Cause For Celebration? Greece Just Told The Bankers To Stick Their Loans And Austerity

The future may be uncertain, but one thing is for sure: democracy is alive and well in Greece, and the people have made their voices count

Greece held a referendum on Sunday to decide whether to accept further loans from the European Central Bank (ECB). The ‘help’ had been offered on the condition that Greece impose more crushing austerity measures on its citizens. The country has already been crippled by poverty since harsh cuts to public spending began in 2010. In a triumph for democracy over plutocracy, over 60% of Greek people voted 61% in favor of the No campaign, with widespread celebrations held as the verdict was announced in Athens last night.

Greece‘s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, of left-leaning peoples’ party Syriza, won the elections on the promise that he wouldn’t bow down to the bullying creditors. He had urged people to vote no in the run-up to the referendum.

“Even in the most difficult circumstances, democracy can’t be blackmailed – it is a dominant value and the way forward,” Tsipras said in a televised address. Greece had missed a June 30th payment to the IMF, one of its creditors, and has been in arrears since then. One English man tried his best to raise enough money through a crowdfunding campaign to bail Greece out, but despite being a  genuinely kind thought, the question remained as to who would be bailed out: the bankers or the citizens? And hold on, who created a bubble and this global crisis in the first place? We still don’t know where that missing $32 trillion went.

Greek people have understood this thievery and corruption from the very start of the crisis. They know where they stand in the pecking order for emergency cash injections: at the bottom, waiting in queues to find their bank accounts frozen as the 1% siphon off public bailout funds into offshore tax havens with glee. Greek citizens’ long campaign of protesting austerity measures and the cruel blackmail tactics of the ‘Troika’ (a collective name for the IMF, ECB and the Eurozone) made headlines around the world in 2011. Like the Spanish activists who inspired the Occupy movement and the Icelandic people who forced their government to start jailing bankers, Greek citizens are also wide awake, and very angry. 

Tsipras will re-start negotiations with the European Commission next week, but in a shock announcement, finance minister Yanis Varoufakis won’t be by his side. Varoufakis is something of a hero to Europeans who believe in people power over corporate power. He’s intelligent and passionate; an economist by profession, and strongly believes that austerity doesn’t work. He also believes that the European Union will inevitably fail if it does not begin to spread its wealth between member states, and he has continuously fought to get Greece’s debt cancelled. Varoufakis is a force to be reckoned with. He has been a leading figure in Syriza’s rise to power, and a key part of the the whole process leading to this historic No vote.

Yet in a twist to the tale, Varoufakis resigned shortly after the referendum results. He wrote on his blog that certain un-named powers had requested he no longer attend meetings. In short, the loan shark creditors have pushed him out of any further talks.

‘Soon after the announcement of the referendum results, I was made aware of a certain preference by some Eurogroup participants, and assorted ‘partners’, for my… ‘absence’ from its meetings; an idea that the Prime Minister judged to be potentially helpful to him in reaching an agreement. For this reason I am leaving the Ministry of Finance today,’ he announced.

Varoufakis nevertheless expressed his support of Prime Minister Tspiras: ‘I consider it my duty to help Alexis Tsipras exploit, as he sees fit, the capital that the Greek people granted us through yesterday’s referendum.’ Varoufakis also wrote the following emotional tribute:

‘Like all struggles for democratic rights, so too this historic rejection of the Eurogroup’s 25th June ultimatum comes with a large price tag attached. It is, therefore, essential that the great capital bestowed upon our government by the splendid NO vote be invested immediately into a YES to a proper resolution – to an agreement that involves debt restructuring, less austerity, redistribution in favour of the needy, and real reforms.’

He added, defiantly: ‘I shall wear the creditors’ loathing with pride.’

A Channel 4 profile of Varoufakis. Article continues below video.

As Europe’s head bully, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel had warned that voting No would cause horrendous consequences, and no doubt it will. The Euro has already fallen, and Eurozone president Jeroen Dijesselbloem remarked bluntly in a statement: “I take note of the outcome of the Greek referendum. This result is very regrettable for the future of Greece.”

If that sounds ominous, it’s probably meant to. But the Greek people are no longer afraid of the consequences of bad debt, and today they can believe in democracy again. The battle may be won; the war is not. But for now at least, an elite group of international bankers don’t get their hands on more taxpayer’s cash while regular families suffer in chains. Let’s celebrate solidarity with Greece, and hope it stays that way.

Maybe the future isn’t as dark as the loan sharks would claim. Bernard Lietaer, co-designer of the European currency, gave an interesting interview to RT the other day (video at top of page). Tellingly, he admits that financial institutions’ power over member states was not part of the original European agreement, that “it was added” at a later date. When asked whether the euro itself could be at risk, Lietaer sighs deeply before answering: “There’s a lot at risk. We’re playing chicken on both sides.”

He is, however, hopeful of a solution that doesn’t involve either extreme. “I don’t see any reason why Greece can’t have two currencies,” Lietaer suggests. “There’s a third solution, and that’s innovate.” The expert says that by using both the Euro and reviving the Greek Drachma, the country could still trade and benefit from tourism while boosting growth “at grassroots level.” This sounds much more effective than what the bankers had planned.


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