Commentary and photographs by Jim Bliesner, SDFP Correspondent reporting from Greece
Skopelos, Greece. Oct. 15, 2012. Greece as a civilization is over 7000 years old in one form or another. It has experienced thousands of transformative influences, some self-generated others external. It now sits in a pivotal position in the economic roulette game being played by the European Union (E.U.) and the G-7 (United States, Japan, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Italy and Canada whose finance ministers meet annually to discuss economic cooperation/intervention).
The E.U., the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank, frequently referred to as “the troika” in Greece, has been engaged in a multi-year experiment focused on keeping the European Union together as a global economic force. Various countries of the E.U. coalition have erupted with economic turmoil as a result of the bank excesses in the USA and sub-prime mortgages in 2008-09. Most of the countries in the E.U. basked in the spending spree, bought bad investments and made a few of their own. The troika is commissioned to respond by its charter.
The fly in the ointment at the moment is Greece, representing about 3% of the total E.U. economy. The E.U. has, over three years, continued to put money into Greek debt and is conditioning that money with certain expectations. But Greece simply will not conform to the standardized economic formulas created in the boardrooms of larger, more capital-driven economies. The E.U, lends the money and Greece follows the conditions by cutting government employee wages, raising taxes, privatizing public assets, limiting access to credit, and insisting the Greek government decentralize its political system. According to recent revelations by the head of the E.U., a long list of Greek officials have also been engaged in skimming money off the top, reducing the capital filtering into the economy. The repayment schedule set by the E.U. has not been met by the Greek government
Greek citizens are the unwilling recipients of this experiment and economic restructuring being promoted by the IMF and the European Central Bank. Bankers have formulas and rules for granting credit. In the case of the troika who are not accountable to the public by election, the collateral for the E.U. money is the transformation of the political and economic system in Greece. This system has been presumably established by democratic processes and has involved the Greek public will. It is now being changed without their consent.
The Greek people did not vote to join the European Union much like many other countries who are members. For these reasons and the ever-increasing financial downfall, the Greek public has taken to the streets.
For nearly three years now they have filled the streets of Athens and Thessaloniki as well as small island towns like Skopelos expressing alarm and frustration at the tax cuts, privatization of public assets and senior pension reductions. One island resident explained about a recent suicide by a young man who had lost his job on the island. He also explained that one of the ways that residents are coping is by growing their own food to survive between tourist summers because tourism has also been down due to the demonstrations.
The issue here is the top-down way that the conditions are being negotiated. There has been no plebiscite, no election on continuing to stay in the E.U., no input other than street demonstrations on what cuts will be made and who will pay the debt and when. Accordingly, the demonstrations have become larger and more intense.
Greece is seen now as a bellwether for the stability of the world economy. If Greece does not conform to the prescribed formulas for reorganization of its economy and either fails to pay its ever mounting debt to the E.U. Central Bank or decides to separate from the E.U. altogether, the world economy, like dominoes, will begin to fall: Spain, Italy, Portugal, and so on. According to some, this will lead to eruptions of seismic proportions on Wall Street. Presumably this domino trick will not happen until after the U.S. presidential election.
The type of conditions imposed by the E.U. are standardized and used in various countries’ in the world. They fundamentally drive small country economies to behave like large country economies, sort of the Walmart approach to economic structuring. Countries must become global consumers and producers of prescribed products that they contribute internationally. The rule-making does not take into consideration the unique nature of each culture and the ways in which its economy has developed over time.
Whereas Greece has developed a sustainable multi-dimensional economy through its long years of existence feeding itself, exporting various commodities into the European and international economy (olives, wine, shipping, etc.) and providing an increasingly comfortable lifestyle for its citizens. They are now expected to focus their production based on the world economy, limit and reduce their capacity for self-sustainability and making them a vassal state to the global economy. In addition to this scoping of their production, they are also primed to do one thing for the European and world economy. And that is to serve them in the privatized resorts, luxury hotels, on private beaches and islands reserved for the economic elite. The self-sufficient Greek can now become the bar tender or maid of the world economy.
That is why they are protesting. They see the terms of the deal being negotiated by the corrupt politicians in their own country and by a Euro banking system bent on standardizing and prescribing economic and political systems that are beneficial for profit making and capitalism. That is what the people say to me when I ask them the question about what is happening in Greece now. They are resistant to becoming a vassal of the global economy when they have known what it is like to be self-sufficient. It is the destruction of a cultural legacy.
According to Greek economist Vasilies Rodios based in Skopelos:
“The EU is intent on making Greece an economic consumer and slowly stripping its national capacity to be self-sufficient, For example, it wants us all to shop in super markets rather than growing our own food. In the ‘80s about 22% of the Greek economy was agriculture. Now it is less than 5%. They have placed a tax on growing your own vegetables in your own garden. The idea is to develop an economic structure which makes Greece dependent on someone else’s product in order to live. Not its own.
In the process they are suppressing our economy; salaries are now the same level as Bulgaria, very low. Bulgaria has resisted converting to the euro because it knows that inflation and price increases and economic subservience will follow. The EU is putting Greece into a depression and the edge of the cliff is on the horizon. We should withdraw before it is too late.”
Their desire: Take Greece out of the European Union like England and Denmark, among others. They never voted themselves in and they want to be able to vote themselves out. It’s only 3% of the EU and will not cause the dominoes to fall.