Greece Says No

Yesterday’s astonishing referendum vote in Greece has left elite jaws dropping across the continent.  In the face of universal opposition from the powers-that-be across the continent and dire warnings that essentially amounted to ‘ do what we say or else’ Greek voters overwhelmingly rejected the Troika’s latest bailout package.

Well, technically they didn’t reject the package exactly, because in the confused circumstances that followed Syriza’s referendum decision last week, the Troika declared its latest bailout offer to be null and void, and Alex Tsipras appeared to have accepted it, albeit with preconditions.

Never mind, because Greeks knew what they were voting for and so did their creditors, who had made it plain that they weren’t happy with the Syriza government and wanted Greeks to dissolve it and elect another.  Everyone knew that if the referendum vote had gone the other way then Syriza would have resigned, and this was clearly the outcome Europe’s financial and political elites wanted, which was why they turned their backs on Tsipras’s last minute acceptance of their latest package.

Ever since Syriza was elected, the Troika has been determined to exact complete and unconditional surrender from Tsipras’s government because it fears that anything less would encourage other countries to question the disaster capitalism in drag that goes by the name of austerity.

Greece’s creditors may not have wanted a referendum, but their behavior last week made it clear that they also saw it as a potential opportunity to ditch Syriza and get a compliant technocratic government in power that would do their bidding without fuss.   To press the point home, Greeks were presented with the same dread prospect of empty banks and ATM machines that were once used to justify the recapitalization of the banking system when the global financial crisis first broke.

Yet astonishingly, even in these fearful and ultra-conservative times, when electorates across the continent prefer to cling onto the boot that kicks them because they are terrified that the alternative would be worse, Greece refused to acquiesce in the face of shamefully undemocratic blackmail.

Told effectively  to change your government or face bankruptcy, economic collapse, and expulsion from Europe, the Greeks voted no by an overwhelming margin.  And they were last night, dancing in the streets and public squares even as they stared down into what remains a very dark tunnel.   Why did they do this?  Are they mad, these southern Europeans,  in rejecting the ‘common sense’ imposed upon them by their sober northern creditors and the sour-faced disciples of TINA (There Is No Alternative)?  Are they suffering from an attack of mass psychosis?

Well no.  They were dancing because they had stood up to the blinkered financial thuggery that has ripped their society to shreds.   They were dancing because they had reached the conclusion that sometimes collective defiance – regardless of the risks – is preferable to endless humiliation, despair and ruin.   They were dancing because they had demonstrated a level of real political courage that has been so sorely lacking in so many countries during these grim years, and brave decisions are always more invigorating than fear and submission.

They were dancing because they had asserted their democratic right to choose a government that represented what they saw as their best interests rather than a government that recommended the interests of the Troika and the promoters of the disaster-capitalism-in-drag that we call austerity.

Of course this victory opens the way to all kinds of unforeseen possibilities.   The resignation of Yanis Varoufakis already demonstrates that Syriza’s own defiance has its limits.  The Troika may now accept Syriza’s conditions or Tsipras might demand more.   Greece may be cast adrift and expelled from the eurozone, or simply allowed to drift away from it.  If that happens, Greece may face a crisis even more severe than the one that has already wrought such havoc if it reintroduces the drachma, at least in the short-term.

As of this morning, no one knows how any of this will pan out.   But yesterday, the Greek people found itself and spoke with its own voice.   And now, faced with the refusal of the Greeks to dissolve its government, the powers–that-be can only either try and dissolve the Greek people itself, as Brecht once put it in a different context, or they can engage in open confrontation with a broad national consensus that is no longer restricted to the ‘far left’ government that the Troika tried to humiliate.

No wonder the Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijssebloem has described the result as ‘very regrettable for the future of Greece.’  German Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel yesterday accused the Tsipras government of taking Greece down a path of ‘bitter abandonment and hopelessness.’

Well if yesterday’s celebrations were what bitterness and hopelessness look like, then there are many other people in Europe who might want some of it too.   And they might even conclude, like the Greeks, that sometimes a leap into the unknown is preferable to a fearful, debt-enforced future of endless austerity,  and that sometimes, if you stand up to the powerful, you can actually win.


Greece versus the loansharks: just say no

The other day I overheard two locals where I live talking politics.     Their views were not   very enlightened, insightful or informed.   On the contrary,   the fragments of their conversation that I picked up sounded like a collage of Daily Mail articles or the Ukip manifesto; the migrants at Calais where ‘economic migrants’ – a term that was clearly pejorative in the minds of both men. Even if they weren’t, ‘we can’t look after them all’, complained one of these upstanding citizens bitterly, as if ‘we’ had ever been trying to do any such thing.

The conversation also turned to Greece, which ‘should never have been allowed to join the Euro’, according to one of these pundits.   The only reason it had joined, was because of ‘some bureaucrats in Brussels’ and the result was ‘a mess.’   Nowhere in this dismal conversation did I hear the slightest expression of sympathy for the awful devastation which the ‘troika’ have inflicted on Greece these last few years.

There was only the same old stereotype of lazy southern Europeans, whose fecklessness was supposedly compounded by the ‘bureaucrats in Brussels.’   Just an everyday exchange of prejudices and received ideas between two smalltown bigots, you might think, were it not for the fact that this tendency to blame the marginalised, the vulnerable and the victims of economic policies enacted by the powerful is such a depressingly ubiquitous component of the great contrick we call austerity, which large swathes of the British public have swallowed without any difficulty at all.

We can expect to hear similarly reactionary bigoted views expressed again and again as the referendum campaign on the EU gets underway next year, and Ukip and the Tory hard right attempt to transform withdrawal from Europe into a national cause célèbre and a litmus test of national sovereignty.   Normally I tend to recoil in disgust when I hear such attitudes, which only confirm what a stagnant political and moral backwater this country has become, and they tend to make me want to cleave more strongly to a European identity that I feel far more comfortable with than British or English.

But Greece is another matter.     Tomorrow millions of Greeks will vote on a very different referendum,   to decide whether or not to accept the last package presented to the Syriza government by the ECB/European Commission/ IMF troika.     It is not, contrary to the way it is sometimes presented, a referendum on whether Greece should remain part of the European Union, but – however indirectly – on whether Greece should remain part of the eurozone.

This follows more than five years of relentless enforced financial cruelty that has crippled Greek society and destroyed the lives of millions of people who had nothing to do with the financial crisis.         It has been the most callous, ruthless and merciless destruction of a society outside a war situation that I have seen in my lifetime.     All Europe’s political institutions and member’states have been complicit in this process, even if some have been more complicit in others.

Watching this tragedy unfold, I have asked myself again and again if Europe’s ruling elites are stupid, blinkered or simply powerless, in their blatant disregard for the nobler aspirations of the the Union’s founding fathers, and their determination to make ordinary Greeks pay the price for the corruption and incompetence of their ruling classes.

It is now clear that Greece is merely the most visible evidence of how deeply committed Europe’s rulers have become to the most voracious and destructive capitalism in its neo-liberal variant – a commitment that is clearly far more significant for them than any meaningful notion of pan-European solidarity.

Since Syriza’s election victory, Alex Tsipras’s government has bent over backwards in an attempt to forge some kind of compromise with its creditors, so much so that it has risked alienating its own supporters and voters.     The troika has not budged one iota.   Instead it has behaved like a payday loanshark, in its determination to squeeze   money from a country that simply doesn’t have it, regardless of the cost.

This week documents   from an internal report compiled by Greece’s own lenders suggest that the Greek debt will still be unsustainable even if Greece does everything that it is being asked of it.       Yet still the troika is attempting to force Syriza to accept the same kind of privatisations and trade union ‘reforms’ that were once imposed on Iraq – during a military occupation.

Now Greece’s creditors   have embarked on their own form of ‘regime change’ without the use of armed force. They have called Tsipras’s bluff and publicly stated that they want Syriza to fall so that they can replace it with a technocratic governmentthat will do what they want. They have demonstrated that they don’t want compromise.   They want unconditional surrender and the total humiliation of Syriza pour encourager les autres and prevent the possibility of any similar resistance elsewhere.

So rather than seek agreement with Tsipras, they have allowed Greece to go to the wall in order to make Greece an offer it cannot refuse. But Greece can refuse.   It can say no.   It can leave the euro and begin printing its own currency, because as painful as that will process will be,   it is difficult to imagine that it will be any more painful than the future that is already being planned if Greece remains in the eurozone.

If Greece says no, it will at least have the opportunity to reset its own destiny on its own terms, rather than those of international financial institutions.     It will encourage other countries to do the same.     If such resistance does take place, it would be a serious blow to the swaggering loanshark that is now lording it over Greece, and might even open the possibility of a different kind of Europe.

Because one thing is clear, that even if the troika ‘wins’ tomorrow and gets a yes vote, the notion of the European Union is a brake against the worst excesses of global capitalism and a model of social solidarity is dying, and may already be dead, as a result of its vicious war on immigration and the brutal imperatives of disaster capitalism that are being forced even on its own members.