Archive for the ‘Economy’ Category

Farage: What gives you the right to dictate to the Greek and Italian people?

An item worth watching. Click below to view this YouTube video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdob6QRLRJU

European Parliament, Strasbourg
16 November 2011
Speaker: Nigel Farage MEP, UKIP, Co-President of the EFD Group
00:02:39
http://www.ukipmeps.org
http://twitter.com/#!/Nigel_Farage
Added to YouTube on 16/11/2011
356,041 views on 22/11/2011
.
.

By Nikos Konstantaras
From The Observer, Sunday 6 November 2011

Angry and ashamed, we Greeks need to see a just solution to our ills
Everyone knows how we got into this mess. Our politicians must make sure their reforms reflect this fairly.

No Greek will forget the image of our defeated prime minister standing alone before a gaggle of reporters outside the G20 conference hall in the Cannes night. The German chancellor and French president had just taken turns telling the world that Greece was a step away from being ejected from the eurozone. In the remake of Cinderella, the grim-faced sisters had won.

Two years after his election and the revelation of the depth of Greece’s debt, two years after introducing painful reforms that successive governments had avoided, George Papandreou had made the fatally mistimed blunder of thinking he should ask his people how much more pain they were prepared to take (thereby shaking confidence in the EU’s efforts to prevent the Greek contagion). Here, besides the collapse of the fairy tale that being part of the EU is an endless ball, was the essence of Greece’s modern tragedy. Papandreou, in his moment of despair, represented both good intentions undone by personal failings, and the insular political elite whose weaknesses brought Greece to the terrifying brink of bankruptcy and isolation.
For two years, we Greeks have been wondering what happened to us. How did our country go from being the richest and strongest in the Balkans – the only one that, decades before others, was a member of both Nato and the European Union – to a desperate loan junkie, dependent on increasingly impatient partners and creditors? Just a few years earlier, in 2004, Athens had hosted an excellent Olympic Games. We managed to get organised in time to present the world with a successful combination of aesthetic moderation and technical achievement that was a faint, but true, echo of the classical era which, since its brief flash in the 5th century BC, has been the standard by which every Greek has been judged – and found wanting.
The country was developing at a rapid pace, with major infrastructure projects and good telecommunications. And Greece was proud of having been a part of Europe’s great unification project since 1981. With the adoption of the euro, the Greeks felt that at last they had become integrated with the rest of Europe. And then everything came crashing down, as if at an unknown but predetermined hour, not only did Cinderella lose her coach and horses, her fine gown and both her crystal party shoes, but at the door she was handed the bill for everything – with interest. The Greeks are clever people. We know what happened. For generations, politicians and the people have colluded to feed at the public trough. The one thing that held it all in check (our spending but also our country’s development and modernisation) was Greece’s unyielding poverty.

The lack of farm land, the open invitation of the sea and the hide-outs in endless mountains cultivated a spirit of adventure and impatience. When things got too tough, people would seek their fortune abroad – as emigrants or fugitives. This was not conducive to creating a culture of tolerance, moderation and compromise. After the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey nearly 90 years ago, the overwhelming majority in the country was Greek and its religion Orthodox. This resulted in Greeks not really knowing or caring how other people think. In this very closed culture, the politicians were feudal lords who were responsible for the wellbeing of their supporters. Jobs and benefits were exchanged for votes. Political parties lived and died in a “winner take all” mentality, still one of Greece’s greatest plagues. In such a climate, when only loyalty matters, greed, laziness, corruption and hypocrisy are nourished rather than punished. Inefficiency and waste become the norm.

Membership of the European Union brought the longest period of peace and prosperity this little country has known. The euro put an end to eternal problems such as a weak currency, inflation and high interest rates. It is telling that, at the personal level, Greeks are less in debt than many other people – including Britons and Americans. It is our state which, in the hands of a political class that is still living in the past, went hurtling towards today’s death spiral.

With EU funds and easy loans, the public sector kept growing way beyond its usefulness; salaries and benefits increased beyond productivity. Even worse, Greece made a habit of paying the interest on loans by borrowing more capital. Everyone in politics, business and the media – and all interested citizens – knew that this was happening and that it was untenable. But it is in human nature to think that bubbles do not burst – until they do. It’s like a bank: everyone thinks that it’s fine, or at least capable of surviving, as long as nothing rocks the boat. Then, when there’s a run on it, everyone wonders how it was allowed to operate for so long.

We know that it will take many years of austerity, major social and economic reforms and a radical new mentality to get the country on the right course. People are angry and frightened – because they followed false leaders; because they see a future of deprivation; because they know that they will pay for far more than they consumed. This is natural and those designing and implementing the reforms should – at last – wake up to the fact that the key to changing Greece is to introduce a sense of justice: that those who have the most should pay the most; that crimes should not go unpunished; that hard work and honesty should be rewarded. This is simple – and yet still unattainable. No wonder people are angry; no wonder every small group that likes to throw molotov cocktails at the police is tolerated, to the astonishment of foreign observers.

But perhaps the greatest sorrow and anger these days arises from the destruction of our reputations, from the way in which some governments and many news media have presented the support to Greece not as a necessary evil that will help shore up the euro and, incidentally, help Greece, but rather as if the Greeks are picking their pockets. Greeks everywhere – whether at home, travelling or second- and third-generation immigrants in new lands – are ashamed of what has befallen Greece and embarrassed by the damage to their reputations. Our only hope is that, even at this late hour, our politicians may see their duty to their nation and our partners and join forces to implement all the reforms that the country needs – until new leaders emerge.

This crisis has reminded us of two great things. One is the eternal wisdom of “know thyself”, the cornerstone of ancient Greek thinking, and the need to see ourselves as others see us. The other is that though this country has never had wealth, it has always had talented people. We will think of ways to work our way out of this mess.

© 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.
..
..

Mad Max runs the Greek numbers
An interesting video interview about the IMF’s Greece deal.

The stock market,
is booming this week and the price of everything is going up again.
Why?
Because the international bankers – in this case the IMF – have solved the Greek debt crisis.
Yeah, right.
Here’s what’s really going on.
Video: http://www.realecontv.com/page/5538.html

From Brasscheck TV
..

A documentary film entitled Debtocracy – Chréokratia (Chréos is the Greek word meaning “debt”) has become wildly popular in Greece since that country has been systematically drained while in the clutches of the IMF. Here is a translation of the film which explains the mechanisms for subjugating a country by what economists call “Odious Debt”.

http://www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/xik4kh
Debtocracy International Version by BitsnBytes

This documentary is like a trip “back to the future” for most of the indebted countries in Europe because the Greek situation is a scenario that is going to be repeated over and over again in all the countries that find it impossible to reimburse sovereign debt that is growing exponentially.

Its popularity has attracted many spectators throughout the world, some of whom have expressed regret that it is not available in languages other than Greek, a language of which I have an excellent command.

I considered it sufficiently edifying and worthwhile to have it translated and made available to French readers. I have therefore transcribed here the first part of the documentary film produced by Catherine Kidi and Harry Hadji-Stéphanou.

This part (which does not correspond to the beginning of the film) explains the concept of Odious Debt, how it is used politically, and also recounts how Ecuador managed to escape this trap in 2006.

The story begins in the 1920s with Alexandre Sack, Minister of the Tsar and a law expert. After the revolution of 1917, Sac began lecturing in European and American universities. In 1927, he put forward a brilliant discovery: the notion of Odious Debt.

For a debt to qualify as Odious Debt, three conditions must be present, namely:

1) It must be incurred by leaders without the consent or approval of the citizens.
2) The funds borrowed must be invested in assets from which no benefits accrue to the citizens or the country.
3) The creditor is perfectly cognizant of these facts but nevertheless contracts the debt in total indifference.

Sack’s proposal was considered progressive, even revolutionary. In fact, at that point in time, this notion served the interests of a great power in the making: the USA. The USA had created a precedent to the theory of Odious Debt in 1898, a time when, victorious from the Spanish-American War, it took over control of Cuba. The problem was that in taking over Cuba, the USA also acquired the debt left behind by the Spanish colonisers.

Given that Spanish colonisation had lasted for 400 years after Columbus landed on the American continent, the Cuban debt represented quite a considerable sum. The USA decided that the Cuban debt met the criteria to qualify as Odious Debt and refused to pay it back. A similar situation had occurred in Mexico a few years before. When the democratic army overthrew Emperor Maximilian, the revolutionaries decided that the debt contracted by the former sovereign was Odious.

Emperor Maximilian had borrowed considerable sums to fight the opposing forces. As he owed a lot of money both to his creditors and to the Mexican people, he was brought to heel and executed.

Most of the examples of Odious Debt in the 19th and 20th centuries concern countries in South America. However, in reality, behind all these refusals to pay, we find one singular power: the USA.

It was also the USA that would introduce Odious Debt into the history of the 21st century. Let’s go back to December 2002. The White House is putting the finishing touches to plans to invade and occupy Iraq. Even before weapons begin firing, officials are already preparing for the period that would follow the fall of Saddam Hussein. The State Department knows that it must manage Iraq’s colossal sovereign debt. This is why it must be shown to be Odious Debt. The State Department therefore brings together a secret team to organize the installation of the new government which, as soon as it took power, would decree that the Iraqi people should not reimburse the national debt. Everything was now ready for the attack.

Eric Toussaint, President of CADTM (in French in the text): Remember, in 2003 the United States and their allies invaded Iraq. That was in March 2003 and, three weeks later, the US Treasury Secretary invited his G8 colleagues to Washington and told them, “Saddam Hussein’s debt is Odious Debt. His regime is a dictatorial regime and we must relinquish the idea of recouping this Odious Debt; the new regime that is going to lead Iraq must be freed from the weight of this debt. George W. Bush will ask James Baker to convince the international community that Saddam Hussein’s debt is Odious and that the dictator was wasting the sums loaned to him on palaces and arms. Experts had ascertained that Iraq owed billions of US dollars to France and Russia, for the purchase of exocet missiles, FI mirages and Migs. In actual fact, Saddam Hussein’s behaviour was hardly different from that of other leaders. Palaces are to Arab peoples what the Olympic Games are to other nations: demonstrations of economic power and social organization. The American diplomat eventually managed to get the relevant people to accept the idea that Iraq’s debt was Odious and that the Iraqi people ought not to reimburse it. Realising, however, that this action could also open up a veritable Pandora’s Box, Washington decided to sweep the matter under the carpet.

The other countries finally agreed, saying, “Okay, we’ll write off 80% of Iraq’s debt to the Paris Club”, and adding, “do not officially use the notion of Odious Debt” because if we use it, other countries will want to cite jurisprudence. For example, Congo will say, “We must not reimburse Mobutu’s debt”. The Philippines will say, “We do not want to reimburse the debt incurred by the dictator Marcos”; South Africa (…). Therefore, to avoid an extension of the notion of Odious Debt from 2000 onwards, we resorted to an ad hoc solution with respect to Iraq. Nonetheless, from our standpoint, this is an obvious example of a case where the doctrine of Odious Debt was applied. So, the USA would continue to help Iraq get rid of its past debts but no one in Washington would ever again hear the expression “Odious Debt”. This is how Iraq has managed to cancel a significant portion of the debt contracted during the dictatorship. Another country decided to confront the IMF and to face up to its major creditors by its own means. It succeeded in demonstrating that its debt was not only Odious, but also illegal and unconstitutional.”

Raphael Correa, President of Ecuador: “We are placing our national priorities above international interests. When the time comes, if we can, we will take care of international interests, but our first priority is life. Only after that can we take care of debt.”

Ecuador could be one of the richest countries in Latin America. But from the time that oil was discovered there, that country had been saddled with dictatorships, poverty, debt, and economic assassins.

John Perkins, Economic Assassin: “My job really consisted in getting foreign countries to subscribe loans of considerable sums, well beyond what they could possibly pay back. For instance, if 1 billion US dollars were lent to Indonesia or Ecuador; that country would have to reimburse 90% of the loan to US companies through public infrastructure contracts. The contracts would go to companies like Halliburton and Bechtel, which build electrical infrastructure of ports, or highways, which would benefit only the few richest families in the country. The poor only inherit the colossal debt that they cannot reimburse.”

In 1982, the IMF arrived in Ecuador, along with a group of experts representing the country’s creditors. Ecuador pledged to borrow more money to be able to pay off its old debts.

Hugo Arias, President of Ecuador’s Court of Auditors: “It was simply a permanent sum that Ecuador had to pay to the countries of the North. For example, from the 1980s until 2005, debt interest payments accounted for 50% of the state budget, reaching 3 to 4 billion US dollars annually, whereas spending on health accounted for only 4%. So we had a situation where 4 billion was going towards debt interest payments, but only 400 million for health! 800 million for education! We were killing our own people.”

The people of Ecuador rebelled against this situation. The crisis seemed to be under control when Lucio Gutierres took the situation in hand and promised reforms. He even gave the impression of having socialist leanings. However, once firmly installed, he entered into new commitments with the IMF and imposed extremely stringent measures.

The citizens of Ecuador decided that Gutierres should leave in the same way that the Argentine Presidents had done, i.e. by helicopter. Vice-President Palacio, who took over from Gutierres, began with good intentions but soon submitted to Washington. At that point, the people turned to the only politician who had opposed the USA: Raphael Correa.

Correa had studied economics in Europe and the USA and knew how to stand up to the IMF and the World Bank when you have the political will to do so.

In 2005, when he was Finance Minister, Raphael Correa had said, “It’s not normal that the additional oil revenue that comes into the state coffers is fully paid out to reimburse debt. It is unfair to the population. 80% of the oil revenue should be set aside for increasing public spending on education, health and job creation. Only 20% ought to be used to reimburse debt.” At the time, the World Bank had said that it would not continue lending money to Ecuador if it maintained any such law. This was clearly a case of interference by the World Bank in Ecuador’s internal affairs, something which Raphael Correa refused to tolerate. He preferred to resign rather than to yield to the dictates of the World Bank. This stance of preferring to keep his dignity instead of his position made him extremely popular in Ecuador.

Correa ended up becoming the President of Ecuador in 2006. One of his first decisions was to fire the Central Bank representative and to rid the country of the IMF representatives. Among them was Bob Thra who then moved on to Greece and was particularly hated by the population. Six months later, Correa took yet another step by setting up an international audit commission.

Eric Toussaint, President of the CADTM: “I was among the persons appointed by President Correa to be a part of this Commission. It was made up of 18 members and 4 state bodies. Our task was to audit all the contracts that had caused the country to incur debts between 1976 and 2006. We worked on the audit for 14 months, during which time we analysed debt in the form of bonds, debt to the IMF, the World Bank and other international institutions, as well as debt owed to other countries such as France, Japan, and Germany. Lastly, we looked at Ecuador’s internal public debt. We found it immensely difficult to gain access to the relevant documents. At the Ministry of Finance, one of our colleagues – Alexandro Olmos – and I were declared persona non grata. Departments of the Finance Ministry sent letters to the Minister, complaining that Alexandro and I had somehow harmed the Ministry’s employees. We found this quite funny, but we understood just how difficult it would be when we were targeted as the “bad boys” in the affair.”

Despite the various difficulties, the Commission succeeded in its mission and noted that a large portion of the debt had been under-estimated. The State informed the citizens of the results.

Eric Toussaint, President of the CADTM: “What was important to Ecuador’s Financial Audit Commission was the fact that all our work was made public. In this way, the people of Ecuador were informed of the reasons why the debt that had been contracted by the previous government, during 2000 in particular, was illegitimate.”

With the Commission’s findings in its possession, the government demonstrated that the debt was baseless and blocked 70% of its reimbursement.

Hugo Arias: “Creditors began to sell off their shares of the debt at 20% of the value and the government secretly bought them back. It bought back 3 billion worth of debt at the price of 800 million US dollars. This was a significant reduction which helped change the living conditions for Ecuador’s population.”

Eric Toussaint: “We must also include in Ecuador’s savings the interest that it would have had to pay until 2012 of 2030. If we take all that into account, Ecuador made savings in excess of 7 thousand million US dollars, which was very important for the country and enabled the government to significantly increase spending on education, health, job creation, and to improve the infrastructure.”

In Greece, historians, economists and experts are daily discussing how to cope with the debt. There is a question, however, that few people have asked: Do the Greek people really owe all that they are being asked to pay back?

Eric Toussaint: “I would say that Greece’s most recent debt is both illegal and illegitimate. What are the signs that indicate this? Well, when the authorities of a country receive bribes from transnational companies – and this is the case with Siemens – which, with its subsidiary Siemens Hellas, paid money, i.e. bribes to officials, ministers and high-ranking public servants, for over ten years, to gain contracts, we can say that this is a mark of illegality and illegitimacy. From my point of view, it is patently obvious that these debts are questionable.”

The Greek Courts were rather cautious in treating the Siemens matter and very slow in other cases of transactions that were entered into unknown to the Greek people, and which increased the debt burden on their shoulders. With the swap transactions carried out in 2001, the government mortgaged the future so as to paper over the present with better artificial financial records. This enabled it to artificially reduce the country’s debt by converting a loan in Yen to Euros and basing it on a past exchange rate. Goldman Sachs provided assistance to ensure the success of the sham, pocketing millions along the way.

Mark Kirk, US Senator: “I am particularly concerned about the role played by the US financial institutions, Goldman Sachs in particular, which assumed the role of the “Crack” dealer when Greece found itself addicted to credit.”

This trick worked like a charm for several years and the Greek political elites showed that they knew how to repay their partners. They contracted Goldman Sachs as advisers, once again, leaving the citizens to pick up the bill.

Jean Quatremer, journalist with the French newspaper, Liberation: “Goldman Sachs advised the Greek government on the one hand, and then turned around and attacked the Government, on the other.”

The scandal erupted in 2010. A few days before, a former Goldman Sachs employee had been appointed to head the body responsible for managing Greek national debt.

Jean Quatremer: “Employing someone who had worked for Goldman Sachs is like hiring a criminal to look after your house…like employing a bank robber to look after your house. It’s the same thing. Naturally, he knows the operators well and knows how to prevent someone from entering your property. However, objectively speaking, you stand to lose a lot because one day he might just decide to take advantage of your absence and steal everything. What guarantee is there that the former Goldman Sachs employee will handle Greek affairs in the best way possible?”

Many countries have criticized Greece for its mistakes regarding Goldman Sachs but these are the same countries that use their relationships with the Greek government to unload their weapons and defence systems.

Zara Vangenkecht, Spokesperson for Die Linke: “When Germany became aware of Greece’s position one year ago, the instructions were not to cease arms exports to that country. Greece needed to cut back on pensions and public services but not on weaponry. This shows the focus of certain interests. The German Government acted like the protector of German arms manufacturers and the export industry. They would like their exports to continue despite the crisis.”

Daniel Cohn Bendit, Euro-Parliamentarian, Greens: “This is all gross hypocrisy! In recent months, France has sold 6 frigates to Greece for 2.5 billion euros, helicopters for more than 400 million, and Rafales at 100 million a piece. “My “insider information” does not allow me to say whether it’s 10 or 20 of 30 Rafales. That adds up to almost 3 billion euros! Germany has sold 6 submarine vessels for one billion euros over the coming years. We are really a bunch of hypocrites! We are giving the Greeks money to buy arms from us!”

In the face of European hypocrisy, guilty retreat only adds to criminal decisions. Based, as always on the pretext of being for the good of the nation, this new Big Idea (name of an aborted national project) left behind shelved property projects in ruins and a mountain of debt.

George Voulgarakis, Greek Minister of Finance: “We have spent considerable sums of money, twice what was spent in Sydney. The final cost will only be known after the Olympic Games.”

C-STAN TV: “You mentioned about 1.2 billion dollars for security. Where is this money coming from?”

George Voulgarakis: “We had this money.”

C-STAN TV: “Is this Greek money, funds from the Olympic Committee, or from the USA?”

George Voulgarakis: “We are talking about Greek money. Of course, it’s more than we could provide but it’s only for security.”

Eric Toussaint: “Colossal sums were spent; completely disproportionate amounts, paid by the Greek population, because a significant portion of the taxes paid by Greek citizens was used to reimburse the debts contracted to organize the Olympic Games. It’s quite normal that the Greek people should call for a proper analysis to explain why the budget for the Olympic Games exploded and what the money was spent on.”

The Olympic Games and the links with companies like Siemens and Goldman Sachs are only the visible part of the mountain of debt which is weighing heavily on the citizens. There are, however, many more serious cases of misappropriation of funds which do not concern only Greece, but all the countries of the periphery of Europe.

Constantin Lapavitsas, Economics professor: “Were all the rules respected in the procedures leading to the monetization of the Greek sovereign debt? Was there any conflict of interest in the role played by the banks in the sale of Greek debt, both on the first and second bond markets? Which banks are these? How and under what conditions were they involved in these transactions?”

Zara Vangenkecht, Spokesperson for Die Linke: “A significant portion of sovereign debt in the Euro Zone is monetized. This is due to a policy that runs counter to the interests of the people. It is to finance this that the citizens are being made to pay.”

The example of Ecuador has shown that the illegal circumstances in which debt has been generated can be revealed by a commission of enquiry conducted by economists.

“Why doesn’t someone tell us clearly what the debt is made up of? What is the exact amount? And how was it generated? And who do we owe? In order to respond to these questions, it is urgent and vital to set up an audit commission to focus precisely on the nature of this debt. This is why I have said that we cannot be satisfied with lies from the banks, government or the “parrots”, who are paid to repeat the same empty rhetoric.”

But, who is going to set up this audit commission? And how can we be sure that it is not yet again an umpteenth parliamentary commission made up of the same people who are at the root of the current situation?

Constantin Lapavitsas: “This cannot be a simple commission made up of experts because if it is merely a commission of government-appointed experts, even if it includes foreign specialists, or civil society representatives, there is the risk that they could be biased.”

Hugo Arias: “It is only the people who have the legitimacy to call for an audit commission. This is why it is essential to sensitise the entire population to mobilize them to call for an audit.”

Eric Toussaint: “In the Greek situation, as the New Democracy Party (right wing) and the Pasok Party (socialist) both benefited by indebting the country for over fifteen years, it is certain that they would not appreciate having this audit done because their responsibility will be laid bare to the general public. So, what needs to happen is that the Greek general public becomes mobilized, including organizations, trade unions, the Greek magistracy, intellectuals, artistes, etc. These people must make their views known and bring pressure to bear on the political authorities.”

Since March 2011, a team of people from diverse political and professional backgrounds have launched an initiative for the creation of a commission of enquiry to audit the Greek debt.

Professors, journalists, artistes and trade unionists from the world over have supported this initiative. The commission must indicate which part of the debt is illegitimate and illegal and establish, on the basis of Greek and international law, that the Greek people are not obliged to reimburse this part of the debt.

However, the decision remains in the hands of the politicians, not the economists. Even if a debt is legitimate, no government has the right to kill off its population to serve the interests of creditors.

Constantin Lapavitsas: “Even if it were revealed that the entire 350 billion euros of the Greek sovereign debt were legitimate – which would not be the case – Greece would still be unable to honour that debt. It must therefore be written off. If the debt burden causes hospitals to close and education and roads to deteriorate, it is the social cost that will then become unbearable. In short, the government has said that it will default on its payment vis-à-vis the Greek citizens. I cannot understand how a democratically-elected socialist government could decide to default to its citizens rather than to financial institutions. There is no other choice, in the coming decades, than to default on the debt because it is based on neoliberalism. Neoliberal behaviour was a crime against humanity. No one is obliged to pay this debt because it was accumulated through the vicious workings of the market.”

Constantin Lapavitsas: “It is odious to pay an Odious Debt.”

The creation of an economic commission of enquiry is not the ultimate goal. This is merely a political weapon in a battle that is more extensive than a war in which opposing forces have been fighting each other over centuries for control of the system. Even if we were to erase this debt, debt would still reappear in future.

Constantin Lapavitsas: “This will be a weapon in an ideological and political confrontation. Debt is also a weapon.”

Eric Toussaint: “Above all, do not be afraid, as Greeks, to demand your rights within the EU, in relation to the Greek government. This is fundamental; it is by fighting that we ensure that our rights are respected, not by submitting to the diktat of creditors. Look at Tunisia, or Egypt. It is when a population is galvanized into action that it can truly change a situation.”

Translation from french: Angela Mitchell

From CADTM Newsletter

Hundreds of thousands of Greek ‘Indignés’ (‘Outraged’) walk out to wage war against their neoliberal persecutors

By Yorgos Mitralias[1]

Two weeks after it started, the Greek movement of ‘outraged’ people has the main squares in all cities overflowing with crowds that shout their anger, and makes the Papandreou government and its local and international supporters tremble. It is now more than just a protest movement or even a massive mobilization against austerity measures. It has turned into a genuine popular uprising that is sweeping over the country. An uprising that makes it know at large its refusal to pay for ‘their crisis’ or ‘their debt’ while vomiting the two big neoliberal parties, if not the whole political world in complete disarray.

How many were there on Syntagma square (Constitution square) in the centre of Athens, just in front of the Parliement building on Sunday 5 June 2011? Difficult to say since one of the characteristic features of such popular gatherings is that there is no key event (speech or concert) and that people come and go. But according to people in charge of the Athens underground, who know how to assess the numbers of passengers, there were at least 250,000 people converging on Syntagma on that memorable night! Actually several hundreds of thousands of people if we add the ‘historic’ gatherings that took place on the main squares of other Greek cities (see map).

At this juncture we should however raise the question: how can such a mass movement that is shaking the Greek government (in which the EU has a particular interest) not be mentioned at all in Western medias? For these first twelve days there was virtually not a word, not an image of those unprecedented crowds shouting their anger against the IMF, the European Commission, the ‘Troika’ (IMF, European Commission, and European Central Bank), and against Frau Merkel and the international neoliberal leaders. Nothing. Except occasionally a few lines about ‘hundreds of demonstrators’ in the streets of Athens, after a call by the Greek trade unions. This testifies to a strange predilection for scrawny demos of TU bureaucrats while a few hundred yards further huge crowds were demonstrating late into the night for days and weeks on end.

This is indeed a new form of censorship. A well-organized political censorship motivated by the fear this Greek movement might contaminate the rest of Europe! Confronted as we are with this new weapon used by the Holy Alliance of modern times, we have to respond together both to expose this scandal and to find ways of circumventing such prohibition to inform public opinions, through developing communication among social movements throughout Europe and at once creating and reinforcing our own alternative media…

Going back to the Greek ‘Outraged’, or ‘Indignés’ or Aganaktismeni, we have to note that the movement is getting more and more rooted among lower classes against a Greek society that has been shaped by 25 years of an absolute domination of a cynic, nationalist, racist and individualist neoliberal ideology that turned everything into commodities. This is why the resulting image is often contradictory, mixing as it does the best and the worst among ideas and actions! For instance when the same person displays a Greek nationalism verging on racism while waving a Tunisian (or Spanish, Egyptian, Portuguese, Irish, Argentinian) flag to show his internationalist solidarity with those peoples.

Should we therefore conclude that those demonstrators are schizophrenic? Of course not. As there are no miracles, or politically ‘pure’ social uprisings, the movement is becoming gradually more radical while still branded by those 25 years of moral and social disaster. But mind: all its ‘shortcomings’ are subsume into its main feature, namely its radical rejection of the Memorandum, of the Troika, the public debt, the government, austerity, corruption, a fictional parliamentary democracy, the European Commission, in short of the whole system!

It is surely not by chance if for the past two weeks demonstrators shout such phrases as ‘We owe nothing, we sell nothing, we pay nothing’, ‘We do not sell or sell ourselves’, ‘Let them all go, Memorandum, Troika, government and debt’ or ‘We’ll stay until they go’. Such catchwords do unite all demonstrators as indeed all that is related to their refusal to pay for the public debt.[2] This is why the campaign for an audit Commission of the public debt is a great success throughout the country. Its stall in the middle of Syntagma square is constantly besieged by a crowd of people eager to sign the call or to offer their services as voluntary helpers…[3]

While they were first completely disorganized the Syntagma Aganaktismeni have gradually developed an organization that culminates in the popular Assembly held every night at 9 and drawing several hundreds speakers in front of an attentive audience of thousands. Debates are often of really great quality (for instance on the public debt), actually much better than anything that can be seen on the major television channels. This in spite of the surrounding noise (we stand in the middle of a city with 4 million inhabitants), dozens of thousands of people constantly moving, and particularly the very diverse composition of those huge audiences in the midst of a permanent encampment that looks at times like some Tower of Babel.

All the qualities of direct democracy as experimented day after day on Syntagma should not blind us to its weaknesses, its ambiguities or indeed its defects as its initial allergy to anything that might remind of a political party or a trade union or an established collectivity. While it has to be acknowledged that such rejection is a dominant feature among the Aganaktismeni, who tend to reject the political world as a whole, we should note the dramatic development of the Popular Assembly, both in Athens and in Thessaloniki, that shifted from a rejection of trade unions to the invitation that they should come and demonstrate with them on Syntagma.

Obviously, as days went by, the political landscape on Syntagma square clarified, with the popular right and far right located in the higher section, in front of Parliament, and the anarchist and radical left on the square itself, with control on the popular assembly and the permanent encampment. Of course, though the radical left is dominant and tinges with deep red all events and demonstrations on Syntagma, this does not mean that the various components of the right, from populist, to nationalist, to racist and even neonazi, do not further attempt to highjack this massive popular movement. They will endure and it will very much depend on the ability of the movement’s avant-garde to root it properly in neighbourhoods, workplaces and schools while defining clear goals that throw bridges between huge immediate needs and a vindictive outrage against the system.

While fairly different from the similar movement in Spain through its dimensions, its social composition, its radical nature and its political heterogeneity, the movement on Syntagma shares with Tahrir square in Cairo and Puerta del Sol in Madrid the same hatred against the economic and political elite that has grabbed and emptied of any significance bourgeois parliamentary democracy in times of arrogant and inhuman neoliberalism. The movement is stirred by the same non violent democratic and participative urge that is to be found in all popular uprisings in the early 21st century.

Our conclusion can only provisional: whatever is to come (and the consequences may be cataclysmic), the current Greek movement will have marked a turning point in the history of the country. From now on everything is possible and nothing will ever be the same again.

Translated by Christine Pagnoulle

[1] Yorgos Mitralias is founding member of the Greek Committee Against the Debt, which is affiliated to the international network of CADTM (www.cadtm.org ). See the web site of the Greek Committee : http://www.contra-xreos.gr/

[2] See http://www.cadtm.org/Greece-the-very-symbol-of and http://www.cadtm.org/La-campagne-pour-un-audit-de-la (in French).

[3] http://www.cadtm.org/Why-a-debt-audit-in-Greece

Eric Toussaint
www.cadtm.org
345 Avenue de l’Observatoire
4000 Liège, Belgique

Information provided by
Farooq Tariq
Spokesperson, Labour Party Pakistan
www.laborpakistan.org
..
..