Michael Theodosiadis | 20/12/2011
It is absurb to consider the European Union and the Western block democratic, when in Greece and Italy, lawfully elected MP’s gave their place to technocrats, ordered by the global markets in order “fix the fiscal deficits” (as they say) but always at the expenses of ordinary citizens. It becomes even more bizarre to address issues like the political regression we are witnessing in the West; a self-destructive conformity transforms societies into a crowd of isolated, atomized, and de-politicized individuals, an easily manipulable mass of passive consumers that lives and feeds on the populism of a handful of charlatans and demagogues. The vulgarity of the tabloid right-wing media not only reflects this level of mass de-politicization but also reveals another odd reality, the cultural divisions between North and South, divisions that existed long before the economic meltdown but the current climate of introversion and social destabilization was enough to bring it up to the surface.
Since the Euro crisis hit the headlines, stories regarding the “hard-working Northerners” and the “lazy and irresponsible South Europeans” have been appearing often in the Press. But it is the Greeks more specifically against whom this hate campaign is directed. “The Euro is in jeopardy because of the lazy Greeks who instead of working and producing, they go to demonstrations, don’t pay their taxes, and live beyond their means” is a racist cliché we often hear from various EU leaders, economists, technocrats, and tabloid newspapers. This racist campaign not only has managed to turn the European public against an entire population, but also obscures another fundamental fact: the failure of Neoliberal policies and the surrender of millions of people to the mercy of the financial oligarchs who have done everything possible to deprive democratic rights, basic working rights and social security benefits.
The Greek reality
Τhe surveillance of the IMF – ECB – EU in Greece contributed to further impoverishment of the population through unprecedented cuts in wages and pensions, dramatic reduction in social spending, sharp increase in unemployment, and loss of employment rights won by hard struggles during the past decades. Governments and (puppets) MPs act under the pressure of the global markets – to impose even harsher austerity measures – and when the Greeks fight back against this barbarity, the state attempts to break their resistance with repression, while the mass media respond with irony, hypocrisy, justification of police violence, and hate campaigns. In short, Greece has been trapped within – fabricated by the mass media – cultural stereotypes, aiming to distract the European public from the source of this crisis: the financial casino of the markets, and the imaginary of individualism. Some of the most common believed myths will be deconstructed below:
- While Greeks have been blamed as the ‘lazy brothers of Europe’ facts and deeds reveal a different story: The Guardian Online shows that the average of working hours in Greece is 43.7 per week, among the highest within the EU. At the same time, the gross monthly wage is only 745 euros.
- Although there is some truth that tax evasion in Greece is a plague, the mass media systematically avoid to mention that there is this mostly apply to the wealthy families and big business owners, (for example, the Greek Orthodox Church which owns immeasurable wealth and banking stocks, but has always been a subject of tax exclusion). At the same time low income workers who are obligated to tax contribution upfront have seen their wages reduced while additional hikes have been issued for every household, affecting worse those who are under-employed or unemployed.
- There is also a black job market that prevents the smooth function of Greek economy: employers usually hire candidates to work under the table, without registering them to the Tax Revenue, which means that a) the employee can receive income even lower to the minimum wage and, b) the employee is denied insurance and social benefits; in Greece eligible to unemployment benefits are only those who have completed the minimum of three months work-time for a period of at least two years. Those who are hired illegally can only declare zero working hours.
- Overspending does not apply only to Greece but also (and mostly) to the U.S. where the economic crisis started (2008). Overspending is an integral part of the postmodern capitalist culture of over-consumption, which plagues the west for over five decades. We are, in fact, witnessing a global anthropological decay which resulted in a massive deprivation of human creativity, as individuals are gradually turning into an atomized mass, forced to concentrate all their efforts in the improvement of their social status through unlimited and unnecessary consumption.
The second and third parameters, undoubtedly, reflect the deeply class related nature of the Greek crisis, especially if we acknowledge the arbitrariness of Greek employers to exploit their hired officials at the maximum possible level (in Greece it is very common for a worker to remain unpaid for several months) and the multimillionaire elites who enjoy impunity when they systematically avoid to contribute with their taxes: many of them, also, have managed to deposit their money into Swiss bank accounts, in order to declare less income savings, causing thus further damage to the Greek Treasury, transferring at the same time the debt to low income households which, accordingly, will be called to offer more for the balancing of National Budget. This clearly denotes that the initial problem derives inside the Greek society rather than being a bad effect of the EU rulership. Nonetheless, this fast acquired conclusion obscures another fundamental aspect of reality: that European Union itself has allowed such policies in Greece to take place. If the Greek oligarchs have drained every single public money, if the Greeks tolerated this injustice with their apathy and political indifference, then EU has a fair share of responsibility for the Greek crisis, as its Neoliberal economic agenda has deprived economic and political Sovereignty, not only in Greece but almost in the entire European South.
A Neoliberal, undemocratic Europe
The mechanism of the European Union rarely takes into account the views of the people. The decisive EU institutions (the European Commission Council) do not receive electoral legitimacy from an electoral body; the European Council consists of the Heads of States or Governments of the member-states and the Commission President (the commissioners are appointed by the governments), but the bureaucrats who surround them (also known as “the Eurocrats” and proudly call themselves so) are not directly elected. The European Parliament is not merely advisory. The degradation of popular sovereignty is a fact, not only in Greece but in almost all the 25 countries. What has the European Union achieved?
- Its centralized and deeply undemocratic structure has systematically blackmailed the people of France and Netherlands to accept unpopular Treaties which they had once rejected via democratic referendums. In these countries the direct expression of the people’s sovereign will is guaranteed by their constitutional laws, which have been violated because of the arbitrary and unpopular powers exercised by European Parliament, banking institutions and corporations that dictate the global economic casino. The same Commission has also forced the resigantion of elected MPs of the Greek and Italian governments (Georgos Papandreou and Silvio Berlusconi respectively), and replaced them with unelected technocrats and servants of the private bank Goldman Sachs: Lukas Papademos and Mario Monti, aiming to secure the implementation of hard austerity fiscal policies against the people’s will. This is nothing but an open, vulgar and brazen attack against the citizens.
- Last but no least, it violently suppressed any citizens’ attempt in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and other countries to collectively oppose austerity measures via popular demonstrations and strikes, (measures that have been forced upon them without consideration) and usurped their democratic rights to protest. Hence, millions of Europeans are driven into poverty, while thousands are forced to emigrate in order to obtain a decent income.
The most notable example of violation of people’s voice is Ireland, which after the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty had to repeat the Referendum in order to give the “Yes” answer, a response which suited Brussels. This was the result of blackmail by Fianna Fail’s campaign. A similar referendum was repeated in 2001, when the Irish were again called to vote in favour or against the Nice Treaty. This type of referendum is supposed to be a constitutionally guaranteed right, but obviously for the EU popular sovereignty means nothing if the final decision is against the interest of the global markets. Similarly in Greece, the recent events of Papandreou’s call for a referendum (which, in fact, means Yes or No to the Eurozone), caused the reaction of other Euro leaders, and resulted in a sort of coup d’ etat by Loukas Papademos. This proves that the EU’s greatest enemy is democracy.
The dictatorship of economic dogmas
Acknowledging the above observations, what we obviously understand is that the nature of the problem is not economic but deeply political. The individual well-being and the attachment to the values of the post-modern lifestyle, encourages political apathy, and leaves the field open for those in power to take back many of the rights gained during the past centuries. The fact that the word “Greek” has become a sort of swearword in most of the Western countries, has less to do with “lack of productivity” or with the fact that Greece is one of the weakest links of the EU’s economy, than with the problems inherent in the Neoliberal orthodoxy, which promotes passiveness at all levels of social life: Anyone who is preoccupied with the Greek reality will notice how deeply rooted in the Greek society is the culture of political disobedience and anti-authoritarianism, making the European conservatives tremble. Nevertheless, the mainstream media do everything possible to promote extreme capitalist values and it seems that they achieved what the Soviet totalitarianism failed to carry out within 60 years; to submit the masses into a state of voluntary servitude, to love whatever oppresses them instead of contributing to the formation of critical thinking individuals, capable to despise values and ideas.
For this reason we stress that apathy has to be ended if we really want an immediate change of society. Initially we must acknowledge that to overcome cultural barriers. On the one hand Northerners have respect the way of life of the rest of inhabitants of Europe instead of forcing them to adopt Protestant values. On the other hand, Greeks and Portuguese have to understand that anti-Germanism does not produce any positive effect, while it is wrong to claim that imperialism is a solely a characteristic of specific nations. Secondly, we should take into account that the existing institutions of centralized oligarchy have no place in a creative world. If we desire to be responsible citizens, we have to understand the importance of our participation in society, the importance of collective decision-making, as opposed to the oligarchy of a handful of “representatives”. Thereafter, an open public European referendum is massively needed, so the citizens will be able determine the conditions of their participation in the EU or to exit without being terrorized by the various unelected technocrats. This is not a voice that will contribute to isolationism, given that the Eurosceptic movement has been hijacked by far-righters and crypto-racists national conservatives. On the contrary, an open counter-network to replace the existing centralized structured EU could be created and gradually expand its dynamics all across the continent, a network which will connect European citizens but, at the same time, will acknowledge the voices of the local populations, without violating their decision is a real alternative idea. In short, we need alter-Europeanism for democracy and inter-cultural relations.
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