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Here be dragons: Lies, horror populi and subversion amidst hope and chaos

by talos Sun Jun 5th, 2011 at 10:30:11 AM EST

Takis Michas' article in the WSJ, written a month ago, about Greece and what he describes as its Descent into Anarchy (full article reproduced here) is a stunning piece of disinformation on the situation in Greece, an outlandish view of the disaster unfolding in the country, tainted by class prejudices and ideolepsy. It is so utterly unrooted in reality, that, were it published in Greece anonymously, it would be unclear whether this was perhaps a parody. This is the pinnacle of a genre of alarmist anti-left writings that seem to pop-up regularly in the local MSM to lecture the restless natives on the vileness of resistance to Authority and its true Prophet, the IMF, and blame the Left as sole instigator of all sorts of violence: A"violence" however, which on closer inspection mostly consists of jeering a corrupt politician or two, staging a protest against the pauperization of this or that social group, peaceful civil disobedience and strikes. In a zoology of militantly conformist, fear-mongering tall tales on display in the government-friendly media (and that's 90% of all MSM media), Michas' piece is Godzilla. That's why it was perhaps too tall for the Greek press and required a global newspaper to print it.

The WSJ readership of course, needs this potent injection of fear-mongering anyway, as the plebes in the US are rapidly becoming unruly themselves, faced with shouldering the costs of the banker bailout and this cautionary tale form the exotic Near East, complete with leftist dragons, is perfectly timed for domestic use.
As I said, if this was published in a Greek newspaper, in Greek, it would offer a hilarious peek at the paranoia that the crisis has bred among the country's upper classes, and would not merit a response significantly different from "you should go out more often". Since it is published in English, in a paper as broadly read among ruling elites as the WSJ, and might skew the perception of what is actually happening in Greece, it requires debunking, especially as I have seen the article being referred to on the www as some sort of authoritative picture of Greek "anarchy", since its publication. In the process it will provide an opportunity to relate the true story of the budding, if still incoherent, mass resistance to the ECB/IMF fiscal stormtroopers and their caretaker government in this peripheral ECB province I'm writing from, but also the truly darker side of collapsing neighbourhoods, mindless violence and general despair that is emerging from the deep cracks that the prolonged ECB/IMF induced depression has carved on the already decrepit social body. This panoramic view of civil discontent and societal unrest that answering Michas' article must include, and the true dangers lurking as the crisis deepens will be the major theme of this post, along with a discussion of things that have happened after the publication of this article: it has been a month thick with events.

Promoted by DoDo

Austerity? What austerity?
Michas begins by lamenting the demise of "the rule of law" in Greece and chiding the government for its inability to "to  maintain order and implement its own legislation". While the debt crisis is briefly mentioned, Michas avoids pointing to a rather crucial piece of background info: the developments he "describes" (and misrepresents) are happening as Greece is plunged into the deepest recession in living memory, as unemployment is skyrocketing along with part-time and uninsured jobs, as even nominal wages are collapsing, as a quarter of small businesses have either gone bankrupt or are preparing to do so, as indirect taxes soar and inflation persists.
But all this does not impress Michas:

"Many argue that Greece's disintegration  is the unavoidable  consequence of the government's attempt to enforce  economic austerity. This  seems doubtful".

Now why it seems doubtful to Takis Michas, he won't say. It certainly doesn't seem doubtful to the vast majority of people in the country, as the percentage of Greeks expecting social conflict in the next few months as a result of government policies reached 84% three months ago [poll links in Greek, I'm afraid], while when asked to describe their feelings towards these policies in another poll, 35,5% mentioned "anger", 33% "disappointment", and 21% "fear". Pollsters warn that the Greek political system has "passed the point of no return", and is facing a drastic overhaul...

I don't think there is a country in the world were the population can (or should) be expected to passively accept its own impoverishment and the annihilation of lives and prospects. Society is still paralyzed from the Shock Therapy the German Bankers and their local overseers have imposed and are still, to an extent, under the spell of the neoliberal mantra: There Is No Alternative. There are movements however on the ground, local and nation-wide that resist this destruction, stemming both from a sense of injustice and a practical inability to pay for much more than basic necessities. These movements are widely accepted and approved of by the Greek population. However, for Michas to admit to large scale societal desperation, rage and depression would be to accept that there are valid reasons for this anger. But that would by ideologically problematic for a large part of the neoliberal right that he represents and, anyway, it would stand in the way of red-baiting which is the object of this article. Thus Michas proceeds to a string of accusations against the left that are blatantly outrageous and viciously false. They are the kind of accusations an authoritarian government levels against dissident groups. It is highly unlikely that Michas is so secluded and deluded that he doesn't know this already, so this is IMHO inexcusable disinformation.

All protest is lawlessness?

SYRIZA members harass pro-market politician

Michas starts his description of the Evil Greek Left with an impressive piece of disinformation:
The country is at the mercy of militant activists, who are mostly inspired by various factions of Greece's hard left. The heaviest hitters are Greece's Communist Party and the anarcho-Stalinist Coalition of the Radical Left, which is comprised of the Ecosocialists of Greece, the "Roza" Radical Left Group and the Internationalist Workers' Left, to name a few. Their followers, with total impunity, have taken to harassing citizens and destroying public property, even taking over whole villages.

First if all let's start with this fact: The "militant activists" of these parties are responsible for zero (0) acts of real physical violence against anyone. They have "harassed" no citizens that I'm aware of, unless "harass citizens" means "demonstrate against politicians" perhaps, they have not destroyed public property as far as I'm aware of, and they have certainly not taken over any villages, at least since the Greek Civil War in the 1940s.

Beware of Stalinists bearing flags

The Communist Party is an ossified relic of a sovietophilic old-school stalinist party, whose intransigence and militancy in workers' movements as well as its historic role in the Greek resistance have guaranteed it a permanent place in parliament - and which is growing stronger by the day as the protest party par excellence. Its actions include the usual old-school labor actions, i.e. ship-workers and sailors blocking ports. The party has no loose canons and has a horror of things getting out of control. No police officers worry about attending a KKE demonstration. Ever.

Rabid SYRIZA Members armed with deadly pickets

The description of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SY.RIZ.A in Greek) again is, well, somewhat idiosyncratic. It is indeed a coalition, a block of left and green parties from left social-democracy to post-maoist groups. The three parties Michas chooses to enumerate are however not quite representative of the alliance. It is like saying that "the Italian peninsula is comprised among others of the Vatican and San Marino". The missing elephant, the core political and parliamentary entity around which the alliance was built, is the Coalition of the Left and Ecology (even the similar name sort of gives the deal away) a member of the Party of the European Left (along with Die Linke, Bloco, Sinn Fein, PCF etc.). Interestingly, despite Michas' claims regarding their dastardly final objectives, this party participated in two Greek governments in the late 80s early 90s (along with the Communists - with the Conservatives first and then in a emergency government): there were no gulags built. Kim Il Sung does not seem to feature among the guiding lights of either party... About "Anarchostalinism" I can only say that it is a term that has no proper place outside satire, so I'll leave it at that.

Those evil commies then, have activists who apparently "direct physical attacks primarily at politicians and journalists  who support open societies and market economies". Now, the three "attacks" Michas mentions have indeed happened (as have many more like them); in fact politicians and establishment figures are currently feeling rather unsafe walking around in public without heavy escort. But that isn't because they are "for open societies and market economies" but rather because they are part of a corrupt and/or incompetent political two-party system that has thrown Greece into an unsustainable debt maelstorm, through cronyism, clientilism and theft. This opinion about the two governing parties is shared by a vast majority of the population - 93% of Greeks feel that corrupt politicians should go to jail. According to last year's Transparency International survey, Greeks were the people who ranked their political parties with the highest marks for corruption in the world. A recent poll shows that 40% of the population are for (and 56% against) violent heckling of governing politicians. As the Greek economy collapses even the "official" narrative for the crisis makes people who are facing destitution rather angry.

Even so, the conservative politician mentioned was most certainly not attacked by organized leftist activists (of any kind). Kostis Hatzidakis, MP and former transport minister, not involved in any personal scandals, was attacked by a couple of elderly men during a huge union demonstration, one carrying an umbrella which he used against the former minister, as other protesters from the crowd protected the MP.

Hadzidakis attacked

No one credible has, to my knowledge, seriously suggested that the attackers were members of any party. Their photos and the relevant video has travelled around the Greek web and the media many times. Were the perpetrators members of any left party, the MS media, quick to indulge in all sort of wild accusations against those "irresponsible leftists" would no-doubt have unearthed it.  They haven't.

Keratea burning

The same is true for both other cases (and there are many more instances of public, intense disapproval, voiced all over Greece and abroad wherever government members appear in public, on a daily basis by now, most of which have nothing to do with physical violence). In one case Michas mentions, we know for a fact that the person that threw yogurt (yogurt! how deadly can you get?) against the Vice-Premier was a voter of the far-right LAOS party, (and we know this because he gave an interview in a Greek newspaper). He was acting as a citizen of Keratea, a town whose inhabitants have immersed themselves in an insurgency against the creation of a landfill next to their homes. The town was a rather conservative - if anything - electoral municipality. This is the only instance of anything that might be legitimately called an insurrection in Greece, and it is very local in its scope. Theodoros Pangalos, the Vice Premier, elected from that particular electoral periphery, had spoken against the locals and for Law and Order, as is par for the course. Again, since local politicians of all colours and stripes have expressed their sympathies with the locals, and the whole town was behind the demonstrations, the claim that the locals were "supported by anarchist 'freedom fighters'" is ridiculous - not to mention in contradiction with the claim that the village was taken over by leftist activists. Keratea is a case study in state intimidation since from day one the government chose to use sticks - not carrots: the police have shown incredible ferocity against the inhabitants of Keratea, including Gaza-style home invasions and violence against the elderly, on orders to support tooth and claw a project that the citizens of Keratea insist is a contract awarded to politically connected construction companies.
This is not the first time in Greece or in Europe, where locals have found being forced to live next to a toxic landfill violently unpalatable. Only previously, no one would have thought it necessary to invoke a conspiracy of anarchostalinists to explain it away. As for Pangalos, who has distinguished himself in heaping scorn against Greek citizens, a recent poll has shown that a full 79% of those questioned agreed with the deprecation and the jeers directed against him. By the way: it seems that these protests might yet have borne fruit... with all that this fact might have to teach us.

Raw terror at the toll booths
Similarly, the "Won't pay" movement, far from being some sort of bloodthirsty extremist group (in fact they are completely non-violent) is a citizens' initiative, mostly, but not solely, from areas where the government has set up toll booths that force the inhabitants of towns to pay in order to be able to leave their towns. At the same time, the toll fee prices had been hiked originally, exactly as general nominal income is steeply declining and inflation is charging on at 4-5%. Frequent commuters find it too much of a drain for their precarious finances to pay extra for driving to and from work, on incomplete roads constructed by the "national" contractors whose contracts are generally believed to be the product of their owners' political "entanglement". The Left certainly supported these movements but hardly initiated them. The movements had managed to win a promise of across the board reduction on toll fees (which it seems now the government has no intention of carrying out). They have also opened up with their actions, both on the road and in the courts, a new area of public inquiry, regarding the enormous costs that Greek roads seem to have incurred, as part of the corrupt relationships between some construction companies' owners and government cadres from both ruling parties...And it's far more than the voters of the Left who are furious with the toll prices: 66% of the public consider that the Minister of Infrastructure is a tool for the contractors. 52% suppport the "Won't pay" activists (vs 33% against). These people are not ideologues of any sort of "hard left" Michas is terrified of. They are people at the edge of bankruptcy and disaster. Even the regional chambers of commerce for Pieria and Thessaloniki are participating actively in these protests. So much for wild-eyed radicals...A similar story pertains to the metro/bus ticket boycott: fares went up by 40% this January, meeting a determined resistance from many commuters who have refused to pay these price hikes. In both cases the government legislated draconian measures to break these movements, and it is rumored that the toll companies are paying police officers and police departments to be present at the toll stations and force payment on anyone who denies payment, while they have tried to scare ticket dodgers with heavy penalties and fines - and even jail for a 1,4 Euro ticket!
Then there is the Marfin Bank incident last May, where, in one of the largest union rallies ever in Athens, a group of hooded "anarchists" threw molotov cocktails inside a bank, a mind-bogglingly criminal act that resulted in the death of three bank employees, who were trapped inside. This was a depraved act, no doubt about it, but the fire-bombers, who were possibly not aware of the fact that there were people inside the shuttered bank, were a small group (3-4 people strong) acting around the main demo, with no connection to Michas' "hard left" at all. Michas' claim, that activists of the main parliamentary leftist parties go after "people who refuse to participate in strikes and demonstrations" stating that: "In May 2010 three employees of the private bank Marfin suffocated to death when a hard-left mob fire-bombed their offices during a riot" is slanderous and dishonest.

The ghost of Greek liberals past
This tale of nefarious leftists firebombing villages and occupying banks or whatever, is of course par for the course for the socialist government and its supporters in the media as well as the ultra-right wing LAOS party.This is not the only policy area where the "serious" parties converge: This January the government, the conservative opposition and the extreme right were trying to outdo each other in anti-immigrant, xenophobic and racist rhetoric when 300 (mainly North African) "illegal" workers went on a hunger strike to demand that they have the opportunity to employ themselves legally. Seeing this as a rare opportunity to gain popular points, the government rode the xenophobic horse almost until the end when, faced with the prospect of dozens of dead hunger strikers, as one after the other were fading in critical condition in Greek hospitals, they accepted some sort of deal - which after the hunger strike was over they made sure to reinterpret. The compliant government-dependent media moguls and their TV stations went on what can only be described as a week of inciting racist hatred: the intensity of rhetoric was at KKK levels and it was truly scary to realize that one was witnessing what amounted to a immigrant hate-fest in the most mainstream of Greek TV news shows. This was unfolding in an already ominous context of sky-rocketing unemployment and Dublin II, an EU treaty on migration which guarantees that Greece is and will remain a massive EU immigrant detention camp for the forseeable future, with a desperate, unemployed and hopeless detainee population that is now dying to get out of the country on top of dying to get in...   The Democratic Alliance, the party which Mr. Michas writes as a representative of in the WSJ article, was a very vocal part of that broad coalition of xenophobia. Note that as an independent journalist Michas showed a libertarian bend, and it is doubly astonishing to read such calls to authoritarianism by him especially...
The immigrant hunger strike was the most obvious example of the "respectable" part of the political spectrum seeming to have decided that, in the face of mass popular delegitimization of the political system, the proper response is to move ever rightwards on social issues. This is some sort of a collective "Sarkozy strategy", which ignores, among other things, how this is currently playing out in France. The marriage of neoliberal economics with extreme conservative, nationalist and xenophobic currents, seems to be a viable vehicle for preserving elite privilege. This has the effect of further strengthening an already empowered extreme right: the Nazi party (not a metaphor - the actual Nazi party) is polling at 1,5% according to a recent poll, ten times its historical size, and the original xenophobic extreme right-wingers at LAOS have also shown signs of a significant rise in the polls. Since Michas' article, the Nazis and the mainstream apologists for xenophobia who have fanned the flames of the racism that feeds them, have gone on an anti-immigrant rampage, a pogrom of real and horrific criminal violence, illustrating where the danger of blind and mindless destruction and societal dissolution come from and where criminal intent really is indiscernible from the effects of a programmatically antidemocratic platform. These events happened a month after Michas' aricle in the WSJ, and the trend was visible well before then. Strangely Michas' libertarianism was blind to this actual rather than invented rise of political violence.

What is even more worrying is the fact that these pogroms happened under the indifferent eye of the police, and they were then only peripherally highlighted and lightly condemned by mainstream media. What is more: as the Minister of Public Protection mumbled a few words about dissolving the nuclei of neonazi sympathizers in the police force, "serious" newspapers, the conservative and far-right opposition, members of his own "socialist" party and pundits of every sort, actually protested against "starting witch hunts" in the police force and "hurting an already diminished morale". Thus it is plainly clear that the toleration of the far right is a reasoned choice for sections of the Greek elite.
This will not be the first time the Greek liberal right and center and the elites that run them, will have allied themselves with the extreme right: During the civil war in Greece the "traditional" parties allied themselves with Nazi collaborators, black-marketeers and goons, and proceeded to impose a national security state that, with varying ferocity, continued until 1974, after attempts at democratization were quashed by royalist parliamentary coups and then the brutal military junta of 1967-74. Thus it is truly ironic for Michas to dangle the spectre of an imaginary authoritarian left: in Greece it is the liberal and not too liberal center and conservative parties that have a history of violence, using the extreme right as their "muscle". The parties Michas slanders and their ideological forebears, have been fighting for more not less democracy in Greece over the last 60 years. Kim Il Sung would feel much more comfortable with the government's LAOS allies than he would with the independent (to say the least) minded members of the components of SYRIZA's coalition. much less of course an anarchist of any sort...

Societal Tensions
There are other things happening in Greek society, as well, other ways in which the current increasingly desperate situation expresses itself. Suicide rates have shot up in 2010, and continue unabated in 2011, a quarter of shops in downtown Athens are now empty, people are leaving Athens in panic to become farmers, organized crime is booming, while unemployment almost reached 16% this February, homelessness has become a visible issue, soup kitchens almost cannot serve all the needy...

This collapse has created hopelessness, anger and violence. Criminal violence, racist and nazi violence, police violence and anarchist / protest violence. The events of the past weeks I have described elsewhere, but a day after the brutal and murderous police attack against peaceful demonstrators - a practice so entrenched and widespread that it suggests a permanent strategy of intimidation in order to "discourage" participation -  a gang of anarchists attacked a central police station with molotov cocktails, running through a street market full of people. In the ensuing mess, three bystanders were burned by the fire bombs and one was until yesterday in serious condition, fighting for his life in a hospital...

So this explains somewhat the results that Public Issue, a polling company, published, of a survey that reported that:

  • 62% of Greeks think that the memorandum with the troika has harmed the  country and the same percentage is against it (13% it benefited the  country - 15 support it),
  • 16% think that there is no alternative (69%  think there are alternatives).
  • 77% do not trust the Prime Minister to  manage the economy (22% trust him).
  • 75% have a negative view of the IMF  (69% last year), and 74% of DSK (49% last year).
  • 69% believe that the  IMF must leave Greece now (up 4% from 6 months ago).
  • Only 52% have a  negative view of the ECB (vs 33% positive) and 61% of Trichet. 59% have a  positive view of the EU (up three points from 6 months ago).
  • 53% want  to bargain and default on at least a part of the public debt. 17% want  to default completely and unilaterally.
  • 33% think that the country needs  a revolution and 56% deep changes.
  • Greeks support strikes (74 - 20) and  protests & marches (69 - 25) and are marginally not supportive of  electoral abstention (45 - 54) and public deprecation and jeering of  politicians (43 - 54)...
  • 78% vs 21, believe that a social explosion is  impending...
  • 29% feel mainly angry, 18% dissapointed, 15% anxious, 11% shamed,  8% sadness and 13% all of the above.

Interestingly 48% believes that the stage is set for a successful far right party to emerge, versus 27% for a far left.

Thus contrary to Michas' assertions this is not about a leftist coup d' etat: The natives are restless and unhappy because of the, probably unprecedented during peacetime, drop of living standards they are suffering, with large swathes of the population being pushed to extremes of poverty that were unimaginable a few years ago, at the same time as prices rise, with incredibly high inflation due to a continuous barrage of indirect taxes and the backbone of state services and companies is being privatized in a gigantic sell out:  Schools are being shut down, hospitals are in jeopardy (while corruption in and around them is still rife), as per yesterday the electric utility, the healthiest bank in the country, the state gambling and betting monopolies (very profitable), the power company (again profitable), petroleum, water services etc - are on sale, a true sell out that will happen at fire-sale prices (the depression has driven the Athens stock market at an all time low, it will be interesting in a morbid way to see how low will the sell out prices go). The sad thing about the left in these circumstances is not that it does to much. But that it is still doing too little to stop the asset stripping and the destruction of a whole generation of Greeks. If only they were as dangerous as Michas claims!

Yet this work of political fiction Michas has concocted must serve a purpose. I fear it is one of creating alibis. "If you see us rolling out the tanks, rescinding a few articles of the constitution, or if you see demonstrators being trampled, beaten like it's Mubarak's Tahrir Square, Manama, or Baniya, Syria", signals Michas to US and global elites, "it's OK": It's only communists and "anarchostalinists" who are being punished for their love of Kim Il Sung. Everybody else just loves being reduced to poverty and insecurity.

P.S: And so it was until the #spanishrevolution. There are as we speak twenty or more facebook groups planning  #greekrevolution gatherings around the country, today 25/5/11. Let's see how succesful and how nonviolent these turn out to be. Unlike the #spanishrevolution however, everybody expects the #greekrevolution right now...

This is a late repost from Histologion, already a bit dated, which I'm putting up now because Migeru suggested that as a debunking and a general review of past events in Greece it might be useful here. This in a sense is an update...

Thank you for this. It needs wider exposure. Orange would be great, but... (perhaps Jerome could help?)

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Jun 3rd, 2011 at 10:30:15 PM EST
under my name if talos agrees.
I'd probably use a more identifiable title like "WSJ lies about the Greek economic crisis"

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Jun 5th, 2011 at 09:41:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have no problem with that Jerome... Post on!

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake
by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Sun Jun 5th, 2011 at 11:45:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I had to delete the pictures (the site is not allowed, sadly).

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Jun 5th, 2011 at 02:36:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Jun 5th, 2011 at 02:37:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The WSJ is having a bad weekend.

It posted this and managed to piss off most of the literate Twitterverse.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sun Jun 5th, 2011 at 02:53:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Someone, perhaps Talos, should prepare a three paragraph summary of this diary and send it as an LTE to the WSJ. It would be best if it were by a WSJ subscriber, which I am not.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Jun 6th, 2011 at 04:10:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Excellent! Tipped, recommended and commented.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Jun 5th, 2011 at 04:22:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You should go read the thread and enjoy the compliments, especially thisone:

Accurate and fair, as seen from inside. (15+ / 0-)

That is an amazingly accurate and even-handed, not to mention very well-written post. Once or twice I paused as the writer and I probably do not share our Greek politics but there were no mistakes or misrepresentations.

It joins the pantheon of good pieces written about the Crisis in Greece, such as the Rolling Stone article about the Vatopedi Monastery Scandal.

If I am a frog in a pot, a la Tom Tomorrow's cartoon, it is certainly getting warmer.

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Jun 6th, 2011 at 02:30:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes the discussion is very interesting in gerneral, but that particular comment was very high praise indeed, especially given the fact that we do not share political opinions in general as Athenian says. Thanks for the repost Jerome! it is very important at this stage that some taste of reality in Greece is disseminated...

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake
by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Mon Jun 6th, 2011 at 02:35:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Its actions include the usual old-school labor actions, i.e. ship-workers and sailors blocking ports. The party has no loose canons and has a horror of things getting out of control. No police officers worry about attending a KKE demonstration. Ever.

Yesterday, they left the shipyards, but were still peaceful:

Greece gets EU, IMF thumbs up for next aid tranche | Europe | Deutsche Welle | 04.06.2011

Earlier in the day, protesters from Greece's communist-leaning PAME party draped a five-storey banner from the roof of the finance ministry in Athens calling for public sector strikes. Unions have vowed to strike against austerity measures.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jun 4th, 2011 at 04:56:30 AM EST
What was the echo of this action in Greece, BTW? Was it even as significant as the widespread Western media reporting made me think?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jun 4th, 2011 at 05:51:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Eh no, this is par for the course nowadays. The Power Utility Employees did the same thing a week ago with a larger banner (about keeping the company public). I mean it was noticed, but the big strike is coming on the 15th. If the crowd in Syntagma remains there, it will be much more interesting...

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake
by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Sat Jun 4th, 2011 at 06:08:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yet this work of political fiction Michas has concocted must serve a purpose. I fear it is one of creating alibis. "If you see us rolling out the tanks, rescinding a few articles of the constitution, or if you see demonstrators being trampled, beaten like it's Mubarak's Tahrir Square, Manama, or Baniya, Syria", signals Michas to US and global elites, "it's OK": It's only communists and "anarchostalinists" who are being punished for their love of Kim Il Sung. Everybody else just loves being reduced to poverty and insecurity.

Or it could be worse. Michas seems to be wishing for what comes after the tanks: the cleansing of everyone who could present or articulate an alternative to TINA. When the CIA supplied death lists to the Shah in Iran in 1953, to Saddam's Baath party in the 1963 coup against Qasim, to Suharto in Indonesia in 1965, then invariably, the supposed elimination of the communist menace was actually an elimination of all leftist or even just nationalist leaders and opinionmakers of any stripe. This was repeated even without direct CIA help by the military dictatorships of Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay: even collective farmers, artists, sociologists were part of the supposed 'communist danger'. Or, in an earlier era: the White Terror, supposedly a retaliation for the Red Terror of the Hungarian Soviet, mostly hit agrarian activists and also reached social democrats.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Jun 4th, 2011 at 05:40:29 AM EST
I note that the guy is presented by the WSJ as follows:

Mr. Michas is the international secretary for Greece's new centrist-liberal party, the Democratic Alliance.


Wind power

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Jun 5th, 2011 at 09:43:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... in the center of the neoliberals.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Jun 5th, 2011 at 10:52:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They call it "the right of self-determinition". Of course, they keep their right to call other people names.

"Eurozone leaders have turned a 50bn Greek solvency problem into a 1,000bn existential crisis for the European Union." David Miliband
by Kostis Papadimitriou on Mon Jun 6th, 2011 at 03:44:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... letting those others decide what they ought to be called would not be 'self-determination', it would 'other-determination'.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jun 6th, 2011 at 09:16:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is off-topic but not completely, due to the contrasting parallels and far-right angles. In his latest op-ed in The Independent Johann Hari writes about the sole European example of standing up to the IMF:

Johann Hari: It's not just Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The IMF itself should be on trial - Johann Hari, Commentators - The Independent

Some people claim that Strauss-Kahn was a "reformer" who changed the IMF after he took over in 2009. Certainly, there was a shift in rhetoric - but detailed study by Dr Daniela Gabor of the University of the West of England has shown that the substance is business-as-usual.

Look, for example, at Hungary. After the 2008 crash, the IMF lauded them for keeping to their original deficit target by slashing public services. The horrified Hungarian people responded by kicking the government out, and choosing a party that promised to make the banks pay for the crisis they had created. They introduced a 0.7 per cent levy on the banks (four times higher than anywhere else). The IMF went crazy. They said this was "highly distortive" for banking activity - unlike the bailouts, of course - and shrieked that it would cause the banks to flee from the country. The IMF shut down their entire Hungary programme to intimidate them.

But the collapse predicted by the IMF didn't happen. Hungary kept on pursuing sensible moderate measures, instead of punishing the population. They imposed taxes on the hugely profitable sectors of retail, energy and telecoms, and took funds from private pensions to pay the deficit. The IMF shrieked at every step, and demanded cuts for ordinary Hungarians instead...

This is a fair description of the IMF's role, and the bank levy and the extra taxes were correct from my view. What's more, the government also pushed for a re-nationalisation of health insurance, using leftist rhetoric including the point that people's savings are used in casino capitalism. However, it is dangerous for European leftists to make this government an example to follow, and assume that the current situation will hold in the future. Unlike Michas's delusions for rich right-wingers, this will backfire on them.

Hungary's "economic freedom fighter" government [so said the economy minister] is not leftist and not consistent. Their rebellion against the Washington Consensus came about as a consequence of their earlier social propaganda from opposition, but their real economic views are a libertarian mess.

  1. The punitive measures on foreign capital (some of it political: there was also a buyout of the shares of a Russian gas company) were combined with the introduction of flat income tax and
  2. a(n illusory) hope to attract – yes – more foreign capital.
  3. The healthcare re-nationalisation drive is heavy on punitive measures against the insured, rather than bold enough to go for the throat of the companies themselves.
  4. The mad new constitution also includes a balanced budget requirement.
  5. To achieve that, the government reportedly prepared its own IMF-independent austerity package (which shall not be called austerity package but one Orwellian term or another), to be rolled out in full after the end of Hungary's EU Presidency.
  6. Already earlier this year, they began with massive cutbacks in culture, education, and some public servants, and some labour rights.

So, what will happen when they implement wider austerity? IMHO the key is the behaviour of the far-right, and it could get worse than in Greece. In Hungary, the fact that attempted 'centrist' instrumentation of the far-right only empowered the latter is reflected by an electoral result rather than just opinion polls changed the configuration.

Years ago, the now ruling Fidesz party wanted to gobble up the entire Right, from national liberal to the anti-semitic far-right. The now-strong Jobbik party escaped from that clutch, but others who think similarly remained, thus even while Jobbik began to act as a rival and kept challenging their government authority, Fidesz continued to refuse confrontation with Jobbik for fear of losing voters to them. Even when Jobbik-close paramilitias marched up and camped in in a village with many Gypsies, their first reaction was to attack 'leftist provocateurs' trying to sow mayhem and bring the country into disrepute. But in the end they saw no way around it and pushed through some new (and limited) anti-paramilitary laws.

So confrontation between Fidesz and Jobbik is on. And signs are Jobbik won't be content with focusing public anger on Gypsies and Jews, and will use social anger to attack the government, too. Right now, of the half dozen uncoordinated movements staging anti-government protests, the loudest is a police union associated with Jobbik. (The residential area around the PM's house was just cordoned off to keep them away.) All the while the 'Socialists' (and the media intellectuals who remain as representatives of liberalism) focus their criticism on... agreeing with the IMF criticism and the moaning of foreign multinationals, and LMP (the local Greens) are too obsessed with civility.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Jun 4th, 2011 at 06:36:20 AM EST
Not at all off-topic. Fully relevant.

In Greece we had one Tea Party (the far-right LAOS) until last month. Now we have two (the more mainstream conservative New Democracy). They both stand around the slogan "Down with taxes" which unites the tax-evading classes: small business, professionals, corporations.
Hungary is the EPP Plan for Greece. It is already working and I think is rather unstoppable. The Socialists fell in this deadly trap.


"Eurozone leaders have turned a 50bn Greek solvency problem into a 1,000bn existential crisis for the European Union." David Miliband

by Kostis Papadimitriou on Mon Jun 6th, 2011 at 03:44:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Michas has been a convenient tool in the USA for well over a decade now, more like two decades. Need something incendiary and slanted about Greece? Call that tool Michas. You should read the piece of tripe he wrote for Texas A&M Press, embarrassing that an academic press would publish it, until you realize that one of the editors was actually a WW2 atrocity denier.
by Upstate NY on Sat Jun 4th, 2011 at 01:06:41 PM EST
I had some respect for Michas because he was one of the few Greek journalists that actually reported on the ties between various Greek politicians and the Milosevic regime. Even then he seems to have used the opportunity as an excuse to express the horror populi that is apparent in most of his work along with violent gusts of wingnuttery.

This latest however was politically slanderous. And dangerous. Plain and simple.
In related news however his party (which has a platform consisting mainly of cheerleading for the IMF and the ECB) is slowly slipping in the polls to CPG (M-L) levels. A good thing undoubtedly...

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake

by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Sat Jun 4th, 2011 at 01:39:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Incidentally, can you give some polls? (And do they ask about voter intent to participate?)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jun 4th, 2011 at 02:23:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Socialists and conservatives have converged to very low numbers:
According to a recent poll by MRB, Socialists and Conservatives are both at 21,5%, Communists at 8,1, The far-right LAOS at 6%, the Coalition of the Radical left at 4,1, Greens at 3,2%, a smaller party of the socialdemocrat left at 2,3% and the neoliberals at 2%, with others polling at 3,9%. 27,9% are undecided mainly but with plenty of blank / spoiled ballot intentions. This poll does not give a measure of (and does not count in the percentages) those that do not intend to vote at all.

The latest poll (that gives estimates of final results and not detailed party numbers) by VPRC (generally serious) has over 50% of voters either not intending to go to the polls, or voting none of the above in various ways. The numbers projected on total actual votes (that is if those that say they won't go actually abstain) are New Democracy (conservatives) 31%, PASOK 30,5%, Communists 12%, Laos (far-right) 7,5%, Coalition of the Radical Left 5,5%, Greens 3%, The Democratic Left is under the 3% parliamentary limit at 2,5%, Neoliberals, Gauchists, Nazis are at 1% each. These results allow only a Grand Coalition government...

Interestingly VPRC asked about votes in a referendum on accepting the troika memorandum and 61,5% would vote against, 18% for and 16% are not sure... 91% disapprove of the way the Greek government is managing the crisis...

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake

by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Sat Jun 4th, 2011 at 03:06:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
These results allow only a Grand Coalition government...

Are there any polls on that, coalition preference?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Jun 4th, 2011 at 03:34:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Interestingly VPRC asked about votes in a referendum

Is anyone significant advocating such a referendum? (is one even possible by local law?)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Jun 4th, 2011 at 03:36:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What combination of positions would be required for a party to draw from many disaffected socialists and some disaffected conservatives? There would seem to be an opening. Stop the foreign looting? Purge domestic corruption. Make the government work for the people instead of corrupt insiders and their foreign cronies? And is there any possibility that such a party would be able to overcome the cynicism that must affect so many? And is there any sign of a potential leader who could lead and attract support for such a party? Else we may find out how you say Hitler or Mussolini in Greek.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Jun 4th, 2011 at 03:40:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
DoDo" Most polls show a larger preference for a National Unity government but all conceivable combinations are on the table
There was discussion about referenda, after both the Chairman of the Greek Industrialists, and EU Comissioner Maria Damanaki "threatened" people with a referendum on whether to stay in the Euro or leave the Eurozone. This was posturing and nonsense of course. IMHO at this stage if the government tables a referendum on any conceivable topic, a majority will form supporting whatever the government is not for.

ARGeezer There are I believe two political openings: One for a party that will run on four issues:

  1. Restablish sovereignty
  2. Default now
  3. leave the Euro
  4. Kick out the immigrants
  5. Wave the flag

Were not LAOS foolish enough to support the Memorandum initially they would be well placed to mix and match elements of a populist agenda. Thankfully they were. Otherwise this would have co-opted the conservatives base at minimum and possibly a lot of other people as well...

The other opening is for a coalition to the left of the socialists that will

  1. Renegotiate seriously, ready to move unilaterally where it must
  2. Promise two years of hell but a growth prospect after that
  3. Re-establish collective bargaining and labor protection laws
  4. Renationalize public utilities and strategic industries
  5. Tax the rich - to an unprecedented extent
  6. Tackle corruption (though this is something that every government over the last 20 years has promised)

The latter must include disaffected socialists (and they are more than the non-disaffected right now), the Coalition of the Left, the Greens and anyone that decides that it is Popular Front time...

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake
by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Sat Jun 4th, 2011 at 04:22:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Are there any believable candidates for a leader of a coalition of the left such as you describe?

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Jun 4th, 2011 at 04:38:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I can think of a few possibilities, but first one has to make them all agree to a common platform, quite task but already being worked on. If the Communists weren't so damn chiliastic and negative towards every possible colaboration (they see all options as "strengthening capitalism"), this coalition thing would be workable already. As things stand I would only wager on abstention becoming the largest "party"...

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake
by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Sat Jun 4th, 2011 at 05:11:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I thought the communists were a splinter party, too small to stop anything. Chiliasm has amazingly broad appeal, from Christian millenarians and Nazis to wayward disciples of Karl Marx. Hard to know which was/is worst. "Come the Revolution!, while doing everything imaginable to prevent the possibility of same, unless it conforms to your own preconceptions. Well, obviously the brief span of the 1,000 year Reich did the most damage. Gotta wonder if Rev. Camping has any idea of the company he is keeping.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Jun 4th, 2011 at 09:23:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I see upthread that the Communists are estimated at 8.1%, so that is not quite a splinter. But if significant numbers of disaffected Socialists and some disaffected conservatives voted for a new party or a reformed old party and many fewer abstained it may be possible to get enough to form a government long enough to reject insanity, but that would leave any kind of viable democracy in a very precarious position.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Jun 4th, 2011 at 09:30:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
great diary, one can really feel the taut atmosphere.


If the Communists weren't so damn chiliastic and negative towards every possible colaboration (they see all options as "strengthening capitalism"), this coalition thing would be workable already.

i think that's what the collective hivemind of ET is trying to hammer out, between all the different angles.

the gradations are fluid and blurry, is socialism merely a refined, or muzzled communism? if communism makes use of currency and world markets, how is it not capitalistic, two apparently polarised PsOV that as we see in cuba and china are trying to coexist?

these damn ideological labels are so distracting, they sow divisions that are illusory, for the most part, yet they effectively castrate the left, leaving separate strands instead of twine.

politicians use extreme slogans, L or R, to gain power from their bases, then run to the centre to try and hoover up the swing voters, to consolidate power positioning. this renders labels even more meaningless and relativised.

at the end of the day, despair and hunger move societies out of stagnation, because only what we see in the arab spring, and now in the squares of europe, is too raw to be politicised in any cardinal way. ideologies seem remote, abstracted, bloodlessly conceptual, commentary before or after the narrative, but never during...

No. Bread. No Job. No. House. No. Water. No. Hopes.

they set fire to themselves, they stand in front of tanks and bulldozers, they expose themselves to brutality, they suffer censorship, they have had enough, and gathering together with precious little to lose, they do what terrorists fail to do with their near-random cruelties.

they sweep away cobwebs and make space for the new ideas that can take over as the old institutions crumble.

perhaps a progressive dispensationalism instead of the chialism... ;)

hammering out these intellectual distinctions has its valence, just as any thoughtful doctrine or theory, but it is these flesh and blood confrontations that are where the rubber meets the road; it is immensely tragic how many times history has to repeat itself because the forces of evil can bundle in fasces, while the forces for good annul their own potency by their own otherwise commendable political biodiversity.


this practically ensures that pragmatic change cannot be enacted from the left, leaving the only other alternative of what we see now, the right uranically destroying its own progeny to reveal its psychosis, its -literally terminal- lack of affect, transferred as it is to its soulless icons of short term profit for the few at the expense of long term suffering for the many. these protesters may not have memorised tomes of political history or mastered the canons of political science, they may not have prepared platforms for future enaction, but they do know when enough is enough, and that is enough for them to risk pain, death and imprisonment rather than continue to cower in denial.

i think within the next year or so the energy/climate dramas will eclipse much of what passes for politics today. the energy issue alone will continue to marvellously concentrate our minds beyond the useless factionalising.

in between the floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, plagues, hurricanes, typhoons, wildfires, volcanic eruptions and 26 extinctions a day that is! what else will stop them fracking us all into species oblivion?

debates about '-isms' are an interesting luxury, and attachments to ideological tribalities assume their appropriate contextual proportions in the face of global weather systems going medieval on our collective asses.

i can't believe after all these centuries of democracy, baton-mashing the innocent remains the SOP.

as early men banded together and took down huge woolly mammoths with nets, we can smarten up and do the same with the zero-sum predatory capitalism goliath using the internets, we need to be nimble, multitudinous, and focused as lasers and perhaps we can effect change some more emotionally intelligent way than being thugbait.

till then, regrettably, it's the barricades where push comes to shove.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Jun 4th, 2011 at 10:02:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
At one time I described my own political philosophy as "radical pragmatism". I didn't care if it was necessary to tear the whole damned thing down to a pile of parts and start again, but the criteria had to be that what was built works. I still hold that general attitude, but have realized that it is more complicated than that. Our social order has to function at a fairly high minimum level or lots of people start dying. So we do not have the luxury of tearing society down and rebuilding, and, especially, of doing so repeatedly, unless we can keep people alive meanwhile.

But we are always in process with reordering of our societies, even if very few people are involved in bringing this about. Many more realize that things are changing, but have no idea why, or have ideas that they cannot substantiate or justify. Most don't have time to be bothered with such questions. But the problem is that the process of change has been controlled, typically, by sociopaths and psychopaths who are utterly ruthless and without conscience in the use of what ever power they can access and, apparently, equally facile at convincing themselves and others that they are only doing what is "best".

It has to be a positive sign that so many ordinary people in so many countries have realized that the existing order of things is not working, that the direction is towards even greater dysfunction and that they have to risk their very lives to protest the ongoing process. I can only hope that they, and we, if/when it comes to that, can sell our lives very dearly, for the direction in which social change proceeds MUST be governed by the needs of sustainable survival of the greatest number of the population that is possible. If we cannot do that we are likely to see world population decline by one or more orders of magnitude over the next century, and not by any orderly or planned process.

The Greeks, especially the Athenians, effectively ruled themselves, especially on the local level, for the better part of a millennium by participative democracy and are the leading example of democracy in history. Let us hope that they can rise to do justice to their heritage and that the rest of us can follow suit.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Jun 5th, 2011 at 12:27:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As usual, your free verse covers many topics succinctly, connectedly, and insightfully. Well said.

I started to write a diary a week ago on my approach to 'organizing', but decided it was too self-congratulatory and has shown too little support data. I will, however, offer the synopsis.

I have a fairly consistent 'ism', which I discuss with many friends and acquaintances in contexts of projects and 'single-issue' groups. These discussions are civil, because we are all working on the points of convergence between my beliefs and their perceived interests - and because that's my style. I recommend this approach, because, if nothing else, one has an 'affinity group'/community when trouble comes.

paul spencer

by paul spencer (paulgspencer@gmail.com) on Sun Jun 5th, 2011 at 11:39:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course it was written with a shovel.  It's a Rupert Murdoch publication.
by rifek on Sat Jun 4th, 2011 at 11:55:42 PM EST
This is just a foolish idea, but I had to write to down someplace.

Seeing the Greek PM as the only active politician to stand up and say that the War on Drugs is a failed enterprise, perhaps part of the growth mix could be legalisation and taxation?

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sun Jun 5th, 2011 at 05:30:11 AM EST

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