Archive | Greece

Responding to Hysteria: Anti-Refugee Sentiment on Greece’s Samos Island

NOVANEWS

Recently on Samos we have been experiencing one of those periodic spasms of anti-refugee sentiment. These spasms feel orchestrated and even if not coordinated involve a diverse range of actors. This particular spasm has been sparked by both the high number of new arrivals especially in September and the lack of any preparation to meet the autumn weather. All the refugee authorities use these moments to demand additional resources and powers; local business interests demand VAT reductions and other economic interventions because as ‘we all know’ the refugees have been devastating for tourism, the Mayor calls for meetings with government ministers and on it goes. And at the same time beyond Samos, we see the head of UNCHR warning of the calamity unfolding on the frontier islands as winter approaches as well as other reports highlighting the agony of the refugees on the islands. Add to this mix, Samos SOS, an anti-refugee group which has been intermittently active for many years and which relishes moments such as these as a means of mobilizing support.

Over the past few months Samos SOS has been taking its message of cleaning the island of refugees because of the threat they pose to the essential way of life on Samos out to the villages and small towns and not just simply staying in Samos town. It is necessary to understand that the refugees on Samos are located in just one small part of the island around the main town. Leave the town and it is rare to see any refugee. In the overwhelming part of Samos the refugees have no presence at all. Sadly it seems, Samos SOS have had some success in whipping up anti-refugee sentiment in places with no contact or awareness of the refugees.

Even so a major problem remains for Samos SOS namely that there is simply no evidence to support their hysterical claims such that Samos is in danger of being ‘islamicized’ or on the brink of widespread social unrest. It is a joke. Even in those villages where Samos SOS succeeded in gaining support it would be highly unlikely that any felt that their way of life was under threat or that they were about to become Muslim. Moreover, walk any day around Samos town and you will see refugees and locals go about their business in utter peace. The refugees don’t walk around as though they are in imminent danger neither does anyone else. You can even eat felafel in the main square now!

Samos SOS never acknowledges that the ‘refugee business’ is now probably the biggest single economic activity on the island sustaining in Samos town a diverse collection of hotels, bars, eating places, local mini markets, hire car companies, apartment rentals and so forth. Unlike tourism which lasts for 5 months in the year refugee monies flow throughout the year.

But this has not stopped Samos SOS which recently held a high profile public meeting in the central square of Samos town on Sunday October 22nd. From the photographs published a fair number of refugees were also present. Like Samos SOS they would love to leave the island at the earliest opportunity.

Samos SOS Meeting 22.10.2017 photo from My Samos Blog

One consequence of the meeting has been the publication of anAppeal to the islanders by a group of 23 ex mayors, prefects and councilors from across the island. This Appeal was published by My Samos Blog on October 29, 2017. Samos SOS delights in claiming that it speaks for the silent majority and that its truth is what is real. Appeals like this suggest otherwise.

We have translated it from the Greek as best we can. 

An Appeal for Calmness and Soberness in Dealing with the Refugee-Immigrant Problem

Our public intervention is happening today, because we find that in the local community of Samos with the excuse of the refugee crisis, some by their actions or by their omissions are driving things to uncontrollable situations, which trouble us and in addition will discredit and tarnish our island.

The refugee-migration issue is a major international problem that, if its causes are not addressed at world and international level (wars, poverty, exploitation, authoritarian regimes, climate change) it will not stop. Greece and especially the islands of the east Aegean, places in the passage from the East to the West will always be under pressure from migratory flows, as was the case in every other century.

The Joint Statement European Union -Turkey (March 2016) to address the refugee and immigration crisis, unfortunately has not been adequately met by Turkey (which is obliged to take any necessary measures to prevent illegal immigration from its territories to the EU), but neither by most EU countries who closed their borders and failed to meet the obligations they had assumed for proportionate participation in the management of the refugees.

So the islands of the Eastern Aegean were turned into a peculiar warehouse-zone on the border of Europe which sends the message that no refugee and migrant will go to the “Promised Land”, central and northern Europe, consolidating the image of an EU of xenophobia, extreme right radicalization and racist attitudes

Within this negative climate the Greek state with its services was called upon to face unprecedented situations and showed its inability to manage the refugee migratory wave in an effective manner, both with regard to identification and asylum procedures and to infrastructure hospitality and organized temporary residence with human and dignified conditions. All this has resulted in the presence of a large number of immigrant refugees on the islands as well as their particularly troublesome and miserable living conditions inside and outside of hotspots.

In the small communities of our islands this long-term stay of such a large number of refugees
-immigrants has logically created disruption and concern, despite the high degree of understanding and solidarity, which the islanders inexorably maintain and offer.

Here in Samos, from the great lessons in solidarity and humanity that Samos men and women gave in the summer of 2015 with the supporting of more than 120 thousand refugees-immigrants who were hosted for a while on our island, we passed last autumn with a small number of arrivals but also with numerous worrying SOS voices (‘Samos clean from refugees’).

However in the last period we have an overt attempt to create another, particularly negative and, in our opinion, worrying, climate. Samos SOS exploits the ineffective management by the EU, the government and the UN, of the refugee-immigrant with the encroaching on our island of several thousand uprooted people and the general economic hardship and fears about the Islamization of Samos, with mosques and plans with controlled “Turkish” minorities when none of the refugees in question are either Turks or want to stay in Samos.

Unfortunately, Samos SOS, operating systematically by exaggeration, misinterpret intentionally or unintentionally the real problems, they construct imaginative scenarios and spread conspiracy about Islamization of the islands and their gradual occupation by foreigners and heathens, resulting in creating and enhancing a climate of insecurity for citizens of an imminent gradual loss of national territories, with our race and religion at risk. In addition to their tours and gatherings in the capital and in villages with inflammatory reasons based largely on their political delirium they create conditions of polarization and social confrontation, which sometimes go beyond the limits and become insults, abuse and even assaults against every fellow citizen who dares to express a different or opposing view.

They are the ones who consciously or unconsciously rushed to choose “partners” in the ceaseless war, which regrettably rages for a long time between the two ranks of self-government of our country. In this civil war, beyond any wisdom and rationality, instead of reconciliation, they preferred polarization, and on the pretext of the “salvation” of our island, they prepare the ground and the connections for the next elections, with the support of dishonest means and the willingness of the system. Their wages are worthy.

Instead of putting the real problems facing the society of Samos, they are targeting the hapless refugee, as the one who brings all the suffering to the island and with stale arguments cause division of our fellow citizens and tarnish the image of a place where every home has experienced and has memories of refugees and immigration.

Fellow citizens

We appeal to all of you and especially to the citizens of the capital who raise the full burden of the crisis to calmly address the situation with the humanity, the logic, the measured sense and the solidarity that characterize us over time.

The real cause of poverty and our problems is not the refugee-immigrant, who crosses Samos with a destination in Europe, but the respective government policies, imposed by the European Union and the powerful of the earth.

We call on the government and personally the Prime Minister, Mr. Alexis Tsipras

For the immediate and continuous evacuation on a permanent basis of supernumerary refugees-immigrants from the islands of the eastern Aegean, under the responsibility of the competent services of the country, moving them to mainland Greece and with a final destination in accordance with European and international treaties.

For immediate and complete staffing of all necessary support structures and asylum services to ensure the dignified and healthy living of refugees-migrants (for as long as they stay on our island) and fast processing of identification and asylum requests, so as to move as soon as possible to the mainland.

For the immediate activation of a permanent inter-party committee of the Parliament, including MEPs, for management planning of the refugee-immigration issue under European and international law and UN principles, to monitor developments at local and supra-regional levels taking the necessary initiatives to further improve the existing agreements and the positive overall enlargement of the relevant institutional framework as well as for political and economic control of all bodies, public and private (NGOs etc), where they are involved in any way in this problem and its treatment.

For the freedom of our country and from war and for cooperation with all the peoples of the earth for world peace, solidarity and democracy.”

The text is signed by Apostolos Dimitrios, former president City Council of Pythagorio and 22 others.

Post Script

Coincidentally on the same day (29th October) Ekathimerini published an interview with Frans Timmermans one of the key figures in the EU Turkey Pact in which he praises the people of the frontier islands for their heroic efforts in helping refugees and yet condemns them and the refugees to remaining trapped on what are in effect prison islands.

“Migrants, he said, must stay on the islands, despite the difficulties, because their transfer to the mainland would send a wrong message and create a new wave of arrivals.”

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Unfolding Catastrophe: Mental Health Crisis of Refugees on the Greek Islands of Samos and Lesvos

“The war and violence they fled from, and harsh conditions and violence during the journey stand out as traumatic experiences for most of our patients on the islands. Yet it is their current living conditions in Greece – the uncertainty about their futures, the threat of deportation, and the lack of access to appropriate healthcare that they emphasise during consultations as negatively affecting their mental well-being.” p.9

Protracted asylum procedures putting people at risk of violence, detention and deportation: For over a year, our psychologists on Samos and Lesvos have witnessed how a lack of clarity, repeated delays and perceived unfairness in the asylum procedure on the islands are a major source of distress for our patients. More recently, they have also seen an increase in suicidal thoughts among our patients, many of whom have received second rejections on their asylum claims. They explain that the risk they face of detention and deportation causes them huge anxiety. p10

They told us we would be safe in Europe but I don’t feel safe. I am scared that if I receive a second rejection [on my asylum claim], the police will arrest me. […] Sometimes people come back from the police station with a broken arm or leg, and with their face swollen. My friend was pushed on the floor and they stepped on his head. 31-year-old man victim of torture from Syria, Samos, September 2017 p.6

In Samos, close to a quarter (23.1%) of people surveyed had experienced violence in Greece. Half of that violence was described as beatings, 45% of which was committed by the police or army. The survey found that people who had arrived on Samos after the EU-Turkey deal reported more violence in Greece than people on the mainland who had arrived in Greece before the deal. p.6  See full MSF Report, October 2017

Medicins Sans Frontières (MSF) at least on Samos has sometimes been disappointing. In particular it was too often silent and should have used its influence and been more outspoken about the in-competencies of so many who are paid to care for the refugees. So it is refreshing to see their latest report on the mental health emergency engulfing the refugees on Lesvos and Samos. These are 2 of the islands where MSF are especially active and have had a lengthy presence.

Without pulling punches MSF lays clear that refugees are being damaged and suffering unacceptable levels of stress by the way they are being treated and cared for on the islands. It is a system that is driving people mad. Anyone with even the merest contact with refugees on the island knows that they are being driven crazy. Waiting waiting for months. Little or no information. Promises never met. Dependent on often incompetent or overwhelmed officials. No control over anything in their lives. Boredom. Each month bringing further restrictions. Fear of deportation like an ever present shadow. Housing and food not fit for animals let alone refugees. What is stunning is not so much the mental health emergency discussed by MSF but the resilience and strength of so many that enables them to get through each day. Now that is stunning.

As MSF point out 96% of the refugees on these 2 islands in 2016 and 2017 had directly experienced war and violence prior to their arrival. Yet on arriving in Europe there is no healing embrace but a system that deepens and worsens their well being. Consequently what little mental health provision there is here is simply overwhelmed. People wait between 3 and 6 months to see a psychiatrist. The hospital on Lesvos takes no new referrals. Mild conditions rapidly become more severe as treatment is delayed and the grinding daily realities of refugee life on the islands corrode well being.

It is harrowing and incredibly disempowering to see the mental health status of the asylum seekers in Lesvos progressively getting worse. We do our best to help those that we can, but the situation they are in is so horrendous. We hear of 15 suicide attempts every month in Moria – it’s an unbearable situation”. MSF psychologist, Lesvos, September 2017 p.10

It is a responsibility of any organisation or individual working in the social domain to highlight and reveal emergencies. People have a right to know where, when and how policies are failing whatever the reason. It is a responsibility which has weakened in much of Europe as privatisation and neo liberalism has wiped out so many of the public services which once dominated the social domain of health and welfare. So it is refreshing to see MSF acting in this way.

BUT

It would be wonderful to see rapid changes and improvements made in the light of this and similar reports. As this report was being published the head of the UNHCR in Greece was expressing alarm at the deteriorating conditions on the islands and the lack of preparation for the coming winter. But experience, at least on Samos, tells us that this report, like so many others before, will have no impact and that nothing will change for the better as far as the refugees are concerned.

Instead, it will join the growing number of reports on the refugees which highlight the problems and cruelties and yet lead to no change. Why is this?

Like so many reports of this kind which do try and speak truth to power, those in power often know only too well what is happening under their control. They may even find some ofthe critical reports useful in highlighting particular stress points that need some attention. Very high levels of self harm and suicide attracts unwanted attention for example. So it might lead to some changes but the fundamental problems remain.

And the most damaging of these is that they don’t care about refugees as fellow human beings.

This fundamental truth is evident in virtually every aspect of official refugee policy and practice in Europe today. How can care and compassion flourish in a framework dominated by containment and deterrence? Vast chunks of the so called refugee aid are now spent on surveillance technologies and systems, border hardening, air and sea patrols, and a growing array of security personnel. The mental health emergency for refugees on Samos and Lesvos is not due to a shortage of resources but how those resources are spent.

As the years pass on Samos we are increasingly coming to the view that the authorities know and accept the massive anxieties and stress their policies produce and have come to embrace it as their main strategy of control. Reinforced it should be noted by arbitrary police punishments including administrative detention. On Samos it is common for the police to enter the containers early in the morning to remove so called trouble makers to the police cells as a punishment /warning. Firas a 17 year old boy from Syria told us that he had 2 nights in the cells because he spoke back to one of the police in the camp. And on Lesvos and Samos the police have launched mass pre-emptive raids in the camps over the past year involving hundreds of police to remind everyone who has the power.

For authorities concerned not to see the camps explode into chaos, the perpetual anxieties, insecurities, and fears of the refugees compounded by their dire physical environment and sheer lack of information as to their cases, works in their favour. It significantly weakens the refugees and drains their energies making them easier to manage. The impact varies amongst the refugees depending on their individual circumstances, and some are more resilient than others. Not all are being crushed by the experience but many feel caught in an ever tightening vice.

Other processes are also at work which individualise and hide what are collective concerns. Because no one knows why some refugees get processed more slowly than others, many feel that their delays are due to something they have done or said, something! but they don’t know what. And because you don’t know you keep your focus on your case. And of course you wait and wait. Hearing nothing and going slowly mad. Not surprisingly many turn their frustrations and anger inwards hurting themselves even more.

It is fair to assume that MSF would hope that its Report will encourage change and make things better for the refugees.

But for those in and with the power to do something? We doubt it will merit much attention and is even more unlikely to bring about any significant improvement.

Without a fundamental re-orientation towards humanity and compassion there can be little hope for change. What grounds do we have to believe that those responsible for constructing and managing such a self-evidently inhumane system can ever be trusted or expected to do something different? The current system is a violation of humanity.

This too is one of MSF’s conclusions, and can be found in endless official and semi official reports and inquiries into the refugees. It will for sure feature in future reports.

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Eurozone and Greece Are Preparing for Bailout Exit

NOVANEWS

A very important piece of news has passed almost unnoticed last week among crucial for the EU issues, like the situation with the rule of law in Poland, the election in Germany and what ruling coalition will be formed at a time when the eurozone is ready to make a giant leap forward in its integration, the going nowhere Brexit negotiations and the accelerated legislative activity of the European Commission. But the most important news last week was that Greece has exited the excessive deficit procedure, thus getting another step closer to the end of its third bailout programme.

The significance of the decision of the foreign and European affairs ministers of 25 September is huge if we recall that Greece was in the excessive deficit procedure for 8 years. In 2009, the Greek shortage in the budget was gigantic – 15.1% of gross domestic product. Last year, for the first time, the country registered a primary surplus (without the interest rates on loans) of 0.7%, much bigger than forecast. The European Commission projects a small deficit this year but it will be much below the 3% ceiling under the European fiscal rules.

Greece’s huge budget deficit and the manipulated statistical data marked the beginning of the euro area’s biggest crisis since the introduction of the single currency, a crisis that unleashed a domino effect and created a risk of a breakup of the currency club and even of the European Union. From the moment the Greek government requested financial assistance from its partners in the spring of 2010, Greece turned into a top priority for the EU and especially for the euro area. Hundreds of emergency meetings, sleepless nights, compromises unheard of, exchange of harsh words, billions of euros, snap elections, referenda, resignations, writing of tens of books is the balance from the Greek crisis, which is entering its last phase.

This year, undoubtedly, will remain in history as the first when the light in the end of the tunnel can finally be seen. The implementation of the third adjustment programme is on track. The biggest problem continues to be the disagreement between the euro area and the International Monetary Fund on the issue of the sustainability of the Greek public debt and that is the only condition for the financial involvement of the Fund in the third rescue package. The way things stand right now it is not even necessary but it does play the role of a bad cop at the moment to keep the direction and the dynamics of programme implementation. As EU Economic and Financial Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici (France, S&D) announced after the Eurogroup’s informal meeting in September in Estonia, the successful conclusion of the third bailout programme will be a signal that a very difficult chapter in the history of the eurozone is to be closed.

Work has already started on the third review of the third package, as the ambition is to complete it by the end of the year. Greece is expected to complete 95 measures linked to social benefits, labour market reform, reform of the public administration, implementation of the non-performing loans strategy, reform of the energy sector and privatisation. According to Pierre Moscovici, the tasks are not easy but their timely implementation will be a signal that Greece has returned as a full member of the euro area.

Is there life after the bailout programme?

This turning point was reached in June this year when a huge breakthrough has been reached – the Eurogroup made a much more specific commitment to Greece for the period after it exits the programme in August next year – for the price of compromises from both sides. Greece committed to maintain a primary budget surplus of 3.5% of its GDP by 2022, and after that a fiscal trajectory of around 2% of GDP from 2023 until 2060. The Eurogroup’s expectations are that Greece’s financial needs (to service debt) will remain below 15% of GDP in the mid-term and below 20% after that, which is a condition to keep the Greek public debt sustainable. The size of Greece’s debt in 2016 peaked at 179.0% of GDP.

In exchange for Athens’ good and responsible behaviour, the Eurogroup, which after the payment of the latest tranche of 8.5 bn euros in July is now the owner of 50% of Greece’s debt, committed to extend maturities on loans and to further reduce the interest rates of the first bailout programme, financed by the EFSF. In case there are deviations from the forecasts the Eurogroup stands ready to trigger a protection mechanism, the details of which will be elaborated after the successful completion of the programme, when it will be clearer whether forecasts are right.

George Chouliarakis, Alternate Minister of Finance and Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers of Greece, said after the June Eurogroup that for the first time there is clarity on Greece’s future after the end of the programme. The agreed debt relief package is three-layered, he explained. The first layer are the specific mid-term measures, the second is the mechanism that will be triggered in cases when economic growth is below expectations, and the third are the long-term debt relief measures.

Despite the agreement, IMF remained unhappy. At the same meeting on June 15 in Luxembourg, the Fund’s chief, Christine Lagarde, admitted that a lot had been achieved but it was still not enough to ensure the Fund’s involvement in the financial package. However, Mrs Lagarde demonstrated good will by committing that the IMF will set money aside which will be paid after the Fund’s requirements are met. In July, the IMF executive board approved a stand-by agreement of 1.6 bn euros, which will be paid when the Fund receives assurances from its European partners about the sustainability of Greece’s debt and if the economic programme is implemented. The IMF wants more to be done to relieve the Greek debt which the organisation still considers not sustainable.

Greece and the future of the euro area

It was German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble who mostly insisted on IMF’s involvement. This was his condition to sign the third adjustment programme. However, after the election in Germany he is now out of the game. This still does not mean that Berlin will completely lift its objections, but given the change of atmosphere in the euro area after the election of Emmanuel Macron for president of France, the focus has shifted on the deepening of the euro area integration. One of the ideas in the reflection paper the European Commission published in the spring is the creation of a European Monetary Fund. All bailout funds will be better integrated and expanded, which means that the bailout out of troubled economies in the euro area will remain an internal eurozone matter and there will be no need of an external organisation like the IMF.

For this to happen however, it is still important Greece to continue in the same spirit of constructivity, maturity and sobriety, which will restore trust between members of the currency club and will encourage them to get closer together. But Greece is still giving reasons for concern. At the September Eurogroup meeting, ministers expressed concern with the rule of law in Greece after the former chief of the Greek statistics office, Elstat, was sentenced to two years in prison on a charge of abuse of position. Andreas Georgiou was found guilty for not informing the board of directors of Elstat for his decision to revise the 2009 deficit data.

We fully respect the independence of the judicial system but we see also that these cases create reputation damage and could, if no solution is found, damage the return of the confidence among investors“, said Commissioner Moscovici. The president of the European Stability Mechanism (the permanent bailout fund of the euro area), Klaus Regling, also warned that the legal issues affect the financial markets. All this is happening at a time when the credit rating agencies have increased their expectations for Greece and also when he country has made a successful attempt to return on the market.

Until the third bailout programme is implemented, the IMF will continue to play the role of a life-belt, which will secure the eurozone more time to start the new integration wave. At the autumn EU summit in two weeks, it is expected that plans for the future of the euro area will be discussed in more detail, and the European Commission will present on December 6 the first legislative proposals. Unless there is some new political or economic cataclysm, the Greek story will remain in the past as that necessary evil which triggered the completion of the euro area, the very creation of which is a series of small steps and a lot of distrust among the member states.

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Update on Greek Debt Crises – Why Syriza Continues to Lose

NOVANEWS

This past August marked the second anniversary of the Greek debt crisis and the third major piling on of debt on Greece in August 2015 by the Eurozone ‘Troika’ of European Commission, European Central Bank, and the IMF. That 2015 third debt deal added $86 billion to the previous $230 billion imposed on Greece—all to be paid by various austerity measures squeezing Greek workers, taxpayers, retirees, and small businesses demanded by the Troika and their northern Euro bankers sitting behind it.

Studies by German academic institutions showed that more than 95% of the debt repayments by Greece to the Troika have ended up in Euro bankers’ hands.

But the third debt deal of August 2015, which extends another year to August 2018, was not the end. Every time a major multi-billion dollar interest payment from Greece was due to the Troika and their bankers, still more austerity was piled on the $83 billion August 2015 deal. The Troika forced Greece to introduce even more austerity in the summer of 2016, and again still more this past summer 2017, to pay for the deal.

Last month, August 2017, Syriza and its ‘rump’ leadership—-most of its militant elements were purged by Syriza’s leader, Alex Tsipras, following the August 2015 debt deal—-hailed as some kind of significant achievement that the private banks and markets were now willing to directly lend money to Greece once again. Instead of borrowing still more from the Troika—-i.e. the bankers representatives—-Greece now was able once again to borrow and owe still more to the private bankers instead. In other words, to pile on more private debt instead of Troika debt. To impose even more austerity in order to directly pay bankers, instead of indirectly pay their Troika friends. What an achievement!

Greece’s 2012 second debt deal borrowed $154 billion from the Troika, which Greece then had to pay, according to the debt terms, to the private bankers, hedge funds and speculators’ which had accumulated over preceding years and the first debt crisis of 2010. So the Troika simply fronted for the bankers and speculators in the 2nd and 3rd debt deals. Greece paid the Troika and it paid the bankers. But now, as of 2017, Syriza and Greece can indebt themselves once again directly to the bankers by borrowing from them in public markets. As the French say, everything changes but nothing changes!

What the Greek debt deals of 2010-2015, and the never-ending austerity, show is that supra-state institutions like the Troika function as debt collectors for the bankers and shadow bankers when the latter cannot successfully collect their debt payments on their own. This is the essence of the new, 21st century form of financial imperialism. New, emerging Supra-State institutions prefer weaker national governments to indebt themselves directly to the banks and squeeze their own populace with Austerity whenever they can to make the payments. The Supra-State may not be involved. But it will step in if necessary to play debt collector if and when popular governments get control of their governments and balk at onerous debt repayments. And in free trade currency zones and banking unions, like the Eurozone, that Supra-State role is becoming increasingly institutionalized and regularized. And as it does, forms of democracy in the associated weaker nation states become increasingly atrophied and eventually disappear.

Syriza came to power in January 2015 as one of those popularly elected governments intent on adjusting the terms of debt repayment. But after a tragic, comedy of errors negotiation effort, capitulated totally to the Troika’s negotiators after only seven months.

The capitulation by Syriza’s leader, Alex Tsipras, in July 2015 was doubly tragic in that he had just put to a vote to the Greek people a week beforehand whether to reject the Troika’s deal and its deeper austerity demands. And the Greek popular vote called for a rejection of the Troika’s terms and demands. But Tsipras and Syriza rejected their own supporters, not the Troika, and capitulated totally to the Troika’s terms.

The August 2015 3rd debt deal quickly thereafter signed by Syriza-Tsipras was so onerous—-and the Tsipras-Syriza treachery so odious—-that it left opposition and popular resistance temporarily immobilized. That of course was the Troika’s strategic objective. Together with Tsipras they then pushed through their $83 billion deal, while Tsipras simultaneously purged his own Syriza party to rid it of elements refusing to accept the deal. Polls showed at that time, in August-September 2015, that 70% of the Greek people opposed the deal and considered it even worse than the former two debt agreements of 2010 and 2012. Other polls showed 79% rejected Tsipras himself.

To remain in power, Tsipras immediately called new Parliamentary elections, blocking with the pro-Troika parties and against former Syriza dissidents, in order to push through the Troika’s $83 billion deal. This week, September 20, 2017 also marks the two year anniversary of that purge and election that solidified Troika and Euro banker control over the Syriza party—-a party that once dared to challenge it and the Eurozone’s neoliberal Supra-State regime.

The meteoric rise, capitulation, collapse, and aftermath ‘right-shift’ of Syriza raises fundamental questions and lessons still today. It raises questions about strategies of governments that make a social-democratic turn in response to popular uprisings, and then attempt to confront more powerful neoliberal capitalist regimes that retain control of their currencies, their banking systems, and their budgets–such as in the case of Greece. Even in the advanced capitalist economies, the message is smaller states beware of the integration within the larger capitalist states and economies–whether by free trade, central banking integration, budget consolidations, or common currencies. Democracy will soon become the victim in turn.

The following is an excerpt from the concluding chapter of this writer’s October 2016 book, ‘Looting Greece: A New Financial Imperialism Emerges’, Clarity Press, which questioned strategies that attempted to resurrect 20th century forms of social-democracy in the 21st century world of supra-State neoliberal regimes. It summarizes Syriza’s ‘fundamental error’—a naïve belief that elements of European social democracy would rally around it and together they—i.e. resurgent social democracy and Syriza Greece—would successfully outmaneuver the German-banker-Troika dominated Euro neoliberal regime that solidified its power with the 1999 Euro currency reforms.

Syriza and Tsipras continue to employ the same error, it appears, hoping to be rescued by other Euro regime leaders instead of relying on the Greek people. Tsipras-Syriza recently invited the new banker-president of France, Emmanuel Macron, who this past month visited Athens. Their meeting suggests Tsipras and the rump Syriza still don’t understand why they were so thoroughly defeated by the Troika in 2015, and have been consistently pushed even further into austerity and retreat over the past two years.

But perhaps it no longer matters. Polls show Tsipras and the rump Syriza trailing their political opponents by more than two to one in elections set to occur in 2018.

EXCERPT from ‘Looting Greece’, Chapter 10, ‘Why the Troika Prevailed’.

Syriza’s Fundamental Error

To have succeeded in negotiations with the Troika, Syriza would have had to achieve one or more of the following— expand the space for fiscal spending on its domestic economy, end the dominance and control of the ECB by the German coalition, restore Greece’s central bank independence from the ECB, or end the control of its own Greek private banking system from northern Europe core banks. None of these objectives could have been achieved by Syriza alone. Syriza’s grand error, however, was to think that it could rally the remnants of European social democracy to its side and support and together have achieved these goals—especially the expanding of space for domestic fiscal investment. It was Syriza’s fundamental strategic miscalculation to think it could rally this support and thereby create an effective counter to the German coalition’s dominant influence within the Troika.

Syriza went into the fight with the Troika with a Greek central bank that was the appendage, even agent, of the ECB in Greece, and with a private banking system in Greece that was primarily an extension of Euro banks outside Greece. Syriza struggled to create some space for fiscal stimulus within the Troika imposed debt deal, but it was thoroughly rebuffed by the Troika in that effort. It sought to launch a new policy throughout the Eurozone targeting fiscal investment, from which it might benefit as well. But just as the ECB was thwarted by German-core northern Euro alliance countries, the German coalition also successfully prevented efforts to promote fiscal stimulus by the EC as well. The Troika-German coalition had been, and continues to be, successful in preventing even much stronger members states in France and Italy from exceeding Eurozone fiscal stimulus rules. The dominant Troika German faction was not about to let Greece prevail and restore fiscal stimulus, therefore, when France and Italy were not. Greece was not only blocked from launching a Euro-wide fiscal investment spending policy; it was forced to introduce ‘reverse fiscal spending’ in the form of austerity.

Syriza’s insistence on remaining in the Euro system meant Grexit was never an option. That in turn meant Greece would not have an independent central bank providing liquidity when needed to its banking system. With ECB control over the currency and therefore liquidity, the ECB could reduce or turn on or off the money flow to Greece’s central bank and thus its entire private banking system at will—which it did repeatedly at key moments during the 2015 debt crisis to influence negotiations.

As one member of the Syriza party’s central committee reflected on the weeks leading up to the July 5 capitulation,

“The European Central Bank had already begun to carry out its threats, closing down the country’s banking system”.

The ECB had actually begun turning the economic screws on Syriza well before the final weeks preceding the referendum: It refused to release interest on Greek bonds it owed under the old debt agreement to Greece from the outset of negotiations. It refused to accept Greek government bonds as collateral necessary for Greek central bank support of Greece’s private banks. It doled out Emergency Lending Assistance, ELA, funds in amounts just enough to keep Greek banks from imploding from March to June and constantly threatened to withhold those same ELA funds when Troika negotiators periodically demanded more austerity concessions from Greece. And it pressured Greece not to impose meaningful controls on bank withdrawals and capital flight during negotiations, even as those withdrawals and money flowing out of the country was creating a slow motion train wreck of the banking system itself. The ECB, in other words, was engineering a staged collapse of Greece’s banking system, and yet Syriza refused to implement any possible policy or strategy for preventing or impeding it.

Posted in GreeceComments Off on Update on Greek Debt Crises – Why Syriza Continues to Lose

Could Greece Really Turn the Page?

NOVANEWS

Will Greece manage to complete its bailout programme this time? This is the question that is hovering in the air after on April 7 the Eurogroup agreed in principle on the fiscal and reformist path of Greece after the programme expires next year. Since February, the Greek news from the meetings of finance ministers of the euro area have been creating expectations that this time there might be a breakthrough, after last autumn’s stall of the implementation of the third rescue programme, agreed on in August 2015 to an amount of 86 billion euro. Details on what was agreed on last Friday are scarce as the deal has not yet been “dressed” in a written agreement. This will happen when representatives of the institutions (formerly the Troika) return to Athens, and this, according to the Ekathimerini newspaper, is expected to happen in late April.

Eurogroup boss Jeroen Dijsselbloem (Netherlands, Socialists and Democrats) said at a press conference after the meeting on Friday that a reform package worth 2% of GDP was agreed on, which refers to the period after the completion of the programme in 2018. The Greek government is committed to reduce government spending by 1% of GDP in 2019, the main focus being on the pension system. The pension reform, which includes reduction of pensions, eliminating benefits, and increasing retirement age, is one of the two most problematic issues in the current Greece bailout programme. In 2020 the government will have to cut another 1% of GDP costs, this time the focus being on personal income tax.

Time for dessert

When representatives of the institutions and the Greek government sign the agreement, that would also clear the way for the “reward” for Greece’s serious reform efforts, and that is starting talks on a debt relief. Jeroen Dijsselbloem stated that the biggest hurdles have already been overcome and the Eurogroup will be able to deal with the medium-term fiscal path for the period after the end of the programme as well as the sustainability of debt. The two things are inextricably linked and there is still no agreement on them between the euro area and the International Monetary Fund. IMF and Brussels differ significantly in their understanding of the results of Greece’s bailout programme on the sustainability of its public debt and what fiscal path should be followed in the medium term to allow the debt to be sustainable and to move towards its reduction.

These differences are the reason the IMF has not yet participated in the programme. Based on his own analysis, the Fund believes that the set targets to generate a primary budget surplus (excluding payments on loans) from 1.75% this year, 3.5% next year, and 3.5% in the medium term are not realistic in order to lead to debt sustainability. Furthermore, the Fund believes that it can not be expected of Greece to maintain high primary budget surpluses (averaging 3.5%) for too long after the closing of the programme, and therefore demands that debt relief is agreed on. There is agreement on this maturing in the euro area already, but the question remains what form will this debt relief have.

EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici (France, Socialists & Democrats) stated that Greece has achieved a surprising primary budget surplus of 3% last year, which was at least 6 times greater than the objective. This year, Greece is expected to reach 1.75% budget surplus and 3.5% next year. Earlier, during a debate in the European Parliament on the Greek rescue programme Mr Moscovici acknowledged that this goal cannot be pursued too long. “It is not democratic”, he said. However, he stressed the need for Greece to record primary surpluses over the medium term. “We’ve been saying for a long time that a more realistic budgetary surplus target is necessary after the programme. We will not get reasonable market lending otherwise”, he remarked, but did not say how large these surpluses need to be.

He added that Greece has surprised everyone with its economic performance last year. According to the winter forecast of the European Commission, economic growth in Greece was 0.3% in 2016 and is expected to be 2.7% this year. Pierre Moscovici expressed confidence in front of the MEPs that due to significant reforms and good economic performance, Greece will manage to turn the page. So far, more than 200 measures have been adopted since the start of the programme, which is a huge effort. Benoît Cœuré, a member of the executive board of the European Central Bank, said the deal signed on Friday gives grounds to starting talks on the sustainability of the Greek debt, which means also negotiating debt relief. He stressed that time is of the essence.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem also agreed with this, saying there have already been too many delays. “The Greek economy in the 1st half of last year was picking up and that momentum is slipping away from us. So, we really need to work fast and have it done certainly well in time for the next payments”, said the head of the Eurogroup. The next tranche under the programme must be paid in July. The biggest obstacle on the subject of the Greek debt is Germany. The position of Chancellor Angela Merkel is against debt write-off. This will  be one of the main topics of discussion in Berlin on Tuesday (April 11)between her and the head of the IMF Christine Lagarde. The outcome of these discussions and Germany’s decision is hanging to a great extent on the parliamentary elections this fall. Mrs Merkel’s government is seriously threatened by the emergence of a new candidate of the Social Democrats – former head of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, who has always supported the write-off of Greek debt, but the theme is toxic to German society.

Greece is no longer so important

Whether because the end to the Greek saga is now in sight, or because eight years are too long, but the boss of the European Stability Mechanism (the euro area’s permanent bailout fund), Klaus Regling, made a surprise statement at the press conference following the Eurogroup on 7 April. Usually, after Eurogroup meetings, he explains how much money has been allocated so far to Greece and sends messages to the Greek government to adhere to its commitments. This time, however, he reacted in an unusual manner. Instead of starting with Greece, especially after it became clear that an important agreement has been reached, he spoke about how important the other two topics on the agenda of the meeting of finance ministers of the euro area were – how to boost investment and how to improve the functioning of the banking system.

In his words, these two topics are essential for the long-term functioning of the euro area. “But, of course, Greece is important. We tend to talk about primary surpluses these days, but I think in other countries people look more at the overall fiscal balance”, he said at a joint press conference in Malta.

For the scalp of Jeroen Dijsselbloem

Elections in the Netherlands forced over the last few weeks the discussion about a successor to Eurogroup Chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem. This was also one of the main journalists’ questions at the March Eurogroup, which took place in late March. Back then, the mood was one of full support for Mr Dijsselbloem and confidence that not only will he finish his term (which expires in January), but it is possible that he wins a second term. For the two weeks between the March and the April meetings of the Eurogroup many things have changed. The first is that the Labour Party (PvdA), of which Jeroen Dijsselbloem is a member, lost the elections catastrophically. That was the biggest piece of news from the vote in the Netherlands in late March. The party lost 29 seats and is left with only nine members or parliament, which makes the remaining of Mr Jeroen Dijsselbloem as minister of finance unlikely.

The second change came because of Dijsselbloem himself, who undermined his already slim chances of staying in office. In an interview with the German financial daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, he used words that sparked a huge scandal in the southern periphery of the euro area. According to him, one cannot spend their money on alcohol and women and then expect solidarity. Besides from some southern capitals, sharp reactions also came from the European Parliament. Its President Antonio Tajani (EPP, Italy) and a group of MEPs condemned the remarks and demanded that Dijsselbloem attends a hearing in plenary. The Dutch finance minister refused attendance by pointing out that the date (April 4) is busy in his calendar. He also recalled that he was quite recently interviewed in the economic committee of the European Parliament.

During the otherwise filled with populist rhetoric discussion, in which specific comments on the parameters of the Greece bailout programme and the country’s future after the end of it were sporadic, MEPs condemned the statement of the head of the Eurogroup and demanded an apology. A few days later, during the meeting of euro area finance ministers in Malta, Jeroen Dijsselbloem apologised to his colleagues as well. He said he himself had raised the question and expressed regret for his choice of words, repeating that he had no intention of offending anyone. He stressed, however, that in order to have solidarity, it is important to respect the arrangements and promises. “The choice of words has regretfully caused pain for people and that ,of course, I regret very much”.

In his words, no discussion followed and nobody asked for his resignation. It is not clear so far whether Jeroen Dijsselbloem  is going to finish his term in office.  It depends on the duration of negotiations on forming a new government in the Netherlands, since the rules of the Eurogroup state that its leader must be a minister in office. It is possible there will be a gap between negotiations and the end of his term (January), but  it is still not clear how it will be filled. In March, some of his colleagues said that this is the preferred option, namely because of Greece, as Mr Dijsselbloem is far too familiar with the Greek dossier. The appearance of someone, who has yet to get acquainted with the situation in detail, particularly in a key moment for the programme, is not to the taste of some of the ministers.

Dijsselbloem himself said in response to a journalist’s question, that he did not intend to break the tradition of careful selection and preparation of his successor. Ultimately, the post is not reserved for the minister of finance of the Netherlands. There are candidates for his seat already, the most prominent of whom is Spanish Finance Minister Luis de Guindos, who hoped last time to get the job, but lost it to Jeroen Dijsselbloem. The other candidate is Slovak Finance Minister Peter Kažimír. Other names are also mentioned. None of the Eurogroup ministers wished to comment on the topic of Jeroen Dijsselbloem’s resignation before or after the meeting of the Eurogroup, except Austrian Hans Jörg Schelling, who answered a question whether Jeroen Dijsselbloem should resign with a laconic “no”.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in GreeceComments Off on Could Greece Really Turn the Page?

Open Letter to the People of Greece: You Are Being Slaughtered before the World’s Eyes

NOVANEWS
 
greece-flag

Dearest and Esteemed People of Greece,

You are being slaughtered right in front of the world’s eyes and nobody says beep. Least the Greek elite. Your Government. A few, but a few too many, allow the slaughter because it doesn’t concern them. They are blinded by the false glamour of the euro and of belonging to the ‘elite class’ of the noble Europeans (sic!).

They apparently live well enough, including the caviar socialists of Syriza. They let their country bleed to death literally, morally, socially and psychologically. Medical care is no longer available or privatized and unaffordable. Pensions were reduced five times. They were never more than a survival kit. By now they have been slashed in some cases by over 50%. Hordes of people live on food handouts. Most social services, including to a large extent education have been sold out, privatized. Gone with a flicker. Gone, by order of Germany – and the holy troika – the criminal gang of three, IMF, European Central Bank (EIB) and the European Commission (EU); the latter a mere bunch of unelected corrupt puppets, deciding the fate of some 800 million Europeans – with YOU, the Greek people, accepting carrying the brunt end of the stick.

In September 2016, the unelected European Commission sent Greece a Brussels-drafted legislation of over 2,000 pages, in English, to be ratified by the Greek Parliament within a few days – or else. – Nobody asked: ‘What is else’?

Brussels didn’t even bother translating this unreadable legalistic heap of paper into Greek, nor did they allow the Parliament enough time to read, digest and debate the new fiscal legislation. Most parliamentarians could not read them, either because of language or due to the imposed time limit. The Parliament ratified the legislation anyway.

Under this new law, Greece is transferring all public assets (public infrastructure, airports, ports even public beaches, natural resources, etc.), unconditionally, for 99 years, to the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) which is free to sell (privatize) them at fire sales prices to whomever is interested – supposedly to pay back the Greek debt. The fund was originally estimated, certainly under-estimated – at about 50 billion euros. In the meantime, the value of the Greek assets has been further downgraded by the troika to between 5 and 15 billion euros, as compared to Greece’s debt of more than 350 billion euros. The ESM is a supranational undemocratic apparatus, accountable to no one.

With this legislation, the Greek Parliament – YOUR Parliament, Esteemed People of Greece! – has annulled itself. It is no longer allowed to pass any budget or fiscal (tax) legislation. Everything is decided in Brussels in connivance with the IMF and the ECB. The last time a similar situation happened was in 1933, when the German “Reichstag” (Parliament) transferred all of its legislative power to Chancellor Adolf Hitler.

This, Dear People of Greece – is sheer economic fascism, right in front of your eyes, the world’s eyes, but nobody wants to see it. The worst blind is the one who doesn’t want to see.

This asset seizure was confirmed when the last hope for at least some debt relief was dashed at the end of February this year. Even the IMF initially recommended and today still privately recommends debt relief. However, Germany without mercy announced the final pillage of Greece, requesting Greece to surrender gold, utilities and real estate to the ESM – largely managed by Germany. The next ‘bailout’ amount, if Greece goes to her knees and surrenders everything, might be 86 billion euros, meaning NEW DEBT. In exchange of what? More interest, a higher debt service (interest and debt amortization) — and an even bleaker outlook to ever, and I mean ever, getting out of this US-European fascism imposed process of killing of a nation.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is reported to have said, “Berlin’s stance on Greece’s bailout program remained unchanged”, after she met with IMF chief Christine Lagarde a few days ago (http://russia-insider.com/en/greece-surrender-gold-public-utilities-and-real-estate-exchange-pieces-paper-printed-brussels).

Some facts about Greece’s debt, as of 9 March 2017:

 

Population 10.8 million.

Debt: 352 billion euros (interest per second: 617 euros; debt per citizen: 32,580 euros).

Interest per year: 19.5 billion euros.

Total Greek bailout funds from 2010 to end 2016: in excess of 250 billion euros – none of which went to Greece for the benefit of the people, but to pay debt service to the troika and pay off mostly German and French private banks.

Debt as a percentage of GDP: 181% (GDP 195 billion euros);
2008 Debt to GDP: 109% (less than today’s US debt to GDP ratio of 109.63%).

Greece’s GDP amounts to less than 2% of EU’s GDP.

Greek GDP has collapsed by more than 25% since 2008.

Unemployment is rampant – with an average of 26% – and close to 50% for young people (18 to 35).

Greece’s debt in 2008 would have been totally manageable internally, without outside interference, or so-called ‘bailouts’ – which are really not bailouts but forced debt accumulation.

Greece’s debt was NEVER a threat to the European Union, as the FED / ECB / WS bankster propaganda made you believe. The Greek and subsequent “European Crisis” was entirely fabricated by the banksters for their benefit, at the detriment of Greece and Europe. It had nothing to do with the Greek or European debt. But nobody questioned it. Those European and international top economists and politicians who knew, didn’t dare to speak out. The voices of those who did dare to speak the truth were muffled. The people of Europe were lied to, including the Greek, as usual by the presstitute media.

Let’s put the Greek debt in perspective.

In September 2011, without warning, the Swiss National Bank (SNB) devalued the Swiss franc by about 12% against the euro to protect its economy. This was an unfair move – to say the least, since none of the euro-zone bound countries has the liberty to re-or devalue its currency, as deemed necessary by their economy, i.e. Greece. While Switzerland is not a direct member of the EU, Switzerland is nevertheless bound to the EU by more than 120 bilateral contracts, thereby de facto a EU member.

During the 3 ¼ years of locking the exchange rate into a fixed rate of at least CHF 1.20 per euro, the SNB amassed more than 500 billion francs in extra foreign currency, mostly in euro. This is about 150% of Greece’s current debt.

Switzerland, a country of 8 million people, in theory, could bail out Greece’s full debt, say, at no interest, by a 50-year loan (World Bank IDA terms) – in solidarity; and to compensate a bit for the SNB’s questionable ethics vis-à-vis EU members. Switzerland would not suffer. To the contrary, such a move would help stem the risk of a Swiss currency inflation, due to the huge amounts of Swiss francs that needed to be ‘printed’ to maintain the artificial exchange rate against the euro. Would Switzerland be prepared to engage in such a solidary rescue action? –Probably not.

People of Greece! – Wake up.

Take things in your own hands! Don’t believe you politicians, your media! Get out of this criminal organization called the European Union, and this fraudulent western monetary system that is strangling you to death. Take back your sovereignty, your own currency. Default on your debt – the west can do nothing about it. Not if you run your country with your own public banks, and your own money, gradually but surely rebuilding a destroyed economy. Debt repayment is negotiable. Cases abound around the world. Argentina is one of the more recent ones. Even Germany renegotiated its foreign debt in 1952 (see London Agreement of German External Debt).

 

Germany, the leader of this economic massacre of Greece, owes Greece huge WWII reparation payments. On 8 February 2015, PM Tsipras requested Germany to pay up her full reparation debt to Greece of an equivalent of 279 billion euros, in today’s terms. Germany replied in April 2015 that the reparation issue was resolved in 1990 – which, of course, it wasn’t. It cannot be excluded that much of the German pressure on Greece today is a means of deviating the world’s attention of the reparation debt Germany owes to Greece.

People of Greece, be aware of what is going on. Do NOT ACCEPT what your government, Brussels and the troika are doing to YOU and YOUR country. To the contrary, request the full reparation payment from Germany – and demand GREXIT, as a fully legitimate follow-up to YOUR July 2015 overwhelming NO vote to more austerity-imposing troika ‘rescue’ packages.

If you do, you will soon see the light at the end of the tunnel — a light that has been blacked-out for too long by Germany and the gangsters of the troika and your own government.

Threats of Expulsion from the Euro Zone

German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble still is attempting bluffing the Greeks and impressing the rest of the world by threatening Greece with expulsion from the Euro. Any sane government would turn that threat into its own initiative and abandon this putrefied monster called European Union, along with its fake and fraudulent common currency, called euro. But that’s the problem, Greece is reigned by insanity.

So, the Greek Government responds to insanity (from the troika) with insane submissiveness, namely with meek compliance – to the detriment of millions of their already deprived and enslaved compatriots.
Among those (still) influential Greek highflyers is Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis; the legendary and charming, ‘radical’, Motorcycle Minister. Though he resigned in apparent protest of the Syriza compliance with the troika’s requests despite the NO vote, today he is nothing more than a conformist, who is seeking few nominal ‘reforms’ in Brussels, but by no means wants Grexit, let alone the collapse of the EU – which, by the way, is fortunately imminent. As Greek Minister of Finance, Varoufakis never even had the ‘Option Grexit’ as a Plan ‘B’

(http://www.defenddemocracy.press/greece-disaster-capitulation/).

Nobody screams, yells, revolts, takes to the streets, blocks streets, bridges, railways, for days, weeks, interrupts the still ongoing commerce of the foreign owners of what’s left of YOUR country’s public assets. Nobody. This is not to blame the Greek who have to fight for sheer survival, who have to find ways to feed their kids and families, but the j’accuse goes to the Tsipras- Syriza clan and all those Greek elitists, the media (are they all bought like in Germany by the CIA?) and parliamentarians, who just watch in awe – but stand by. No action. Watching Greece – YOUR country, People of Greece! – bleeding to death.

Be aware, this is in fact not about debt and bailouts. If they tell you that the European ‘debt crisis’ is Greece’s fault, and that a new crisis is brewing, depending on how well Greece will conform to the rules of the next bail out – it is an outrageous lie. This crisis is manufactured by the very European, their elite, the FED-led Goldman Sachse’s of this world, who run the European Central Bank through Mario Draghi, a former GS executive – who de facto runs the European economy.

Why do they want Greece under their boots? – They, the scum of Brussels and ‘swamp’ of Washington (as President Trump used to call the Washington Deep State ‘establishment’), want a submissive Greece. Because Greece is in a highly strategic geographic location, at the cross-roads of west and east. Greece is a NATO country. Maybe the second most important NATO country (after Turkey), because of its strategic position. They don’t want Greece to be run by a ‘left-wing’ government. Syriza, of course, is everything but left-wing. It is as neoliberal as they come. The masters of the universe want ‘Regime Change’ – the good old regime change that threatens all those who do not bend to the rules of the west. Right now, the Syriza government is bending backwards over to please the money masters and to let her people be miserably humiliated and ruined.

Were Greece to hold new elections and let a right-wing party and Prime Minister win, à la New Democracy or even the fascist Golden Dawn, or a coalition of the two – the debt problem would go away, almost overnight. What Washington wants, and Brussels by (puppet) extension, is a compliant Greece that will never ever question its role in NATO, never question the EU, never question its shackles to the euro, and never question the US access to the Mediterranean Sea – rich in deep off-shore minerals and hydrocarbons. The same applies, by the way, also to Italy, Spain and Portugal – also riparian states of the Mediterranean Sea. Their governments have already been changed by outside (US / EU) interference to right-wing neoliberal compliant stooges.

The Greek elite and government inaction is inexcusable. This is Stockholm syndrome at its worst. Submissive to their hangman, until death do us part. And death in the form of total destruction, total pillage, total slavery, is not far away.

Do you, People of Greece, want to continue this path to slavery by a predatory empire, that will eventually call the shots on every move you make?

Or do you want to get your sovereignty back, your own currency – and be unshackled from the dictate of Brussels – and start afresh – as the noble and wise Greek people, who brought Democracy to the world some 2500 years ago? – Surely, Greece still has visionaries and the wisdom to remake Democracy. Remember, while we cannot change our geographic location – the future is irrefutably in the EAST.

Let’s live again Greece!

Long live the People of Greece!

Posted in GreeceComments Off on Open Letter to the People of Greece: You Are Being Slaughtered before the World’s Eyes

Power to the People: Ten Proposals to Avoid a Repetition of Greece’s Capitulation to The Financial Elites

NOVANEWS
 
Greek-bank

I propose ten measures for the people’s seizure of power, ascertaining that the experience of the Greek capitulation of 2015 is not revisited. |1|

The first proposal: a left-wing government must disobey the European Commission (EC) in a very transparent manner with prior announcements. The party, or the coalition of parties which claims to govern, and of course I take the example of Spain, should refuse to obey the austerity measures from the outset, and pledge to refuse the balanced budget. They should announce: “We will not yield to the European treaties’ diktat to accept a balanced budget” because we want to increase public expenditure for fighting anti-social and austerity measures and embarking on the ecological transition. Therefore, the first step is to start defying in a clear and determined way. I believe that the Greek capitulation has shown us why we must shed the illusion that the EC and other European governments respect popular will. This illusion can only lead to disaster. We must disobey.

Second proposal: Resolve to appeal for popular mobilisations, both at the national and the European levels. In 2015 , this initiative was unsuccessful in Greece. It is obvious that the European social movements did not achieve great success in mobilising, which did take place but, not with enough solidarity for the Greek people. However, it is also true that Syriza’s strategy did not include appeals for popular mobilisations in Europe, or even in Greece. And when they did call for mobilisations by means of the referendum of July 5, 2015, scant respect was shown for the popular will of 61.5% of the Greeks who refused to obey the creditors’ demands.

Third proposal: Resolve to launch a debt audit with citizens’ participation. I would like to see this audit conducted alongside the suspension of debt repayments. The situations in 28 EU countries are diverse. In some European countries, it is a matter of utmost necessity and priority to suspend debt repayments, as is the case of Greece, and as would be the case with Portugal and Cyprus. As for Spain, we would have to see. In other countries, it is possible to carry out the audit first and then decide on the suspension of repayments. The specific situation of each country must be weighed before implementing these measures.

Fourth proposal: Implement capital controls and think through what it means. It does not mean that citizens have to be disallowed from transferring a few hundred Euros abroad. Obviously international financial transactions would be allowed up to a certain amount. On the other hand, it is important to enforce strict control over capital flow beyond a certain limit of transfers.

Fifth proposal: Socialize the financial sector and the energy sector. I believe that socialising the financial sector does not merely imply developing a public banking hub. It implies decreeing a public monopoly on the financial sector, i.e. banks and insurance companies: a socialisation of the financial sector under the citizens’ control. That is, transforming the financial sector into a public service sector. |2| During the ecological transition, definitely the socialisation of the energy sector will also remain a priority. Ecological transition cannot take place without a public monopoly over the energy sector, both in terms of production and distribution.

Sixth Proposal: Create a complementary, non-convertible currency. Whether it is a case of exiting the Eurozone or remaining in it, it is necessary to create a non-convertible complementary currency. In other words, a currency that allows, local transactions, to trade within the country. For example, for paying increased pensions, salary increases for civil servants, taxes, public services etc. The use of a complementary currency enables a partial getaway from the dictatorship of the Euro and the European Central Bank. Of course, we cannot avoid the debate on the Eurozone. I think that in several countries, exit from the Eurozone is an option that must be defended, along with parties and trade unions. Several Eurozone countries will not be able to truly break away from austerity and launch an eco-socialist transition without leaving the Eurozone. I believe that a redistributive monetary reform will be necessary in the case of an exit. What does that mean? This means decreeing, for example, that the exchange rate would be 1 Euro per 100 pesetas up to 200,000 Euros in cash. But above 200,000, the exchange rate would be 1.5 Euros for 100 pesetas. At an even higher level, it would be 2 Euros. Beyond 500, 000, ten Euros will fetch 100 pesetas. This implies a redistributive monetary reform. This reduces the cash in circulation and redistributes household liquid assets. And of course, this dissolves some of the liquid assets of the richest 1%. 30% of the population, the less wealthy, have debts, not liquid assets. Possibly, they have some wealth in terms of houses (mortgaged or not), but this section of the population does not have any net liquid assets.

Seventh proposal: Of course, a radical tax reform. Remove VAT on basic consumer goods and services, such as food, electricity and water, and other basic necessities. On the other hand, increase VAT on luxury goods and services, etc. We also need to increase the taxes on the profits of private companies and the incomes above a certain level. In other words, a progressive tax on income and wealth.

Eighth proposal: Renationalisations. “Buy back” privatised companies with a symbolic Euro. Thus, from this angle, paying a symbolic Euro to those who have benefited from privatisations would be a very nice gesture. Strengthen and extend public services under citizen control.

Ninth proposal: Reduce working hours keeping income intact. Revoke anti-social laws and introduce laws to resolve the situation of abusive mortgage debt. This could well be fixed legally, without resorting to lawsuits (since there are many lawsuits on mortgage debt where households have to clash with banks). For example, a Parliament could pass a law to cancel mortgage debts below 150,000 Euros This would avoid going to court.

Tenth proposal: Initiate a genuine constituent process. This does not imply constitutional changes within the existing parliamentary institutions. This involves dissolving the parliament and electing a Constituent Assembly by direct voting. Of course, questions of nationality, etc. must be considered, but it is a matter of launching a genuine constituent process, whether at the level of nationalities or the State per se, and trying to integrate this process into other constituent processes in Europe.

I have outlined the above ten basic proposals for discussion. However, they are extremely pressing matters for me, since I believe that without adopting pre-announced radical measures, there would be no relief from austerity policies. Manoeuvres will not help to escape from austerity policies unless radical steps are taken against big capital. To believe that this can be avoided is to hide behind ‘smokescreens’: such people will never know an actual and concrete progress. The architecture of the European level is such, and the capitalist crisis is so extensive that there is no room for neo-Keynesian productivist politics. I believe that eco-socialism has a place not on the margins, but at the heart of the debate. Immediate and concrete proposals will emerge from there. We must carry out the anti-austerity struggle and embark on the path of an eco-socialist transition. It is an absolute and immediate necessity.

Translated by Suchandra De Sarkar from French

Footnotes

|1| Eric Toussaint’s speech delivered on September 25, 2016 during the 3rd International Ecosocialist Conference at Bilbao. http://alterecosoc.org/?lang=en

|2| For an analysis of the socialisation of banks, see What is to be Done with the Banks? Radical Proposals for Radical Changes http://www.cadtm.org/What-is-to-be-Done-with-the-Banks,13315

Eric Toussaint is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France. He is the author of Bankocracy(2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012 (see here), etc. See his bibliography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89ric_Toussaint He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. Since the 4th April 2015 he is the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt.

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The Destructive Course Of Greece and the Global Economic Crisis

NOVANEWS

The Destructive Course Of Greece and the Global Economic Crisis. A New Form of Colonial Domination

greece-flag

The position I will be defending in this short intervention is that the subjection of Greece to memoranda and its consequent social and economic destruction is not simply a product of the global economic crisis that was initiated in the United States in 2007-2008, with the explosion of subprime loans and the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and then exported from America to Europe. In fact, hidden behind all this was a set of machinations undertaken, on the occasion of the crisis, by the European Directorate, which is mainly controlled by German interests.

At that moment, that is in the late 2008 and early 2009, Greece was run by the conservative government of Costas Karamanlis, who was reassuring the internal audience that Greece’s economy and its banking system were absolutely safe. And this, not only because of the supposed dynamism of the Greek economy, but also because of the fact that the Greek banking system was not exposed to high-risk lawns. At the same time, the Greek government knew very well that it could no longer borrow from the international markets in order to refinance its debt.

Following a common recommendation on behalf of European leaders to both the Prime Minister Caramanlis and the leader of the opposition and head of PASOK George Papandreou, elections were set for the autumn of 2009. In the ensuing electoral campaign, the Prime Minister, well aware of the coming crisis, kept a low profile, while advocating the need for harsh measures to be taken in order to avert the danger. In contrast, PASOK leader George Papandreou was promising generous benefits to all.

Having no idea of the real situation in which the country had entered, the Greek people gave PASOK a smashing victory with a 43% of the vote. The outgoing Prime Minister Karamanlis essentially vanished from the public scene, remaining silent as to what had happened up to then. While his government had announced an economic deficit of 6.9%, the new Papandreou government claimed it had reached 10%. Following new calculations, with the agreement of European officials, the deficit appeared to exceed 15%.

This was due to the introduction of new parameters in its measurement, such as the deficits of Public Organizations, which almost no other country in the European Union takes into account in calculating the national deficit; it was also due, as it later became apparent, to data corruption effected by the Greek Statistical Service and its director Andreas Georgiou, appointed by the new government and favored by both EU and IMF officials.

Let me note that Mr. Georgiou today stands accused of having forged Greek deficit numbers. In 2009, Greece’s borrowing from the markets became impossible on such economic evidence. The bonds of the Greek Public Sector possessed by French and German banks, which then exceeded 70 billion euros, were in danger of terminating without being paid, thus taking down with them the common currency itself (the euro). Obviously, this could not be tolerated by the European elite and its organs, since the euro was the mechanism that guaranteed the transferable securities (bonds etc.) on which it had invested, as well as its further profitability.

As the making of the Euro-system did not include mechanisms for dealing with the crisis, unbearable pressures were exercised on the Greek government, with the threat of immediate bankruptcy, to get it to sign the first memorandum in May 2010, allowing for a 110 billion euros loan to be granted, but also for the IMF to take part in European affairs starting from Greece. Among other things, the Greek government accepted that the new loan would come under British law, and no longer under Greek law – up to then, the latter gave jurisdiction to the Greek courts and consequently ample time to the Greek government, apart from being less burdensome for the borrower.

The loan agreement and the ensuing memorandum, while being presented as a necessary condition in order to save citizens’ wages and pensions, actually hid their true aims, which were, on the one hand, to provide French and German banks with enough time to disinvest themselves from the Greek bonds they possessed –which they achieved within only a year– and, on the other, to assure the manipulation and control of the country through the terms and mechanisms they established. The sum total went to the Greek banks and to the payment of debts, without actually helping the Greek economy.

Greek society did not remain idle, and a considerable strike movement began to manifest itself, undermined of course by the union bureaucracies that have been aligning themselves to government policy and controlling workers’, peasants’ and public sector unions throughout the long period of PASOK’s rule. Massive protests, on a scale unknown since the days of the reestablishment of democracy in 1974, started to materialize, and, while suffering a temporary drawback after the death of five people in a suspect fire in an Athenian bank during a mass demonstration, they soon resurfaced and climaxed in the great “movement of the squares” in the spring and summer of 2011; this witnessed the participation of hundreds of thousands of people and exercised unprecedented pressure on the government and the whole Greek political establishment.

Under such conditions, imposing further memorandum terms and constraints on Greek society required no less than an actual parliamentary coup: the story is well known of how, in the European summit meeting at Cannes, the compliant government of George Papandreou and he himself were pushed (with the French President Sarkozy almost climbing on the conference table and calling him a “fucking psycho”) to refrain from a timidly proposed Greek referendum that would have at least allowed the people to take a stand on European loan agreements. The summit led, on that same night (and on the initiative of Foreign Affairs Minister Evangelos Venizelos), to the replacement of the elected Prime Minister Papandreou by the technocrat Loucas Papademos, a favorite of EU institutions and the markets.

On the following year, after the double elections of May and June 2012, the Greek political system was drawn to the formation of a government coalition between the two major parties, PASOK and New Democracy (together with the small extreme right-wing party or LAOS and the small center-left party of DIMAR). This went on to sign a new loan agreement and a memorandum of 130 billion euros, most of which was allocated to the payment of maturing bonds of the Greek Public Sector and the recapitalization of Greek banks, which were again on the verge of collapse. Once more, despite the excessively binding terms of this agreement and of the concomitant memorandum, the whole funding was directed outside the Greek economy which it was supposed to support so as to overcome the crisis.

While the first memorandum, apart from forging strong ties of dependence for Greece, had aimed at people’s salaries and pensions, the second memorandum mainly targeted public property through the creation of divestment mechanisms such as the ΤΑΙΠΕΔ (Public Sector’s Private Property Valorization / Exploitation Fund). Although social mobilization was still impressive, the rise of the SYRIZA party into the major anti-memorandum force in Greece tended to disempower resistance movements and block anti-memorandum outbursts, locking them into its governmental prospects and limiting them to the role of “assignment”.

That is, SYRIZA and its young leader Alexis Tsipras promised that simply their assumption of power would force Greece’s European partners to forego all memoranda so as to allow for a commonly accepted solution promoting the development of the Greek economy, rather than its destruction through austerity, to come to the fore. The Greek people continued to manifest its rejection of foreign dictates and its evolving political consciousness by moving from the right and center of the political spectrum to what appeared to be a genuine anti-memorandum force of the radical left, and gave SYRIZA a landslide electoral victory in January 2015 and the possibility to form a comfortable governmental majority in coalition with the radical right-wing party of ANEL.

As it soon became evident, SYRIZA had no program of negotiations, nor any plan for defending Greek society against the weapons of economic asphyxiation held by the European Central Bank. Its only assets were the gambling theories of its Minister of Finance Gianis Varoufakis. Its leadership had already abandoned any claim to national sovereignty, substituting the influence of the American factor for popular mobilization in its negotiations with European organs.

After six months of rather pointless such negotiations, and despite the quasi-shutting down of the banks and the imposition of capital controls in July 2016, the Greeks once more reasserted their opposition to foreign occupation by giving a 62% vote against memoranda in the referendum theatrically launched by the SYRIZA government. I say “theatrically” because this referendum was not intended to rally the people in the prospect of deliverance from the shackles of the memoranda, but rather to be used as a simple bargaining chip by an already subordinated government. Indeed, referendum results notwithstanding, the government came to sign a third, even more crushing memorandum, which includes, apart from everything else, the unheard-of condition that lenders are entitled to approve in advance every legislative initiative of the Greek government, thereby giving up any sense of national sovereignty.

Greece is an experiment, according to which, a country belonging to the first world is being violently downgraded to a third world country. We believe that this is a treatment that all European district countries are about to undergo, except of the metropolitan ones.

It is possible that countries such as Italy, due to its strong weight, as well as Portugal and Spain are to be exempted from this procedure due to economical, historical and political reasons. The countries of the European district, such as Greece, will be vanished as states, its public and private assets will be disposed of, in order to become the base in rem of the global financial extension. This last one, without values in rem, is economy to a complete destruction at a global scale. These countries are about to be divided into special economic zones exempted from state laws of any kind, such as labour, administrative, fiscal, or infrastructural, which leads to the destruction of the state both as an entity as well as a rule of law.

Greece is a country already under occupation. This might come as a surprise to some people but let’s get things in the right order. To begin with, a country is being occupied not only military but economically as well. The occupational status is being differentiated both by the colonial domination of a country and the protectorate and its status as well.

During colonial domination, .e.g in India which was under the British control, there was an administration, all over the Indian Territory, responsible for the application of the English law in order to secure the interests of the Metropolis. The case is the same with protectorates, where an administrative mechanism is being established in order to secure foreign interests. In contrast, what happens today in Greece is the termination of both the state and the public administration as well and the non implementation of legal rules.

This is, without a doubt, a regime of domination, which reminds us of the German occupation of Greece, lasted from 1941 to 1944, during which every aspect of the Greek administration was abolished by the Germans. The same thing happens nowadays in Greece and the absence of tanks and foreign military forces is the only thing missing from the real nature of the regime that Greek people are experiencing today.

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Long Greek Crisis Is Causing Severe Jet-lag to the Eurogroup

NOVANEWS
Adelina Marini

In just a single month a great change happened in the assessment of European institutions of the implementation of the Greek programme. This change does have a price and it is a mismatch in perceptions. Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem (The Netherlands, Socialists an Democrats) admitted Monday evening that everyone is feeling jet-lagged after their return from the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, but got contradicted by Pierre Moscovici, commissioner for economic and financial affairs (France, Socialists and Democrats), who stated that the European Commission never has jet-lag, while the boss of the euro area’s permanent bailout fund – the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) – Klaus Regling (Germany) stated that he had already recovered from it. Physical feelings do quite realistically mirror the moods towards the Greek programme, which is entering its next phase – the second review of the implementation of the third bailout programme amounting to 86 billion euro.

In the beginning of September, when euro area finance ministers gathered for an informal meeting in Bratislava after the summer vacation, feelings were of the familiar aggravation with Greek sluggishness in implementing the agreed measures. At the time, both the Eurogroup boss and Commissioner Moscovici shared the opinion that Greece is taking too long. “There’s no doubt that we’ve lost time. We didn’t go into the specifics of why and where time was lost on these different milestones. As a Eurogroup we took a more general message that summer is over”said Mr Dijsselbloem on September 9th, when he once more placed the word “trust” on the table. “It has very much to do with trust. Trust, of course, between us, trust in the IMF who have reconfirmed that they will go to the board before the end of the year, but also trust from the outside world in Greece and the Greek economy”, said the Dutch finance minister.

“To be absolutely frank, in an ideal world we would have liked to have seen more progress at this stage. So, I fully agree with what the president of the Eurogroup has said”, were the words of Mr Moscovici. As usual, he was way softer than Jeroen Dijsselbloem in adding that in the last days (preceding the September Eurogroup) there was noticeable speed-up of Greek authorities’ efforts. However, Pierre Moscovici warned: “We have to tell them clearly that they need to stick to their commitments. We must be really demanding but at the same time let’s not dramatise. We’re still in capacity to reach this agreement. There is a political will, there is capacity”, assured the French commissioner back then.

A month later, the press conference following the Eurogroup meeting sounded completely different. Everyone agreed that Greece has fulfilled the 15 milestones it had and there was, please note, political approval granted for the release of half the 2.8 billion euro sub-tranche – 1.1 billion euro. The remaining 1.7 billion euro will be approved probably at the ESM board of directors meeting in two weeks. Everyone, including Greece’s Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos tried to assure that this is an entirely technical issue, not a punishment for delayed implementation. The first part of the sub-tranche – 1.1 bn euros – is allocated for debt servicing. The second part – 1.7 bn euros – is dedicated for clearing of arrears.

In Klaus Regling’s words, the reason for the delay of releasing the second part of the amount is the lack of data about the clearing of arrears in September. In July and August the Greek state had paid off all its liabilities, depleting the sum of 1.8 billion euro, poured into the special account, created for that purpose in July. Jeroen Dijsselbloem explained that no one is to blame for the delay, for data collection is not the obligation of the Greek finance ministry, but it is rather gathered by a multitude of governmental institutions. “There is a delay between the data for September and the moment all of this data are collected. It’s inevitable”, said Dijsselbloem and assured there is nothing to worry about. He was convinced everything will be fine with the data. “The money will come, don’t worry!” was his reply to a journalist’s question.

Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos was brief, stating that the reasons for the delay are purely technical and “completely beyond the control – we have not got the figures for September”, he said. In his words, there is nothing to worry about, for Greece is currently in no need for money for urgent repayment of matured debt, meaning there is no maturity coming any time soon. “We don’t need any more money than 1.1 billion, for there’s no big payment to our creditors before that, so this is a secondary issue”, he said in a brief statement for media after the Eurogroup meeting.

According to The Financial Times, however, the good tone after the meeting covers up several problems, one of which is the German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who did not speak officially in front of journalists. The newspaper reports that the German minister is far from convinced in the fact that Greece had fulfilled all of its obligations and did raise the question during the meeting. Berlin’s main concern is that Greece is far from energetic in the creation of a privatisation agency, which was one of the key requirements for the setup of the third bailout programme – a demand that was particularly requested by Germany. The other issue, which is covered up by the Eurogroup’s optimistic tone, is the participation of the IMF in the third bailout programme.

Despite sending out hope in May that it will participate in the programme with money, the Fund is not backing down one inch from its claim that the current programme and Greece’s economic future beyond it are completely inadequate. At a press conference during the meetings of the IMF and the WB in Washington last week, the Director of the Fund’s European Department Poul Thomsen assured that the institution is fully committed to the programme, but the Fund’s concerns remain, as do the risks. One of these concerns is the pension reform. “There are deficits in the pension system of more than 10 percent, 11 percent a year”, said Mr Thomsen. The agreed reforms will bring 1% of GDP per annum, but there are still too many households in Greece (about 60%) falling under taxation exemptions. In Europe, for example, this group is not more than 6-7-8%, he added.

The Fund’s biggest concern remains Greece’s capability of modernising its public sector. In other words the IMF believes that Greece might succeed in achieving the set goal of a budget surplus of 1.5% of GDP by the end of the programme, utilising the proposed measures, but in the long run “there are some things that you have not made plans for yet, like the unemployment compensation, like a good welfare system. That can only be done if you really tackle your problems in the pension system”, further added Mr Thomsen.

Which are the 15 milestones, which Greece has (perhaps) accomplished?

As they are listed in the first review of the programme’s implementation in June, Greece was expected to finish the harmonisation of social security contributions by eliminating the lower base for the owners of tourist enterprises; finish the review of banks, with which it has special relationship framework agreements. This was one of the key requirements. Another key requirement was the reform of the energy market, which includes the liberalisation of the gas and electricity markets. The energy sector takes up a very large portion of the 15 tasks and also includes privatisation. Among the measures is the letting out on concession of the “Ignatia” motorway and several other road sections.

It is not very clear how have these requirements been fulfilled and to what degree. Maltese Finance Minister Edward Scicluna stated before the start of the meeting that some measures have been fully implemented, others – not so much, and this is normal. Pierre Moscovici, however, announced the start of the second review of the bailout programme, which may last until March of next year. “There is good news – the 15 [milestones] have been done. The institutions have been clear on that. So, that political deal is done. The other part is only a technical issue”, assured Jeroen Dijsselbloem.

The European Parliament was in a completely opposite mood to the institutions. During a debate last week with the participation of Pierre Moscovici, MEPs laid heavy criticism on the bailout programme. Some statements were heavily populist, often veering away from facts and rarely to the point, but others were quite concrete. Optimistic statements were few and far apart, like the one of Roberto Gualtieri (Socialists and Democrats, Italy), who chairs the European Parliament’s economic committee. In his opinion, there is already light seen in the end of the tunnel for Greece. He expressed hope that the IMF will not feed fuel to the fire (by refusing participation in the bailout programme). Maria Spyraki (EPP, Greece) warned that the programme’s implementation is threatened by excessive taxation.

Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (ALDE, Germany) concluded that Greece used fake statistics to join the euro area and now the European Commission is using fake statistics to keep it in the euro area. Moscovici admitted that too much time has been wasted in Greece, but he adamantly refuted the suggestions that nothing has been accomplished. He added that he wants by the end of the year to see a deal on Greece’s debt, but the efforts all sides are needed for that to happen.

Klaus Regling, the bailout fund’s boss, automatically added at the press conference on Monday evening that since 2011 Greece has been paid through the Fund and its predecessor (EFSF) 171 billion euro. Out of the current programme Greece has been paid 28 bn euros out of a total of 86. The programme’s implementation might be going slow, but the EU is more and more willing to turn a blind eye, as it does with a number of other countries, which are not following strictly all the rules. The largest issue remains IMF’s participation, for if they do not chip in, Germany will refuse to participate and that right at the moment when it looks like Greece has finally understood that it needs to work in order to deserve its place in the euro area.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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Criminalizing Solidarity: Syriza’s War on the Movements

NOVANEWS

By Theodoros Karyotis

Idomeni refugee camp in greeceSolidarity with refugees in Greece is now criminalized, declared contrary to the interests of the state. (Photo: Julian Buijzen / Flickr)

In the early morning of July 27, refugee families and supporters who were sleeping at Thessaloniki’s three occupied refugee shelters — Nikis, Orfanotrofeio and Hurriya — were woken up by police in riot gear. In a well-orchestrated police operation, hundreds of people were detained. Most occupants with refugee status were released, while some were transported to military-run refugee reception centers. The rest of the occupants, 74 people of more than a dozen different nationalities, were taken into police custody.

Immediately after Orfanotrofeio was evacuated, bulldozers marched in and demolished the building, an abandoned orphanage “donated” five years ago to the enterprising Greek Orthodox Church by a previous government. Under the rubble were buried tons of clothes, foodstuffs and medicine collected there by grassroots solidarity structures to be distributed to refugee families in need. Hours later, No Border Kitchen, an autonomous structure providing food to refugees in the island of Lesvos, was also forcefully evicted by the police.

On the next afternoon, the 74 occupants of the three occupied shelters were transported to Thessaloniki’s courthouse in handcuffs by heavily armed police, where they were cheered upon entering by hundreds of supporters, despite the debilitating heat of the Greek summer. The nine occupants of Nikis squat were condemned to four-month suspended sentences for occupation of a public building. The trials of the 65 occupants of the Orfanotrofeio and Hurriya shelters were postponed due to lack of interpreters; everyone was provisionally freed. Charges include “disruption of household peace” and “damage to property” — this last one an accusation fabricated by greedy owners who demand large compensations for supposed damages to their long-abandoned and unused buildings.

The response of the movements to the attack was swift and included the symbolic occupations of the headquarters of the governing Syriza party in Thessaloniki and other cities; marches and protests all over the country; the occupation of the Drama School of the local university, to be transformed into a center of struggle; and the rescuing of the refugees who were transferred from the occupied shelters to refugee camps — most of them vulnerable — back to safe places. To that we should add the mobilization of a big volunteer legal team to organize the defense of dozens of activists in three separate trials.

Nevertheless, the response was asymmetrical, as by Wednesday’s operation the police liquidated in just one day a great part of the infrastructure patiently constructed by the grassroots movement for solidarity with refugees over the last year. The raid and eviction of the three occupied refugee shelters thus marks another episode in the undeclared war of the Greek government against grassroots solidarity efforts.

Humanity in Spite of Everything

Since the summer of 2015, when Greece became the main path to Europe for people fleeing war, repression and poverty in Asia and Africa, the refugees who crossed the country encountered the Greek people, who had endured five years of austerity shock treatment, who had seen their lives degraded and their social, political and labor rights vanishing in a very short period of time.

Despite the hardship, the ordeal of the refugees was generally not met with xenophobic reflexes, but with authentic empathy and solidarity on behalf of the population. The voices of the extreme right — which only a few years back had been organizing pogroms against immigrants in collusion with the armed forces — were marginalized, and Greek society generally demonstrated an outpouring of solidarity towards the immigrants.

The old xenophobic maxim — “if you like the refugees so much, take them to your home” — was actually put into practice: thousands of Greek homes were opened to host refugees, especially the most vulnerable ones — the sick, pregnant women and families with little children — sometimes as an intermediate stop to recover their strength before regrouping with family in the north of Europe, but often as a more lasting arrangement. Millions of rations of home-cooked food were taken to the camp of Eidomeni by ordinary people, where great numbers of refugees lived in deplorable conditions in tents and makeshift homes, waiting for a chance to cross the border to the north and continue their path towards northern Europe.

Solidarity in Movement

This heartwarming response on behalf of Greek society marked a moral victory for Greece’s social movements, which throughout the years of the crisis have not only been resisting the assault on the popular classes and creating grassroots alternatives, but have also been combating racism, xenophobia and fascism at all levels: in the neighborhood, in the streets and in public discourse.

From the very beginning, the resources and infrastructure of the social movements, however limited, were mobilized to provide support and relief to as many as possible of the nearly one million refugees who crossed the country. The network of solidarity clinics — volunteer grassroots structures that were created some years back to offer primary healthcare to uninsured Greek and immigrant workers — actively took part in caring for the refugees and denouncing the health hazards in the government’s treatment of them. Social centers — notably Micropolis and Steki Metanaston in Thessaloniki, Nosotros and Votanikos Kipos in Athens, and a host of others — created points of contact for refugees, and put their existing infrastructures, like collective kitchens, food stores and kindergartens, at their service.

Local and international grassroots organizations set up autonomous relief structures — parallel to those of the state and NGOs — in Eidomeni and other areas where refugees were concentrated in high numbers. The occupied self-managed factory of Vio.Me in Thessaloniki made available a warehouse for the collection, storage and transportation of basic items like clothes, sanitary items and baby food that had been gathered by solidarity collectives from all over Greece and Europe, prior to shipment to the Eidomeni border to be handed out to refugees.

Most importantly, militant collectives and groups of refugees occupied a host of empty buildings throughout Greece, to be used as self-managed refugee shelters — notably Notara and City Plaza in Athens, as well as Orfanotrofeio and Hurriya in Thessaloniki. Other long-existing squats opened their doors to refugee families, including Nikis squat, evicted by police last Wednesday.

Dealing in Aid

Evidently, the capacity of these self-managed and self-financed structures to make a quantitative impact on the plight of the nearly 57.000 refugees currently stuck in Greece is limited. However, they mark a qualitative difference from the efforts of the state and the NGOs, which dominate the relief efforts.

Undoubtedly, the Greek state did, after all, mobilize its resources to deal with the unthinkable humanitarian catastrophe by rescuing those who tried to cross over by boat from Turkey to the islands of the Aegean Sea. This marked an improvement compared to previous years, when the Greek coastguard notoriously practiced on-the-spot deportations. As recently as August 2015 they were even accused of actively trying to sink boats full of refugees.

Nevertheless, for the Greek state the plight of the refugees is primarily a matter of public order, and hence a field for the intervention of the armed forces. The care for refugees and the provision of basic needs is left to the hundreds of NGOs active in the area — many of them well-established and others founded overnight — which take advantage of the flow of local and European funds towards aid projects. Although the selfless and exhausting efforts of aid workers, who have to deal with incredibly strenuous situations, often in low-waged and precarious conditions themselves, are deserving of respect, the monopolization of aid by NGOs signifies the privatization of “solidarity”; its subsumption under quantitative goals, laws of efficiency and cost-effectiveness. In a way, it signifies the creation of lucrative new markets out of human misery.

Charity vs. Solidarity

What makes the efforts of grassroots movements stand out in relation to the actions of the state and the NGOs is that they are motivated by different political imperatives. Contrary to the flow of aid from highly centralized organizations towards disempowered refugees, true solidarity flows horizontally among peers. Those who practice solidarity recognize themselves in the “other” and are motivated by empathy, not pity.

In occupied refugee shelters, managed as commons through participatory methods, locals and refugees cook together and eat around the same table; they take decisions together in the circle of the horizontal assembly; they recognize each other’s culture and customs and overcome preconceptions and stereotypes. Against the enforced segregation, solidarity initiatives create a common language and common spaces of action for locals and refugees.

Furthermore, where state policy wants the refugees “hidden under the carpet” — away from cities, crammed in military-run refugee camps in inhumane conditions — grassroots solidarity places them at the center of social life, where they can be accepted and included within society. Where European policies classify and selectively deport immigrants according to their origin, grassroots solidarity calls into question the distinction between “immigrant” and “refugee”, since in humanitarian terms it is not important whether displaced people are fleeing from wars or from poverty and repressive regimes.

Most importantly, where the state and NGOs treat the refugee crisis as if it were an inevitable natural disaster, grassroots solidarity denounces its root causes: the imperialist wars in the Middle East, the neo-colonialist dispossession of local farmers by multinationals in Africa and Asia, the inhuman immigration policies of “Fortress Europe” and, especially, the insistence on closed borders, which forces fleeing populations towards the sea routes — resulting in immense loss of life — and into the hands of a lucrative people-smuggling market.

The Criminalization of Solidarity

There is no doubt that the activity of grassroots solidarity movements is on a collision course with the project of European integration, which envisions a strict international division of labor, national populations in perpetual competition in a collective race to the bottom, and borders permeable only by capital and goods — excluding immigrant human bodies, which are conceived only as a rightless reserve army of labor at the fringes of the formal economy.

In Greece, the focal point of the refugee crisis, this collision took the form of a spiteful scare campaign by the mass media against grassroots solidarity efforts, which were blamed for everything that could go wrong in the places where thousands of people were stowed away under inhuman conditionsas a direct result of European immigration laws. In time, these attacks were used as a justification for the exclusion of social movements from Eidomeni, and after the dismantling of that camp, from the “provisional” refugee camps set up by the state in former industrial areas on the periphery of Greek towns. Special controlled zones were created where only “accredited” aid workers are allowed, and efforts to interact and collaborate with the refugees are met with repression.

The scaremongering and repression culminated during the No Border Camp in Thessaloniki between July 15-24, when thousands of activists from around the continent met to protest — along with the refugees — the conditions of neglect and confinement in refugee camps and the impermeability of national borders that led to the present state of affairs. Mainstream media reporters documented and criticized every detail of the No Border Camp, which took place at occupied university grounds, after a last-minute refusal of the university authorities to grant permission to the organizers. A carefully calculated scare campaign during the camp was used to pave the way for the repressive operation of July 27, with the eviction of three occupied refugee shelters.

Repression and the “Values of the Left”

True to the surrealist political climate in Greece in the last year, the governing Syriza party condemned the raids as an “attempt at the criminalization of solidarity endeavors that runs contrary to the principles and values of the left,” while government officials blamed the police operation on the initiatives of the public prosecutor.

An outside observer might be inclined to believe that the government is simply unable to control its own police forces — after all, this excuse is routinely offered by pro-government sources, such as when riot police violently repressed a peaceful protest for the self-managed Vio.Me factory in early July. However, on closer inspection, it seems patently absurd that such a complex, coordinated and targeted police operation could be carried out without being green-lighted by the police’s political bosses.

Indeed, an interview with the aforementioned boss, the leftist Deputy Minister of “Civil Protection”, with a pro-government radio station on the day of the eviction is illuminating in this respect. The informative text reveals not only the extent to which Wednesday’s evictions are in line with the government’s policy, but also the government’s conception of social change and progressive politics. After making it clear that the operation had his blessing, the minister characterizes occupied shelters as “unjustified occupations” that constitute a “caricature of symbols” creating an “illusion of freedom”. He declares that the government “will not show a generalized tolerance to those initiatives, which, however well-meaning, are not in line with the interests of the state.”

In a very convoluted line of argumentation, where in just a few paragraphs he invokes “the values of the left”, “the struggles of the working class”, “the protection of democratic rights” and the “needs of society” to justify the attack on the solidarity movements, he states: “The left is not about autonomy. It is about the defense of labor rights, of society, of democratic rights … We don’t need the autonomous actions of a bunch of kids; we want a mass popular movement, we should turn the youth towards the parties of the left.” He concludes by accusing solidarity structures of being “piecemeal efforts” that offer help to a reduced number of refugees, in contrast to the organized efforts of the state.

To put it bluntly, society is not and should not be the subject of its own liberation; it is rather the passive object of concern and field of intervention for a benevolent government. Social struggles that are not mediated by the state and the parties of the left are either infantile or a threat to social peace — probably both. This totalitarian conception of society, public space and collective action is not new to leftist thought; only in its most recent incarnation it is combined not with state-guaranteed welfare, but with neoliberal dispossession and a state of “permanent exception” — a truly explosive mix.

The Simulacram of the Left

Just as the minister was done bragging about the state’s capacity for aid compared to social initiatives, a report by the public organization Hellenic Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO) was made public, which — based on a series of health inspections in sixteen migrant and refugee centers across Greece — concludes that thousands of people are crammed into the reception centers under substandard sanitary conditions, with precarious living accommodations and inadequate water and sewage facilities. The report advises the immediate closure of the camps and the integration of refugees within society — precisely what the grassroots solidarity movements, now officially under persecution for “not being in line with the interests of the state,” have been demanding since the start of the refugee crisis.

Furthermore, on July 28, just as the detained in the three eviction operations were provisionally freed pending trial, a young Syrian woman was dying of heart failure following an epileptic attack in the refugee camp of Softex near Diavata, on the periphery of Thessaloniki — a death which could have easily been prevented, had there been permanent medical care at the camp, or had the woman been taken to a hospital in time. The death sparked an intense protest at the camp, with refugees demanding humane living conditions.

Despite its rhetoric, the government’s actions are another instance where the left is called upon to finish off what the right has been unable to do for years. Just as a third austerity package for Greece would have been impossible without a government “that has society’s interests at heart” — Prime Minister Tsipras famously wept while he signed the new memorandum — so a repressive operation as complex and calculated as the one carried out in Thessaloniki would have been impossible without a Deputy Minister of Civil Protection concerned about “the needs of society” and “the struggles of the working class.” In an artful inversion of the left’s vision of social emancipation, “workers’ struggles” are used to justify private property over social necessity; “democratic rights” are used to justify unwarranted repression of those standing in solidarity with refugees; and “the needs of society” are used to justify a campaign of dispossession against the popular classes.

It is evident now in Greece that the neoliberal left and the neoliberal right are two variations of the same project — a project that requires a disciplined, atomized, obedient population, preoccupied with maximizing individual benefit, having relinquished any kind of collective action to change society. The tragic events of 2015 — when the will of the people to end austerity was ignored and one more anti-austerity opposition was transformed into an enforcer of neoliberal restructuring — might well have pushed in this direction, by demobilizing the social movements and generating widespread resignation.

Solidarity in Greece is now criminalized, declared contrary to the interests of the state. However, there is a part of the population that remains determined to keep trying to give content to the word “solidarity”, to wrest it from the hands of repressive institutions, electoralist projects and lucrative non-profit organizations, and to transform it into the basis of a collective aspiration for a better life — built from the ground up on egalitarian and participatory terms.

Posted in GreeceComments Off on Criminalizing Solidarity: Syriza’s War on the Movements

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