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“The SYRIZA Wave”: An account of leftist betrayal or an account of “activist tourism”?

Helena Sheehan’s “The Syriza Wave” chronicles the dramatic rise of SYRIZA and its first months in power, up until it overturned the July 2015 referendum result. But can the Greek left be reconciled with unwavering support for the EU?

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Sheehan, Helena. The Syriza Wave: Surging and Crashing with the Greek Left. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016. 229p. Reviewed by Déborah Berman Santana.

Helena Sheehan is an academic, journalist, and eurocommunist” activist from Ireland. Like many Europeans, she has had a lifelong love affair with Greece, firstly due to an idealization of Ancient Greece as the root of European civilization, and secondly through many visits to Europes favorite vacation spot. Sheehan recalls that the custom among many left academics was to finance  “sun, sea, sex, and socialism” trips through conference appearances and writing articles for newspapers and scholarly/activist journals. As a supporter of European integration and new” social movements, she felt closest to the Greek left groups that in 2004 formed the Coalition of the Radical Left: SYRIZAFollowing the global financial crash of 2008, she became interested in how it was affecting countries such as Ireland and especially Greece, where the International Monetary Fund (IMF) began to bring its policies of austerity and structural adjustment from the global south” to Europe. Especially after 2012, Sheehan wrote (her) way through multiple trips” to Greece. 

After SYRIZA won the January 2015 elections, Sheehan received a book contract from Monthly Review Press. By Sheehan’s own admission, others were perhaps more qualified to write this book, because they were Greek or were more knowledgeable about Greece, or knew the language, or had appropriate academic training; nonetheless, the publishers agreed that her experiences and reflections might “contribute to a big-picture understanding of the crisis in both Ireland and Greece.” (Her “right” to speak about events in Greece appeared to be a sensitive topic, as she dedicated six pages to defending herself from real or perceived attacks.)

Her main sources of information were interviews with English-speaking Greek and foreign leftists, as well as English-language publications and social media. At least two of the books six chapters are based on articles that she had already published. Half of the book deals with the aftermath of the referendum held on July 5, 2015, when nearly two-thirds of Greece’s voters rejected the proposed third memorandum between the Greek government and the “troika” (the European Union-EU, European Central Bank-ECB, and the IMF) to impose yet more austerity measures in exchange for another bank “rescue.” The book’s narrative ends in July 2016, one year after that famous “oxi” (no) vote.

Sheehan recounts what may be described as a chronicle of a death foretold. From its birth, SYRIZA sought to represent feminist, environmentalist, and other concerns identified with “new” social movements, while class politics (the central feature of the “old” left) appeared to be de-emphasized. Defense of national sovereignty — for which Greek communists heroically spearheaded resistance against German occupation during World War II — was rejected as “fascist.” Despite its radical left profile, the coalition’s support of mainstream policies, such as adoption of the euro and EU subsidies that diminished Greek agricultural independence, would later blind the SYRIZA government to possible ways out of the crisis via recovering national sovereignty.

Sheehan contrasted her frustration about the Irish left’s failure to organize resistance to austerity policies, with enthusiasm for the “heroic” Greek protests. She expressed the hope that many European leftists felt when SYRIZA captured 26.9 percent of the vote in the 2012 elections – dramatic increase from 4.5 percent in 2009 – which made it Greece’s second largest party. While some of her Greek colleagues expressed concern (in hindsight?) about the party’s sudden growth due to defections from the corrupt former ruling PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Alliance) party, they anticipated that such growth meant that the “radical left” would soon take power. Also forgotten was the unease that some felt when, two years later, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras announced a party platform that lacked clear anti-capitalist content.

Sheehan was thrilled to see friends being appointed to various ministries in SYRIZA’s government following the January 2015 elections. She rationalized the election or appointment of right-wing politicians to positions such as President and Minister of Defense as “necessary” political concessions. She applauded the rehiring of the Finance Ministry’s housekeeping staff in Athens — who had been fired in response to the troika’s demand to reduce public sector employment — while ignoring continuance of significant public sector cuts throughout Greece. In articles, interviews, and conferences she struggled “to vindicate the trust so many placed in SYRIZA,” even after an agreement in February with the troika where Greece’s promise to pay the debt in full and not take unilateral actions provoked angry denunciations from SYRIZA’s “left platform” (who did not quit the party, however). She lauded her government ministry friends’ support for community-based cooperatives to “open up” public services such as education, health, and communications. She did not, however, mention visiting those groups; had she done so she might have learned that government support often silenced their criticisms.

Sheehan continued to participate in European “solidarity” groups for Greece, while agreeing that Ireland “needs a SYRIZA and we need it now.” She participated with thousands of supporters in Dublin in rallies supporting “no” (oxi) on the July 5, 2015 referendum, while noting that “there were many such solidarity rallies elsewhere in Europe.” And she expressed shock and grief when less than a week after the Greek voters said “oxi” to a ruinous third memorandum, the SYRIZA-led government signed – and most of its parliament members ratified – an even harsher agreement with the troika.

Déborah Berman-Santana (left) and Helena Sheehan (right) participating in a panel at the Resistance Festival in Athens, moderated by Errikos Finalis of the “Dromos tis Aristeras” newspaper, September 30, 2017 (Photo: Michael Nevradakis)

Sheehan described several academic conferences in which she participated during the time period of the book. None, however, was so contentious as the “Democracy Rising” conference in Athens in July 2015. Planning for the conference began just after SYRIZA took power; by the time it took place following SYRIZA’s betrayal of the “no” vote on the referendum, she wrote, “Democracy Collapsing seemed like a better name.” Conference speakers from the government either failed to show up, or claimed to reject the agreement while remaining in SYRIZA and keeping their seats in parliament.

Sheehan finally turned against SYRIZA only after Tsipras expelled the “Left Platform” from the party in preparation for new elections in September, which SYRIZA won despite – or perhaps because of – an unprecedented 44 percent abstention rate. Her friends hurriedly formed a new “Popular Unity Coalition” party, which failed to unify enough groups and win enough votes to enter Parliament. She ended her book on a pessimistic note, observing that the world was “no longer watching” Greece, but still hoping that support for similar movements such as represented by Podemos in Spain, or Jeremy Corbin in England, indicated that “reflection on the SYRIZA story could be an essential element in moving the global narrative onward.”

Even within Sheehan’s linguistic, political, and cultural limitations, her choices of “left” organizations and activists appeared to be more selective than necessary. Notably, she did not interview or even mention any person or group that clearly and consistently called for leaving the Eurozone and European Union. One example, the United Popular Front (EPAM), was born in the plaza occupations of 2011. EPAM has often been shunned because it calls for restoring national sovereignty, and some of its members are not “left.” But she also ignored the Communist Organization of Greece (KOE), which had been part of the SYRIZA government — although she mentioned that their newspaper, “Way of the Left” reviewed her book.

Some readers may also find her frequent descriptions of her tourist activities to be distracting. Nonetheless, Helena Sheehan’s personal account of the Greek and European left,who rode and crashed on the SYRIZA wave, is both fascinating and disturbing, and should raise many questions about where “radical leftism” is going.

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After Embarrassing Defeat, NATO, EU and the West Try to Alter Reality in Macedonia

Amidst all the faux cheer and public displays of confidence of the pro-NATO/EU crowd, a palpable sense of unease hangs in the air.

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Authored by Aleksandar Pavic via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Although the September 30, 2018 name-change referendum in Macedonia, which was supposed to set that ex-Yugoslav federal republic on a path to (certain) NATO and (blithely promised but much less certain) EU membership, failed miserably, with only 36.91% of the voters turning out, well short of the 50% + 1 necessary for it to be valid – one would never know it from the reactions of its Western proponents and impatient beneficiaries. Indeed, a new term may be needed to adequately describe the reactions of the key pillars representing the reliquiae reliquiarum of the Western-led post-Cold War unipolar moment. Fake news simply doesn’t do them justice. Fake reality anyone?

The US State Department was firmly in denial, releasing the following statement“The United States welcomes the results of the Republic of Macedonia’s September 30 referendum, in which citizens expressed their support for NATO and European Union (EU) membership by accepting the Prespa Agreement between Macedonia and Greece. The United States strongly supports the Agreement’s full implementation, which will allow Macedonia to take its rightful place in NATO and the EU, contributing to regional stability, security, and prosperity. As Macedonia’s parliament now begins deliberation on constitutional changes, we urge leaders to rise above partisan politics and seize this historic opportunity to secure a brighter future for the country as a full participant in Western institutions.”

EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn wasn’t to be outdone in his contempt for the 63% of the Macedonian “deplorables” who stayed home in order to voice their disagreement with renouncing their perceived national identity and country name (it was to become “Northern Macedonia”) in exchange for the double joy of a) becoming NATO’s cannon-fodder in its increasingly hazardous game of chicken with Russia and b) the EU’s newest debt-serfs: “Referendum in Macedonia: I congratulate those citizens who voted in today’s consultative referendum and made use of their democratic freedoms. With the very significant “yes” vote, there is broad support to the #Prespa Agreement + to the country’s #Euroatlantic path. I now expect all political leaders to respect this decision and take it forward with utmost responsibility and unity across party lines, in the interest of the country.” He was seconded the following day, in a joint statement, by Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the EU Commission.

Understandably, as the most direct public stakeholder, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was particularly (hyper)active. As the disappointing results began to roll in, Stoltenberg went into immediate damage control, tweeting“I welcome the yes vote in Macedonia referendum. I urge all political leaders & parties to engage constructively & responsibly to seize this historic opportunity. #NATO’s door is open, but all national procedures have to be completed.” He reinforced his delusional missive the next day, releasing a similar statement co-signed by EU President Donald Tusk. And the day after, during a news conference, Stoltenberg even offered lightning-quick NATO accession to the unwilling Macedonians – January 2019, to be exact – if they would just be so kind as to urgently implement the very agreement that they had just so emphatically rejected. When NATO says it promotes democratic values – it means it!

But that wasn’t the end of the “democracy mongering” surrounding what may well prove to be NATO’s, the EU’s and the rest of the end-of-history West’s Balkan Waterloo. For example, the EU Parliament’s Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, although “regretting that the turnout was less than 50%,” nevertheless hailed the referendum’s results and “call(ed) on the opposition to respect the expressed will of the majority [sic] of voters.” The Group’s leader, Udo Bullmann, while also maintaining that, somehow, a voter turnout of under 37% still represented a “majority,” additionally used the occasion to chastise Macedonia’s President for having the nerve to call for a boycott of the referendum (he committed the crimethink of referring to it as “historical suicide” during his UN General Assembly address), as well as to decry – what else? – “reports about Russian interference in the electoral process.” It goes without saying that Bullmann offered absolutely zero proof for his assertion. On the other hand, according to numerous media reports, as September 30 approached, while no high Russian official was to be seen anywhere in the vicinity, a veritable procession of Western political bigwigs made the pilgrimage to Skopje in order to reveal to the natives their “true” best interests: Sebastian Kurz“Mad Dog” Mattis, the indefatigable StoltenbergFederica MogheriniJohannes HahnAngela Merkel. No meddling there, obviously…

Speaking of Angela Merkel, she also joined her fellow Western democrats’ show of unanimous disdain for the Macedonian voters’ majority opinion, urging the country to “push ahead” with the implementation of the majority-rejected accord, citing voters’ “overwhelming support” [sic], and arguing through the mouth of her spokesman that the required 50% + 1 turnout was actually “very high,” as voter registers purportedly included many people who had long since left the country.

Coincidentally (?), the same argument was used by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, who opined that the “yes” votes cast in the referendum do, in fact, “represent the majority despite the low turnout because Macedonia does not have the 1.8 million voters entered into its electoral rolls but just 1.2 million since 300,000 people have left the country since the voter lists were last updated 20 years ago.” The fallacy of his reality-challenged claim is easily exposed if we just take a glance at the results of Macedonia’s last parliamentary elections (December 2016), in which voter turnout was just under 1.2 million (1,191,832 to be exact) or, officially, 66.79%. If we were to believe Kotzias and Merkel (who lodged no objections at the time), that would have meant that the turnout for the 2016 elections had been 99% – a figure that would make any totalitarian dictator blush with envy. On the other hand, since those elections did produce the “desired result,” enabling the current heavily pro-NATO/EU government led by Zoran Zaev to be formed, that automatically made them “valid” in the eyes of the high priests of democracy in Brussels, Berlin, London and Washington.

Needless to say, Zaev joined his Western patrons’ charade, hailing the referendum as a “democratic success,” and announcing that he would seek the Macedonian Parliament’s support to amend the constitution and get the agreement with Greece ratified (according to the so-called Prespa Agreement, the Macedonian Parliament must adopt the necessary constitutional amendments by the end of 2018) so that the Greek Parliament can do the same, which would seal the deal. However, Zaev and his Albanian political partners are currently well short of the necessary two-thirds majority (reportedly, they can count on 71 deputies, or 9 short of the needed 80), and will have to call early elections if they don’t soon succeed in securing it.

Yet, let it not go unsaid that Zaev was singing a rather different tune prior to the referendum, assuring that “citizens will make the decision,” and that Parliament would vote on the necessary constitutional changes only if the referendum is successful. But that was then, when confidence was still high that the usual combination of Western pressure, money and overwhelming domination of the media spectrum would get the job done. And then reality struck on September 30…

Still, amidst all the faux cheer and public displays of confidence of the pro-NATO/EU crowd, a palpable sense of unease hangs in the air. As a Deutsche Welle opinion piece put it, the “low voter turnout for Macedonia’s referendum is a bad starting point for the country’s future development.” And, according to DW in Serbian, a Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung commentary warned that “politicians who otherwise ceaselessly talk of democracy as a ‘special value’ should not call on the parliament in Skopje to accept the voting results.” In other words, Macedonia’s people (read – a large majority of the majority Slavic population) have “voted with their feet” and rejected the agreement, and no new parliamentary election, no matter the results, can change that unpleasant-but-immutable fact. That alone will delegitimize any Western-led effort to “manufacture consent” by ramming the agreement through the present or future Parliament – although, as we know, NATO doesn’t put too much stock in referenda anyway, while the EU is not averse to making citizens vote as many times as needed to obtain the “right” result.

But the West has lost more than just legitimacy in Macedonia – it has damaged its reputation, perhaps irretrievably. In the words of former presidential advisor Cvetin Chilimanov, “The West has humiliated us… Macedonians have rejected this media, psychological, political and propaganda aggression against the people, and that’s the tragedy of these days, that a large percentage of a people that had been genuinely oriented towards the West has changed its mind and stopped looking at the West as something democratic, something progressive and successful… That is the reason for the boycott. Pressure was applied against Macedonia, a country that had always been open to ties with the West, but which did not want to make this disgusting compromise and humiliate itself before the neighboring countries, before Western countries. We did not understand why that humiliation was needed so that we might become a member of Europe. What’s worst, perhaps that is now the thinking of a silent majority of the people, that they won’t forget this insult and this attack on Macedonia.”

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Greeks Owe A Stunning €182 Billion In Tax Arrears To The State

Greece repeatedly raised taxes during its international bailouts between 2010 and August 2018.

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Via Zerohedge


Data from the Independent Authority for Public Revenue show tax arrears totaled 182.5 billion euros ($214 billion) on Aug. 10, according to a note sent from the agency to parliament last week and seen by The Associated Press Wednesday.

“The Greek government is owed so much in tax arrears from households and companies that it could pay off more than half its massive public debts if it collected it all,” writes AP, adding “unfortunately for the government, that’s unlikely to ever happen.”

However, as KeepTalkingGreece.com reports, more than 80 billion euros of that represents interest and fines on delayed payments from debtors that include companies that have been out of business for decades.

The arrears come close to Greece’s total economic output, estimated at 184.7 billion euros ($217 billion) this year, and Greece’s total public debt is worth about 180% of these arrears.

Eurozone-member Greece repeatedly raised taxes during its international bailouts between 2010 and August 2018.

Some 3.7 million Greeks – about 60 percent of the total – are behind on tax payments, and while the EU governments have attempted to crack down on the so-called shadow economy, black market activity still thrives in Greece.

As Statista’s Niall McCarthy notesexamples of black market activity are pretty common, whether it’s a warehouse worker driving an unlicensed taxi between shifts, an electrician accepting cash payments without declaring his earnings or a simple drug deal in a shady alleyway.

However, the level of black market activity, also defined as the shadow economy, depends highly on your country of residence. Generally defined as businesses and individuals engaging in inappropriate practices without complying with certain legal obligations such as paying tax or maintaining acceptable standards of employment, the shadow economy costs governments around the world trillions of dollars every year.

According to the IMF, heavily regulated economies with weaker administration tend to have well-established shadow economies. It’s far smaller in natons with strong, well-regulated and efficient government institutions. Back in the late 1990s, this was readily apparent in former Soviet states like Georgia where the shadow economy was estimated at 64 percent of GDP.

Today, the shadow economy is booming across southern Europe, though the scale of underground activity can only be measured indirectly.

You will find more infographics at Statista.

According to a new study published by the Institute for Applied Economic Research at the University of Tübingen in Germany (IAW), Greece’s shadow economy is estimated to average 21.5 percent of GDP. In the United States, undeclared cash transactions seem to be rarer with IAW’s study placing U.S. shadow economic activity at 5.4 percent of the country’s GDP.

 

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‘Hell on Earth’: MSF doctor tells RT of rape, violence, inhumane conditions in Lesbos refugee camp

One toilet for over 70 people, rape, and mental health issues – a doctor from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and an aid worker told RT about the dire conditions in the overcrowded Moria refugee camp in Greece.

Alex Christoforou

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Via RT


One toilet for over 70 people, rape, and mental health issues – a doctor from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and an aid worker told RT about the dire conditions in the overcrowded Moria refugee camp in Greece.

The overcrowded camp on the island of Lesbos, built to accommodate 3,100, houses around 9,000 people. “It’s a kind of hell on Earth in Europe,” Dr. Alessandro Barberio, an MSF clinical psychiatrist, said, adding that people in the camp suffer from lack of water and medical care. “It is impossible to stay there,” he said.

According to Barberio, asylum seekers are subjected to violence “during night and day.””There is also sexual violence”which leads to “mental health issues,” he said, adding that all categories of people at the camp may be subjected to it. “There is rape against men, women and children,” and the victims of sexual violence in the camp often have nightmares and hallucinations, Barberio told RT.

Asylum seekers in Moria “are in constant fear of violence,” and these fears are not groundless, the psychiatrist said. “Such cases [of violence] take place every week.”

There is “one toilet for 72 people, one shower for 84 people. The sanitation is bad. People are suffering from bad conditions,” Michael Raeber, an aid worker at the camp, told RT. They suffer from mental health problems because they are kept for a long time in the camp, according to Raeber.

“There is no perspective, they don’t know how their case will go on, when they will ever be able to leave the island.” The camp is a “place where there is no rule of law,” with rampant violence and drug addiction among the inhabitants, Raeber said.

In its latest report, MSF, which has been working near Moria since late 2017, criticized the unprecedented health crisis in the camp – one of the biggest in Greece. About a third of the camp population consists of children, and many of them have harmed themselves, and have thought about or attempted suicide, according to the group.

Barberio was behind an MSF open letter on the state of emergency in Moria, released on Monday, in which he writes that he has never “witnessed such overwhelming numbers of people suffering from serious mental health conditions.”

Calling the camp an “island prison,” he insisted that many of his patients in the camp are unable to perform basic everyday functions, “such as sleeping, eating well, maintaining personal hygiene, and communicating.”

A number of human rights groups have strongly criticized the conditions at the camp and Greece’s “containment policy”regarding asylum seekers.

Christina Kalogirou, the regional governor of the North Aegean, which includes Lesbos, has repeatedly threatened to shut down the facility unless the government improves the conditions. On Tuesday, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said that Greece will move 2,000 asylum seekers out of the severely overcrowded camp and send them to the mainland by the end of September.

Greece, like other EU states, is experiencing the worst refugee crisis since WWII. According to International Organization for Migration estimates, 22,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Greece since the start of this year alone.

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