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For those not familiar with ancient Greek mythology Scylla and Charybdis were mythical monsters said to inhabit the Strait of Messina, between Sicily and Italy. They are mainly known by their appearance in Homer’s Odyssey: Odysseus ordered his crew to avoid the one, thus coming closer to the other. The reason behind this was simple: Charybdis was some kind of underwater monstrosity, which sucked and regurgitated the sea, thus creating a deadly whirlpool. A wooden vessel was highly improbable to survive this ordeal and choosing Charybdis would most likely mean the end for him and all his men.

Scylla, on the other hand, was the “devil you know” or, at the very least, the devil which you can see. She was a multi-headed beast, usually described as some very unpleasant combination of woman and dog, among other things. By all accounts, she was the lesser evil.

This might sound somewhat familiar. In the coming elections, the citizens of the US are faced with a similar choice: Mrs. Hillary Clinton versus Mr. Donald Trump. By now, anyone who is mostly sane is doing their best to steer voters away from Mr. Trump and into the warm embrace of Mrs. Clinton. This includes celebrities, actors, comedians, even news outlets which have never before endorsed any candidate.

Rarely has an election attracted so much attention in the media worldwide. But the situation is far from ideal. In fact, somehow this election managed to match the two most unpopular presidential nominees in American history.

This is not something to be dismissed lightly as “a sign of the times”. If we are to understand “the times” we must try to understand how we came to this uncomfortable position. “Uncomfortable” is not even the proper word here. “Improbable” is far closer to the truth. To return to our mythological analogy, Odysseus was trying to get back home to Ithaca (western Greek island) from Troy (present day Turkey). What the hell was he doing in the Strait of Messina, anyway?

One would think that at a time when people are becoming increasingly disillusioned with politics in general and politicians in particular, both US parties would attempt to find the most likable candidates available and not the exact opposite.

This leaves us with three possible explanations:

a) either the people who are responsible for these decisions are absolutely incapable or

b) the selection of the candidates in question was a conscious, planned decision or

c) none of the two parties wishes to win the election

I will leave you to decide which of these three explanations makes any sense at all. But it is useful to consider the words of Franklin Roosevelt:

In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.

Somehow, we are faced with a choice between a) an obscene man who rarely, if ever, speaks the truth, who changes his position on key issues in a matter of hours, if not minutes, a misogynistic, racist, all-round obnoxious person, who is not even really successful as a businessman, and b) a politician whose most valued quality is actually not being Trump. Oh, wait, she is also a woman.

Needless to say that these two traits are shared by about 50% of the Earth’s population. Of course, this number drastically drops if you take into account that a candidate must also be a US citizen of legal age, leaving a pool of just about 101 million people. Minus Sarah Palin.

It could be argued that Mrs. Clinton has a long career in politics, but isn’t it this same career that caused her to become so unpopular in the first place? On the other hand, Mr. Trump has no prior experience whatsoever as a holder of a public office, and yet this did nothing to stop him from becoming a nominee.

The Bush family refuses to support him. Many prominent Republican senators actually endorse Mrs. Clinton for President. There is even an official Republicans for Clinton website/movement out there.

Let us turn the argument on its head. Suppose you were hell-bent to get Hillary Clinton elected in 2016. Could there be a more ideal opponent than Donald Trump? One that would allow her to showcase all her advantages, while making her flaws seem insignificant? Anyone worse than Trump would simply be unable to win the primaries.

Consider that for all his outrageous statements and a disastrous first presidential election debate, the polls are still more or less even. How could Mrs. Clinton possibly dream to compete with anyone better?

We should not lay the blame solely on the unpopularity of the former First Lady and Secretary of State. There are other factors at work here, which I will attempt to tackle in a separate post. But the fact remains.

Donald is literally Hillary’s trump card.

How did we get to this? Even more disheartening is the realization that this surreal political landscape is not limited to the US. The “lesser evil” scenario is playing out with alarming frequency in an increasing number of countries, including Greece, where every government seems a bit worse than the one which preceded it.

This is realpolitik, you might say. This is, more or less, how the world works. You might even quote Otto von Bismarck:

Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best.

This is true. But mark the difference between “next best” and “lesser evil”. It is not a matter of perspective, half-full versus half-empty. It is a difference between something good, even if slightly good, and something evil, even if somewhat evil.

And the real question is, how not-so-evil might one be considered when compared to Mr. Trump? How low are we prepared to lower the bar when going against extremists, racists, religious bigots or fascists?

And when does it stop making any real difference?

 

Intermission #23

 

I will stop
I will stop at nothing
Say the right things
When electioneering
I trust I can rely on your vote

When I go forwards, you go backwards
And somewhere we will meet
When I go forwards, you go backwards
And somewhere we will meet
Ha, ha, ha

Riot shields
Voodoo economics
It’s life, it’s life
It’s just business
Cattle prods and the I.M.F.
I trust I can rely on your vote

When I go forwards, you go backwards
And somewhere we will meet
When I go forwards, you go backwards
And somewhere we will meet

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Ahmet Merabet Words cannot adequately express how shocked and sad I was when I read the news about the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo. I still can’t believe that Wolinski, whose irreverent strips graced the pages of the favourite comic magazines of my student years, lies dead together with 11 other people. Simply because he unwittingly became a sacrificed pawn in a dirty geopolitical game.

Make no mistake. Apart from the human tragedy caused by the senseless loss of life and talent, this attack is every bit as ripe for political exploitation as the attacks of 9/11 and the Boston marathon were. This time, however, the attack took place outside the US, thus presenting a golden opportunity or the US government to bring the stray sheep among its European allies back into the fold. With the spreading threat of Muslim terror strikes, it is easy to forget that the NSA spied on the leadership of the “trusted” US allies (and probably still does so).

Let us focus on the event of the attack for now. The show of support, both in France and abroad, was heartwarming, even if some were not entirely honest when expressing it. For example, the Greek Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras and his extreme right wing sidekick, Adonis Georgiadis during recent speeches mentioned the need to enforce our borders with walls in order to stop Syrian refugees (and any illegal immigrants) from entering the country. They went so far as to tie the attack with the illegal immigrant issue in Greece, claiming that their political opponents, SYRIZA, want to open the borders to potential terrorists.

Never mind that the terrorist suspects were French citizens. Never mind that, if Charlie Hebdo had a Greek edition, Mr. Samaras, who claims to have an open line with God (and His support, no less) would be amongst the first to ban the sacrilegious magazine. In 21st century Greece, the owner of a Facebook page mocking an Orthodox monk (now a saint) and his alleged prophecies was recently sentenced to 10 months in prison for blasphemy. But otherwise we’re all Charlie Hebdo here, thank you.

The Prime Minister is trying to woo the voters of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party to gain a few precious percent points in view of the upcoming elections and he is playing the immigrant issue card by fanning the fear of Islam, since the majority of illegal immigrants in Greece come from Pakistan, Syria and other Muslim countries. To these people, all Muslims are filthy barbarians.

Let us talk, then, about another one of these filthy barbarians: his name was Ahmed Merabet. Ahmed was a police officer, amongst the first who responded to the call following the attack on Charlie Hebdo. That morning he had the misfortune to be patrolling the area together with a female colleague. Apparently, he somehow kept resisting the urge to force her to wear a burka and take the gun away from her. Shortly after arriving at the scene, he was shot to death by another filthy Muslim barbarian.

Somehow, the terrorist did not recognize the characteristic stench, which all Muslim barbarians share. Even the brown skin did not deter him. He just casually shot the already wounded Ahmed in the head.

Ahmed died defending one of the most fundamental (and challenging) democratic principles: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” It is the famous quote that Voltaire, also a resident of Paris, actually never said.

Life has an uncanny way to tear down the ideological sand castles, which we build so meticulously in our own minds. It casually blows away the lines, which we consider to be carved in stone. The arbitrary borders between what is “acceptable” and what is not. That separate “right” from “wrong”. The “good” Christian from the “evil” Muslim. Even the “progressive” atheist from the “obscurantist” advocate of religion.

The rhetoric of terror is already gaining momentum. The media are all hopping on the train, which is quickly running over any discordant voice. Who cares if Islamic religious organizations are condemning the attack? We all know that Islam calls on its faithful to butcher all infidels in the name of the Prophet, right? Their place in heaven is guaranteed if they sacrifice their lives fighting for Allah.

One has to wonder, then, why the 1.5 billion Muslims living on this planet have not yet taken up arms against us infidels, starting World War III in the process.

On the other hand, if Christians had taken the’ teachings of “love one another” and “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” to heart, then the world would be very different right now. On the contrary, once Christianity became the dominant religion in Europe, it carved a long and deep path of brutality in the name of the God of love and forgiveness, putting any Muslim Jihad to shame: Crusades, genocides, systematic enslavement of entire “pagan” populations, mass purging of “heretics” and witch hunts conducted by the Holy Inquisition, and more. All in the name of Jesus Christ.

These things belong in our dark past, you might say. And yet, it was a few years ago when Sarah Palin, once nominated for Vice President of the United States, claimed that the war on Iraq was “God’s will”. And this is not just about the US throwing its weight around. Even the Greek Prime Minister seems all too willing to do the “Christian” thing and close our borders to war refugees from Syria, going as far as to deny them medical care.

Mahatma Gandi once said “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” But this goes even beyond the tenets of our religion. Denying medical care to anyone in need goes against the very idea of humanity and breaks conventions, which apply even in time of war.

Need I remind anyone that the Islamist rebels fighting against Assad’s totalitarian regime were funded and armed by western governments? Or that ISIL is a terrible monstrosity created by decades of destabilization in the Middle East courtesy of Western powers (and the USSR, back in the day)? The sole purpose behind all this has always been geopolitical interests and nothing more.

Or perhaps it’s just that these people are just filthy Muslim barbarians. Like Ahmed. Or Lassana Bathily who selflessly hid a dozen people in the basement fridge of the kosher shop, where the terrorists held hostages, and escaped in order to notify the police.

Perhaps it is not just Islam, but religions in general. Perhaps if we were to do away with them, everything would be right about the world. I am sorry to disappoint you, my dear atheist and agnostic friends, but this is not the case. Because people kill for money, power, religion, skin colour, ideologies, a flag, even a sports team scarf. While doing away with money would solve a great many problems in the world, we cannot ban everything. We certainly can’t simply ban religion. We need to change our perception of things instead. Theists and atheists alike.

If the progressive atheist thinkers of the world claim that everyone who believes in their “imaginary friend” is a potential terrorist, they are simply attacking people for their beliefs. Just like terrorists, but without the guns.

Actions count. Words count too, to a much lesser degree, and beliefs to a bare minimum. What must we do, really, to apply greater force than fanatic terrorists? How can we do it without becoming a source of terror ourselves? We might all claim to be Charlie, but what does that mean, in the end?

We need to ask these questions seriously and answer them, to ourselves. In the meantime, I’d rather state my support towards a man who lost his life while doing his duty, protecting people with whom he would most likely disagree. A man whose death was marginalized, because it is hard to accept that a Muslim police officer can protect Democracy, against his supposed beliefs and the attributes which we assign him.

I am Ahmed.

 

Intermission #21

European dissolution

June 6th marked the 70th anniversary of the famous D-Day of World War II. It was the largest seaborne military operation in history and it marked the beginning of the end for the Third Reich.

Despite all the grand celebrations, though, despite the speeches and the moving stories of the last remaining veterans, one need to go no further than the results of the recent European Parliament elections to realise that something is wrong.

We might honour history, but we fail to learn from it.

As troops and ships from Great Britain and the Commonwealth, USA and many other countries gained the beaches of Normandy, the Red Army was marching from the East. The frantic race to Berlin, a race not only to end the most destructive conflict in the history of mankind, but to gain the prestige and possible technological spoils from the conquest of the German capital, would end almost a year later.

The World War was replaced by a Cold War, lines were drawn, walls were erected, curtains were raised, nuclear weapons were constructed and mankind came closer to extinction than ever before.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were no more enemies to be afraid of. As the spectre of another global conflict started to dissolve, political power shifted away from governments and into the hands of banks and financial institutions.

The same ills that brought about the Great Depression of the 1930s now threaten us again with a new financial crisis the remedy for which, we are told, is to be found into austerity for people of low to average income, while banks increase their profits and golden boys give themselves huge bonuses and pat each other on the back.

At the same time, however, extreme right parties gain more voters every day.

What we ought to remember is that Hitler was not some random madman who suddenly seized power and hypnotized an entire nation into Nazism. Adolph Hitler was elected into power. It was a slow process, that took both the defeat of Germany in World War I and the toxic financial environment of the late ’20s and early ’30s to grow into fascism.

In the end, slowly but surely, it drove several peoples into the hands of fanatics. Leaders in other countries seemed to worry about the situation in Germany and Italy, but they did little more than watch, until Nazi tanks crossed their borders.

Today, neo-nazi, racist and nationalist parties are growing all over Europe. In France, the United Kingdom and Denmark, anti-immigration parties have won the elections with 25, 27 and 26.6 percent respectively. Meanwhile, in Greece the neo-nazi party of Golden Dawn came very close to double digits, even though several of its MPs (including the party’s leader) have been imprisoned facing trial for planning and participation in various crimes and racist assaults up to and including murder. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a European country where the popularity of the far-right parties was reduced. Even in the generally more prosperous Scandinavian region.

If we do not wish for history to repeat itself, we ought to do more than deliver empty speeches on national holidays. Fascism is not some monster hiding under our beds, nor some kind of disease that you might catch while riding the train to work.

In fact, it is an idea that is most likely to take root where there is no work, where there is social inequality, where democracy is weakened and manipulated. Like the Weimar Republic of the 1920s. Like our democracies, today.

 

Intermission #20

rocktur_roger_waters_the_wall

I had the good fortune to be able to afford a front row ticket to what I think was the most important rock concert I will ever attend. Many in Greece couldn’t, and the company responsible for the event shamelessly denied Roger Waters’ request that people be allowed to attend with a low price ticket of 18 Euros.

If you are unemployed, like 1.6 million Greeks (or more) are right now, even 18 Euros is not a trivial amount.

After watching The Wall again all these years later, I can safely say that today it is more relevant than ever, more relevant than all the works of all other modern rock groups put together, at least in a political sense. It is as if the unmistakable rise of totalitarianism in the world today is accompanied by the steady muting of voices who argue, the dulling of modern music’s edge, the lapse of the collective artistic conciousness into an iStore-induced coma.

I am not talking about anger. Rage Against the Machine did that very well 20 years ago, but what did it amount to, when all is said and done? More on this later.

Darkness. A few eerie notes are heard in the distance and then the bass shatters the silence. Every notes strikes your chest, as if from inside. Somehow, the sound feels like it reverberates from your heart. Light, music, singing, screaming. A plane crashes above in a shower of sparks as a father dies and a baby is born.

And thus begins the journey of Pink into life. All the major actors in his life, his over-protective mother who guides and comforts, his teacher who punishes and conditions, his girlfriend which betrays (and is betrayed), all help him build the Wall.

The Teacher (Photo by S.M.)

The Teacher (Photo by S.M.)

Eventually, he becomes a rock star. By that time, however, the Wall has alienated him from everyone and everything around him, making him comfortably numb. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll try to fill in the gaping holes in his life, to no avail. Pink becomes violent and delusional. Finally, he loses all contact with reality, imagining that he is a dictator with absolute power over his audience, shooting anyone whom he finds unworthy.

Delusions of Fascism

Riddled with guilt, he puts himself on trial, with all the key figures in his life acting as witnesses against him. He is reduced from a man to a fleshy, faceless doll, waiting pathetically in a corner for his inescapable condemnation.

The human puppet (Photo by O.N.G.)

But the judge does not sentence him to death. Instead, he orders him to tear down the Wall and he does so, finally freeing himself as an eerily happy music fades in the distance.

The basics of the story are unchanged and still, 34 years later, they are all too relevant, as education deteriorates, people turn away from meaningful relationships, governments turn away from democracy, religious and racial hatred flourishes and war continues to thrive. The story is not just about one man, but also about the way each individual Wall becomes another brick in a huge structure representing our entire society.

The Wall

Waters enriched the original vision of Pink Floyd with modern elements, as the Wall is “painted” with graffiti inspired by Apple’s iDolizing marketing. iNeed, iBelieve, iTeach, iKill. Cleverly placed amongst them is iResist with the image of a protester tossing a molotov. In the end, this kind of resistance is another marketed product, aimed at the (rightfully) frustrated people but offering nothing more than a justification of violent suppression by the government. Experience has shown that massive, peaceful demonstrations are much more effective than setting the instruments of a government on fire.

The writing on The Wall

Other lines of graffiti on the Wall were no less insightful. “Enjoy Capitalism” styled as the Coca-Cola logo. And “if at first you don’t succeed, call an airstrike”.

Another striking image, shocking in its simplicity and truth, is that of the endless line of bombers dropping symbols: the dollar sign, the hammer-and-sickle, the Christian cross, the crescent moon and star of Islam, the star of David, the Mercedes sign, the McDonald’s logo and that of Shell falling like bombs and covering everything in red. All of them symbols used and misused to separate people with walls of greed, bigotry, fanaticism and hollow ambition.

And, of course, the image of the hammers doing the duck march in oppressively perfect rows of red and black. Today, 31 years after their appearance in the iconic film by Alan Parker they are reminding us not of the past, but of the possible and very likely future.

Another new concept was that of the wall depicting victims of war, terrorism and state violence from WWI to the Gezi park protests. Famous politicians, well-known activists together with largely “unknown”, but named soldiers of every war in between, civilian casualties, rescuers from the 9/11 Ground Zero, amongst them a Greek soldier who died in the Albanian mountains in 1940.

The Wall of the fallen

The Wall of the fallen

One could be tempted to turn criticism against the work itself, with all its special effects and high tech sound and imagery, the last g(r)asp of an ageing rock star for a few more dollars. Or Euros, as it were. But the essence of the work remains, regardless of any intention, selfish or not, of one of its main creators. I was reminded of my student years, when I used to mock my left-wing colleagues, most of whom had the latest cell phones of the time, while I still didn’t have one (and didn’t want one). Their half-serious answer was that “they used the system to fight the system”.

Well, “comrades”, if I ever saw anyone using the system to speak up against it, that would be Roger Waters.

Intermission #19

The intro

Art by Anastasia Lambrou

Art by Anastasia Lambrou

Dear economists, dear policy makers, dear bankers, dear powers-that-be,

I have a message for you. It is aimed at you, but not really meant for you, rather for the rest of us who are struggling to make sense of this mess you have created.

We are not commodities.

We, the People, vote and elect individuals who are supposed to represent our interests and uphold our ideals for a fair and humane society. Just one glimpse at the news, especially the uncensored/non-sterilized news reports on the Internet, should be enough to convince anyone that we have strayed very, very far from this basic concept of Democracy.

Commodities do not vote. Commodities have no rights or voice. Commodities are bought, sold and utilised as required.

The very moment that our financial system started treating people as commodities, was the moment when democracy started to decline. And now that this very system has come to dominate politics and governance to an absolute degree, what do you suppose has happened to our precious democracy?

Commodification is nothing new. In fact, it is a fairly old concept introduced by Karl Marx. The problem is that many people will dismiss the concept without thinking, just because they might disagree with Marxist theories.

But you don’t need to be a Marxist or a communist, or even a left-wing sympathiser to understand the fundamental truth of this simple statement: people are not commodities.

No amount of reasoning, no financial theory, no argument can be used to change this. In a world which has formally renounced slavery, human labour cannot be thought of as a commodity.

Because when this happens, then the fundamental right to work becomes subject to the principles of the free market and unemployment is suddenly thought of as a financial indicator, instead of a social problem. Even worse, unemployment becomes a useful tool that can be used to force salary costs to lower and work rights to disappear.

It’s all in the name of “rationalisation”, of course. It is “good business”. “Rationalisation” is a very interesting word, used in business circles (and more recently in politics) as a euphemism for salary and job cuts. In psychology, however, it is used to describe a defence mechanism in which perceived controversial behaviours are logically justified.

Or, simply put, “making excuses”.

But we are not commodities and there is no excuse for treating us as such. No one cares what lumber thinks. What matters is that you get the best quality at the lowest price. Iron ore does not need to start a family. All it needs to do is to be good and cheap enough to be used for production.

When you drive the need to optimize production to the extreme, there would be nothing better than a worker that costs nothing, demands nothing and never stops. In other words, a robot. But robots are still pretty expensive to acquire and maintain. Humans remain a better choice for all but the heaviest and most repetitive tasks.

We are now treading on very dangerous ground. A society which places business concerns and interests over that of its own members will naturally push them to become as robot-like as possible. Is this the kind of society that we want?

Is this the crowning achievement of our technological and cultural evolution? Filling up factories and office buildings with human drones and streets with masses of starving, unemployed people?

Somehow, I do not think this is the bright future which we were promised. Somehow, I don’t think that all those billions of people living in democratic countries are voting to become slaves or beggars.

Or things to be exchanged.

Intermission #18

Bulgarian protesters

In Greece the only thing that stirs these days is the occasional ceremonial 24-hour strike or a continuous strike action in a particular sector, which is condemned by everyone (including even a large part of the media-addled population) and put down by the police and the abusive use of law by the state. Meanwhile, in neighboring Bulgaria there are political developments which should be of particular interest to the Greek people.

Assuming that us Greeks still have the ability to see beyond our nose and our TV screen, which bombards us daily with a lengthy “analysis” on the absolute necessity of the Memorandum and the endless austerity measures which support it.

Although Bulgaria has experienced unprecedented economic growth in recent years, the minimum wage remains at 159 Euros, the second lowest in Europe. In the second half of the last decade, it went through a period of intensive privatisation, in accordance with the mandates of the IMF and the principles of modern economy.

Unemployment is low (below 10%) in comparison to that of Greece, but wages are not sufficient, despite the fact that prices are also quite low.

The energy market is in private hands and is completely self-sufficient. Bulgaria produces all of its energy and does not import even a single TW of electricity from another country.

Apparently, these ideal conditions are not sufficient to make market competition work. So, following the recent increases in the price of electricity, people took to the streets en masse to protest, defying even the bitter cold.

The main demand is the re-nationalisation of the energy market. Does that sound backward? Absurd even? Let me tell you what absurdity really is: expecting a pensioner who receives 79 Euros per month  to pay a monthly electricity bill of 89 Euros.

“We are witnessing how the refrigerator overcame TV,” said political scientist and analyst, Arman Bamikian, referring to the fact that television bombards people with the macroeconomic achievements of the government on a daily basis, while at the same time the standard of living is low and fridges are empty.”

Hunger cannot be fooled. Obviously, then, the point where civil unrest is almost assured is the point where basic needs are threatened: electricity, water, food.

The example of Bulgaria shows us that it is not just the austerity policy that is ineffective. Apparently, so is the uncontrolled privatisation of everything. And especially that of basic utilities, such as water and electricity.

Neoliberalism threatens to smother every last bit of common sense left, and make us forget a basic fact. Water and electricity are NOT luxury goods, the distribution of which can be determined by profit.

Unless, of course, we have decided that in the name of “economic growth” the majority of the population must resort to using oil lamps (assuming oil is affordable) and wells (assuming that people are still allowed to dig).

And why not indeed? According to the Greek Minister of Finance, Mr. Stournaras, the recent equation of prices of heating oil with that of diesel was deemed successful. For just a moderate increase in tax revenues, many oil distributors went out of business (since heating oil consumption went down by 70%), smog covers the air of Athens at night from stoves and fireplaces and millions of Greeks went cold.

Fatalities due to use of coal heaters and wood stoves by people without any prior experience are not uncommon.

The macroeconomic picture of our neighboring country is excellent. The IMF is happy with the compliance of the Bulgarian government. Daily reality, however, is completely different. In Greece, although a similar course has been plotted, no one will admit what lies behind the promises of ‘growth’, simply because misery does not appear in the statistics which interest the Troika.

The government of Bulgaria resigned in the face of widespread public protests. Not only that, but their Prime Minister made the following statement regarding police beating of protesters: “Every drop of blood for us is a stain. I can’t look at a Parliament surrounded by barricades, that’s not our goal, neither our approach, if we have to protect ourselves from the people.”

Of course, this statement was made for the sake of keeping up a pretense of decency. But it was made, nonetheless. That is much more than what could be said about the Greek Prime Ministers of the past three years of crisis and escalating police violence. And the Greek Parliament has repeatedly been surrounded by barricades and even, on occasion, by the military.

The Bulgarian minister of finance was forced to resign after the first public demonstrations. And when this proved ineffective, the entire government resigned. In Greece, unreasonable and unpopular fiscal measures are a daily reality. Anger is simmering, but nothing yet stirs. And thus, Greek politicians have nothing to worry about.

It seems that in Bulgaria, where people call their own politicians “mafia”, there is still a little dignity among the “mobsters”.

 

Intermission #18

Nick Cave sings/recites about the modern Greek tragedy.

In Athens all the youths are crying from the gas […] and in the cradle of democracy the pigeons are wearing gas masks […] we are, I say, mostly lost.

My interview on RFI (Radio France International) by Mr. William Niba, concerning the recent acquittal of Mr. Vaxevanis, freedom of the Press in Greece and the Lagarde list affair. The press abroad is starting to realize exactly how serious the issue of freedom of the Press has become in Greece.

Modern Greece has a long-standing love-hate relationship with the Press. I recall a very interesting excerpt about the character of the Greeks taken from the 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica:

In no other country is the passion for politics so intense; “keen political discussions are constantly going on at the cafés; the newspapers, which are extraordinarily numerous and generally of little value, are literally devoured, and every measure of the government is violently criticized and ascribed to interested motives.”

The influence of the journals is enormous; even the waiters in the cafés and domestic servants have their favourite newspaper, and discourse fluently on the political problems of the day.

Needless to say, very little has changed from 100 years ago. There are no “domestic servants” anymore, but otherwise the newspapers remain extraordinarily numerous. It is worth noting that several newspapers appeared even during these last 5 years of recession.

There is a downside to this. As the same, extraordinarily insightful, article points out:

Much of the national energy is wasted by this continued political fever; it is diverted from practical aims, and may be said to evaporate in words.

Questioning authority is a sign of a healthy mindset, but it can become a vice if it only remains on a theoretical level. The majority of the Greek people today is questioning the corrupt political system, but at the same time it is fearful of change. Thus it kept on voting for the same two parties over the last 40 years.

By “change” I do not mean simply voting for a left-wing party such as SYRIZA, members of which doubt its own ability to govern. I am referring to a radical change of the political scenery, in the example set by Iceland. A much smaller country, certainly, and with more practically-minded citizens, as far as politics go, than us Greeks.

Still, it has become abundantly clear in the last few weeks, with the Lagarde list fiasco and the arrests of prominent journalists, that the current political system is unwilling and unable to affect any kind of meaningful change, even to the detriment of the people it is sworn to serve.

The state crackdown on public protests, as has been demonstrated in the past couple of years, with riot police making wanton and indiscriminate use of tear gas and violence, against journalists, elderly citizens, even children, has now been escalated to a crackdown on the minority of the Press in Greece which is still exercising its right (and obligation) of free speech.

Mr. Vaxevanis was arrested last week, ironically on the day of our national holiday celebrating our resistance against the Axis during WWII, on charges of breach of privacy. That was less than 24 hours after his magazine, Hot Doc., published the names of 2000 Greeks holding accounts in the Swiss branch of the HSBC bank. Those names are contained in the now infamous Lagarde list, which was handed on 2010 by Mme Lagarde to  the Greek Minister of Finance at the time, Mr. Papakonstantinou.

Two years later, Mr. Papakonstantinou and Mr. Venizelos who succeeded him, trade allegations concerning the disposition of said list and plead ignorance on its current whereabouts. Despite the international fiasco, they were not charged in any way by the appointed Committee of the Parliament who was called to examine them.

On the contrary, the journalist who chose to publicize the contents of the list was arrested within 24 hours.

Another journalist, Mr. Karatzaferis, was arrested using a years old warrant from a closed case, within a few hours after he stated on his TV show that he intended to publicize documents stolen by the hacktivist group Anonymous from the Greek Ministry of Finance. He implied that these documents prove how Mr. Papandreou as Prime Minister and Mr. Papakonstantinou as Minister of Finance engineered the debt crisis and drove the country into the hands of the IMF.

Mr. Karatzaferis, who was arrested just hours after his show, was released the very next day and was hospitalized. He stated that he would go forward with his promise and start publicizing the documents immediately.

Two other journalists, working for the national television network NET, had their morning show cut because of the comments they made regarding the Minister of Public Order, Mr. Dendias. Mr. Dendias had firmly denied allegations of anti-fascist protesters about being tortured by the Police, and predicted that the medical examiner’s report would show no signs of mistreatment. He also proceeded to threaten The Guardian with legal action because it publicized these allegations.

The reports of 8 separate medical examiners verified the allegations, sparking the comment of the two journalists who wondered what would happen now with Mr. Dendias’ threat against The Guardian. They softened the blow by adding how they always thought that he was a serious man.

Regardless, even this mild comment was enough to send the two journalists home.

They were being too kind. Mr. Dendias has not only let the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party thugs roam the streets assaulting people with impunity, but also grossly overstepped his authority. A Minister publicly anticipating the results of an examination carried out by independent public servants, thus practically dictating the result to them, is something which would be considered appropriate only under a totalitarian regime.

No, Mr. Dendias is not a serious man and neither are any members of the government, people who have been toying with the fortunes of an entire people for so long and with such arrogance, that they have now become exposed internationally.

A mere two weeks before the US national election, the New York Times devoted their editorial to the shameful state of the Greek democracy. It is a sad day when citizens are forced to turn to foreign media or small, independent blogs for a shred of truth regarding what is truly going on in their own country.

Sadly, the majority of the newspaper and television networks owners have close ties to the ruling and financial elite and often depend on them. There is no privately owned TV network in Greece with a permanent licence. This means that their operation could be suspended at any time by the government.

The crisis has put an ever tighter noose around the collective neck of the Press, as journalists now fear for their jobs more than ever before.

The question is whether this crackdown is a last-ditch attempt of a failing system to remain in control or if it is just a fireworks display aiming to divert attention from the latest batch of brutal austerity measures which are about to be approved by the Greek Parliament.

It looks like that the Greek government, in cooperation with the troika, is trying to buy time until after the U.S. elections. The message I am reading is that any developments, not only here but also in the Middle East, have been put on hold until after November 6th.

It might be one and the same; with attacks against foreigners, arrests of citizens due to exercising their right of free speech over the Internet, attempts to silence the Press and brutal police suppression of public protests, it is becoming increasingly hard these days to distinguish a totalitarian Middle Eastern country from a democratic European one.

Intermission #16

Freedom… yeah right.

“”It is well enough that the people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system for, if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.”
-Henry Ford

This quote, attributed to Ford by Charles Binderup, reveals the most fundamental fact of life in the modern world. That it is governed by an economic system that is in no way fair to all parties involved. In fact, it is actually exploiting the majority of the population for the benefit of the few.

That, of course, has been the state of human affairs for most of our known history. However, it was thought that the abolition of monarchy and oligarchy in most modern states of the world, and the gradual adoption of democracy during the previous two centuries, would result in the diminishing of social and financial inequalities.

The struggle for human rights during the 20th century, particularly in its second half, made great progress on every level. Working conditions improved, gender and race discrimination was considerably reduced, freedom of expression and speech was solidified and the future seemed brighter. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, everyone in the developed world believed that we were heading towards a new, more enlightened age of peace and growth.

As we now know, that was very far from the truth. The truth is that while the economy has been globalized to an unprecedented extent, a number of political, legal, national, cultural and religious boundaries and differences have made a comparable progress impossible on an administrative level.

Take the EU for example. The monetary union was achieved before any kind of meaningful consensus could be reached on how the European Union could ever become a single entity politically, socially and, to an extent, culturally.

And since, as we all know, money makes the world go round, there are people and corporations now with the means of small countries who can move freely on a financial level with very little control.

Think of it this way: if the people play the role of a King, then banks, corporations and the rich are the barons. And these barons can now act as they please without really being accountable to the Crown. Because the King depends on them to keep his treasury running and because he has no effective way to control them.

If a King has no real power, then we are no longer talking about a monarchy. And if the “King” is actually the people and the people have no real power, then we are no longer talking about a democracy.

The dawn of the 21st century brought with it the promise of growth, equal opportunities for all, and a wealth of goods and services, all courtesy of the “free market”. Unfortunately, these hopes were quickly dashed by the spectre of a financial crisis with no apparent end.

In fact there is no crisis. Or rather, there would be no crisis if the global financial system was equipped with the proper safeguards against fraud, misuse and exploitation. Or, quite simply, if it was fair and sustainable. But that would entail more governmental control and that term alone is enough to send any economic liberalist screaming.

Because the “free market can regulate itself”. Only that it can’t. It is like thinking that you can put two death row prisoners in a cage to fight for their lives and expect them to play fair. They won’t. They will use any trick in their disposal to beat their opposition, no matter the cost.

Likewise, a corporation will do anything it can get away with in order to increase its advantage over the competition. If its customers or employees are hurt in the process, it’s fine as long as it is never proven or detected. Substandard equipment, processes and materials, abominable working conditions and practices, legal loopholes and tricks, literally anything will be employed in the fight.

Not all of them do it, but when most “players” do, then their competitive advantage either drives the rest out of business or into the same game.

Banks are no exception to this rule. Once considered one of the main structural pillars of any economy, they now operate solely and openly for their own profit, with any thought of promoting sustainable growth taking a back seat or getting kicked out of the car altogether.

If a prosperous country like Iceland can be effectively ruined financially by its own banks, then one easily understands how this could happen to any country in the world. All this happened with the government and the central bank of Iceland turning a blind eye to the incredibly irresponsible dealings of a handful of people.

Nevertheless, the first order of the day was not to arrest the persons responsible, but to hand the bill to the people of Iceland, as if they were somehow accountable for this mess.

The exact same thing is happening in most countries of the developed world right now. The people are asked to take the brunt of the cost for gross mismanagement on the part of bankers and corrupt politicians, even from other countries, all in the name of avoiding the deepening of a crisis which, by all accounts, is a bottomless pit.

The crisis will never end because we are trying to treat the symptoms, while the root causes remain unaddressed. The majority of people will see their incomes steadily decreasing, there will be steadily fewer and fewer jobs; work rights, which have been paid for in blood, will vanish.

This has been happening for two and a half years in Greece and in the poorer countries of Europe. Greece is on the verge of total collapse, socially and financially, the neo-Nazi party is on a meteoric rise and the troika is still demanding for more cuts and “reforms” which will be nothing short of disastrous.

But it will not end with Greece.

This system which kicks people out of their homes, jobs and deprives them of a future, which sends young people abroad as immigrants and which has replaced constitutional rights with violently enforced austerity measures will spread. Once the people of Greece and the other “PIGS” countries have been forced to work for wages comparable to those of China or starve, where do you think that most major corporations in Europe will move their manufacturing to?

And what will happen to their own workforce at home?

Fascism now wears a respectable face, a suit and carries a tablet. You may call it “austerity”, “reform”, “free market”, “economic rationalization” or however else you wish. I call it Finanscism.

 The contempt of the powers-that-be towards the average citizen and their perceived intelligence becomes increasingly obvious today from the quality of the excuses which they use to justify war.

Once upon a time, on the eve of World War II, Nazi Germany elaborately staged an attack by Polish forces on a German radio station close to the border with Poland. SS troops dressed up in Polish uniforms attacked the station and transmitted a short anti-German message in Polish.

They even dragged along a prisoner, also dressed in a Polish army uniform, to shoot so that they would have some hard evidence to present to the Press. This was the culmination of a campaign of similar events, 21 in total, which led to the supposedly defensive invasion of Poland by the Nazis.

65 years later, only the vague accusation from the US and Britain about the possession of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq was enough to start an invasion whose death toll is still counting, and will continue to do so for years to come.

Now, the shelling of a Turkish village close to the border with Syria by a position within Syria is apparently enough to trigger an armed response from Turkey, which could very quickly escalate to a large scale conflict in the Middle East and beyond.

The innocent victims “were struck by a mortar round fired from inside Syria and thought to be aimed from the military base at the Tal al-Abyad border post, which fell into Syrian rebel hands last month.” The response from the Pentagon was the following: “This is yet another example of the depraved behaviour of the Syrian regime, and why it must go. We regret the loss of life in Turkey, a strong ally.”

It is remarkable how quickly the US and Turkey became strong allies again, since in this particular case the Turkish government’s expansionist policy serves US interests in the region.

Reports at this point are inconsistent. Even within the same article it is unclear whether the mortar shell was fired against or from a rebel occupied border post. This whole incident brings to mind the shellings of Muslim graveyards during the Bosnian War, which often originated from friendly positions.

Even supposing that this attack actually came from the Syrian Army, to claim that it was not accidental defies all reason. What could the Syrian government possibly stand to gain from shelling a small village and killing innocent people? When faced with an 18-month insurrection in your country the last thing you wish to do is to anger your neighbours and drag them into it on the side of the rebels.

Need I remind my readers of the countless reports and incidents, some of them even recorded on video, of US army attacks (accidental or targeted) against unarmed civilians and journalists, embassies, hospitals, even school buses?

I am not in any way a supporter of totalitarian regimes, such as that of Bashar al-Assad. However, most countries in the Middle East are not democracies. It becomes interesting, then, to note which countries are picked by the West as targets for subversion and, most importantly, why.

In the case of Syria, the most likely reason would be that it is merely the doorstep to Iran, the next target in line for “liberation”. It should be clear by now that this kind of intervention does not and will not result in a transition to a stable, democratic state. It failed in Afghanistan, it failed in Iraq and, so far, it doesn’t seem to be succeeding in Libya either.

It is almost certain that Syria will not be any different, but that is irrelevant to the decision makers. They do not care about democracy, because if they did they would try to reinforce it in their respective countries, instead of attempting to enforce it in the ruins of “liberated” regions.

It is a sure sign of arrogance and hypocrisy when the West is professing to teach the East democratic values which it no longer respects, and preaches peace while it constantly breeds war.

People in most of these countries are not ready for democracy of the “instant” type. People in the developed world have grown complacent in the “fast food” democracy of their own. We all have to fight for true democracy, but (hopefully) not with weapons and not as invaders in foreign lands. It seems, though, that any attempt at reason is going to be drowned once again by the sound of bombs dropping and the televised green flares of missile launches as the “fight for freedom” show will go on.

Intermission #15

WAR

What is it good for?

Absolutely nothing.