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Sovereign Debt as Weapon: Subverting Democracy in Greece

At this 4th World Conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, on placing democracy at the service of peace, sustainable development and building the world that people want, I stand before you and among you, as President of the recently dissolved Hellenic Parliament to address you with a call for solidarity to the Greek people and to Greece: The place where democracy was born and where it is now being bluntly attacked and violated.

Greece and its people have been victimized during the last five years by policies purported to provide a sustainable solution to the country’s over-indebtment and a way out of the economic crisis.

These policies, contained in agreements called “Memoranda of Understanding” and concluded by the Greek governments and a trio of international institutions (namely the IMF, the EC and the ECB) known as the TROIKA and acting as Greece’s creditors, have resulted to severe violations of human rights, especially social rights, fundamental freedoms and the very rule of law.

What has been presented as “bail-out” loan agreements has resulted to misery, unemployment at unprecedented rates (72% among young women and 60% among young men), hundreds of thousands of young people emigrating, an explosion of suicides, the marginalization of the young, the old, the weak, the poor, the immigrants the refugees, half of the country’s children living under the poverty line, a situation amounting to a humanitarian crisis and documented in the UN Independent Experts’ on Debt and Human Rights reports and public statements, as well as in a series of international court decisions and findings.

On the 25th of January 2015, only seven months ago, the Greek people through general elections gave a clear and unequivocal mandate to government and to parliament to do away with these homicidal policies. Negotiations started.

A special Committee of the Parliament was formed, called the Truth Committee on Public Debt, to conduct an audit and a legal assessment of the debt it issued a preliminary report last June.

The report found that the state’s sovereign debt is illegal, illegitimate, odious and unsustainable. It found that the sovereign debt has been concluded through procedures which grossly violate constitutional law, parliamentary procedure and fundamental human rights and freedoms guaranteed under international law, thereby justifying the denunciation of the debt. It found that creditors had been acting in bad faith, knowingly burdening the country with unsustainable loans to save French, German and Greek private banks.

Despite these findings, Greece’s creditors insisted that the people’s mandate be neglected.

On June 25th, a 48 hour ultimatum was addressed to the Greek government asking it to accept, contrary to popular mandate, a series of measures dismantling labour law, abolishing social security guarantees and legal protection for over-indebted citizens, while at the same time requiring the sell-out of the most precious public assets and public enterprises, but also major ports, airports and public infrastructure.

All to be sold or given away to repay an unsustainable and odious debt.

The Hellenic Parliament, accepted the Government’s proposal to hold a referendum on the ultimatum, and the Greek people, through a large majority of 62%, rejected the measures.

During the referendum week, international and foreign government officials tried to influence the referendum outcome through statements terrorizing the people.

The referendum was held with the banks closed and capital controls imposed as a result for the ECB’s refusal to provide liquidity after the proclamation of the referendum.

And yet, democracy prevailed. The people pronounced themselves clearly and said a 62% NO to those homicidal measures.

What followed is a nightmare for every democratic conscience and a disgrace.

The creditors refused to consider the referendum outcome. They insisted, under the threat of provoking a bank-failure and a humanitarian disaster, that measures harsher than those rejected be adopted.

The government was forced to accept that Parliament legislates on pre-formulated texts of hundreds of pages with no deliberation and at pre-fixed dates with an emergency procedure and with the banks still closed. This extortion was baptized “prerequisites” for an agreement and Parliament was called to abolish laws it had only voted during the previous 4 months and to refrain from any legislative initiative without prior approval by the creditors.

An over 100 page law construed in 1 article was passed on July 15th in less than 24 hours. A 1000 page law construed in 3 articles was passed on July 22nd in less than 24 hours. An almost 400 page law was passed on August 14, in 24 hours.

Parliament legislated 3 times under duress and coercion.

And after this was done, attesting that a large part of the deputies of the major governing party, including the Parliament’s President, refused to vote such legislation, Parliament was inadvertedly dissolved to ensure a “more stable majority” to implement what the people have rejected.

Sovereign debt is being used against the Greek population and the Hellenic Parliament to reduce Democracy. But Democracy is an ultimate value.

And Parliaments cannot be reduced to simple stamps approving dictated norms, rejected by the people and construed to destroy societies and the next generations.

I call upon you as Parliamentarians of the world to support the claim for democracy and parliamentary sovereignty against debt-coercion.

And to support the initiatives of the UN General Assembly and the Ad Hoc Committee on Sovereign debt as well as the initiatives of the UN Independent Experts on debt and human rights.

Do not allow for democracy to be annihilated at the place where it was born.

Do not allow that any other Parliament be coerced to vote against the people’s will and against its’ deputies mandate.

Do not allow that human rights, human lives, human dignity and the most valuable UN principles be crushed to serve the banking system.

The world that people want cannot be built without the world’s people.

This a transcript of Zoe Konstantopoulou’s speech at the Fourth World Conference of Speakers of Parliament on 2nd September in New York.

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Zoe Konstantopoulou is a Greek human rights lawyer and politician of the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza). On 27 January 2015, she was nominated Speaker of the Hellenic Parliament. She was elected to the post on 6 February 2015 with the record number of 235 out of 300 votes.

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