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Thursday, May 26, 2022
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Can Syriza Save Its Soul? By Robert Zaller

Hellenic News
Hellenic News
The copyrights for these articles are owned by HNA. They may not be redistributed without the permission of the owner. The opinions expressed by our authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of HNA and its representatives.

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The financial crash of 2008 will go down in the history books as the largest criminal fraud ever perpetrated. It wiped out an estimated $80 trillion in wealth worldwide, but that’s a number about paper. Properly speaking, it destroyed or devastated an uncountable number of human lives. Curiously enough, but not surprisingly, the only ones punished for it were its victims. And they were also the ones who were the ones forced to recapitalize the banks, investment houses, insurers, and corporations responsible for it, thus setting up the stakes for the next crash to come. Crime pays. On a big enough scale, it pays better than anything else. Corporate and financial profits are higher than ever, thank you. Depressed interest rates prepare the next bubble. Future public bailouts are guaranteed. Call it, if you need a term, immoral hazard. In all this wretched saga, one population has been singled out for special and exemplary punishment: that of Greece. Terms were imposed on it that knowingly could not be met; when it attempted to do no more than beg that even further burdens were not piled on top of what it already suffered, it was met with a threatened humanitarian crisis that would have left it without food, fuel, and medicine. In an unprecedented moment of public shaming and humiliation, Greece’s feckless Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, was left to face a round of public denunciations in the so-called European Parliament. Alone among his countrymen, he seems not to have felt the sting of this occasion. Instead, he brazenly called an election to confirm his betrayal of public trust. The party Tsipras headed, Syriza, has done no better in accepting his continued leadership. Clinging to the pitiful trappings of office to do a conqueror’s bidding, it has maintained its paper-thin parliamentary majority to perpetuate a quisling regime. Meanwhile, it has continued the forced sale of Greece’s public assets, a destruction of the national patrimony on a scale never seen anywhere before. Third World countries forced to open themselves to exploitation or to permit the forcible extraction of natural resources were never in the position that Greece now is: forced to surrender essential parts of the national infrastructure such as ports, air terminals, and utilities built by the Greeks themselves. This unconscionable plunder has a fancy name: privatization. But licensed piracy is all it is. If there is a reason for parties of the left in our age of capitalist triumphalism, it is to protect the commons—those creations or preserves built by joint labor, or essential to the public good, or a part of a nation’s history. No political party should ever facilitate or participate in the destruction of the commons, but for a party of the left to do so is to renounce its reason for existing. This is the shame of Syriza. But Syriza is not a monolith. Parliamentary discipline requires the members of a party to vote as one—the profound and basic flaw in all ministerial systems of government—and such discipline is maintained by expulsion for any member who dares to depart from the party line. Bluntly speaking, Syriza would not exist today but for this mechanism. Its members, however, must be presumed to have their individual consciences, and to understand what a party of the left should represent at a minimum. It was to purge dissenters within his ranks that Tsipras called a snap election in September 2015 in the wake of his abject capitulation in Brussels; a couple of dozen MPs took the bait and hastily formed a party that, with no time to establish itself as an independent force or mount a campaign, failed to win a single seat in Parliament. Tsipras was able to field replacement candidates for the seats held by the rebels, and the message was delivered to the rest of the Party: quit on me, and lose your job. Syriza is no longer a party of the left, nor does it, as a party, do anything but execute the orders of foreign institutions, creditors, and politicians—notably, of course, German ones. But there are still leftists within it, and, as The Wall Street Journal recently commented, “The Greek government is at war with itself.” Exhibit A is Christos Spirtzis, the minister tasked with the privatization sales. His most recent cross to bear—I use the metaphor because Spirtzis himself has invoked the name of Jesus Christ in describing his travails—has been the sale of fourteen regional airports to a German “investor.” It has no doubt crossed Spirtzis’ mind that the Germans will soon legally own much of the country they not so long ago occupied by conquest, and that the name of Judas may be the more appropriate reference here. The Journal details, not without sympathy, how Spirtzis began with the expressed hope that he would actually be unable to complete the sale, tried to denigrate his merchandise for potential purchasers by pointing out how unattractive the airports would be with their burden of debt, then backed calls for local referendums to block his own deals, and finally announced them “with a great deal of pain” in a voice reportedly choked with emotion. Maybe you should look for another line of work if that’s how you feel about your job? If you can imagine an abolitionist forcibly conscripted to conduct a slave auction, you have some idea of Christos Spirtzis’ lot. He isn’t simply a career politician; he’s been a labor leader, and some other unhappy campers, such as Shipping Minister Theodoros Dritsas, are veteran activists. Even such relatively conservative figures as Tsipras’ Economics Minister, Giorgos Stathakis, have been vocally critical of the deals they’ve been negotiating. Some members of the government are even encouraging strikes against it. To understand the situation, it is important to understand what happened to Greece in Brussels last year. Tsipras was trying to negotiate terms for borrowing the few billion euros that would enable Greece to keep from defaulting on a scheduled debt interest payment. Similar forced borrowings, misnomered bailouts, had been imposed on successive Greek governments since 2010. When Tsipras tried to avoid further austerity measures as the price of this—the promise he’d made to the Greek voters who’d elected him the previous January—he was faced with a credit shutdown that would have left the country without daily essentials. Instead, he was forced to accept an enormously larger (though entirely contingent) package of funding, some 86 billion euros worth. The prime contingency was an agreement to sell off 50 billion euros of public assets; in other words, virtually the whole sovereign wealth of the country. That is what has been going on ever since. It is an unprecedented seizure of property, and, since the price of the sales is catastrophically low, it is an open-ended one: 50 billion euros may represent several hundred billion of actual fair-market value. I’ll put it more simply: it’s the end of Greece as a sovereign state. And the word for enabling that is treason. It’s little wonder, then, that those in charge of dismembering their country lack some enthusiasm for the job. The question is how long they will stick to it, or be permitted to. Mr. Spirtzis and his colleagues must answer that question for themselves. They could still save their party, and something of their own honor, by refusing to go further along the path of national destruction, and repudiating the leader who has led Greece into such calamity. If it takes a revolution that risks the party itself, so be it: there is nothing left to it already as things stand except disgrace. The alternative might well be revolution of a wider sort—that, or permanent subservience. But the Greeks have not, I think, taught the world freedom to come to such an end themselves. As for the European Union, that gaggle of vultures, the sooner it collapses the better. It gave Greece not a single vote of support, not even from fellow sufferers, when its throat was being slit last year. Italy, for example, had been plunged into its own depression on orders from Brussels—i.e., Berlin—even if its misery bore scant comparison with that of Greece. But the Italian State Railway Company is now the happy owner of Greece’s Trainose rail system, bought for a song. A bargain’s a bargain, after all, and what vulture can resist ready meat? Britain has courageously led the way out of the EU, and, if further referendums can be held, others may well follow suit. Bring it on. But the economic and political elites who run the EU, and have organized it for their pleasure and profit, will do all they can to stifle—and discredit—the popular will. They’ve found a way out of democracy, another unwelcome gift of the Greeks, through a federalized autocracy, and expect them to fight tooth and nail to keep their sweet setup intact. The Greeks themselves, once they get a government again, can join the Brits. The European Union was formed in the wake of the disastrous nationalism that had brought two world wars. The lesson it’s taught, though, is this: when all is said and done, a nation is all you’ve got. Just ask Greece.

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