H ελληνική κρίση: Συνομιλία με την Ann Cahill, υπεύθυνη ευρωπαϊκών θεμάτων της ιρλανδικής εφημερίδας Irish Examiner.
The Greek tragedy is not just a tale of a country going broke, of corruption, or when living beyond one’s means finally catches up with a nation, warns Nikos Ksidakis.
It marks a fundamental challenge to our democracies, where power decisively shifts from states to markets and corporations in which ordinary people will have no say.
He does not believe that the Greek people will be able to bear the conditions they will be forced to live under as tax increases and wage cuts bite this year.
He also believes that the measures imposed by the eurozone and the IMF in exchange for the €110 billion bail-out will not be enough to cut the budget deficit of 13.4% of GDP and the country’s massive borrowings.
As a result, he says, more cuts will be required, but these will be undeliverable and the government will not survive. Even now there is a push from business for an election, and he believes this will happen in the autumn.
In the meantime the Greek people are going through all the emotional states of grief as their economy collapses. Now they are in shock as the austerity measures cut public servants’ salaries in half, pensions are decimated and taxes soar.
Mr Ksidakis said: «Nobody can imagine the effect. Most Greek people have become used to a middle class life with a house and money to spend and a mortgage. Now they will not be able to service their loans and mortgage and the future is looking very, very bad, and it’s a shock.»
The demonstrations of the last few weeks have been an expression of terrible, unbelievable anger that is not just aimed at the government, but against all political systems and everyone involved. It is no longer just the radicals that are angry but ordinary people, and this has turned them into a furious mob, railing against a political system that has betrayed everybody.
While the economic crisis has caused their anger to explode, it has been bubbling away for decades because of the corruption and injustice rife throughout their systems. Not one politician during the last 35 years has been brought before a court, not one has faced a jury. There is silence about responsibilities and a very strong inter-dependency between the political interests and that of Greek capitalists.
The Siemens scandal is just one such example. Despite it being well known that the German engineering giant paid massive bribes to secure contracts for the state telecoms company and to provide security for the 2004 Athens Olympics, nobody has been charged. Mr Ksidakis said: «We know who gave this money, but we do not know who received it. While in Germany the guilty have been brought before the courts and punished and some justice was achieved. But in Greece, nothing.»
He believes that despite all the fury, the political system does not seem to understand the full picture.
He said if a people are to survive the extremely difficult economic conditions they are facing, there needs to be some kind of spiritual unity – but there is no such unity, especially because people do not trust their leaders – they are divided and feel betrayed. Perhaps something good could come out of it, perhaps Greece could renew itself and achieve a renaissance from this catastrophe.
Mr Ksidakis said: «But I don’t know how this could be brought about. The economic crisis has simply made more obvious the deeper political crisis, so perhaps it will lead to a change of views, of attitudes, change the way we realise our democracy, respect our institutions, and perhaps it will lead us to change this crazy consumerism lifestyle we have adopted».
On the other hand, after spending a month in New York earlier this year that gave him a wider prospective, he believes that Greek malaise is not unique. «I believe what we are witnessing in Greece is an example of what I call a process of attack on the middle classes in western democracies from a new type of capitalist that has no national image, does not know about borders and so attacks everyone for profit. He said it is the worst side effect of globalisation. He added it is also the worst scenario given that Greek capitalists had enormous support from the state during the bank crisis of 2008 – and this is true also in Britain, the US, Germany, Ireland and the EU generally. All banks and the banking system had state support and now they attack the state. He said perhaps this is the first time in history that capital can attack and ruin the state and it is happening first in the EU – the richest and most democratic region on the planet. He said we are witnessing a historic turning point – this is not just my opinion but that of many Greeks, French, Americans and others.
«Greece is just the first penguin to drop in the freezing water, but the other southern Mediterranean countries and Ireland, Hungary, Iceland are also being attacked. The president of France and the German chancellor recognised this in their letter to their colleagues before the EU leaders summit in Brussels over the weekend – even though it has taken them until now to recognise what scholars and analysts have been saying for months.
Mr Ksidakis said: «It is our bad luck that Greece is the first sheep to the slaughter house, and the reaction on the streets of Athens gives a glimpse of the shape of things to come right across Europe. We are fighting to support democracy, the institutions, the welfare state, justice, the social contract the European people have had since the French revolution, and now we fight for our fundamental civil rights bound up with our state. This is a case of the markets against the state where the state is being portrayed as the bad guy and the market is the wise guy. Unfortunately, for some time people in western democracies see their lives, their state and especially society through a distorted mirror that does not let them see society, but only themselves. They no longer see society or the community. This is a very bad form of individualism – not the classical liberal form of the individual. We have become consumer animals, consumers with money from the banks, that exist only to feed a consumer habit with neither the power nor the will to engage in a political life, with no power over your life other than to live it.
«You can decide only once every four years when the parliament elections come around, but the markets and corporations make decisions every second that influence your life. The fundamental problem in Greece is that we made too many mistakes in too short a time. We did not ask ourselves, how can I repay the money? or ask what this easy money means in political terms.
«Greece has some common elements with the Irish. Both are small countries with people anxious to do well, strong fighters and adventurers and proud. Maybe Irish people can understand the Greeks and the stupid attitude we have had during the last decade. We did not think about our history or traditions and our own personality – this is a tragedy. Greece has faced many tragedies during the last two centuries with suffering, pain and death. What we are going through now is not the kind of wars we faced in the past but a new kind of war, a new kind of dictatorship.
«If the whole economy collapses we have some lines of defence to fall back on – strong family bonds, one of the lowest levels of private debt in the EU. The main fear now comes from the numbers that are losing their jobs. There are many small businesses in Greece and it is these that will suffer – if you have a small bakery and you are in your 50s and you cannot survive, what will you do?
«But perhaps it is not too late. Perhaps if the political systems across Europe realise that there is more than just the coin of banks and corporation, they can unify and support the people and resist the breakdown, not just of the euro but of Europe.
«There are half a billion people in the EU. They must realise we are at a moment of change, and the outcome could be very bad indeed, especially for countries like Portugal and Spain with its very high unemployment, for Italy that is politically unstable, and for Ireland whose people have had a very bad experience over the past few years.
«Otherwise the Irish people will begin again to suffer the same disease as Greece with emigration growing, not just an outflow of workers, but of our best brains. This is the worst scenario for the Greeks and for the Irish: having their best people fly away again, leaving the country to old people.
«Emigration will be the next dagger in the heart of Greek society. I see the children of my friends go to study in the US and they do not come back, the best brains, the best educated, the innovators.
This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Monday, May 10, 2010