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How did a left-wing government end up signing the worst austerity program in history?

It took SYRIZA two months to understand that creditors are not in the mood to listen to economic theories and revolutionary manifestos…they simply want their money back. In the end Greece agreed to give up its entire country to appease the creditors.

Alex Christoforou

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Original post entitled, “My Big Fat Greek Funeral: SYRIZA, 3. bailout and capital controls” appeared on Keep Talking Greece.

I am speechless. Not since yesterday or last week. I have been speechless since July 13th when the Greek left-wing coalition government agreed to burden the country and the people with a new loan, the third bailout for Greece since 2010 together with the strictest austerity program ever. I have been speechless ever since and for  more than a week I thought I cannot blog anymore. I took me time to swallow and absorb the shock. And still. I am unable to deal with it.

I am unable to comprehend how a left-wing government ended up signing the worst austerity program ever. For the simple reason that if a left-wing government signs such an agreement, what should I expect from a right-wing or a neo-liberal government to do? Raid my apartment, steal my kitchen pans, my pottery cats collection and my underwear? When the left-wing government signs such an agreement, we can say that the political system in Greece is over. And there is no alternative.

First, we blamed the creditors for wanting to crack down SYRIZA in order to avoid creating other examples of the same kind within the eurozone. Then we blamed again the creditors and specifically German finance minister Schaeuble and his Grexit plan: 5 years bailouts, 5 years temporary Grexit, before Greece could return to the markets. That was original tone by Schaeuble in 2011. Then we blamed the disagreement between the IMF and Germany in terms of “Greek debt relief”.  And finally we blamed the ‘dilettantism of the Greek government” that sent to Eurogroup its economic team to explain to Greece’s creditors, how the Eurozone should be changed. It took Varoufakis & Co two months to understand that creditors are not in the mood to listen to some economic theories and revolutionary manifestos but that they simply wanted their money back.  All our blames were right and wrong at the same time because the game was f;ixed’ form the very beginning.

When the Greek team started to work on its proposals, it was too late. Schaeuble was determined to kick Greece out of the euro and furthermore to ‘help it’ bridge the Grexit time with a loan of some 50 billion euros. Either way, with or without euro, with or without drachma, with or without Schaeuble or SYRIZA, the result is the same: a third bailout of 50-84 billion euro and another bailout program. There is no hope for this country, for the people – at least, for some of them.

I really don’t care, if Varoufakis wears tasteless shirts and why he wanted to ‘hack’ taxpayers’ numbers while sitting with his team of skilled hackers and childhood friends. Varoufakis is not my cup of tea. He never was. But while our Greek life is falling apart day by day, I have to read Varoufakis’ interview Nr 2034 explaining his game theory and his academic hypothesis, hi smother’s story and his cousins pain. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a dam. Frankly, my dear, I’m fed up.

I am also fed up to listen to opposition lawmakers complaining about the Parliament Speaker and claiming “Zoi Konstantopoulou is torturing MPs with her pedantism.” I honestly don’t give a dam. Frankly, my dear, I’m fed up to see ‘tortured’ MPs earning €5,000+ per month and enjoy tax-free, while the rest of us is literally bleeding: financially, psychologically, physically and morally.

Neither do I care whether SYRIZA is falling apart, whether the Prime Minister wants early elections in September in order to secure a clear majority in Parliament so that he can pass the austerity bills that lead to nowhere.

I am deaf to government ministers and party officials and opposition lawmakers debating on whether Varoufakis should be indict for high or for low treason.

I just don’t care. It doesn’t affect my life, not even a tiny little bit. I give neither a a whole dam nor half of it for this so-called Greek political agenda after July 13th.

What do I care about is to watch my country and the people falling into pieces. I see our Greek lives suffering another ‘internal devaluation’ minute by minute, day by day, week by week. When the 3. bailout deal will be sealed by 15 or 20 August I will be also able to say “I see our Greek lives suffering another ‘internal devaluation’ minute by minute, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year.”

The 40% internal devaluation settled in Greece since 2010, experiences a new peak even though the 3. bailout has not been signed yet. The Capital Controls imposed on June 29th in order to save the banks from draining, have ruined the lives of many Greeks. Friends of mine who have been working for more than two decades in private companies, were “sent to enforced holiday” together with the banks: their full time job turned into 1 or maximum 2 days work per week. That is 4 or 8 work days per month. In relation, their also salary plunged by end of July.  Many employees in the private sector saw their working hours and already low salaries been reduced. How can these people get along without income? Nobody cares and nobody talks about. Neither national nor international media talk about it. We whisper these hazardous circumstances  among ourselves. In quiet. Because we are ashamed. And we wonder endlessly.

Others, plagued by long term unemployment and no perspective to get a job or even a pension, felt obliged to sell their home. That’s not possible under capital controls. The selling amount will remain in the bank and it may even fall victim to “deposits haircut” by the end of the year. Another friend who needs to sell her second flat  – an inheritance – so that she has money to live, cannot sell it either. Ten years ago, the flat was worth 130,000 euro. Now, if she finds a buyer she will have to sell it for 45,000-50,000 euro. She is trying to sell it for the last 1.5 year. Not a single buyer came around the corner.

With the new Value Added Tax hikes, the amount we need to spend for our weekly basic groceries now extra 15-20 euro. “Just 15 euro?” one may ask. Yes. That’s a huge amount, if you don’t have it and you have kids to feed and bills to pay. The 50-euro banknote that will go for groceries will be missed at the end of the month. Bills will remain unpaid, the extra for a health emergency, for example, will simply be not there. It’s either eat or die.

In hospitals and public health care the situation is getting from worse to worst. Shortage of doctors, of nurses, of administration personnel, of material. You need a portion of fluid iron? Average waiting time is 3 days. The same for special creams, for this and that. You need some cotton? “Oh, not so much, please, a tiny piece,” the nurse tells you politely. Sometimes, the drugs or creams never come, you get the prescription upon exiting the hospital.

In the night shift a nurse is in charge for 40-50 patients, even in the public hospital they proudly call “the biggest in Greece, in the whole Balkans, indeed.”  Neither this nor the previous governments managed to raise the working hours of civil servants.

Patients that need night care need to hire a private nurse. They charge €8.5        per hour,  €55 for six and a half hours, and one nice green 100-euro banknote on Saturdays. Union rights as before the crisis. Is this the competitiveness the Troika has been talking about? They work at fixed shifts and by the clock: 11:00 pm to 5:40 am, for example. A 24-hours care will cost you more than 200 euro, the overtime they charge is without receipt. One day, the doctor sends you home, half fixed, half broken and totally broke. Then you will need to consult another doctor and get skilled caretakers at home, all paid by your own pocket. Or lay down and die.

A pair of low-pensioners next door with a bed-ridden and dementia-sick wife  have been going in and out the hospitals for the last 5 months. The woman needs 24/7 care but they cannot afford neither a caretaker or even better a care home for the elderly. Their last savings were spent on private nurses when the woman was hospitalized. The man was in shock and awe when he heard that they both will have 20-euro less because of the rises in health care contributions. The man was in such a shock that he forgot to go pick their pensions on Friday. And on Monday.

And then I read about the Financial Crimes Units (SDOE) that have caught in flagranti tourism businesses with fake cash registers in Mykonos and Santorini. Cash registers that have not been registered to the tax office. The customer gets his receipt, but the businessman pockets the money without giving the state the V.A.T. or taxes. The Finance Ministry got alarmed from this new phenomenon of tax evasion by the evergreen smart “Greeks”.  But “personnel shortage” hinders a raid to all fake cash registers… One of the fake cash registers was located in Mykonos, two in Santorini, two of the richest islands of Greece. In fact: in the richest regions of the debt-ridden country with impoverished families and ruined economy.

And then, I get this damned feeling that I live in another planet in a far away universe. And I want to stay there forever. In a bubble. Away from this Greece, where half of its population starves and is in dire need and the other half, the ‘clever Greeks’ keep cheating and evading taxes and enjoy a real life of fake registration and exorbitant per hour charge, away from austerity agreements, Troika’s demands and the hateful “Mnimonia” (memoranda) as they take advantage of the shortages of the public system.

*** The title is a proposal by Thomais Papaioannou, Correspondent of ERT & RIK in Paris. I had run out of ideas when I finished this post…

References:

http://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/2015/08/03/my-big-fat-greek-funeral-syriza-3-bailout-and-capital-controls/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+KeepTalkingGreece+%28Keep+Talking+Greece%29

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US Blunders Have Made Russia The Global Trade Pivot

Even if Europe is somehow taken out of the trade equation, greater synergy between the RIC (Russia, India and China) nations may be enough to pull their nations through anticipated global volatilities ahead

The Duran

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Authored by Mathew Maavak via ActivistPost.com:


The year 2019 had barely begun before news emerged that six Russian sailors were kidnapped by pirates off the coast of Benin. It was perhaps a foretaste of risks to come. As nations reel from deteriorating economic conditions, instances of piracy and other forms of supply chain disruptions are bound to increase.

According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), 107 cases of piracy were noted during the first half of 2018 vis-à-vis 87 throughout 2017.  The 2018 tally included 32 cases in Southeast Asian waters and 48 along African shores – representing 75% of the total. To put this figure into perspective, Asian behemoths India and China – despite their vast shorelines – recorded only 2 cases of piracy each during the study period. Russia had none. In terms of hostages taken, the IMB tally read 102 in H1 2018 vs 63 in H1 2017.

Piracy adds to shipping and retail costs worldwide as security, insurance and salaries are hiked to match associated risks in maritime transport. Merchant vessels will also take longer and costlier routes to avoid piracy hotspots.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report in 2016 sums up the perils ahead:

As over 90% of global trade is carried out by sea, the economic effects of maritime crime can be crippling. Maritime crime includes not only criminal activity directed at vessels or maritime structures, but also the use of the high seas to perpetrate transnational organized crimes such as smuggling of persons or illicit substances.  These forms of maritime crime can have devastating human consequences.

Indeed, cases of human trafficking, organ harvesting, and the smuggling of illicit substances and counterfeit goods are proliferating worldwide in tandem with rising systemic debt and suspect international agendas.

Australia offers a case in point. While it fantasizes over a Quad of allies in the Indo-Pacific – to “save Asians from China” – criminal elements from Hong Kong, Malaysia to squeaky-clean Singapore have been routinely trafficking drugs, tobacco and people right into Sydney harbour for years,  swelling the local organised crime economy to as much as $47.4 billion (Australian dollars presumably) between 2016 and 2017.

With criminal elements expected to thrive during a severe recession, they will likely enjoy a degree of prosecutorial shielding from state actors and local politicians. But this is not a Southeast Asian problem alone; any superpower wishing to disrupt Asia-Europe trade arteries – the main engine of global growth – will have targets of opportunity across oceans and lands.  The US-led war against Syria had not only cratered one potential trans-Eurasia energy and trade node, it served as a boon for child traffickingorgan harvesting and slavery as well. Yet, it is President Bashar al-Assad who is repeatedly labelled a “butcher” by the Anglo-American media.

Ultimately, industries in Asia and Europe will seek safer transit routes for their products. The inference here is inevitable: the greatest logistical undertaking in history – China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – will be highly dependent on Russian security umbrella, particularly in Central Asia. Russia also offers an alternative transit option via the Northern Sea Route, thereby avoiding any potential pan-Turkic ructions in Central Asia in the future.

Russo- and Sinophobia explained?

In retrospect, Washington’s reckless policies post-Sept 11 2001 seem aimed at disrupting growing synergies between Asia and Europe. This hypothesis helps explain the relentless US-led agitprops against Russia, China and Iran.

When the gilet jaunes (yellow vest) protests rocked France weeks ago, it was only a matter of time before some pundits blamed it on Russia. US President Donald J. Trump cheered on; just as “billionaire activist” George Soros celebrated the refugee invasion of Europe and the Arab Spring earlier.  If the yellow vest contagion spreads to the Western half of Europe, its economies will flounder. Cui bono? A Russia that can reap benefits from the two-way BRI or Arctic trade routes or a moribund United States that can no longer rule roost in an increasingly multipolar world?

Trump’s diplomatic downgrade of the European Union and his opposition to the Nord Stream 2gas pipeline matches this trade-disruption hypothesis, as do pressures applied on India and China to drop energy and trade ties with Iran.  Washington’s trade war with Beijing and recent charges against Huawei – arguably Asia’s most valuable company – seem to fit this grand strategy.

If China concedes to importing more US products, Europe will bear the consequences. Asians love European products ranging from German cars to Italian shoes and Europe remains the favourite vacation destination for its growing middle class. Eastern European products and institutions are also beginning to gain traction in Asia. However, these emerging economies will suffer if their leaders cave in to Washington’s bogeyman fetish.

Even if Europe is somehow taken out of the trade equation, greater synergy between the RIC (Russia, India and China) nations may be enough – at least theoretically – to pull their nations through anticipated global volatilities ahead.

In the meantime, as the US-led world crumbles, it looks like Russia is patiently biding its time to become the security guarantor and kingmaker of Asia-Europe trade.  A possible state of affairs wrought more by American inanity rather than Russian ingenuity…

Dr Mathew Maavak is a regular commentator on risk-related geostrategic issues.

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Historic Eastern Christianity: An Uncertain Future

The survival of historic Eastern Christianity, particularly in Syria, is critical for several reasons.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Elias Samo via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The survival of historic Eastern Christianity has never been as urgent as it is today. Christianity saw its beginning in Greater Syria which was subdivided by France and Britain after WWI into modern day Syria, Lebanon, Palestian/Israel and Jordan. The land that housed, nurtured and spread the teachings of Jesus Christ for over two millenniums, now threatens children of that faith. The survival of historic Eastern Christianity, particularly in Syria, is critical for several reasons:

  1. Greater Syria is the homeland of Jesus and Christianity. Abraham was from modern day Iraq, Moses from Egypt, and Muhammad from Mecca; Jesus was from Syria.
  1. Paul converted to Christianity and saw the light while walking through ‘The Street Called Straight’ in Damascus.
  1. Jesus’ followers were called Christians for the first time in Antioch, formerly part of Syria.
  1. One of the earliest churches, perhaps the earliest, is in Syria.

The potential demise of historic Eastern Christianity is reflected in the key question Christians ask: should we stay or emigrate? The urgent question – in the face of the ongoing regional turmoil – precipitated with the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and escalated since the Arab uprisings in 2011. Historic Eastern Christians’ fears were further magnified when Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church and Archbishop Paul Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church, both of metropolitan Aleppo, were kidnapped on April, 22, 2013; with no traces of their whereabouts, dead or alive, since. For many years, I was deputy, friend, and advisor to the Archbishop Ibrahim, which provided me an opportunity to meet many Christians. I have, over time, noticed the change in their sentiment, with more considering emigration after the uprising and the kidnapping of the two Archbishops. Historic Eastern Christians survived the Ottoman Genocide in 1915 and thereafter; they multiplied and thrived in the Fertile Crescent despite some atrocities until the start of the misnamed “Arab Spring” in early 2011. Prior to the “Arab Spring”, historic Eastern Christians were victims of violence on several occasions. In the mid-1930s, the historic Assyrian community in Iraq suffered violent onslaughts and were driven to Syria. In the 1970s and 1980s, during the Lebanese Civil War, Christians were victims of sectarian violence. During the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Christians were victims of widespread sectarian violence which led to mass migration. The “Arab Spring” began with great hope for the right of the people to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. However, it was swiftly hijacked by Islamists and Salafists and turned into an “Islamic Spring, an Arab Fall and a Christian Winter”; bringing along with it a new massacre of Christians. Presently, Eastern Christianity is at the mercy of clear and identifiable domestic, regional, and international, historic and contemporary conflicts in the Fertile Crescent, namely:

  1. Jihad vs. Ijtihad: A long standing conflict amongst Muslims between the sword vs. the pen.
  2. Sunni vs. Shiite: A conflict which began following the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
  3. Arabism vs. Islamism: The former has territorial limitations, the later has no territorial limitations.
  4. Syria vs. Israel: It is an essential component of the Palestinian problem, not the presumed Arab- Israeli conflict.
  5. West vs. East: A throwback to the Cold War, or its revival.
  6. Historic Persian, Ottoman and Arab Empires animosities: Each seeking regional hegemony.

One is reminded of the proverbial saying, “When the elephants fight, the grass suffers.” Certainly, Eastern Christianity is suffering and threatened with extinction.

Syria was a model of religious tolerance, common living and peaceful interaction amongst its religious, sectarian, cultural and ethnic components. Seven years of turmoil, in which various international and regional powers manipulated segments of Syrian society by supplying them with an abundance of weapons, money and sectarian ideologies, has heightened Eastern Christians’ fears. During the seven-year turmoil in Syria, the entire society has suffered; Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Yazidis, Kurds, Christians and others. Christians, being a weak and peaceful component of the society, have suffered immensely. Ma’aloula; a religious treasure for Christians globally, and the only city in the world where Aramaic – the language of Jesus Christ – is spoken, was attacked and besieged by ISIS. Numerous historic Churches were damaged, and many destroyed. Christians in Raqqa were forced by ISIS into one of three options: 1. Pay a penalty in pure gold – known as a ‘Jizya’ to keep their life and practice their faith – albeit in secret only; 2. Convert into Islam; or 3. Face immediate death. To top their pain, the kidnap of the two prominent Archbishops meant no Eastern Christian believer was safe.

Amidst all the doom and gloom, however, there remains hope. The survival of Christianity depends on the actions and reactions of three parties:

Eastern Christians: During the last hundred years, 1915-2015, since the Ottoman Genocide, Eastern Christians have been victims of a history of massacres, which meant that every Eastern Christian was a martyr, a potential martyr or a witness of martyrdom; if you fool me once, shame on you, if you fool me twice, shame on me. The ongoing regional turmoil has heightened their sense of insecurity. The answer to an age-old question Eastern Christians had on their mind: To flee Westwards or remain in their land, in the face of death, is increasingly becoming the former.

Eastern Muslims: There is a difference in perceptions between Eastern Christians and mainstream Muslims regarding the massacres committed against Christians. When certain violent groups or individuals kill Christians, while shouting a traditional Islamic profession: “No God but one God and Muhammad is God’s messenger”, it is reasonable for Christians to assume the killers are Muslims. However, for mainstream Muslims, the killers do not represent Islam; they are extremists, violating basic Islamic norms such as Muhammad’s sayings, “Whoever hurts a Thummy – Christian or Jew – has hurt me”, “no compulsion in religion” and other Islamic norms regarding just treatment of people of the Book; Christians and Jews. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the Muslim elites to impress upon their fellow Muslims that:

a. The three monotheistic religions believe in one God and all ‘faithfuls’ are equal in citizenship, rights and duties.

b. Christians participated in the rise of Arab Islamic civilization. They were pioneers in the modern Arab renaissance and they joined their Muslim brethren in resisting the Crusades, the Ottomans and Western colonialism.

c. Christians are natives of the land and they provide cultural, religious, educational, and economic, diversity.

d. Christians are a positive link between the Muslims and the Christian West, particularly in view of the rise of Islamophobia. Massacres of Christians and their migration provide a pretext for the further precipitation of Islamophobia.

e. Civilization is measured by the way it treats its minorities.

The Christian West: The Crusades, Western colonialism, creation and continued support of Israel, support of authoritarian Arab political systems, military interventions, regime change, and the destabilization of Arab states made Muslims view Eastern Christians ‘guilty by association’. The Christian West helped Jews come to Palestine to establish Israel. Shouldn’t the same Christian West also help Eastern Christians remain in their homeland, rather than facilitate their emigration? Western Christians, particularly Christian Zionists, believe that the existence of Israel is necessary for the return of Jesus to his homeland. However, it would be a great disappointment for Jesus to return to his homeland, Syria and not find any of his followers.

Prior to 2011, Eastern Christian religious leaders were encouraging Syrian Christians in the diaspora to return to Syria, their homeland, where life was safe and secure with great potential. Now, the same leaders are desperately trying to slow down Christian emigration. Eastern Christians’ loud cries for help to remain are blowing in the wind.

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Protests erupt in Athens, as ‘North Macedonia’ vote fast approaches (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 62.

Alex Christoforou

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NATO and the EU are full of joy with the Prespes agreement, which is sure to pass the Greek Parliament and fast rack the newly minted Republic of North Macedonia into NATO and the EU.

Meanwhile in Athens and Skopje, anger is reaching dangerous levels, as each side debates the pros and cons of the deal inked by Tsipras and Zaev.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at yesterday’s protests in Athens, Greece, where things got very ugly as radical left Prime Minster Alexis Tsipras used tear gas and a heavy police hand to put down protests, that reached upwards of 60,000 people in the Syntagma downtown square.

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Via Ekathimerini

As Greece gets ready for a political showdown this week over the Prespes agreement, we are witnessing a relentless, often cynical, maneuvering between parties, their leaders and even individual deputies.

What is at stake is not only the ratification of the deal between Athens and Skopje, but also the potential redrawing of the domestic political map.

Greek society and the country’s political world are deeply divided. The public is clearly against the deal, with up to 70% opposed to it.

The tens of thousands that demonstrated in Sunday’s rally in Athens, showed once more that sentiments run high.

The violence, which the Prime Minister blamed on extremists, while the opposition leader criticized the extended use of tear gas and called for an investigation to find out who was responsible, is indicative of the slippery slope the country is facing in the months leading to the national elections.

Despite the voices of reason calling for a minimum of cooperation and looking for common ground, Alexis Tsipras and Kyriakos Mitsotakis are in an all out war.

The leftist Prime Minister is attempting to use the Prespes agreement to create a broad “progressive” coalition that extends well beyond SYRIZA, while the conservative opposition leader, who is leading in the polls, is trying to keep his party united (on the name issue there are differing approaches) and win the next elections with an absolute majority.

With respect to the Prespes deal itself, the rare confluence of shrewd political considerations with deeply held feelings about one’s history, makes for an explosive mix and ensures a heated debate in parliament.

As for the raw numbers, despite the public opposition, the passage of the Prespes agreement in the 300 member Greek Parliament should be considered a done deal. In the most plausible senario 153 deputies will support the deal in the vote expected later in the week.

The governing SYRIZA has 145 deputies, and one should add to those the positive votes of Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura, centrist To Potami deputies Stavros Theodorakis, Spyros Lykoudis and Giorgos Mavrotas, former To Potami MP Spiros Danellis, and ANEL MP Thanasis Papachristopoulos.

This leads to a majority of 151. Last night one more positive vote was announced, that of Thanasis Theocharopoulos, leader of Democratic Left which untill now was part of the Movement for Change coalition, from which he was ejected as a result of his decision to support the deal.

Finally, Citizens Security Deputy Minister Katerina Papacosta, a former member of New Democracy, is expected to also vote for the agreement, but has not officially said so. Thus, for all practical purposes, the Prespes agreement is expected to pass, with 152 or 153 votes.

Former Prime Minister George Papandreou, who is not a member of parliament and who has worked tiressly on the issue, both as foreign minister and PM, has gone public in support of the deal.

Despite the discomfort this move created in the leadership of the Movement for Change, doing otherwise would have made him look inconsistent. As he is not voting, the damage is seen as limited, although the symbolism does not help the Movement for Change approach.

To the extent that Greece’s transatlantic partners and allies want to see the agreement implemented, they should feel relief. Of course, nothing is done until the “fat lady sings”, but one can clearly hear her whispering the notes in the corridors of the Greek Parliament.

Still, for the astute observer of Greek politics and the foreign officials and analysts who value the crucial role of Greece as an anchor of stability in the Balkans – being by far the strongest country in this region, both militarily and economically, despite the crisis of the last eight years – the deep divisions the issue has created in the society and the political world, are a cause for concern and could spell trouble in the future.

Dealing with such a volatile landscape calls for delicate moves by all.

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