Perhaps I should apologize for writing about Greece all the time. Thing is, not only have I just arrived in Athens last night (and been duly showered in ouzo), but Greece is the proverbial early harbinger of everything that’s wrong with the world (not to worry, I know that’s a hyperbole), and of everything that could be done about it.
That places a responsibility on the shoulders of Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras and his team that maybe they don’t want, and for all I know don’t deserve either. But they’re all we have, and besides, they’re all their own people have. In that sense, this is not about everything that’s wrong with the world, other than that’s the same as everything that’s wrong with Greece.
I was struck last night, talking to people here in Athens, by how much their appreciation of Tsipras, his overall composure and the way he handles the Troika talks, has increased over the past five months. They were doubtful about him before the Syriza election win; they no longer are.
Still, the negotiations are nice and all, but they’re not going anywhere, and they never will. The Troika side of the table is interested in one thing only: to humiliate Athens and force it into ultimate submission, along the lines of those photographs we’ve come to know of Abu Graibh.
Yanis Varoufakis labeled the Troika policies vis-a-vis Greece ‘fiscal waterboarding’ when he started out as finance minister, and here’s thinking he should have stuck with that image in a much more persistent and a much louder fashion.
Yes, we know, Syriza doesn’t have the mandate to take the country out of the eurozone. A daily dose of fear tactics in the domestic and international media still have Greeks, even Syriza voters, scared stiff about going it alone.
It’s time for Tsipras to turn to his people, on national TV, and say look, whatever we can discuss with the Troika, and whatever compromise we may be able to reach, there is no option on or off the table that would allow for you, the people of Greece, to not be debt slaves for the rest of your lives.
The European Union is merely a crude modern version of a feudal society (but without the debt jubilee older versions had), that’s all the morals that Brussels and Berlin can muster. And, Tsipras should say, if that is what you want, if you want to be slaves instead of a free people, tell me so. I will draw my conclusions from that.
But this is getting painful. We have an entire team of Greece’s brightest drawing up plan after plan, most of which are never even discussed by the Troika. It all comes down to you, the people, and we, your representatives, being rudely insulted every minute of the day by people whose only interest is their own personal careers and agendas.
I, Alexis Tsipras, think I deserve better than that, and much more importantly, I think my people deserve better than that. But in these negotiations, no matter how long they last, we will never get what we deserve. The Troika seeks to humiliate us, and force us on our knees with our pants down our ankles and a hood over our faces..
This will take courage on the part of Tsipras; it may well end his political career. But such courage is exactly what the Greek people need to see. They need a leader who is willing to put it all on the line, or else why would they themselves?
The threat of Armageddon following an exit from the euro is an abstract and unknown phenomenon akin to various bogeymen used to keep children in check, akin to the threat of drowning that makes waterboarding such an inhumane experience.
But whatever may or will happen, there is nothing that says or guarantees that a euro-less Greece will be worse off than it is now. Not even from a purely financial point of view (other than for an initial short period of time).
What the Greeks are sure to gain, though, is their independence, their dignity, their pride. Why on earth would they, once they understand the predicament, vote to stay on and pay their odious debts and kowtow to the five families in Brussels and Berlin for the rest of their lives?
It makes no sense at all, and it makes no sense for Tsipras and his team to keep on negotiating for a deal that will never do anything but humiliate them, and shackle the people who voted for them. There is no other possible option on the table, and there won’t be in the future.
As I was writing this in the early Athens morning, I saw an article by my dear friend Steve Keen come in, and I’m very pleased to see Steve think along the same lines I do, at the same time.
This belief that economists know better than politicians how to run an economy was enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty itself, which limited government deficits to 3% of GDP and government debt to 60% of GDP. It was a set of rules designed to shackle political freedom, so that the economy could flourish under the incorruptible leadership of experts.
Some experts. Firstly they designed a system which would only work if capitalism never had crises. Secondly, when a crisis hit, rather than backpedalling on their flawed rules, they doubled up on them. Then, when the people had the temerity to elect a government which opposed their agenda… Well it’s obvious, isn’t it? The people must be overthrown.
I know from personal conversations with Varoufakis and his advisors, as well as from the public record, that Syriza is willing to do almost anything to stay within the Euro. As Yanis put it at the INET conference in Paris in April, the Euro is a bit like the Hotel California: you should never check into it in the first place, but if you do, you can never leave.
But the conditions the IMF, EU and ECB are insisting upon here are so extreme, and their behaviour so counter to the very concept of democracy, that maybe the Greeks would do better to show them what a democratic government can do. Maybe they should leave the Euro, and default on all their debts—especially those to the Troika. The financial stimulus from throwing off the yoke of debt may counterbalance the initial chaos from re-instituting a national currency in a seriously damaged society.
It may also teach the bureaucrazies -and no, that is not a misprint- a lesson about the limits of bureaucratic power.
You know, it’s true that maybe it’s too much for outsiders such as Steve Keen and myself to ask of Alexis Tsipras, and the people of Greece, to jump into a big unknown. But it’s also too much to bear to watch the inane piece of theater being played out by quasi elected B movie protagonists.
And no, none of us get a free pass on this one. Your voice is long overdue. Because no matter where you are or who you are, whether you’re American or European, it’s still your government, acting in your name, that supports and magnifies the craziness unloaded upon the cradle of democracy.
All the Greek people know until now is that Europe and the IMF are attempting to strangle them. Still, so many among us don’t agree with that at all. Thing is, it’s time to let that be known. To the people of Greece, and to our own ‘leaders’ who if we don’t get vocal will continue to do as they please. Just because the people you’ve elected don’t have any morals doesn’t mean you don’t have to either.