Why we must stand with Greece
19 June 2015
In fighting against the most brutal austerity in Europe, the Greek people are engaged in a epic battle for the future of European democracy. All anti-poverty campaigners must stand with them.
Elected less than 6 months ago, Greece’s anti-austerity Syriza government continues to face the full wrath of European leaders. Vilified and harangued by the press and politicians alike, the ‘crime’ of Syriza is to represent the rights and dignity of Greece’s people, rather than the financial and business interests which normally pull the strings of European policy-making. That’s why Syriza remains so popular, and why Europe’s institutions are so angry.
Greece has been victim of some of the most brutal austerity of modern times, suffering mass unemployment, rocketing rates of suicide, murder, HIV infection, depression, drug use, and homelessness. But this great depression could have been avoided, if the lives of Greece’s people had been put before the profits of European banks.
The European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have formed an imperial Troika, suspending even the veneer of democracy to impose policies on Greece, which have failed even in their own stated aims. Debt has not decreased but has rocketed as the economy has gone into free-fall. Even the IMF has become a little squeamish about the poison it is administering.
The real reason for these inhumane policies is simple – a bank bailout of enormous proportions. While Greece’s people did nothing to cause the financial crisis, they are paying the heaviest price for European banks which recklessly lent money to their country, fuelling corruption and militarisation. Jubilee Debt Campaign calculates that the Troika have lent €252 billion to the Greek government, of which the vast majority bailed out European banks, while Greece’s debt kept rising.
Greece’s government is currently being labelled ‘extremist’ because they refuse further and deeper austerity in order to get another loan which will simply be used to pay the institution giving the loan.
No-one in the Troika believes these policies will help Greece. We learnt after 1945 that resuscitating a country can be achieved with the right amount of debt cancellation and growth. That’s how Germany recovered from war, thanks to the rational policies of countries like Greece. But Europe’s leaders are now hellbent on humiliating and defeating a government which is standing up to the whole thrust of contemporary economic policy. Heaven forbid Greece should prove that there is an alternative after all.
That’s why we must support Greece. Over the last 5 years, its people have not descended into barbarism, in spite of the rise of neo-Nazi parties like Golden Dawn. In fact they have provided us with some hope. In the most adverse of conditions people have tried to keep their society afloat by collective organisation, providing healthcare, education and food where the state has failed. This organisation has been a key element of Syriza’s election.
Now with government power, social movements continue to challenge the rule of free market austerity, this week launching a public debt audit to expose the truth about Greece’s illegitimate debt, to strip away the mask of those who really created this crisis.
One of the most common questions asked about the ‘Third World debt crisis’ in the 1980s and 90s is ‘why didn’t countries just refuse to pay?’. In that crisis too, African, Asian and Latin American counties were forced to adopt deep austerity and ‘adjustment’ to pay the price of corrupt and reckless banks and elites. The result was incalculable suffering, as economies were sent down the drain. It was that suffering, the subjugation of those countries, on which our ‘market knows best’ global economy was built.
Greece today shows why more countries did not refuse to pay. The bullying, bribery and blackmail makes it close to impossible.
But not quite impossible. No government can stand up to such pressure on it own. Syriza remains a supported by social movements that push it on. But the country also need international solidarity, just as we would give it to those that stood up against international finance in the past.
Europe is at a crossroads. Do we continue to head down an anti-democratic road where ever more of our society is sold off, inequality continues to spiral, poverty and unemployment are seen as personal failings and a ‘good life’ can only be found in the market? Or do we remember the importance of collective action and support, equality and human rights, and strive for new forms of democracy which can unleash our potential and allow us to take on the monumental task of saving our planet?
Greece is hope. It presents a once in a generation opportunity. We cannot ignore it.
Photo credit: Achilleas Zavallis