Greece: In the Eye of the Storm

Greece: In the Eye of the Storm

By Joshua Tartakovsky, 7 April 2016

Greece is once again in the eye of the storm.

This is true for several reasons. It is the only EU country where transnational EU capitalism failed (remember that when people tell you about how communism failed, and while they are right, capitalism failed and is failing too). Now according to Wikileaks, the IMF is considering creating a“credit event” against the country. Greece also became a magnet for migrants and so-called refugees.

The country is mired in such a deep recession that it can never possibly recover. Ever. (How about that for American optimism?) In fact, in order to continuously pay for the debt, more cuts will be needed, homes will be repossessed, pensions will be sliced. All this in a country where a third are under the poverty line, where a majority of youth are unemployed and where the entire family often lives off pensions of the elderly. The debt will be paid for an eternity but it will not be followed by economic growth. When “life as it is” is not bearable, what do more cuts mean?

More suffering, deeper into the endless pit. No hope. No future.

Welcome to 21st Century EU Capitalism. Recession, austerity, crisis.

Of course, Greece was the first victim. Its naïve populace with its good intentions believed joining EU was a glamorous endeavor. The Euro seemed shiny and starry.  But now that industries are destroyed, people have no money, and businesses close every day, the EU does not seem like such a big fantasy anymore.

Now it is too late.

(However, if only the Greeks could share their wisdom with the Turks: ‘You want to survive? Stay out of EU!’).

But the Greeks are not rebelling.

The problem is the Greeks are long accustomed to suffering, having undergone 400 years of an Ottoman occupation. They are apathetic. Cafes are packed, the youth is unemployed and it smokes cigarettes endlessly. The bohemian neighborhood (its residents are mostly too poor to be the hipster) of Exharcheia is full with people who are making the hours pass over a single cup of beer or coffee. People live the moment, in an escapist kind of mode. But depression is growing.

Athens looks worse and worse every time. People have no hope. The Greeks, usually a happy people thanks to a God-given weather, smile less, and less and less.

The wealthy Greeks who see the big picture cannot even take their money out of the country. Capital controls mean withdrawals are limited to 420 Euro. They are stuck in a dying economy.  It is not as if tomorrow will be better. Every day it is worse.

But part of the problem is that many Greeks have an inferiority complex. In their culture, music, religion, food, family traditions and communal values, the Greeks, though sitting between two worlds, were never really part of the West in an inherent way. Although the West likes to see itself as a descendent of the Hellenic civilization, the Greeks are not westerners. They adhere to the spirit of the law more than the rule of the law, believe in decency above profit, and have little in common with Protestant Germany due to the emphasis they keep on keeping a certain level of honor and upholding communalism before individualism.

Yet rather than waking up to the fact that they are part of the East, defaulting, engaging in a protectionist economy, and joining the camp of Russia and China, the Greeks voted for Syriza, an adherent to “Eurocommunism.” This school of thought believes Greece is part of a “European Community” and as a sacrificial lamb, must pay the price for the rest of Europe until “Europe” wake ups and reduces the debt.  Varoufakis and Tsipras said many times that Greece’s home was in Europe. That must mean that Greece must be a martyr for Europe.

But will “Europe” ever change and will EU end the suffering in Greece? Not anytime soon and probably not ever.

Greece is an experiment, one that will surely be followed elsewhere (Portugal? Spain? Italy?). With capitalism in structural crisis and with a lack of a financial recycling mechanism or of ways to secure steady financial growth that benefits local populations, EU sucks out money from a given country on the periphery as a vacuum cleaner, and then moves on to the next target. Welcome to the EU.

There were various analyzes of what the latest Wikileaks exposures mean with an IMF representative calling for creating a “credit event” in Greece before the Brexit vote. Does the IMF plan to walk out of the bailout since Merkel was too strident? Can it already see that Tsipras won’t be able to impose further austerity without the government being toppled? Is IMF hoping to get a debt reduction in return for more cuts although everyone knows that Greece won’t be able to pay even that?

One option appears as a possibility, and surprisingly it was not mentioned widely. That is that Greece is in such a dire economic state, that the global financial sector can earn more from speculating it will fail to pay its debt rather than from the country paying off the debt itself. In other words, we reached a point in the current crisis, where there is more money to be gained by a country going bankrupt than from a country growing economically in the ‘normal’ way we tend to view economic growth. Of course, that speculation will cause even greater economic suffering matters little. Economic growth has reached its maximum in the current order; now it must reverse and walk backwards, destroying everything it steps on, in order to see continued growth on the charts but not in reality.

Perhaps the IMF was hoping to gain more by Greece defaulting than by Greece paying.

Meanwhile, 202 migrants were sent back to Turkey today as part of the EU-Erdogan deal.

However, one should not be deceived by the smoothness of the operation today. First, at least 1,500 more Frontex officials will be needed for successive relocations to take place. Secondly, the Greek forces will probably have to use violence when removing other, less peaceful, migrants, especially those who claim they are from Syria. Thirdly, it is not clear that the government and the Greek populace at large are willing to remove forcefully migrants once there are significant violence and resistance.

Despite its failed economy, Greece became a magnet for migrants. It has a fantastic weather but no livelihood to offer. Yet its strategic location for weapons and drug trade meant that for now terrorists have refrained from carrying out terrorist attacks in the country. They do not want to sabotage their own passageway.

One signal of the deep confusion many Greeks have found themselves in is the naïve and ignorant manner in which many well-meaning Greeks want to take on waves of refugees and to bask in the gratification of experiencing compassion for the exotic Other. They do not realize yet that with all their hospitality, the future is grim. If Greeks can get along somewhat amongst themselves during a time of chaos, will migrants and Greeks be able to live side by side peacefully with no resources? If Greeks cannot take care of their own, how will they take care of refugees and migrants? And with jobs scarce, whose jobs will migrants take? Greek jobs, obviously.

People have often claimed that the Cubans are stuck in Cuba. But in Greece, the Greeks are stuck in Greece, thanks to capitalism. The young have no money to travel to a country where there are jobs. The wealthy cannot pull out their money.  The middle class is collapsing.

Every passing day the situation gets worse, and the Greeks continue to seek ways of survival. Any visitor will be shocked by what he or she will see, and will realize that the corporate media fails to report on the true face of EU capitalism.

Greece is one large prison where every passing day brings on worse news. It has been blessed with magnificent weather and delicious food, however, and that is one reason why hardships are a bit more tolerable.

Things cannot go on forever like this, though with the Greeks, a patient people, they can for a while.