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Gordon Campbell on the crisis in Greece

Gordon Campbell on the crisis in Greece

Greece, as the cradle of democracy, is getting no brownie points for actually practicing it. The decision by the Greek government to go back to the people for a mandate for the bailout terms being proposed by the Eurozone seems entirely appropriate. Syriza were not elected to impose a further round of austerity conditions of the sort that the Eurozone is now unilaterally seeking to impose, without any regard for Greece’s national autonomy. Quite the reverse. Syriza was elected to represent the country’s rejection of going further down the path of austerity that it has already walked at great personal and social cost for several years, all in order to repay debts from which the vast majority of the Greek population had received no benefit whatsoever.

Since the election, Syriza has tried to negotiate a compromise package. It is one the Eurozone has chosen not to accept, insisting instead on austerity conditions and a round of privatisations and pension cuts that were ultimately intolerable, given how much Greece has already suffered. Yesterday, the Spanish opposition party Podemos got it exactly right in this commentary:

Given the ultimatum and the blackmail of its creditors, the Greek government has reacted in an exemplary manner (by) giving the floor to the public to decide in a democratic and sovereign way their own future. Unlike what the government of Spain did in 2011 and 2012, the Greek government has refused to violate the popular mandate it received from the polls last January…

With its continued intransigence the [Eurozone] creditors have demonstrated that their primary interest is not to solve the Greek debt crisis, but to subdue and to overthrow the democratically elected government – in order to demonstrate that there is no alternative."

This sentiment from a demonstrator in Athens quoted by the Guardian is worthy of support:

Rallying in front of the Greek parliament on Monday night, supporters of the Syriza-led government of prime minister Alexis Tsipras demanded an end to the “economic asphyxia” and “social catastrophe” of austerity – and the return of dignity.

“I’m here to support my country,” said Katherine, a psychologist.

“I want freedom for my country and dignity for its people, because right now my country does not have its freedom and its people do not have their dignity. It might be very hard work after Sunday, but freedom needs hard work.”

If Sunday’s referendum results in a “Yes” vote – ie, to accept the IMF/EC terms of bondage that will guarantee Greece years of hardship, Tsipras will resign. If the “No” vote wins and Greece exits the Eurozone it will become an inspiration of what a free, democratic country can achieve in the face of international financiers. Its future – and any hardship that it then faces - will be on its own terms.

Meanwhile, here at home

Only three months ago, Prime Minister John Key was touting the high New Zealand dollar as a good thing, and a sign of the strength of our economy. So, logically… shouldn’t a weakening dollar (which has since lost ten points against the Aussie dollar and upwards of 15 points against the US greenback, to a five year low this week) be a sign of… the underlying weakness of our economy? No, no, not at all. On RNZ this morning, Key was still singing the praises of our alleged “stellar economy”.

Decades ago, this country had another Prime Minister (Robert Muldoon) who tried to run the economy solely via his powers of personal persuasion. That didn’t turn out well, either. In reality, the New Zealand economy has a list of ailments: falling dairy prices, falling wage and employment confidence, an out-of-control housing market, a slowdown in job creation as the Christchurch rebuild winds down, and economic growth that is slowing so fast that the Reserve Bank has chosen to cut interest rates to try and arrest the decline, regardless of the stimulus that these brate cuts will give to the Auckland housing bubble.

Will these signs of economic decline have any impact on the government’s popularity? Probably not. This past fortnight has been a real shocker for the government, and for Key personally. Among the list of debacles : Key bungling the size of our refugee intake, Nick Smith’s ongoing mishandling of the Crown land available for housing in Auckland, the bizarre plan to sell large chunks of our state housing stock to Australians…. And wait, there’s more. At the time, Key’s assured us all that cutting the $1,000 Kiwisaver subsidy would make no difference at all to the number of people who join Kiwisaver. Not true. It now seems (as noted by No Right Turn) that the cut to the state subsidy to Kiwisaver has in fact caused Kiwisaver enrollments to plummet by 50 %. Even the apparent plusses – like this week’s cuts in ACC levies and motor registration fees - primarily serve as evidence of just how unfair and extortionate the previous fee levels (which were remedies for a bogus crisis stoked by Nick Smith ) had been.

Will these external and internal signs of decline and disorder eventually have an impact on the net migration inflows, that as Berl pointed out yesterday, have underpinned the New Zealand growth story over the past 12-18 months? Not substantially enough to make a political difference.

Greece, and its music

And here, appropriately enough this morning is a sad Greek tune written by the great Mikis Theodorakis, and sung by Georges Mosuatki. Sample lyrics:

The sea-shore is long, the waves are high
The sorrow is great and bitter the sin

Within me a river, bitter blood of my wound
and your kiss on the mouth more bitter than blood….

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