A message of hope for 2017 from Greece

Did you enjoy 2016?


Pretty much everyone I met who is not Greek and does not visit Greece regularly has had the same question for me in 2016: “So, how are things in Greece, its quiet now, no? Better?”.

This post answers this question (if you were minded to ask) but also unexpectedly carries a message of hope in these dark times, a little indication of how 2017 might be the beginning of a recovery for Europe (at least) despite the annus horribilis 2016.


How are things in Greece? I think the closest parallel is drowning in quicksand. So long as you don’t move, nothing gets better. If you try and move, you sink a little deeper.

Syriza’s government has been a circus of horrors, whichever way you look at it. Since they took power in 2015 (as has been well documented in this blog) they have lurched from one disaster to another, from one conflict to another, from one (endless) ‘negotiation’ to another. They have achieved a series of ‘political solutions’ which is code for defeat and capitulation. They have interpreted the demands of Greece’s creditors in the most destructive and senseless manner, to the degree that even the IMF thinks the country is dying, stuck in a mire of growth chocking measures.

Most of the time Syriza has done nothing to improve the situation in the country (staying put in the quicksand). Some of the time (usually after botching another round of ‘negotiations’) they have legislated a new raft of fiscal measures (wiggling in the quicksand and sinking a little deeper).

Nothing has improved in Greece and nothing is changing for the better. My answer to my earnest enquirers is that Greece continues to sink as people slowly eat away any left over cash saved before the crisis. This is not to say that some have not benefited. Syriza friends and family are finding jobs in new PM’s offices. Syriza journalists are being hired at resurrected ERT. The party goes on for the few, for a little while longer. Far-right lunatics (forming the junior coalition partners) continue to bless fighter jets, while police cars cannot move for the lack of fuel. There is ample comedy, within the tragedy.

No, things are not improving in Greece.

So where is the message of hope for 2017 the headline to this post advertises?

Greece has been one of the first places where the wave of populist lies and ‘anti’ propaganda led a band of bandits to power. Greece pioneered the escape to fantasy in 2015, proudly followed by the British people electing to torch their economy through Brexit and the Americans electing to have a stab at torching the world by voting for Trump.

As the first piece of this puzzle of a (often farcical) rerun of the 1930s, Greece may be a good place to speculate on possible futures.

I had argued in 2014, mistakenly believing that those who speak nonsense and act crazy are putting on a show to excite the mentally handicapped sections of the electorate (I was wrong, they are stupid, devious and crazy), that a failure for Syriza would leave the political system in such a sorry state, the electorate would lurch further to the extremes after having witnessed the failure of both establishment parties and their populist antagonists. Who would benefit? Golden Dawn, the Greek neo-nazi (but fat and hairy) variant was first in line.

Alas, this does not seem to be happening. The failure of Syriza to drag Greece out of the quicksand is shifting support to traditional parties, like New Democracy (under its new centrist leader Mitsotakis). Syriza’s antics have served to demystify the idea of the ‘left’ as morally superior. Tsipras has laid bare for all to see how what he leads is not ‘the left’ but a group of opportunist, amoral, ignorant and incompetent power-hungry populist have-beens. Even a population as jaded as the Greeks, after 6 years of crisis, realise that the ability to govern and a broad plan (even a Euro-friendly one) is better than banditry and chaos lorded over by power-mad buffoons.

And here is the message of hope for 2017. After the populist experiment has failed, people can come back from the populist abyss. Perhaps the explosion of discontent that brings the sewer to power dissipates after the experience of governance via populists. Perhaps even the attempt to blame ‘others’ for failure won’t convince people who suffer the consequences of bad decisions.

I admit that things look bad at the moment for Europe and the world. There is a chance however that in 2017, Germans will trust Angela Merkel with another term, ensuring continuity for the European project. The French could return a mainstream president (anyone but Le Pen), thus ensuring the stability of the Euro, The Italians could keep at bay the populist buffoonery of Beppe Grillo.

Britain may ameliorate its Brexit experiment in self-harm.

Unfortunately, the Americans cannot help us here, as Trump is entitled to run a world-wide, real-life version of the Apprentice for 4 years. If the world doesn’t end on his account, we may look back at 2017 as the year that things came back from the brink.

They might. Considering the alternative, they must.

Cheer up and enjoy your mince pies.




What would be worse than Labour losing the next election?


What would be worse than Labour losing the next election?

The answer to the above question is: Labour winning the next election.

I am no friend of the Tories, the right, Brexiteers. But I can tell you one thing, observing recent history teaches us that when the likes of Corbyn and his team take power, bad things happen.

The obvious parallel with Corbyn’s Labour Party is Greece’s Syriza. The hard left that we thought extinct is alive and kicking. Not only that, but in dire circumstances, like the Greek crisis, or the Brexit coming rupture, it is capable of taking power.

Why should we fear Corbyn and his brand of reactionary, resurrected hard left? Again, Greece is a good example. While the left says the right things and pretends to want the right things, it is both incapable of delivery on its promises and more often than not dishonest.

Behind the facade of interest for the common man often hide people hungry for power. Not only are they hungry for power and privilege, they are so sure of their own ‘goodness’, they will stop at nothing in taking for themselves what they think they are owed. Add to this a belief that the system is corrupt, that the traditional elite is illegitimate and the usual Marxist mumbo jumbo and you have the perfect mix: A group of people who will wreck havoc on the very people they claim to represent.

Tsipras and his comrades in Greece have demolished the western, modern character of the state (there was one, albeit flawed) in their year and a half in power. They have stolen and pillaged with the belief that they are better than anyone that came before them, purer, newer, more correct. When faced with the consequences of their hypocrisy they replied: The others have been doing this for 40 years, it is our turn.

To add insult to injury, they are incompetent even in their piracy. There is corruption and dodgy dealing everywhere, but there is a difference in level, extent and (if you want) finesse. There is a difference between an overweight gourmet and an obese glutton. I am not trying to excuse the ill-takings of previous administrations here. I am trying to show that the hard left does the same, more of it, worse of it, with less attempt at hiding it. It steals and robs and gloats about its moral superiority. Oh, and it cannot govern on a very basic level. It is staffed by people who are rabid ideologues, yet incompetent in administration. See Varoufakis as a great example.

Greece’s Syriza left is an abomination. Further more, it is undemocratic. We learned in practice what was predictable in theory, that people who disdain the institutions of the state, that see everything in terms of conspiracies and plots, have little respect for democracy itself. Ask Minister of Propaganda Pappas.

Corbyn’s ground-up, ‘movement’-led operation is staffed by people of the same mentality. Agitators cannot govern. They do not even want to, most of the time. Hopefully they do not get the chance.

The reaction of supporters of Corbyn’s win has shown what they are made of. There is a lot of the familiar, we won, you shut up attitude you get from the victorious Leavers (people of similar mind-frames). You do not want this newly energized mob coming anywhere near Downing Street.

What should the PLP do? It should defect to the LibDems and help build an anti-Brexit (or in any case anti hard-Brexit) coalition of centrists. What should sensible center left voters do? They should quit Labour and also join forces with the LibDems in opposing any plans for a catastrophic hard Brexit. Everything else can wait. The future of the Labour Party is irrelevant. The future of the country matters to all.



How to incarcerate the nation’s media owners for 60 hours

adeies ktirio

One way to get rid of a tiresome free press is to instigate a great big purge following a (conveniently incompetent) failed coup. Another, perhaps less dramatic way, is to shut down media outlets that the government dislikes under some pretext, like broadcast licencing. While Turkey went for option a, Greece, having a less ambitious (or perhaps competent) leadership group is going for option b. Greece indeed has a unique ability to take international standards and mutate them onto 1960s style farcical episodes in political manipulation. The latest example of modernisation through a somersault back through history is the saga of TV licences.

Greece’s radio and TV broadcasting domain was never under secure legal footing, since non-state controlled media started springing up. The first ones were city run radio stations (by non-administration aligned local governments in 1987). These were followed by the land re-transmission of international satellite channels. Nationwide private channels launched in 1989 after the law was changed to allow their operation. There was never a public auction of broadcast licences and pretty much everyone in the early 1990s attempted to launch a TV channel at least on a local level. Most only broadcast back then (and even now) very old National Geographic documentaries, leading to my long held aversion to penguins.

Syriza, in its Stalinist fervor to ‘clean’ up the ‘systemic’ ‘corrupt’ ‘oligarchic’ media, that also happen not to support it, commissioned a ‘study’ from the University of Florence that decided exactly what the commissioner wanted to hear. That the Greek media market could only support 4 nationwide TV channels on top of the (lots of) ERT-run state ones that no-one of course watches. I do have to admit though that we watched quite a few (bad) French movies on ERT2 over our holiday. Now, one would say that what the market can hold is determined by the market itself, not the government. One could also say that private TV stations are businesses, if their creditors want to pull the plug they can do so. It is not up to the government to decide their financial viability. One also has not met “Propagandaminister” Pappas.

Mr Pappas engineered the organisation of an auction for these 4 licences which will reduce the number of national private television stations from seven to four. Existing broadcasters who don’t win a license are required to go off the air within three months, the government has said. The government is running itself the auction, despite the constitutionally mandated role of an independent (currently defunct) National Broadcasting Commission in such matters. But the constitutionality of the auction is not the only problem. The way in which the auction is conducted is farcical. One is used to closed bids in these types of processes and to strict confidentiality. After all the idea is to maximise revenue for the state. While however the bids are normally submitted through a process of sealed envelopes or online in a staged process, the Greek auction is taking place by locking up under police guard in a disused government building the media executives bidding for licences and their entire support staff for days! As the Washington Post reports, gathered in a government building in the Greek capital, executives from eight companies started the auction early Tuesday, with offers beginning at €3 million ($3,341,250) and increasing in increments of €500,000.

Apart from this being very funny to watch for a government with a deep hatred of ‘non-party’ media and journalists, it is highly irregular. The whole process in fact reeks of illegality and is almost certain to be demolished in court actions. While the 60 hour show was going on, the doors of the building were plastered with interim injunctions requested by the participants in the process against each other, and everyone outside against the government and the participants in various combinations. The Conseil d’Etat is also in the process of deciding on a challenge to the constitutionality of the process.

Lets summarise what is wrong with this. First of all, who gets national broadcast licences cannot be determined by the government in a democratic state (especially one as political, vindictive and disrespectful of the free press as this one). Secondly, the constitution requires that a process is followed, and the government itself says that additional thematic and regional licences will be determined by a different process involving the independent regulator. So why not this auction? You will find not a single lawyer who agrees with the process. It is simply unconstitutional for government to decide the number of licences. Thirdly, no opposition party agrees with this process. The chief opposition says they will repeal the law and the auction as soon as they come into power. Fourth, none of the participants agree with the process, and all have complained in courts already trying to block it. Fifth, technology and market reality has nothing to do with the 4 licences limit. Sixth, the only criterion being the money offered is nonsensical for a public tender process on broadcast media. If money is the only thing that matters porn channels could get all 4 licences. That would be fun, but not necessarily in the public interest. Seventh, all participants are on an equal footing, new entrants to the media field alongside those with 27 years of investment and experience. This cannot be right, especially when the plan is to shutter the stations that fail to obtain a licence at the cost of hundreds of jobs, never mind the irreversible blow to freedom of the press.

I was opposed to the move of Samaras to close ERT in 2013 in a show of force and commitment to austerity policies. I had said at the time that black screens in the place of stations people grew up with is not a hallmark of a democratic state. Imagine the opposite situation created by Syriza now, black screens in the place of the private channels who sprung up in 1989 to defend and establish a free press. I am sorry to say that 2016 is way worse than 2013 both in terms of symbolism and in content. After all, we never watched ERT, while we all watch SKAI, MEGA and the rest of them.



Is SyrizAnel turning Greece into a Failed State?


There is a sense that the situation in Greece is deteriorating rapidly, not only in an economic, but also in every other sense. The combined pressures of the migrant/refugee crisis, economic stagnation, diplomatic torpor and internal strife created and promoted by the government of Tsipras/Kammenos are leading things to the edge. In the summer of 2015 European officials voiced concern that Grexit could lead Greece to degenerate to a failed state. People are beginning to question whether Greece is heading there anyway, Grexit or no Grexit. The following discusses the proposition that Syriza and their far-right partners are turning the country into a failed state. Is this outlandish? Judge for yourselves.

Three elements can be said to characterize the phenomenon of the “failed State” from the political and legal point of view.

Firstly, there is the geographical and territorial aspect, namely the fact that “failed States” are essentially associated with internal and endogenous problems, even though these may incidentally have cross-border impacts. The situation confronting us then is one of an implosion rather than an explosion of the structures of power and authority, the disintegration and de-structuring of States rather than their dismemberment.

Secondly, there is the political aspect, namely the internal collapse of law and order. The emphasis here is on the total or near total breakdown of structures guaranteeing law and order rather than the kind of fragmentation of State authority seen in civil wars, where clearly identified military or paramilitary rebels fight either to strengthen their own position within the State or to break away from it.

Thirdly, there is the functional aspect, namely the absence of bodies capable, on the one hand, of representing the State at the international level and, on the other, of being influenced by the outside world. Either no institution exists which has the authority to negotiate, represent and enforce or, if one does, it is wholly unreliable, typically acting as “statesman by day and bandit by night”.

From a legal point of view, it could be said that the “failed State” is one which, though retaining legal capacity, has for all practical purposes lost the ability to exercise it. A key element in this respect is the fact that there is no body which can commit the State in an effective and legally binding way, for example, by concluding an agreement.

Let us test the above elements against the situation in Greece at the moment.

Does Greece retain sovereignty over its territory? Greece spends more than 2% of its GDP on military expenditure, yet it is unable to patrol the Aegean, in the short-distance crossings between Turkey and the Greek islands that migrants use to come over. NATO and EU’s Frontex is now tasked with securing the sea border. It is unable to patrol its land borders to prevent people smugglers operating, and is absent from the northern border with Macedonia (Idomeni) where there are now daily clashes between stranded people and the Macedonian forces. Yesterday Macedonian police is alleged to have crossed the border and fired upon migrants on the Greek side, sending rubber bullets and tear-gas into the Idomeni camp, which is well within Greek territory.

Is there a collapse of internal law and order? With courts frequently closed due to strikes by judicial staff and/or lawyers there is a significant problem with the administration of justice. Roads are frequently blocked, first by striking farmers, then by migrants. There are violent scenes between police and residents, migrants and police, rival political factions. There is a sense of lawlessness and desperation, especially in areas where welcome centres for refugees are being built.

Finally, is the state adequately represented? Can it conclude and enforce agreements? This is perhaps the area of greatest weakness. If anything Greece in the crisis years has proved an intransigent partner to its creditors. It is even more so now. Mr Tsipras and Mr Kammenos have betrayed every single electoral promise they ever made to the Greek people. They are no better with their promises to foreigners. They are insincere in their dealings with the country’s partners and creditors, discussing on the one hand, denouncing them as occupiers on the other. The latest farcical episode with Tsipras’ insurrection against the IMF proves beyond any reasonable doubt that there is no genuine negotiation going on. It is games, political subterfuge and personal interests.

What is the conclusion? Is Greece a failed state? Not just yet, but the continuation of the current course, and the current government is charting a path to failure. As Syriza’s own ministers proclaim: There is worse to come.



Resistance for its own sake


We all resist so much. We have to. Or do we?

What are we actually resisting all the time? As academics, as scholars we take pride in our capacity to critique, analyse, deconstruct. To what end?

I am as responsible as the professor next to you. I wrote aplenty about neoliberalism, capitalism, democracy, the deficiencies of the state, the EU, the constitution, participation, emancipation.

For a while I felt secure behind the veil of critique that shields academia from real life. My job was to deconstruct I told myself, not to propose policy solutions. This was a job for the politicians.

Alas, the politicians offered no solutions. People like me took power in Greece, in Portugal, threaten to take power in Spain. Even in the US a ‘socialist’ candidate is making headway, unheard of.

But there is often a pronounced lack of governance from the professionals of critique. The best example is Prof. Varoufakis. We have written similar stuff in similar ways based on different, yet consistent literature. We reference Stigliz, Krugman, Marx, Foucault. We critique away. But, when the crisis reaches us, we come face to face with life, then we need to propose policy as well as to whinge about the inequalities of capitalism, the deficiencies of the EU, the errors of bureaucracy. We need to propose solutions that help, rather than hurt the population.

We need to improve the lives of real people, rather than the abstractions of voters, citizens, activists.

Why all this reflection you may wonder? Who cares what I critique anyway? The reason for this post is the inauguration of Varoufakis DiEM25, the lurch into Utopia.

Thinking ‘Utopia’ is exactly why we got into this mess to begin with. Tsipras and his band of merry bandits were thinking Utopia. Had no vision as to how to run an actual country with actual breathing people (and yes this includes breathing people who need to feed, beyond the Syriza close and dear who get cushy state jobs).

Varoufakis, urging us to debate, think, engage with the abstract aim of ‘improving’ the EU is asking us to continue to do what we have been doing already. Sit on the couch and pen blog posts about democracy and participation.

Greece is sinking, Europe is disintegrating. Varoufakis and his buddies are dreaming. Let them dream, but the rest of us need to wake up.



When in a hole stop digging Mr Tsipras


In the spectacular experimental comedy show that is the Syriza government, not a day goes by that one does not utter the phrase “Kim press the button” imploring the Dear Leader of North Korea (or anyone with nukes, we are not picky) to put us out of our misery.

The latest cause for despair has been the way in which the government is dealing with Greece’s intractable unemployment problem. Apparently the government is piloting a scheme of radically reducing unemployment by hiring in state jobs the extended families of syriza supporters. Nuts you say? Cashews say we. After all ,the ‘others’ have been at it for ages, now is the turn of the new kids on the block to sort out their nearest and dearest.

Today’s example is some syriza youth member who reportedly got hired, along with everyone in his family. When challenged by the press he said that his family had fought for the left for ages, from the civil war onwards. Eh, OK. I guess being left means that you are both morally superior and owed a state job as reward for ideological purity through the ages.

Of course all this could be inflamed by anti syriza media, including the scandals of ministers, the dodgy contacts, the jobs for supporters, the dismantling of independent institutions and opt outs of transparency mechanisms etc etc. Or it could all be verification that the glorious “first time left” came to power in order to rebuild the 1980s with themselves in charge, but without the money. I fear its the latter.

The result is disgust. After the client state built by PASOK, the corruption reign of Karamanlis junior, to be faced by this fiesta of political capture, in these economic circumstances, is obscene.

The legacy of syriza is the reigniting of long forgotten divides between left and right, the sacrifice of modernity in favour of Ottoman practises. Everyone talks of the civil war, of the losers coming back to get their share of the spoils. But there are no spoils to be had. The end outcome is hatred. The left hates Syriza for its betrayal, the right hates them for the revenge they extract. No compromise, no collaboration, only animosity. As Mr Tsipras intended, but to what end?

Tsipras will ride his helicopter out of Saigon in the end. I just hope he will stop digging the hole we are in any deeper in the meantime.



De-politicisation vs De-partyfication


The Greek PM Tsipras made a speech today in which he claimed that the Syriza government aims to remove party politics from the civil service, but not to de-politicise public administration. This may sound like an odd thing to say, but it has a solid basis in a developed critique of technocracy and so-called apolitical administration.

The orthodox position: The work of the (now defunct) Harvard Institute for International Development which was heavily involved in the process of Russian transition to capitalism provides us with one of the best illustrations in the literature dealing with the need to distance politics from economics. It is interesting that their insistence on clear divides between economic policy and politics does not stop them from arguing for manipulation of the political sphere to achieve the goal of depoliticization. In The Grabbing Hand (1998), Shleifer developed a model of governance which aimed to create a market friendly state. In this model international aid found its role in supporting market-oriented political groups in an effort to directly influence the county’s internal political situation. This model showed total disregard for democratic choice and public consultation. Since social welfare was supposed to  derive via market operations, government became redundant and politicians were always seen in a negative light as predators. There was little room for democracy in Shleifer’s book. When it did make an appearance it was only where the public, which was assumed to be enthusiastic about the market, could be used as a way of getting rid of old political elites through elections.

The heterodox position: The current obsession of European institutions with ‘structural reform’ requires de-politicisation and a non-partisan, non-political state machine. This creates however a great paradox in economic policy in a context of crisis: how is it possible to argue for significant law making activity (assumed by proposals to reform regulatory frameworks) without abandoning the idea of minimal state intervention which lies at the core of free-market thinking; how is it possible to empower the state in this way without risking a return to political control over the economy? The currently technically competent solution to this conundrum is to entrust the regulatory functions of government to independent institutions, free from political influence and control. This is consistent with an ideology that serves market interests under a technocratic, scientific cloak. In this way the theory of a free market safe from political interference is maintained while all the necessary detail is filled-in without upsetting a neoclassical theoretical structure that sees the separation of the economic from the political as central to the success of capitalism. However, willing something apolitical does not make it so.

The Tsiprian position: The problem with Mr Tsipras and his government is that he does not seek to resist de-politicisation as a tool of neoliberal subversion. He just seeks to recreate the client-state pioneered by his pre-predecessors under a different party banner. Any talk of de-partyfication in this context is a distraction from the business-as-usual practice of jobs-for-the-boys.