After successfully quashing Greece’s 2015 debtor’s prison break, Europe’s deep establishment has embarked on a mission to declare the country’s economic and social crisis over. To recall Tacitus, “they make a desert and they call it peace”.
Since 2015, the Greek state has paid its creditors a sum equal to the aggregate pre-tax revenues of all Greek businesses over an 18-month period. And as if these pounds of flesh were insufficient, between now and 2030, the state must pay the creditors almost twice that sum, and more than three times the same amount between 2030 and 2060. Meanwhile, a vicious class war lurks behind the infamous “reforms” that the “radical left” Syriza government is implementing.
Pensions, which had already been slashed by 40 per cent before 2015, have been cut by 10-20 per cent on average (and will be cut again in 2019); the small solidarity payment to the poorest pensioners was abolished; patients’ share of health bills has risen to more than 50 per cent; a third of working people are forced to do so part-time for monthly wages of €380; poor families’ income tax-free threshold has been reduced (and will be cut again in 2019); and the heating allowance for the poor was halved.
Income taxes on families earning €1,000 a month were increased; VAT was hiked to 24 per cent (the third-highest rate in the EU); home evictions accelerate daily; 700,000 workers on zero-hour contracts have been forced to pay higher taxes and, remarkably, to prepay their taxes a year in advance; the small business tax rate rose from 26 per cent to 29 per cent, and firms are also forced to prepay their taxes a year in advance.
Consequently, half a million young Greeks have now migrated (including half of our medical school graduates since 2015) with thousands more leaving every week. Tens of thousands of small and medium businesses have moved to Bulgaria, Cyprus and elsewhere in the European Union where they now pay their taxes.
As for public assets, the offensive fire sales are legion: 14 regional airports were sold to a German state company which paid not one euro of its own: it borrowed all the money from bailed-out Greek banks. The ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki were sold. The old Athens airport site, probably the finest piece of real estate on the Eastern Mediterranean, was sold to Spiros Latsis, Greece’s wealthiest oligarch, for €140 per square metre, with the state promising to spend more than it received on roads and facilities that will benefit the new owner.
Our electricity grid – partly sold. Our power stations – for sale. Our railways – sold for a measly €47m to an Italian company lacking the resources to invest properly. The state’s share in Athens airport – sold.
To intensify the insult, not one euro received from these fire sales will be invested in Greece – the full proceeds will go to the creditors. Last but not least, suicides remain 45 per cent above their pre-crisis level.
That the inmates have stopped rioting, and the TV vans have moved on, is not inconsistent with conditions worsening in our sun-drenched debtor’s prison. Forcing our young to emigrate and imposing indignity on those who remain, Greece’s debt bondage hangs over it like a thick, dark cloud.
Meanwhile, our rulers are interested solely in persuading the public that Greece “has been sorted”, citing for example the reduction of the unemployment rate to 20.9 per cent, or the government’s success at returning “to the markets” for more loans.
“Can’t they see that unemployment is falling because our children are leaving in droves?” people ask me on the street, their faces contorted with hurt. “Why is it good news that the government borrowed more from foreign bankers when our state is bankrupt?” a taxi driver asked me the other day. No, the Greeks are not fooled by the recovery narrative. But fooling the Greeks is not the establishment’s aim.
As the philosopher Slavoj Žižek wrote to me recently: “They are trying to kill hope: the message of their propaganda is a resigned conviction that the world we live in, even if not the best of all possible worlds, is the least bad one, so that any radical change can only make it worse… With Syriza, the ‘radical left’ party, doing the dirty job of austerity, hope was killed, depoliticisation and demoralisation exploded.”
Nothing threatens a people more than the sense that there is no alternative to a path to oblivion. Our quiet desperation has lasted long enough. This is why we are now coming to the fore to create a credible alternative to Greece’s arid political landscape. On 26 March, we founded a new Greek party, MeRA25 – the European Realistic Disobedience Front.
MeRA25 is not just another political party. It is an indivisible part of DiEM25, the radical, transnational, Europeanist Democracy in Europe Movement 2025; a pan-European front against the dominant oligarchy-without-borders but also against nationalist parochialism. Constructive disobedience is our strategy in the context of our founding purpose: “In Europe. Against this Europe!” Putting radical democratic transnationalism into practice, MeRA25’s policy framework and office holders are chosen not only by our Greek members but also by our German, Italian, British and Polish DiEM25 counterparts.
As for our manifesto, we have already put forward seven detailed bills which the party intends to table in order to end Greece’s debt bondage immediately and without any prior negotiation with Brussels. While not advocating “Grexit”, if the EU threatens us with expulsion for enacting our seven bills, our answer will be: “Do your worst.”
We do not fear failure. We fear capitulation, submission, surrender. We do not fear putting the bar too high and failing. We fear the prospect of training our eyes too low and ending up on our knees.
This is why we have founded MeRA25.
Yanis Varoufakis is a writer and economist and the former Greek finance minister
His new party MeRA25’s website is here
This article appears in the 04 Apr 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Delusions of empire