Wednesday, May 12, 2010

We are all Greeks now, or soon will be


"Arrival of Lord Byron at Missolonghi", by Theodoros P. Vryzakis, 1861. National Gallery of Athens, Greece. The English Romantic poet sailed with his own fleet of ships as an aid agent of the London Committee in December of 1823, and stayed on to fight, eventually leading a Greek brigade. Four months after his arrival, he died of a fever at Missolonghi while preparing to launch an attack.

The isles of Greece! the isles of Greece!

Where burning Sappho loved and sung,

Where grew the arts of war and peace,--

Where Delos rose and Phoebus sprung!

Eternal summer gilds them yet,

But all, except their sun, is set.

--Lord Byron, "The Isles of Greece"

Lord Byron was either nearly two hundred years ahead of his time with that pronouncement, or else history is now by way of repeating itself, amplified. The struggle for Greek independence of Byron's day looks pale now in comparison to what lies ahead. Back then, it was only the Ottoman Empire the Greeks were up against. Today it's a vaster, more nebulous, and infinitely more bloodthirsty one, that of international capital.

Yeah, hi, it's me again. The pissed-off pedantic dissident of crapitalism has another axe to grind. And it's going to get swung over Greece--as far afield as Germany, France and even a whack or two at the good ol' Yankee military-industrial complex. You may want to grab yourself a big bottle of retsina, or ouzo, and a plate of Kalamata olives before you read on; this one's not for taking on an empty stomach. Plus, you may need something to throw when all this is over, although I doubt you'll be shouting "Opa!"

Y'okay. Let's begin.

Over at Ten Percent, blog-buddy Rick B has some good insights into the situation:

The quote 'inability of the Greek government to live within its means' is such a poisonous falsehood, as if financial institutions did not for years bribe key people into endless debt restructuring not because it helped them but because it made money for the banks. This is a merry game played by elites with the costs passed onto those not allowed to participate, yet the besuited oligarchs have the chutzpah to project their irresponsibility onto their victims. This is a rescue package within the rules of the game, better than what could have happened but ultimately it prolongs the scam. Neoliberalism, does not work, financialisation in place of actual productivity does not work (excuse the pun), capitalism unregulated and unconstrained does not work, Adam Smith was actually very clear on that despite what Randroids and laissez faire fundamentalists prefer to read into his works (by current standards he'd be labeled a socialist by corporate media). What we are seeing is a rolling breakdown of systems of human activity because we are serving the economy not making the economy serve us.

Right on, Rick, and you'll get no arguments from me. For the banksters to call the Greeks, along with the Irish, the Portuguese and the Spanish "PIGS", is gross projection from the overfed slop slurpers at the global trough. It's not the pampered people of those countries who are to blame; it's their lousy leaders, who opened the markets to foreign capital. Alas, it's the citizens who must reap what the politicians sowed, and of course, it's all tares; the banksters have already made off with the wheat. An economy where people serve capital, rather than the other way 'round, is one doomed to fail for all but those who have always had more than they could possibly have known what to do with anyway. A pity capitalism can't die of clogged arteries half as easily as its fat-assed proponents--being inanimate, it's infinitely capable of being resurrected by Victor Frankenstein and his electroshock machine!

I did promise to tell you what the role of the Germans in all this was, and I keep my word. So here's the ugly rotten maggoty meat of the matter, via Defense News:

France and Germany, while publicly urging Greece to make harsh public spending cuts, bullied its government to confirm billions of euros in arms deals, a leading Euro-MP alleged Friday.

Franco-German lawmaker Daniel Cohn-Bendit said that Paris and Berlin are seeking to force Prime Minister George Papandreou to spend Greece's scarce cash on submarines, a fleet of warships, helicopters and war planes.


"It's incredible the way the Merkels and Sarkozys of this world treat a Greek prime minister," he declared, adding that Papandreou had recently met Sarkozy and French Prime Minister Francois Fillon in Paris.

"Mr. Fillon and Mr. Sarkozy told Mr. Papandreou: 'We're going to raise the money to help you, but you are going to have to continue to pay the arms contracts that we have with you'," Cohn-Bendit said.

"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."

Despite its economic woes, which recently deepened spectacularly when its credit rating was downgraded, Greece is one of Europe's biggest arms buyers, seeking to keep pace with its regional rival Turkey.

See why I'm angry? I'm a Bad German; "Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles" is just the old Nazi version of the national anthem, as far as I'm concerned, and I have about as much use for that sentiment as I do for the Nazis. And since my mom's side of the family is from the Rheinland-Pfalz, right next to what's now Alsace-Lorraine, the tiny little soupçon of French blood I got from her means I'm also très fâchée about the whole steaming heap of merde coming from Sarko. This makes me hang my head about my ancestry, and doubt seriously of the goodness of humanity on the whole. Epic internationalist FAIL!

The only Greek I have is two years' worth of the ancient university stuff, just enough to foolishly convince me that I could almost translate Sappho if I wanted to, but like her poetry, it's very fragmentary. Greek history is what I'm now learning on the fly, also by snips and snaps. But it doesn't take a historian to see how stupid this whole arms race is. Greece is in the EU; last time I checked, Turkey was also, or well on its way to it. There is no logical (that's Greek) reason for an arms race between the two countries. And if it came down to it, Canada wouldn't be able to supply peacekeepers to get them off each other's throats, as it did in Cyprus. Our troops are too busy now making the world safe for pipelines capitalism "democracy" (another Greek word, and notice that I put it in quotes) in Afghanistan, don'cha know?

Meanwhile, Truthout has some good stuff on the Greek crisis and the growing resistance thereto. First, a little insight from a French analyst, Maurice Ulrich, of l'Humanité:

There are those who call for political unity in Europe right now, without which, they say, there will be no salvation. But to carry out which policies? What's come to the fore, today is the extreme noxiousness of a liberal Europe for its people. In the race for free and undistorted competition the poorest countries could only keep up with the richest by social dumping. The richest countries could only compete by playing on the same field. The message Europe is giving to Greece today - the same one it will give to Spain and Portugal tomorrow - is that the only way to keep in with a liberal Europe is to shatter salaries, pensions, and public services. But who really believes that tomorrow, or after tomorrow, our very own public services, pensions and salaries will be able resist?


What's happening in Greece isn't a fluke. Even as the media incriminate, and not without justification, the policies of Greek leaders, we must remember that they were aided and abetted by the very same players who now want to strip Greece of its hide and make a golden fleece. It's only the first of the crises that this capitalist Europe has in store for us. And it's precisely this Europe that we have to change. We want a Europe of cooperation, a different role for the European Central Bank (ECB), and we want the ECB to lend to Greece at 1% interest. It's what our petition calls for, a call that has been widely heard and one that must be amplified.

As Marx himself said: the free worker who goes to the free market to sell his hide 'has to expect to get it tanned.' The same is true for the people on liberal Europe's great competitive market. Yes. Now is the time to start resisting, to start working towards another kind of Europe. Now is the time to call up the people.

Then, sociologist Jean Ziegler, interviewed by the same French publication:

Caramanlis' right-wing government, which preceded the current PASOK (socialist) government, was a machine for systematically pillaging the country's resources. As in a banana republic, Greece's resources were privatized on a large scale even while tax evasion became massive. A reliable estimate by Swiss banks puts Greek tax-evading capitals in Swiss banks alone at 36 billion euro. In addition to this, some of the largest Greek ship-owners transferred their headquarters abroad: first among them, the biggest, namely Latsis, moved its own to Versoix near Geneva.

The scandalous end-result of all this is that the onus of paying heavily for the State's quasi-bankruptcy now falls on the Greek people, on Greek workers, while the ruling classes themselves have taken the precaution of transferring almost all their fortune abroad. The Greek public debt stands at 112% of the country's GDP.


With the European tax-payers' money (in the euro-area's fifteen countries and in Switzerland), draconian conditions are imposed on the Greek people. Under the guise of rescuing the country, the resources of whose State were pillaged by the previous, right-wing government, the rescuers make them suffer a considerable social backlash (a wage freeze, cuts in social benefits, in the number of public workers) and more privatizations - which has the advantage of bailing out the big European banks that were massively involved. This actually gives Europe and its financial institutions an opportunity to dismantle the Greek social welfare even though PASOK has been voted into office on a social justice platform.


The Europeans and the ECB could have lent funds to Greece at an exceptionally low rate to enable the country to meet its obligations in a short time. Instead, Greece was forced to choose between either borrowing at very high rates or accepting the EU and IMF's plan and the economic strings attached to it. Greece was reluctant to submit to the unacceptable conditions imposed by the EU and the IMF and had been hoping to get loans by itself on the international market. All it took to prevent this was for Standard and Poors, one of the private rating agencies, to lower its rating of the Greek State's solvency. And immediately Greece was barred access to the free capital market, or only at prohibitive rates of interest (almost 20%). Greece was left with no other choice but to submit to the conditions laid down in the EU and IMF's plan.

What gives me some heart in the midst of this massive Beschiss is the fact that the loudest internationalist voices against it are all, if their names are any indication, Franco-German (or Germano-French) leftists. People who are ethnically and ethically (woo! more Greek!) a lot like me, in other words.

And this leads me to the recent regional elections in Nordrhein-Westfalen (NRW). That's the most populous of the 16 German "lands" (states), and it also happens to be where my dad's side of the family hails from. The state recently dealt rightist Angela Merkel a huge bitch-slap by electing the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) to the Bundesrat (upper house of the German parliament; the Bundestag is the lower). The Greens also doubled their percentage of the NRW vote over last time, and the socialist Left party is making its debut in the parliament thanks to this vote. All in all, it's a heavy blow to the CDU/CSU and the so-called "grand coalition", and it's gonna make it that much harder for Merkel to shove anything else filthy down Germany's collective throat.

So what motivated this heavy hitter among German lands to tack portside? The Greek crisis, and the fact that Angela Merkel decided to pillage German social services in order to make that hyper-conditional "bailout", i.e., to force the Greeks to buy all that aforementioned military hardware. Germans like their social services as much as we Canadians, go figure--and they are not at all impressed by international crapital taking a pound of flesh from those who are already skin and bones.

Of course, the major Anglo-Amurrican media (especially the bizmedia morons) deliberately choose to misinterpret the situation as merely a matter of Merkel being a weak sister, missing the overbearing crapitalist tyrant angle entirely (or worse, praising it.) All of them have one thing in common: they blame the Greeks, leaving out entirely the military-industrial angle. And no wonder: if they had to point the finger at the correct culprit, three more accusing fingers would be pointing right back at them in England and the US.

Who do you think started this damn snowball rolling, anyway? France? Germany? Gimme a break. As strong as the German economy has long been, historically, it's been sucked dry by two far bigger leeches than the so-called PIGS. The exsanguination of the German economy is the dirty little secret of London and New York during the Roaring Twenties. Bankers and stockbrokers, not Jews, were the real collective enemy of the Weimar Republic. They were, as Ike Eisenhower found out to his chagrin, also backing the collective enemy of the United States, relying on an endless weapons shopping spree to keep the economy rolling their way. But since it's hard to identify them just by looking, and they're well enough off to laugh at anyone who tries to make them wear a badge of shame, they'll never be rounded up and sent off to get a taste of their own medicine...


...more's the pity. Because if true justice prevailed, they'd be the ones forced to eternally work off the debt they created, for slaves' wages. Or to put it more poetically, they'd be made to roll that stone endlessly up a hill, like Sisyphus in Hades, never reaching the top.

Meanwhile, Lord Byron is stirring in his grave. And the Greek Resistance is rising, phoenix-like, from its own pyre...I dare to hope. But unless we all join in, it will be as futile as the one Lord Byron tried so bravely to lead.

We are all Greeks now, or soon will be.

'Tis something, in the dearth of fame,

Though link'd among a fetter'd race,

To feel at least a patriot's shame,

Even as I sing, suffuse my face;

For what is left the poet here?

For Greeks a blush---for Greece a tear.