A Letter from Athens

greece-austerity

Alkinoos Ioannidis, a singer-songwriter and composer based in Greece writes a letter of appeal to Scotland to use ‘the gentle power of song, which has always been the weapon of our art though centuries’.

 

Dear colleagues in Music and Art,

I am writing from an edge of Europe that has suffered a lot for decades and that today is fighting for its survival and dignity: Greece.

My home is struggling in a cold and anti-European Europe. We are impoverished, disgraced and disrespected, almost helpless before the power of the international media and economic colossus. Greek citizens have lived during the last years in a modern colony, robbed by corrupted politicians and crooked corporate executives. But wherever there is a corrupted person there is also a corruptor. The Governments of the powerful states of Europe, amongst others, have created and enforced the corruption in our country. The Greek decline has profited the telecommunications, defence and construction industries, based in Germany, Great Britain, France and elsewhere.  It has also served the interests of the governments of those countries, whose pockets have been lined/economies have been rewarded with the income of the Greek people – not their own.

The Greek political system silenced economic criticism through bribery, and tolerated the tax evasion of the powerful. Every contrary voice was suppressed or even trivialized as naïve. The Athens Olympic Games of 2004 were the ultimate facade, the final banquet of a country systematically drained of its resources through profiteering. The same people who created and sustained this situation then sought to “save” our country by appealing for help from the ECB, the EC and the IMF. The Troika was created, an unelected informal body with legal accountability to the democratically elected European Parliament. And yet Troika effectively has ruled Greece for five years, being responsible for administering and implementing brutal austerity measures, to deal with our debt.

But who actually pays this debt? It is the Greek people, a people that official measurements show are working harder than most of the other people of the European Union but who continue to be accused of laziness and fraud.

The economic measures forced upon Greece have been wholly ineffective. They were not intended to deal with corporate tax evasion and corruption, and nor were they designed to facilitate economic growth. They were rooted instead in austerity, dramatic and systematic job cuts, drastic reductions in salaries and pensions, and huge tax hikes for ordinary working people. In the 5 years of Troika dominance, unemployment has risen, officially, to 27%. Youth unemployment approaches 60%. One out of four Greek citizens live below the poverty line. Our national debt, as a promotion of our GDP, has risen from 124% to 175% of GDP. And new loans have been offered to the Greek state to enable us to pay existing ones, thus creating new debts that are impossible for us ever to repay.

What does our salvation look like? Our people have been asked to go hungry in order to bail out the debts created by a wealthy and powerful minority, not just in the country but internationally. Greece is still the ideal place for your vacations, but a very difficult place to live. Suicides have risen dramatically. People with health insurance, who have paid taxes all their lives, are dying without the medicine and treatment they need. Uninsured, unemployed patients die helplessly. Children faint at school due to malnutrition. Despair grows deeper. The Neo Nazi party Golden Dawn has the third highest vote, with its leaders in jail. All this happens in the Europe of 2015. And the debt grows bigger.
A few days ago, Greece chose hope instead of fear. Despite overwhelming scaremongering by the media and foreign officials who pressed us to vote once more for those responsible for the economic catastrophe, its people voted for a government that is determined to fight for the rights and wellbeing not only of Greek citizens but all the citizens of Europe. The Greek people do not want the money of European taxpayers to end up in the vaults of banks and institutions who created this crisis. They cannot be allowed to profit twice.

We are a small country. Our powers are limited. Our voice is not loud. We don’t have many allies in our struggle. But the fairness of our cause, our need for dignity, our hope of a humane Europe, the support of our friends who understand what is really happening, gives us the strength to keep going and keep hoping.

I am asking you, through your creation, through the gentle power of song, which has always been the weapon of our art though centuries, and also through your speaking, your words, your public presence, to stand in solidarity with the urgent, difficult, dignified and just struggle of the Greek people, which is also the struggle of every European citizen.

Thank you,
Alkinoos Ioannidis



Categories: Commentary

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21 replies

  1. Its ironic to think that the country from which the word democracy originates is now, after two thousand + years about to demonstrate what it actually means.

  2. We are all struggling with Austerity but Greece more than most, of course in Scotland our struggle is with Unionist Westminster party’s too, The power of song can reach further than someone standing on a podium giving a speech and for that reason I created this wee 5 min vid.

    It’s a super protest song from 4 Non Blondes and rather fitting for what we in Scotland are going through today.

    This is my effort http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UckAXbyxqc

    I’m sure everyone is free to add a song here, come on Scotland give us a song 🙂

    @jankrobatti

  3. Sounds just like Scotland and the North of the UK.
    Don’t use songs, use AK47’s. Shoot the Bankers or put them in prison (preferably shoot) and take your money back and start up a new State Bank then take off and nuke them from orbit.
    “It’s the only way to be sure”

  4. It may have been meant as a joke “deewal” but it is very dangerous to use language like that in this day and age, please be careful.

  5. “We are impoverished, disgraced and disrespected, almost helpless before the power of the international media and economic colossus.”

    Not so! Anyone with a functioning, questioning and analytical brain sees the situation exactly for what it is and Greece is inspiring so many people. Great to see Athens once again teach the world a lesson in demo-kracy! Syriza was allied with our RIC in our referendum campaign and it is great that two countries at both ends of Europe — Scotland and Greece — are voting for left-wing parties and refusing to follow the peoples of France, Germany, England, Holland, Sweden who are increasingly supporting shameful far-right parties (and by far-right, I mean even worse than Jim Murphy!).

  6. Well done the courageous Greek people. Good to see you are already starting to regulate and hopefully in time remove the private equity sharks from ownership and exploitation of your essential utilities and infrastructure. Scotland still has to (start to) think about this too, once it has the powers.

  7. Solidarity with Greece is a given. We’ve all been uplifted by Syriza’s victory. I lived in Greece many years ago (on Paros in the Cyclades) and while there I learned about the levels of corruption amongst officials and government. It’s very much at odds with the ordinary Greek people – I never met a Greek person who wasn’t warm, welcoming and ready to share what they had.
    Greek people (or those who voted for Syriza!) must be feeling proud to be the first country to stand against austerity measures and the right wing agenda that dominates Europe. Well done the Greek people indeed!

  8. I still don’t understand what the problem is with ‘the Greek political system’ being unable (or unwilling?) to chase the rich Greek tax dodgers.

    I still don’t understand why those who would decry against rich b******s avoiding paying their taxes are regarded as ‘naive’. Regarded as naive by whom? Those who voted for Syriza? Ordinary Greek voters? Do ordinary Greek people really think that it is OK that rich b******s do not pay their fair share in taxes? One law for the poor and another for the rich? Or do they not believe that mass tax avoidance by the rich is actually happening? Or is a problem? If so, they actively collude in their own degradation!

    I’m sorry if I am being thick here, but we hear a lot about this over here in the UK about corruption and tax avoidance being at the heart of the Greek problem, so I am just curious as to why Greek people don’t demand that corruption and tax avoidance be ended. If the answer to this is that it is too deeply imbedded in Greek society to be rooted out (a thing which I would find hard to believe) then, quite clearly, you need root and branch reform of your entire fiscal system. And of your entire society. Build new institutions staffed by new people with new citizen values and create new tough laws that target and shame the rich. Threaten them with the loss of Greek citizenship and loss of all their Greek property if they refuse to co-operate. If they are avoiding paying their taxes whilst their country and countrymen are suffering, they are un-Greek! Shame them, expose them, and cast them out as parasites if they won’t knuckle under!

    You complain about the Troika not setting up a plan to deal with corruption. But why should they? This is for Greeks to sort out. What are you advocating, that Germans should come and run your country directly for you, setting up new, efficient, fiscal institutions?

    Again, apologies if I am being thick, but it is never explained over here why Greeks seem to be so powerless in dealing with corruption. I am appalled at what is happening in Greece, but we each play a role in our own suffering, and until we understand what that role is (even if it is a minor one) then we can make no progress in extricating ourselves from our suffering, because our role, however small, is the only one that we have power over and can control. I know that can be very hard to do, especially when one has been made a victim by others. But at some point you have to ask yourself why were you so daft to allow yourself to be victimised? What were you doing to yourself that they could get the better of you? In short, there needs to be reflection, and a change in thinking.

    It sounds to me like there needs to be a change in political culture, in consciousness, in Greece. People have to stop thinking it is ‘naive’ to criticise the rich for tax avoidance. They have to ask themselves, honestly, why they thought it was OK to look the other way. Vigilance, eternal vigilance, is the price necessary for democracy.

    Zeno said: ‘Sleep, in a state, precedes slavery’.

    • “Again, apologies if I am being thick, but it is never explained over here why Greeks seem to be so powerless in dealing with corruption.”

      Because the entire political class was involved and the corruption was endemic, you couldn’t get a job without political patronage, once you have that job it’s in your interests to keep the people who gave you it in power. I met my wife (who is Greek) because she refused to join either PASOK or ND and thus had to go abroad, she once asked a minister’s secutary why she was being passed over for a job despite her qualifications, he asked her to join the party (PASOK, incidently) she asked what if she didn’t want to, he said she could always go abroad and laughed. When a system of patronage is so pervasive there is nothing any individual can do about it, people hate it but they are trapped. ND and PASOK would in turn stand on anti-corruption tickets only to turn out just as corrupt as the last and their machines made nobody else likely to take power without a crisis. One of the reasons for the growth in the Golden Dawn is that they look the most likely to hang the rest of the Greek political class.

      This corruption goes back into history, in the 20’s Greece made it illegal to fire civil servants upon a new government because before that each new govt would fire the entire civil service and replace them with their friends upon assuming power.Societies that have only recently industrialised and place emphasis on extended family tend towards patronage.

      Patronage systems are not unique to Greece and it is only partly responsible for the crisis, it made Greece the first and worst, but because of the structure of the Eurozone and German policy within it, the crisis would still happen even if the patronage didn’t exist, that’s why Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland are in the same boat. Secondly the troika has done nothing whatsoever to tackle Greek corruption, they are only interested in getting money back to Franco-German banks. At the begining of the crisis I saw a BBC discussion at one of the big summits, a Greek journalist earnestly explained the corruption in Greece, the British presenter sounded shocked and turned to a German minister for response, but he just shrugged his shoulders and said “well, you find this in a lot of countries, the only problem is Greece can’t afford it”. The message was obvious, the troika don’t care about corruption only money. Sure enough German businesses profited from it for decades, until about 10 years ago Germany made bribes paid to win foreign contracts tax deductable. Umpteen German businesses bribed corrupt Greek officials for overpriced state contracts, meanwhile the Greek state borrowed money from German banks to pay for these contracts and the German banks were falling over themselves to rent out money, they lent out more money to southern Europe than they actually held.

      Nobody in Greece thinks their state has been functioning properly, Greeks have had higher levels of mistrust in their own politicians than anyone else in Europe for decades, but few would expect Germany to solve anything, especially since Germany’s handling of the crisis has been so profoundly idiotic and perverse.

      Syriza are clean hands and are more likely than anyone to tackle the corruption, but the Troika and Germans would prefer the old kleptocracy of ND and PASOK.

      • Thanks for this reply. But party political patronage only explains how you get a public sector job, it doesn’t explain how the rich get away with not paying their taxes, and more importantly, why Greeks are not more outraged by the rich avoiding tax. Alkinoos began his piece by saying something that really intrigued me, which was that when it came to economic criticism ‘every contrary voice was suppressed or even trivialised as naive’.

        I’ve also heard it said on Livestream the other night, when Mark McNaught was interviewing by Skype a Macedonian economics academic, that in the good times recently, before the crash, when things were relatively OK for Greek people, that most just looked the other way.

        Which reminded me a lot of here, where the MSM is captured by Labour and Tory party interests, so that there are few truly independent journalists prepared to look at matters objectively or in any depth.

        So I was wondering if a similar thing happened in Greece as here, which is that the press really didn’t cover these issues. And it’s mainly been through social media, as here, during the indyref, that the Greek people are at last beginning to wake up, and talk to one another, and highlight abuses, and make people have a far more critical awareness of what went wrong.

        The story of Greek debt, as I inderstood it, was that the Labour government, when it was in power, wanted to improve the lot of the Greek people, but because the rich b*****s wouldn’t pay their taxes, they borrowed cheap money from Europe to get these goodies, but this was not sustainable given their revenue stream. The EU f****d up by not enquiring closely enough if the Greeks could actually afford this. But essentially the debt was public debt, debt for government purposes. Whereas in Ireland, it was private debt, money borrowed by construction companies for building schemes.

  9. Greeks are outraged by the rich not paying taxes, past govts justified it on the grounds Greece’s shipping industry being one of the largest in the world was a mater of national pride and if they did tax them they’d just base themselves elsewhere and then Greece would get no benefit at all. Further the Greek media is basically owned by the oligarchs, for a small country it has about 40 national newspapers all of which make a loss, but are kept going as political tools for the oligarchs, they set agendas, so even though Greeks might dislike the oligarchs not paying taxes there was no public voice for this, yes it’s similar to the British MSM, but I wouldn’t say social media has has woken them up, more that the crisis galvanised them. The troika wanted the money back to Franco-German banks, the Greek govt then choose to punitively tax the people instead of their oligarch friends.

    However tax evasion wasn’t just occuring among oligarchs, coruption lead to a cynicism that fed it in other sectors like tradesmen and the self employed. Lets take the example of health in Greece, Greeks will routinely provide bribes to doctors and other health workers because they believe that if they don’t they won’t receive proper treatment and care. Doctors thus have an invisable untaxed income in bribes, but doctors wages in Greece are lower than anywhere else. This is the result of an unspoken agreement between politicians and healthworkers, the state pays them less, but they get a hidden income on the side. If you had a plumber round he’d charge you less if you agreed not to take a receipt.

    Before the crisis Greece was not spending on improving the lot of the people, the idea it’s a case of overspending socialism is a myth, Germany, France and the UK all spend more on health and social security, by wide margins. There were a number of big infrastucture projects (Athens Metro extension, new airport, Olympics stuff, new Athens ring road, Corinth gulf bridge, Egnatia Odos and so on) much of the money went to corruption and Greece spends a greater proportion of GDP on defence than anyone else in Europe. Welfare in Greece is pityful, only pensions are effective as families are expected to support their young. Unemployment benefit and national health insurance only lasts two years after loosing work. Greece had been running a structural debt for decades but until the Euro they’d managed to stop it becoming uncontrolable by devaluing the drachma, it was the ND (Conservative govt of Karamanlis) that saw things spiral out of control, they went on the big spending spree. Since civil servants couldn’t be fired both ND and PASOK would stuff their own supporters in, that was another cost.

    There are two sides to the problem internal and external

    It’s Germany within the Eurozone that causing the external problems. The Euro had the effect of putting up prices in southern Europe, while keeping the cost of German goods on foreign markets down this caused a gradual centralisation of production in Germany (and economies related to it), while it prevented southern Europe devaluing to compete. Within this situation Germany kept to deflationary policies, protecting their trade balance, they kept wages down at home so Germany failed to stimulate the rest of the EZ, but all the profits from that trade balance were building up in the banks, so they rented out that money to stimulate greater demand for German goods on credit, in Ireland and Spain they fueled property bubbles, in Greece they lent to the govt. Greece as the weakest EZ economy was a particularly good place to lend too, banking regulations allowed banks to lend out greater amounts of their reserves if lent to an EU govt, and Greece paid slightly higher returns because it was weaker, so lending to the Greek state allowed banks to keep less in reserve for greater profit on the loans, who knows perhaps they were paying bribes to take the loans, the effect is that big business was conspiring with corrupt Greek govt officials to profit from corruption and the Greek people ended up with the tab.

    To save time the link below details some of the scandals

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/complicit-in-corruption-how-german-companies-bribed-their-way-to-greek-deals-a-693973.html

    • Sorry, forgot to press the right reply button, the above post is in response to MBC above

      • Very many thanks for this fullsome reply. Do you live in Greece? It is good to get an insider view.

      • I have lived there and still visit regularly.

        Since we are on the subject, here’s an interesting thing, the headlines today talk about HSBC bank in Switzerland helping UK tax evasion, this seems to be is what’s known in Greece as “the Legarde list”. In 2009 a computer technician at HSBC’s Geneva branch was arrested by French authorities, he held data on foreign accounts at the branch that exposed massive tax dodging, 130 000 names. The French distributed the information to various EU govts (including the UK apparently) Christine Legarde (then French finance minister) gave a list of 2000 Greek nationals (including oligarchs, politicians and politician’s family members and so on) to the Greek govt, the Greek govt did nothing to prosecute those on the list, with ministers later blaming each other for losing the information, causing a major scandal in Greece.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lagarde_list

        It’s interesting to note that in the UK we’ve heard nothing whatsoever about it until now, I didn’t even know the French gave the UK a list until today, so why has the list suddenly become news in the UK and why is the UK MSM angle “HSBC helped tax dodging” instead of the question in Greece which was “why have the authorities not taken action against those on the list”.

      • Yes, I’ve been trying to follow this story in the Guardian. You’re right, the emphasis is on the bank’s ‘wrong-doing’, not the UK government’s inertia in dealing with the files and in recovering tax owed by UK nationals to the UK treasury.

        A classic case of misdirection by the MSM!

        Corruption exists in the UK too, except people are no longer willing to call it that. Especially in England where people seem really complacent. But some are awake and increasingly angry and willing to show it.

        Paul Mason was ranting about why the banks aren’t prosecuted for fixing the Libor rate. About why they constantly plead a special case against tougher regulation and making financial misconduct a criminal offence. And even when a criminal offence is committed, as in the Libor scandal, why no-one is even charged.

        Consultancy and arrangement fees in the UK for the award of major construction contracts are routine, and I think they can be offset against tax and openly declared. This is no longer described as a ‘bribe’ but a routine and recognised part of how business is done.

        Many years ago a popular Newcastle councillor, and Labour council leader, T Dan Smith, was jailed for several years for such practices in the infamous John Poulson case. Poulson was corrupt, an architect, who offered bribes to get building contracts, but Smith, who used his many council contacts to get Poulson work, always protested his innocence and claimed that he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong in accepting small gifts from Poulson and that the facilitation and contacts practices for which he was jailed are now regular practice. Called ‘consultancy’ fees, or ‘arrangement fees’ or ‘commission fees’. He wrote a book about his experiences which is now out of print and very hard to find (surprise, surprise) but in it he explains how the system he was jailed for worked.

        In Edinburgh ex-Council Labour leader Donald Anderson has set himself up as a ‘consultant’ initially offering his services to businesses trying to get planning applications through the local authority, using his inside knowledge of people, contacts, procedures, his address and contacts book. He now works for Sainsbury’s Scotland and helps Sainsbury get more outlets across Scotland. I’m not suggesting he’s doing anything illegal, just that there is a huge lack of transparency, and a shadowy world that is not clearly understood in how a lot of business is conducted with local authorities and why certain decisions that favour corporates and off-shore investment funds always seem to get made against the wishes of local people and local businesses. There have been a number of very high profile planning controversies in Edinburgh recently involving off-shore financial funds.

        So what I’m really saying, my real question is, that this has so far not brought the UK to its knees. Though I wouldn’t discount it happenning eventually, just a matter of time. So why is it crippling Greece? There must be other weaknesses.

        But I am finding strong parallels with what is happenning in Greece in terms of ‘oligarchs’ and the ‘entangled’ and what is happenning here and in Spain. There is a huge lack of transparency.

  10. Song from C Douglas Durness about the Scottish referendum. Don’t know if it’s the kind of thing you wanted?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNVud_R-aZ8

  11. Alkinoos,

    I think this may apply to Greece as well as Scotland – a universal song which I hope will become the National Anthem of an Independent Scotland. One of the best versions from Pumeza Matshikiza

    Freedom come all ye.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yChTjZqGCt0

    Best wishes from Scotland and I hope you default the debts run up by your corrupt government and their oligarchs and recover your country as soon as possible.

  12. I very much like the Scottish songs listed already on the thread in response to the author’s request for us to use song. For some of us though mention of Greece brings fond memory of Nana Mouskouri :-

  13. The You Tube link does not seem to have travelled well. Sorry. It was to the songs such as:-The White Rose of Athens (Albert Hall 1974), I have a dream, Amazing Grace, Try to remember, Power of Love etc.

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