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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.

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“”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.

Summer’s End – with apologies to W. Shakespeare

Now was the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of Greece;
And all the clouds that loomed over our land
Under a shallow layer of sand buried.

On golden-white beaches and blue-green isles
We hid from the coming storm, taking shelter
In yellow-golden fields left to wither
and windswept forests left to burn.

We turned a deaf ear to the rolling thunder,
Ignoring the acrid smell of smoke
We bathed in the blue waters and basked
In the sun’s heat, building hopeful sand castles.

Bound to ruin with the wind’s first blow,
Come autumn, come rain and lightning;
The fiery heat of summer into flame
shall turn, and burn everything to ashes.

I was meaning to write about something else, yet again I ended up elsewhere. But that is no wonder. No matter what our plans may be, whatever we might set our minds on for the future, everything depends on things that we cannot control. On forces that seem above us.

The key is to understand when these forces are real and when we just think that they are, and by this belief we actually make them so.

We need to know when we are really being pulled by the current, which no human-made dam can stop, and when others want us to think that the wake of their luxury boats is an unstoppable tsunami.

Luxuries which some acquired unlawfully with “borrowed” money, stolen from us. Taken from ‘lazy’ pensioners who work illegally past their 70s because their pensions are simply not enough to sustain them. From university graduates, with honours and distinction, now unemployed. From workers who go unpaid for months and could find themselves jobless at any moment.

From small children in a country with no future, from which we somehow still expect to be well-behaved and obedient like half-dead goldfish in a fishbowl.

Kids these days have no values, some say. Who would teach them values? Proud Greek citizens who curse the same politicians which they keep voting for? Underpaid teachers in understaffed and underequipped schools? Politicians who, in order to gain their precious office, have sold their souls three times already?

There are no values in our time, beyond the instinct of survival. We turn the other way so that we do not see the homeless. We nod our heads in sympathy before the unemployed (while we secretly feel fortunate to have a job, those of us who still do). We shut our eyes to avoid reading about suicides.

And when even this instinct fails in the face of despair, there is nothing left. Who would teach values to children? Those who take their own lives?

Not that I blame them. The shame and despair of having nothing to offer to those who depend on us are enemies beyond understanding.

Amidst all the general confusion of these days I read the most absurd thing. According to an online article, news of suicides should not be published on the Internet since in encourages people  to commit suicide for the sake of… publicity. It’s remarkable how obsessed Greeks have become with their post mortem reputation in the span of just two years, isn’t it?

This outrageous view is apparently shared by Mrs. Aphrodite Al Saleh, a spokeswoman of the “socialist” PASOK party, who also dismissed suicide as a “stupid thing”. It seems that apart from vain, Greeks are now also becoming increasingly stupid. The ruling parties in Greece still deny that there is any relation between the shocking increase of suicides and the fact that millions of people have nothing to support themselves with anymore.

We now live in a state of absolute absurdity. Life has ceased to seem real. It looks more like a Fellini movie clip, cut during editing.

These thoughts were spurred by the following short piece that I came across on the Internet. Concerning tax authorities in Greece, which have now become graveyards for bankrupt businesses.

Green eyes on a red background and the “Code” …

I passed by an office on the floor of the IRS. Dozens of people were furiously tearing up papers. I went to have a look and asked a strange girl with green eyes on a red background if I could help. She nodded “yes”. I started tearing. “What are we tearing?” I asked. “Invoices” she said. “Why tear them?” I asked, tearing all the while. “Because we are closing,” she said. When we had torn everything up she went to an employee who was watching people tearing up papers. She took the torn papers, checked them, put a seal on them and gave the girl a piece of paper.

“Are you done?” I asked the green eyes, now on an even redder background. “No. Now I need more papers, then I have to unregister from the Technical Chamber and after that from TEVE (Self-Employed Workers’ Insurance Organisation). ”

I did not know what to do. After we had torn her papers away I felt like I was her friend. We sat on a bench. She had started her business twelve years ago. Two years ago she began going under.  Yet she loved it, and would not give it up. She worked all day long, but there was no end in sight. Then she had to admit that it was over. “It is sort of like losing a child. I made it, I nurtured it, I watched it grow and set it on its way, but it was going nowhere”. She cried. “I owe money to TEVE too, but now they are not going to get a dime,” she said. Then she stood up, wiped her eyes and went on to finish off the rest of the paperwork.

I climbed the stairs back to the tax office. I went to the office where everyone was tearing up papers. I found out that it was called the “Code”. Now even more people were tearing up papers. I approached a gentleman, about fifty years old, with brown eyes on a red background. “Want me to tear up toof?” I asked him. He said “yes” with a nod. And then I went to another and to another. I was tearing up papers until they sent us away at 3 o’ clock. With every paper torn I threw a curse. Some of them will work. They have to… ~ by HARA

And you, oh so serious and credible politicians, you seek taxes from the dead, from torn papers and closed up shops and people who can no longer make a living. Not from those who have something to give.

And you put those uncollected taxes in your calculations. And you plan your policies based on non-existing numbers. And when your calculations inevitably fail, you will increase the death toll. You will destroy  even more shops, families, people. Even more plans for the future. A future that no longer exists anywhere. Only on torn papers.

Do not tear up just papers. Tear them up. Write them off. Delete them.

We’ve been trying in vain for years to write our future on lies, on misery, on indifference, and the crumbs and beads of their empty promises. Like a palimpsest that will one day be discovered by an incredulous archaeologist. How did this happen? Why didn’t anyone speak up?

If we do not tear them up once and for all we will never be able to turn the page. We will end up writing on the margins and nothing will make any sense. And we will be lost in time and archaeologists in the future will wonder who these slaves were who never stood for their rights?

Intermission #14

They say silence is gold. Sometimes, though, it is just compliance.

I’m waiting. The clock ticks the seconds away. Ruthlessly. Ceaselessly. Relentlessly. I’m still waiting. What should I write about? About our hospitalized government? About the troika, lurking around the corner like a predator? Days passed in the green. We kept ourselves busy with the Euro Championship and not the euro currency. A bad thing? Not necessarily so. An essential thing? Definitely not. However the Euro Championship will continue to be after the year is through. I wouldn’t bet my life on the euro achieving the same feat, though.

Weeks pass like a river flowing into the sea. The sea that carries monstrous carrier ships. Towards faraway Syria. Perhaps not far enough from us here in Greece. The West is knocking on the gates of Persia and those gates lie in the land which Assad has been painting red. For months. But he is not the only one. Nor the first to do so. The difference between a dictatorship and a “legitimate government” in “these” countries lies in the colour of the ruling dictator’s underwear. If it bears the stars and stripes, then it’s fine.

Unless, of course, politicians and their puppeteers decide otherwise.

I read about horrifying things in the news. Robberies, murders, suicides. Infanticides. Cannibalism. Like a daily, macabre litany. In the sidebars I can see the windy upskirts, the failed plastic surgeries and the wet bathing suits of the famous. The contrast  is surreal, hideous. Inexplicable.

I read everything. Financial analyses. Political analyses. Social analyses. Football analyses. I even read about prophecies from holy men. Unserious, one would say. Droll, even. However, I just can’t shake the impression that some of them are beginning to look dangerously plausible. Even more than all these analyses.

The days have turned from football green to sandy gold and sea blue. For some. For a little while. Most of us, however, will just go back to gray. Others, many more than normally acceptable (?) never left the black. Nor will they, unless they shut the door behind them. But I hope they won’t. Perhaps things will change. Perhaps we will hit rock bottom before starting to climb again. But those who “leave” will never find out.

Please don’t shut the door.

Chaos? War? Some mock the Mayas and their prophecies. Forget about meteors, sun flares, earthquakes and volcanoes. We are safe from those, as a race. But do not forget man. He is the worst threat of all. The Mayas did not foresee disaster. They implied that the end of an era will come, a great change of some kind. Such things rarely come peacefully, however.

And everything seems so peaceful right now. Like the quiet before the  storm. In Greece and abroad. Unpredictable. Torrential. Unending scenarios. No certainty at all.

Months pass slowly. Falling, like rain drops. Blood or oil. Or, perhaps, both. I don’t know what to write about. I’m waiting. I am no prophet.

 Intermission #14

Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Into this house we’re born
Into this world we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out alone
Riders on the storm

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.

Let us imagine for a moment that there is another Greece, where everything works as it should. Or that chaos, corruption and lack of planning are limited to reasonable levels instead of where they are now. These days, with mounting police violence, starving people and the economy collapsing everyday, I can’t help thinking that the average African dictator would feel right at home in Greece.

But let us suppose that it is not so.

Suddenly, while everyday life is progressing more or less normally and the elections are coming up, police vans appear in the streets to pick up illegal immigrants, corrupt politicians are arrested, the German war reparations issue is put forward officially, potholes in the streets are covered up, legislation for families in serious debt is being drafted in the Parliament…

Former ministers are making candid speeches on TV about the hard decisions they were forced to take and about the price they paid for them…

Even if everything was well and fine, even if Greece was not a country (like many others today, I have to admit) where our intelligence and our dignity are being tried each and every day, even then there would be a certain feeling of annoyance.

We would realize this charade for what it is. Or this show, that is being put on for luring in the votes, one more time. But this is NOT Greece in the happy haze of 2004. People are not annoyed. They are a pot simmering with anger, which has been building up for the past two years.

And the police vans release suspects not two blocks away from where they were picked up. Politicians and those who owe millions to the Greek state are being arrested solely for the benefit of big headlines. The files containing the very valid and just case of Greece against Nazi war crimes, including a forced “loan” which was never repaid, were lost and left to gather dust for at least 20 years. Favourable legislation for households in great debt is being planned only because our prisons are filled to the brim and there is little room for poor sods who owe a few thousand to the banks. Either because they could not deal with their expenses or because they were simply too careless with their credit card.

And one of the so-called saviours of our country, our former Minister of Finance, even though he is being mauled (for a change) by a reporter about his actions leading to the troika memorandum, still has the gall to protest about not being able to have a cup of coffee with his wife in public.

Instead of being ashamed to show his face among people who can no longer afford to have a coffee, or even to eat, because of his destructive austerity measures. Instead of sitting before a court in order to explain what was the reasoning behind accepting loans at exorbitant interest rates which will be impossible to pay off.

The proof to that can be plainly seen in the breakdown of our latest loan instalment.  The entire total of 3.3 billion Euros which the Greek state received was deposited into accounts to the benefit of our creditors. Not only did we not keep one cent from this “aid”, but we actually had to pay 46 million Euros as… commission to the banks.

Total: -46.000.000 Euros. The state bleeds money, our creditors profit and the show goes on.

The repayment of our new loan commences next year. Supposing that our economy has not collapsed by then, we will simply be unable to cover our loan payments, even if we somehow manage to reach a primary surplus within a year.

At that point, total bankruptcy, which our governments are supposedly doing everything they can to avoid, will be inevitable. Greece will be forced to hand over its assets to its creditors for a fraction of their real value and it will be doomed to perpetual national and financial servitude. The first colony on European soil in modern history.

We have had just about enough of this act. We can no longer tolerate a state where nothing ever moves towards the right direction, except during pre-election times. And even then, just for show.

We have watched this play before. Many times. The ending is always bad and progressively getting worse. But now we are prepared. Behind their hastily assembled stage scenery their plans for the immediate future are obvious.

We know why taxation bills were delayed this year. Because when Greek taxpayers (those that cannot evade taxes by depositing money abroad or in off-shore companies) will be asked to pay taxes which they cannot possibly afford, the government will claim that it has a “fresh mandate”, that “there is no alternative” and that “they are sorry, but…”

We know about the taxes that will be imposed right after the elections. We know about the new measures that are being prepared for June. We know that you are raising steel walls around the Parliament, which no longer represents the Greek people. We know that the troika aims to lower our wages to levels on par with Bulgaria. While we pay EU level prices for all basic goods.

What we also also aware of is that this “solution” which you are trying to sell for the past two years will lead nowhere. That is not just our opinion, it’s not just common sense, it has also been verified by distinguished economists from all around the world, including Nobel prize winner, Joseph Stiglitz.

For two years, our government has been engaged in a misinformation campaign, armed with fake dilemmas, such as: “Euro or drachma” and “Memorandum or bankruptcy”. In truth, they are attempting to hide the real problem, which is simply that the two-party system continues to rule even after bringing Greece to the very edge of ruin. Euro, drachma, dollar or ruble be damned. With this kind of leadership Greece is going nowhere.

The true dilemma is “mindset change or ruin”. For all of us, Greek or not.

Intermission #10

It’s the disease of the age
It’s the disease that we crave
Alone at the end of the rave
We catch the last bus home

Corporate America wakes
Coffee republic and cakes
We open the latch on the gate
Of the hole that we call our home

Protect me from what I want…
Protect me protect me

The following is a suicide note written by a 77-year old retired pharmacist. He left this then went to stand beneath a tree in Syntagma Square, Athens and shot himself in the head with a gun.

Suicide note

It reads: “The collaborationist Tsolakoglou government has literally annihilated my ability to survive, which was dependent on a decent pension for which I alone (without aid from the state) have been paying, for 35 years.

Since I am at an age which does not allow me to resist forcefully (without, of course, ruling out the possibility that I might follow the first Greek who took up arms), I can find no solution other than a dignified end before I start looking in the trash for my food.

I believe that young people with no future will some day take up arms and will hang the traitors of the Nation upside down in Syntagma square, like the Italians did to Mussolini in 1945 (Piazzale Loreto in Milan).

A well-known Greek journalist commented in a tweet that journalists and citizens should calm down, since committing a suicide in Syntagma Square does not make it more tragic than others.

Agreed. It does, however, make it symbolic. And there is no one, I think, who can doubt the importance of symbolism in politics. Because there is no question that the suicide of the 77-year old pensioner was a political act.

Perhaps you may have forgotten or may be unaware of the fact that the “Arab Spring” events were triggered by the self-immolation of a protester in Tunisia. It is, however, certain that those who fear a similar uprising in Greece are well aware of this.

And that is the reason why a former Minister and a deputy Minister, both belonging to one of the ruling parties (PASOK), reacted in the only way they know how: by slandering their adversaries and shirking any shred of responsibility, no matter how indirect.

 Mr. Beglitis in an outrageously disrespectful comment, attempted to disassociate the suicide with the economic crisis, and implied that perhaps it was the pensioner himself who wasted all his money, or perhaps his children did!

The possibility that this man might have been unfortunate or that the pension he received (which has been severely cut back, like almost all other pensions in Greece) was simply not enough to support him any longer was never mentioned, not even for appearances’ sake. It is as if we suddenly live in another country, where we don’t hear about suicides on a daily basis.

But what can one expect from Greek politicians, particularly those of the two parties who have been trading power between them for the past three decades? In their minds the words “money” and “waste” are inextricably connected. Always “waste”, never “earn”, “struggle”, “strive” or “sacrifice”. Just “waste”. Which member of our Parliament has ever paid dues for 35 years in order to earn their pension?

Beglitis and his kind choose to ignore the fact that working people have paid for their pensions with THEIR OWN money. And our politicians cut those pensions back without even blinking. In effect they are guilty of mismanagement and theft. At the same time the wages and pensions of the members of Parliament are paid for with OUR money. And those have barely been reduced, still remaining amongst the highest in Europe.

But let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that those accusations were right and that this man indeed wasted all his money. Was he so obsessed with his posthumous fame, that he decided to take his own life in order to become a hero? Let us suppose that it was his children who wasted his money. How callous can one be to level such accusations against them even before their father’s corpse grows cold?

Even if they were right, the only thing that they achieved was to demonstrate the magnitude of their pettiness and obsession.  In order to serve their political agendas those politicians respected neither the deceased nor his family.

When someone reaches the point where they decide to take their own lives, either because of psychological problems or because of  strong feelings of guilt or despair, they usually do it alone, at home, at work or at a secluded spot. Away from loved ones or people that might stop them or pity them.

Suicide as a form of political protest is completely different. A protest takes place in public, in plain view, where no one can ignore you. You do it in front of everyone because you are not ashamed of your act, because your aim is to give it meaning, to shock people into realizing the truth.

To become a symbol for your cause, even after death.

It’s no wonder then, that people were moved. When someone commits suicide in the privacy of their home it is easier for us to pretend we didn’t hear or read about it, to bury it in the back yards of our minds, where we hide everything that saddens or troubles us. It is a clearly personal choice.

When one commits suicide in public, particularly in a square with political meaning, right across the Parliament, you cannot ignore it. You know that the act aimed to deliver a message. Besides, the note that the pensioner left behind him leaves no room for misunderstanding.

It is no wonder, then, that people left flowers, notes and candles at the tree. It is not because they cared less about the other 1700-3000 people who committed suicide because of the financial crisis. It is because they felt the need to do something, as human beings. A need which politicians are incapable of comprehending. It is because by paying homage to that pensioner they also paid homage to all the others, something that would be impossible to do otherwise.

Where would people leave flowers? At homes, offices or cliffs?

This suicide which Mr. Beglitis had the audacity to mention in the mechanical way which most politicians deliver their hollow speeches, without ever realizing the meaning of their words, is the ultimate form of protest. No one can lie in the face of death.

Mr. Beglitis said that he stands “respectfully” in view of this tragic event. He said that we have to “keep silent” in order to demonstrate our grief. He was neither respectful nor silent about it. Therefore, he has lost both our respect and our silence.

Intermission #9

April 5 marked the 18th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s suicide. It seems fitting that I should dedicate “Heart Shaped Box” to the wonderful, warm-hearted people which govern us and “stand respectfully” over our corpses, just like a killer admiring his handiwork.

This is a world steeped in lies. Lies permeate every aspect of human life, from the moment they become self-aware (what a lovely child!) to the moment of their death. Even then, if they could, they would still hear lies uttered above their coffin (he was such a good man…).

There are lies and then there are lies. Some are spoken out of courtesy, some out of selfishness. And some, the worst kind, are used with malicious intent. These lies are like pests thriving on the soil prepared by the other, more “innocent” kinds.

Small, white lies are the ones that cannot be realistically avoided, at least if we care to live as harmoniously as possible in the company of others. Selfish lies stem out of our inability to admit the truth, especially to ourselves, and are very hard to avoid. Even though they harm us and everyone around us much more than we realize.

Those selfish lies are the ones which better condition us, so that we can accept the big lies, the ones that become an art and a profession in their own right.

The greatest liars of all, without doubt, are the politicians. They do not simply lie the most, but also speak the worst and most dangerous lies. Lies that start wars, that convince the people to vote for them, even against their own interests. Lies which grant them power.

The grandest liar of all time was the one whose most important contribution to modern civilization was the use of misinformation on a massive scale: propaganda. Adolf Hitler managed to lead an entire people, well-known for being level-headed and practical, into believing the most outrageous things.

He persuaded the Germans that they were racially superior to the rest of humanity, that the ones responsible for Germany’s inevitable deterioration after their defeat in WWI were in fact the Jews and that the destiny of the German people was to dominate the world.

All this with the help of the full resources of the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, at the head of which was the infamous Joseph Goebbels. Today, this role is played by the mass media.

The media achieve this goal not only by what is said by anchormen and written by journalists, but also what is implied and by what is never mentioned at all. Gradually, methodically they can convince people about almost anything. If it were not for the effect of the media, the masks of the politicians would crumble in an instant.

Let us take Greece in particular. I am often asked by foreign friends (and thinking Greeks wonder themselves) how it is possible for our politicians to lie so outrageously to our faces and yet manage to still be taken seriously? It is all a trick of the media. For years they’ve been going back and forth between the two major parties, gauging public opinion in order to strike at the most unpopular of the two at any given time.

The less unpopular party is given a reprieve, while the scandals of the other (usually the ruling one) were given plenty of air time, without ever leading to real investigations. Eventually the older scandals would be overshadowed by the new, and the previous party would slowly be promoted by denouncing the corruption of their opponents.

Even before the media reigned, however, the Greek people seemed eager to trust in a “saviour”. Thus, the “socialist” PASOK party won the 1981 elections by a great margin, using “EU and NATO are the same syndicate” as its central slogan. And also “out with the bases of death” referring to the US military bases in Greek territory.

31 years later, our politicians speak of the possibility of Greece outside of the EU as a terrible eventuality and leaving NATO was never even remotely considered. Any reduction of the number of US military bases in Greece came solely as a result of the need of the Pentagon to cut its costs.

Whether leaving these international organizations would actually benefit Greece is beside the point here. The point is that these claims were proven false, but this did not stop PASOK from being reelected in 1985. In other words, Greeks swallowed the lie without thinking. And that was not the end of it. Lies form a chain, one link at a time, with each lie supporting the next one in line. And we bound ourselves tightly with this chain until any hope of escape seemed impossible.

This chain of lies led us to the execution of one of the greatest international cons of all time. Greece, with the “kind” help of Goldman-Sachs, managed to fool the entire European Union into accepting us into the Euro zone in 2001.

This gargantuan lie could have been turned to the benefit of Greece; it could have become a white lie.  If our governments truly strove to restructure our economy gradually and put European funds and subsidies to good use by promoting growth. If they truly had the better interests of our country in mind.

Any such illusions had been dispelled two years earlier, when the Greek Stock Exchange bubble burst violently, marking the end of the false prosperity of the ‘80s and ‘90s. The total lack of state control as to the actual assets of companies entering the market, combined with the shameless advertizing of the Greek Stock Exchange by government officials, including the Prime Minister himself, led to a catastrophic free fall.

Market analysts looking at the big picture would tell you that the financial disaster was not so serious, however this event initiated a great redistribution of wealth in Greece, which continues to this day. Those Greeks who didn’t lose their life savings in the Stock Exchange certainly know someone who did.

The chain of lies continued with the Olympic Games of 2004 in Athens. Besides the obvious fact that the modern Games have become an impressive show for the benefit of multinational corporations and TV consumption, the Greek government used them as an excuse to indulge in an orgy of overspending. It is painfully obvious today that the billions of Euros which went into the Olympic Games of 2004 (and into various bank accounts) were money we could not afford to spend.

Most of the public infrastructure which was marketed as the legacy of the Olympic Games for the Greek people (such as freeways and the Athens Metro) was planned years before our bid for the Olympics was accepted. The lucrative delays were cut short so that everything would be ready in the nick of time and at several times the normal cost.

The two major parties alternated in the government, but their promises were never kept. Perhaps the low-point in these 30 years of history was the infamous slogan “Lefta iparhoun” (there are enough money) of our former Prime Minister, George Papandreou, together with his firm declaration that we did not need the help of the IMF.

By blindly accepting their lies at face value for an entire generation, we have nurtured our politicians’ arrogance to the point that some have openly admitted the obvious: that their promises before the elections should not be taken seriously. And despite everything, we keep on voting for them, ensuring that the chain of lies which binds us will eventually strangle us and keep our children bound for ever.

The shadow play has become so obvious that not even the pretenses are kept anymore. Lies which would be forgotten in the span of a full 4-year government term are now exposed within months, weeks or even days!

The new leader of PASOK, Evangelos Venizelos declared on June 2011 that the electric utility bills could not possibly be used as a means of tax collection, because electricity is a “social good”. A mere three months later, it ceased being so.

The leader of the “opposition” (now that’s a lie if I’ve ever heard one!) a few weeks before forcing all the members of Parliament of his party to approve the new memorandum agreement, had accused it of being “catastrophic”. One of his party’s newest acquisitions from the extreme right party of LAOS, Adonis Georgiadis, just one day before the CDS were triggered claimed that this would not happen “if the PSI was successful”. Which it was. Or so they tell us.

The lies of our politicians have now a minimal “half-life”, like unstable nuclear isotopes which vanish within minutes and are forgotten. But the damage that they cause remains. And there is very little time left to undo it. Perhaps none at all.

A Greek woman during an interview to BBC a few months ago described the Greek debt crisis using a very simple, yet extremely lucid metaphor. She likened our politicians to an abusive husband, who cheated on his wife and abandoned her with a huge debt to her name.

I partly agree. Our “husband” has not abandoned us, but keeps on lying to us incessantly, he abuses us and forces us on his creditors to pay his debts. And he keeps us “in line” by persuading us that only he can keep the banks from taking our house and that we are also to blame for not keeping our home’s finances in order.

Indeed, we are to blame because we kept believing him for 30 years and didn’t kick him out of our home, as we should have done. We are even more to blame now, because even though we’ve finally realized the truth, we are still too afraid and ashamed to kick him out. Much like an abused woman.

How can we blame women like that for being weak and not taking control of their lives, while we as a nation react in pretty much the same manner?

Isn’t it time to put an end to the lies?

Intermission #7

Cover versions which are equal to or even better than the original version of a song are rare. Especially so for translated songs. Greek composer and singer Dionysis Savvopoulos translated and covered Bob Dylan’s “Wicked Messenger” in his album “Vromiko psomi” (Dirty bread) in 1972 under the title “Angelos Exangelos”.  In my opinion, his translation added a lot to the original and the arrangement is also remarkable. This is an attempt at re-translation of his lyrics:

A messenger, a crier, he came from afar,

leaning on a crutch so battered,

he did not know how to speak at all,

for his tongue it could not speak, but only flatter.

 _

The news that he brought us, they were all a lie,

yet sounded pleasing to our ears,

for his every falsehood sounded like a truth

and so freed our souls from all our fears.

 _

He made his bed behind the agora,

and spent his time jesting in the tavern,

he wandered jovially in barbeshops and baths,

and idly gazed at fish inside the cistern.

 _

The winter passed, and summer came

and then again came another winter,

until one night, what came over him,

he started yelling in a wild temper.

 _

The soles of my feet, I feel their burns,

in this wilderness where night alternates with night,

the news I brought may have pleased your ears,

but are a far cry from being right.

 _

We knew at once what he was saying,

and numbly bid him go away.

If ye have no good news to give

then don’t give any.