Posts Tagged ‘Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt (CADTM)’

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

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Spokesperson, Labour Party Pakistan
www.laborpakistan.org
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inukshuk-roots

May 13, 2011
Why a debt audit in Greece?
By Maria Lucia Fattorelli

After 6 days in Greece, all I could hear from many Greek people is: “we don’t know what is our public debt; we can’t understand how come it became so immense, because we don’t see it’s correspondence in investments, benefits, or anything to the country; workers only know we are paying too much taxes and having our rights being cut down every day with closing of schools, hospitals, kindergartens; employee going high and we’re are hit every day with terrorist information about the future of our country’s economy and even risk for our historical monuments”.

The women are the main victims of these measures, because they are the first ones to be filled from their jobs, and the last ones in line for new jobs. Also, when social services are cut down or eliminated, it’s expected that women will take care of services like health, education, assistance, children care, and many others, without any payment.

People is confused because everything is going on too fast and day by day new adjustment measures are announced, with the strong interference of IMF, European Central Bank and European Commission – the Troika – in the internal matters of Greece economy and policies, interfering directly in the people’s life and in Greek’s sovereignty.

One year ago, the memorandum was signed with IMF. Since then, currently new revisions and new measures are imposed directly to the Greek society, because the Greek Parliament is not even voting these measures that are recommended by the Troika and, in the next day, are already being practiced. The direct intervention of the Troika is a completely new situation for a society who gave birth to democratic way of government in the world history.

All this social, economic and political damage is a consequence of the so called “debt” crisis. But we must remember that it didn’t start as a debt crisis, but as a bank crisis: a financial private sector problem.

In 2008, the largest financial crisis beat the main financial institutions in the USA, because of a huge “bubble” originated by the issuing of an immeasurable amount of series and series of derivatives and other kinds of financial products without any real value, which loaded the financial market of “garbage”. This procedures were possible because the existing controls under the SEC |1| – that had the role, since the 1929 crisis, to control the “quality and authentic” of papers deal in the financial market – were disrespected and bypassed for the many financial institutions.

The media generally nominates these “garbage” papers as “toxic assets”. The amount of derivatives and all toxic papers was so large that Obama thought about creating “bad banks” in order to “clean up” the financial system. That idea also came up in Europe in early 2009:

It’s very important to know that the institutions who issued these papers are the largest and most important ones of the financial world, because they are the ones who have “credibility” to have their own papers accepted and negotiated in the financial market. Only very few of these important institutions broke up – Lehman Brothers, for example – but soon the USA approved a plan to bailout the financial system, by transferring great amount of public resources into financial institutions in order to rescue them, saving them from bankruptcy. The same plan went on in Europe in 2009, and since the beginning, everyone knew this plan represented a serious risk for all countries, as shown on the Feb 2009 new:
(image not included)

Thus, in a certain point, besides aware of the risk of economic ruin, all countries in the North started to put a lot of money in the financial sector, in order to rescue institutions. There is no transparency about this amount of money that has been given by countries to the financial sector. Estimative goes up to trillions, but no country has revealed clearly the right amount that has been given to bailout banks since 2008, and many “secret” documents – as mentioned in the notice above – has been produced.

The worry part of the history is that the northern countries didn’t have, on their budgets, all the money they decided to give to banks. This way, countries created public debt by issuing public bonds to give to banks in order to fill up the big role created by their “toxic assets”. So, a significant part or the “sovereign bonds” of these countries did not represent real “public debt”, or bond issuing to obtain resources to the country, but simply the utilization of debt mechanism to guaranty funds to financial institutions.

Besides this, the deregulation of the financial market is permitting the use of sovereign debt bonds as if they were cards or chips of a casino, used for gamblers bets and games. How can a society be responsible for the losses of such irresponsible and immoral operations, which are taking money from essential services like Health, Education, Assistance, Security, Sanitation, provoking the loss of thousands of employee and, in the other side, making many gamblers very very rich?

Can the result of these operations be considered as “public debt”? The good economy books explain that public debt is an instrument that can be used to finance the stat needs. The bonds issued to bailout banks can’t be considered as public debt, but should be treated as a separated loan to be paid by the banks, not by the entire society.

The instrument of “public debt” is being used now in Europe as it has been used in Latin America since the 70’s. The experiences of debt audit – official audit in Ecuador and citizen initiative in Brazil – have proved that in the last 40 years the only beneficiary of the commercial external debt were the large international banks; instead of being an instrument to finance state activities, this kind of debt in bonds was a mechanism to transfer public resources into the private financial sector.

The debt-audit also proved that the financial crises we had in 1982 were provoked by the same international private creditors and that crises opened the opportunity for an intense interference of IMF in our economies with fiscal adjustment plans – just like it’s happening now in Europe – that cost as at least 2 decades of heavy social sacrifice (that we call lost decades) in order to guarantee benefits for the financial sector.

It’s very important that European countries, who are not under dictatorships as we were in the 80’s in South America, organize civil commissions, like our organization in Brazil – to research documents, encourage popular investigations, studies, social mobilization and elucidation about this debt process as soon as possible.

A debt-audit is an opportunity to have documents and proves of the real nature of the so called “public” debt. The findings of the audit can push concrete actions in all fields: popular, parliamentarian, legal and any other policies.

Most part of Greek public debt is reflected in sovereign bonds. The first question we must ask is: What part of Greek public debt comes from bonds issued to rescue banks? What part of this debt has never being really received by Greece, because is just a result of financial mechanisms, attacks, and speculations in financial market? Does anyone own what has never received? Is it right that all Greek people pay for this?

That’s why it’s so important to have a debt audit in Greece and the organizers of the recent Conference of Debt Audit in Athens and Seminar in Tessaloniki deserve all congratulations for opening this urgent debate.

Footnotes
|1| SEC – Securities and Exchange Comission in United States of America.
P.S.

Maria Lucia Fattorelli is Coordinator of Citizen Debt Audit-Brazil since 2001; Member of the Commission of Debt Audit of Ecuador (2007-2008) and Assessor of Brazilian Parliamentarian Investigation of Public Debt (2009-2010): CPI da Dívida da Câmara dos Deputados em Brasília. http://www.divida-auditoriacidada.org.br Citizen Debt Audit-Brazil is part of CADTM international network.

From: CADTM.Org
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