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Greek Unrest the Result of Suppressed Democracy

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Posted on Feb 15, 2012
AP / Kostas Tsironis

By William Pfaff

When the first international effort to impose an economic austerity regime upon Greece was completed, George Papandreou, the prime minister, surprised and infuriated the negotiators from the IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank by proposing that the draft agreement be submitted to a popular referendum in Greece. The negotiators and their governments knew very well that the Greek people would reject it.

Mr. Papandreou was hustled out of the limelight, and foreign leaders, the EU, international financial officials, and right-thinking commentators in Europe and the United States all deplored his proposal, since democracy was not part of the deal.

If it had been, some 45 buildings would not have burned in Athens last Sunday night, and some hundred thousand or so Greeks would not have taken to the streets, smashing the marble walls of banks and shop windows. If they couldn’t express their opinions one way, then they would do it in another.

This gives reason to doubt that the international austerity plan, or the Diktat, as the Greeks prefer to call it, which was presented in Athens and reluctantly voted on, will actually be carried out. (The vote was 199 members of the National Assembly in favor, 74 opposed, with 27 abstentions.) A failure to enact the plan will have the disastrous consequences for Europe, the monetary union and Greece that nearly all have predicted. The figures are such that, of the money now promised Greece (assuming the EU’s other national parliaments approve), three-quarters will go to pay current debts. What remains is unlikely to stave off national bankruptcy this spring, and probably Greek exclusion from the euro zone. So what has it all been about?

Among Greeks, the opinion is widespread that once again, as in 1917, 1940 and 1947, when, as they are convinced, they were ill-used by the great Western powers, they once again are victims of Western Europe, and especially of Germany. They cannot deny the reproaches of economic mismanagement and corruption since their country joined the EU, but they did not need a German official to propose that an EU-appointed commissioner, whom angry Greeks are calling a German gauleiter, be sent to take charge of Greece’s economy—which, after all, is only 2 percent of the European economy. Another German was overheard confiding to a Portuguese official that if Portugal, also in grave difficulties, needs help, there would be no trouble providing it—implying that a certain “racial” hierarchy prevails in European and international economic circles.

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The French Socialist Party’s candidate in this spring’s presidential campaign, Francois Hollande (who the polls currently say has a large lead over President Nicholas Sarkozy), told the newspaper Le Monde on Monday that if elected he would demand renegotiation of the budget discipline treaty agreed upon by the EU’s members in Brussels on Jan. 30, particularly concerning its sanctions, and the role given to the European Union Court of Justice.

He told the foreign press that “everybody knows there is no rebound of growth in Europe or in Greece, and that Greece will never reach the results” set for it by the weekend negotiations. What is being forced upon Greece, Mr. Hollande said, is “a purge.” Greece’s situation, he said, has been the result of a failure in Greek governance, but also is “a failure of European governance.”

His argument is that the austerity program (and every other delinquent loan in Europe) makes growth impossible. “Who is paying taxes today in Greece? It’s a real question. The wealthiest people—there are plenty in Greece—have taken to their escape boats; they’ve left. And the poorest people are in the underground economy.”

He did not go into the question of ultimate responsibility for this international economic debacle, which might have led to accusations of anti-Americanism. Crime on Wall Street is a culprit, obviously, but so is the economic doctrine that has dominated the international economy since the 1970s, monetarism, the basis of the so-called “Washington Consensus,” to which the U.S. Treasury, the IMF, the World Bank, the German Finance Ministry and the European Central Bank are all committed.

As neo-Keynesians have pointed out, the monetarists’ fundamental principle that markets automatically seek equilibrium and are therefore self-regulating (that labor markets, for example, always operate so as to move the economy toward full employment) is not true in Greece’s circumstances. Therefore, the European and IMF plan is to force them to recover a roughly 40 percent disadvantage in competitiveness (compared with Germany) through imposed austerity.

George Papandreou understood that the people had to be asked—democratically—to make such a sacrifice. The other Europeans and the international agencies thought otherwise. No wonder the Greeks are angry.

Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at www.williampfaff.com.

© 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.


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M Henri Day's avatar

By M Henri Day, February 19, 2012 at 8:28 am Link to this comment

Red, Herodotos’ version is that after setting fire to the city, Xerxes’ men also plundered and burned the Acropolis. I don’t know enough about Greek archaeology to say whether this claim has been substantiated by archaeological excavation (notoriously, such excavation at Jericho indicates that the town had no wall and did not suffer extensive burning during the Biblical period), but the so-called Perserschutt, as indicated by the photos taken immediately after excavation in 1866, doesn’t seem to have suffered from extensive burning. Perhaps there’s a specialist on classic Greek archaeology among Truthdig readers who could elucidate this (off-topic, but fascinating) matter further ?...

Henri

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By Red, February 18, 2012 at 9:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The “burning” point may be that once violence begins the outcome, which may be already determined, is not knowable until about the time that the conflict ends.

This is to say that there’s no sure thing - the Greek people may prevail. Indeed, that’s a reasonable bet.

And Iran may prevail against the empire. Violence calls out the fates - and they do as they please.

Herodotus, and more interestingly, Barry Strauss, agree on the burning by Xerxes. Anyway it was September and it gets cold at night in Athens, so naturally the soldiers and their associates would build fires from whatever fuel was handy…

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M Henri Day's avatar

By M Henri Day, February 18, 2012 at 7:48 am Link to this comment

From what I understand, Red, the burning of Athens is disputed - be that as it may, one can’t help but be reminded of the British burning of (public buildings in) Washington in 1814. Some 64 years after the alleged Persian burning of Athens, the Athenians gave their version of «democracy» a bad name, by killing all the men on the island of Melos and selling the women and children into slavery, because the Melians, desiring to remain neutral in the Peloponnesian War, refused to join the Athenian allaince against Sparta. Anyone else reminded of another «democracy» ?...

Henri

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By Red, February 17, 2012 at 9:24 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Last time Athens “burned” it was a more complete fire, devouring a nearly deserted city. The “King of Kings”, Xerxes, burned it in 480 BCE to punish the Greeks for their non-submission. Xerxes and his empire lost the war…

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Blueokie's avatar

By Blueokie, February 16, 2012 at 9:11 pm Link to this comment

This is what it looks like when Capital decides that Democracy is inconvenient.  Can Italy, Spain, and Portugal be far behind?  When will it be, I wonder, when Germany withdraws from the Euro to protect their national sovereignty?  The answer to the riddle which asks, “Who is more responsible, the EU, the ECB, the IMF, or Wall Street?”, is yes.  As more wealth gets squeezed to the top, the stakes of the game must get higher, just to keep it interesting.

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THX 1133 is not in the movie...'s avatar

By THX 1133 is not in the movie..., February 16, 2012 at 8:04 pm Link to this comment

Hmm;
The ongoing attempt at the public rape of Greece by
all involved parties is duly noted.
What garners my attention for the most part is the
lack of meaningful objection by the rest of the EU.
I applaud the Greek people in their
vociferous/demonstrative objection to this blatant
rape.
Fortunately (for Icelanders) banging on pans worked
for Iceland (300,000+ residents), but wouldn’t work
for Greece.
For those who object to the violence I would ask;
what would be your solution when faced with
overwhelming, crushing, violence from the EU/IMF.
Unfortunately many regard violence in a two
dimensional world, not realizing that violence, in
our three dimensional world, is the force extant,
exerted on populations and implemented in the name of
reforms, cost cutting, and fiscal responsibility.
The world of the IMF is engaged in a multi-
dimensional, violence projected, dogma aimed squarely
at the various populations; both first world and
especially third world countries and their people.
Greece is one of many fulcrums in today’s
geopolitical chess game. Losing this game is not an
option for those who still regard choices as
important.

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By haha, February 16, 2012 at 4:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ha, ha, are you kidding?  Greek downfall is due to evil Jew greed.  Jew bankers see everyone else as prey fit only to serve Jews (see the Talmud).

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By frecklefever, February 16, 2012 at 1:06 pm Link to this comment

THE CAPITAL RELIGION WANTS THE LABOR POOL SO POOR…THAT THEY
WILL WORK FOR PRACTALLLY NOTHING…THEN THE GODS OF CAPITAL WILL
AT LAST EXPERIENCE…NINCOMPOOP HEAVEN….

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M Henri Day's avatar

By M Henri Day, February 16, 2012 at 12:32 pm Link to this comment

Possessing, as they do, a living connexion to the language in which these concepts were first couched, the Greeks are now, under very heavy economic and political pressure, recalling that «democracy» is not quite the same thing as «plutocracy», even when the latter is festooned with something called «elections». Would that even other peoples would learn that lesson !...

Henri

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vector56's avatar

By vector56, February 16, 2012 at 12:21 pm Link to this comment

A friend commented the other day on how “spoiled” those dam Greeks were; “they retire at 53 and get 85% of what they earned in their pensions!” I thought about it for about 15 seconds; within this time, I considered the Wall Street “golden parachutes and bonuses. For some one to work until they are 53 years old and retire with enough to live on is somehow asking too much in a world of Billionaires? This friend drives a truck for a living and he makes $10/hour less than he made 15 years ago for doing the same job. As I have said before, we are our oppressors!

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By MeHere, February 16, 2012 at 10:59 am Link to this comment

A lesson to learn from here is that when the 1% is in control, one must be wary of big loans and bailouts.

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By balkas, February 16, 2012 at 9:24 am Link to this comment

the root cause of the latest ill and all ills that befell us thus far and would be done
onto us is PERSONAL SUPREMACISM.
in godblessed america, it had always to date received rabid acceptance as a holy
ideology by ca. 99.9999% of american or americans number one, two, three, four,
five…
i don’t know about OWS’ acceptance/rejection of it.

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By david tarbuck, February 16, 2012 at 6:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Greece ought to DEFAULT 100%!!

“Let them (99%) eat cake” said La Royale Marie Antoinette.

Let them eat garbage, implies La Grande Dame Christine LaGarde of the International Monetary Fascists.

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By SarcastiCanuck, February 16, 2012 at 6:49 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Greeks aren’t mad at suppressed democracy,they are livid that thier futures will be shit.How would you feel being sentenced to at least decade of poverty?Being pontificated to by foreigners as well just adds insult to injury.

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kerryrose's avatar

By kerryrose, February 16, 2012 at 3:04 am Link to this comment

Greeks had ‘economic mismanagement?’

That’s not what I’ve read.  From what I’ve heard there government invested heavily in the same junk bonds from the United States that caused the entire world economic meltdown. The right loves to say ‘the Greeks get what they deserve for having vacations and pensions’ because it plays into their crusade against the working man, but being a poor country (their 1% keeps all money offshore) they cannot recover from financial fraud as easily and the Greeks don’t ‘lay down and take it’ like Americans have in the past.

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