Greece is being strangled — and like any organism struggling to survive while being suffocated, it will kick, scratch and fight until its very last breath. This is not an endorsement of the violence we are likely to see on Wednesday — it’s a dire warning to Europe and the IMF that their brutally inhumane policies are triggering a survival instinct that could turn nasty and brutal and run entirely out of control. Greece is about to convulse in flames and teargas once more.
“This is just the silence before the storm,” my friend Leonidas, a Greek PhD researcher on social movements at the European University Institute, told me the other day. “There is going to be an explosion,” said Markos, also a Greek PhD researcher on social movements at the same university. Soon, there will be at least 11 million reasons for Greece to explode into a violent popular uprising — one for every citizen. And what will happen then? What will the army do?
For the growing ranks of Greece’s immiserized poor, the question is no longer just about the injustice but simply about survival. While the economy is set to contract for a fourth year in a row this year (with 5.5 percent as opposed to the previously forecast 3.8 percent), and with the country’s deficit set to grow to 8.5 percent of GDP (as opposed to the 7.8 percent demanded by the Troika), it is clear that the social fabric of the country is rapidly being torn apart.
Some 300,000 small businesses have been forced to close their doors since the debt crisis burst out into the open in August 2009. Living standards are falling rapidly across the board. A quarter of Greeks now live below the formal poverty line. It is difficult to imagine that such a shocking reality is even allowed to exist in the EU today. What is even more disturbing is the barbaric zeal with which the EU and IMF have decided to further worsen the already dire situation.
Indeed, the budgetary butchers at the international institutions keep on wielding their neo-colonial axes through Greece’s anemic welfare state. The government recently announced an extraordinary property levy that will see average Greek families paying as much as 1,500 euros extra in taxes on their homes. With unemployment up 40 percent from last year, now at a record high of 16.2 percent, this risks pushing hundreds of thousands of households over the brink.
The New York Times recently ran two reports illustrating the unfolding Greek tragedy: one told the story of the thousands of retired Greeks who are flocking back to their places of birth in the countryside en masse in the hope of being able to survive off the land when the state fails to pay out their retirement checks. The other tells the under-reported story of those who have been locked out of the monetary economy and have resorted to barter just to survive.
In fact, the EU and IMF are throwing Greece back to a pre-capitalist age of survivalism. Reverse migration and the fraying of the monetary economy are threatening to undo decades of economic development and return the country to a rural economy of smallholder farmers. Europe is actively destroying Greek society. With suicide rates skyrocketing, it is literally destroying lives. Ironically, in the process, it is destroying the very system it is trying to save.
Recent weeks have seen a barely reported explosion of civil unrest in Greece, albeit not (yet) of the violent type we witnessed earlier this year. Thousands of outraged civil servants have gone on wildcat strikes, occupying half a dozen government ministries around the country’s capital. So massive were these occupations that the representatives of the EU-ECB-IMF Troika were literally unable to enter the complexes and carry out their jobs.
The expectation that the Troika’s representatives would be allowed to enter the ministries in peace was absurd anyway. With an astonishing 30,000 civil servants due to be laid off under a new bout of brutal austerity measures, letting these technocrats in would be akin to inviting your own executioner over for a coffee — or knowingly allowing a dangerous hoodlum into your house so he can check out exactly what valuables he can come to steal while you’re not at home.
So instead, they were met with a collective “Nay, you shall not pass!” At the same time, students have been mobilizing in the thousands. Just a week ago, tens of thousands protested against a savage new education law, while a small break-away group of 60 student activists stormed a TV station and interrupted a live news broadcast in an attempt to directly address the government with their demands. On the same day, police teargassed thousands at Syntagma Square.
In between all of this, Greek riot police found the time to beat an 8-year old girl, providing yet another rallying point for collective hatred for the forces of the state. The legitimation crisis is no longer limited to the government. It is the legitimacy of the oppressive state system that is now at stake. And the anger is shared left, right and center. This is no longer a question of ideology — across the spectrum, revolution has become a matter of necessity.
Silently watching over this ritualistic slaughter of the Greek people at the altar of the capitalist deity of profit, is an enormous pink elephant that European leaders are now, after two years of warnings from the Left, only grudgingly starting to recognize. Europe’s own banking sector is bankrupt. Dexia, the Franco-Belgian bank which lent so excessively to Greece in the lead-up to the crisis, is about to collapse. It’s the canary in the coal mine. Many more will follow.
Ironically, it took Greece’s struggle till near-death for the mainstream media to finally start picking up on this story. The EU’s policy response to the Greek crisis was always meant to serve the banking sector, that was the main message from the occupation at Syntagma in the spring and summer. Now, finally, the New York Times reports a critical observation on the EU-IMF bailout package:
“Everyone knows this was a good deal for the banks,” said Otmar Issing, a top German economist who served on the executive board of the European Central Bank. “It will not help Greece at all.”
Greece had little input in setting the transaction terms, which were largely put together by representatives from the Institute of International Finance, a trade group for global bankers whose chairman is Josef Ackermann, the departing chief executive of Deutsche Bank.
Who, in their right mind, can still delude themselves into thinking that the people of Greece will just allow their country to be raped, pillaged and massacred by international institutions operating in the name of the global financial sector, without putting up a fight? As the Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins put it, “Greece is on the brink of bankruptcy. Its workers will soon not get paid and its government might fall – an echo of Weimar.”
In a desperate bid to cling to power, the authorities are resorting to the politics of fear. After a government minister last year warned that the army would be called in to prevent a run on the banks if Greece defaulted, the current finance minister Evangelos Venizelos had the guts to warn that, “If we default, it’s not just the domino effect … This place will become worse off than Bangladesh. People will be killed for a sandwich as they cross the road. It will be that bad.”
The problem, of course, is that people are already being killed as they cross the road. In fact, a 21-year old Bangladeshi was recently stabbed to death in central Athens for no apparent reason other than being Bangladeshi. He would probably have been better off back home in Bangladesh. What Venizelos doesn’t seem to realize is that the people who are fighting him in the street are the only hope for the country to be saved. So solidarity to them — fight until your last breath!
A general 24-hour strike is scheduled for today, Wednesday October 5.
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