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!

Roadkill1

@iGlinavos

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18 thoughts on “Greece in 2015

    • Thanks for commenting. My point is that resistance is too costly for the people Syriza was supposedly trying to save. It’s easier to be valiant when you have a mansion on an island and a job in Texas.

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  1. Neoliberalism feeds off the capacity of a significant number of societal factors to divide populations , each into two or three distinct groups based on each factor. More factors appear, or work their way in more deeply, thus leading to this division on top of division on top of division. Atomisation from one end of the spectrum, in the form of technology, acts as one of these forces. Meanwhile, the opposite to division happens in the world of finance: ever greater hedge funds, wealth divided into members of an ever smaller group. How does the analysis and critique given here interplay with this scenario?

    Liked by 1 person

    • LeaNder says:

      “How does the analysis and critique given here interplay with this scenario?”

      Supposing you are on the Left: My question is do different factors of society need some type of artificial division of interest? Or did and do they in fact always have different interests? If so, what do you make of this article concerning progressive thinkers and/or the history of the British magazine Marxism Today?

      Atomization/Individualism? Notice the headline may be misguiding.

      The New Imperialism, Robert Cooper, 2002

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  2. DarrylS says:

    As much as I dislike Syriza and especially Tsipras, perhaps you give too much credit to the Europeans. I think they wanted to crush Syriza from the outset. This is who they are. This is who they’ve been for centuries. Don’t let the facade fool you.

    BTW I disagree with you on the capital controls. This is definitely–with a German nod–an ECB job. BUT, Tsipras-Varoufakis HAD to expect this. If they didn’t they’re stupid. If they did their response and actions show how incompetent and reckless they are.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. LeaNder says:

    Ioannis, I better don’t pretend I stored–elder nitwit that I am–much of your book: Redefining the Market-State Relationship: Responses to the Financial Crisis and the Future of Regulation, but it sure helped me to understand your usage of technocrats.

    Your melancholic good bye to Greek politics in 2015 remind me that I should read your other book too. … On the other hand … I only have a limited grasp of the law, economics, or what we call “national” economics in Germany. Thus the economics of a state versus the economics of an enterprise, at least that’s how I understood it decades agoAnd :

    https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswirtschaft
    http://www.linguee.de/deutsch-englisch/uebersetzung/volkswirtschaft.html

    In any case, I am pleased I had the pleasure to meet you, a little late on the issue. Incidentally, you and kleingut/Klaus Kastner seem to be the only people still present in the comment section of someone we seem to agree on. You with much more knowledge and experience about Greece and I on purely aesthetic* ground. Usage: Based on its Greek origin.

    The very, very best to you, your family and friends both in the UK and in Greece in 2016. I also hope the Greek-German young mother I met over here undergoing very, very heavy treatment (Hodgkin Lymphom), sharing a room with a friend is well, and that she is able to deal with her fear. And that she will make it.

    The latter was triggered by this:
    “… and finally the parading of the holy bones in hospitals proved too much for me. ”

    ????

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  4. I’ve been following your comments here and in Varoufakis’ blog. I believe you attribute blame on Varoufakis for deeds that Tsipras and the gverning Syriza have done. Varoufakis’ grave but only mistake was that he thought that by being a MinFin in a Greek Government in 2015 could radically change european policies while keeping the country in the EZ by participating in Eurogroup ‘negotiations’. He lost credibility through this, he should have never have assumed such a position, but that is all. He is still very correct in what he is advocating.

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      • mikenetherlands says:

        Yanis very correct in what he is advocating? Yanis is correct at the moment he admits that whole “referendum” was one big lie to the Greek polpulation. And till the moment Yanis doesn’t admit that he is absolute not advocating correct.

        Liked by 1 person

    • mikenetherlands says:

      More precisely, the complete demagogy of that referendum was what confused the actress and the Syrisa jounalist in “This is a coup”. And the Greek population. And not forget to mention Kostantopoulou with her so called Truth Commission. At the moment Yanis admits, yes, this was very, very, wrong he is correct in what he is advocating. I don’t know what he is doing now. I think he is lost is his own world. It is not realistic anymore what he is proclaim at the moment.

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  5. Thanks Ioannis for your many insightful comments on political developments in Greece.

    Re. Greece in 2016 and beyond: investment is the key to getting the Greek economy back on a sustainable growth track. It’s a good sign that the Greek gov’t embraces the initiatives of the European Investment Bank.

    Press: “EIB to set up investments support team in Athens – The EIB is expanding its office in Athens, setting up a team that will deal exclusively with Greece and will explore prospective investments by the private sector.”

    http://www.thetoc.gr/eng/economy/article/eib-to-set-up-investments-support-team-in-athens

    Text:

    > EIB President Werner Hoyer introduced Nicholas Jennett, who will head the EIB’s newly established Investment Team for Greece, and who from early next year will be resident in Athens.

    > Jennett is EIB Deputy Director General and the most senior official working to enhance EIB operations on the ground. “The new initiative will further enhance the EIB’s engagement and operations in this country,” Hoyer said after his meeting with Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, Economy Minister Giorgos Stathakis, Deputy Minister for NSRF Issues Alexis Charitsis and a delegation of EIB.

    > “The new Investment Team for Greece will ensure that the EIB’s financial and technical expertise can support sustainable economic recovery in Greece and much needed job creation across the country,” he added.

    > On his side, Tsakalotos said that the government will prepare by March 2016 a new growth plan for Greece and also mentioned the State Property Fund which is being established. He also stressed the importance of coordinating all the bodies and organizations so as to facilitate investments in the country.

    > Stathakis welcomed EIB’s initiative and noted that Greece has taken many initiatives in that direction which includes the transformation of the Hellenic Fund for Entrepreneurship and Development into an umbrella-organization that will manage the available business tools, as well as the expansion of the Institute for Growth (IfG), which will allow it to fund the share capital of SME’s.

    > Source: Tornos News

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  6. I wish I understood some of his allusions a better. Holy bones + Hospitals

    Like his holy bones & hospitals

    Ioannis may be to Yanis, as the more serious academic is to the opportunist. You can substitute “opportunist” with true believer. Now that surely relates to religion somewhat.

    As far as I am able to guess Yanis has taken up the trade of the Wandering Sage leaning on his crane, with the crane symbolizing: I have been right all along and it would have been the best to do to Europe collectively. And in this context he utters a lot of attractive sound bites.

    female German, that never made it to housewife 😉

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      • Thanks, Ioannis, apparently I always need to look up your name’s spelling. Never mind that my second is the female equivalent in German. But maybe that’s why.

        incidentially mythical saint Barbara is my first namesake or my given name.

        “Parading the ‘holy bones’ of Agia Varvara with state sanction will not do!”

        What did you want tell people with this phrase? I still don’t understand …

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Barbara

        In other words I am connected with mythical Barbara via my name day on Dec 4, over here, in the Catholic tradition I am brought up with.

        *******

        Greece no doubt has a point concerning reparations. But considering that the issue with Israel has according to Wikipedia not been solved as to people killed in the Holocaust, how much would you feel is appropriate for the Slaves killed, e.g., not least in the Soviet Union?

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_reparations_for_World_War_II#Israel

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      • mikenetherlands says:

        “Greece no doubt has a point concerning reparations.” No they don’t have.
        It’s demagoguery. Like all points mentioned by Ioannis in “Syriza, the Holy Bones and the Lost Faith”.

        Let’s talk about the people killed in the Holocaust. More than twenty members of my family were murdered in Sobibor. Why for the hell the Greeks “deserve” a compensation? Are they so special?

        Let me explain why I don’t even want a composition. That is because the current Germany is another country were are living different people. It is nonsens to compare todays Germany with Hitlers Germany.

        I went exactly the same way Ioannis did. like I told before, both of use congratulated the completely unknown professor Varoufakis because his analyses were correct. And they could have had a much better deal also in my opinion.

        BUT Syriza chose to make enemies to get a better deal and started telling the Greeks fairy tales.
        Today there was a articel in De volkskrant (Paywall) “Na hun nee voelen de Grieken zich ronduit bedrogen” (After their no the Greeks feels they are scammed.) An impression of people in the street. And that how the Greeks feels themselves after a year Syriza! And again sorry for my poor English.

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  7. Thanks, Mike. Sobibor ………

    That is because the current Germany is another country were are living different people. It is nonsens to compare todays Germany with Hitlers Germany.

    I think it is silly to paint Merkel with a Hitler beard, yes that is true. But I am sure it is effective. *

    But factually the country is not another country. Simply a country with different outlines over the centuries. Also a very late national state compared to its European neighbors.

    Especially my generation had a lot of questions not only concerning their respective ancestors biographies, but yes, not only the ruins were still around in one place I lived as child, there was a curious thing in my prayer book at that point in time, at the age of eight …

    There are now of course many Germans that don’t have these specific troubles concerning the time between 1933-45 and earlier, but troubles of their own including their own family history. But they may not have the same type of questions either.

    By the way: My mothers family branch goes back to the Netherlands around the the turn of the 18th century…

    * As far as Yanis Varoufakis specific post-modern variant of “the German Question” is concerned, if I may, Germany’s new economical, instead of Nazi-Germany’s warring variant, or Germany economically enslaving of the rest of Europe, I have always been hesitant what type of unreflected elder memes could possibly feed into popular academia over the respective fields borders. Yes, I do in this case. And why this could be the case. Yes, why?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_Question

    The Great US and the minor German Global Hoover?

    “The euro, it must be remembered, was conceived at the height of the Grand Hoover’s reign. Germany thought that it could extend its growth model to the eurozone. Convinced that the Grand Hoover would continue to suck in its surpluses, Germany thought that its surpluses could expand further within Europe if deficit countries like Greece, Spain, Italy etc. were given a strong DM-linked currency. Germany’s condition for sharing its currency with the rest was that nothing else would be shared except for the common currency: Debt, taxes, government expenditure would be all nation-state-specific. Each euro of debt would belong to one country only and no surplus recycling mechanism would be set up.”

    But then, my field were the humanties. Thus what do I know?

    Na hun nee voelen de Grieken zich ronduit bedrogen

    All I can say concerning this. It would feed no doubt into the larger context of historical parallels used by the dominant players. Item: Great Depression. The specific German variant that comes to mind below, but not that economics are equal to war, why not?

    Does a specific type of political player ever take care concerning memes that are one way or another alluring to the masses? And what does this mean for democracy?

    It is also easy to see that Varoufakis sternly keeps repeating it in whatever variant.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stab-in-the-back_myth

    ******
    More generally:

    I am just not sure about what would happen on German ground or for that matter in other places considered “the North”, if the demands concerning the Eurozone to turn it into a pure “economical transfer zone”, and to a much fbigger extend it already is, and not a larger political union, instead of the Utopia it started out with.

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