FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Fate of the Greeks

by

…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.

Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
David Rosen
Donald Trump’s Pathetic Sex Life
Susan Roberts
Are Modern Cities Sustainable?
Joyce Nelson
Canada vs. Venezuela: Have the Koch Brothers Captured Canada’s Left?
Geoff Dutton
America Loves Islamic Terrorists (Abroad): ISIS as Proxy US Mercenaries
Mike Whitney
The Obnoxious Pence Shows Why Korea Must End US Occupation
Joseph Natoli
In the Post-Truth Classroom
John Eskow
One More Slaughter, One More Piece of Evidence: Racism is a Terminal Mental Disease
John W. Whitehead
War Spending Will Bankrupt America
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Latest Insulting Proposal: Converting SNAP into a Canned Goods Distribution Program
Robert Fantina
Guns, Violence and the United States
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Zaps Oxygen
John Laforge
$1.74 Trillion for H-bomb Profiteers and “Fake” Cleanups
CJ Hopkins
The War on Dissent: the Specter of Divisiveness
Peter A. Coclanis
Chipotle Bell
Anders Sandström – Joona-Hermanni Mäkinen
Ways Forward for the Left
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Winning Hearts and Minds
Tommy Raskin
Syrian Quicksand
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Still Tries to Push Dangerous Drug Class
Jill Richardson
The Attorney General Thinks Aspirin Helps Severe Pain – He’s Wrong
Mike Miller
Herb March: a Legend Deserved
Ann Garrison
If the Democrats Were Decent
Renee Parsons
The Times, They are a-Changing
Howard Gregory
The Democrats Must Campaign to End Trickle-Down Economics
Sean Keller
Agriculture and Autonomy in the Middle East
Ron Jacobs
Re-Visiting Gonzo
Eileen Appelbaum
Rapid Job Growth, More Education Fail to Translate into Higher Wages for Health Care Workers
Ralph Nader
Shernoff, Bidart, and Echeverria—Wide-Ranging Lawyers for the People
Chris Zinda
The Meaning of Virginia Park
Robert Koehler
War and Poverty: A Compromise with Hell
Mike Bader – Mike Garrity
Senator Tester Must Stop Playing Politics With Public Lands
Kenneth Culton
No Time for Olympic Inspired Nationalism
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Final Days of the Regime
Irene Tung – Teófilo Reyes
Tips are for Servers Not CEOs
Randy Shields
Yahoomans in Paradise – This is L.A. to Me
Thomas Knapp
No Huawei! US Spy Chiefs Reverse Course on Phone Spying
Mel Gurtov
Was There Really a Breakthrough in US-North Korea Relations?
David Swanson
Witness Out of Palestine
Binoy Kampmark
George Brandis, the Rule of Law and Populism
Dean Baker
The Washington Post’s Long-Running Attack on Unions
Andrew Stewart
Providence Public School Teachers Fight Back at City Hall
Stephen Cooper
Majestic Meditations with Jesse Royal: the Interview
David Yearsley
Olympic Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail