In Greece, behind the much-deserved euphoria, a financial meltdown is being threatened unless the new government agrees to terms relating to the payment of the national debt as dictated by the German-led European banking junta. Over the last two days millions of euros have exited Greece in an attempt to destabilise the economy further and to increase pressure on the new Syriza-led government to capitulate to the demands of the eurocrats. But what would happen if Greece called the eurocrats’ bluff…?
A cat and mouse game – or, if you prefer, a game of ‘chicken’ – is taking place behind the scenes, with the aim by the bankers and eurocrats of unnerving the new government and orchestrating its early demise. This game is being enacted by financial markets, keen to ensure that current monetarist policies in Europe remain in force. In the last 48 hours shares in Greece fell by a whopping 25% and the Greek stock market fell by almost 10%. Bank of Piraeus, Alpha Bank and National Bank of Greece all fell between 10 and 12 percent. Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou at JPMorgan admitted that that €350m was sent from Greece to Luxembourg since the start of last week and that as much as a 10th of Greek deposits may have left already this year.
The conservative-led governments in Europe (note: conservative also means those parties masquerading as Labour parties, who are no doubt embarrassed by the more genuinely socialist policies of Syriza) cannot afford to see more Syrizas take power on the continent and so if the Syriza-led government cannot be brought to heel it has to be discredited and, ultimately, destroyed. And, clearly, the bankers and eurocrats believe they hold all the cards: do what we say or the Greek economy will be bankrupted.
But what would would happen if the Greek government called their bluff? There are five scenarios to consider here…
1. The markets in Greece crash and the eurocrats force major concessions from the Syriza-led government. A deal is struck, the markets revive and Greece is more or less back to square one (as far as the debt repayment goes).
2. Despite huge financial instability the Syriza-led government stands firm and announces the Greek withdrawal from the euro and default of the debt. Greece enters a period of high instability but in time the drachma strengthens and the Greek economy recovers.
3. The eurocrats are unable to wrestle a deal from the Syriza-led government and decide that kicking Greece out of the eurozone is preferable than agreeing to more debt payment concessions. The Greek economy takes years to recover – but it does.
4. At the height of the financial crisis an ‘insurrection’ by Golden Dawn provokes the intervention of a ‘national unity’ government of technocrats – i.e. the ‘oligarchs’ – which takes over (with the backing of the military). Effectively it is a coup, though it is portrayed otherwise.
5. The Syriza-led government outwits the eurocrats and markets by threatening to pull out from both the euro and the EU, ensures the Greek people are fully cognisant of what is happening and also ensures that any threat by the military is dealt with. The eurocrats and bankers are given no choice but to agree to new debt payment terms and the stand-off dissipates.
The most likely scenario is the last one, for, in truth, the last thing the eurocrats and the bankers want is a Greek exit from the euro – particularly if such an exit was perceived not as an act of weakness but of defiance. The consequences of such an exit would be felt across the whole of Europe and might encourage other austerity-stricken countries to follow suit.
However, the Greek people are not going to give in without a fight. It is all about dignity: dignity not to be forced to live in poverty; dignity not to live under a government or political system that is rife with corruption; dignity not to be dictated to by bankers and financiers; and dignity not to be threatened into adopting an alien way of life.
Let’s face it, life in the Mediterranean countries – in southern Europe – is very different to life elsewhere in Europe. People in southern Europe work as hard as people in northern Europe, though much of the economies of the Mediterranean countries are reliant not on industry or finance but on tourism, fishing and small-scale agriculture and crafts. The different climates inevitable mean that 9 to 5 jobs are not as common in the south as the north. In northern Europe, the culture of “machine men with machine minds and machine hearts” (to quote from Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, as Owen Jones eloquently does) pervades; it’s a Protestant work ethic culture, encouraging rampant consumerism, anomie and heightened class divisions. In southern Europe, the class divisions are no less obvious, but they are tempered by a working class culture that has a long tradition of mutual aid and where happiness has a higher quotient value than the size of the television or car owned. Yes, these are oversimplifications, but there is an underlying truth here that belies the differences between the highly organised corporate states of countries like Germany and Britain, compared with the more laid-back (disorganised?) governments of their southern counterparts, though corruption is, of course, found in all European countries.
Put simply, the Greek people now want their country back – their way of life back – and do not want to follow the lifestyle of the Germans. But the Greek people are are no different from anyone else in Europe – north or south – who are fed up at being trapped in poverty by a capitalist system that punishes the poor for being poor, or who are forced into part-time work on zero-hour contracts at below poverty wages. In this respect, if the people of Greece succeed in restoring their way of life, they may well encourage those in similar economic situations – again, northern or southern Europe – to fight back and recognise that mutual aid has nothing to do with top-down inspired charity but is the essence of our humanity and a form of resistance that can be both challenging (to the establishment) and creative.
In the meantime, the abject failure of Euro monetarism – which sees reduced or nil growth, low employment, reduced tax revenues, a stripped-down welfare state and increased national debt – may finally be exposed by the drama – the experiment – that is unfolding before our eyes in Greece.
Yesterday the Greek government made it clear that its agenda in all its entirety would be enacted. It announced that “privatisation schemes would be halted and pensions reinstated. And then came the news of the 751 euros monthly minimum wage… the scrapping of fees for prescriptions and hospital visits, the restoration of collective work agreements, the rehiring of workers laid off in the public sector, the granting of citizenship to migrant children born and raised in Greece”. It’s heady stuff.
The Greek people now face a herculean battle against the bankers and the political elites of Europe. It is a battle they may have to fight alone. But it would be far better for them and for the dispossessed across all of Europe that they do not fight alone. After all, hope can be contagious…