When Greece was at the brink of collapse in 2015 – where it remained ever since, more or less – radical left-wing party Syriza, fronted by Alexander Tsipras, triumphantly gained power. They promised to end the extortion by the global finance elites and to get the national economy up to speed. As we know, this did not go to plan, as the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank refused to give an inch, and demanded that Greece tighten their moneybag even further. This led to cuts in public services, privatisation and increased frustration and unemployment.
In the end, Finance Minister Yannis Varoufakis resigned – he was unpopular among the EU leaders – and Tsipras continued following his re-election despite Syriza not fulfilling its promises. They were left no other choice but to get into bed with the EU, led by European «President» Angela Merkel. The state coffers were almost depleted, the banks closed the cash points and branches, which led to great losses – not just to the Greek State, but to millions of private savers with money in their accounts. Greece was closer than ever to a total catastrophe.
A detailed look. The documentary #ThisIsACoup, backed by website The Intercept, tells the story of the Greek and Syrizan misers. We follow the events day after day, trailing the people and leaders closely. The film provides a unique, yet one-sided look at the process. Why not dig a little into the past history – how the Greek got into this endless debt which led to this crisis? Why not consider the relation between the international organs which maintain this debt scheme?
There is no need to scratch the surface to discover that the Greek loans are rooted in a financial model designed to enslave rather than alleviate states and its citizens during troubled times. The financial elites have a strong interest in keeping the weakest in their places, trapped in a dependency relationship to those in power. This goes for the individual citizen just much as countries faced with supranational institutions – such as the World Bank or the European Central Bank.
Mason is on the right track – but is this not too simplistic? Is there really a solution in the direction he is pointing?
Debt’s moral dimension. Why lend someone money on conditions you know they will never be able to accommodate? Why allow Goldman Sachs to help Greek to hide their existing debt just to accumulate further and heavier debt? To be able: to trap the debtor in a dependency relationship. To own him. In Debt: The First 5,000 Years, David Graeber goes to the root of the notion of debt. The belief that you have to «repay what you owe» is not primarily a financial but a moral question, he states. He reminds us of the term’s origin as he discusses the German Schuld, which means both debt and sin. This moralistic view, believes Graeber, distorts what it really is about.
The questions raised in the film, are not limited to the Greek fate – as it is about how far a neoliberal world order pressurises both states and citizens to maintain its control. The first step towards another world order is, feels Graeber, to eradicate impossible debt, and prevent further such contracts.
Make it smaller. Paul Mason, the producer of #ThisIsACoup, continues on the path set by Graeber in his book Post capitalism (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016). The large debt schemes which till to now have governed the world, are about to be replaced by a more local economy based on bartering and short, economic cycles, he points out. Mason is hopeful. Through phenomenon such as Uber and Airbnb, we see the outline of a sharing economy which dislocates from the centralised value cycles which characterises neoliberalism, he claims.
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