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Do Not Blink, Greece

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Alex AndreouLondon and Athens
Do Not Blink, Greece
The international game of chicken, being played out for the last five years, is reaching its climax. Alexis Tsipras has played a very bad hand extremely well, despite what doomsayers suggest

Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, seemed to take the world by surprise last night when he announced that he would move to give a referendum to the Greek people on the debt deal currently on offer by the EU/IMF, so that they could have their say. He made it clear that he was unhappy with the offer, which he described as "unbearable" and "humiliating", and minded to reject it.

Opposition parties in Greece have moved swiftly to condemn the move. These are largely the same people who have been, for weeks, criticising Tsipras for making too many concessions during negotiations and moving towards a deal that they said was terrible.

Some international commentators have, however, noted that Eurogroup discussions are in fact continuing today and that the "team Greece" has suddenly found itself in a position of pulling a rather large ace from its sleeve which nobody thought it had.

What is the truth?

As always, it is somewhere between those two positions. Earlier in the year, I wrote that the EU and especially the IMF had overreached. For shock doctrine to function, one has to leave a majority with something to lose. A tipping point can be reached and, I believe, has in Greece where the vast majority of people sneer at the threat of things like capital controls and savings being wiped out. Quite simply because they have no capital or savings. When that happens, a nation's reaction to humiliation can be unpredictable.

It is true that the referendum leaves Greek people with the choice of types of extreme misery. Will it be an externally imposed misery or a self-determined type? But it is utterly unfair to suggest that this is a position to which Syriza has brought us. It is a position to which forty years of corruption and incompetent government and five years of economically illiterate IMF hegemony have brought us. Faced with the choice of an ever-expanding abyss of austerity, of death by a thousand paper cuts, Tsipras has opted to act as a catalyst and bring things to a quick and decisive end.

There is no doubt in my mind that in twenty years Greece will still exist and most likely be thriving. I do not say this because of glories of the past and "cradle of democracy" arguments. I abhor romanticised nationalism. All that is in our distant past. I look instead at our present. I look at the solidarity grassroots movements, which have sprung up to provide medical care for people who can no longer afford it or shelter for the thousands of Syrian refugees coming through our borders. I look at the cooperative factories and restaurants which have been born to provide people with jobs. I look at how families have pulled together and at how relatively firm the fabric of our society has held in the face of five years of onslaught. These achievements are why I am hopeful about the future - not ancient history.

The real question is: Will the European Union survive? This depends on their handling of the situation over the next few days. Greeks are not alone among populations increasingly uncomfortable with micromanagement by unelected supranational bodies. The time has come for the Union to redefine itself as one which actively seeks to strike a balance between harmonisation and sovereignty or one which tries to bully its way to federalisation at the risk of perishing.

There has been much talk of this being an abdication of responsibility by the Greek government. I see it very differently. The brief which Tsipras was handed in January was a difficult one from the start. His mandate was clear: Greek people wanted a. an end to austerity; and b. to remain part of the Euro. There was always a chance, depending on how hard the stance of our partners was, that those two aims would be incompatible. Tsipras is a leader honestly saying: "It turns out that, despite our best efforts, we cannot deliver both a and b. So, we are coming back for further instructions."

It seems extraordinary how averse we have become to democracy. How alien an honest leader, who is unwilling to sell the country out in exchange for continuing power, appears. Take a breath. Allow your eyes to adjust. Tsipras is what all leaders should actually be like. We have simply become so accustomed to seeing things through the warped prism of political expedience, that democracy as it should be appears twisted.

I don't know what the people's answer to the referendum, if it goes ahead, will be. I marvel at the hysteria of opposition voices at even having a referendum. If you feel like that, vote "yes" and convince others to vote that way too. Tsipras has given you the power to do so. I do know that the question of whether we reclaim self-determination or are happy to be, in fact, governed by unelected, extraneous powers which feel they can dictate what the VAT rate on milk and bread should be, is a question which concerns all of us. 


Note from Byline: Alex Andreou is crowdfunding his ongoing coverage of the Greek Crisis. Please consider contributing a few pounds here 

#Referendum, #Tsipras, #IMF, #EU, #Democracy, #Greece

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tiptoetan

1 year ago

i am not sure that the majority of greek people understood the whole EU deal in the first place, when they supported, and still support Greece being part of EU - in my opinion there is still a big debate on the nature of EU - so I am not sure if the whole talk about democracy then, and now, should take place on same grounds. the example with a person taking a loan is too simplified. greece forlorn much of its heavy industries and became much less self-sustainable due (as far as i heard) to its membership in EU and gradual inefficiency of home-made products

HarryAlffa

1 year ago

So why not this? http://bailoutswindle.com/QuestionsProtestationsAnswered.html

monkeydad

1 year ago

+1 for foo Boo. Imagine tomorrow a badly indebted person comes to borrow 1 million of *your own* money, which he uses *not* to pay off his debt but carry on with his unsustainable spending behaviour. 2 years on you come back to ask him to pay you back, and realising he is even more badly indebted, unable to pay you back and asking you to slash off his debt and to lend him more, I would find it unbelievably and unrealistically generous of you (even if you are a multimillionaire) that if you agree to lend and without pressing him to 'do something right' with the money or change the way he uses his money. Greece willingly joined the Euro zone and willingly give up some of her control own her financial and economic system - that was a democratic decision . I am afraid then you just have to play the game according to the set rule. What you do with your economy will not only impact on your own country but the entire eurozone. Think about where does the bailout money come from? Remember that all other eurozone countries are also democratic and their interests also need to be represented and protected.

Pedro Oliveira

1 year ago

Sorry the first comment was unreadable: I think the referendum move is also a way of syrisa doing something they know is necessary and that they promised they wouldn't do. Your remarks on people not having money to take from the banks (and the restrictions not affecting most people) is not entirely correct as in the last weeks Greeks took around 50 billions from the banks (maybe they don't have any money left now). I don't like having a foreigner telling my government how it should run the country, but I accept it if my country depends on someone else money to do so. Portugal and Ireland went through the same problems as Greece, the population sufferend and endure this last 5 years with huge difficulties but they were able to turn it around. Why can't Greece do the same? I'm portuguese, my family members lost jobs, got their pensions cut in half, some moved to other countries. But things started to improve this year, now we are becoming reticent again due to Greece issues, in what matters to me they could leave the euro and EU. But that's something for the Greeks to decide. If they don't want to blink please go away.

Pedro Oliveira

1 year ago

I think the referendum move is also a way of syrisa doing something they know is necessary and tbat thry promiseuthey wouldn't do. Also serves your remarks on people not having money to take fro the banks is not entirely correct as in the last weeks Greeks took around 50 billions from the banks. I don't like having a foreigner telling my government how it should run the country, but I accept it my country depends on someone else money to do so. Portugal and Ireland went through the same problems as Greece, the population sufferend and endure this last 5 years with huge difficulties but they were able to turn it around. Why can't Greece do the same? I'm portuguese, my family members lost jobs, got their pensions cut in half, some moved to other countries. But things started to improve this year, now we are becoming reticent again due to Greece issues, in what matters to me they could leave the euro and EU. But that's something for the Greeks to decide.

foo Boo

1 year ago

'happy to be, in fact, governed by unelected, extraneous powers which feel they can dictate what the VAT rate on milk and bread should be' - they are external powers indeed, but also elected. by the 18 peoples Tsipras asks for money. while i see how democracy is jeopardised by other peoples having a say in Greece's tax/pension/defence budget policies, i fail to see how it would be any more democratic for those 18 peoples _not_ to have a say in how their money is invested.

Louis Loizou

1 year ago

Thanks so much for writing this clear account and for drawing attention to the reality that "We have simply become so accustomed to seeing things through the warped prism of political expedience, that democracy as it should be appears twisted." I have been meaning to write a blog about that for years, but have not been well enough to finish anything.