Hope for 2016, the lack of

We welcome a new year, 2016, in desperation.

Greece is facing two very significant challenges for 2016. Judging from the way 2015 went under the leadership of Mr Tsipras, the coming year does indeed look bleak. What follows is a quick overview of the position of the country and some thoughts (not very many) on what could be done.

Challenge 1: The Refugee Crisis

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Greece has been on the receiving end of the majority of displaced people from the wars in the middle east, and a wave of immigration from deprived areas in the wider European periphery. This wave of humanity will not stop. What will stop is the willingness of states ‘upstream’ to receive them. Greece, due to its geographical position will remain the receiving nation, and will also become a bottleneck where thousands upon thousands are stuck. It is hopeless to expect Turkey to do anything to stem the flow. Even if they were willing (which they are not), there is technically no way to secure the entire Turkish coastline, especially when the other side is visible across the water.

What the government and the Greek people need to do is accept reality, these people will keep coming, and they will be stuck in Greece. Drowning them in increasing numbers, or abusing them as a disincentive cannot, will not work and is abhorrent as a policy. Do not kid yourselves, the policy (not declared of course) has been to drown people. Where it not, Frontex would be doing more rescuing and less ‘securing’.

The Greek government needs to accept that it cannot pass people along and think about how to make provision to house them permanently, or in any case for the foreseeable future. The Greek population needs to accept this.

The Greek population has spent the last 100 years decrying the Great Powers for letting Greek women and children drown when they were trying to flee Smyrne during the Kemalist slaughter. They are in no position to dismiss the horror in the Aegean.

And Greeks fleeing Turkey is not the only example of a mass exodus we have in our history. My family was evacuated to Corfu by the British during the civil war. Frontex would have let them drown. I would accept refugees to move to my hometown in Greece, and if you think I am saying that because I don’t live there full time, I would accept them to come live in Barnes in London and I would pay the council taxes to allow them to do so.

Challenge 2: The Economy

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Syriza has not brought us reform, revolt, nor compliance. It has brought us stagnation.

Syriza did not take the step of Grexit, did not implement a radical alternate plan like many (now in LAE) were advocating. Had they done so, we could hope for something. I do not think that this was the right way to go, for reasons I have spent years explaining, but still, it would have been something to deal with, to look forward to, to attempt to make succeed.

Syriza did not take the step of cooperation with our European partners (our enemies as many in the government call them). Had they genuinely cooperated, we would have something to hope for. Yes, Germany does not propose a viable, correct programme for the majority of the population. Yes, there are many many things wrong with perpetual austerity and ordo-liberalism. It can work however, to a degree, for some sections of the population, for some time. Portugal, Ireland are examples of that.

Syriza has chosen the path of stagnation, of neither cooperation, nor resistance. What a disservice this is to the country.

What can be done about it? Ask Mr Tsipras. The plan is to lie, to pretend, to cheat the silly Europeans into dishing out more money. Phoney. Sad. Tsipras lied to his supporters, lied to the country, lies to Europe. Lies. Mr Tsipras and his band of liars need to leave, I can tell you that much. Who will replace them? I do not know. This will be your task for 2016 dear Greeks. To decide on the replacement before this flock of sheep is led for the last time to the slaughter.

Happy New Year

@iGlinavos

Greece in 2015

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Having started my blog in January 2015, my entries have served as a chronicle of my thoughts, hopes and aspirations for Syriza’s government. What had been billed as the ‘first’ left government of Greece (I guess if one does not accept Andrea’s 1981 PASOK as a left win) had a turbulent start and a bad end, for the country, if not for this troupe of horrors.

At the beginning of January, with the election approaching in Greece, it seemed like Syriza could offer the chance to start a rethink of the neoliberal settlement that has dominated European politics for decades. The 2008 crisis had within it the seeds of a challenge to the dominant neoliberal paradigm, alas the challenge was never realised. This period also brought hope that politics could once again retake the ground ceded to technocrats. I had identified in my work a long time ago the danger the retreat of politics in favour of technocracy posed to democracy. An election of a government with an overt political agenda could help (I hoped) to recalibrate the role of politics in economic management; to put the people back in control of fundamental choices as to how their lives are run. I also commented on how salvation from economic crisis in Europe was beginning to look ominously like the creation of a new type of ‘fiscal’ authoritarianism, a ‘dictatorship of finance’. Syriza again was identified as the vehicle to a potential solution, linking popular demands with economic management and reviving democracy in Europe.

I was delighted with Syriza’s win in January and supported Varoufakis in his European tour, where he explained why the existing programme was not working for Greece. My hope was that Europe was ready to make a change. That our partners had realised (perhaps with the exception of the Germans) that non-stop austerity is self-defeating. Perhaps they were waiting for a little push to change their minds, and Varoufakis was offering them this opportunity, for the benefit of all. I was not oblivious to the risks of re-negotiating the bailout deals however. Already at the beginning of February I cautioned Varoufakis and Draghi not to upset Greece’s difficult liquidity environment. Suicide was preventable, a compromise solution was achievable.

My faith in Syriza’s ability to guide the country through this impasse, and achieve a better deal with our creditors than Samaras, Venizelos and everyone prior was shaken by the events following the 20 February agreement. The February agreement seemed like a sensible compromise. It was evident that there was no support for Syriza from anyone, especially the Germans. Too much political capital has been invested in Europe supporting austerity to allow for a change of course. This is regrettable, but nonetheless true. Syriza could have a deal, which was in some aspects better than what was achieved before, but Greece would not be given a ‘good’ deal. The February deal was a step in the right direction in what would clearly be a long road.

What shook me was Varoufakis response. When asked to present a series of technical measures, he submitted a list of odd and in places nonsensical proposals (see here). Was this done due to incompetence or calculation? Either way, it was not good. Varoufakis has claimed in Mason’s grotesque excuse for a documentary (#ThisIsACoup) that he was betrayed by the Eurogroup after February. He seems not to understand what was going on, or his role in things. It all went downhill from there. The negotiations dragged on, the economy stagnated, progress (whatever progress one had seen) was lost. The rhetoric hardened and Tsipras lost his window of opportunity to achieve something better. Faced with double-speak, lack of trust and gimmicks, the Europeans who were not positively inclined to Syriza anyway, and could not politically afford a change of tack, lost interest and started demanding that Greece gets its act together and completes the evaluation of the current programme review in order to receive any money. Varoufakis committed a criminal error in not achieving the disbursement of the bailout tranche after 20 February, leading to a credit crunch that drove us to IMF default in the summer and an internal moratorium on state payments to private parties. It was obvious from the 19 March leader’s meeting that things had gone off the rails (see here).

On 21 April I published my ‘Basta Yani’ piece that asked Syriza to make a deal now. I argued that Syriza was not elected with a mandate to take the country out of the Euro. If a deal that Syriza could live with could not be achieved, then they had a responsibility to resign after signing it and hold an election. This election should be fought on Euro-In/Euro-Out lines so the Greek people got the make the horrible choice that befell them: Capitulate to the demands of the creditors with the hope of a long drawn recovery, or risk return to the drachma in the hope for long drawn recovery. I strongly rejected the idea of a referendum with the rationale that such complex questions need to be the subject of an electoral platform, not an in-out single question on a single ballot (see here). Alas, a referendum did take place in the summer, but on totally bogus grounds.

By mid-May I had totally lost my faith in Syriza. The lack of a clear position, the inability to demonstrate achievable goals for the negotiation, the disorganisation and disinterest in the state of the economy, the lefty fascism of members like Zoi Kostantopoulou, and finally the parading of the holy bones in hospitals proved too much for me. The Greeks had not signed up for Grexit and its consequences when they voted on 25 January. Greeks did get their chance to vote for Grexit, and did so with gusto in the summer in the Greferendum. In this exercise in political fraud Tsipras managed to both kill whatever was left of the economy and to split the country along a new pro/anti Europe divide. Tsipras by announcing the referendum caused the bank-run that was already in process to become a stampede. This necessitated capital controls, not the evil Europeans or the ECB. It is needless to detail the damage to the economy since January, due to the almost total disinterest of the government in things ‘market’ while it was valiantly negotiating with our ‘enemies’. Capital controls helped kill any remaining economic activity. The effect has been a return of the recession, out of which Greece had nominally moved at the end of 2014.

To add insult to the injury of the Greferendum, Tsipras, the ultimate political opportunist, called an election in September to rid the party of the ‘Grexit rebels’ of Lafazanes. ‘Party before Country’ as usual for (ex)communists. Mr Tsipras faced with the disintegration of Syriza after the signing of the third Greek Bailout decided to cause an election by resigning and by refusing to join a different coalition with his remaining Syriza MPs. An election that would have clearly decided the European (or not) trajectory of the country (as mentioned earlier) would have been useful, The September election however was a lost opportunity, as no coalitions emerged in clear support of either position. The new Laiki Enotita ( you have to admire the people who name a party ‘unity’ after splitting from someplace else), KKE and Golden Dawn supported the Drachma, but are nowhere near a united front as you can imagine. This election, as predicted, solved nothing. It renewed the mandate of a band of incompetent populists to talk and talk while the country sinks. Yet again, this is the grandeur of democracy: The people are free to choose their executioner. I pity those who voted for Greece in Europe as a partner, not as a beggar and cheat.

What do we face at the end of the year? We see what happens to a democracy when the country has no functioning government and faces no opposition. After Syriza-lite (sans rebels) won the September election, a strange (albeit predictable) thing happened. All and any opposition to the government dissipated. How is this so, you may ask. Hasn’t Syriza denounced its leftist pretensions, betrayed its programme in favour of a new Bailout? Yes it did, but no one says a word about it. The right (ND and -apologies- PASOK and Potami) with the policy of Euro uber alles cannot complain about attempts to implement the Bailout terms. ND tries some complaining about choices in the consolidation measures, but lacking leadership (especially after the botched internal election) it is becoming irrelevant. The left? Surely if Tsipras moved to the right a gap must have opened on the left? No it didn’t. KKE remains in Stalinist obscurity and the Syriza splinter faction has all but died, as the Greek people are a nation of have-your-pie-and-eat-it that wouldn’t countenance the Grexit they were advocating. As to movements and unions, they have been co-opted by a government that feels no shame encouraging people to join general strikes against it, with the argument that it strengthens its position against the hated creditors with which it is eternally ‘negotiating’. The result is a farcical unopposed governance of stupid stunts (eg. Tsipras tweets) and utter incompetence in every single area of activity. One watches with morbid fascination daily lashings of daliesque surrealism, as if the whole administration were an experimental comedy show worthy of Noel Fielding.

Greece ends 2015 with an incompetent, shambolic ‘party of the people’ that governs only to the extent that it serves its ‘supporters’. It moves from one shameful muddle to another (the sinking of Syriza’s Parallel Programme last week yet another example), and picks fights that serve the Machiavellian machinations of the couch revolutionaries that staff Syriza offices, like asking the IMF to exit the Bailout. 2015 for me represents the death of hope in Greece, in politics, in the Left. I dared hope that Tsipras would bring something new, yet my hope was raped and left for dead by the charming, yet deadly dangerous Professor Varoufakis. I despair.

Happy 2016!

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@iGlinavos

A review of Paul Mason’s #ThisIsACoup

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I felt I had to watch this so-called documentary as I do not find it appropriate to criticize in the abstract. Also, Varoufakis complained today that there is no serious response to the messages in the film. Here we go therefore, an attempt at a thoughtful view. I will not pretend to be balanced, neither does Mason in fact. Remember though, I am an academic, not a “Party Journalist”.

Episode 1

Episode 1 starts with the 2015 election results. Shows Tsipras jubilant as we all were (even me).  Paul Mason repeats the idea that this was the first left government of Greece. This rather ignores Papandreou in 1981. It presents the hardship of 2010-15 as the consequence of the bailout and the Troika, as opposed to an internal collapse. It presents Syriza as the only party that promised to fight austerity. This very much looks like a Syriza propaganda video.

The episode is very much built around Giamali, presented as a Syriza journalist. Last time parties had journalists was in Pravda. It is interesting that the people who brand everyone else a traitor, a paid commentator, have no problem identifying themselves as Party hacks. The interviews presented play into the usual Greek myth that the country was basically ok and it got ruined by an attack of foreign interests, primarily the Germans, the descendants of the Nazis lets not forget (we are told, aplenty). A lot of the wisdom of this episode comes from a dock-worker giving you the standard thoughts of a Golden Dawner.

Episode 2

Kostantopoulou makes an appearance in this episode, giving us lessons on democracy, this would have done better than the LAE taxi driver-based political ads. For all her youth she is something very old indeed, the old of the self-righteous fanatic, drunk on power and shameless in its use. We also have the often appearing actress hoping that Greece would say fuck you to Europe. Radical calls to inflict an apocalypse on the population abound, the suffering of said population a true indignado is not interested in. It is pure, it is true, it is criminally stupid. The episode rehashes the shamefully ignorant and incompetent conclusions of the so called Truth Commission of Kostantopoulou. A commission I remind you that even Lapavitsas, its intellectual father, had nothing to do with. We have the usual and expected (from Mason) adoration of God Varoufakis.

Episode 3

This is the interesting bit, where we get into the glorious Greferendum. Varoufakis is seen here anticipating the bank closures he publicly proclaimed at the time were not considered, or possible. We go back to our loved dock-worker wishing for Armageddon. The Pro-Euro supporters get a few seconds mention too, which is excellent for a ‘balanced’ view. The episode predictably blames the bank closures on the Troika, rather than Mr Tsipras suicidal decision to hold a referendum on a non-question (the fakeness of the question is not addressed). The Party Journalist hopes for Armageddon too, but with pride. Indeed it fills me with pride to see the ‘protestors’ with their branded t-shirts and iphones fighting against neoliberalism. I really enjoyed the happy dancing in Syntagma Square after the OXI. Tsipras is seen crying after his ‘win’, probably out of the very fear that he convinced everyone else to overcome.

Episode 4

This episode carries the thesis as to the ‘coup’ that led Tsipras to disregard his own ‘win’ in the Greferendum. It presents the Party loyalists being disappointed that Tsipras did not pull the trigger of the gun he had to their heads. It does not say much about the departure of Varoufakis, but foregrounds the Lafazanis ‘revolt’. The basis for the coup claim is the European supposed ultimatum –do a deal or Grexit-. The evidence for this? Twitter of course, the #ThisIsACoup is its own validation. Very post-modern, well done to Paul. If so many people are tweeting it, it must be true. The actress is indeed sad (repeated clip from the previous episode as to how they “fuck us”). The Syriza Journalist is also sad. The September election is briefly covered, described as bitter, with the ‘rebels’ of the apocalypse having run off. Tsipras is interviewed trying to explain. To his credit he explains that sticking to his own OXI would lead to disaster. This is of course blamed by Mason, not on Tsipras, but on the Europeans.

Talking about the Europeans Mason says: “Nobody knows what they will try next”. Indeed, maybe they will leave us alone and free to starve with dignity.

Verdict

I need no lessons from Mr Mason on what the left is and what Greece is like. I have written two books on neoliberalism, capitalism and reform and was studying these long before he started blogging on the matter. This is a propaganda film, the likes of which I have seldom seen before. Perhaps only the Parliament TV agitprop on the debt under the Konstantopoulou regime comes close. It is a shockingly partisan piece of work that informs on nothing, yet offers easy outlet to cheap, pre-packaged rage for the anti-capitalist permanently outraged.

Sad as this is, my blog will give you a better education on what happened in Greece in 2015 than Mr Mason’s sleek effort. Ask yourself, do you care for the actual people living in Greece today, or do you care about an abstract theoretical ‘people’? This is the difference between me and Mr Mason (and Prof. Varoufakis), I care about those living now, not the ‘struggle’ of the textbook oppressed. The rupture Mason seems to yearn for, would not fall on his head.

The documentary ends, Greece is stuck with Syriza.

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@iGlinavos

People animals and sex

It has been a while now that commentators have expressed concern that the wave of immigration passing through Greece will be stuck in Greece. After the cascade of border closures from Austria all the way down to Macedonia (FYROM for the nationalist readers of this blog), the inevitable has come to pass. While Syrians and a select other nationalities are allowed to pass on, everyone else (considered a migrant and not a refugee) is stuck on the Greek side of the border.

After the collected groups of people reacted to their predicament by blocking the railway line linking Greece to the Balkans, the government took action to remove them and offer some ‘progress’ on this issue.

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What did they do? They pilled everyone into buses and dropped them in Athens in one of the disused (Olympic legacy anyone?) Olympic stadiums. Here is what the international press said about this ‘solution’.

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Al Jazeera reported that hundreds of asylum seekers lined up to receive food outside a former Olympic Taekwondo centre – now a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants – while dozens of heavily armed Greek riot police watched.

You may think that these are young men, looking for work, so they can take a bit of rough sleeping? The Guardian told us the story of Amina:

is eight years old and running a fever. In her thinly padded pink anorak, hood pulled up over her curls and pallid face, she watches listlessly from the couch as her parents listen carefully to the doctor’s instructions over her medication.

In another place, in another city, at another time, perhaps, this sick child would be taken home to be tucked up in bed with hot drinks. But Amina has no home any more and tonight her bed is a grey donated blanket on the concrete floor of the tae kwon do stadium in Athens. Once this building was the pride of Greece’s 2004 Olympics; this weekend it is a squalid, cold place full of desperate people.

Yesterday (15.12.15) the people were informed that they will participate in a novel type of Immigrant Olympics and move to a different ex-Olympic venue, this time in Hellinikon (site of the old Athens Airport). Today (16.12.15) everyone was told to await evacuation and relief teams (volunteers) were told not to prepare provisions. Alas, no one had bothered to arrange transportation and those who made it to the new site found the venue closed and unavailable, as teams are trying to clean it from debris collected during the years of ‘use’ after the Olympics.

What sort of government is this you may ask, which brings hundreds of people into its capital city and leaves them stranded to fend for themselves? It is a government represented by this guy, Panos Kammenos, the Minister of Defense.

kamThe government, beyond ignoring border safety, internal security and basic human rights is actually doing something progressive. Civil partnerships for gay couples are getting debated in parliament. Well done to Syriza for bringing this to Parliament and passing the first committee hearing (You see, I am not always negative!).

The aforementioned Mr Kammenos takes a different view however. He is against it, and his MPs are voting against the proposal. Asked by a friendly (oh so friendly) journalist yesterday on national TV whether he is homo-phobic, Mr Kammenos offered this gem:

“Καλά, ο Ομπάμα μπορεί και να τους παντρεύει αν θέλει. Και στη Γερμανία έχουν αποφασίσει να κάνουν οίκο ανοχής για κτηνοβάτες, θέλει ο άλλος να πηγαίνει με σκύλο με γάτα, με καμήλα, με καμηλοπάρδαλη. Επειδή λοιπόν το κάνουν στη Γερμανία, θα θέλω εγώ να παντρεύεται ο άλλος καμήλα;”.

[my translation] “Ok, Mr Obama can marry who he wants. And in Germany they have decided to open brothels for bestiality, if one wants to sleep with dogs, cats, camels, giraffes. Because they are doing it in Germany, would I want someone to marry a camel?”

You have to appreciate the parallel. While the government of Syriza is treating refugees and immigrants like animals, a minister is teaching us about the options for animal sex in other Member States.

Splendid. Given the choice between Mr Kammenos and a camel, I know which I would choose.

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@iGlinavos

Surrealist Governance and Opposition

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What happens to a democracy when the government of the day faces no opposition? Nothing good is the answer and Greece is a case at hand. I will attempt to substantiate this and offer a warning to the British Labour Party.

Syriza in Greece won the September election and then a strange (albeit predictable) thing happened. All and any opposition to the government dissipated. How is this so, you may ask. Hasn’t Syriza denounced its leftist pretensions, betrayed its programme in favour of a new Bailout?

Yes it did, but no one says a word about it. The right (ND and -apologies- PASOK and Potami) with the policy of Euro uber alles cannot complain about attempts to implement the Bailout terms. ND tries some complaining about choices in the consolidation measures, but lacking leadership (especially after the botched internal election) it is becoming irrelevant.

The left? Surely if Tsipras moved to the right a gap must have opened on the left? No it didn’t. KKE remains in Stalinist obscurity and the Syriza splinter faction has all but died, as the Greek people are a nation of have-your-pie-and-eat-it that wouldn’t countenance the Grexit they were advocating. As to movements and unions, they have been co-opted by a government that feels no shame encouraging people to join general strikes against it, with the argument that it strengthens its position against the hated creditors with which it is eternally ‘negotiating’.

The result is a farcical unopposed governance of stupid stunts (eg. Tsipras tweets) and utter incompetence in every single area of activity. One watches with morbid fascination daily lashings of daliesque surrealism, as if the whole administration were an experimental comedy show worthy of Noel Fielding.

What is the warning to Labour? Corbynistas increasingly reveal themselves as detached from reality, fanatical, dogmatic and so, so very righteous. This is exactly the mix of horrors that breeds monsters (or monuments to comedy, depending on your perspective) like Tsipras’ Syriza. As Labour degenerates into introspection and infighting it offers no opposition to the Tories, in the same way that the midgets of ND offer no opposition to Tsipras. The UK is a mirror image of Greek politics with the same result, no opposition. A bad outcome for everyone involved.

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@iGlinavos