Monday, December 17, 2012

Greece at the brink of a civil war?

This article, published a few days ago, suggests that Greece may be at the brink of a civil war.

It was good to read this article because it brought things a bit into perspective for me. I had expressed similar concerns when I started publishing about the Greek crisis, except that I had expressed those concerns two years ago (and not just recently). At that time, I argued that the risk of a civil war would come about if Greece did not stay in the Eurozone. I argued that if Greece returned to the Drachma, much of domestic financial wealth would be wiped out; unemployment would skyrocket to the 20%+ range; and living standards would be knocked back to several decades ago. And, finally, I argued that no democratic society could survive such an Armageddon in peace.

Well, Greece did not return to the Drachma but the results are almost the same. While domestic financial wealth was not wiped out as much as it would have been had Greece returned to the Drachma two years ago and while overall living standards have not (yet?) been knocked back to several decades ago, the unemployment is now over 25%.

Financial wealth and living standards are important. But anyone who has ever been unemployed knows that the worst thing of all is unemployment (and the resulting financial strain). Not only does the unemployed man/woman experience the devastating feeling of not being wanted in the economic process any longer. The unemployed father experiences the feeling that he can no longer provide for his family the way he wants to (and feels he has to). The family of the unemployed father experiences rejection. The result is generally a deep depression for both the unemployed father as well as for his family. Suicides are but a symptom of that.

What went wrong?

One could, of course, argue that the EU (in abbreviated form: Germany) left Greece alone; that the lending countries imposed unacceptable austerity terms on the country. That, however, would be a very one-sided (albeit not totally incorrect) view of the story. From 2009 to mid-2012, Greece’s primary deficit was about 45 BEUR and the current account deficit was about 70 BEUR. Over 80 BEUR Greek bank deposits were withdrawn. Somebody has been financing that and, as is well known, it was the tax payers of the Eurozone-countries (including Greek tax payers!) who did that. Had they not done so, there would have been a real Armageddon quite some time ago.

Of course, those tax payers did not only finance the above-described financial needs of Greece but they also bailed out banks, hedge funds, etc. That was literally a crime on tax payers!

A prominent Greek politician coined the famous phrase “we all ate together”. He was correct! In principle, that is. Not only the ‘big guys’ took profit from the Euro-party. The small business owner in a small village who could suddenly do much business with the village profited just as much because the village spent money which, in the final analysis, was borrowed by the country.

Now, however, comes the critical difference. That small business owner (or the person who got a well-paid job in the public sector when he would otherwise perhaps have been unemployed) could not have known that he/she lived on money borrowed by the state and country. That small business owner may have been an extremely hard working man who thought he was doing his very best for his family.

The article states that Greeks are “seething with anger at the utterly corrupt system and a kleptocratic government that have done so much damage to the country”. Greeks are justified to feel that way. Regrettably, we know from developing countries in the Third World that it is next to impossible to unseat a well-established, corrupt elite.

Greece may be a country in need of development but Greece is not a country of the Third World. Instead, Greece is a member of the EU and of the Eurozone. Ideally, one would have hoped that Greeks themselves could get rid of their well-established, corrupt elite but one could certainly have expected that the EU and the Eurozone would ally themselves with the people against those well-established, corrupt elites.

As an Austrian, I remember vividly how, back in 1999, the EU was considering sanctions against the country (including an expulsion process from the EU) simply because the Conservative Party had the nerve to form a coalition with the second-largest party; a party which had a record of being clearly less than respectful of ‘European values’. Nevertheless, it was a democratically elected party and no one questioned that it was constitutionally legitimate. The EU reacted so forcefully because it felt that ‘shared European values' were at stake.

That very same EU had known for years how corrupt the well-established Greek elite was and --- it not only condoned it. Instead, it did a lot of business with it! ‘Tell me who your friends are and I tell you who you are!’

In June of 2011, I wrote an article comparing Greece today with Chile after the Allende-coup and I said the following: ‘If the present Greek leadership does not want to run the risk that, eventually, Greece will end up with the same political system which Chile had in the late 1970s and 1980s, they should make room for leaders who are not associated with the wrong's of the past but who can project the vision of a better Greece in the future! That would be the greatest contribution which any government has ever made for its society!’

In Greece, that would have meant for the political leadership to make tabula rasa. The very same politician who stated that “we all ate together” should have started a process where EVERYONE in parliament and in government would have done what the Japanese do when they completely failed their duties: take a bow, apologize sincerely and --- depart!

I have often hoped, and I still hope, that the day may come where Greeks pluck up the courage to show the adequate measure of ‘civil disobedience’ so that the corrupt Greek elites get scared. By ‘Greeks’ I don’t mean the usual suspects who crowd Syntagma Square whenever there is a possible occasion. Instead, I mean the silent majority who really suffer and who have not deserved to suffer.

Thus, I do hope that Greece is not at the brink of a civil war but I certainly hope that Greece is at the brink of the most powerful ‘civil disobedience’ which an EU-country has seen to date. A ‘civil disobedience’ by those Greeks who share the same values as Europeans in other countries (let me paraphrase those values with 'hard work and clean living'). By those Greeks whom foreigners living in Greece know from day-to-day life. By those Greeks who motivate tourists from all over the world, year-after-year, to visit the place which 'the Gods chose even though they could have chosen any place in the world'. 

And I would like to think that the EU would support that kind of a‘civil disobedience’!


  1. thank you for speaking out in favour of the dispossessed and for a largely frank assessment.

    a Gods-forsaken Greek.

  2. A time ago I read your post: "I love your music, Mr. Theodorakis, but your views are dangerous!"

    Today I read this new post and in it is exactly what Mikis Theodorakis wants the Greeks to do: to disobey.

    How can this be arranged? Theodorakis tries already for a long time to create a resistance in the Greeks, against the government.
    By his "Spitha":
    Unfortunately not in English, fortunately in Greek, so all Greeks can read it.

    I was agreeing with your protest post against Theodorakis, though I love Theodorakis' music as well, though I admire his life, filled with incredible acts of resistance against all what suppresses people(s).
    I agreed with you because I felt that disobedience is not working when the one who disobeys is the same as the one he wants to disobey. I noticed that not even Theodorakis saw the cause of all problems, not daring to criticise the Greeks, as Yanis Varoufakis does not do. They do not see it. They are both Greeks and blind as well. Without any self criticism there is not any solution for problems, not any difficult scientific formula can solve that. If economics would work the world would not know a crisis, unless crisis belongs to economical progress. Let us assume that this is NOT the case.

    If Mikis Theodorakis cannot unite the Greeks to create that resistance against all what is killing them, who can?
    Wouldn't it be better that Europe shows a more mature attitude toward the Greek government? Europe acts like unwise parents.
    Europe is not a dirty organisation however, just too young to handle all problems.

    In Greece is much more going on than what is shown, or published.
    That goes deeper than the acts of a government and banks.
    The government has been created by Greeks, voting Greeks.
    The way of thinking in the government is the macro idea of what lives in the micro society, behind front doors.

    There is a cleaning up going on and it is impossible to do that without cleaning up all what is hidden behind each front door in Greece.

    Hard working, ánd knowledge about working in an ethical way, can go together as friends, but often they walk alone. Each of them. Ethics, Ethos, exist, but who live with it? Where? Even Christmas has become a very unethical tradition. And let us not forget the acts of too many priests, dirty acts.

    It is important that there is insight in Greeks about the necessity of being not corrupt themselves. But how to do that? How to explain to a blind person what is a colour?

    IF it would be possible to open their eyes, then there is another problem, because I do not believe that they, each individual, have the guts, the courage, the strength to follow the path of non-corruption, to fight against corruption, to exile it out of the own circle of friends and family.

    What the result might be: all is depending on subversive elements, how they connect into a collective energy and transform into something good.
    Sometimes the only way to what is better is that what we do not want, not hope, not wish.
    That can be: to go together through times of despair, the fight within, internal. The positive way.
    That can be: to create a civil war, the external fight. The negative way.
    The Greeks may decide.
    They can vote for deeper values now, or to lose them in a civil war.

  3. Dear Mr. Kastner,

    I recommend today's post by Yannis Mouzakis (Prodigal Greek).

    As a greek who has spent 55% of her life outside of the country I cannot say that I agree with Ms. Janssens pessimistic opinion above. Partly because every country I have ever lived in has had its own deep peculiarities and problems - many worse than Greece. And partly because it should be obvious that people who live in corrupt societies are forced into adapting to the system - and once removed from a corrupt system (as shown by Greeks in the US, Canada and Australia) and placed in a country with a level playing field, adjust themselves accordingly and thrive!

    It is rather like blaming russians for their failure to overthrow the soviet regime, or finding a 'communist' gene in all russians - as Ms. Janssen seems to find a 'corruption' gene in all greeks.

    It should be obvious that 95% of the world's peoples prefer a level playing field.

    Indeed, if Greek politicians had managed to a level playing field in Greece I believe we would have become a mediterranean Switzerland - given greek energy, native industriousness and imagination. The true story of Greece has been its lack of growth and development through anti-business and anti-investment policies of succeeding governments; through nepotism, preferment, rousfeti, and governments which have preferred to be in service to, and part of, oligopolies and cartels. Most greeks have been frustrated for decades.

    So I am with you on the need for civil resistance and disobedience, perhaps a la Ghandi.
    Enough is enough.

    1. I read about everything which Yannis Mouzakis publishes on Twitter or in his blog (in fact, not too long ago he published something from me). Yes, that is good judgment there! Thanks for the reference, anyway.

  4. Bejesus!! More about civil war in Greece!! Please. The good doctor suffers from a serious case of professional disease: everything is Post traumatic stress, leading to disaster. Well lets try precision: true civil war (ie two or more armies of Greeks fighting along well defined battle lines or areas) is impossible in Greece because financing the armies is impossible. In the past this was done by moving gold around. Nowadays using gold is impossible and any civil war will destroy the comms and computing infrastructure that holds the money. No diamonds or ultra scarce minerals or drugs exist to take the place of gold.No money no war. The real risk is severe instability (eg piracy in the Aegean as I have mentioned in earlier posts) This is an entirely different problem, much easier to contain. The crisis is bad but I have seen worse: UK in 1977-79 that brought M. Thatcher to power. If what I hear around me from many Greeks and Eastern Europeans living in the country is true, the 1999-2003 collapse of the former Soviet Union was far worse. So please keep some perspective. I will not go into recent history like the 1940's. I suspect that many people are victims of the Greek gift of hyperbole.
    Civil disobedience. Well, against whom? Many people seem to believe that governments run Greece in the same way as other Western countries. Wrong. Greece is more like Iraq, so unless the center is unusually powerful (eg 1950's, 1974-1978, 1981-1988, 2000-2005 the Olympics and their $ 70 billion letter of guarantee) clans of various kinds do their own thing. That is a basic reason why there is no self-criticism. If you do your own thing as a clansman repeatedly then criticizing the system is pointless and against your self interest. If there is the need for disobedience, it must be directed towards the clan. I believe though that the moving the money out of the country was the most effective civil disobedience imaginable: it really scared the political class because it proved that the system can collapse without any possibility of political escape. "If Mikis Theodorakis cannot unite the Greeks to create that resistance against all what is killing them" What is killing Greeks is their unwillingness to run a modern capitalist economy. And this cannot be cured without painful reforms (that will break up the clans.)"As an Austrian, I remember vividly how, back in 1999, the EU was considering sanctions against the country (including an expulsion pr....." This is a very interesting point. It is so interesting that I suspect that we are not told the whole truth. Maybe Herr Haider didn't pay the European political money that must exist?Finally it is true that overthrowing a corrupt elite is very difficult. However this is not the case if there is an external powerful force (the ECB in the case of Greece) or the elite is cracking up into pieces (as judges are fighting ministers lately in Greece)So expect a relatively quick overthrow.