In an interview with himself, Kasdaglis stresses one of the key differences between the present circumstances and World War II. At least then, he reflects, there was enormous hope and pride to set alongside the suffering. Now all one can do is write in the hope of finding some way out of hopelessness—but looking at his country’s leaders, this is not easy. George Papandreou is “the boy with the PlayStation”—the toy in his case being Pasok, the party he inherited, and perhaps Greece itself. Kasdaglis asserts that Antonis Samaras of New Democracy—the opposition leader at the time he was writing—is a demagogue who, the author predicts, will backtrack on all his criticisms of the government the minute he is in power. (Since becoming prime minister in June, Samaras has done Kasdaglis the favor of confirming his predictions.) The interim prime minister, economist Lucas Papademos, is a decent technocrat who, on account of his former role shepherding Greece into the eurozone, must be considered one of the architects of the mess. At the same time, the author, in his mid-50s, is just old enough to remember the junta and wants to remind younger readers of what a genuine dictatorship is. The current political climate, for all its absurdities and problems, is not a dictatorship, and Greeks should not confuse it with the junta, even as the smell of tear gas wafting across central Athens takes Kasdaglis back to the days of the Polytechnic uprising at the end of 1973 and causes him to wonder whether the police have changed at all. Read the rest of this entry »
A photographic highlight selected by the picture desk. Louisa Gouliamaki’s image draws our attention to the plight of the Greek people
Puppies and ice cream
The Greek reality
by journalist and science writer Leigh Phillips
Phillips was a reporter and deputy editor with EUobserver until 2012 covering economic affairs, the environment and digital rights. He has also written for the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, Nature, Scientific American, Red Pepper and Jacobin.
Let’s say you’re the prime minister of a country that’s being forced to impose some seriously strict-ass austerian shock therapy. Every day, it’s all puppies and ice cream, am I right?
Okay, not so much.
Now, if you’re lucky enough to have a population who are as demoralised as Marvin the Paranoid Android and they just emigrate like the Irish (highest emigration rate in 25 years last year) or the Latvians (13% drop in population since 2000, most of which since the crisis and 80% of whom are under 35), then you don’t have to worry about rolling general strikes, low-level terrorism and neo-Nazi MPs beating up women on TV.
Sure, with all those hyper-educated working-age kids skedaddling off to Australia or Brazil or, erm,Angola, you’ll have a bitch of a brain-drain on your hands, not to mention a wallop of a drop in economic demand, but hey, isn’t that better than having your office shot at?
But not every prime minister is as lucky as Ireland’s ol’ Blueshirt Enda Kenny. Much of the rest of the EU periphery is nowhere near as docile as his flock. At a conference I attended last summer, one German analyst placed the number of general strikes in Europe’s southern flank since the start of the crisis at over 30. Historically unheard of. Even the tumult between the World Wars didn’t see this number of general strikes.
And all that’s going to happen is your economy is going to tank, unemployment will rise to 30% (to almost 60% for young people), pensioners will shoot themselves in public squares and mothers and sons will jump off the roofs of their building while holding hands when they can’t pay the bills, and your people will despise you. You won’t even be able to go to your favourite restaurant without having eggs thrown at you.
Then come elections, the other guys are certain to get in. Of course, they’ll impose exactly the same measures, but come on, they’re the other tribe! They may be ideologically identical to you, but they’re still the other team, man!
So what are you to do? How the hell are you going to boost your popularity in such hairy times? It’s a stubborn pickled octopus of a quandary.
Now, I’m no James Carville, the infamously Machiavellian political strategist who delivered Bill Clinton’s long-shot Democratic nomination and presidential election victory in 1992, but I’ve nevertheless come up with a handy little playbook with some lessons taken from the remarkable – if very likely only temporary – turn-around in opinion-poll fortunes of Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
In many respects it does come down to a bit of a Hail-Mary pass – the last best hope of a democratic government before it turns into something else, so it’s not recommended in anything but the most extreme circumstances. Still, other European leaders should at least familiarise themselves with these tactics should the economic and political stability of their countries ever, Heaven forfend, take a similar turn to that of the Hellenic Republic.
Step One: Distract attention from the cuts
Greek tourism revenues declined 15%
in 2012 for some reason.
First, and most important, initiate something along the lines of Samaras’ Operation Target Darkie.
Okay, so the undertaking is not actually called Operation Target Darkie. It’s called Operation Xenios Zeus, which is still quite a bit of a chucklesome border-patrol in-joke.
You see, since the launch last August of Operation Xenios Zeus, 60,000 (yes that’s not a typo. There are five zeroes after that six) people who don’t look Greek enough have been rounded up and detained, and 4,200 arrested. But ‘Xenios Zeus’ was in fact one of the Greek god Zeus’s many titles, and it meant ‘patron of guests and hospitality’, quick to avenge any wrong done to a stranger.
Ha! Rib-tickling! Side-splitting! (Actually, quite literally side-splitting in some cases) Do you get it? Amnesty International, those po-faced goody-goodies, clearly didn’t. They issued a 12-page report last month denouncing the government’s attacks on migrants, the extended detention in filthy, appalling conditions and its routine breaking of international and EU law.
But what you have to understand is that it’s been tremendously successful in restoring Samaras’s fortunes after his party spent months in the wilderness, trailing well behind the radical left Syriza in polls since the election. The most recent polls out this week now puts his New Democracy party even-Steven (even-Stefanos?) with Syriza – perhaps even actually pipping their main opponents. And a slim majority believe Samaras to be a better prime minister than Syriza’s Alex Tsipras would be.
Now, I know what you’re gonna say. “Leigh, won’t this sort of strategy just normalise attacks on immigrants and open the door for the neo-nazi thugs who will be emboldened to assault or even murder anyone who doesn’t look or sound ‘Greek’?”
And I see where you’re coming from. That could indeed be a problem. Why, just last week, a young Pakistani man riding his bicycle in Athens was stabbed by two men on motorcycles, later dying of his wounds. In August, a 19-year-old Iraqi was fatally stabbed by a gang, also on motorcycles. The city’s mayor describes knife attacks happening on an almost daily basis.
There has been an increase in racist attacks since 2010, but human rights groups say that incidents of racially motivated violence last year just skyrocketed. Golden Dawn thugs break up market stalls with baseball bats while the police stand by and watch. They climb aboard buses and drag people out and beat them with crow bars and chains. They throw molotov cocktails at barbershops and when the police come and investigate, they arrest the barber.
But remember, we’re all in this together. We’ve all got to do our part. Sure, it’ll be a bit uneven. Some of these measures will fall unfairly on some people. I recognise that. But what other option does Samaras have? How else is going to be able to distract attention from his EU-ordered gutting of social protections and services? Sure, children are being kept in concentration camps with no clean bedding or warm water, but where’s the sympathy for poor old Sammy?
Step Two: Use arcane laws to break strikes
Remember to respect workers rights, or a committee of the
UN International Labour Organisation will write you a very stern letter indeed!
Next, you’ve got to figure out a way to deal with bolshy workers who saw household disposable income drop by 10.6% in the third quarter of 2012 compared with the previous year, as data released by the government stats agency last week showed.
One-day general strikes you can handle. It’s normal that unions should march on parliament. There’s the odd scuffle with riot police, then people go home. So what? As Swedish finance minister Anders Borg joked about Hungarian unions protesting austerity in 2011, “Isn’t that what unions always do?”
But indefinite strikes, particularly in strategic sectors that the rest of the economy depends upon, such as transport, ports, oil refineries and airports – that’s a real nuisance. People like to say that unionsaren’t as powerful as they once were. Many union leaders, particularly in the European Trades Union Congress, may even believe it themselves. But t’s remarkable how just a few strategically placed strikers can paralyse an entire economy.
The solution to this persnickety little problem here does require breaching international conventions against forced labour dating back to the 1930s, but don’t worry, you’re not going to get any trouble from Brussels on that front.
So when Athens Metro workers go on strike for eight days to oppose an EU-demanded 25% cut in wages – a demand being imposed in breach of contract with the workers – all you have to do is enact a ‘civil mobilisation’ order, enforced by riot cops armed with the threat of five-year prison sentences.
“What on earth is a ‘civil mobilisation’ order?” I hear you say. And indeed, it is an obscure power that governments have. There’s no Wikipedia entry for it, and if you Google the term, you’ll only find clippings from newspapers from the First and Second World Wars. It’s a tightly bounded form of martial law, restricted to a particular sector, that requisitions workers’ services for an indefinite duration and bans strikes. Essentially, it’s labour conscription or military labour.
But just like the return of avocado-green kitchen appliances, after a long time unconscionably démodé, civil mobilisation is deffo back in fashion.
In 2010, then-French-President Nicolas Sarkozy used ‘requisitioned labour’ to break strikes at occupied refineries and oil depots and defeat the widespread movement against his planned pension cuts. The requisition order declared that continuance of the strike could cause “serious disruptions of public order” including “riots”, and threatened the workers with six months’ imprisonment and a €10,000 fine. A judge may have subsequently declared the requisition order illegal, but the government just issued another, less general requisition.
The same year, Spain’s Zapatero militarised labour in the country’s airspace in order to break a strike by air traffic controllers over similar European orchestrated public sector cuts and privatisation. The Defence Ministry was put in charge, sending military police to disrupt a union meeting and force them back to work. Soldiers took over air traffic control towers across the country and army units were given the power to conscript air traffic controllers from their homes and order them to work under military authority. Workers faced prison sentences of up to six years for disobeying military orders. In effect, they had become military personnel.
So basically, everybody’s doing it, so why not Greece?
In keeping with the UN International Labour Organisation’s Forced Labour Convention (Convention No. 29) and according to Greek law, the requisition of labour is only permitted in cases of a “sudden situation requiring the taking of immediate measures to face the country’s defensive needs or a social emergency against any type of imminent natural disaster or emergency that might endanger the public health”.
After an investigation by the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association in 2009 into a controversial use that year of a 1974 decree (thus dating back to the last year of the Colonels’ junta) on ‘Civil Emergency Planning’ to issue a civil mobilisation order against striking seamen, the Greek government committed to ensuring that such use “will from now on only apply in times of war.”
But really, who cares about the ILO? It’s not like they’re international lenders who need a signal showing how tough you are at forcing through the cuts and privatisation they’re demanding. Political leaders across the EU periphery have desperately been trying to figure out a way to show the markets and European power-brokers they mean business. And now, Eureka, they have found a way! Is there any bigger big-cock manoeuvre than the militarisation of labour?
Samaras’s civil mobilisation was denounced by unions as authoritarian and “tantamount to dictatorship”. “Let them [the government] come and collect dead bodies. Let them send in the army,” bellowed transport union leader Antonis Stamatopoulos.
But after riot police stormed a train depot in the diddly tiny hours of Friday morning and served mobilisation notices to 2,500 employees, normal service was resumed by the afternoon.
There is of course the danger that the use of such unorthodox tactics will itself produce still an escalation in militant activity from furious citizens and unionists, shocked that you are using a mechanism normally reserved for times of war, but then all you have to do is escalate the repression! Simples!
Step Three: Accuse your opponents of terrorism
Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras consorting with a vicious Slovenian terrorist.
DOUG ENAA GREENE AND DESPINA LALAKI JANUARY 29, 2013 0
In early January 2013, Doug Enaa Greene of the Boston Occupier interviewed Despina Lalaki on the current situation in Greece. Despina Lalaki is a sociology doctoral candidate at The New School University and Lecturer at the A.S. Onassis Program in Hellenic Studies, New York University; and her writings have appeared on Al Jazeera. Lalaki is also involved in raising awareness about the crisis in Greece. What follows is an edited transcript of the interview.
Doug Enaa Greene: What political organization and/or ideology do you adhere to? How and why did you become politically involved?
Despina Lalaki: I support the Left but I have never been a member of a political organization or party. Most recently, however, I have become involved with the Greek-American Left Movement, NY (Aristeri Kinisi) with the objective to raise awareness about the political, social and economic crisis in Greece and in Europe more broadly.
The accelerated process of social and political degradation in Greece is what forced me to engage more directly. Since last February we have organized a series of events and actions in New York City among which a protest at the Zuccotti Park on February 18 for the International Day of Mobilization in support of Greece, a very successful public meeting on October 9 in Astoria, NY against the fascist party Golden Dawn in Greece and in the diaspora and a protest at the Permanent Mission of Greece to the UN on November 14 in solidarity with the workers’ general strike in Europe. On January 19, 2013 we are planning a protest at the Greek Consulate in NYC as part of the International Day of Action against Fascism which has been called from Greece.
DEG: Why do you think Golden Dawn has gained so much support? What measures do you think are necessary to stop them?
DL: Historically when democracies fail, which is followed by disenchantment, political cynicism and disillusionment a vacuum in created that is often filled by extremist ideologies like that offered by groups such as the Golden Dawn, the Neo-Nazi party that is now member of the Greek Parliament. The GD proclaims an anti-systemic position, provided that they have never been part of what they condemn as the corrupt political system and they pose as defenders of principles such as that of national sovereignty, which has come under assault by the governing bodies of the EU. Suffice to say that they have no alternative program in place other than expelling all immigrants from the country, the people that they systematically target and accuse for the rising unemployment in Greece while they often unleash assault squads in the streets of Athens, as well as other cities, in order to attack and terrorize individuals or whole immigrant communities. Read the rest of this entry »
By Costas Douzinas
Lecture at The Southern Europe Crisis and Resistances: Academics from Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain discussed the economic, political and humanitarian crisis austerity has created in South Europe. But PIGS can fly. The widespread protests of 2011 have started again in Spain, Portugal and Italy while in Greece the new austerity has brought the government close to collapse. Is austerity or resistance the future of Europe?
at Birkbeck College University of London http://www.bbk.ac.uk/bih/
In the summer of 1918, Constantin Cavafy met E. M. Forster in Alexandria. Cavafy compared the Greeks with the English. The two peoples are alike, quick-witted, resourceful, adventurous. ‘But there is one unfortunate difference. We Greeks have gone bankrupt. Pray, my dear Forster, oh pray, that you never lose your capital.’ GiorgioAgamben, commenting on Cavafy’s mysterious statement, writes: ‘The only certainty is that since , all the peoples of Europe and perhaps the whole world have gone bankrupt. Greece was declared bankrupt in 2010 albeit in ‘orderly fashion’ and only temporarily. Temporary default is a little like temporary death. It lasts forever.
What if Greece, and perhaps Europe, have been bankrupted not economically but morally, culturally, politically? What is the gain if the Greeks, repay the debt, keep the euro, and lose their soul? Political and moral bankruptcy haunts not just Greek but the whole of Europe. Greece is the future of Europe. And as know with the future, the best and the worst are next to each other. Let me start with the worst.
The cumulative effects of three separate series of austerity measures are staggering. The first memo imposed up to 50% salary and pension cuts on civil servants and an estimated 150,000 job losses by 2015. The second moved to the private sector and slashed the minimum salary by up to 32%, abolished collective bargaining and various other long-established labour protections. These measures are accompanied by increases in direct and indirect taxes, public transport fares and road tolls, and the imposition of a property tax collected through electricity bills. The remaining public assets and utilities, including ports, airports and even islands, will be privatized at bargain basement prices. Akropolis will be next. The economy shrank by -24% over five years, the largest anywhere in peacetime. In 2012, unemployment stands at 25% and youth unemployment at 55%. It is the killing of a whole generation, a gene-cide to coin a term. Austerity led to a developing humanitarian crisis with homelessness, mental illness and suicide at unprecedented levels. Hospitals cannot work for lack of basic medicines, schools have no textbooks or fuel for heating, soup kitchens have proliferated, 2 million people live below the poverty level.
How did we get there after all these summit meetings and expert analysis? It does not take great wisdom to explain this abject failure. Public spending cuts and tax increases during a deep depression reduce demand, increase unemployment and halt growth. Tax revenues shrink, spending for unemployment and other benefits increases. The deficit increases, the fiscal targets are missed, leading to new austerity to plug the gap. It is a vicious spiral dictated by the toxic idolatry of dominant economics. If the IMF functionaries were first-year economics students, they would have failed their exams. Unfortunately, their diktat makes millions fail their lives.
But the failure and responsibility of the Greek elites is even greater. The politicians, bankers and media barons who brought the country to its knees over 40 years now sense that their corrupt, clientelist capitalism is coming to the end. They will do everything in their power to delay the inevitable end. Greece is a textbook case of a moral decay and political collapse of a system of power. Considerable evidence exists that the Greek government ‘doctored’ the macroeconomic figures in 2001 to gain entry to the euro. The spiralling loans and mounting debt were then used by the ruling elites to oil the wheels of patronage and clientelism. The Papandreou government upgraded the deficit by 3% to 15.4% triggering the European intervention. To cap it all, every set of measures adopted increased the debt. The Greek debt was 120% of GDP in 2009. It will be 190% next year and, after the pain of a dozen years, will reach 125% in 2021, still above the 2009 position. The austerity measures are multipliers of debt, which keeps increasing and metastasing like a malign tumour. Greek society is collapsing before our eyes and the only answer is more loans to pay the past loans, which increases the overall loan. It is borrowing on the Visa to pay the Mastercard. Read the rest of this entry »
Eurogroup statement on Greece
The Eurogroup recalls that a full staff-level agreement has been reached between Greece and the Troika on updated programme conditionality and that, according to the Troika, Greece has implemented all agreed prior actions.
The Eurogroup in particular welcomes the updated assessment of the Troika that Greece has implemented in a satisfactory manner a wide ranging set of reforms, as well as the budget for 2013 and an ambitious medium term fiscal strategy 2013-16.
The Eurogroup noted with satisfaction that the updated programme conditionality includes the adoption by Greece of new instruments to enhance the implementation of the programme, notably by means of correction mechanisms to safeguard the achievement of both fiscal and privatisation targets, and by stronger budgeting and monitoring rules. Greece has also significantly strengthened the segregated account for debt servicing. Greece will transfer all privatizations revenues, the targeted primary surpluses as well as 30% of the excess primary surplus to this account, to meet debt service payment on a quarterly forward-looking basis. Greece will also increase transparency and provide full ex ante and ex post information to the EFSF/ESM on transactions on the segregated account.
The Eurogroup again commended the authorities for their demonstrated strong commitment to the adjustment programme and reiterated its appreciation for the efforts made by the Greek citizens.
The Eurogroup noted that the outlook for the sustainability of Greek government debt has worsened compared to March 2012 when the second programme was concluded, mainly on account of a deteriorated macro-economic situation and delays in programme implementation
The Eurogroup considered that the necessary revision in the fiscal targets and the implied postponement of a primary surplus target of 4.5% of GDP from 2014 to 2016 calls for a broader concept of debt sustainability encompassing lower debt levels in the medium term, smoothing of the current financing hump after 2020 and easing of its financing.
The Eurogroup was informed that Greece is considering certain debt reduction measures in the near future, which may involve public debt tender purchases of the various categories of sovereign obligations. If this is the route chosen, any tender or exchange prices are expected to be no higher than those at the close on Friday, 23 November 2012.
The Eurogroup considers that, in recapitalising Greek banks, liability management exercises should be conducted in respect of remaining subordinated debt holders so as to ensure a fair burden sharing.
Against this background and after having been reassured of the authorities’ resolve to carry the fiscal and structural reform momentum forward and with a positive outcome of the possible debt buy-back operation, the euro area Member States would be prepared to consider the following initiatives:
• A lowering by 100 bps of the interest rate charged to Greece on the loans provided in the context of the Greek Loan Facility. Member States under a full financial assistance programme are not required to participate in the lowering of the GLF interest rates for the period in which they receive themselves financial assistance.
27 November 2012
- A lowering by 10 bps of the guarantee fee costs paid by Greece on the EFSF loans.
- An extension of the maturities of the bilateral and EFSF loans by 15 years and a deferral of interest payments of Greece on EFSF loans by 10 years. These measures will not affect the creditworthiness of EFSF, which is fully backed by the guarantees from Member States.
- A commitment by Member States to pass on to Greece’s segregated account, an amount equivalent to the income on the SMP portfolio accruing to their national central bank as from budget year 2013. Member States under a full financial assistance programme are not required to participate in this scheme for the period in which they receive themselves financial assistance.The Eurogroup stresses, however, that the above-mentioned benefits of initiatives by euro area Member States would accrue to Greece in a phased manner and conditional upon a strong implementation by the country of the agreed reform measures in the programme period as well as in the post-programme surveillance period.
The Eurogroup is confident that, jointly, the above-mentioned initiatives by Greece and the other euro area Member States would bring Greece’s public debt back on a sustainable path throughout this and the next decade and will facilitate a gradual return to market financing. Euro area Member States will consider further measures and assistance, including inter alia lower co-financing in structural funds and/or further interest rate reduction of the Greek Loan Facility, if necessary, for achieving a further credible and sustainable reduction of Greek debt-to-GDP ratio, when Greece reaches an annual primary surplus, as envisaged in the current MoU, conditional on full implementation of all conditions contained in the programme, in order to ensure that by the end of the IMF programme in 2016, Greece can reach a debt-to-GDP ratio in that year of 175% and in 2020 of 124% of GDP, and in 2022 a debt-to-GDP ratio substantially lower than 110%.
As was stated by the Eurogroup on 21 February 2012, we are committed to providing adequate support to Greece during the life of the programme and beyond until it has regained market access, provided that Greece fully complies with the requirements and objectives of the adjustment programme.
The Eurogroup concludes that the necessary elements are now in place for Member States to launch the relevant national procedures required for the approval of the next EFSF disbursement, which amounts to EUR 43.7 bn. EUR 10.6 bn for budgetary financing and EUR 23.8 bn in EFSF bonds earmarked for bank recapitalisation will be paid out in December. The disbursement of the remaining amount will be made in three sub-tranches during the first quarter of 2013, linked to the implementation of the MoU milestones (including the implementation of the agreed tax reform by January) to be agreed by the Troika.
The Eurogroup expects to be in a position to formally decide on the disbursement by 13 December, subject to the completion of these national procedures and following a review of the outcome of a possible debt buy-back operation by Greece.
Organised by Mary Ikoniadou & Vasilis Marmatakis
By Despina Lalaki, originally posted at Aljazeera.com June 15 2012.
The economic crisis in Greece is heading towards yet another showdown on June 17. The Greek electorate threatens to strike a serious blow against neoliberalism and its European offshoot. At the same time, these elections promise to unravel the Greek state’s monopoly on the structures of violence and fear.
Sociologist Charles Tilly drew a compelling analogy between the state as the place of organised means of violence, and racketeering. He defined the racketeer “as someone who creates a threat and then charges for its reduction”, in order to gain control and consolidate power. In this regard, a state and its government differ little from racketeering, to the extent that the threats against which they protect their citizens are imaginary or are consequences of their own activities.
Considering the pain, the humiliation, and the social degradation that the economic and political policies of the Greek government have inflicted upon the country the past four years, Tilly’s analogy may offer us a useful tool to both describe and evaluate the current crisis and the regime of fear that the state has unleashed on the Greek public. Read the rest of this entry »