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We are All (or Should Be) Greeks Now

Powell River, British Columbia.

The temple of neo-liberalism and its ideology of social suicide in the interests of the banks has been breached. The hysteria in European capitals (particularly Germany) after the resounding “No” vote by the people of Greece is entirely appropriate. For decades now developed country governments and their enforcers, the IMF and the World Bank, have managed to bamboozle people in country after country, convincing them that up is down and black is white — that austerity and recession are nirvana — pie in the sky, bye and bye.

Until now.

The “No” vote — accomplished despite a hysterical campaign of fear by literally the entire Greek and EU media — is like a bright flash of light, however momentary, revealing the true nature of the conditions imposed by international finance and its political puppets in Western capitals. And who better to wield that bright light than Greece’s heretic economist and (now former) finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. An accomplished economist and an even better propagandist, he single-handedly reframed the Greek crisis from one of blaming lazy Greeks to blaming greedy EU banks.

Talk about great theatre: to contrast himself with the endless stream of men in suits from the euro-zone bureaucracy, he gave a news conference the day of the vote wearing a T-shirt. He was rejected by his fellow finance ministers as a negotiator because he, unlike most of them, actually understood economics and was prone to ridiculing their constant repetition of neo-liberal slogans.

The war between democracy and international finance, effectively suppressed for decades by complicit Western politicians and co-conspirators in the corporate media, is now out in the open for all to see. And what we see should have us declare that we are all Greeks now. Because we are all (except the one per cent) suffering, to one degree or another, from this ideological lunacy of austerity in the midst of recession. The source of the madness is a radical cult of free market economists and trade lawyers who have occupied the temples of state power and captured the loyalty of elected representatives. They hold sway in Ottawa as well.

Canada is not suffering as much, but the prescription applied by Stephen Harper and Paul Martin before him have the same roots: shrinking the social state through tax cuts for the rich and corporations, hobbling government powers through “trade” agreements, and systematically transferring wealth from the middle class to the wealthy. As in the EU, Harper declares that any other set of policies is reckless. Last week in Calgary, Harper declared that the October election was about security versus risk. “Friends, we’ve come too far to take risks with reckless policies. That’s why I’m confident that this October Canadians will choose security over risk.”

Will Canadians in enough numbers actually call Harper’s bluff in October and demand, instead of his phoney security against unlikely terrorist attacks, economic security that his policies are destroying? We can only hope that will be the case as the reckless policy of balanced budgets in the midst of recession will savage the economy by October’s election day.

The Greek/EU stand-off should highlight the actual struggle behind the debt crisis. This is not primarily about numbers and assigning blame — it is about nation building versus globalization, democracy versus austerity and general prosperity versus crushing inequality. The visceral contempt for democracy has been revealed for all to see in the reaction of the right-wing governments and political commentators of the euro-zone. Martin Schulz, the president of the European parliament, effectively called for the overthrow of the Greek government. “In an outburst that was extraordinary coming from the most senior official in the EU parliament, he argued that the radical left Syriza government should be replaced by a technocratic administration,” wrote The Guardian. The European elite’s attitude towards Greek’s “No” vote was revealed even more succinctly in a headline of a Financial Times column: “Eurozone’s weakest link is the voters.”

The eurocrats claim loudly that their solutions have nothing to do with politics, that they are ideologically neutral. The technocrats say nothing is political when in fact, for the people affected in Greece, everything is political. By framing it as non-political they conveniently frame the decisions as beyond the democratic process — and suggest that the “No” vote was just political “interference.”

The Greek people understood perfectly how political their decision was — symbolized by the contrasting photos of the men in suits in Brussels and an elderly woman pensioner crying on the steps of a Greek bank. These European technocrats are really friendly fascists, trading jackboots for iPhones and econometric modelling for guns — recasting the most important aspect of the democratic governance of nation states (how the economy distributes wealth and security) as beyond the influence of the people and positing corporatism, the state’s alliance with transnational corporations, in its place.

Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York show support for Greek resistance to austerity in 2012. Photo by Michael Fleshman, Creative Commons licensed.

As Slovenian writer Slavoj Žižek says: “This passage from politics proper to neutral expert administration characterizes our entire political process: strategic decisions based on power are more and more masked as administrative regulations based on neutral expert knowledge, and they are more and more negotiated in secrecy and enforced without democratic consultation.”

The global significance of the Greek crisis is that it pulls the curtain from this hijacking of democratic decision-making — though the mainstream media will do everything it can to pull it back as quickly as possible. The parallel in Canada to this political spectacle is the flurry of corporate rights agreements being signed by the Harper government — all of them negotiated in complete secret, with negotiating positions unavailable to elected MPs (and even cabinet ministers), and all of them transferring decision-making power from elected governments to corporations.

The latest agreement (so far unsigned) is the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), which will also target domestic regulations. Not only do we not know what is at stake, we will not even be able to see Canada’s negotiating stance for five years. To add insult to injury these agreements all demand “transparency” from governments, which in the real world means corporations have a legally-binding right to receive advance notice of any legislation that might affect them so that they can intervene — something no citizen or civil society group will ever get. Lastly, it is the “too big to fail” banks which actually dictate the terms of these agreements — just as they are trying to dictate the future of the Greek economy and democracy.

Part of what drives the eurocrats and their political mouthpieces to distraction is the simple fact that all of this is taking place in the public eye. Whatever the outcome, enjoy the “transparency” while you can.

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MURRAY DOBBIN, now living in Powell River, BC has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for over forty years.  He can be reached at murraydobbin@shaw.ca

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