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Monthly Archives: May 2012

I was touched by the sensitivity of Mme. Lagarde. You know, that eloquent, chic lady lawyer, ex minister of France and now Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. With her stylish suits and her serious hairstyle.

During her interview by The Guardian she stated that she thinks about “the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education.”

When confronted by the grim reality of Greece, where the national healthcare system and the pension funds are falling apart, threatening to send thousands to an early grave, she said that the little kids in Niger need more help.

Let’s not talk about Greece any more. It has become tedious. Let us talk about Niger instead. Niger is a landlocked, extremely poor African country. Since 2004, it has been plagued by locusts, drought and famine.

Niger has the misfortune of being directly below the Sahara and actually a large part of the famous desert falls within its borders. That is not a good thing for a country which is forced to rely on agriculture and livestock to support its starving population and struggling economy.

Without access to the sea and fishing, which is the only salvation from starvation for many other African countries, Niger is literally at the mercy of the subsaharan tropical climate. One can imagine that there is little mercy to be found there.

Mme. Lagarde’s comment was unfortunate, to say the least. You see, those children in Niger who actually make it to school are the lucky ones. According to the Save the Children organization, Niger has the highest mortality rate in the world for children below the age of 4.

Sophisticared Mme. Lagarde thinks of them all the time. I do too, madam. But I can do nothing for these children. You, however, who support the international financial system and all those who participate in it, what have you done about Niger, which seems to weigh so heavily in your thoughts?  Pretty much what you’ve done about Somalia and so many other poor countries of the so-called “Third World”.

The Third World which is constantly expanding instead of shrinking and is now slowly taking over Europe. Do you think that Bulgaria, which according to the troika is an economy competitive to that of Greece, is in a much better state? Have you considered that Greece with close to 1.5 million unemployed citizens and God-knows-how-many unpaid employees is rapidly heading the same way, thanks to your wonderful bailout plan?

You could say that Greece has not adopted your proposed reforms. And you would be mostly right. Apart from imposing even more taxes on those who cannot evade them, few measures have been applied by our esteemed governments. Yet Niger has adopted the IMF suggestions. The end result was that gas prices were driven through the roof, food prices skyrocketed and now the poor simply cannot afford to buy what food there is.

The civilized West thinks a lot about the Third World. It has dedicated most of that thinking to finding new ways to exploit it and deny it the means to develop properly. As if the millions of slaves which were moved to America and Europe during the 19th century were not enough, or the exploitation of natural resources, mineral wealth and oil, we have now reached the point of stealing even their fish!

Pardon my plural, I must accustom myself to the idea that Greece is no longer a part of the prosperous West, but belongs to the lazy, poor South and the hapless Near East. I forgot that the caring international financial system is doing its level best to turn Greece into a genuine Third World country, so that it can think of us too without feeling guilty in the future.

Besides, those responsible for the starving children in Greece, according to Mme. Lagarde, are their tax evading parents. I wonder, how do the unemployed and the underpaid manage to evade taxation? Those who are responsible for the lion’s share of unpaid taxes are also those whose children will NOT starve, madam. So, they don’t give a damn, nor for the children in Niger, nor for those of their neighbour.

Or perhaps the director of the IMF believes that reduced tax revenue is due to increased tax evasion. Yet even a child can understand that when businesses go bankrupt and unemployment is increasing every day, tax revenue will decrease. Is the former Trade Minister and Economic Affairs Minster of France truly unable to understand this basic fact?

Rather, Mme. Lagarde is unwilling to acknowledge that, becase by doing so she would have to admit that the financial model she is supporting is simply not working. The very same model is letting multinational corporations move their factories to China, where people work for almost nothing under extremely poor and dangerous conditions in order to produce high tech products for the West. Inevitably, this will force the competition to lower wages and working conditions in the rest of the world.

Competition, supposedly the driving force behind the economy, is driving companies who “lose” the game to bankruptcy, takeovers and mergers. The logic of competition is now being applied to countries too. The IMF and the troika tell us that we need to lower our wages to the levels of our competing countries. They neglect to mention, however, what will happen to the countries who “lose” the game.

Because someone has to lose. This is the way of modern economics. So, what will it be? Bankruptcy, takeover or merger?

I think about the little kids everywhere. For they are the losers in a game they never even played.

Intermission #12

We had high hopes about this world when we were little kids ourselves…

Pink Floyd – High Hopes

Beyond the horizon of the place we lived when we were young
In a world of magnets and miracles
Our thoughts strayed constantly and without boundary
The ringing of the division bell had begun

Along the long road and on down to the causeway
Do they still MEET there by the cut

There was a ragged band that followed in our footsteps
Running before time took our dreams away
Leaving the myriad small creatures trying to tie us to the ground
To a life consumed by slow decay

The grass was greener
The light was brighter
With friends surrounded
The nights of wonder

Looking beyond the embers of bridges glowing behind us
To a glimpse of how green it was on the other side
Steps taken forwards but sleepwalking back again
Dragged by the force of some inner tide

At a higher altitude with flag unfurled
We reached the dizzy heights OF that dreamed of world

****

Encumbered forever by desire and ambition
There’s a hunger still unsatisfied
Our weary eyes still stray to the horizon
Though down this road we’ve been so many times

The grass was greener
The light was brighter
The taste was sweeter
The nights of wonder
With friends surrounded
The dawn mist glowing
The water flowing
The endless river

Forever and ever

As you may already know, May 6th was an election day in both Greece and France. In France it was a second round victory for François Hollande, while in Greece it was a first round defeat of the formerly bipolar, now bipartisan political system.

While May 7th left Greece without a government, something which has happened only once in the past 38 years, two things became abundantly clear:

Firstly, changing the entire political establishment which has ruled Greece for nearly four decades is not something than can be accomplished in a month’s time. Unless, of course, this is achieved through violent means, something which any reasonable person would consider only as an absolute last resort.

Secondly, when a society comes under such tremendous stress, especially one as complacent as the Greek society of the past generation, then inevitably it will turn to political extremes. And by that, I do not mean the parliamentary Left or the traditional Christian/nationalist LAOS party, but the neo-nazis.

The two major parties in Greece, PASOK and Nea Dimokratia (New Democracy) had been accustomed to pass the government between them for 40 years, without fail. Now, they realise that this is no longer going to be their private two player game, with lesser parties standing as spectators by the sidelines. They are going to the bench, and they will do everything in their power to prevent that. This resistance, predictably so, is causing political instability and uncertainty.

Democracy, however, will not stand for lifelong “protectors” or foreign overlords. Those who blackmail the people of Greece (or any other people for that matter) into voting anything should be automatically considered enemies of Democracy and be treated as such: with contempt in the interior and with a firm diplomatic stance abroad.

The two formerly major parties have suffered their first ever serious shock. It is now up to the Greek voters to deliver the “coup de grâce”. Not because we desire chaos and a lack of government, but because in all their history these two parties were acting arbitrarily, serving their own petty interests, armed with the certainty that they would rule again in the next term or the one after that.

No one can expect these two parties to save Greece. They are so deeply entangled with the outdated, dysfunctional and corrupt state system that they would be unable to implement any effective reforms, even if they wanted to.

As for the rise of the extreme right neo-nazi party called “Chryssi Avgi” (Golden Dawn), it was a predictable consequence of the rampant crisis. The pre-election “campaign” of the group included civilian patrols of poor districts with illegal immigrant and criminal activity problems. But that would never be enough to catapult an obscure party from 0.2% to 7%.

“Chryssi Avgi” was voted in every corner of Greece by more than 400.000 people, including the villages of Kalavryta and Distomo, where the occupying Nazi army commited unspeakable attrocities during World War II.  My initial reaction to that paradox, as a typical, sentimental Greek, was horror and disgust. But in the end the exact location matters little.

Do the residents of Distomo have a greater obligation to honour our history and our dead than other Greeks? Hundreds of thousands died from starvation in Athens alone. My grandfather fought against the fascists in the mountains of Albania and my mother was losing her nails as a child due to malnutrition.

Most of us have heard tales about the war and the Nazi occupation and have seen the scars they left behind. World War II did not take place in another reality, nor 500 years ago. How ironic then, that while we are accusing the German government of attempting to enforce a financial 4th Reich in Europe, we are witnessing in Greece the rise of an actual neo-Nazi party.

Despite their efforts to hide the swastikas and their clearly fascist ideals as documented in their official publications of the past, even their current “sanitized” views, including the role of women as breeding machines for the nation, the perceived superiority of the white male and the open admiration of their leader for Adolf Hitler as a “remarkable personality” is enough to make any sane person cringe.

Their inability to grasp the meaning of democracy became apparent when they demanded that  journalists should stand as a token of “respect” when their leader entered the room to deliver his post election speech. The Greek journalists refused and were consequently asked to leave.

Which they did, much to their credit. However, during the pre-election period most of them never devoted a single line or television minute to the presentation of this party and its views. One of those who did write about them was faced with thinly veiled threats and even advised by the police to stop writing about the neo-Nazis. Is that what we should do? Remain silent before the rise of racist, neo-Nazi terror?

I don’t think so.

If the demise of the Weimar Republic has taught the world anything it’s that silence never stops evil.

“Chryssi Avgi” plays the role of  the bogeyman perfectly, since the Left, even the die-hard Communist Party (KKE), is beginning to seem ever more appealing to the Greek voters, who are living in constant fear of losing their jobs, their homes and their dignity, and joining the swelling ranks of the newly poor.

Some might balk at the ideas of the Communist Party as backward and even dangerous, but at least their vision does not include obscene theories about white male supremacy and immigrant pogroms.

This new pre-election period will be dominated by the attempts of the faltering establishment and their controlled media to spread the fear of the exit from the Eurozone and the rise of the neo-Nazis, to stress the image of the “irresponsible” Left, to sow doubt using the eventuality of another fruitless election and play the role of the “repentant criminal”. They have already promised that, following the mandate of the people, they will attempt to ease the terms of the memorandums.

Something that two months ago was completely out of the question. The game is already on at full force. A few days ago, a statement of a member of the left-wing SYRIZA party, concerning the need for “tight public regulation” of Greek banks so that deposits are used to fund the economy and not just increase the share value of the banks was “translated” by the media as an intent to appropriate bank deposits. This has very nearly caused a bank run in the past few days and has demonstrated clearly who the truly irresponsible parties are.

The promises for renegotiation of the memorandum from those parties are null and void, as were all of their promises of the past four decades. The troika has made their intent to demand additional austerity measures abundantly clear, while there is still absolutely nothing on the table pointing towards restructuring the Greek economy apart from widespread cuts which will stall growth indefinitely.

The coming elections have to send a clear message to the corrupt political establishment, and our European partners who are all too keen to support banks and financial institutions at our expense: you cannot liquidate an entire country for the benefit of multinational companies and banks. It is a risk we have to take for Greece and for all the citizens of Europe.

Intermission #11

Greeks, like a surreal housewife with a moustache, woke up one day and decided to demand a divorce from the past. Our abusive husband will say anything to bring us back, but we know that those promises are empty. Should we go back, the old habits will return, worse than ever. We have to break free.