Notes From the Margins…

Greece says no

  • May 09, 2012
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The markets aren’t happy with the Greek election results, and who can blame them?   For the last four years it has been taken for granted that the Greeks would put up without whatever was done to them in order to bring them into line with an extremist and ideologically-driven concept of “austerity” that has destroyed the lives of tens of thousands of people.

To say that there has been scant regard for the social consequences of this process would be something of an understatement. Throughout these dismal four years, the EU/ECB/IMF troika has assumed that no matter how bad things got Greeks would  accept a brutal austerity model that would even a military dictatorship would struggle to impose.

Confident and even complacent in this assumption, the politicians and economists who oversaw these “reforms” essentially turned a blind eye to riots, suicides, soup kitchens, demonstrations and other expressions of “social unrest” and social despair, which were generally only mentioned in terms of their potential impact on foreign investors and capital markets.

If the Greeks suffered, it was assumed that they deserved it or that at the very least suffering was necessary to put them on the path of virtue, because they were too corrupt , lazy and profligate, because they took too many holidays in comparison with hardworking Europeans.

Now that arrogance has been shattered by the Greek voters, who have comprehensively rejected the two main political parties that oversaw the debt crisis and the response to it.  Alexis Tsipras, the head of the left/green Syriza coalition which has become the country”s second political party has declared

“The pro-bailout parties no longer have a majority in parliament to vote in destructive measures for the Greek people. This is a very important victory for our society.”

Tsipras has condemned the memorandum signed by the previous government with the IMF and outlined a programme containing the following proposals:

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1. Immediate negation of the memorandum

2. Negation of all coming measures that will affect all aspects of employment law

3. Immediate changes to election legislation and negation of the ministerial culpability law

4. State control of banks

5. The creation of an international auditing body, with the purpose of finding a serious and logical solution to Greece’s debt repayment.

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An interview on the Vima FM radio station with Syriza member Dimitris Stratoulis gives a further indication of the Coalition”s position:

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Technically and financially, if you’re saying we are leaving the memorandum, how will you handle the banking issue? If we leave the memorandum, they’ll just be empty tresure chests.

They won’t be empty treasure chests. Greek banks already have 165 billion euros’ worth of deposits by the Greek people. That’s our money, not bank money though. We shall put in motion an immediate public audit of the banks, guarantee citizen deposits and then use that money for growth and a productive re-structuring of our country.

Does that mean deposits will be freezed?

We said we will provide guarantees, no deposits will be frozen.

And how will that money be used for growth, when it belongs to Greek citizens?

How would you want it used?  Up until now, it has been used, to fund the profits of bank shareholders and bankers. Should it not be used to support market liquidity, to offer loans to small and medium sized business ventures, to offer loans to the public for houses, to offer consumer loans? It is all a matter of political direction.

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Indeed it is, and it remains to be seen whether Syriza can configure a ruling coalition around this agenda or whether Greece will have to return to the polls. But there is now a real possibility that Greece will leave the euro, and that if it does then it might not be the only country to do so.

According to Reuters

One fear haunting markets has been that if one country left the euro and was able to devalue its currency to regain competitiveness, other weaker members might follow.

This possibility coupled with the Socialist victory in the French elections has clearly rattled the markets, which are currently in the throes of another of the seemingly endless neurotic spasms that have all become so familiar these last few years.

There are also signs that the results in Greece and France have concentrated the minds of Europe”s leaders.  After years of “no other choice” fiscal remedies based on cuts and more cuts, the European council and the European commission are now discussing alternatives to sado-austerity, with a new emphasis on growth-led economic strategies.

Which only goes to show that even the supposedly all-powerful markets and the politicians and institutions that act as their servants will only do what they can get away with.

And in this sense, the Greek”s resounding “no” contains the possibility however faint at the moment of another future not only for Greece, but for the whole of Europe.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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