Wednesday, 7 September 2016
Life in A Modern Day Debt Colony: The Truth About Greece
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.