FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Fate of the Greeks

…and the weaker, having a just cause, prevail over the great.

– Euripides, The Suppliants

These are desperate times for the people of Greece.

Heading into a frenzy of meetings, the Syriza government is preparing for all scenarios and developments. The ancient tragedian Euripides tells us, “I have been versed in the reasonings of men; but Fate is stronger than anything I have known.” To the ancients, fate was always a thing of mystery, unknowable to mortals, but perhaps alterable by our actions.

Today, Greek finance minister Yannis Varoufakis told the members of parliament that Greece is entering the post-bailout era. Meanwhile, his German counterpart Wolfgang Schäuble’s comments later in the day asserted that no negotiation would happen. The future is still indiscernible.

With an emergency meeting of Eurogroup finance ministers this Wednesday, and a full summit scheduled for Thursday, what isn’t being said by Greece’s Syriza government may be more important than what is. The outcome of the talks will determine which is realized – the will of the Greek people or of that of the Troika.

In one of Aesop’s fables, a pigeon driven to desperation by thirst flew toward what appeared to be a pitcher of water, only to find itself crashing into a painting. Severely wounded, the bird is captured by a bystander and taken as food. Zeal, Aesop warns, should not outrun discretion.

Knowing that Greece’s course has substantial consequences for the Eurozone and the United States, Syriza is being cautious about its language.

State of Affairs

On Sunday, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras vowed to continue fighting for debt renegotiations while prioritizing the “humanitarian crisis” brought on by years of harsh austerity. He also signaled that frugality would be best exemplified on the governmental level by selling off half of the government’s limousines and a jet.

With all the talk of a “Grexit,” it’s important to note that Greece’s Syriza government has yet to threaten leaving the European Union or the Eurozone.

On the other side of this equation, European officials, and even the defrocked high priest of free markets, Alan Greenspan, have been warning of Greek exit from the European Union.

So why isn’t Syriza threatening to leave the Eurozone?

Well, first there is the question of public opinion. As recent opinion polls indicate that as many as 70% of Greeks hope to remain within the currency union. The undertaking of any radical steps will require building long-term political support on the home front by sticking to the democratic will.

A nuanced analysis indicates that Syriza, leading a fragile coalition government, is planning for all contingencies. It understands that negotiations with the Troika (the European Central Bank, the European Commision, and the International Monetary Fund) have broad implications on the long-term health of the EU as well as global trade treaties favored by the United States.

Balancing Mandates

Syriza holds two mandates. First, it must end the social catastrophe that many blame on austerity. Second, it must appear committed to keeping Greece within the European Union. In some ways the two seem antithetical, but Syriza believes they aren’t.

To achieve the first, Syriza needs debt restructuring or forgiveness, a reformed taxation scheme, and continued funding for social programs. In short, it needs the European Union.

But the Troika holds that no restructuring is possible and that Greece must stick to their commitments or leave the currency union.

The Negotiations

If the polls are to be believed, had Syriza begun negotiations with European officials by threatening to leave the European Union, it would have faced a political disaster on the home front.

Last week, the government sent its economics-professor-turned-finance-minister Yannis Varoufakis on a multi-nation tour in hopes of winning support for his “modest proposal to save Europe.” Varoufakis’ proposal includes a bridge agreement that would hold Greece over for a few months, until a new agreement can be worked out.

The night before his meeting with Schäuble, the European Central Bank announced it would no longer accept Greek government bonds as collateral for loans to Greek banks. And as expected, Schäuble rejected any talk of restructuring the Greek debt.

Despite warm receptions for Syriza officials in Italy and France last week, those governments held the party line and backed the German and Troika officials’ insistence that Greece remain on the program of bailout, austerity, and debt payments.

But this too is politically untenable in Greece, where the austerity-crippled population strongly favors ending a program that has seen suicides, homelessness, and poverty skyrocket.

A Way Out By Staying In

Syriza sees a way out of this paradox.

Consider the statements by the party’s other prominent economist, Costas Lapavitsas in The Guardian: “first, the forces of austerity currently strangling Europe should not be allowed to crush the Syriza experiment, or turn it into a moth-eaten compromise; second, Syriza should make solid and meticulous preparations for all eventualities, a point that is well understood by many within it.”

Having expected harsh resistance and an onslaught of veiled threats from the financial community, it would be naive to imagine Syriza hasn’t prepared for this exact scenario.

If Varoufakis’ proposals, which are are viewed as reasonable by most Greeks, are rejected by EU officials, more Greeks will consider leaving the European Union a necessary evil.

At that point, if a Syriza government still exists, Greece can threaten to leave the union. That’s when the German government’s mettle will be tested. Can the European Union afford a “Grexit” and the potential implications for Spain and other austerity-ravaged countries?

It should be noted that in his book Crisis in the Eurozone, Lapavitsas has supported a Greek exit from the Eurozone and has argued that austerity throughout Europe has been counterproductive.

A Syriza government that remains in the union poses a problem for Germany and the United States on another front. Syriza has made it clear that they will veto any attempt to ratify the  Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, an international trade agreement that both Germany and the United States want urgently.

At that point, does the European Union want Syriza to capitulate on a debt if it means the loss of the TTIP? Perhaps a Greek exit benefits the EU on that front. But can the EU afford to let Greece out if it means destabilizing the currency union further?

There are, of course, many contingencies and a slew of potential scenarios that affect the various players. This is more than a game of brinksmanship; for the people of Greece, this isn’t a game.

In weighing the best course of action, Syriza must do for the people of Greece and Europe what is necessary–not what the hegemons desire. We arrive again at the words of Euripides: “there is nothing more hostile to a city that a tyrant, under whom in the first and chiefest place, there are not laws in common, but one man, keeping the law himself to himself, has the sway, and this is no longer equal…but laws being written, the rich and the weak have equal justice…and the weaker, having a just cause, prevail over the great.”

Alexandros Orphanides is a New York City-based teacher, writer, and poet of Honduran and Cypriot descent. He holds a Master of Science in Education from Brooklyn College and is completing a Master of Arts in Political Science from the City University of New York Graduate Center. In addition to teaching high school history, he writes about political, cultural and social issues. More of his work can be found on his blog: SubversiveSentences.com

More articles by:

Alexandros Orphanides is a New York City-based independent journalist, researcher and teacher of Honduran and Greek-Cypriot descent. He writes on political, social and cultural issues with an emphasis on marginalized communities. Follow him on Twitter: @subsentences.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
November 20, 2019
Vijay Prashad
The Coup in Bolivia Has Everything to Do With the Screen You’re Using to Read This
Kenneth Surin
Labor and the UK General Election
Ron Jacobs
The Trumpists’ Attempts at Snark Define Their Day: Impeachment Day Three
George Ochenski
The Walls are Closing in on Donald Trump
Timothy M. Gill
Towards a Democratic Socialist Foreign Policy
Robert Hunziker
Neoliberalism Backfires
Thomas S. Harrington
Let’s Give Three Cheers for Those “Western Ears” 
Michelle Renee Matisons
Freedom, Valor, Love: On Snowden’s Permanent Record
James C. Nelson
How Trump is Warping the Federal Courts: the Case Against Lawrence VanDyke
Rev. William Alberts
Whistleblowing Religion
Chandra Muzaffar
The Coup That Ousted Morales
Mike Garrity
Trump Administration Ignores Court Order Stopping 85,000 Acre Payette Forest Logging and Burning Project, Conservation Groups Sue
Andrew Moss
Raising the Stakes in the Struggle Over Immigration Detention
Dean Baker
Making Andrew Yang Smarter
Lawrence Wittner
The People of the World
November 19, 2019
Ramzy Baroud
How Western Media Bias Allows Israel to Getaway with Murder in Gaza
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan’s Ethnic Cleansing of the Kurds is Still Happening
Dave Lindorff
Student Protesters are Walking a Tightrope in Hong Kong
Richard Greeman
French Yellow Vests Celebrate First Birthday, Converge With Planned Labor Strikes
Dean Baker
Impeachment is a Kitchen Table Issue
Walden Bello
Is China an “Imperial Power” in the Image of the West?
Jim Britell
Modern Biology and Ecology: the Roots Of America’s Assertive Illiteracy
Sabri Öncü
Non-Financial Private Debt Overhang
John Steppling
Baby Shark Coup
Binoy Kampmark
Open Guidelines: The Foreign Interference Problem in Australian Universities
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Greece and the Struggle for Freedom
Colin Todhunter
Lab Rats for Corporate Profit: Pesticide Industry’s Poisoned Platter
James Graham
Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn on the Eve of the Debate
Elliot Sperber
Scrutiny – From Scruta
November 18, 2019
Olivia Arigho-Stiles
Protestors Massacred in Post-Coup Bolivia
Ashley Smith
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Macho Camacho: Jeffery R. Webber and Forrest Hylton on the Coup in Bolivia
Robert Fisk
Michael Lynk’s UN Report on Israeli Settlements Speaks the Truth, But the World Refuses to Listen
Ron Jacobs
Stefanik Stands By Her Man and Roger Stone Gets Convicted on All Counts: Impeachment Day Two
John Feffer
The Fall of the Berlin Wall, Shock Therapy and the Rise of Trump
Stephen Cooper
Another Death Penalty Horror: Stark Disparities in Media and Activist Attention
Bill Hatch
A New Silence
Gary Macfarlane
The Future of Wilderness Under Trump: Recreation or Wreckreation?
Laura Flanders
#SayHerName, Impeachment, and a Hawk
Ralph Nader
The Most Impeachable President vs. The Most Hesitant Congress. What Are The Democrats Waiting For?
Robert Koehler
Celebrating Peace: A Work in Progress
Walter Clemens
American Oblivion
Weekend Edition
November 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Meet Ukraine: America’s Newest “Strategic Ally”
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Frankenstein Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Ukraine in the Membrane
Jonathan Steele
The OPCW and Douma: Chemical Weapons Watchdog Accused of Evidence-Tampering by Its Own Inspectors
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail