June 29, 2015 Athens, Greece. Flickr. Some rights reservedBackground Discontent
A bare two years ago, we witnessed an outbreak of global discontent. Mass protests took place in a host of different cities, including London, Madrid, New York, Istanbul, Cairo, Sofia, São Paulo and so on. Back then, I suggested in an article in Open Democracy, that the simultaneity of these events might in part be an effect of globalisation in the western neo-liberal version that has captivated a large proportion of the world.
People of many different countries, I noted, have paid a heavy price for banking profligacy - and will likely continue paying for many years. What we have witnessed is the delivery of whole populations to the vagaries of the international market, the rapacity of financiers, and the careless cruelties of incompetent governments.
Greece's current predicament fits all-too-neatly into the model. So much has already been written on this topic, economic sooth-sayers have appeared so thickly on the ground, assertions on different sides have been so preremptory and uncompromising that we could be forgiven for thinking the barrel had been drained of fresh thinking and that the only sounds now emerging are hollow. Whoever listened to Jean-Claude Trichet - erstwhile president of the European Central Bank (ECB) - on the BBC Today Programme (7th July), as he clumsily avoided answering the question of what the Greeks should do, will have been reminded of how reluctant senior Eurocrats are to engage with reality. Trichet is in good company because the central players, notably Angela Merkel and her chief enforcer Wolfgang Schâuble, current ECB president Mario Draghi, and IMF chief Christine Lagarde - have also shown themselves averse to facts that fail to meet their image of a perfect market-driven universe. And the most basic of those facts are first that Greece cannot and will not be able to pay or even service its debts; and second that the unholy alliance known as the Troika, has fostered the transfer of private debt held by the banks, into public debt held by taxpayers, either Greek taxpayers, or if these fail or refuse to pay up, then principally German, French, Spanish and Italian taxpayers in that order. It is an uncomfortable message, similar to the one for which New Labour is still under the cosh in the UK as a result of Gordon Brown's rescue of the UK banking sector at taxpayer's expense.
Merkel and co. are only too aware that bank rescues accrue to the citizenry. Far more comfortable, therefore, for them to belabour the creditor than to address the wayward self-serving, morally dubious activities of banks bent on increasing their assets by pushing loans to a complacent government; loans, moreover, that as often as not departed Greece immediately in the form of interest payments, or were tied to purchases of weaponry and other trophy goods from lender countries.
In this respect, what we are confronting in the Greek crisis - I can find no other way of expressing this - is moral corruption on a breathtaking scale.Legality and Morality
M.Trichet did not stop at prevarication. With breathtaking effrontery, he blamed the current Greek government for the country's debt mountain and subsequent economic meltdown. Does he, does Europe, need reminding that Syriza has only been in power since February 2015?
But there is another truth lurking behind the condemnatory verbiage, namely that much of the Greek debt has been incurred out of sight of the public and that there is a least a case to answer about whether the parties involved - both Greek and non-Greek - were steering round national Greek legislation in diverting responsibility for private transactions to the Greek state. That, at least, is what is suggested by the Truth Commission set up by the present Greek government to examine the validity of the public debt. The Truth Commission's report is worth reading because it outlines in some detail the joint responsibility of the previous Greek government and the Troika for the current crisis; and it also clarifies the mechanism by which "...the majority of borrowed funds were transferred directly to financial institutions..." with little or no reference to the Greek government's ability to service the debt or acknowledgement of its impact on the people.The Vote
Prior to the referendum, accusations directed at Greece of complacency, bad faith, fecklessness, sloth etc. become a commonplace among those seeking to divert attention from Troika responsibilities for the mess. And, as so often happens, the media duly bent a collective knee before power and finance - the BBC included . Faced with such weight of international opinion, surely the Greek people would come to their senses and vote to swallow their portion of hemlock. Even the pre-referendum polls predicted a 'yes' vote - or at least a close one, begging the question of the neutrality of pollsters in the pay of media clients.
What we have largely been told in the wake of the decisive "no" vote, apart from expressions of shock and dismay, is that Greeks voted from a misplaced sense of pride, and dignity - in other words with their heart rather than their brain. Apparently the two organs work separately; though where money is concerned the brain is presumably supposed to govern by right of self-interest - unless, for some reason, it has absently-mindedly wandered off at a decisive moment and left the heart in charge. Plenty of nonsense of this kind available on the web.
I would like to suggest an alternative interpretation of the Greek "no", namely that it stands in line with the many street protests and "rebellions" large and small that have taken place in recent years; and in line too with the rise of non-traditional parties like the SNP in Scotland, Podemos in Spain, and Syriza itself in Greece, and even some right-wing parties like UKIP in the UK, and the Front National in France, whose members share - if nothing else - an unremitting hostility to neoliberalism in its purest form - in other words to the delivery of human well-being and progress to the unfettered forces of the market.
Because what the Greek people know - in common with many others - is that the market, and not least its financial elements - neither acts nor intends to act in their interests. They and we also know that the Troika, in company with most western governments and institutions, are in thrall to that market and to its elite representatives, among whom are numbered, for all intents and purposes, the high bureaucrats and ministers of state of the western world.
What the Greeks have done with their refusal to bend low to the Euro gnomes, is to insert a small but painful knife-wound into Europe's neoliberal body politic. They have rebelled. And it is up to those of us who believe, as the motto of the World Social Forum says, that a better world is possible, to support them.