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Arming the poor?

Victims of hostile foreign supervision and successive anti-Greek governments, have the people of Greece reached their limit?

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It was a sunny warm day in early June 2018. My Greek-American classical scholar friend, Apostolos Athanassakis, and I were having coffee in a lovely coffee shop in Theseion (Θησεῖον) near the Acropolis. The “boom-boom” music bothered me. I asked the waiter to change that abominable sound with something Greek. “I agree with you, Sir,” he said. “The music is bad. But I can’t do anything about it. The boss thinks this is what tourists want to hear.”

Arming the poor

My friend and I had just left the coffee shop when a logo written in black graffiti on a glass caught my attention. It read, in Greek: “Poor people to arms.” At that moment when I was taking a picture of the slogan and commenting on its grave implications, a middle-age man responded on the meaning of the word “poor.” “Have-nots or brainless?” he asked. I admitted there are many people who are being brainwashed to oblivion and others who are, possibly, stupid.

“In either case,” I said, “arming the have-nots and the potentially brainless is combustible.”

The man said “let me tell you a story of Solon and Croesus of Lydia. Solon was the Athenian philosopher-legislator of late seventh-first half of the sixth centuries BCE who, in response to a question on ultimate happiness by this very wealthy and powerful Asian king Croesus, said he doubted money alone could buy happiness.”

“It happens,” this Greek continued, “that Croesus of Lydia lost a war and the victorious enemy put him on a fire pyre. Once Croesus of Lydia got hold of himself, he started saying Solon was right. Ah, Solon,” he cried aloud, where are you? You were right.”

My friend and I let this man go on with his passionate speech. He did know his mythology and had such an admirable way of telling stories.

This man, as well as the rest of the Greeks in 2018, have been caught in a vicious chronic oppression resembling low-level warfare. This unsettling affair started, supposedly, because Greek governments borrowed excessive funds from gigantic European and American banks.

Financial meltdown

When the American financial meltdown hit the airwaves and the wallets of millions all over the world in 2008, the sleaze in Greek borrowing also blew up. Suddenly, in 2009, the American-born Greek prime minister, George Papandreou, appealed to the IMF for fixing Greek finances. Immediately, the European Commission and the European Central Bank joined the IMF, forming a formidable international coalition to run Greece.

With this calculated anti-Greek policy, Papandreou tied Greece to the International Monetary Fund, an instrument of American foreign policy known for bankrupting countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The European Commission and the European Central Bank had no objections to IMF. Indeed, these three institutions exist to protect the interests of powerful countries and the profits of large banks.

Troika occupation of Greece

The ten-year hegemony of this “troika” over Greece has been utterly humiliating, violating human rights and national sovereignty. Moreover, this hostile foreign control of Greece has impoverished the country. First, the Troika insisted Greece gives up its sovereignty, patently an act violating both Greek and international law. Second, the Troika insisted the Greek government sells off all state assets and impose “austerity” on the Greeks. This means drastic cuts in social spending, shredding public health, abandoning environmental protection, the imposition of harsh taxation, and continuous cuts in pensions.

The results of these Troika-enforced policies have deleterious consequences on how Greeks think of Europe. Their pauperization brings to mind the terrible German destruction of their country during WWII. One tragic irony here is that Germany, magically burying its barbaric Nazi past, is leading Europe’s punishment of Greece.

The Greeks know this history, but, the influential among them, say they must obey the German-dominated troika. Silently, the Greeks oppose their government, which has become the enforcer of policies from Brussels. This probably reminds them of the dismemberment of their country by the European crusaders.

Aside from these metaphysical anxieties, the reality of daily life in Greece in 2018 brings to light large forces shaping the life of all Greeks.

Is Greece ditching its agrarian civilization?

In 2016, Greece exported goods valued at $26.5 billion. In 2016, however, Greece paid $47.6 billion for its imports.

Second, the pressure of “free” markets have sped up the industrialization of Greek farming. Farms of one crop have been getting larger. The use of hazardous and neurotoxic pesticides has been expanding. Urbanization has been depopulating thousands of villages. The country I left in 1961 is not the country of 2018.

How do I know these changes are going on? Certainly not by reading scarce and unreliable statistics. In each of my trips to Greece, I travel to villages and talk to farmers.

Greek farmers are telling me the effects from this fake farm “modernization,” subsidized by EU, are not good. It’s hard to find healthy food. Bread in 2018 is less nutritious than the bread of 1961. Bread in 2018 does not taste like homemade bread or the bread I ate while growing up in Cephalonia in the decades of the 1950s and 1960s. Greece is no longer self-reliant in food.

A flickering light of hope is the spreading of organic/biological agriculture. My visit to an organic fruits and vegetables food market was the climax of my 2018 trip to Greece. I admired the beautiful, aromatic red tomatoes from Crete and the dozens of Greeks buying them and other healthy fruits and vegetables.

Organic-biological fruits and vegetables market in the Vrilisia suburb of Athens. (Photo credit: Evaggelos Vallianatos)

Too many cars

Third, the infrastructure of the country is crumbling.

The country was rebuilt in a hurry after World War II. Most of its roads are inadequate for the influx of huge numbers of cars. Add this hazard to bad village and city narrow roads without sidewalks and you have a crisis of medieval proportions.

I like to walk and bike. I had a great deal of difficulty in walking in very narrow, broken-up right and left strips of streets flooded with parked and moving cars. As for biking, I did not even try it.

Pollution is unregulated. Greece is a dream country for polluters. The country’s huge fleet of imported cars is damaging human health and the natural world. I felt that pollution.

Parked cars in the streets of Nikaia near Piraeus. (Photo credit: Evaggelos Vallianatos)

Tax extortion 

Then comes the crown of human stupidity and greed: heavy taxation in a country collapsing from luck of funds and jobs. The Troika knows you cannot tax an unemployed person. Yet, taxation in Greece in 2018 is very broad and brutal. I was sick and tired of listening to my relatives and friends talking in terror about all the special taxes on food, homes, land, inheritance etc.

So why did the troika impose policies that impoverish Greeks, making the repayment of the loans nearly impossible? Is it possible the troika sees Greece simply as a vacation spot for rich non-Greeks? Converting the country to lots for second vacation homes for anyone with lots of cash?

This is not entirely speculative. Thousands of Germans own houses in Crete and Peloponnesos. Close to two thousand British own houses in Cephalonia. The economic collapse of Greece, and the drastic decline of home prices, is a “golden opportunity” for foreigners to buy their vacation home in Greece. And then there are thousands upon thousands of Muslim refugees in Greece.

Greeks think about this reality in their country. They probably blame the troika and its Greek collaborators, hence the genesis of the slogan: “Poor people to arms.”

Protests

Protests don’t seem to matter that much. The Greek government is a product of post-World War II inequalities and foreign ideologies. Government officials, theoretically representing the extreme left, even communist wing of the political spectrum, are just as capitalist as Wall Street bankers. Not only that, but they are, like the early Christians, internationalists to the point they are harming the national interests of Greece. They just sold the Greek name and legacy of Greek Macedonia to a bunch of Albanians and Bulgarians pretending to be “Macedonians.”

Demonstration outside Greece’s parliament on June 15, 2018, in opposition to the Tsipras-Zaev “North Macedonia” deal. (Photo: Michael Nevradakis)

Moreover, these Greek politicians don’t think Greece has borders or that Greek borders matter.

These bad policies, encouraged by NATO and the troika, also fuel Turkey’s hostility towards Greece. Turkey, fully cognizant of the incompetence, cowardliness, or idiocy of Greek political leadership, is pushing illegal migrants to the Greek islands of the Aegean, almost daily. Those who take care of the increasing numbers of Muslim migrants to Greece told me “Greece is becoming a warehouse of souls.”

Thus, “Arming the Have-Nots” may be more than a slogan. Limits control everything. Humans can put up with a lot of abuse until their limits break down. Some Greeks have already passed through that threshold.

Opinions expressed are those of the author alone and may not reflect the opinions and viewpoints of Hellenic Insider, its publisher, its editors, or its staff, writers, and contributors.

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Germany Returning Migrants to Greece

Germany’s policy contradicts claims that the migrants are “war refugees,” because if that were the case, they’d seek asylum at the nearest, non-wartorn country.

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Via Infowars Europe:


Germany will soon send back migrants to Greece if they had already applied for asylum there.

The two countries made the deal at the behest of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose coalition government is on shaky ground due to increased opposition to her immigration policies.

“EU law states that refugees should apply for asylum in the first EU country they reach, but Germany has typically allowed newcomers with open applications elsewhere to reside in the country as it examines their claim,” reported the Wall Street Journal. “In practice, very few ever leave Germany, even if they fail to obtain asylum there.”

Germany’s policy contradicts claims that the migrants are “war refugees,” because if that were the case, they’d seek asylum at the nearest, non-wartorn country.

In fact, many of the migrants travel across multiple European countries, including Greece, to seek asylum in Germany, which under Merkel has offered comprehensive welfare to migrants.

Merkel’s recent immigration backtrack was also likely influenced by the backlash against open borders in neighboring countries, particularly Austria.

Austria has ramped up deportations under recently-appointed Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

“I’m convinced that the solution to the migrant problem lies with decent border protection and stronger help in countries of origin,” he said earlier this year.

Poland, Hungary and other Eastern European countries have similarly sealed off their borders to the chagrin of the EU, which had previous demanded “migrant quotas” for each member nation.

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The Greek Disaster: State Inertia and the Market Economy

In Greece we witnessed this repulsive, internally-generated tragedy in all its horrifying glory. Unfortunately we may soon see more far-reaching consequences…

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What happened in Attica, Greece, close to Athens, is without precedent. An ordinary fire, like the ones that occur in this area almost every other summer, met up with a terrible, sudden wind that turned it into real galloping inferno.

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The tragic result was 87 dead Greek citizens and more than 20 still missing. Huge questions loom on the horizon and only very limited answers are forthcoming. Are some of the lessons from this tragedy related to the wider geopolitical and political-economic questions?

Public-sector clientelism is leading to disastrous inefficiency

Why do tragedies like these occur in social environments with firmly entrenched clientelist political systems and in political entities that operate on the periphery of major, bureaucratic, modern empires? Sweden saw huge uncontrolled fires this summer. However, there was no loss of life or major disasters that befell the urban centers.

In Portugal last year — and very recently in Greece  —  scores of people died, mainly due to the inability of the state machinery to efficiently deal with the problem. The major difference between these examples is the quality of the civil service. In Greece and Portugal there is no real ethics in the public administration, which frequently fails to meet any vigorous efficiency test .

In public bureaucracies that sprout favoritism the way trees grow branches, it is very difficult to design long-term plans to handle critical and life-threatening situations. Likewise, the political system lacks the prerequisites to draw upon informed societies that are trained to be cooperative and disciplined when there is a need for coordination.

When clientelism dictates and forms the essence of the political culture, this culminates in fractured societies that are infected with spreading islands of lawlessness and limited possibilities for administrative coherence.

In Greece in particular, the deep-rooted mentality of state favoritism produces whole sectors of uncoordinated urbanization, with no respect for the environment, chaotic borough formation, and a coastline that has been brutally violated by hasty real-estate developmental schemes.

In such a social context, thorough planning becomes almost impossible and the idea of applying administrative guidelines to deal with a crisis sounds like a joke. It is essentially the political system itself that invites disasters and not any sort of physical deluge that begets them.

The need for market solutions

Clientelism and heavy state intervention in the running of the economy and society are the basic causes of inefficiency and, henceforth, administrative chaos. It appears that the process of rational choice is the fatal enemy of the dominant mentality in such systems of government. This is represented by any model that relies on the market to deal with questions of economic policy and societal organization.

A bloated public sector that is encouraged by the political authorities to constantly expand, irrespective of its ability to deliver on its promises, becomes the major problem. Instead of being the solution to emerging issues, the state actually becomes the cause of most troubles and difficulties.

Henceforth, without clear objectives or cost-benefit solutions, the state is unable to provide reliable outcomes or to cope with situations, especially emergencies. In the case of Greece in particular, the fire-fighting service had been financially starved, while its personnel had been recruiting new staff based on specific social criteria!

In other words, firefighters entrusted with saving people from emergency situations were hired on the basis of their physical inability to deal with normal life situations, i.e., the physically handicapped, mentally unfit, generally unhealthy, or recruits who were simply from disadvantaged social backgrounds.

Relying on a market mentality means that choices are made based on measurable results, well structured plans to deal with crises, and thoroughly tested options. When none of these requirements are met, it is more than certain that achievements will be negligible and the consequences disastrous.

Hence one must assume that societies that do not rely on rational-choice procedures and which pursue policies of heavy state intervention and patron-client favoritism are not likely to see successful results. This essentially means that societies built on capitalist principles pursue measurable results that further the welfare of their citizens.

Geopolitical repercussions

There is also a geopolitical angle to these observations. If a country cannot keep up with globally established administrative and financial trends, it will end up facing dead-end situations and find itself being marginalized. With the exception of its reliance on heavy state taxation, the EU always pursues policies of open social frontiers and market economics. Countries that deviate from this logic find themselves gradually lost in a political wilderness.

They constantly creep along on the fringes of events and absent themselves from all contemporary processes. By acting as the exception instead of the rule, they will rapidly find themselves marginalized. They will become a stark anomaly and thus be excluded from every movement going forward. They will become the pariahs of the international system. Geopolitical events will pass them by, and they will be looked upon as the “black holes” of the international order.

Domestic events and major financial and/or economic choices cannot be limited any longer to national or regional occurrences. Notwithstanding the importance of events within a country, opting for heavy state intervention may lead a country into the international wilderness.

What’s more, its international standing may also be impaired, contributing to the nation’s overall marginalization.

In Greece we witnessed this repulsive, internally-generated tragedy in all its horrifying glory. Unfortunately we may soon see more far-reaching consequences…

Via Strategic Culture

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Greek-Russian relations at a crossroads

The political landscape of Greek-Russian relations has suddenly darkened.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras meet in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia on April 8, 2015.

What exactly is the matter? It is almost impossible to cull any accurate information enabling us to clarify the situation and shine a light on recent developments.

Let’s first sweep the picture clean of inaccurate assertions and unfounded claims. Commentators who almost always turn to the anti-Western narrative immediately took to the field. The Greek government, they claim, is trying to earn its credentials vis-à-vis NATO and the US.

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Although nobody has ever required such a demonstration of allegiance from Athens. Under the present circumstances Greece is not going to win any points with such behaviour. With the agreement at Prespa Lake and Athens yielding to FYROMacedonia’s membership in NATO, the Greek government has already earned what it could from like-minded Western European capitals.

A breakup with Russia would not have added anything to Athens’ pro-Western arsenal.

At a time when the US is blaming Germany for being friendly with Russia and other European states — namely Austria, Italy, and Hungary, among others — appear to be moving closer to Moscow, what would an anti-Russian gesture by Greece signify? How could Athens expect to capitalize on this? I cannot honestly discern any direct benefit for Greece.

Likewise, why would Washington pressure Athens to adapt such a hostile attitude? What would the Americans expect to earn at a time when the US president himself reiterates that in Vladimir Putin he sees a man he can fully understand … and make a deal with…

On the other hand, as far as bilateral relations are concerned, Athens’ relationship with Moscow has been seriously wounded — without any clear benefits for Greece. Putin has made it clear how he would react if faced with a repeated challenge: “If you squeeze a spring as far as it will go, it will snap back hard. You must always remember this”.

One should not overlook the fact that some months ago a meeting was called off between the Greek and Russian government ministries that had been aimed at fostering economic cooperation between the two countries. The reason given was the unexpected appearance at the meeting of some Crimean politicians — the Russians maintaining however that the Greek side had been forewarned and had not raised any objections at the time.

In the end the episode was brushed aside without any major repercussions, at least public ones. But it was an issue nevertheless…

At the last occurrence, culminating in the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Athens there is enough ambivalence as concerns the matter. The main issue being discussed is a possible Russian effort against the Prespa agreement, objecting in order to to nullify FYROM’s future membership in NATO. Two comments must be made here. Only Northern Macedonia can render the agreement invalid at this point, not Greece.

Even if the Greek parliament fails to ratify the agreement, the northern Macedonians will automatically become members of the Atlantic alliance. In order for that to happen the government in Skopje merely needs to satisfy the requirements set out by the Prespa agreement and stipulated by NATO. It is ridiculous to think that Russian diplomats are not fully aware of this situation. Why then, as some observers insinuate, should they try to nudge Greece into walking out of the agreement?

As for NATO, it is doubtful that the Russians do not recognize that the attitude of the US and of its president, who recently met with Russian officials and with President Putin himself in Helsinki, poses a greater threat to the cohesion of the alliance than the membership of tiny FYROM.

My opinion is that the various reports on the issue are making the matter seem much weightier than it really is. My assessment is that Moscow is much less concerned about it than is generally acknowledged.

There is, however, definitely an issue. Otherwise we would not have reached the point of repatriating diplomats. One should never overlook the fact that great powers are usually burdened by many decision-influencing centres. Sometimes they are working outside of the official process that the governments dictate. Russia can hardly be an exception. Often the tentacles of such decision-making centres reach the state machinery.

This has happened in Greece in the past, when a retired Air Force pilot attempted to bomb parts of Albania. We saw it again in the case of a fugitive from Turkey, the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan. In the US it is very often the case that various agencies take initiatives without the knowledge of the central government authorities.

With Russia, the issue of Orthodox Christian belief is quite important. Adherence to those principles can potentially prompt actions and moves without the knowledge or approval of a central authority. Unfortunately, I am not privy to specific information, but I believe that my ideas make logical sense.

Why should the Kremlin jeopardise a carefully cultivated cordial relationship with Athens just to pursue a dead-end policy on the issue of Skopje? After all, that’s an issue of paramount importance to Greece. And it could not possibly produce any fruitful results.

There are people in northern Greece who have often involved themselves in issues of vital importance to Greece without the slightest official authorisation or coordination with the aims of the Greek state. Some of them refer to Russia as a sister Orthodox power, without having been entrusted with such authority.

On the other hand, one should not overlook the fact that Greece carries a grudge against the Kremlin for having embraced Turkey in recent months, supplying it with missiles and accepting its friendly overtures on the Syrian front, although aware of its diverse inclinations concerning the future of that region.

It is not impossible that such sentiments may have culminated in and led to the recent crisis between the two states.

Notwithstanding the above, there is a wider issue contributing to the current misunderstandings. Russia has always been a puzzle for anyone attempting to do business with her. They find it difficult to comprehend her reactions and behaviour. Almost all are reminded of Winston Churchill’s words describing Russia: “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma“. What few people remember is the rest of Churchill’s phrase: “But perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest“.

Some years later he explained: “I am convinced that there is nothing they [the Russians] admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness”.

No country can expect a positive appraisal if it does nothing but beg and offers little or no policy coordination. These words might adequately explain Russia’s attitude towards other countries and its posture towards various global affairs.

Via Strategic Culture

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