For the Greek people, the economic crisis has an aspect of ancient tragedy mixed with a bad theatrical farce, staged on behalf of Ms. Merkel as well as Greek politicians. As the crisis deepens, more than 250,000 people visit humanitarian organizations every day, businesses are closing one after the other, children faint out of starvation at schools and pensioners shoot themselves right in front of the Greek parliament. Clearly, the situation is getting out of hand yet no one seems to care. The only worry the Greek and EU political leaders seem to have are the markets.
The crisis of the euro is not just economic, but also a crisis of democracy. The suspension of Greek sovereignty is the clearest indication that the austerity packages Europe has imposed on Greece are simply immoral. A look at ancient Greek history shows how excess debt weakens the operation of democracy. It also shows how political leaders were open to making radical changes and applying measures of social justice in order to protect the poor, while at the same time restore the economy.
Never Mind The Bailout Packages. What Greece Really Needs Is A New Seisachtheia
When Draco launched the first written Athenian constitution, his laws prohibited death for most small violations, but the consequence of a failure to pay debts was slavery. His laws were reversed by Solon, the precursor of Athenian democracy. Solon’s most important reform was Seisachtheia, the relief of debt burdens. Debts were cancelled, enslaved debtors were freed, confiscated land was restored, and personal freedom could no longer be used as debt guarantee. Solon had the courage to restrict the big landowners’ profits and apply a citizen-centered policy so that Athens could prosper.
Today, in the second decade of the 21st century, we may not have slaves but Greece’s debt bears similar results. We have middle class-turned-underclass Greeks who simply can’t pay off their debts – be it business loans or housing mortgages – because their income has been butchered by at least 1/3 due to Troika’s austerity measures in order for Greece to pay off its creditors. But where are these people going to find the money to pay new taxes if their income is down by 1/3 as a result of the governing of Papandreou and Papademos?
Isn’t it reasonable that, after the average Greek salary dropped suddenly and 1/3 of the population are now without work, that the money Greek citizens are required to spend should be reduced accordingly? In this direction, shouldn’t the prices of goods in supermarkets, housing rents and bank loans be reduced by 1/3 as well? Is there another way to survive and emerge from the crisis?
National Elections 2012: Looking For The Next Solon
What Greece really needs is a new Solon: a political leader that will realize the urgent need to limit the greed of banks and to enhance the public accountability of the financial system; a leader that will explain to the EU that prosperity of Europe’s people is more important than the prosperity of banks; a leader that will refresh Germany’s collective memory. After all, historically, wherever there was a debt relief, it was followed by growth, with Germany itself being a glaring example.
Some decades ago, the situation was radically different. After World War I, and again after World War II, Germany was the world’s largest debtor, and in both cases owed its economic recovery to large-scale debt relief.
In fact, according to an interview [German!] LSE Professor Albrecht Ritschl gave to Spiegel, the German post war “miracle” is due to a large extent on the fact that Greece has never claimed reparations from Germany as others did, and Germans should take a more chaste approach in the euro crisis or they could face renewed demands for World War II reparations.
Is the leader going to be Antonis Samaras or Evangelos Venizelos? Given that they both are parts of the corruption and clientelism system that has flourished under the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) and the conservative New Democracy party, which have alternated power for 30-odd years, the answer is simply “no.” Both Venizelos and Samara’s parties include politicians who along with their businessmen cronies, have drained the country dry of any available funds and they couldn’t care less what happens to Greece. Their money is in offshore accounts and they will retire to their properties in London, Zurich, or New York if the country collapses. The people that brought Greece to the brink of bankruptcy can’t put it back on track again. And it is really depressing that polls show even though Greek voters are unlikely to give any party a workable majority in election, Antonis Samaras’s New Democracy leads with about 20 percent of the vote with Venizelo’s PASOK following in second place.
(Sources: Spiegel, FT, ESJ)