacy of Marine Le Pen, who has delivered her own strong Eurosceptic message to French voters, do you believe we are seeing the beginning process of the breakup of the eurozone or the European Union, and how can Brexit serve as a catalyst for this process?

RB: I think we are seeing probably the beginnings of the breakup of the EU. The beginnings of the breakup of the euro were seen some time ago. Of course it hasn’t happened, but the signs are, I think, pretty clear, of the strains, very clear of course in Greece, but also I think more significantly in Italy. Less dramatic, of course, in Italy, but Italy is a much bigger economy, and I think this is more significant for the EU because Italy, of course, was a founding member of the EU. Greece didn’t join until much later.

If Greece ends up leaving the euro, then that is a hammerblow not just to the euro but, I think, to the institutions of the EU itself. Now, it may well be that one of these events, a country leaving the euro or the election of Marine Le Pen, could happen fairly soon, and that would still be early on in the Brexit process, because it will be almost two years until Britain leaves the EU.

But if Italy doesn’t leave the euro, and/or we don’t get Marine Le Pen as president of France, and both the euro and the EU hold together, then I think Brexit is going to play a major role, because then all eyes are going to be on seeing how the UK does outside the EU. Now of course, it’s going to take quite some time for this to be testable. We’ve got the up to two years of negotiations, and I suspect there will be some wobbles and difficulties and short-term problems associated with the business of exit, so it might be a year or two after exit before we can see how the UK is doing.

But if the UK is doing really pretty well after that period, we’re going to see a lot of pressure within the EU for other countries to leave, because then the UK will have gotten out of the free movement of labor, gotten out of the jurisdiction of the European courts without having to pay Brussels these huge annual subventions, and I think a lot of countries will look at this deal and think “oh gosh, I think I rather like that setup.”

MPN: A few years back, you were awarded the Wolfson Prize in Economics for your analysis that showed that any eurozone member state could safely depart the eurozone in an orderly fashion. Could you recap some of the highlights of this proposal for our listeners, and has anything changed in your analysis since then?

RB: I don’t think the essence of the situation or indeed my recommendations for what a country should do have changed at all, but there is a particular relevance to the French situation. What we said was, first of all, don’t be afraid of the fact that the exchange rate for the new currency falls, that the currency is weak immediately after the exit. That is part of the solution, not the problem. You shouldn’t try to stop it, indeed you should encourage it. It’s how you get the combination of reduced burden of debt and increased competitiveness.

We recommended that preparations for this exit should be conducted in secret. If this is not possible, then you have to impose capital controls. You might have to close the banks, which would be a serious worry. You don’t need to be able to issue new currency in order to leave. It takes quite some time for notes to be printed. You can do it without doing that in these days of electronic money. You could do without notes for a while, and indeed you could carry on using euros in the interim before your new notes are available.

You probably will need, in some sense, to default on some of your debt. The aim should be redenominate your national debt into the new currency, the one that’s depreciated, and depending on whether you can do that, it’s going to depend on the precise legal position of the debt. But insofar as you can, that’s what you should do, and the aim should be, through a combination of a reduced debt burden as a share of GDP, and the increased competitiveness, to get a period of economic growth, and from that of course, all sorts of good things will follow.

The connection with the French election is that Marine Le Pen has talked about having a referendum on ditching the euro and bringing back the franc, which is completely different from what we suggested in our Wolfson Prize-winning study. The significance of this is that Marine Le Pen’s proposal is going to cause an awful lot of financial instability. The financial markets aren’t going to wait for the result of the vote, they’re going to act with their feet straight away!

If Marine Le Pen wins, I think you’re going to see substantial capital flight from France even before she announces the referendum, and a lot of money leaving France. I could see a real banking crisis following from that, as people try to get their money out and to put it in, as it were, safer members of the eurozone, principally Germany. There might have to be some sort of capital controls imposed to stop that capital flight and to stop the French banking system from collapsing.

MPN: Looking at economic conditions in Europe today, and specifically in countries such as Greece that continue to enforce a regime of strict economic austerity as prescribed by its lenders, do you believe that exiting the eurozone is still an option for these countries?

RB: I don’t see how Greece can escape from its current situation without a much-devalued exchange rate. Spain is a country that is now recovering, and I think would probably be able to stay in the euro system, although not if Italy leaves and devalues. Italy, especially, and Greece, I don’t see any chance of emerging from their current economic torpor that doesn’t involve leaving the euro.

MPN: In Greece, there are various arguments that are heard against Grexit, ranging from claims that it’s too late and that it is something Greece should have done seven or eight years ago at the onset of the crisis, to arguments that a catastrophic devaluation of the new currency would follow, or that hyperinflation would result, or that Greece would be unable to import vital necessities. How do you respond to these arguments?

RB: There’s no doubt that it would be possible to do Grexit badly, and in the same vein, it’s possible to do Brexit badly. You could make a complete mess of it. There’s no doubt that’s possible. It’s very important, I think, not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Yes, there will be difficulties as a result of Grexit, but the most important thing is, it gives hope.

You have to ask yourself what you’re comparing your option with. A country that’s lost something like 25 percent of its GDP, that has a huge proportion of its workforce unemployed, there doesn’t seem to be much hope under the current situation. So I think it’s a bit extreme to say “oh gosh, if Greece left the euro, there would be hyperinflation.” Well, there wouldn’t be hyperinflation at all. If it’s managed properly, there wouldn’t be an uptick in inflation, and that wouldn’t necessarily be all bad, because it would help to devalue the real value of some of the debt.

You’d have to, though, keep this under control. It would have to be well-managed. You would need the effective management of the Bank of Greece and the Greek government to make sure that this was a fairly benign process. That doesn’t mean to say that you can avoid pain. You can’t avoid pain! You’ve had pain for the last how many years in Greece, and this is a country that’s lost 25 percent of its GDP!

Nov 042016
 

By 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews:

Bystanders wait to be handed bags of oranges during a free distribution of fruit and vegetables as a protest by farmers and vendors over proposed pension reforms, in Athens on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. Greece’s leftwing government is facing an escalating wave of protests over its proposed pension overhaul that has been demanded by bailout creditors. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Bystanders wait to be handed bags of oranges during a free distribution of fruit and vegetables as a protest by farmers and vendors over proposed pension reforms, in Athens on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. Greece’s leftwing government is facing an escalating wave of protests over its proposed pension overhaul that has been demanded by bailout creditors. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS — This has been another eventful year in Greece. Almost one year after it turned its back on the July 2015 referendum result which rejected further austerity, the Syriza-led government has pushed forward a program of even harsher austerity, spending cuts, and privatizations.

Following the British vote to proceed with “Brexit,” or a departure from the European Union, fears that Greece might follow suit led Greece’s lenders to demand even more austerity measures from a country already mired in an economic depression.

In this interview, Dr. Jack Rasmus, a professor of economics and politics at St. Mary’s College of California, analyzes these issues and the many challenges facing the Greek and European economies today.

The author of such books as “Looting Greece” and “Systemic Fragility in the Global Economy,” Dr. Rasmus shares his insights into the consequences of austerity for Greece and other peripheral European economies, and presents his proposed solutions for an end to the crisis and austerity.

MintPress News (MPN): In September, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras gave his annual “state of the nation” address, where he boasted that the Greek economy has turned the corner, that unemployment is going down, that salaries will be increased, and that the country is returning to growth. Is this what Greece’s economic indicators actually show?

Protesters march to the Greek Parliament in Athens on Tuesday Nov. 6, 2012. Greece’s unions are holding their third general strike in six weeks to press dissenters in the country’s troubled coalition government not to back a major new austerity program that will doom Greeks to further hardship in a sixth year of recession. Two days of demonstrations are planned to start Tuesday, continuing until lawmakers vote late Wednesday on the bill to slash euro13.5 billion ($17.3 billion) from budget spending over two years. (AP Photo/Dimitri Messinis)

Protesters march to the Greek Parliament in Athens on Tuesday Nov. 6, 2012. Greece’s unions are holding their third general strike in six weeks to press dissenters in the country’s troubled coalition government not to back a major new austerity program that will doom Greeks to further hardship in a sixth year of recession. Two days of demonstrations are planned to start Tuesday, continuing until lawmakers vote late Wednesday on the bill to slash euro13.5 billion ($17.3 billion) from budget spending over two years. (AP Photo/Dimitri Messinis)

Dr. Jack Rasmus (JR): No, not quite. Greece’s debt is still the same as it was in 2011, roughly 180 percent of GDP. Unemployment has come down by only 3 to 4 percent, so instead of 27 percent, it’s about 23 to 24 percent. That’s depression-level unemployment. All the other indicators in the economy are flat or declining, so I don’t see anywhere that Greece is really “recovering,” and neither, really, is the entire eurozone economy. It’s been bouncing along the bottom.

As I said in my book “Systemic Fragility,” it’s a case of chronic stagnation. [The eurozone] might grow a little, 0.5 percent or 1 percent above GDP, mostly as a result of Germany’s growth, then it flattens out or goes below. Most of the periphery economies in Europe are stagnant or in a recession, as they have been for quite some time.

As far as raising wages, Greece cannot raise, at least in the public sector, any wages without the approval of the troika [Greece’s three major lenders: the European Commission, European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund]. It’s a real stretch to say that Greece is recovering. It’s kind of moving sideways, in the condition of still chronic economic depression.

MPN: One of the perceptions that has been prevalent in global public opinion with regard to the economic crisis in Greece is that the country has been “bailed out” with billions upon billions of euros in free money. Is this really the case, and where has the so-called “bailout” money to Greece actually gone?

JR: Countries don’t get bailed out. Governments, banks, businesses, and sometimes, though not so frequently, households get bailed out. So the question is, who got bailed out here, in the debt restructuring deals of 2010, 2012, 2015, and this past spring? The banks got bailed out several times. Foreign investors and speculators in Greek bonds and other securities clearly got bailed out in 2012. If you look at where the money has gone, there’s $400 billion in debt in Greece still, that they have to pay off, with an economy that is less than half that size, so it’s impossible.

Where has all this money gone? Recent studies by the European School of Management and Technology documenting the 2010 and 2012 bailouts indicate that 95 percent of all the loans to “bail out” the Greek government, which then bailed out the Greek banks — 95 percent of that went back to Northern Europe, mostly to the German and Northern European banks that had loaned so much money to Greece. [Bailout funds also went] to the troika, particularly the European Commission, that then distributed it to the banking system and investors in turn. The EC is the big player here, and to some extent the European Central Bank, and to a minor extent now the International Monetary Fund. So, 95 percent of all the money loaned to Greece went right back to [Europe] and less than 5 percent of that went back into the Greek economy. Greece has been subsidizing the financial system elsewhere in Europe.

A supporter of the communist-affiliated union PAME takes part in an anti-austerity rally in front of the parliament in Athens, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016.

A supporter of the communist-affiliated union PAME takes part in an anti-austerity rally in front of the parliament in Athens, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016.

MPN: What do you believe needs to be done about the Greek debt?

JR: You might ask what needs to be done about debt throughout the eurozone, because it’s not just Greece. Greece is perhaps the most serious case, but other places in the periphery of Europe are still heavily indebted. You cannot sustain, with austerity measures designed to pay the interest and principal on debt, a $400-plus billion debt based on an economy that’s less than $200 billion. Even the IMF has come to that conclusion and is maneuvering with the other troika members on that particular point.

Is [the debt] legitimate? Well, you have to understand the origins of this debt. It was originally private sector debt that was created as a result of the formation of the eurozone in 1999, the ECB as part of that creation, and other elements of the eurozone agreements, particularly the Lisbon Strategy that Germany adopted. Germany and other Northern European businesses and bankers pumped money and capital into the periphery, including Greece, from 2005 onward. Germany had a strong competitive advantage in exports, so a lot of the money and capital was pumped into the periphery, including Greece, in order to purchase German and other exports. So the money went in and circulated around, leaving a pile of private sector debt in Greece, Italy, and other places.

Then we had the crash of 2008-2009 and the debt could not be repaid, and the troika stepped in to [offer] the governments of Greece and other countries money in order to continue to bail out the private sector and enable the repayment of the private debt. So it starts out as private debt, because of this great imbalance in exports within the eurozone, and then that gets converted to government debt, and then the big crash of 2008-2009 adds even more debt, and then you have the recession of 2011-2013 in the eurozone and the 2012 bailout, which piled on more debt in order to pay the old debt, and then in 2015 the same thing. So the troika’s piling more debt on Greece in order for Greece to pay the previous debt, and that’s totally unsustainable. They’re going to have to expunge some of that debt.

Of course, the Germans, Wolfgang Schauble [the German finance minister] and the coalition in the north, does not want to allow that. And they don’t really want to change the eurozone, because the eurozone, while very imbalanced for the periphery, has benefited Germany significantly. [The Germans] dominate the finance ministers’ council in the EC and they dominate the ECB, and they’re just keeping the situation the way it is because it’s profitable for them.

Demonstrators hold a poster against the austerity policy of Germany prior to a special session of the parliament Bundestag on negotiations with Greece for a new bailout in Berlin, Germany, Friday, July 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Demonstrators hold a poster against the austerity policy of Germany prior to a special session of the parliament Bundestag on negotiations with Greece for a new bailout in Berlin, Germany, Friday, July 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

MPN: Why must Greek banks be nationalized, in your view?

JR: Look at the debt negotiations of 2010, 2012, and 2015. What happened was the ECB, which pretty much controls the Greek central bank — the ECB is just a council of central banks dominated by the Bundesbank [the German central bank] and its allies, so they have control — and what you saw in the negotiations is that in 2015, the ECB put the screws to the Greek economy, and Syriza collapsed and agreed each time the screws were tightened, bringing the economy to a halt. They couldn’t deal with the squeeze on the economy by the ECB. This brought the economy to a halt, squeezing it and of course not releasing loans that [the troika] had agreed to provide Greece under previous agreements. There was an economic squeeze that Syriza did not have a strategy to deal with, and eventually it capitulated.

You’ve got to nationalize, make the Greek central bank and the banking systems independent of the ECB. Gain control over your economy once again, and that is one of several key steps to prevent the squeeze every time you attempt to renegotiate the debt or restructure the debt. Without an independent, Greek, people-controlled banking system, the eurozone and the troika will squeeze and bring Greece to its knees every time. We’ve seen that three times. You’ve got to nationalize the banking system, including the central bank, or if you want to just leave the central bank as part of the ECB structure, go ahead, but create an independent central bank authority elsewhere in the Greek government.

In the U.S. during the Great Depression, the U.S. central bank had screwed up badly, and [President Franklin Delano] Roosevelt took over and had his Treasury Department take over and run the economy. Greece would have to set up a parallel central bank in its finance sector, and isolate and bypass the influence of the ECB through the Greek central bank. You would have to create a parallel currency as part of this and impose serious controls on bank withdrawals and capital flows outside the country, which Syriza did not really do, because the ECB and the troika opposed it. When you have all the capital, bank withdrawals and capital flight is another way of squeezing the country economically.

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

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

MPN: The current government in Greece has been continuing a policy of massive privatizations of Greek public assets, with profitable airports and harbors having been privatized in the past year, in addition to the recent selloff of the Greek national railroad for a total of €45 million ($49 million). What are the short- and long-term impacts of the privatization of such public assets?

JR: The short-term is that when you privatize them, under the aegis of the troika, if you sell below market prices, which a lot of these assets are being sold at, that’s profit on the sale for the investors who are buying up these assets. But once the assets are in private hands, where does the revenue go? Does it go back into Greece or does it go back into the pockets of the investors and the corporations and the banks outside Greece that are buying it up? Well, it goes out. It’s a form of capital flight. Money that is needed in Greece flows out of Greece.

This is a new form of financial imperialism, wealth extraction in other words, that is being structured and managed on a state-to-state basis. It’s not 19th century British imperialism where they set up a factory in India, paid them low wages, and brought the textiles back to London to re-sell at a higher price. It’s not that kind of production imperialism. This is financial imperialism imposed on Greece, and it’s a new form that’s emerging everywhere, where you indebt the country and then you force the country to engage in austerity in order to pay the principal and interest on the debt, and you extract the income from the country. Privatizations are another form of that.

You privatize public goods, you get them at fire-sale prices, and then the income flows from those assets flow back to the coffers of the private companies or the banks, outside of Greece.

The other consequence is when you privatize, they come in and they cut costs, which means they lay off people in mass numbers, they put a hold on wages, they get rid of benefits, and they do everything else to maximize their revenue.

Finally, longer term, it means that Greece has less control over its own economy if it can’t control its infrastructure and everything is owned by foreigners. Then you can’t influence it as much, and if you’re part of the eurozone, you’re legally prohibited from what you can do to make sure that these foreign-owned infrastructure companies are behaving in terms of the benefit for the public sector, for the rest of Greece.

MPN: You have argued in your book, “Systemic Fragility in the Global Economy,” that there are nine major trends which account for the economic troubles that are seen on a global scale. What are some of these trends?

JR: Everywhere, and particularly since 2008, we see central banks and monetary policy to be ascendant, and that means creating money, pumping it into the economy to bail out the financial systems, the financial institutions, the banks and the shadow banks, meaning speculators, hedge funds, private equity firms, asset management companies, and so forth. We’ve seen bailouts of tens of trillions of dollars since 2008. All of that liquidity injection into the economy has driven interest rates down to zero or even, in Europe and Japan and elsewhere, negative rates, and that fuels debt. With rates that cheap, corporations and businesses float new corporate bonds, and they use the money not to invest necessarily, they use it to buy back the stock and drive up the stock prices and pay out dividends, or they sit on it, they hoard it, or they send it to emerging markets. That’s a problem everywhere, and that’s the result of massive liquidity injections, which have really been escalating since the 1980s, when controls on international capital flows were eliminated everywhere.

After the 1970s, when the Bretton Woods system collapsed and central banks took over, the combination of those has led to the financialization of the global economy in the 21st century, where profits are far greater for investing and speculating in financial securities than they are in investing in real assets and real things that create real jobs and real income and real consumption. We’re becoming dependent on debt more and more. The economy is increasingly credit- and debt-driven, and that’s the result of this massive liquidity injection, and it also leads to a shift from real asset investment — investing in real things that create jobs that people need — toward financial asset investment. That means that real investment collapses over time and productivity collapses over time as well, and we see that happening everywhere.

That’s a major point that I argued about in my book, “Systemic Fragility,” this financialization of the global economy based on liquidity and debt and squeezing out. It’s diverting money and capital from real investment into financial speculation. What’s going on in Greece is a concrete expression of this, the reliance on financial means and financial manipulation. The periphery in the eurozone is at a great disadvantage to Germany and others, and they’re being manipulated financially. All the payments on interest and the debt flow back to the north. This is all flowing through the EC to the private sector, and it’s a nice constant money capital flow from interest payments and privatization and speculation on government bonds and securities and stocks in these countries as the volatility occurs.

It’s a reflection, in Greece, of what’s happening on a broader scale elsewhere in the global economy, and that’s why we haven’t seen much of a recovery in the global economy. Global trade is stagnant and real investment everywhere is drifting toward zero, productivity is negative almost everywhere, even in the U.S., and we’re seeing growth rates of barely 1 percent, 1.5 percent, at best, when it should be double that. We see these growing, non-performing bank loans, almost $2 trillion in Europe, the worst in Italy with about $400 billion. We see the same thing in Japan and in China. We’re becoming more systemically fragile financially because of this shift to financial speculation.

In this July 5, 2012 file photo President of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi speaks during a news conference in Frankfurt, central Germany. (AP Photo/dapd, Mario Vedder, File)

In this July 5, 2012 file photo President of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi speaks during a news conference in Frankfurt, central Germany. (AP Photo/dapd, Mario Vedder, File)

MintPress: What is your outlook for the eurozone economy and the difficulties that it is currently facing?

JR: The European banking system has never fully recovered from the 2008-2009 crash. The ECB is pumping money into the banking system in various ways, long-term refinancing options and all the bailout funds and qualitative easing and negative interest rates and so forth. They’re desperately pumping money into the banking system, but the banks aren’t really lending, at least to those businesses that would reinvest in real assets to create jobs. It’s far more profitable to make money now. Investors make more money from financial speculation than they do from investing long-term and expecting to get a return over 10 to 20 years for investment in a real company that creates real things.

We can see the strains now with the non-performing loans, in particular in Italy. Of course, we know the situation with the non-performing bank loans in Greece. Portugal is in bad shape as well in terms of non-performing loans, and now we see even institutions like [Germany’s] Deutsche Bank and others beginning to feel this strain, and the further impact on the European banking system of the “Brexit” [the departure of Great Britain from the European Union].

The problem is that the private banks are either hoarding the cash, they won’t invest in real growth, or they’re sending their money offshore to emerging markets, or they’re using it, as in the U.S., to buy back stock and pay out dividends and loaning money to companies to do just that. The global economy has changed dramatically in ways that make it much more fragile than ever before. A lot of debt has been building up everywhere: Over $50 trillion in additional debt has occurred since 2009, and when the next recession comes, how are they going to pay that debt?

When times are stable or growing, you can add debt without a great crisis emerging, but when you have a recession or a downturn that’s significant, where are you going to get the money capital to pay the principal and interest on the debt? Then you start seeing defaults and you start seeing financial asset price collapses going on, and now you’re back in 2008-2009. That’s the picture of the global economy.

A farmer tries to protect himself as he clashes with a riot policeman during an anti-government protest at central Syntagma square in Athens, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015. Greek farmers protesting over planned tax and pension reforms demanded by the country’s bailout creditors have clashed outside parliament with police, who used tear gas to disperse them. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

A farmer tries to protect himself as he clashes with a riot policeman during an anti-government protest at central Syntagma square in Athens, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015. Greek farmers protesting over planned tax and pension reforms demanded by the country’s bailout creditors have clashed outside parliament with police, who used tear gas to disperse them. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

MPN: What would be the steps for Greece to follow, in your view, in order to escape the spiral of economic depression and austerity?

JR: Syriza made it clear, when it came into power, that it was not in favor of “Grexit” [a Greek departure from the eurozone], and it has always maintained that position. An unprepared, “we’re leaving the eurozone and the euro” kind of decision would cause a collapse of values, particularly among those who have investments in some savings in Greece. To some extent, Syriza was caught between a rock and a hard place here. They couldn’t or didn’t want to advocate an exit, and at least those who had investments didn’t want it because of the potential effect on their investments. The broader Greek populace thinks, still, that to be European you have to be in the eurozone. That’s a big mistake.

I think what Greece and Syriza should have done is to create a parallel currency and to take over its banking system. In other words, make the banking system truly independent, including the Greek central bank, and if that was not possible, bypass the Greek central bank and set up a central banking function in the finance ministry, as the U.S. has done at different times. Create a parallel currency, and policies and programs to get people to convert their euros into the parallel currency. Maybe declare that henceforth all taxes to the Greek government will be paid with the parallel currency, and that means that people would then trade in their euros for the parallel currency to pay their taxes.

Then tell the troika [the EC, the ECB, and the IMF — collectively, Greece’s lenders] that we’re going to pay you in your euros, but if we run out of euros here as a result of the conversion, well, tough luck, we don’t have a way of paying you, let’s negotiate a final deal where you expunge some of it and we pay you off and we go our separate ways. Of course, you would have to create significant capital flow controls, which has always been a problem every time there’s been a crisis; the money flows out of Greece. Take the economy out of the control of the troika without a formal exit.

That could have been done, but for some reason Syriza and its finance advisers either didn’t want to do that or didn’t know how to do that.

MPN: Arguments that have been heard against a parallel currency include the claim that the existence of two currencies would create a situation where there would be “haves” and “have nots” — between those who would hold a stronger, hard currency, compared to those holding a weaker, devalued currency. How do you respond to this?

JR: There are policies and approaches you can take that entice and require people to convert their euros into the new currency. That would raise the demand and therefore the value, the price of the new currency. If you just had the currency and you didn’t have this forced trade-in, then of course you would have “haves” and “have nots,” the new currency would collapse, and pretty soon no one would want to use it. But, for example, saying that taxes could only be paid with the new currency, would force people who had corporations and businesses and so forth to purchase the new currency with the euro. It would undermine the value of the euro in Greece and it would raise the value of the new currency in Greece as well. That might set off a parallel elsewhere in the eurozone with other countries thinking the same thing, which would undermine the value of the euro and put the squeeze on the troika for once. Greece never put the squeeze on the troika, it was just the opposite in all of these negotiations that occurred, they never really hurt the troika in negotiations, and that’s the only way you prevail in negotiations. You’ve got to make it unpleasant for the opposition. Syriza never did that, they played along and made concession after concession.

Syriza thought that their example would strike a spark elsewhere in Europe of other social democratic forces and governments. They thought that they would get the rest of the social democracies behind them and together they would reform the eurozone. That was a fiction, a fantasy thought on the part of Alexis Tsipras and others, but that was the core of their whole strategy. European social democracy is a dying force, and that’s why you see the growth on the fringes, both to the right and the left.

Tsipras and [former Greek finance minister] Yanis Varoufakis’ problem was that they thought they could get all these elements behind them and that together they would have enough weight to force Schauble and other finance ministers to make concessions. Well, Schauble and the other ministers, the “German faction,” as I call it, within the finance ministers’ council in the EC, remained dominant. At every step along the way, whenever Syriza and its few allies tried to make a compromise where some concessions were made to them, the German faction squelched it. We saw that, for example, at the very end, when [Greece held] the referendum in July 2015. Greece held the vote, and the vote said “go back and negotiate a better deal for us,” and what did Tsipras do? He totally caved in to the Schauble faction, and then the Schauble faction said, “The offer we made last week is now off the table, you’re going to have to accept an even worse one.” So they put the screws to Syriza, and Syriza looked to its allies in the EC, and they totally caved in as well. Things just got worse and worse until you had the final [austerity] agreement on August 20, 2015.

It was a step-by-step retreat from [Syriza’s election in] January 2015, because Syriza had the wrong strategy and was not engaged in certain necessary tactics. Of course, the troika itself had a lot of cards to play. It would have been an uphill fight for Syriza. The time where they might have been able to strike some concessions from the troika was 2012, but New Democracy [the center-right party in power at the time in Greece] was totally in the pocket of the troika, so that was impossible.

[This past spring], the IMF and the troika were worried about “Brexit” and what impact that might have on renewing “Grexit.” So they put the screws to Greece again, raised the debt even more, austerity even more, and I think another round of that is coming, because the IMF wants out of the troika deal. We’ll see what happens at the IMF meeting, but they haven’t endorsed even the 2015 agreement because they know it’s unsustainable. I think the IMF is maneuvering to have the EC to buy its portion of the debt, and once that happens, the EC will demand even more austerity from Greece.

President of France Francois Hollande, U.S. President Barack Obama, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel attend the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) meeting at the G20 the G-20 leaders summit in Brisbane, Australia, Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014.

President of France Francois Hollande, U.S. President Barack Obama, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel attend the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) meeting at the G20 the G-20 leaders summit in Brisbane, Australia, Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014.

MPN: In the event that a parallel currency is implemented and steps are taken to maintain or strengthen its value, could that be a prelude to a switch to a national, domestic currency?

JR: Yes. At some point, one currency will become dominant. You can’t have two equal currencies like that. Another advantage of the new currency is that it will start out at less value than the euro, and that will be used as the trading currency. That will stimulate Greek exports to elsewhere, outside the eurozone.

Part of the problem is that the periphery in Europe is so dependent on exports and imports to Germany and the north, that it can’t really engage in its own independent export strategy without cutting wages. Throughout Europe, you have what’s called “internal devaluation,” when you are stuck with a currency and someone else’s central bank, the ECB and the euro. You can’t really engage in independent monetary policy to stimulate your economy and you can’t engage in lowering your currency in order to gain some advantage in exports. You’re stuck, and only the most powerful country that’s most efficient and has the lowest costs is able to take advantage of global exports, and that’s Germany. The weaker economies of the periphery will always be at a disadvantage to Germany when it comes to trying to push their exports anywhere else outside the eurozone.

That’s the lesson. The lesson is that you’ve got a 1999 agreement in which you have this quasi-central bank, the ECB, and you have [the euro], and that arrangement significantly benefits the most efficient, low-cost producer, which is Germany, at the expense of the periphery. Until you have a true central bank and fiscal union to some extent, that will pump the money into the periphery to help it grow when it doesn’t, you will always have the situation you have in Europe right now.

Compare that to the U.S., where there’s a fiscal union, so that if certain states have economic problems … the federal government can pump money into those specific locations. If you don’t have a true federal government and fiscal union, you can’t do that, and if your central bank is dominated by the largest economy — Germany — even the monetary policy has no effect. And if it’s a single currency, it’s to the advantage of the stronger economy at the disadvantage of the weaker.

The eurozone economy is structured to emphasize the growth of the strongest economies at the expense of the weaker, and that’s not going to change. It’s built into the eurozone. You cannot create a currency union and a customs union without a true banking union and fiscal union. More and more countries in the eurozone are beginning to come to that conclusion, but it was foreordained. Economists knew this from the beginning, and that’s the tragedy. Greece has tied its tail to the eurozone, dominated by Germany, and it can never get out of this situation as long as Germany dominates the institutions, which it does, because the whole arrangement is great for Germany.

A protesters carries a protest sign during a rally prior to the opening of the new European Central Bank (ECB) headquarter in Frankfurt, Germany, Wednesday, March 18, 2015. At least four police cars were set alight and two officers injured Wednesday as authorities confronted violent anti-austerity protesters ahead of the inauguration ceremony for the European Central Bank’s new headquarters (AP Photo/dpa, Arne Dedert)

A protesters carries a protest sign during a rally prior to the opening of the new European Central Bank (ECB) headquarter in Frankfurt, Germany, Wednesday, March 18, 2015. At least four police cars were set alight and two officers injured Wednesday as authorities confronted violent anti-austerity protesters ahead of the inauguration ceremony for the European Central Bank’s new headquarters (AP Photo/dpa, Arne Dedert)

MPN: Tell us about your most recent book, “Looting Greece.”

JR: It’s really a case study of the consequences of financialization and globalization and integration. I argue that there is this phenomenon of the smaller economies being tied into the larger economies through free trade agreements, which lead to currency unions, which lead to banking unions, and then you’ve got a situation like Greece and the euro periphery and the problems associated with that.

The book also takes a historical look at the origins of the Greek debt, that starts in 1999 with the [creation of the] eurozone, the adoption of the euro by Greece in 2002 and the consequences of that, how the debt developed, first in the private sector because of German export domination and then conversion of the private debt in 2008-2009 to the public debt, and then the collapse of 2008-2009, which added to the government debt. Then you had the 2012 agreement where the private sector was bailed out, and that added more debt, and then 2015 and so forth. All this is described in detail in the early chapters, and then most of the book is a step-by-step look at the negotiations between Syriza and the troika, from [Syriza’s January 2015 election] through the spring of 2016, and what were the strategic and tactical errors of Syriza and the strategic and tactical moves by the troika which enabled it to prevail.

At the end, [the book discusses] how this is a form of a new emerging financial and wealth extraction from smaller economies by the larger economies, because of the globalization and integration arrangement that exists, the emergence of financial extraction and financial exploitation, and how central banks are feeding that all. This will lead to my next book, which is about global central banks and the problems they’ve created as we move to another crisis, which I think is coming in the next five years.

Demonstrators dressed as clowns pass by a burning police car Wednesday, March 18, 2015 in Frankfurt, Germany. Blockupy activists try to blockade the new headquarters of the ECB to protest against government austerity and capitalism. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

Demonstrators dressed as clowns pass by a burning police car Wednesday, March 18, 2015 in Frankfurt, Germany. Blockupy activists try to blockade the new headquarters of the ECB to protest against government austerity and capitalism. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

 

 

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

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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 162015
 

Posted by greydogg, 99GetSmart

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Dear listeners and friends,

This week on Dialogos Radio, the Dialogos Interview Series will feature a timely interview with Bill Kalivas, a Greek-American aviation expert who is also leading an online campaign for additional nonstop routes to be added from the United States to Greece. Kalivas will speak to us about his campaign, as well as broader trends and issues pertaining to the airline industry in Greece and around the world, plus prospects for tourism in Greece.

In addition, in response to listener demand, this week we will air from the Dialogos Interview Series archives our interview with bestselling author John Perkins, author of “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.”

Finally, we will also air our commentary of the week segment, plus some great Greek music! Tune in for all this and more, exclusively this week on Dialogos Radio!

For more details and the full broadcast schedule for this week, visit http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=5605.

GreekTV.com features Dialogos Radio

Check out the recent feature of GreekTV.com on Dialogos Radio, including an interview with producer and host Michael Nevradakis, which was recently published! In this feature, Nevradakis discusses the history of Dialogos Radio and what inspired him to launch the program in 2010, the philosophy which guides Dialogos Radio’s programming, the use of new media and technological tools to expand the range of our broadcasts, and interesting moments from the show’s history.

Find this interview here: http://greektv.com/qa-with-michael-nevradakis/.

Best regards,

Dialogos Radio & Media

***********************

Αγαπητοί ακροατές και φίλοι,

Αυτή την εβδομάδα στην εκπομπή μας, θα παρουσιάσουμε μία ενδιαφέρουσα συνέντευξη με τον Ελληνοαμερικανό ειδικό για θέματα αεροπλοΐας και τουρισμού Bill Kalivas, ο οποίος θα μας μιλήσει για την διαδικτυακή πρωτοβουλία που έχει αναλάβει για να προγραμματιστούν περισσότερες απευθείας πτήσεις προς την Ελλάδα από τις ΗΠΑ, αλλά και για ευρύτερα θέματα που αφορούν την αεροπορική βιομηχανία και το τουρισμό.

Επίσης αυτή την εβδομάδα, θα μεταδώσουμε σε επανάληψη την συνέντευξη μας από το Νοέμβριο του 2013 με τον John Perkins, συγγραφέας του βιβλίου «Η Εξομολόγηση Ενός Οικονομικού Δολοφόνου».

Επιπλέον, θα μεταδώσουμε τον καθιερωμένο εβδομαδιαίο σχολιασμό μας. Όλα αυτά και πολλά άλλα, αυτή την εβδομάδα αποκλειστικά στο «Διάλογος».

Για περισσότερες πληροφορίες σχετικά με την εκπομπή, και το εβδομαδιαίο πρόγραμμα μεταδόσεων μας, μπείτε στο http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=5602

Παρουσίαση του «Διάλογος» στο GreekTV.com!

Διαβάστε την πρόσφατη συνέντευξη της ενημερωτικής ιστοσελίδας GreekTV.com που είναι αφιερωμένη στο «Διάλογος» και στον παραγωγό και παρουσιαστή της εκπομπής Μιχάλη Νευραδάκη! Σε αυτή τη συνέντευξη, ο Νευραδάκης μιλάει για την έμπνευση του να ξεκινήσει την εκπομπή το 2010, για την φιλοσοφία που οδηγεί την εκπομπή, την χρήση νέων τεχνολογιών για την μετάδοση και διάδοση των εκπομπών, και για ενδιαφέρουσες στιγμές από το παρελθόν της εκπομπής.

Βρείτε αυτή τη συνέντευξη (στα Αγγλικά) εδώ: http://greektv.com/qa-with-michael-nevradakis/.

Η συνέντευξη μας με την καθηγήτρια Déborah Berman-Santana για την κρίση στο Πουέρτο Ρίκο και της ομοιότητες της με την κρίση στην Ελλάδα, στο freepen.gr

Η πρόσφατη ραδιοφωνική μας συνέντευξη με την επίτιμη καθηγήτρια Déborah Berman-Santana του πανεπιστημίου Mills στην Καλιφόρνια για την κρίση χρέους που βιώνει το Πουέρτο Ρίκο και τις πολλές ομοιότητες με την Ελληνική οικονομική κρίση, έχει δημοσιευθεί στην Ελληνική ενημερωτική ιστοσελίδα freepen.gr!

Διαβάστε αυτή την εξαιρετικά ενδιαφέρουσα συνέντευξη εδώ: http://www.freepen.gr/2015/10/blog-post_969.html.

Φιλικά,

Διάλογος Radio & Media

Oct 082015
 

Posted by greydogg, 99GetSmart

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Dear listeners and friends,

This week on Dialogos Radio, the Dialogos Interview Series will feature an exclusive and timely interview that you will not want to miss, with Déborah Berman-Santana, recently-retired professor of geography and Ethnic Studies at Mills College in Oakland, California.

Berman-Santana, a native of Puerto Rico, spoke to us about the economic crisis which is impacting Puerto Rico at this time and the many similarities which exist in the crises that are currently being experienced by the two nations, including the similarities in which the crisis is being responded to on a political level, with the enforcement of harsh austerity measures, privatizations, and foreign technocrats. Furthermore, Berman-Santana will speak about the island’s colonial history and how the current crisis is deeply rooted in this history, how the people of Puerto Rico are responding, her thoughts on the current situation in Greece and her own interest in Greece and the Greek culture, including her current visit to Greece.

In addition to this interview, we will air our commentary of the week segment, plus some great Greek music and much more! Tune in this week, exclusively on Dialogos Radio!

For more information and this week’s full broadcast schedule, visit http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=5586.

Our Interview with Political Analyst Dimitri Lascaris Featured in Truthout

Dialogos Radio’s recent radio interview with journalist and political analyst Dimitri Lascaris of The Real News Network has been featured in Truthout! In this interview, Lascaris analyzes the results of the snap parliamentary elections held in Greece on September 20, the implications of these results for Greece, and he discusses his own candidacy in the upcoming Canadian parliamentary elections.

Find this interview online here: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/33108-democracy-no-longer-matters-in-the-eu-dimitri-lascaris-analyzes-the-greek-election-results.

Best,
Dialogos Radio & Media

Sep 182015
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Greek woman casts ballot in the 2014 electoral race in Thessaloniki, Greece, May 25, 2014. (Photo: Ververidis Vasilis / Shutterstock.com)

Greek woman casts ballot in the 2014 electoral race in Thessaloniki, Greece, May 25, 2014. (Photo: Ververidis Vasilis / Shutterstock.com)

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.