To Be or Not To Be, That Is the Greek Question
To most Europhile and conformist commentators, and to most EU leaders, the question of Greece is simple and clear-cut. Their narrative goes as follows: Greece is a small country which represents only a small portion of the European economy; it was not ready when it joined the eurozone; it cheated; it contracted too much debt; the Europeans bailed it out; it has to reform itself in order to survive, and this is what the EU is pushing it to do; the Greeks do not pay enough taxes; they are unwilling to give up their laziness and their easy-going lifestyle; the European taxpayers can no longer pay to bail out Greece, it is unfair to them; the new prime minister of Greece is an extremist; Yanis Varoufakis, who was until Sunday’s referendum the country’s minister of finance, is reckless and dangerous; a debt is a debt and the Greeks have to pay theirs.
The chorus of Europhiles and European conformists repeats this narrative on TV, on the radio, in the written press, and on the internet. Press releases, articles, interviews, or press conferences are filled with such rhetoric. It is, in fact, quite difficult to understand how they never get off their course. Like pupils who have learned their lesson by heart, they never fail to impress with their precision and their devotion to their textbook. But this is a mere narrative. Reality is completely different.
In January of this year, following a political crisis in the country of Plato, the winds of change transformed the outlook of Parliament. The result of the elections held back then allowed Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras to form a coalition government with Anel, a sovereignst party. On January 25, Mr. Tsipras addressed his people with an endearing “Citizens of Athens”, recalling the rich Greek history, which stands witness to Greece’s role in the building of Europe and to their invention of democracy. He vowed to deliver his campaign promise of ending austerity and to send the Troika away from Athens. This infamous Troika – composed of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission – had driven Greece to this very political crisis which, ironically, brought Alexis Tsipras, Syriza, and Anel to power.
When Greece went into a major sovereign debt crisis, several years ago, the Troika agreed to bail it out, but its bailout program came with conditions which may be summed up in two elements:
- A large austerity program to save money on Greece’s budget, no matter its human and geostrategic costs
- A number of reforms that were thought by the Troika to bear the potential of stimulating growth in the country. Such reforms all go in the direction of liberalizing the economy and giving more freedom to capital. For people, the attitude has, unsurprisingly, been different
The result of this strategy has been a famous disaster. Greece did manage to save costs, but its GDP has shrunk by 25 percent since 2008; its unemployment rate is now above 25 percent; its youth unemployment rate was 49.7 percent in March this year; and its debt/GDP ratio is skyrocketing, at 177 percent.
In their right minds, the Greeks are fed up. Regardless of their respective professions, they have overall become quite accustomed to the economic jargon. And they need to be. But they don’t need to see the figures in order to reach a conclusion as to their situation. The question really is: Why does the Troika insist on a medicine that might actually be killing the patient? Apparently, the Troika hasn’t heard the saying “madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”, unless saving the Greek economy is not the result that it has been seeking.
Since Alexis Tsipras and his former minister of Finance, Yanis Varoufakis went to negotiate with the Eurogroup a new solution for their country’s troubles, they have consistently been met with a strict, repetitive, unwavering NO, for over five months.
Beyond the Arguments and Beyond the Figures, Is a People Who Suffers
The side-effects of austerity on the Greek population have gone from closed hospitals to a phenomenon of depression among children, and to suicide becoming a regular occurrence. Violence and mental illness have also made their way to the hearts and minds of a formerly fun-loving good-natured population that miraculously continues to be among the most civilized in the world.
The infamous Economist magazine is far from being a left-leaning publication. Yet, in a May 4, 2015 article entitled “The agony of Greece”, the magazine’s data team examines the effects of this long-lasting economic crisis on the Greeks, and it highlights the following demographic problem:
“Greece’s population peaked in 2009 at just over 11m, because of falling fertility rates and work-hungry emigrants. This has pushed up Greece’s old-age dependency ratio (in essence, the ratio of people too old to work to those of working age), already one of the highest in the world.”
The latest reforms requested from Greece by the Troika go as far as a hike in the retirement age up to 67, or 62 for those have contributed for 40 years; in addition to the phasing out of the solidarity grant which benefits poor pensioners by the end of 2017.
Disagreement between the Tsipras government and the Troika on such proposed reforms led to the referendum of July 5. Despite the result of the referendum, a resounding NO, the Troika persists. Isn’t it sensible of the prime minister of a country faced with such ravaging consequences to stand his ground and say “no”? Mr. Tsipras did not just say no. He referred the question to the Greek people, who backed his refusal massively in the referendum.
After this week’s Eurogroup meeting, European Council President Donald Tusk and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker evoked possible humanitarian action in Greece. It does not take a brilliant mind to ask why the EU allows the situation of the Greeks to deteriorate to a point where humanitarian aid would be needed, then spend money on such humanitarian aid. But the EU leadership has its own logic. And, as French leftwing politician and Syriza supporter Jean-Luc Mélenchon once joked: you may give the presidency to Donald (speaking of Donald Tusk and the presidency of the European Council), it is still Scrooge who runs the bank.