I was in Greece last week; arrived in Athens on Sunday 28 June. It was clear Greece would default on the Tuesday, which is when the banks would close. My heart bleeds for Greece.
This post is a cri de coeur to two audiences:
* the European Troika, and
* the Greek people.
I had been hearing not only the media’s dire predictions in Greece and elsewhere (what Syriza called the ‘scaremongering’), but also the scary talk of class war in Athens when I was there last week (what local people described as ‘hate talk’).
Today the result of the referendum has been revealed, and the worst predictions are already proving wrong: Europe’s politicians say the door is open to negotiation; and Greece’s political parties have rallied behind the Syriza government in their negotiations with the Troika. But things are far from secure yet, sadly.
Read my appeals in the order you prefer.
APPEAL TO THE TROIKA
You don’t need me to tell you how counter-productive austerity is. If you want an economy to thrive so that it has a surplus with which to buy your products, your services, your tourism, higher education, and even pay back its debts – you don’t starve it! When you starve an economy it shrivels. Greece has lost 25% of its GDP in the last five years. Yanis Varoufakis told you this in what you described as ‘lectures’ – which he could do because he is an economist. He is right – and can quote other thoughtful economists such as Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz (who are also economics Nobel laureates), Thomas Piketty, David Blanchflower, Simon Wren-Lewis and others.
In more sensible days, before the dominance of market fundamentalism, wise politicians such as Franklin D. Roosevelt knew to tackle a great depression by investing money – through his New Deal. Marshall issued his plan – pumping billions of dollars into a Europe ravaged by the Second World War. Yet, far more important than the $1.4bn transferred to Germany under the Marshall Plan, says Larry Elliot in the Guardian “was the granting [to Germany] of debt relief at the London conference of 1953.” Returning the compliment to Greece is what Europe now needs (and your own IMF agrees…)
We in Britain are chafing too under a market fundamentalism that seeks to balance mythical ‘government books’ at the expense of social solidarity, workers’ rights, and environmental and human wellbeing. We need Greece – our beacon of resistance to the specious logic of market fundamentalism – to succeed. We look to Greece to carry the light of democracy and good sense for us all.
That is why this is so important. So here is the second call.
APPEAL TO THE PEOPLE OF GREECE
Most of you voted Oxi No. Some of you voted Nai Yes.
I met you both at your rallies in Syntagma Square on Monday and Tuesday last week, and I was very impressed by you both.
Surprisingly (and impressively) you each echoed the other. You were voting in contradictory ways to achieve the same goal. You both wanted what was best for Greece; what would achieve the greatest social justice, and the greatest social good.
The disagreement was around tactics. Yet, the spirit in the square was hostile.
The Yes voters were unstinting in their vilification of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (as a deceitful closet Communist) and denunciation of his activists (as violently undemocratic).
The No voters spoke of Class War, romanticised bloodshed as part of achieving social change, and accepted the need to protect families’ interests with the gun if necessary. I saw the guns: they’re on sale in gun shops on Athens street corners.
Fear stalked both rallies. “We’re three months away from a civil war or military coup”, said one Yes voter. The hotheads on the No side were just as belligerent.
There was no vision of national solidarity in the face of a common enemy (austerity). No vision for Greece uniting to face the coming vicissitudes.
The chaos predicted in the wake of a slide out of the Euro dominated the Yes voters’ motivations. Rather stay within the protective structures of Europe, they said, than be cast adrift in a volatile and violent region, to an unknown fate with a feeble currency.
Meanwhile the No camp was in denial of the prospect of losing the Euro. Rather face the uncertainty of a No vote, they said, than submit to the slavery of Europe’s harbingers of austerity. With luck, some added, we won’t vote on Sunday at all. Europe – to avoid the risk of a No win – will concede what we need them to first.
Polarisation and heightened tension marked the week before the referendum. The differences between the two camps were highlighted, not their (overwhelming) similarities. Even my hero Paul Mason fell into that pattern, characterising the two camps by their class (war?).
In the face of a clear No vote, the Greek political parties have rallied behind the government. Will they promote the kind of national solidarity the British cite as ‘the spirit that won the war’?
Will it last if the worst happens and people’s savings, and livelihoods run out?
My appeal is: don’t stand for violence! Resist the gun. History demonstrates the power of violence to escalate from just a few hotheads and demagogues. Remember when the forces of blind hatred turn the guns on you, that you have much more in common than divides you.
I stand with you in peace! Nonviolence is more powerful here than is returning fire – for you are holding the one beacon for us all.