Thank you Greece

wind iconA fresh wind blows across the Mediteranean. The Greek people have chosen a new government. They have spoken loudly against a chorus of scare-mongering  meant to terrorise them into another four years of subservience to austerity. That and the associated dictates of faceless men and their failed policies. In standing up to the powerful, they seek to regain their dignity. In standing up, they inspire others across Europe and beyond.

The Australia-Greece Solidarity Campaign salutes this heroic gesture of the Greek people. The new SYRIZA government assumes a great responsibility to honour the trust placed in them by the people. It will need to be decisive and courageous, agile in its tactics but clear and determined in meeting its objectives. It will need to draw on the resources of all Greek people at home and abroad that share in its vision and hope for the future. More than this, the new government will also need the active solidarity from all over the world of community organisations, trade unions, students, political parties and members of parliament. It will need all this to repel the attacks that will surely come from those threatened by its rise. The Australia-Greece Solidarity Campaign will play its part in helping to coordinate solidarity activities in Australia and forge links with similar groups overseas. We encourage all of you to join the Campaign and become active in defending the democratic will of the Greek people who have now chosen to exit from austerity and the forced habit of subservience .

For now, let us enjoy the moment.

The words below capture the significance and promise of the moment with some history to give perspective on where it came from.

The Greek people have given a clear signal…. they have rejected the ruling by European and international technocrats. They have said no to their national oligarchic establishment that has led the country to the current situation. But they also resisted the Siren calls of Golden Dawn. They have given their confidence to an untested party, with no experience in government, a party that has presented an electoral programme proposing better governance, more democracy, greater social justice and an end of austerity policies that have destroyed the economy and created unprecedented hardship while the public debt (and the private one) continued to increase. The Greek voters have sent a clear message to the rest of Europe: they want to be part of Europe, they can’t bear more austerity; they need a sustainable solution to their debt problem; they want to be a respected partner in the European Union and play an active role in the common search for a Greek and European recovery.

Europe should not see the victory of Syriza as a threat. Instead, it should be seen as a clear signal from the people and as an opportunity for Europe as a whole to reconsider its crisis response, which has already lead the continent into what may become a decade of deflationary stagnation, even with the last intervention of the ECB. There is no easy solution to the deep crisis in Europe but one thing is certain: to continue with policies that do not work, because they concentrate exclusively on fiscal prudence, is the opposite of what must be done, in giving priority to growth, investment, employment and redistributive policies.

Anyone guided by realism will recognise that Greece cannot at the same time serve its tremendous debt burden and recover economically and socially. Insisting on servicing the debt, without a strong economic recovery might be popular in some European capitals but it will just not work. Debts that cannot be paid remain un-payable even if creditors continue to insist that it should be paid.

The debt crises in Germany in the last century offer great lessons in this respect. After World War I, the victorious powers insisted that Germany should pay reparations independently of its economic performance. The results are well known: Hyperinflation in the twenties, brutal austerity in the early thirties resulting in the rise of Hitler who immediately stopped servicing any foreign debt when he came to power. After World War II, the Allies recognised that Germany had to become prosperous first and should pay afterwards. That reasoning lies behind one of the most generous debt restructuring agreements in history in 1953, when more than 50 % of the German debt was written off, repayment was stretched out over more than half a century and debt payments were made conditional on the existence of a trade surplus. The last payment of debt from World War I was actually made as late as in 2010 and payments at no time exceeded 5% of German export earnings.

In many European countries the public debate on the debt crisis is also framed in moral terms. Many claim that Greece had cheated when entering the Eurozone, that they are free-riding on hard-working Northern Europeans, that they need to be taught a lesson in order to learn financial responsibility, etc. The judgements should not be about “Crime and Punishment” but about economic viability and a better future. If debt restructuring had been guided by any moral reasoning in 1953 it would have certainly been extremely difficult to make the case for German debt relief. But it was economically, politically and socially the right thing to do and it paid off not only for Germany but for Europe as a whole…

The Greek people must be thanked for putting the need for changing the course of economic policies firmly on the European agenda. The stakes are high. A failure in Greece will be seen as vindication of austerity as the only option. It will have negative repercussions for any progressive alternative throughout Europe. Those convinced that Europe needs to change cannot sit on the fence, but need to engage in support of the new winds of reform.

from an article by Maria Helena dos Santos André (Director of the ILO Bureau for Workers’ Activities) and a former Minister of Labour of Portugal. She writes in her personal capacity.

see full article here

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