Monday, 12 September 2016
In A Mess Of Corruption & Neoliberal Austerity, Syriza Sells Greece Out To The Highest Bidders
Rather than casting off the shackles of the EU, eurozone and IMF, the Syriza-led Greek government favors the ‘oligarchs’ it once vowed to tear down and doubles down on austerity measures, leaving Greek people to suffer through a modern colonial nightmare.
By Michael Nevradakis @dialogosmedia | September 12, 2016
FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015 file photo, a man walks past street art depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Athens, Greece. Tsipras' decision to sign off on a bailout led to many in his left-wing Syriza party to quit in protest.
FILE – In this Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015 file photo, a man walks past street art depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Athens, Greece. Tsipras’ decision to sign off on a bailout led to many in his left-wing Syriza party to quit in protest.
ATHENS — (Analysis) Stories of human suffering continue to multiply in present-day Greece, which is loosely governed by the “first time left” government of Syriza and more directly by the European institutions and the International Monetary Fund.
In the city of Patra, an elderly woman whose only source of income is her severely battered pension, from which she supports her two grandchildren, had her electricity service cut in the presence of a police SWAT team, despite her reliance on an oxygen concentrator to live. Her son was arrested for protesting the action and brought before a prosecutor.
Police in the city of Katerini, implementing the government’s crusade against purported “tax evaders” to the letter, arrested a father of three, whose spouse is unemployed, for selling pastries on the street without a license, fining him €5,000 ($5,627) for the infraction. The man is well-known in his community for donating his unsold pastries to local children and a local home for seniors at the end of each day.
I’ve also heard the story of an impoverished cancer patient in Thessaloniki, who, according to the eyes of the law, was another one of those lazy, corrupt Greeks guilty of dipping their hands too deeply into the public trough. Her meal card which allowed her to eat at a local soup kitchen was revoked, simply because she was concurrently receiving state aid for being a cancer patient.
On the island of Samos, a short distance from the Turkish coast, uniformed German police freely patrol the streets of the main town, Vathi, purportedly on the lookout for refugees, while German coast guard boats sit docked in the harbor. A few kilometers away, in the mountain village of Manolates, residents and shopkeepers listen to Turkish music on the radio—as no reception of Greek broadcasters was possible.
Finally, in my own neighborhood in Athens, 17 out of 22 storefronts lie vacant in a three-block stretch, “for rent” signs fading slowly from view. A once-beautiful park and playground lies vacant, entrances chained shut, while overgrown weeds cover this former piece of urban green space.
None of these stories are likely to make it into Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ forthcoming state of the union speech at the Thessaloniki Trade Fair. The prime minister is much more likely to tell us that unemployment has purportedly decreased, that Greece has emerged from recession (just as it supposedly did in 2014), that industrial production has dramatically increased, that the country is returning to economic growth, and that it is pursuing closer defense and military ties with the United States and NATO.
Syriza-led Greek state strips itself of sovereignty
Reality, however, is much more grim. In May, without parliamentary debate, the Syriza-led government passed a 7,500 page omnibus bill that transferred control over Greece’s public assets to a fund controlled by the European Stability Mechanism for the next 99 years.
These assets include airports, harbors, public beaches and coastline, and natural resources.
Earlier this year, 14 profitable regional airports were sold to the German publicly-owned corporation Fraport, while a majority stake in the port of Piraeus, one of the largest ports in Europe, was sold to Chinese-owned Cosco for €365 million—equal to 15 days’ worth of debt repayments—while its facilities alone are valued at more than €5 billion. The national railway, TRAINOSE, including all infrastructure and trains, was sold to Italy’s Ferrovie Dello Stato Italiane for a mere €45 million, with the company’s debt was written off as part of the sale. The site of the former international airport of Athens, once slated to become Europe’s largest urban park, was sold to a consortium of investors from Greece, China, and the United Arab Emirates, led by the Latsis family of Greek shipping tycoons, who plan to construct luxury resorts and shopping malls on the site.
In May, Syriza’s cabinet presented plans to sell a 49-percent stake in the water utilities of Athens and Thessaloniki, plus 18 additional privatizations instead of the nine initially agreed to with creditors in the third memorandum. Prior to being elected in January 2015, Syriza promised to put an end to the privatization of public assets, and it vowed not to privatize water in its September 2015 platform.
Nevertheless, the Syriza government has committed to completing the privatization of numerous key assets, including the natural gas utility and the state’s stake in Athens’ Eleftherios Venizelos international airport, by November.
Also as part of the omnibus bill, the Greek parliament rendered itself voteless, as the legislation annuls the role of parliament to create a national budget or pass tax legislation. In earlier legislation, the government had agreed to submit all pending bills to the group of lenders known as the “troika” (European Commission, European Central Bank, and the IMF) for approval, reminiscent of the German Reichstag’s willful relinquishment of legislative power to then-Chancellor Adolf Hitler in 1933.
Taxes skyrocket and Greeks are unable to pay
Further illustrating just how much sovereignty has been stripped from the Greek state, the omnibus legislation also foresees the activation of automatic spending cuts, including salaries, without any parliamentary intervention if Greece fails to achieve targets for a primary surplus. In order to attain a primary surplus, spending has already been slashed dramatically, furthering the spiral of austerity Tsipras had once promised to end with “one law and one article.”
Instead of austerity being abolished with one law and one article, Greek citizens have a new, crippling tax avalanche to look forward to beginning this autumn. On Aug. 29, this year’s unified property tax (ENFIA) was sent out to all property owners, with seven in ten businesses facing an increase this year. This is the same tax which members of the Syriza-Independent Greeks coalition government had denounced prior to being elected, claiming it was unconstitutional, promising to repeal it once in office, and instructing citizens on how to avoid paying it.
Once Syriza and the Independent Greeks came to power, however, payment of the ENFIA was described by the government as a “patriotic duty.”
Meanwhile, the Greek government is preparing to introduce a nationwide “asset registry” for taxation purposes, in which citizens will be obliged to declare not only their incomes and real estate, but everything from jewelry to family heirlooms, and even the amount of cash in their possession. This Orwellian measure will be supplemented by a national transaction registry, where essentially every bank transaction and purchase from each citizen will be tracked. Within five years, owners of homes and commercial buildings will be required to hire civil engineers to submit detailed blueprints and videos of their structures in order obtain a “structural identification” certificate—or risk steep fines or demolition.
These new taxes and measures are set to be enforced despite the growing inability of citizens and businesses to pay. The first half of 2016 saw a €1 billion shortfall in the collection of the value-added tax, while €272 million worth of income taxes for this year—about 25 percent of total expected revenue—remains unpaid. This is not due to a purported culture of “tax evasion,” but due to declining incomes and a general inability to pay.
Evidence of citizens’ inability to pay abounds. Deposits in Greece’s shattered banking system declined by €160 million in July alone. The number of employed people not being paid has reached 1 million, and 500,000 Greeks are paid less than €412 per month for their labor.
Eurostat figures from the fourth quarter of 2015 show that just 4.3 percent of the unemployed in Greece were able to find jobs. Greek families, who once took pride in passing property down from generation to generation, leading to the highest rate of homeownership in Europe, now find themselves rejecting inheritances from deceased relatives in record numbers, due to the tremendous tax burden.
Further fueling the oncoming storm, the Syriza government has committed to sweeping home foreclosures and auctions this autumn, while confiscations of funds from ever-dwindling bank accounts for unpaid debts to the state continue unabated. The government estimates it will collect over €2 billion from these confiscations by the end of the year.
In the meantime, the omnibus bill passed in May lowered the basic pension to a paltry €345-384 per month, while the value-added tax on many basic goods, including necessities like soap, was hiked to 24 percent. Following the initial slashing of basic pensions by up to 48 percent in June, aid for poor families and the disabled has been slashed almost in half beginning with this month’s payments.
Supplementary pensions for 150,000 recipients have been cut further, by as much as 38 percent, with further reductions slated for October. In response to the cuts, Giorgos Katrougalos, the labor minister who participated in the 2011 protests of the anti-austerity “indignants,” stated that the new system will “protect all Greeks from poverty,” adding that had pensions not been reduced, they would not be issued at all. Not convinced, pensioners have already begun to protest outside government ministries.
Meanwhile, the number of households which qualify for subsidized heating oil has been cut in half, the fuel and oil tax has once again been hiked, co-payments on prescription drugs covered by public insurance funds have been raised by 25 percent, while suffering small businesses have been further burdened by an increase in their tax rate from 26 percent to 29 percent. In a recent televised interview, Syriza MP Hara Kafantari stated that “the days where a shop owner was his own boss are over.” This perhaps helps explain why Greece’s burgeoning startup scene is being driven out amid Syriza’s excessive and unpredictable taxation.
Broadcasting licensing process rife with corruption
Syriza’s recent licensing bid for national television broadcasters is emblematic of its reign in office thus far. Diaploki is a Greek word which perfectly sums up the triangle of corruption and interplay between major political and business interests and the state. One of Syriza’s numerous pre-election pledges was to rout the “oligarchs” who control the media and much of the economy and put an end to this diaploki.
On Sept. 1, the Syriza-led government triumphantly claimed to have fulfilled this promise through the completion of the auctioning process for four licenses for national “general-interest” television stations. This announcement was accompanied by claims that “fairness” and “rule of law” had been “restored” after 27 years of “lawlessness” on the Greek airwaves (broadcasters have up until now been operating under a framework of provisional legality).
In Greece, the rabbit hole of diaploki runs deep—and this has not changed in the slightest during Syriza’s reign. The bidding process was both farcical and inhuman: The bidders were said to have been locked in isolated rooms in the headquarters of the Greek Secretariat for Press and Media, without any ability to communicate with each other or with the outside world for 70 hours, purportedly to ensure a “clean” bidding process.
In reality, though, the process was rife with illegalities, contradictions, inconsistencies, and absurdities, and it completely lacked transparency. It has also put six of Greece’s eight largest private television broadcasters in danger of being forced off the airwaves by the year’s end, including the top station in the ratings, Alpha TV.
Most significantly, perhaps, is the fact that the licensing process was conducted by the government itself, instead of by Greece’s independent licensing body for broadcasters, the National Commission for Radio-Television (NCRTV), which has remained defunct for most of the past year. This contradicts both the Greek constitution and European regulations which call for licensing processes to be conducted by independent bodies. The bid was based on the false premise that there were only enough frequencies available to license four national privately-owned broadcasters—two frequencies with two HD outlets each.
This claim is contradicted by the hundreds of digital stations broadcasting in Italian cities and the multiple HD channels per frequency on Britain’s Freeview service.
Further, while the government has repeatedly hinted that licenses for national “thematic” (special-interest stations) will be issued, it has not stated when this will happen, how many licenses will be issued, or through which process.
This immediately contradicts the government’s claim that, aside from technical reasons, the number of national general-interest licenses was limited to four due to the limited size of the Greek advertising market and the purported desire to ensure economically “viable” licensees.
How could bidders gauge their viability and bid accordingly, without knowing what the future marketplace will look like?
Adding to the confusion, upon completion of the licensing process, the government announced that it is pushing back the licensing process for “thematic” stations indefinitely and intends to instead focus next on the licensing of regional broadcasters through a similar process which would put most of Greece’s 100-plus regional stations at risk of being forced off the air. Already having been battered by the economic crisis, these regional stations would be unable to afford the steep cost of participating in the bidding process.
Following this, thematic licenses may be issued on a national basis, while similar licensing procedures for radio have been forewarned.
The licensing process also does not include any criteria whatsoever for the quality of programming, for balanced news presentation, or for public service programming. The only criterion which mattered was money, and with a limited amount of licenses being issued, the cost of each license was artificially driven upward, ensuring only the deepest of deep pockets–oligarchs, in other words–could participate.
It also ensured that should this licensing process be finalized and not legally struck down, Greece might just become the first country where fewer television stations will remain on the air in the digital era, instead of more.
Once out to fight the ‘oligarchs,’ Syriza’s given them TV stations instead
Syriza has repeatedly promised to “clean up” the airwaves and end diaploki. But just who are the oligarchs who successfully bid for licenses? Two of them, Giannis Alafouzos and Theodoros Kyriakou, own incumbent broadcasters Skai TV and Antenna TV, respectively. These two stations led the vociferous “pro-yes” media brigade prior to the July 2015 referendum.
Alafouzos, a shipowner, was found to be in possession of over €50 million in undeclared funds and had his assets frozen last month, pending an investigation for tax evasion. One of Skai’s main commentators, Bambis Papadimitriou, is notorious for having suggested that the previous conservative government of New Democracy could benefit from forming a coalition with a “serious” Golden Dawn, Greece’s far-right party.
Antenna TV, like Skai, is owned by a family of shipping and oil magnates. Antenna Group’s investments span multiple industries and over a dozen countries, while the station’s founder, Minos Kyriakou, has had his share of legal troubles in the past, including a jail sentence for illegal structures constructed in the resort region of Porto Heli (this sentence was later appealed down to a fine). Antenna, like Skai, also vehemently supported the pro-austerity “yes” vote in the 2015 referendum, likening the “yes” versus “no” option to a choice between being like Europe or “becoming Zimbabwe.”
The cases of the other two licensees, neither of whom are currently in possession of a television station, are even more egregious. One of the winning bidders is Vaggelis Marinakis, a shipping mogul and football magnate, who is facing at least five criminal investigations on charges ranging from match-fixing to directing a criminal organization.
Marinakis is also said to have been involved in the case of the “Noor 1,” a ship which Greek authorities found to be transporting 2.1 tons of heroin and which may be linked to Marinakis through close associates of his. Marinakis is a city councilman in Piraeus, while his right-hand man from the Olympiacos football club, Yannis Moralis, is mayor. Together, they exert control over the municipal radio station of Piraeus, Kanali 1. On Tuesday, prosecutors in Greece recommended that Marinakis be jailed pending trial on charges of match-fixing.
But perhaps the most flagrant case of all is that of Christos Kalogritsas, a former publisher-turned-construction magnate, and his son, Ioannis-Vladimiros Kalogritsas. Christos Kalogritsas’ construction firm, Toxotis S.A., is the recipient of numerous state contracts issued by the Syriza-led government for public works projects throughout Greece.
Toxotis S.A. recently purchased Medousa, a competing construction firm. It was formerly known as Tsipras ATE and owned by Pavlos Tsipras, father of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Christos Kalogritsas and his wife are currently facing civil and criminal charges for an alleged €51 million in unpaid taxes, while employees at Toxotis S.A. have previously gone on strike over six months of unpaid wages. The Kalogritsas family also owns significant shares in Attica Bank, one of the banks which has been repeatedly recapitalized by Greek taxpayers.
It is from Attica Bank that Ioannis-Vladimiros Kalogritsas provided a letter of guarantee worth €3 million in order to participate in the television licensing bid. This letter was submitted past the deadline set by the government for participation in the bid, but was nevertheless accepted.
Additionally, Christos Kalogritsas has close ties to current defense minister, Panos Kammenos; the current minister of infrastructure, transport and networks, Christos Spirtzis (whose ministry oversees public works projects and matters pertaining to broadcast frequency allocation); and celebrity television personality Nikos Evaggelatos. Kalogritsas is also said to maintain a “brotherly” friendship with current minister of state, Nikos Pappas, who oversaw the television licensing process. He is also a primary shareholder of polling firm GPO, one of the many Greek polling firms which receives state funding and which has repeatedly produced grossly inaccurate public opinion and exit poll results.
Further adding to the web of corruption, both Marinakis and the Kalogritsas family are represented by the attorney Giannis Mantzouranis. Mantzouranis also happened to represent the Greek state in the recent television licensing process. Clearly, conflicts of interest are not a concern for Syriza. In the late 1980s, Mantzouranis had been jailed as part of the wide-ranging Koskotas money-laundering scandal.
He is also one of the attorneys of investigative journalist-turned-Syriza cheerleader Kostas Vaxevanis, who through his involvement in the HellasNet network of regional television stations, stands to be one of the beneficiaries of any bid for regional TV licenses.
Diaploki is safe with Syriza in power
While Syriza is making triumphant claims of “restoring rule of law” in the television landscape, its own party-owned radio station, Sto Kokkino, went on the air illegally in 2005 after purchasing the frequency of a radio station that went unlicensed during a 2001 bid (when, again, there were claims that there was “no room” for more stations). The station in question, NRG 105.5 FM, which is under the same ownership as Athens’ Kiss FM, had illegally returned to the airwaves.
In 2006 and 2007, Sto Kokkino was shut down by authorities for broadcasting without a license, but the New Democracy government under Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis later passed a law which legalized party-owned broadcast stations, permitting them to operate without a license. Sto Kokkino was therefore “legalized.”
Meanwhile, Syriza continues to enforce a law passed by the previous conservative government which allows broadcast stations classified as “news” stations to switch classifications to “non-news,” but which does not provide the same privilege to “non-news” stations which wish to switch to news programming, thus creating a closed broadcast news marketplace. Sto Kokkino’s subsidiary stations throughout Greece violate this rule, but rather than changing the law and creating a level playing field, as Syriza is claiming to be doing now with the television licensing process, it keeps this blatantly undemocratic law as is and simply violates it for its own ends.
All of this has taken place while the NCRTV remains defunct, with no frequency table having been publicized for television stations, and with 1,000-2,000 employees in the television sector facing unemployment if their stations are forced to close. This would also create a restricted and highly centralized and controlled television market. Prime Minister Tsipras, in a recent speech celebrating the opening of a new stretch of highway (constructed by Toxotis S.A.), promised to turn over the €246 million in revenue from the licensing bid “to the poor.”
Of course, this assumes that money, which would be paid in three annual installments and only if the stations are profitable, is ever paid. Even so, EU officials have already stated that it will go toward Greece’s commitments to its lenders, not to the impoverished. They’ve also questioned the licensing process itself.
Tsipras also omitted from his speech the loss of tax receipts and insurance fund contributions from the six stations slated to shut down, and the combined €700 million in debts they owe to Greek banks, which would likely go unpaid if they go off the air and be thrust upon the shoulders of Greek taxpayers instead via yet another recapitalization.
Make no mistake: Syriza’s “efforts” are not just contained to broadcast licensing. Syriza intends to create a state-run body to allocate advertising across media outlets, retaining a 30-percent commission for the state. Earlier in the year, government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili announced the government’s intention to “restore order to the internet,” beginning with the creation of a registry of online news outlets and blogs. Registration was mandatory for all outlets which wished to be considered for state advertising expenditures—an easy way for any government to pay its way into the hearts of media owners.
Another way is through patronage, as in the case of Giorgos Christoforidis, publisher of the (once) anti-austerity newspaper To Xoni and former candidate for parliament with the Independent Greeks. Christoforidis was appointed to a post in the government’s press office while continuing to publish To Xoni.
Is it the new left or the old right? Who can tell?
In the meantime, the Syriza-led government continues to operate with stunning arrogance and insensitivity. Proclamations are made for the “record” number of tourists visiting Greece—even while most tourist resort towns lay idle during the tourist season. In Samos, patrolled by German police, there were not many refugees in sight—nor many tourists. The vice president of the Syriza government, Giannis Dragasakis, has stated that it was a mistake for Syriza to have “demonized” the word “memorandum.”
Syriza MP Makis Balaouras recently claimed that “austerity is not in Syriza’s DNA.” Economist Rania Antonopoulou, who holds the ironic portfolio of “alternate minister for combating unemployment,” recently wrote in the Syriza-owned Avgi newspaper that “the third memorandum has strengthened Greece’s position.” Nikos Xydakis, the foreign minister, recently said that Greece has renounced much of its national sovereignty. In a “let ‘em eat cake” moment, Deputy Minister for Social Solidarity Theano Fotiou remarked that “stuffed peppers could feed an entire family.” The start of the football season has been postponed, purportedly to stamp out corruption stemming from the same “oligarchs” who received television licenses.
Defense Minister Panos Kammenos has proposed the construction of a NATO base in the southern Aegean island of Karpathos, while German-owned Fraport is preparing to install a new €13 per passenger tax at the regional airports it now controls. Over the summer, the government proudly proclaimed the “loosening” of stifling capital controls—as the restriction on bank withdrawals was changed from a €420 weekly limit, to an €840 cap every two weeks. Do the math. Schools go without janitorial staffs, university restrooms without toilet paper.
All of this while there is nary a thought of departing the eurozone or following the example of British voters and waving goodbye to the EU. The signs were there about Syriza, its neoliberal tendencies, and the ensuing betrayal of its pre-election promises. Some warned about Syriza again, and again, and again, but those warnings fell on deaf ears.
Most of the world celebrated Syriza’s victory in January 2015, while “leftist” media outlets and commentators ranging from Democracy Now! to Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and others, have long forgotten about Greece or have excused away Syriza’s betrayal as simply the result of being “bullied” and “blackmailed” by the EU—which Greece must nevertheless remain a part of at “all costs.”
In this modern-day debt colony the “leftist” government has demonstrated an astonishing arrogance in not only violating its pre-election promises and July 2015 referendum result, and agreeing to a third—and the most onerous to date—austerity program, but also continuing to pretend that it is acting in a “leftist” and “progressive” manner.
All the while, it’s keeping Greece firmly shackled to the chains of the EU, eurozone, and IMF, while the Greek people seemingly have lost their pluck, devoid of any fight, resigned to their EU shackles
Wednesday, 7 September 2016
9GetSmartNEWS AND COMMENTARY ON POLITICAL EVE
Life in a Modern Day Debt Colony: The Truth about Greece
By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart
In May, likely for the first time in the post-war history of the Western world, a national parliament willingly ceded what remained of its country’s sovereignty, essentially voting itself obsolete. This development, however, did not make headlines in the global news cycle and was also ignored by most of the purportedly “leftist” media.
The country in question is Greece, where a 7,500-page omnibus bill was just passed, without any parliamentary debate, transferring control over all of the country’s public assets to a fund controlled by the European Stability Mechanism, for the next 99 years. This includes all public infrastructure, harbors, airports, public beaches, and natural resources, all passed to the control of the ESM, a non-democratic, supranational body which answers to no parliamentary or elected body. Within this same bill, the “Greek” parliament also rendered itself voteless: the legislation annuls the role of the parliament to create a national budget or to pass tax legislation. These decisions will now be made automatically, at the behest of the European Union: if fiscal targets set by the EU, the IMF, and the ESM are not met, automatic “cuts” will be activated, without any parliamentary debate, which could slash anything from social spending, to salaries and pensions. In earlier legislation, the Greek parliament agreed to submit all pending bills to the “troika” for approval. For historical precedent, one needs to look no further than the “Enabling Act” passed by the Reichstag in 1933, where the German parliament voted away its right to exercise legislative power, transferring absolute power to govern and to pass laws, including unconstitutional laws, to then-Chancellor Adolf Hitler.
The Greek omnibus bill was preceded by another piece of legislation, “reforming” Greece’s pension system through the enactment of further cuts to pensions while increasing taxes almost entirely across the board. Despite government lies to the contrary, these cuts are regressive and will disproportionately impact the poorer strata of society: the basic pension has been cut to €345 per month, supplementary pensions to poor individuals have been eliminated, the value-added tax on many basic goods has been raised to 24%, the number of households which qualify for heating oil subsidies has been slashed in half while taxes on oil and fuel have again been increased, co-payments on prescription drugs covered by public health insurance have been hiked by 25%, employees’ contributions to the social security fund have been raised (effectively lowering salaries), special taxes have been introduced on coffee and alcoholic beverages, while Greece’s suffering small businesses have been saddled with an increase in their tax rate from 26% to 29%.
In addition to the aforementioned pieces of legislation, the Greek government, in effect, ceded its national sovereignty earlier in the year when, as part of the EU-Turkey deal on the refugee and migrant crisis, Greece unconditionally accepted the presence of NATO warships and Turkish military and police personnel in the Aegean region, while the “patriotic” defense minister of Greece, Panos Kammenos, has publicly proposed the construction of a new NATO base on the island of Karpathos.
While Greece has made global headlines in recent years, the media have remained silent on this latest neoliberal attack on the country’s economy and on Greece’s already suffering businesses and households. But it has not just been the mainstream media which has been quiet. Supposedly “leftist” media outlets such as Democracy Now! have “forgotten” about Greece ever since SYRIZA’s betrayal of the July 5th, 2015 referendum result, where an overwhelming majority (62%) of voters rejected a proposed new austerity package from the EU. “Leftist” intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein have also remained silent. These “left-wing” outlets and intellectuals had all, at one time, openly supported SYRIZA—even while “the signs were there that SYRIZA was not what it claimed to be. Today, these outlets and these intellectual figures refuse to admit that they were wrong or to openly denounce SYRIZA’s betrayal, while also not providing any support to other, true anti-austerity movements in Greece.
Of course, even when Greece was in the news, the truth regarding what was really happening in the country was obscured behind the international media’s overwhelming pro-EU, pro-austerity bias, which masqueraded as “objective” reporting. This is equally true of Greece’s oligarch-controlled media outlets. Let’s examine what they have been hiding.
The economic crisis in Greece has typically been blamed on “lazy” and “unproductive” Greeks who supposedly refused to work, even at their cushy government jobs, retired at age 30, and who lived beyond their means, vacationing in the Greek isles and spending the money of hard-working Europeans to live the high life. “Reality” television programs such as “Go Greek for a Week,” broadcast on the UK’s Channel 4, perpetuated this blatant stereotyping, as did the Greek media back at home. Even the supposedly brilliant anti-austerity “crusader” Yanis Varoufakis repeated the mythology that “hard-working” Germans and other Europeans are now paying to support Greece. The reality, however, is harshly different. Greece is not receiving “free money” from Europe or the troika. It is receiving loans—to repay previous debt—loans which are accompanied by high interest rates and onerous strings attached, such as the aforementioned measures recently passed by the Greek parliament. Greece’s debt as a percentage of GDP was 124% prior to receiving its first “bailout” in 2010. Six years later and after repeatedly being “saved,” this figure is approaching 200% of “bailout” funds never entered the Greek economy but instead went right back to foreign lenders for the repayment of an illegal, odious debt.
What has gone unsaid by both the Greek and international media are the true origins and contributors to the Greek crisis. These factors include the manipulation, by Goldman Sachs, of Greece’s debt and deficit figures through a series of swaps and derivatives, hiding the true figures in circumvention of EU Maastricht criteria for admission into the Eurozone, for a tidy profit. Indeed, a piece of often-repeated mythology was that Greece was the only country which misbehaved by “lying” to enter the Eurozone. In fact, Goldman Sachs as well as J.P. Morgan and other major banks, helped Italy and other countries “lie” as well, while the role of swaps and derivatives in bringing about the global financial meltdown of 2007-2008 is widely known.
Manipulation took place in Greece too, at the behest of international lenders. Greece’s statistical authority, ELSTAT, led by former IMF official Andreas Georgiou, is said to have manipulated Greek deficit figures in 2009 to seem worse than they were in reality, with the goal of providing the political impetus necessary to bring in the IMF and other “saviors” to “bail out” Greece. These allegations were so serious, and so effectively substantiated by ELSTAT whistleblowers such as Zoe Georgina, that criminal charges were filed against Georgiou—charges which were quietly dropped by the “leftist” SYRIZA government in 2015. The ELSTAT scandal has barely been reported upon outside of Greece, if at all, while in Greece today it has essentially been “forgotten.”
Another cause of the crisis is the euro itself. The euro is a debt instrument, produced by a private bank (the European Central Bank) accountable to no government, and lent to member-states such as Greece. The concept of the European common currency was first proposed by economist Robert Mundell, who is also known as the father of “supply-side” economics, and who, in an interview with Greg Palast, had the following to say about the true objectives of the euro: “It puts monetary policy out of the reach of politicians, and without fiscal policy, the only way nations can can compete is by the competitive reduction of rules on business.” The euro was created to strip fiscal and monetary policy-making ability from national governments, leaving them without the ability to increase stimulus spending or devalue their national currency to regain competitiveness. The only option left is austerity and deregulation. What has happened in Greece, therefore, is not an accident or a “failure” of the euro. It was the goal.
Following five years of crisis, SYRIZA was touted, in Greece and abroad, as the “savior.” Sold by the media as a “radical leftist” and “anti-austerity” party, SYRIZA’s pre-election promises included “tearing up” the memorandum agreements and rescinding all of the austerity legislation with “one law and one article.” Millions in Greece and globally were duped—yet, the signs were there: SYRIZA was built upon the ashes of the corrupt PASOK dynasty in Greece, with a dozen of SYRIZA’s initial government ministers (including Yanis Varoufakis) being former PASOK personnel. Similarly, SYRIZA’s coalition partner-to-be, the “anti-austerity” Independent Greeks, stemmed from the corrupt right-wing New Democracy party. SYRIZA continuously waffled on taking a firm position regarding remaining in the EU and Eurozone or departing. And as the January 2015 elections inched closer, SYRIZA continuously diluted its rhetoric.
For those who kept their eyes open, the impending sellout was predictable. It didn’t take long for the naysayers to be proven correct. SYRIZA’s first months in office were marked by agreeing to extend the previous austerity measures; nominating and electing a corrupt pro-austerity conservative, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, as president of the Hellenic Republic; seizing the public sector’s cash reserves to repay further installments of debt to the IMF—even though the legality of said debt was supposedly being audited—while Varoufakis and other government ministers repeatedly stated the government’s intentions to fully repay the Greek debt. Leading up to the referendum of July 5 and the betrayal and third memorandum agreement which followed, SYRIZA itself proposed a 47-page set of harsh austerity measures, cuts, and privatizations, to Greece’s lenders totaling over 8 billion euros.
A dirty secret of Greek electoral politics is that the party which finishes in first place in the national elections automatically earns a 50-seat parliamentary “bonus.” This bonus was enough to allow SYRIZA to form a majority coalition government with the Independent Greeks in January 2015—and again in the snap elections in September. SYRIZA, however, did not have a mandate in either electoral contest, earning 35-36% of the vote in races with record-low turnout. In reality, approximately one in five Greeks voted for SYRIZA, hardly a “mandate.” SYRIZA, as New Democracy and PASOK in recent elections, was helped along by the formation of pro-establishment flank parties, such as “To Potami,” the “Democratic Left,” and the “Centrists’ Union,” parties which absorbed a significant subsection of voters supposedly seeking an alternative to the status quo but which, in reality, were equally pro-austerity, pro-EU, and pro-euro. Such parties have been created prior to each parliamentary election in recent election, for precisely this reason.
Of course, the Greek and international media will have you believe that Greeks are overwhelmingly pro-euro, gleefully reporting the supposed results of public opinion polls which have claimed that 70-80% of Greeks wish to remain in the euro at all costs. Herein lies another dirty little secret of Greek politics: there are no independent polling firms. Instead, these firms all receive government funding, and all public opinion polls are conducted on behalf of major media outlets, all of which are politically aligned and most of which are oligarch-owned. Results are, predictably, tailored to the desires of these outlets and their owners—but are unquestioningly repeated by the international media and their Greece-based correspondents. What haven’t they reported? The results of the annual Gallup International poll, for instance, conducted in several European countries including Greece, which found majorities in Greece in favor of departing the Eurozone in both 2014 and 2015. This poll, conducted across Europe and by a non-Greek firm, is far less likely to be politically tainted. A recent pan-European poll by Pew Global found 71% of respondents in Greece viewed the EU unfavorably
It is nevertheless true, of course, that there is a strong pro-European sentiment in Greece. This mentality is deeply rooted in the country’s modern history. Following independence, the “great powers” promptly installed foreign monarchs at Greece’s helm. For most of the 19th and early 20th century Greece was a Bavarian and British protectorate. Following the Greek Civil War, itself prodded by the British, Greece became an American protectorate, capped off by the U.S.-supported military junta of 1967-1974. Following the fall of the junta, a conservative government laid the groundwork for Greece to cede its sovereignty, as the country joined the EU in 1981 and the Eurozone in 2002. Greece has never been an independent, fully sovereign state, and this reality has created a colonial mindset and fierce divisiveness in the Greek psyche: a division between those who were “leftist” versus those who were “fascist,” and a division between those who believe Greece should be aligned with the West, and those who wish to align with Russia. Those in favor of true independence and non-alignment are few and far between, while the crisis has brought back to the fore the old societal divisions.
European Union membership has often been credited with Greece’s economic growth in the period between 1981-2009. What is less often said is that this period coincided with a tremendous growth in unemployment in Greece, a wholesale attack on Greece’s industrial base as Greek industries were shuttered or swallowed up by multinationals, while Greek agriculture was decimated by the EU’s “Common Agricultural Policy,” which dictated to farmers what to grow, what not to grow, and what Greece could or could not export. Greece’s self-sustainability in many sectors of food production was decimated, leading to an increasing reliance on imports (helped along by strong marketing of the “European way of life” and desire for “foreign” products). EU funds for major public works projects usually made their way back to European banks and firms such as Siemens, which (often through bribery) landed the major contracts to construct these projects, while Greek taxpayers were saddled with the bill.
Nevertheless, the Greek people voted overwhelmingly to reject the austerity proposals in last July’s referendum. But what exactly was the referendum asking? The question on the ballot was purposely convoluted, while the SYRIZA-led government did not present its planned course of action if the “no” vote prevailed. This should have been a warning. Tsipras, as well as Varoufakis, could barely conceal their disappointment that “no” prevailed—and so overwhelmingly—and neither could the media and the polling firms, which predicted that “no” and “yes” were running neck-and-neck, just as their electoral exit polls dating back to 2010 have been woefully inaccurate and always in a pro-austerity direction. The lead-up to the referendum also saw a tremendous wave of “solidarity” throughout Europe and the West—with activists purportedly supporting the Greek people and, somehow, supplied with SYRIZA flags, which I am sure one can’t just easily purchase in a shop in London or New York City. Oddly enough, following the betrayal, this “solidarity” movement dissipated.
The “protest” movement in Greece is not much better. While a general perception exists across the world that Greeks have not been afraid to “riot” and to strike for their rights, the reality is far more mundane. Complacency, apathy, and resignation are the name of the game in Greece. Every so often when a protest is organized, the same old stale, ineffective recipes are followed: gather in Syntagma Square, stand around in front of Parliament with the same old banners, wait for the “rioters” to appear and the tear gas to start flying, and then retreat. And just who are these “rioters”? The media calls them anarchists—but a plethora of documentary evidence suggests that these are provocateurs, who are working in cahoots with the police and are sent in to orchestrate trouble in otherwise peaceful gatherings, providing the impetus for police to fire tear gas—not at the hoodlums, but at the crowd that had gathered peacefully, thereby breaking up the protest. Numerous videos and photos have shown these provocateurs mingling with police officers, or smashing shop windows in front of police, unobstructed. I’ve seen this with my own eyes: hooded men in civilian clothing mingling with police behind the U.S. Embassy in Athens during a protest in 2012.
In the rare event that a demonstration gathers large crowds, as was the case during the protests of the “indignants” in 2011 or the rallies in favor of “no” prior to last July’s referendum, this is invariably because partisan armies have been mobilized to show up en masse. A dirty secret of the large-scale 2011 protests is that they may well have been staged, to serve as a release valve for an increasingly disenchanted populace. An official now with the Independent Greeks party (which had not yet formed in 2011) claimed in an interview I conducted for my academic research in 2012 that he was the one behind the original Facebook invitation which led to the beginning of the “indignants” movement in Greece. When asked why the Facebook page was later taken down, his reply was that “it no longer served a purpose.” Similarly, while large crowds (and celebrity musicians) were mobilized in the days leading up to last year’s referendum, following the referendum and betrayal, the number of protesters in Syntagma Square did not surpass a few hundred. The partisan armies stayed home. Similarly, the mobilization of Greek farmers recently was halted once party-affiliated union bosses got involved, sending the farmers back home.
There is also a global perception that Greece is often crippled by strikes and that Greek workers are not afraid to fight for their rights. Wrong again. One sees more strike activity in France and even in supposedly “disciplined” Germany—where Lufthansa personnel regularly walk out of their jobs—while in Greece, “general strikes” are in name only. Most workers don’t participate, and many that do are under the impression that they are “sending a message” by calling for a three or four hour “work stoppage.” In 2011, in the midst of the indignants’ movement, workers at the Public Power Corporation scheduled “rolling blackouts” to prevent the proposed privatization of the company. Coincidentally, these blackouts were only implemented in the poor and working-class districts, while the lights stayed on in parliament, central Athens, and the wealthier suburbs. The same counterproductive, failed strategies are implemented again and again without change—and quite likely on purpose. In the meantime, SYRIZA not only has not fulfilled its promise to dissolve the violent, out-of-control riot police units, but has instead used them to again attack protesters with tear gas.
Complacency and the lack of critical thought are indeed well-cultivated in Greece. The education system, which also happens to be highly politicized, strongly favors rote learning. Schoolteachers routinely underteach pupils in the classroom, obliging parents to pay small fortunes to send their children to after-school “prep centers,” where they end up learning what they were supposed to learn in school. Having to endure back-to-back schooldays on the same day plus homework for both school and their prep courses, children—particularly those in high school—spend their prime years on top of textbooks without a break. Students are required to choose a course of study at age 14, in preparation for all-or-nothing “national exams” which determine university admission. The endless hours of schoolwork foster rote memorization and discourage any critical skills or “outside the box” thinking. Once in university, students are almost obliged to join one of the political blocs which dominate the campuses and which make arrangements for everything from study guides to weekend getaways. These blocs are all aligned with the major political parties—so that young adults begin a lifetime of partisan dependency. University faculty, star-struck by EU funds and grants, are almost invariably pro-EU and pro-euro, stifling any healthy political debate on campus.
The education system is not the only societal sector that has been purposely compromised. In Greece’s (in)justice system, even the simplest of legal cases can take a decade or more to resolve—with various shenanigans invariably occurring along the way. This suits the powers that be quite well. The endless legal process prices out those who are not wealthy and can’t continuously pay attorneys’ fees. There is also no constitutional court in Greece, while Greece’s highest court, the Council of State, is infamously deferential to the government—which appoints its members. Indeed, the entire state apparatus, from mandatory military conscription for men with essentially no option for alternative civil service, the patronage system, and the notoriously inefficient bureaucracy—seem to operate in the manner it which does not so much due to some inherent societal flaw as by design, as this apparatus suits the interests of the political class and the powerful, discourages critical thought, activism, or the development of a true civil society; and helps encourage the “brain drain”—which is not a product of the crisis but a long-standing societal phenomenon—therefore opening the way for the incompetent but well-connected to attain key positions in both the public and private sectors.
Notably though, the aforementioned “brain drain” is a part of the mentality of complacency prevalent in Greece. With the help of the education system, which for the past three decades has severely diluted the teaching of the Greek language and Greek history while teaching students that they are “European first,” one sees in Greece today an utter lack of respect for the country or for the Greek language. Everyday parlance is dominated by slang and imported vocabulary, primarily English-language words, a cycle perpetuated and furthered by the media. A larger number of radio stations in Athens plays American/international pop and rock music, than in New York City or London. Most businesses and media outlets have English-language names. Young people, for years now, have been raised essentially with the goal of graduating and obtaining a “good career” abroad. Continuing family-run businesses or working in agriculture or even shipping, are options that are perpetually snubbed. There is not even the slightest desire to fight for a better future at home.
Indeed, this phenomenon extends to all sectors of society. Defeatism and self-loathing abound. A long-standing mentality in Greece is that the country is the worst in everything, that phenomena ranging from violence at sporting events to political corruption to ordinary cases of official incompetence, are exclusively Greek. Greeks will readily get into arguments with anyone who says otherwise—passionately arguing against their own country and people even when evidence and lived experiences exist to the contrary. The aforementioned inferiority complex towards the “civilized” West (as it is often described) further perpetuates this mentality, which essentially becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and which itself contributes to the paralysis, apathy, and sclerosis of Greek society. No notable civil society exists outside of the political sphere or, more recently, the equally suspect sphere of mostly foreign NGOs which have inundated Greece. The aforementioned education and legal system, bureaucracy and corruption, are treated as “facts of life” in Greece, with no organized pressures for change.
A major culprit for all of these realities is Greece’s media. The major newspapers and broadcasters are, without exception, owned by oligarchs and/or the politically connected. There is almost no independent media in Greece, except for largely invisible websites and blogs. There is no real public debate to speak of: the entirely of Greece’s media landscape is pro-austerity, pro-EU, pro-euro, and heavily politically aligned, including party-owned broadcast stations and newspapers. Radio and television stations operate without licenses but within a legal framework that is nevertheless so convoluted and tailored to major interests that no outside players or independent voices can enter the marketplace. By way of example, radio and television stations that had not initially classified their programming as “news” programming, are prohibited by law from switching classifications and providing news. This has created a closed broadcast market for news—with all news stations owned by entrenched interests. There is no provision, in practice, for non-commercial broadcasters. Existing major media outlets are not profitable, but “earn their keep” by promoting the political and business interests of their owners and by influencing public opinion.
The SYRIZA government, whose pre-election promises included “cleaning up the airwaves” and attacking the oligarchs, has now launched a bid for nationwide television licenses, a bid based on technical lies regarding the number of stations that can broadcast (in order to limit the number of licenses issued), and a process in which these few licenses will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Not surprisingly, the only candidates for these licenses are the same stations owned by the same oligarchs. SYRIZA’s own radio station began operations completely illegally before being “legalized” via a law passed by the conservative government allowing party-owned stations to operate without a license, while the then-PASOK government sent riot police to shut down 66 radio stations in Athens in one night in March 2001, with the excuse that they were causing “interference” to the operations of the newly-opened Eleftherios Venizelos international airport in Athens, but with the true objective of turning over the entire radio landscape to the oligarchs and their friends. State broadcaster ERT, reopened by SYRIZA last year, has forgotten the activist reporting which it provided following its shutdown by the conservative government in 2013, and now acts as a neutered pro-government, pro-EU mouthpiece, closed off to alternative voices.
It should be mentioned here though that foreign media have not been any more reputable or responsible in their reporting on Greece. Most English-language news websites from Greece are biased, with the same pro-EU and pro-austerity or globalist/internationalist outlook as the major media. Foreign correspondents operating from Greece are even more passionately pro-EU, pro-euro, and pro-austerity: one such correspondent proudly tweeted his “yes” ballot from last July’s referendum. Their reporting, while cloaked in supposedly “objective” language, is heavily biased, with references towards “bailouts” and “necessary reforms” creating specific, one-sided perceptions in readers’ and viewers’ minds, while one newly-launched and supposedly independent English-language news outlet kicked off its operations with a deferential and star-struck “guerrilla interview” with celebrity economist and financial fraudster Yanis Varoufakis. The reporting of these outlets also contains generous helpings of “crisis pornography”—reports which purportedly show the dire impacts of austerity but which instead misreport, misinform, and create the image of a country in such dire circumstances that no one in their right mind would even want to visit, and lest we forget, tourism is one of Greece’s major industries. Reports on mothers abandoning newborn children or giving birth in the middle of the street, claims that one million people migrated out of Greece in a single year, and claims that spendthrift Greeks have the highest percentage of Porsche Cayenne ownership in the world are all blatant lies, but these lies poison public opinion both in Greece and abroad, and fan the flames of sensationalism.
This sensationalism has, for instance, created the impression that ouzo-swilling Greeks were, for decades, retiring during early adulthood and living beyond their means at the expense of hard-working Europeans. What is never reported is that Greece has essentially been a debt colony from the early days of its establishment as a modern nation-state. Debts from the Ottoman Empire continued to be repaid until 1965. For decades upon decades, Greece was obliged to turn over its tax receipts from goods ranging from salt to tobacco products to matches, to a consortium of “great powers” (Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy, Austria, and Russia) to repay debts dating back to the 19th century. Indeed, these same “great powers,” beginning in 1898, established a permanent presence in Athens, overseeing the repayment of the debt, including war reparations to the Ottoman Empire. In other words, over a century before the Greek “debt crisis” and the arrival of the “troika,” Greece was forced to submit to international economic oversight, with the “great powers” maintaining their physical presence in Greece until 1978, a total of 80 years—for those who believe that Greece ceding control of its public assets for 99 years sounds far-fetched.
Indeed, the relinquishment of public ownership of Greece’s valuable utilities, resources, and assets began long before the current crisis. Soon after the end of World War II, German firms, through well-connected Greek middlemen, sidestepped sanctions against Germany and obtained control over valuable mining resources in Greece. In the 1990s, privatizations began in earnest, including the selling of Greece’s national telecommunication provider, OTE, to Deutsche Telecom. These privatizations, as should be clear by now, did nothing to prevent Greece’s economic crisis and likely contributed to it. More recently, the SYRIZA government, which prior to its election promised to put an end to privatizations, sold majority stakes in Greece’s largest port, the port of Piraeus, and 14 profitable regional airports, to Chinese-owned Cosco and German-owned Freeport, respectively. The port of Piraeus was sold for a mere 365 million euros—which amounts to 15 days’ worth of Greek debt repayments—even though its facilities alone are valued at over 5 billion euros, while the agreement with Fraport states that the Greek state is still responsible for paying for all technical upgrades at the 14 airports that were privatized, for the next 40 years. In the meantime, Chinese-owned Cosco, which had already purchased the Piraeus container port in a previous privatization, has imported Chinese-style working conditions to Greece, as workers are not even permitted bathroom breaks while on the job.
Of course, we are supposed to believe that the Greek people had it coming, because they were living beyond their means. Greece’s very high rate of home ownership has often been cited as an example of this. The reality, though, is that traditionally, land ownership has been highly valued in Greece, with homes and property passed from generation to generation. Until recently, with the introduction of the euro, Greeks did not believe in loans or credit. Even today, in the midst of the crisis, per capita private debt in Greece is among the lowest in Europe. This is the opposite of “living beyond one’s means.” And now, the Greek people are being punished for being prudent with their finances.
We are also told that Greeks didn’t pay taxes, ignoring the fact that just as in other countries, salaried workers in Greece are taxed at the source, while an absurdly high value-added tax, which is now as high on 24% even on basic goods such as orange juice, is included in the retail purchase price. Those who evaded taxes in Greece are the same as those who typically evade taxes elsewhere: the rich and the well-connected, those with the means to operate offshore shell corporations in tax havens or to maintain Swiss bank accounts. Many of these individuals were named in the so-called “Lagarde List” of tax evaders with Swiss bank accounts, but the SYRIZA government has not prosecuted any of the individuals on the list.
But Greeks retired at age 30 and sat around in cafes and at the beach all day, right? Wrong. Public employees, particularly those on older contracts, were able to retire after 25 or 30 years of employment—similarly to other countries. With many of these employees having entered the workforce after high school, if not earlier, it makes sense that there would be retirees in their 50s, just as police officers, union employees and other public servants in countries like the United States were also, for a long time, able to retire after 25 or 30 years of service. Are Americans lazy too? How about the Germans or the British or the Swedes, whose social welfare policies have always been far more generous than those of Greece?
In the meantime, the Greek people are saddled with further insane tax increases, including a hike in the unified property tax (ENFIA), which was initially sold as a “temporary” tax and which SYRIZA promised to abolish. Instead of abolishing it, SYRIZA has made this tax permanent—and increased it. Beginning June 1, banks are allowed to seize foreclosed homes and properties electronically, without a physical court hearing, essentially putting an end to a very effective grassroots campaign at courthouses across Greece to block these foreclosures. In the wintertime, Athens and other cities are blanketed by a noxious, unhealthy smog resulting from makeshift fireplaces lit by households unable to afford the absurdly high taxes on heating oil. Schoolchildren are suffering from malnutrition in record numbers. University restrooms lack even toilet paper. And in return, the Greek people are constantly told by the government, by all of the main opposition parties, by the media, and by Greece’s so-called European partners, that “growth” and “development” are coming.
The Greek people have also been told that they are “racist” and “xenophobic” due to their handling of the refugee and migrant crisis. However, it is these claims which are racist—and not the majority of the Greek people. The “concerned” global media typically fail to report the tremendous amount of care and hospitality ordinary Greek citizens have shown towards the refugees and migrants. They also fail to report that this is not a new or recent phenomenon in Greece: refugees and migrants from war-torn areas in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Africa have been streaming into Greece for well over a decade, in hopes of reaching northern Europe. Few media outlets have reported on the realities of the EU’s Dublin II Regulation, which has stranded these refugees and migrants in Greece, because the country of entry is the one legally responsible for processing their paperwork—a regulation which disproportionally impacts countries like Greece. And all of this during a time of tremendous financial and societal strain. While ordinary Greek people commiserate with the plight of the refugees and migrants, as Greece is a country that is no stranger to either, there are legitimate worries about Greece’s ability to absorb tens of thousands of refugees and migrants at a time of economic turmoil and high unemployment. This is interpreted by the “concerned” global media as racism, as is the emergence of the far-right Golden Dawn party, whose electoral share, however, is far less than far-right and xenophobic parties in such “civilized” countries as Austria, France, Germany, and Denmark.
In the face of this reality, the global media and many in Greece continue to treat the “leftist” SYRIZA government as the savior, excusing away the new austerity agreements and the wholesale sell-off of the country as the cost of being “bailed out” and “remaining in Europe,” perpetuating the claim that Greece “has no other choice.” SYRIZA is doing its part, doing anything it can to gain votes using the time-honored tradition of patronage: legalizing fraudulent degrees, legalizing participation in offshore corporations, and proceeding with patronage hires and outright nepotism at all levels of government and the public sector—including the hiring of dozens of relatives and spouses of government ministers. As SYRIZA does this, it sticks its middle finger at the populace. Constitutional scholar Giorgos Katrougalos, who once participated in the major protests in Syntagma Square but who now sends the riot police to tear gas protesters, cynically remarked in response to the new coffee tax that Greeks can go without coffee. SYRIZA’s member of the European parliament Kostas Hrisogonos arrogantly stated that if authorities raided Greek households, they could find another 45-50 billion euros’ worth of undeclared income. This rhetoric does not seem very “leftist.”
So who are the saviors then? Certainly not the Popular Unity party, consisting of former SYRIZA and PASOK retreads, such as the energy minister of the first SYRIZA government, Panagiotis Lafazanis, who failed to fulfill SYRIZA’s promise to put an end to the environmentally destructive mining activities in Skouries, in Northern Greece, during his tenure, and economist Costas Lapavitsas, who prior to his election as a SYRIZA MP touted his so-called “radical economic proposal” but who ended up defending SYRIZA’s economic policies as a form of “moderate Keynesianism.” The Communist Party of Greece bashes imperialism, but in the same breath tells the Greek people that Greece is not ready to leave the Eurozone or EU at this time. Celebrity economist Yanis Varoufakis, with his new pan-European movement supposedly in favor of restoring democracy, is another fraud. His actions as Greece’s finance minister included the acceptance of all previous austerity agreements, a comprehensive proposal for more austerity, a refusal to even entertain the possibility of a Eurozone exit, the full repayment of Greece’s debt that was supposedly being audited, the imposition of capital controls which remain in place today, limiting withdrawals to €420 per week, and the confiscation of the Greek public sector’s cash reserves in order to repay the IMF. Those are not the actions of a supposedly Marxist anti-austerity renegade. His partner in crime, former parliament speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou, is another fraud. She dismissed SYRIZA’s pre-election promises to tear apart the memorandum agreements as a mere “figure of speech,” also voted in favor of all of the austerity measures SYRIZA passed in its first months in office, refused to shut down debate in parliament while these measures—including the betrayal of the July 5 referendum result—were being discussed, and who after the betrayal repeatedly stated her “support” of the SYRIZA government. The reason Varoufakis and Konstantopoulou left SYRIZA has nothing to do with principle, and everything to do with political opportunism, and the fact that Alexis Tsipras stated his intention not to include them on the ballot for the September snap elections. They are political opportunists and frauds of the highest order.
This is the truth about Greece. There is no European dream—but instead a European nightmare. There is no recovery. Greece is not an independent or sovereign country, but a debt colony of the West—a reality which much of the third world is already quite familiar with, and which is very much in the process of being imported to the “first world” as well.
Sunday, 22 May 2016
By Dimitris Konstantakopoulos
I usually work more than ten hours a day and most of the weekends. I am often happy with what I do and I don’t want to complain, as it is very rare for people to be doing what they really want to do. Still, I criticize myself for not being able to master my life and enjoy it more.
But now I am in deep confusion. Recently some European politicians and parties have been returning to the argument that Greeks are lazy and that Europeans should immediately put a stop to the money they are paying to help us.
Of course I don’t believe those conspiracy theorists who keep telling us that Goldman Sachs and other institutions of the same kind orchestrated a financial attack on Greece in 2009-10, after first launching a preliminary “communication” attack against Greeks, portraying them as lazy, disorganized and corrupt. These conspiracy theorists say this massive “communication” attack served no other purpose than to justify what they afterwards did to Greece. They are even telling the crazy story that banks have used a primitive form of self-destructive “German nationalism”, successfully camouflaging their aim to transform their crisis into an EU debt war, making Greeks and other southern Europeans pay their debts, after previously having the foresight to transform them into sovereign debt.
You have to be very perverse to believe such things. Personally I have enormous respect for most European politicians and also for the people running the Commission. As for the executives of Goldman Sachs and other such institutions, they are of an exemplary honesty and the same applies for the accounts of the Deutsche (?) Bank. As for the International Monetary Fund, I have no comment to make on it. Its international reputation speaks for itself.
So, when I hear respected European politicians and parties explaining to their electorate that we Greeks are lazy, that’s it! Finito la musica, passato la fiesta.
There is of course a small and slightly confusing detail. Why on earth did Eurostat, the statistical agency of the European Union, some time ago publish that data proving that Greeks work much more every week than most Europeans, including Germans, Austrians etc.? Something is very strange here!
But if this is true perhaps it can also explain why the EU, Germany and the IMF have imposed on us these particular “help to Greeks programs”. They wanted to encourage us to relax a little and enjoy our lives, by sending two million Greeks into long-term unemployment or immigration abroad to find a job.
Giving money to Greeks!
I am now also hearing some European politicians and parties saying again that they are giving money to Greeks and should stop it. I am glad to hear this! The money does not help Europe and it corrupts Greece.
But again I have some small confusing problems. Where is the money? If they are giving us so much, why has my income been cut by more than 80% since the beginning of the crisis? Why am I not sure I will end my days with a reasonable pension and health care, rather than becoming a beggar in some park in the capital? Where is the money? Perhaps if I change my way of writing I will see this money, as a friend told me?
Of course there are some vulgar newspapers in Germany that are scandal-oriented and sometimes completely un-German. One of them is Handelsblatt. Recently it published an article explaining that 96% of the “help the Greeks” money went to the international banks and not to the Greeks! These findings are said to be based on some obscure study or other by a German university or research center.
Greeks are lazy, but not all lazy people are Greeks. It seems that some of them are German professors. They don’t have anything better to do to help their country and they spend their time tracking where the “money to help Greeks” is going!
I don’t believe anything of what these Handelsblatt characters have written. But even if I accepted for one moment (no more!), the accuracy of their reporting, then what? 4% of the “money to Greeks” still goes to Greeks. As for the remaining 96%, it is also indirectly helping Greece at least in two ways.
First, it is increasing Greek sovereign debt, thus providing Greeks with a very strong incentive to work more and better (if of course they find a job, which may be the weak point of the idea). It is also strongly motivating for all the country’s public property and infrastructure to be handed over to the creditors for them to manage efficiently. (This is exactly what is included in the last agreement between Tsipras and the creditors discussed now in the “Greek parliament”. We cannot be sure of all its details, because the bill the “Greek governement” has introduced consists of 7.500 pages, translated from English. We are not supermen, like Greek deputies, who will study these 7.500 pages in 14 hours, so we can’t be sure. It seems the bill provides for the transfer of all Greek public property to the Creditors for 99 years.)
Do you see any better way for such an aim (give the Greek public property to foreigners to run it) to be achieved, than increase the sovereign debt? With the sovereign debt you can do what otherwise you would need a war to achieve!
Greece can make fantastic progress, but on one condition: that the country be taken away from the Greeks!
The same is true in another way. This “help the Greeks” money may not help Greece directly, but, through the “reform program” accompanying it, it is helping to bring about exponential increases in the private debt of individuals and enterprises, leaving Greeks with no other possibility than to sell their homes, bank assets and enterprises to foreigners. But this, too, will give a tremendous stimulus to the country’s productivity. Does anybody in the world doubt that foreigners can manage these assets much better than Greeks can?
It is clear that Europeans and IMF are paying money to help Greeks. If the money is not being used to help Greeks, this is because Greeks are stupid, as this very polite person Mr. Wolfgang Schäuble informed the Greek Prime Minister in Davos in February.
As for me, I have arranged for an appointment with my optician. Perhaps he has an explanation for why I don’t see this money!
Stop the money to Greeks!
Whether the money is or is not “to help Greeks”, one thing is certain: it must be stopped, and the sooner the better. That is what some Central European politicians have been explaining to their electorates.
They are of course right. And I think we should once more pay tribute to the brave spirit of Otmar Issing, the leading German authority in currency matters and one of the architects of the euro who in March 2010 had the pluck to write a remarkable and very serious article in the Financial Times Deutschland in which he insisted that Europe, and Germany, should not help Greece! The article had a strong impact at the time it was published and significantly shaped European conceptions of Greek problems.
Of course such deeply penetrating minds are so focused on their own ideas that they sometimes suffer minor memory losses. Mr. Issing clearly forgot to mention in that publication that he was a paid advisor to Goldman Sachs Europe. But such trifling oversights in no way detract from the grandeur of his analysis. On the contrary.
Reflecting on all this, I must confess that I fell into deep confusion and for some weeks could not account for my condition. And then suddenly I woke up one morning and resolved the contradiction. If Greeks are lazy and I am not lazy, if Greeks receive so much money to help them and I have less and less money, it is obvious that there can be only one explanation: I am not Greek! All that remains to be explained is why it took me so long to discover the truth.
A new nightmare: Is Schäuble German?
Calm returned to my mind. I slept well for a number of consecutive nights, but then one night my father (who passed away many years ago) appeared to me in my dream, took one sarcastic look at me and said: “Since you were a little boy I have been telling you and your mother that you are an idiot.”
“What? Dad, what are you saying?”
“You listen to me, my boy. I warned you from the time that you were very young that you should not trust people! How long did it take you to understand what kind of person this Tsipras is?”
“Dad, what are you saying?”
“I am saying that you are wrong to believe you are not Greek. In fact, my poor boy you are Greek. It is the Greek PM that is not Greek!” He paused, relishing my surprise, and then continued: “Unfortunately for you, you are Greek. All my efforts to stop you becoming a Greek were vain. It is your mother’s fault! Have you learned nothing from our history, from our civil war? This nation has experienced one disaster after another, not only now but for as long as we can remember. We had this stupid idea of inventing such notions as ethnos (nation), of logos, of citizen, of freedom, more than 2,600 years ago. Solon even carried out a debt restructuring. Do you believe that all this has done anything for our reputation with banks? When are you going to learn this basic principle of shutting your mouth, and keeping it shut?”
He was in a real panic, fearing what could happen to his son. But only a few minutes after this outburst he was already feeling guilty for his behavior. And he said to me: “Look here, I will share a secret with you. Even Schäuble is not a German!”
“Dad you are really going too far now. This Schäuble is a mild, civilized, very serious and politically proper German nationalist”, who balances the books for Germany, and everyone there trusts him. Don’t you see how he behaves?
What else could he be but a German? How could you say he is not? His ministry building itself proves that he is German. It is the same building where Goering had his office! What an idea, that he is not German!”
He looked at me tenderly. He did not want to offend me any more. He said: “My son I was hoping you would be more careful in the way you analyze people. Read again Günter Grass’s last poem on Greece and Europe: his analogy with the time of Hitler. He knows Germans better than you do”.
“Dad, can you kindly stop speaking in riddles and just explain what you mean?”
My father at last assumed the serious, pedagogic and dialogical style of the good thermodynamics professor he had once been. “Listen here, my son, a German “nationalist” could not hand over the governance of the European Union to Goldman Sachs and the IMF. A German “nationalist” would not sacrifice all the political capital that Germany had accumulated in Europe since the war for the sake of “disciplining” Greeks. A German “nationalist” would not permit the Americans to torpedo the agreement his own Foreign Minister had achieved in Kiev and then impose sanctions on Russia. A German “nationalist” would not defend the Iraq war against his Chancellor. You are a physicist my son. You should begin from the facts, not from your ideas about who is who or what someone says he is. It is actions that count. Look at what a person does. The same applies, by the way, for Tsipras. He claims to be a leftist, if not a communist. But could a leftist or a communist behave the way he has behaved?”
“Dad, all this smells of conspiracy theory. You don’t believe, I hope, that some mysterious “Empire of Finance” is ruling the world and imposing change through the co-optation of
“My son”, was his response. “Lord Kelvin used to say “speak not of what you cannot count.” But he did not say “do not think”!
At this point I woke up and phoned my psychoanalyst.
Monday, 16 May 2016
Interview with Aliki Papadaki Citizens Committee Member of Ag.Panteleomonas (central Athens District)
Between 2000 and 2008 the square in Ag Panteleomonas was occupied by a multitude of migrants from every quarter of the planet but primarily from Albania, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan. The square was divided into various ethnic squares where each ghetto went about their business, ie drug dealing, gambling, boozing, sexual activity at night, urinating, defecating etc. The situation became so bad that citizens of the area felt under siege as they couldn’t go about their daily business. Citizens on an individual basis complained to all official bodies in person or in writing from the local councillors, to the police, to their MP’s, to the political parties present in the area. No one listened and they organised themselves in a committee which had a majority of women.
Women bore the brunt of the situation as they were either robbed for their handbags or sexually molested whilst going near or around the square. As the migrants were many and operated as such individual resistance was futile as one was outnumbered. Particularly obscene was the victimisation of old people and targeting their pensions from ATM machines. Anyone who witnessed first hand the situation could not but feel for the plight of Greek citizens.
For a two year period there were demos after demos, counter demos by the so-called anti-racist fake left and the square received national prominence in particular as this was the area that led to the electoral growth of Golden Dawn and the teargassing inside a Church of citizens who continued to protest against becoming a minority inside their own country and being unable to operate as they had before. The economic crisis of course hadn’t fully arrived but the arrival of continuous numbers of migrants. The square became synonymous nationally with everything that was wrong with uncontrolled migration and remains imprinted in the national political psyche in particular now that migrants have been dumped in tens of areas around Greece and protests against their presence has occurred almost everywhere.
The fake Left having abandoned Greeks to their fate has written its own death warrant as a political force and it will suffer the same fate as all the other political forces that tied their economic coattails to mass migration and cheap labour, let no one be fooled. Allowing an economic free for all in any type of migrant to arrive and live against the citizens of the country without their advance knowledge or even minimal approval is a recipe for civil war.
Committee of Citizens in Ag. Panteleomonas
What issues gave rise to the creation of a citizens committee in Ag Panteleomonas?
After the fall of the Soviet U immigrants started arriving in Greece. After 2000 many migrants started to live in the square. All day long they were in the square, the Albanians had created a ghetto and the square was nicknamed Tirana square and they played on wooden boxes and they gambled with dices. Many had taken out Greek OGA (Organisation of Agriculatural Development) pensions being declared fake Greeks from Northern Ipirus (Southern Albania). The Polish were workers, but many spent all day drinking and fighting and there were no public toilets in the square and they smelled of urine. It was impossible to make criticism of Albanians as they said we are 5k people and we will cut you down. In the meantime many houses were burgled and in particular as there were many unemployed and in Crete where I gathered olives every season robberies were immense as everything was stolen.
At the time we had dogs but the Albanians bought pit bulls and they had dogs which fought for money and drug dealing and many shootouts amongst their community. There were also many fights amongst Albanians and Georgians (initially women arrived to look after older people) and deals that went wrong. Drugs were mostly in circulation and all types of drugs controlled by gangs from all of these ethnic groups. A mini USA in an Athenian square which boasted one of the largest Orthodox Churches in Greece.
The priest in the main church on the square gave to the Georgians a small side church facing the square (old believers in Orthodox Church) and another ghetto was created around the Church as a focal point, they started to open their own shops with special dispensation for (illegal) migrants who can set up shop in one day as opposed to a Greek who takes up to six months.
Most of the shops don’t even have a VAT receipt and if anyone rings the Greek tax office they only turn up for Greek owned shops as they don’t bother with migrant stores.
Most Greek women who crossed the square had their bags stolen and my mother had her money stolen from the ATM at least three times when she went to take her pension. A few days ago a man was fixing his sign outside his shop and migrants climbed up his ladder when he wasn’t looking and entered the flat above and robbed it and left by the entrance as gentlemen. All Greek women were harassed sexually. What led to the Committee being created were two incidents that were beyond the pale:
The First Incident
The situation deteriorated when Pakistanis and Afghanis arrived as they had weird traditions mostly being famers and many being gay and the story is they brought live sheep for their Ramazan festival, slept with them and then killed them on the roof (arab style) and they ate them. They used to throw the rubbish from the balconiesin black bags which split and rotted leading to a health situation and people took photographs and took it to the local council.
In the square the on one side the Afghani, Pakistani and Bangladeshi muslims had taken over a part and had turned it to their own special UN ghetto and it was impossible for a Greek woman to enter. They would touch up every woman as she passed, and during this period there is a famous video of Greek women during New Year celebrations in Sindagma square being sexually abused and manhandled.
The Second Incident
At the time an Albanian girl was raped at the age of 14 by what appears to have been a muslim of Pakistani, Afghan or Bangladesh origin as recounted by the girl. The state did not take any reports or interviews from the Albanians. A few of them came to our committee and reported they would handle the matter internally ie. take measures against the Afghani Pakistani and Bangladeshi people in the area. Inter ethnic ghetto conflicts ensured.
In what way were women a catalyst in setting the agenda of reaction to the presence of multitudes in the public square of Ag Panteleomonas
Greek women started the protests in the Ag. Panteleomonas area to regain control of the square. They were under total attack and had never encountered such behaviour in their lives and in the trolley bus women would be manhandled at all times and raise their middle finger. Women from the ages of 40 to +70 were involved in the committee. We decided the situation was under total disarray we couldn’t leave our flat and we couldn’t enjoy the square which in the summer (+40c in flats) means we became prisoners in our own homes. In many flats there were flying body lice which became an issue for the whole area. People couldn’t put their clothes out to dry. In many buildings there were over 300 people in a three story building and when we took a reporter there we saw two people sleeping in the small space above the bathroom where the hot water boiler is kept. An unheard of situation for post-war Greece.
We went to complain to all the official bodies, Mayor, Council, Police, Health service etc. and this led to nothing. So we decided to hold weekly meeting and then public demonstrations and the first person that came against us was Petros Konstantinou of KEERFA who threatened us with the migrants of Afghanistan and Pakistan who started to pray on the square and they started to throw stones and burn dustbins. Up until then GD did not exist in the area. In the first demo all the Greeks in the area turned up for the demonstration. Confronting them was KEERFA.
Looking back at the situation it appears KEERFA’S arrival was pre-ordained to defend illegal migration and the subsequent arrival of GD to taint the area as being ...nazi. There is a possibility they were working together as before 2008 Golden Dawns presence was less than 0.9% nationally and over a two year concerted campaign by KEERFA every protest against the arrival of migrants or turning squares into migrant dumping grounds led to Golden Dawn appearing to be the force that was against ...migration. It’s funny as their star candidate turned MP who had a shop near the area Panagiotaros has left the area and moved to wealthier areas by the sea and wants nothing to do with the area. Politics in Greece is a just a career which opens doors to self promotion.
Which forces in society were you up against during the protests in the square?
At the time no one was with us from the major political parties and none of the Left were concerned. KEERFA<1> organised many support structures for the muslim migrants in the area and many were involved in the drug and sexual favours trade in the main square and they exchanged goods for sex.1>
KEERFA is a front for illegal migration in close cooperation with bosses.
Both New Democracy and PASOK encouraged mass migration into Greece and sought to arrest the collapsing rate of profit by employing migrants with no insurance in a range of industries: farming, tourism and industry. In no sector of the Greek economy is their presence not felt.
Throughout the early part of the 2000 decade a mass propaganda campaign occurred by the so-called anti-racists filling up all public walls with the slogan ‘the bosses promote racism’ when in reality we must have had the most anti-racist bosses on earth as they exclusively recruited migrants. When enough were recruited these slogans disappeared and they became chasing ...nazis. In the meantime Greeks became a minority in many workplaces and anyone opposing the unlimited arrival of migrants was now branded a ..’nazi’ whilst Parliament pushed through anti-racism laws banning the criticism or talk about migrants in anyway whatosoever.
How do you explain the rise and fall of Golden Dawn in the area?
As all the parties had one line a political vacuum was created. Let us remember before 2008 they didn’t exit. What existed was LAOS a splinter group from New Democracy which allegedly took on board issues of migration. GD came to the square and used its appearance for electoral promotion. They no longer have an organisation in the area and the day GD’s MP Kasidiaris last arrived in the area is the day Rouvikona and other NGOs arrived with their ...antifascist banners. They essentially go round the square targeting any young Greeks who might happen to be visiting the area or passing the square but have insignia on them with the Greek flag. Not long ago these same NGO’s as reported in the press targeted a Cypriot tourist unbeknown to them, who was in Exarchia with a Greek flag and beat him up so badly he ended up in hospital. We are dealing with globalist neoliberal scum who hate anything in relation to Greece as a nation.
What is the situation now like and how do you see it developing?
The situation is critical and I believe they will be a conflict. It is much worse and Greek houses are being repossessed and now migrants are filling up houses and their rent is being paid and they are being paid to squat. It is being organised by PRAXIS from the Mayor of Athens Kaminis. They are given a card to use in supermarkets. An indirect way to support big business.
No Greek card for the unemployed has been given. My friend who was fired and replaced by Pakistanis in the kitchens was paid in supermarket vouchers as compensation. No health checks are carried out when they recruit migrants. Its anything goes as it’s a perpetual race to the bottom.
Houses near have been rented for Euro 3000 in an area where the cost of the actual flat is about Euro 10000 if it can be sold and they have placed around 20 people who smoke all day and do nothing. Allegedly 1400 flats have been taken over by migrants and if this situation continues migrants will no longer be in the squares but inside every building which has unrented property. No health and safety over the issue in relation to the overuse of dwelling space. In the building next door to mine over two flats have more than 30 people in them and taking into account many come from villages living in concrete buildings leads to a massive health and safety issue where fire could become inevitable.
All the new migrants are 110% muslims, mostly 99% men and they have one woman with a child as a front to pretend they are from war ravaged communities. The agenda the government have is impossible to impose what they think is possible ie. replace Greeks in totality in their own country. It’s basically a race against time us versus the new world order globalist agenda. Now the issue has gone national many will remember our battles, hopefully learn from them. One notices even today hesitation by governments of any political direction in allowing the squares to become giant squatter camps as before. The state is trying to avoid conflict, but conflict will not in the end be avoided.
KEERFA- Anti racist anti fascist committee of Greece