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Monsters in the mist

Hazy though its contours might be, Greece's economic crisis didn't creep up from behind, writes Victor Tsilonis. The scandals littering Greek politics in recent decades indicate a chronic lack of accountability, culminating in the anti-constitutional approval of the EU/IMF loans.

"I would like to tell you a story. Once upon a time there was a democratic country. It had a constitution, laws, individual rights, a president, a parliament and courts [...]. The people were not satisfied with the government of that time but had the power to elect a new government. [The people] were sure that no one would dare commit the crime of infringing upon the democratic institutions. They wanted things to change for the better, they were inspired by progress and considered this was within their grasp. They hoped for a better future."
Fidel Castro, History Will Vindicate Me, 2009.

In a period of cosmogonic changes, about which information is always insufficient and very often wrong (or rather, a corroded alloy of both), the average Joe remains, as ever, prey to shattering events he is unable to comprehend, let alone manage.

The EU: Broken or just broke?

This article is part of the Focal Point The EU: Broken or just broke?.

Can Europe really break apart? Jacques Delors, Jürgen Habermas, José Ignacio Torreblanca, Daniel Daianu, Ulrike Guérot, Slavenka Drakulic, John Grahl and others discuss the causes for the current crisis -- and how to solve it. [ more ]
The nuclear accident in Fukushima, with its everlasting consequences; the chain-reaction style social uprisings in the Middle East; the prolonged military intervention in Libya; the "incredible" murder of Osama Bin Laden (since, according to Benazir Bhutto's calm statement on CNN on 2 November 2007, Omar Sheikh killed him a long time ago); the bankruptcy of Greece and the eurocrisis; the mysterious case of Dominique Strauss Kahn; the indignados gathering in Spanish and Greek squares; the tragic death of 76 people in Norway by an extreme-right sui generis terrorist... These are just some of the pieces in the worldwide jigsaw puzzle today.

These events and their genesis look like the movements of monsters within a mist that surrounds us: we see the figures of the monsters approaching but can only vaguely distinguish their shape. We know that, directly or indirectly, their movements will sooner or later influence our lives in a dramatic way, and that they might devour even us. However, we are unable to understand their behaviour by merely observing their movements, since the mist remains thick (and were Steven King present he would probably remind us that this story does not have a happy end).

Moreover, the sheer numerousness of events brings us close to confusion; the great psychological stress causes loss of concentration. The "monsters" have appeared one after the other, suddenly; they have destroyed the feigned serenity of our insignificant lives. Yet we cannot focus on even one of them. Stunned, we look around us, sometimes here, sometimes there, impressing on our minds their dark and ghastly figures, fearing our imminent end.

However there are some among us who – when it comes to comprehending the monsters – are in a better position than we. Because of their lethal proximity to the monsters, these people sometimes (though unfortunately not always) have the bloody advantage of a better understanding: the fisherman 21 km away from Fukushima can already talk about the dark presence of radioactivity in his body; the resident of Tripoli can tell us about the regular "humanitarian flights" of Nato aeroplanes over the town, upon the kind request of the "international community", which always end with the air-drop of special emergency boxes in the form of cluster bombs; the "bloodthirsty" Muammar Gaddafi, who had been so western-friendly over the last decade, about why suddenly Italians and British stopped liking him; Dominique Strauss-Khan on what exactly happened in the room of Sofitel Hotel (and more importantly a little before and a little after)...

As for Greece, the mist is extremely thick, although electronic interventions from radio and TV signals thicken it even more. But while we Greeks may be financially dead (with a possible financial funeral oration of bankruptcy and exit from the eurozone), we are still not cerebrally dead, or not entirely, and can thus express, albeit telegraphically, our view of the multi-headed financial monster (i.e. states and multinationals, both Greek and foreign) that is devouring our country whole.

As Evaggelos Korovinis writes in his book Neo-Greek Political Iniquity, political corruption has existed in Greece from the infancy of the state. Ioannis Kolettis, the first official prime minister of Greece and the father of the corrupt and iniquitous political system, famously used to devote a certain period of time a day to favours and "under the table" deals while, during parliamentary sessions, preferred either to sleep or abscond entirely.

Our country went bankrupt for the first time in 1827, even before it was officially established, due to debts accrued during the revolution against the Turks, and went bankrupt three more times: in 1843, when King Othon defaulted on a loan to the tune 60 million francs (51 million of which were immediately returned to the lenders to repay previous loans, leaving only 9 million, which were grabbed by the German viceroys of the Greek state, though not for the state itself). Then again in the marvellous year of 1893, when the ambitious prime minister Charilaos Trikoupis purportedly announced that, "unfortunately, we are bankrupt". And on another, lesser known occasion, on May 1932, when the prime minister Eleftherios Venizelos announced that "we have finally gone bankrupt".

After the seven-year dictatorship, which ended in 1974, the Greek government – with the deathless Andreas Papandreou at the helm – proceeded to double and triple pensions and allowances, taking other populist measures that reached their peak with the famous, rhythmic demand of Papandreou the Second to Dimitris Tsovolas, the Minister of Economics: "Tsovola, give everything to the people!" And in the following years, the policies of Constantine Karamanlis the Second and Kostas Simitis included plenty of "skilfully modified" national balances, not to mention the stupid undertaking of the most expensive Olympic Games ever and a string of scandals: the Vodafone wiretapping affair (known as the "Greek Watergate"), the Siemens bribery scandal, the controversy surrounding the Vatopedi monastery land deals and the "German submarines" case. Though not comprehensive, this list is indicative of the anti-meritocratic and chaotic Greek administration that has led the Greek state into its current economic enslavement.

Today Greece is on the brink of complete financial meltdown. It has already accepted a loan of 120 billion euro that it will never pay off, following a flagrant violation of the Greek constitution, waved through as it was by fewer MPs than stipulated (by 156 instead of 180). The Supreme Court ("Council of State") has expressed its "positive opinion" on this issue, hence legally underpinning the decision of the Greek government to essentially abolish the Greek constitution. However, instead of a revolution there was not a single action of resistance. Consequently, our honourable politicians went on to negotiate a second loan of 110 billion euro. Codenamed the "Medium-Term Programme", the purpose of the loan is not to remove Greece from the financial mire but to leave it there for the next half a century, by selling for a dime all the property and assets of the state.

Once again, the law was passed in contravention of the Greek constitution, since it was also voted by 25 fewer MPs than required (by 155 instead of 180). No political party explicitly protested against this most blatant of constitutional violations. Neither the leader of the "Greek Communist Party", Aleka Papariga, nor of the "Coalition of the Left, Social Movements and Ecology", Alexis Tsipras, have taken a serious, responsible or proportionate stance, instead limiting themselves to moderate and cautious criticism of the government.

Then, just a few days after the "Medium-Term Programme" lawfully passed through the gates of the Greek Parliament, events took another twist. During an emergency EU summit in Brussels on the night of 21 July, a new loan of 109 billion euro was agreed (rumours originally put it at 150 billion euro) and "the maturity of future EFSF loans to Greece" lengthened "to the maximum extent possible, from the current 7.5 years to a minimum of 15 years and up to 30 years with a grace period of 10 years".[1] Although the word "default" is carefully omitted from the official statement, the agreement will inevitably make Greece the first EU country ever to officially go bankrupt, and will most probably bring, along with a tiny "haircut" of around 21 percent of Greek debt (although in reality merely 9 per cent[2]), at least some of the following, less tiny repercussions:

1) Greek banks will be forced overnight to recognise in their financial accounts the billions of euro in losses on Greek debts they own. These losses might leave banks short of capital and quickly make them insolvent.
2) Greek banks will be unable to use their government's debts as security to borrow cash from the European Central Bank.
3) The ECB itself will have to endure major losses on Greek debts it has bought or accepted as collateral from Greek banks.
4) So-called "debt restructuring" or "haircut" could trigger payouts on billions of dollars of credit derivative contracts, used by financial markets to hedge against or speculate on a Greek default.[3]

Foolishly enough, some people still hope. They believe in the "Medium-Term Programme" of "financial upturn" and the "New Brussels Agreement". They believe in the laughing photographs of the Greek prime minister Papandreou the Third with Barosso and Van Rompuy. They believe that if our country returns to producing positive balances it will, in about 50 years from now, be able to recover with the help of our friends, the "western states", the multinational enterprises and private investors. Unfortunately, these hopes are contradicted not only by reality itself, but by Hollywood too: at the end of the film Monsters, just when the survivors think they have the right to hope, the monsters re-appear and are more merciless than ever.

But we haven't got to that part of the film, yet. Or have we?


Published 2011-07-28

Original in Greek
Translation by Nancy Rapti
Contributed by Intellectum
© Victor Tsilonis / Intellectum
© Eurozine

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