Capodistrias – Spinelli Today

European Union: disintegration or a new beginning?

This is the question posed by the crisis we are living through, which has triggered so much speculation (!) over the fate of Greece.

Ioannis Capodistrias, Altiero Spinelli: two emblematic personalities of pan-European stature marking two different phases of the course towards a united citizens’ Europe. Anyone who has visited the European Parliament will be well aware that Spinelli plays the same symbolic role for the political circles of the European Union as Capodistrias plays for the majority of Greeks who regard the establishment of the modern Hellenic state in 1828, at Aegina, as a historic advance not just for the citizens of this country but for Europe as a whole.

Today in the midst of crisis the European Union seems vis-à-vis Greece and other EU member countries to be introducing policies that are extremely problematic for the peoples of Europe. Is it possible in this conjuncture for anyone to believe that the ideas of these two visionaries, Capodistrias and Spinelli, have any chance of influencing the reality of our days and opening new prospects for the European Union?

Our three speakers will attempt to provide an answer to this.

Andreas Koukos


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Andreas Koukos was born in Chania, Crete. He studied at the law school of the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki and the Officers’ Military Academy and holds a post-graduate diploma in Naval Science and Strategy from the Naval War College. He is also a graduate of the National Defense College. In 2012 he completed his doctorate in the Philosophical Faculty of the University of Athens. He is a professor of modern history at the National Defense College and the Naval War College, has participated in numerous scholarly symposia in Greece and abroad and has published articles in scholarly journals. He has been consultant to the Capodistrian Cities Network has won a number of awards and distinctions. He is a Brigadier in the the Corps of Legal of Consultants of the Greek Armed Forces.

On 21st September 2010 he founded the “Association for the Study of the Work of Ioannis Capodistrias”, currently serving as its first president.

Giulietto Chiesa

 

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Giulietto Chiesa was born in 1940 in Piedmont. In the 1980s during the Berlinguer period he was a correspondent for the L’Unita newspaper and then for La Stampa, experiences which transformed him into one of the world’s best “Sovietologists”. He has written for a number of different newsagencies of Russia, the USA, Switzerland and Germany, as well as broadcasts for Vatican Radio. In his articles, which are required reading for comprehension of the USSR in its last years, he examines globalization, the international system and the media, and the wars of recent decades. From 2004 to 2008 he was a Europarliamentarian. In the 2009 European elections he was a candidate for the Party of Human Rights in Latvia, a member of the parliamentary grouping of the Greens which promotes the human rights of Russian speakers in Latvia. He is a member of the New Policy Forum of the former president of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev.

Panagiotis Paspaliaris

 

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Panagiotis Paspaliaris was born in Nafplion in 1975. He studied history and archaeology at the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki. He is the author of “The Drachma” (2007), “Great Hellenes: Ioannis Capodistrias” (2008), “Great Hellenes, Pericles” (2009). “The History of Mediaeval Hellenism in Asia Minor” (2010). He works in the private sector and is a regular contributor to the magazine Hot Doc on historical and other subjects.

The meeting will be co-ordinated by Zoe Georgiadou.

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Independent Citizens’ Assembly

Direct democracy cannot substitute for parliamentary democracy. If it confines itself to abusing and criticising parliamentarianism it will simply remain a second clientele for the corporate mass media, to be pitted against the parliaments in a «divide-and-rule» game refereed by the media. The «indignados» must move on and propose a system of organized competition between direct democracy and parliamentary democracy, to be enshrined in new constitutions.

There is a general recognition even in the mass media today that the liberal democratic political system is in terminal crisis and that what is needed are new forms of citizens’ democracy, direct democracy, deliberative democracy.There are many names for it.

What one unfortunately never sees, though, is specific, easily understandable blueprints of the forms that this citizens’ democracy might take, what its relationship would be with the existing forms of multi-party liberal democracy or parliamentary democracy, what its relationship would be with existing forms of direct democracy, such as referenda, plebiscites, the activity of citizens’ groups, non-governmental organizations, and so on.

The Swiss model is often cited and here I think it is worth a mention that the forms of democracy that exist today in the Swiss confederation, and indeed Swiss neutrality, are very largely the work of someone we mention frequently: the first governor of modern Greece, Ioannis Capodistrias. The specific type of polity of modern Switzerland was designed to keep the country out of the sphere of influence both of France and of Austria, which in the nineteenth century was of course among the great powers. Capodistrias was the foreign minister of the Czar of Russia at this time, and Russia had the most rational of geopolitical reasons to try to reduce the influence both of France and of Austria.

Having said that, does the Swiss model of direct democracy have anything to offer? Does it suit our specific needs now? We would argue that it doesn’t, because it does nothing to curb the power of mainstream mass media. The mass media can influence the outcome of a referendum just as easily as they can influence the outcome of an election. This is particularly the case if the subject of the referendum is in any way complicated or technical.

What is the situation with the mass media? Quite simply that the priority is on deceit and distortion. The most important realities will be subject to media blackout. What cannot be blacked out will be distorted to guarantee confusion and non-comprehension to all but the tiny minority that has found out the reality by other means. Issues that are given systematic high-profile media attention are very often fictitious.

Politicians who rely on this mass media for their election, that is to say virtually all politicians, cannot be expected to bring it under social control. The only solution then is to organize around it. In the age of the internet, unless it too comes to be controlled as tightly as the media, this is technically possible.

The desideratum, then, is for an Independent Citizens’ Assembly to be established. Independent citizens are citizens who can communicate with each other and with political supporters directly, not via channels that are mediated and under the control of others who can give and withdraw support whenever they want to, and also distort, change and manipulate content whenever they want to. Politicians and public figures who appear on the media that is not under citizens’ control should not have the right to a vote in the Citizens’ Assembly. They should have the right to act as advisors if their advice is sought, but not to participate in voting or decision making. This amounts to nothing more than restoration of a convention that used to exist in Westminster democracy before the age of the NGO in the form of a professional civil service. Civil servants were not supposed to speak directly to the media, but only through their responsible minister. The Citizens’ Assembly would restore, and indeed itself assume, some of these functions that used to be assumed by a professional civil service.

The Citizens’ Assembly would seek to compete with the universal suffrage parliament through a periodic referendum say once every five years that could decide on whether legislative powers should for the coming five year period be exercised by the Citizens’ Assembly or by the universal suffrage parliament. Whichever legislature lost the referendum would have merely an advisory, not a legislative, role. If the Citizens’ Assembly should win the referendum at the Pan-Hellenic or Pan-European level, this would automatically entail transfer of powers from the multi-party legislatures to the citizens’ assemblies at every lower level: national, regional and municipal, subject to challenge at these lower levels, where local referenda could be organized at the initiative of the losing side. This situation would be reversible, applicable also if the pan-European mandate should go to the multiparty legislature.

At the level of the European Union, the head of state should be chosen by a body of electors made up of the heads of state of the member countries and representatives either of the multi-party legislatures or of the citizens’ assemblies, whichever held the mandate. This would help to deal with one important source of the lack of legitimacy of the European Union which treats the national parliaments of the member states as if national sovereignty is vested in them. Sovereignty in Great Britain, to take just one example, is not vested in the parliament. It is vested in the Crown in Parliament.

The Citizens’ Assembly would have to make it clear at all times that it is not a political party. The political party allegiance of members of the Citizens’ Assembly, and other forms of allegiance such a membership of trade unions, employers associations, non-governmental organizations and so on, would be relegated to private status, similar to the status of a citizen’s religion in a properly functioning secular democracy. There would have to be a court with powers to judge when a member’s behaviour in the citizens’ assemblies was in violation of this rule. Any person behaving in a citizens’ assembly like the member of a party would be required to withdraw from the citizens’ assembly and participate in public life through the multi-party assemblies, not the independent citizens ‘assemblies. This is just a brief sketch of how a Hellenic and/or European Citizens’ Assembly could be feasible and how it could operate. There is nothing stopping European citizens from making the first move towards constructing such an assembly, and seeking powers for it. Under Article 11, paragraph 4 of the Treaty of Lisbon, “not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the European Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties.”

Independent Citizen’s Assembly

Direct democracy cannot substitute for parliamentary democracy. If it confines itself to abusing and criticising parliamentarianism it will simply remain a second clientele for the corporate mass media, to be pitted against the parliaments in a «divide-and-rule» game refereed by the media. The «indignados» must move on and propose a system of organized competition between direct democracy and parliamentary democracy, to be enshrined in new constitutions.

There is a general recognition even in the mass media today that the liberal democratic political system is in terminal crisis and that what is needed are new forms of citizens’ democracy, direct democracy, deliberative democracy.There are many names for it.

What one unfortunately never sees, though, is specific, easily understandable blueprints of the forms that this citizens’ democracy might take, what its relationship would be with the existing forms of multi-party liberal democracy or parliamentary democracy, what its relationship would be with existing forms of direct democracy, such as referenda, plebiscites, the activity of citizens’ groups, non-governmental organizations, and so on.

The Swiss model is often cited and here I think it is worth a mention that the forms of democracy that exist today in the Swiss confederation, and indeed Swiss neutrality, are very largely the work of someone we mention frequently: the first governor of modern Greece, Ioannis Capodistrias. The specific type of polity of modern Switzerland was designed to keep the country out of the sphere of influence both of France and of Austria, which in the nineteenth century was of course among the great powers. Capodistrias was the foreign minister of the Czar of Russia at this time, and Russia had the most rational of geopolitical reasons to try to reduce the influence both of France and of Austria.

Having said that, does the Swiss model of direct democracy have anything to offer? Does it suit our specific needs now? We would argue that it doesn’t, because it does nothing to curb the power of mainstream mass media. The mass media can influence the outcome of a referendum just as easily as they can influence the outcome of an election. This is particularly the case if the subject of the referendum is in any way complicated or technical.

What is the situation with the mass media? Quite simply that the priority is on deceit and distortion. The most important realities will be subject to media blackout. What cannot be blacked out will be distorted to guarantee confusion and non-comprehension to all but the tiny minority that has found out the reality by other means. Issues that are given systematic high-profile media attention are very often fictitious.

Politicians who rely on this mass media for their election, that is to say virtually all politicians, cannot be expected to bring it under social control. The only solution then is to organize around it. In the age of the internet, unless it too comes to be controlled as tightly as the media, this is technically possible.

The desideratum, then, is for an Independent Citizens’ Assembly to be established. Independent citizens are citizens who can communicate with each other and with political supporters directly, not via channels that are mediated and under the control of others who can give and withdraw support whenever they want to, and also distort, change and manipulate content whenever they want to. Politicians and public figures who appear on the media that is not under citizens’ control should not have the right to a vote in the Citizens’ Assembly. They should have the right to act as advisors if their advice is sought, but not to participate in voting or decision making. This amounts to nothing more than restoration of a convention that used to exist in Westminster democracy before the age of the NGO in the form of a professional civil service. Civil servants were not supposed to speak directly to the media, but only through their responsible minister. The Citizens’ Assembly would restore, and indeed itself assume, some of these functions that used to be assumed by a professional civil service.

The Citizens’ Assembly would seek to compete with the universal suffrage parliament through a periodic referendum say once every five years that could decide on whether legislative powers should for the coming five year period be exercised by the Citizens’ Assembly or by the universal suffrage parliament. Whichever legislature lost the referendum would have merely an advisory, not a legislative, role. If the Citizens’ Assembly should win the referendum at the Pan-Hellenic or Pan-European level, this would automatically entail transfer of powers from the multi-party legislatures to the citizens’ assemblies at every lower level: national, regional and municipal, subject to challenge at these lower levels, where local referenda could be organized at the initiative of the losing side. This situation would be reversible, applicable also if the pan-European mandate should go to the multiparty legislature.

At the level of the European Union, the head of state should be chosen by a body of electors made up of the heads of state of the member countries and representatives either of the multi-party legislatures or of the citizens’ assemblies, whichever held the mandate. This would help to deal with one important source of the lack of legitimacy of the European Union which treats the national parliaments of the member states as if national sovereignty is vested in them. Sovereignty in Great Britain, to take just one example, is not vested in the parliament. It is vested in the Crown in Parliament.

The Citizens’ Assembly would have to make it clear at all times that it is not a political party. The political party allegiance of members of the Citizens’ Assembly, and other forms of allegiance such a membership of trade unions, employers associations, non-governmental organizations and so on, would be relegated to private status, similar to the status of a citizen’s religion in a properly functioning secular democracy. There would have to be a court with powers to judge when a member’s behaviour in the citizens’ assemblies was in violation of this rule. Any person behaving in a citizens’ assembly like the member of a party would be required to withdraw from the citizens’ assembly and participate in public life through the multi-party assemblies, not the independent citizens ‘assemblies. This is just a brief sketch of how a Hellenic and/or European Citizens’ Assembly could be feasible and how it could operate. There is nothing stopping European citizens from making the first move towards constructing such an assembly, and seeking powers for it. Under Article 11, paragraph 4 of the Treaty of Lisbon, “not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the European Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties.”

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Democracy’s Cradle, Rocking the World

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YESTERDAY, the whole world was watching Greece as its Parliament voted to pass a divisive package of austerity measures that could have critical ramifications for the global financial system. It may come as a surprise that this tiny tip of the Balkan Peninsula could command such attention. We usually think of Greece as the home of Plato and Pericles, its real importance lying deep in antiquity. But this is hardly the first time that to understand Europe’s future, you need to turn away from the big powers at the center of the continent and look closely at what is happening in Athens. For the past 200 years, Greece has been at the forefront of Europe’s evolution.

In the 1820s, as it waged a war of independence against the Ottoman Empire, Greece became an early symbol of escape from the prison house of empire. For philhellenes, its resurrection represented the noblest of causes. “In the great morning of the world,” Shelley wrote in “Hellas,” his poem about the country’s struggle for independence, “Freedom’s splendor burst and shone!” Victory would mean liberty’s triumph not only over the Turks but also over all those dynasts who had kept so many Europeans enslaved. Germans, Italians, Poles and Americans flocked to fight under the Greek blue and white for the sake of democracy. And within a decade, the country won its freedom.

Over the next century, the radically new combination of constitutional democracy and ethnic nationalism that Greece embodied spread across the continent, culminating in “the peace to end all peace” at the end of the First World War, when the Ottoman, Hapsburg and Russian empires disintegrated and were replaced by nation-states.

In the aftermath of the First World War, Greece again paved the way for Europe’s future. Only now it was democracy’s dark side that came to the fore. In a world of nation-states, ethnic minorities like Greece’s Muslim population and the Orthodox Christians of Asia Minor were a recipe for international instability. In the early 1920s, Greek and Turkish leaders decided to swap their minority populations, expelling some two million Christians and Muslims in the interest of national homogeneity. The Greco-Turkish population exchange was the largest such organized refugee movement in history to that point and a model that the Nazis and others would point to later for displacing peoples in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and India.

It is ironic, then, that Greece was in the vanguard of resistance to the Nazis, too. In the winter of 1940-41, it was the first country to fight back effectively against the Axis powers, humiliating Mussolini in the Greco-Italian war while the rest of Europe cheered. And many cheered again a few months later when a young left-wing resistance fighter named Manolis Glezos climbed the Acropolis one night with a friend and pulled down a swastika flag that the Germans had recently unfurled. (Almost 70 years later, Mr. Glezos would be tear-gassed by the Greek police while protesting the austerity program.) Ultimately, however, Greece succumbed to German occupation. Nazi rule brought with it political disintegration, mass starvation and, after liberation, the descent of the country into outright civil war between Communist and anti-Communist forces.

Only a few years after Hitler’s defeat, Greece found itself in the center of history again, as a front line in the cold war. In 1947, President Harry S. Truman used the intensifying civil war there to galvanize Congress behind the Truman Doctrine and his sweeping peacetime commitment of American resources to fight Communism and rebuild Europe. Suddenly elevated into a trans-Atlantic cause, Greece now stood for a very different Europe — one that had crippled itself by tearing itself apart, whose only path out of the destitution of the mid-1940s was as a junior partner with Washington. As the dollars poured in, American advisers sat in Athens telling Greek policy makers what to do and American napalm scorched the Greek mountains as the Communists were put to flight.

European political and economic integration was supposed to end the weakness and dependency of the divided continent, and here, too, Greece was an emblem of a new phase in its history. The fall of its military dictatorship in 1974 not only brought the country full membership in what would become the European Union; it also (along with the transitions in Spain and Portugal at the same time) prefigured the global democratization wave of the 1980s and ’90s, first in South America and Southeast Asia and then in Eastern Europe. And it gave the European Union the taste for enlargement and the ambition to turn itself from a small club of wealthy Western European states into a voice for the newly democratic continent as a whole, extending far to the south and east.

And now today, after the euphoria of the ’90s has faded and a new modesty sets in among the Europeans, it falls again to Greece to challenge the mandarins of the European Union and to ask what lies ahead for the continent. The European Union was supposed to shore up a fragmented Europe, to consolidate its democratic potential and to transform the continent into a force capable of competing on the global stage. It is perhaps fitting that one of Europe’s oldest and most democratic nation-states should be on the new front line, throwing all these achievements into question. For we are all small powers now, and once again Greece is in the forefront of the fight for the future.

Mark Mazower is a professor of history at Columbia University.

Democracy vs Mythology: The Battle in Syntagma Square

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I have never been more desperate to explain and more hopeful for your understanding of any single fact than this: The protests in Greece concern all of you directly.

What is going on in Athens at the moment is resistance against an invasion; an invasion as brutal as that against Poland in 1939. The invading army wears suits instead of uniforms and holds laptops instead of guns, but make no mistake – the attack on our sovereignty is as violent and thorough. Private wealth interests are dictating policy to a sovereign nation, which is expressly and directly against its national interest. Ignore it at your peril. Say to yourselves, if you wish, that perhaps it will stop there. That perhaps the bailiffs will not go after the Portugal and Ireland next. And then Spain and the UK. But it is already beginning to happen. This is why you cannot afford to ignore these events.

The powers that be have suggested that there is plenty to sell. Josef Schlarmann, a senior member of Angela Merkel’s party, recently made the helpful suggestion that we should sell some of our islands to private buyers in order to pay the interest on these loans, which have been forced on us to stabilise financial institutions and a failed currency experiment. (Of course, it is not a coincidence that recent studies have shown immense reserves of natural gas under the Aegean sea).

China has waded in, because it holds vast currency reserves and more than a third are in Euros. Sites of historical interest like the Acropolis could be made private. If we do not as we are told, the explicit threat is that foreign and more responsible politicians will do it by force. Let’s make the Parthenon and the ancient Agora a Disney park, where badly paid locals dress like Plato or Socrates and play out the fantasies of the rich.

It is vital to understand that I do not wish to excuse my compatriots of all blame. We did plenty wrong. I left Greece in 1991 and did not return until 2006. For the first few months I looked around and saw an entirely different country to the one I had left behind. Every billboard, every bus shelter, every magazine page advertised low interest loans. It was a free money give-away. Do you have a loan that you cannot manage? Come and get an even bigger loan from us and we will give you a free lap-dance as a bonus. And the names underwriting those advertisements were not unfamiliar: HSBC, Citibank, Credit Agricole, Eurobank, etc.

Regretfully, it must be admitted that we took this bait “hook, line and sinker”. The Greek psyche has always had an Achilles’ heel; an impending identity crisis. We straddle three Continents and our culture has always been a melting pot reflective of that fact. Instead of embracing that richness, we decided we were going to be definitively European; Capitalist; Modern; Western. And, damn it, we were going to be bloody good at it. We were going to be the most European, the most Capitalist, the most Modern, the most Western. We were teenagers with their parents’ platinum card.

I did not see a pair of sunglasses not emblazoned with Diesel or Prada. I did not see a pair of flip-flops not bearing the logo of Versace or D&G. The cars around me were predominantly Mercedes and BMWs. If anyone took a holiday anywhere closer than Thailand, they kept it a secret. There was an incredible lack of common sense and no warning that this spring of wealth may not be inexhaustible. We became a nation sleepwalking toward the deep end of our newly-built, Italian-tiled swimming pool without a care that at some point our toes may not be able to touch the bottom.

That irresponsibility, however, was only a very small part of the problem. The much bigger part was the emergence of a new class of foreign business interests ruled by plutocracy, a church dominated by greed and a political dynasticism which made a candidate’s surname the only relevant consideration when voting. And while we were borrowing and spending (which is affectionately known as “growth”), they were squeezing every ounce of blood from the other end through a system of corruption so gross that it was worthy of any banana republic; so prevalent and brazen that everyone just shrugged their shoulders and accepted it or became part of it.

I know it is impossible to share in a single post the history, geography and mentality which has brought this most beautiful corner of our Continent to its knees and has turned one of the oldest civilisations in the world from a source of inspiration to the punchline of cheap jokes. I know it is impossible to impart the sense of increasing despair and helplessness that underlies every conversation I have had with friends and family over the last few months. But it is vital that I try, because the dehumanisation and demonisation of my people appears to be in full swing.

I read, agog, an article in a well-known publication which essentially advocated that the Mafia knew how to deal properly with people who didn’t repay their debts; that “a baseball bat may be what’s needed to fix the never ending Greek debt mess”. The article proceeded to justify this by rolling out a series of generalisations and prejudices so inaccurate and so venomous that, had one substituted the word “Greeks” with “Blacks” or “Jews”, the author would have been hauled in by the police and charged with hate crimes. (I always include links, but not in this case – I am damned if I will create more traffic for that harpy).

So let me deal with some of that media Mythology.

  • Greeks are lazy. This underlies much of what is said and written about the crisis, the implication presumably being that our lax Mediterranean work-ethic is at the heart of our self-inflicted downfall. And yet, OECD data among its members show that in 2008, Greeks worked on average 2120 hours a year. That is 690 hours more than the average German, 467 more than the average Brit and 356 more than the OECD average. Only Koreans work longer hours. Further, the paid leave entitlement in Greece is on average 23 days, lower than most EU countries including the UK’s minimum 28 and Germany’s whopping 30.

  • Greeks retire early. The figure of 53 years old as an average retirement age is being bandied about. So much, in fact, that it is being seen as fact. The figure actually originates from a lazy comment on the NY Times website. It was then repeated by Fox News and printed on other publications. Greek civil servants have the option to retire after 17.5 years of service, but this is on half benefits. The figure of 53 is a misinformed conflation of the number of people who choose to do this (in most cases to go on to different careers) and those who stay in public service until their full entitlement becomes available. Looking at Eurostat’s data from 2005 the average age of exit from the labour force in Greece (indicated in the graph below as EL for Ellas) was 61.7; higher than Germany, France or Italy and higher than the EU27 average. Since then Greece have had to raise the minimum age of retirement twice under bail-out conditions and so this figure is likely to rise further.

  • Greece is a weak economy that should never have been a part of the EU. One of the assertions frequently levelled at Greece is that its membership to the European Union was granted on emotional “cradle of democracy” grounds. This could not be further from the truth. Greece became the first associate member of the EEC outside the bloc of six founding members (Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux countries) in 1962, much before the UK. It has been a member of the EU for 30 years. It is classified by the World Bank as a “high income economy” and in 2005 boasted the 22nd highest human development and quality of life index in the world – higher than the UK, Germany or France. As late as 2009 it had the 24th highest per capita GDP according to the World Bank. Moreover, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s Centre for International Comparisons, Greece’s productivity in terms of real GDP per person per hour worked, is higher than that of France, Germany or the US and more than 20% higher than the UK’s.
  • The first bail-out was designed to help Greek people, but unfortunately failed. It was not. The first bail-out was designed to stabilise and buy time for the Eurozone. It was designed to avoid another Lehman-Bros-type market shock, at a time when financial institutions were too weak to withstand it. In the words of BBC economist Stephanie Flanders: “Put it another way: Greece looks less able to repay than it did a year ago – while the system as a whole looks in better shape to withstand a default… From their perspective, buying time has worked for the eurozone. It just hasn’t been working out so well for Greece.” If the bail-out were designed to help Greece get out of debt, then France and Germany would not have insisted on future multi-billion military contracts. As Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the MEP and leader of the Green group in the European Parliament, explained: “In the past three months we have forced Greece to confirm several billion dollars in arms contracts. French frigates that the Greeks will have to buy for 2.5 billion euros. Helicopters, planes, German submarines.”
  • The second bail-out is designed to help Greek people and will definitely succeed. I watched as Merkel and Sarkozy made their joint statement yesterday. It was dotted with phrases like “Markets are worried”, “Investors need reassurance” and packed with the technical language of monetarism. It sounded like a set of engineers making minor adjustments to an unmanned probe about to be launched into space. It was utterly devoid of any sense that at the centre of what was being discussed was the proposed extent of misery, poverty, pain and even death that a sovereign European partner, an entire nation was to endure. In fact most commentators agree, that this second package is designed to do exactly what the first one did: buy more time for the banks, at considerable expense to the Greek people. There is no chance of Greece ever being able to repay its debt – default is inevitable. It is simply servicing interest and will continue to do so in perpetuity.

And the biggest myth of them all: Greeks are protesting because they want the bail-out but not the austerity that goes with it. This is a fundamental untruth. Greeks are protesting because they do not want the bail-out at all. They have already accepted cuts which would be unfathomable in the UK – think of what Cameron is doing and multiply it by ten. Benefits have not been paid in over six months. Basic salaries have been cut to 550 Euros (£440) a month.

My mother, who is nearly 70, who worked all her life for the Archaeology Department of the Ministry of Culture, who paid tax, national insurance and pension contributions for over 45 years, deducted at the source (as they are for the vast majority of decent hard-working people – it is the rich that can evade), has had her pension cut to less than £400 a month. She faces the same rampantly inflationary energy and food prices as the rest of Europe.

A good friend’s grandad, Panagiotis K., fought a war 70 years ago – on the same side as the rest of Western democracy. He returned and worked 50 years in a shipyard, paid his taxes, built his pension. At the age of 87 he has had to move back to his village so he can work his “pervoli” – a small arable garden – planting vegetables and keeping four chickens. So that he and his 83 year old wife might have something to eat.

A doctor talking on Al Jazeera yesterday explained how even GPs and nurses have become so desperate that they ask people for money under the table in order to treat them, in what are meant to be free state hospitals. Those who cannot afford to do this, go away to live with their ailment, or die from it. The Hippocratic oath violated out of despair, at the place of its inception.

So, the case is not that Greeks are fighting cuts. There is nothing left to cut. The IMF filleting knife has gotten to pure, white, arthritis-afflicted bone. The Greeks understand that a second bail-out is simply “kicking the can down the road”.  Greece’s primary budget deficit is, in fact, under 5bn Euros. The other 48bn Euros are servicing the debt, including that of the first bail-out, with one third being purely interest. The EU, ECB and IMF now wish to add another pile of debt on top of that, which will be used to satisfy interest payments for another year. And the Greeks have called their bluff. They have said “Enough is enough. Keep your money.”

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My land has always attracted aggressive occupiers. Its vital strategic position combined with its extraordinary natural beauty and history, have always made it the trinket of choice for the forces of evil. But we are a tenacious lot. We emerged after 400 years of Ottoman occupation, 25 generations during which our national identity was outlawed with penalty of death, with our language, tradition, religion and music intact.

Finally, we have woken up and taken to the streets. My sister tells me that what is happening in Syntagma Square is beautiful; filled with hope; gloriously democratic. A totally bi-partisan crowd of hundreds of thousands of people have occupied the area in front of our Parliament. They share what little food and drink there is. A microphone stands in the middle, on which anyone can speak for two minutes at a time – even propose things which are voted by a show of thumbs. Citizenship.

And what they say is this: We will not suffer any more so that we can make the rich, even richer. We do not authorise any of the politicians, who failed so spectacularly, to borrow any more money in our name. We do not trust you or the people that are lending it. We want a completely new set of accountable people at the helm, untainted by the fiascos of the past. You have run out of ideas. 

Wherever in the world you are, their statement applies.

Money is a commodity, invented to help people by facilitating transactions. It is not wealth in itself. Wealth is natural resources, water, food, land, education, skill, spirit, ingenuity, art. In those terms, the people of Greece are no poorer than they were two years ago. Neither are the people of Spain or Ireland or the UK. And yet, we are all being put through various levels of suffering, in order for numbers (representing money which never existed) to be transferred from one column of a spreadsheet to another.

This is why the matter concerns you directly. Because this is a battle between our right to self-determine, to demand a new political process, to be sovereign, and private corporate interests which appear determined to treat us like a herd, which only exists for their benefit. It is the battle against a system which ensures that those who fuck up, are never those that are punished – it is always the poorest, the most decent, the most hard-working that bear the brunt.  The Greeks have said “Enough is enough”. What do you say?

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Help us by spreading this message to others – don’t let the media airbrush it out of existence, like they have done with the people of Madison, Wisconsin and the Indignados in Spain. Use the comments below (no registration is needed) to express your solidarity with the people of Greece. If you have any questions, again use the comments and I will do my best to answer. Raise the matter with people in power. Ask questions. Talk about it in the pub. Most of all, wake up before you find yourself in our situation.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is the Lebanese-American philosopher who formulated the theory of “Black Swan Events” – unpredictable, unforeseen events which have a huge impact and can only be explained afterwards. Last week, on Newsnight, he was asked by Jeremy Paxman whether the people taking to the streets in Athens was a Black Swan Event. He replied: “No. The real Black Swan Event is that people are not rioting against the banks in London and New York.”