This article, published a few days ago, suggests that Greece may be at the brink of a civil war.
It was good to read this article because it brought things a bit into perspective for me. I had expressed similar concerns when I started publishing about the Greek crisis, except that I had expressed those concerns two years ago (and not just recently). At that time, I argued that the risk of a civil war would come about if Greece did not stay in the Eurozone. I argued that if Greece returned to the Drachma, much of domestic financial wealth would be wiped out; unemployment would skyrocket to the 20%+ range; and living standards would be knocked back to several decades ago. And, finally, I argued that no democratic society could survive such an Armageddon in peace.
Well, Greece did not return to the Drachma but the results are almost the same. While domestic financial wealth was not wiped out as much as it would have been had Greece returned to the Drachma two years ago and while overall living standards have not (yet?) been knocked back to several decades ago, the unemployment is now over 25%.
Financial wealth and living standards are important. But anyone who has ever been unemployed knows that the worst thing of all is unemployment (and the resulting financial strain). Not only does the unemployed man/woman experience the devastating feeling of not being wanted in the economic process any longer. The unemployed father experiences the feeling that he can no longer provide for his family the way he wants to (and feels he has to). The family of the unemployed father experiences rejection. The result is generally a deep depression for both the unemployed father as well as for his family. Suicides are but a symptom of that.
What went wrong?
One could, of course, argue that the EU (in abbreviated form: Germany) left Greece alone; that the lending countries imposed unacceptable austerity terms on the country. That, however, would be a very one-sided (albeit not totally incorrect) view of the story. From 2009 to mid-2012, Greece’s primary deficit was about 45 BEUR and the current account deficit was about 70 BEUR. Over 80 BEUR Greek bank deposits were withdrawn. Somebody has been financing that and, as is well known, it was the tax payers of the Eurozone-countries (including Greek tax payers!) who did that. Had they not done so, there would have been a real Armageddon quite some time ago.
Of course, those tax payers did not only finance the above-described financial needs of Greece but they also bailed out banks, hedge funds, etc. That was literally a crime on tax payers!
A prominent Greek politician coined the famous phrase “we all ate together”. He was correct! In principle, that is. Not only the ‘big guys’ took profit from the Euro-party. The small business owner in a small village who could suddenly do much business with the village profited just as much because the village spent money which, in the final analysis, was borrowed by the country.
Now, however, comes the critical difference. That small business owner (or the person who got a well-paid job in the public sector when he would otherwise perhaps have been unemployed) could not have known that he/she lived on money borrowed by the state and country. That small business owner may have been an extremely hard working man who thought he was doing his very best for his family.
The article states that Greeks are “seething with anger at the utterly corrupt system and a kleptocratic government that have done so much damage to the country”. Greeks are justified to feel that way. Regrettably, we know from developing countries in the Third World that it is next to impossible to unseat a well-established, corrupt elite.
Greece may be a country in need of development but Greece is not a country of the Third World. Instead, Greece is a member of the EU and of the Eurozone. Ideally, one would have hoped that Greeks themselves could get rid of their well-established, corrupt elite but one could certainly have expected that the EU and the Eurozone would ally themselves with the people against those well-established, corrupt elites.
As an Austrian, I remember vividly how, back in 1999, the EU was considering sanctions against the country (including an expulsion process from the EU) simply because the Conservative Party had the nerve to form a coalition with the second-largest party; a party which had a record of being clearly less than respectful of ‘European values’. Nevertheless, it was a democratically elected party and no one questioned that it was constitutionally legitimate. The EU reacted so forcefully because it felt that ‘shared European values’ were at stake.
That very same EU had known for years how corrupt the well-established Greek elite was and — it not only condoned it. Instead, it did a lot of business with it! ‘Tell me who your friends are and I tell you who you are!’
In June of 2011, I wrote an article comparing Greece today with Chile after the Allende-coup and I said the following: ‘If the present Greek leadership does not want to run the risk that, eventually, Greece will end up with the same political system which Chile had in the late 1970s and 1980s, they should make room for leaders who are not associated with the wrong’s of the past but who can project the vision of a better Greece in the future! That would be the greatest contribution which any government has ever made for its society!’
In Greece, that would have meant for the political leadership to make tabula rasa. The very same politician who stated that “we all ate together” should have started a process where EVERYONE in parliament and in government would have done what the Japanese do when they completely failed their duties: take a bow, apologize sincerely and — depart!
I have often hoped, and I still hope, that the day may come where Greeks pluck up the courage to show the adequate measure of ‘civil disobedience’ so that the corrupt Greek elites get scared. By ‘Greeks’ I don’t mean the usual suspects who crowd Syntagma Square whenever there is a possible occasion. Instead, I mean the silent majority who really suffer and who have not deserved to suffer.
Thus, I do hope that Greece is not at the brink of a civil war but I certainly hope that Greece is at the brink of the most powerful ‘civil disobedience’ which an EU-country has seen to date. A ‘civil disobedience’ by those Greeks who share the same values as Europeans in other countries (let me paraphrase those values with ‘hard work and clean living’). By those Greeks whom foreigners living in Greece know from day-to-day life. By those Greeks who motivate tourists from all over the world, year-after-year, to visit the place which ‘the Gods chose even though they could have chosen any place in the world’.
And I would like to think that the EU would support that kind of a‘civil disobedience’!