Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Is there a new totalitarian language in the making? - Hatto Fischer

Insofar Greece has come under enormous pressure to conform to a new model of economic behaviour, responsible and accountable responses are hard to come by. This is because the severe austerity measures are based on highly questionable assumptions as to what works in such a case of mounting debt.

It cannot be solely a public relations exercise either. Aside from spreading optimism and confidence, there remains still the real problem of the debt. It seems that it cannot be resolved in a half way decent manner. This is especially the case if the measures provoke only more social protest but do not bring in at the same time enough revenues since they drive the economy ever more into recession.

Nor will 'fear mongering' do! Unfortunately it is a tool used extensively by the media. It leaves everyone in fear about the future. The frightening aspect is that this business with fear goes much further than what Michael Moore attested to in his video 'Bowling for Columbine', but the outcome is the same. Full compliance is expected from Greece and that means everyone should not protest but behave decently, all while the most draconian measures are being applied.

Politically responses in Greece on the side of the organized opposition parties and trade unions have not been structured enough and, therefore, are not at all encouraging. Rather they cling to traditional forms of protests e.g. general strikes. However, they fail to communicate to the rest of the society what solutions they propose or would be in favour of. Naturally they would have to go beyond such demands as holding onto the status quo i.e. no cuts in payment or privileges. Instead of opening up the discussion to examine reasonable alternatives, there is a dangerous tendency to go all out and to the extreme on both the Left and Right Wing spectrum of politics.

All this is underlined by an almost complete denial that the debt exists at all, and has to be paid back as there exists really an outstanding obligation. Naturally it would mean opening up all the books, in order to distinguish real state obligations from what are faulty defaults just designed to burden the state. But who is going to distinguish all that when all the accounting is in a mess?

Still more problematic is that the organized, equally well established opposition parties like the KKE or Communist Party of Greece along with the trade unions do everything to prevent a free citizen movement to articulate itself. The general strike held on June 27 and 28 2011 erupted in violence between police and demonstrators. The waves of violence which swept over Syntagma Square where citizens had been holding their daily assemblies in demand of an own voice, was a set-back. But none of the established political parties and organizations want to give support to this non violent position being articulated by citizens holding their own assemblies, and at which everyone had the right to speak for 2 minutes. The violence which swept over Syntagma was designed to prevent the citizens’ movement to gain any further legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

The general strike and subsequent violence left since then this non violent movement struggling with trauma and hopelessness. It is once again a failure to give recognition that Greeks need public spaces where they can articulate themselves, politically speaking, and listen to the opinions of others. For too long now Greece has suffered in political terms under a lack of public debates. It is hard for anyone to listen to the other, never mind recognize as Michel Foucault would put it, 'the voice of reason'.

The lack of reason in communicating with the other reflects one peculiar feature to be encountered in Greece. For many Greeks are by themselves already quasi institutions and thus they deal at one and the same time at different levels with contents of work itself, but also at managerial level with the need to negotiate work conditions or payments. Often it is said due to a lack of money not to be gained from just one job because the payment is so low, a person is forced to hold two, three, if not five different jobs. While doing the one or the other job, all of them together have to be managed as well. This takes time but also involves conflicts of interest especially if half the day is spend as civil servant, the other as consultant outside the administration but doing a job for the administration. No wonder then when it comes to delays in deliveries while elsewhere the quality is not that good. How can it be otherwise when five different jobs need to be done all at the same time? That is impossible. This has contributed towards an attitude which wishes permanent negotiation, just in order to get more time for delivery in the one job while renegotiating conditions agreed upon initially in another. Naturally things become even more complicated, especially if the one who awarded the contract stands to benefit as well from the contract by getting something in return under the table. It is this conflict of interest which prevents in effect raising a demand for good quality work. Mutual interests in getting the money have a higher priority than ensuring that the work brings about an excellent outcome or otherwise no payment!

No wonder when the Troika experiences constant changes in everything and has to face ever new demands to renegotiate everything. This is exactly the stance of opposition leader Samaras of Nea Democratia. It means in the end to face always a new and ever changing reality, even though it was thought to have agreed on something. Thus the basis of which a clear commitment was laid down in the 'Memorandum of Understanding' does not hold as the point of reference has changed in the meantime.

As many of these things can hardly been known in the rest of Europe, it is worthwhile to study this phenomenon a bit more closely. In order to get a grip on things, there should be removed first of all conflicts of interest. Civil servants should not be allowed to do work outside and complementary to what they are doing inside. As to the general condition of one person having many jobs at the same time, this condition has to be changed as well. It would help already if jobs with decent payment would be offered and real work done rewarded properly. Too much work done in reality went unpaid as there prevailed in the Greek society until now various forms of exploitations, the honour to be working for someone with a famous family name just one of the most obvious undercuts when it came to real compensation.

Obviously when it comes to reforming the civil service, it does not make much sense to lower their salaries. In the fight against corruption, it was always thought that higher paid civil servants are more immune against all kinds of temptations. Precisely the low salaries of many Greek civil servants gave rise to all kinds of contrived and different forms by which extra money could be attained. If not by doing double jobs inside and outside the administration, in order to gain extra payments, there were other solutions institutionalized. For instance, construction companies doing public works could by law over exceed the initial cost estimates by 50%, provided the responsible civil servant would sign to signal agreement from the side of the state that this is 'legal'. That became an automatic procedure with construction companies paying into a fund out of which civil servants in that specific department received monthly payments in addition to their regular salaries. Yet it meant this coalition of interest that the state overpaid regularly construction companies doing public works.

No wonder then that the Troika discovered visit after visit ever more ingenious systems of payment, all of which had the noble intention to simple stock up the initial low salary of the civil servant. It entails a complimentary link between formal and informal systems sustained by an overall, always broad agreement of all parties involved, as to what matters, what not, but definitely an agreement in order to gain altogether extra benefits. Along that line, there was always some over charging or under payment to break even in the end - or at least to make it seem that way. The real costs were accumulated through loans by state and semi-state structures especially at local level, but not only. For instance, the defence ministry was known to purchase weapon systems never delivered.

Now that austerity measures are being imposed, it does not make at all any sense to ignore the original reasons for the crisis and what contrived reasoning resulted from low salaries. But this is exactly what the austerity measures aim to do, namely to cut all these fringe benefits and on top of it reduce the basic salary. This is done with the noble thought by lowering the costs of running an administration, it would alleviate the state of the huge debt. Yet in business terms the equation does not work for how can service with higher quality be offered while at the same time those who supposed to help improve the quality are paid even less than ever before?

Naturally these austerity measures can take Greece way back and below what is standard payment elsewhere in Europe. And it ignores the basic social and cultural fact that what is now deemed to be corruption, that was a systematic effort in the past by Greece to just catch up with the rest of Europe. When attending meetings in Brussels, and sitting together with representatives from other member states, it was only too natural to desire equal terms. That could be best attained by receiving some equivalent in payment while installing a similar award system i.e. possible promotion to a higher salary scale. And if this is not enough an explanation, then the payments made within European programs all designed to modernise Greece i.e. be updated, more efficient, effective in similar ways to standards applied throughout Europe, that set a much higher level of expectations, and which everyone wanted to attain as well.

As there will be a variety of responses to the crisis from all sides, the new political tendencies in the making need a clear identification. Calling them merely 'irrational' or illogical, that will not do. Still, cutting salaries does not make sense when motivation is needed to do an excellent job. Since the very lack of good payments has brought about all these chronic and systematic inefficiencies, it is not advisable at all to shake up the system by simply applying a crude measure and simply cut across the board the salaries of everyone who can be hit according to the one or other criterion. Moreover the situation shall be aggravated by not being differentiated and at the same time not attentive enough to what would be a just solution, one affecting all in a different way but in need of wise adjustment, so as to bring about a sense of equality.

Due to all the confusion and lack of knowledge, but also sheer size of the problem, all kinds of fears fuel instead new political attitudes. The most common one is an extreme anti-politics attitude, as if all politicians are corrupt or by the same token all civil servants are inefficient. The danger of giving in to such gross generalizations, is that it can spark the wrong reactions i.e. massive social protest, while not helping at all to resolve the dire economic situation.

One indication thereof as to what can happen when extreme political positions conjoin, that was demonstrated already in France. There was created an unholy coalition of interests when both left wing Socialists and Le Pen’s right wing followers voted to deny France the chance to ratify the EU Constitutional Treaty in 2005. Likewise a similar situation is being created in Greece by the various opposition parties on the Left and Right. Not only do they deny the political responsibility for the huge debt the country has accumulated over time, but as said before, they do want to keep their grip on public protest and be the sole channel for the articulation of political opinions. They stake their claims at the expense of any independent citizen movement. Here all parties and organizations conjoin, in order to prevent citizens from articulating themselves free from party and any other organized affiliation, including trade unions and the church. This has been already for too long the practice as well within universities with student councils highly politicized, and over dominated by the Conservative and Communist parties.

What all this amounts to in Greece, this can be felt as to what is starting to grip Greek society in the autumn of 2011. For one, there is a growing awareness of the inherent contradictions as the gap between the rich and the poor is becoming more obvious. Till now Greece was a largely egalitarian society. And then developments which crushed the citizens’ movement at the end of June, and at the start of the summer month, have destroyed the possibility of bringing about a cultural consensus. This would be needed for a new social contract between citizens and the Greek state. The old one made in 1974 after the fall of the Junta in order to return to democracy, that one no longer holds. A new social contract is needed as the debt demands a special legitimacy when it comes to agreeing to all the austerity measures. But by autumn 2011, they are no longer merely proposed by the Troika, but are being enforced with the threat of not granting further bailouts, if there is no compliance and cooperation. A signal was sent already when the Troika left Athens and would only return if certain conditions were met.

The situation has turned ugly, to say the least. The people are without a voice. They are not only in despair, but much more in anger over their own helplessness. They see and observe, but also know things are going to be very tough not only for themselves, but more so for their children and youngsters i.e. the future generations.

At the same time, if no true constraints are being articulated as to what under no circumstance should be allowed, there is to be expected still more negative development. This goes hand in hand with further erosion of measures which have been made into law to protect the environment, and which are denounced wrongly as obstacles for inward investments. The latter is always the case if unregulated expansion of settlements, towns and infrastructure related developments are allowed to be driven by a gross invasion of arbitrary investments. Most of them have no regard for the natural beauty of the land. When it comes to build hotels, foreign but also Greek investors want to do so everywhere. And illegal construction continues by being legalized for the sake of bringing in more investments, but then many more things are not heeded e.g. the shortage of water supply especially on the islands. For illegal construction means equally illegal drilling for water. Unfortunately an economy driven only by money wants merely to build still more houses, even on an island like Santorini which has already over exceeded a capacity to take more of the same. Besides that, it does not make sense to have villas built with swimming pools on slopes on an island which is prone to earthquakes. Also it is said that the surface of Greece built over by housing, pavements, etc. over exceeds what would be a sufficient surface to absorb rain water, in order to let it sicker underground and to feed the water reservoirs. If such things are disregarded, and especially in a crisis anything goes, as long as it brings money, then the set back will be far worse than what is gained by satisfying only those whose appetite for more construction to make money has been merely wetted.

The real danger is that those advocating solutions for Greece wish a return to such normality called economic growth, but this under very specific conditions such as low wages and full compliance. Already the Troika wishes that the government erases collective wage agreements, in order to ensure labor rights do not impede employers' wishes to be able to hire and fire at will. That would but mean a return to primitive times of early Capitalism, when in fact a limit has to be set not only as to the number of cars produced every year, but as well to consumption society as a whole and especially what would amount to the danger of abuse of power if not limited. As to the environment over consumption of space due to the housing boom is a real problem. The latter was the result of an affluent society going wild over the thought to have not only a second, but a third and even a fourth home, if not beside the sea, then up in the mountains or else abroad. Over consumption has added and aggravated the many problems Greece faces and which have been left for too long unresolved, such as the many illegal waste sites. The latter is but just one of the many symptoms of how nature has been ravaged. The idea of sustainable development may be complex and difficult to attain, but it certainly cannot be disregarded as if climate change does not exist or is just the assumption of a few scientists gone astray in their projections.

All these problems seem to be forgotten when faced by the huge debt crisis. Right now it appears as if only one interest seems to prevail, namely to get Greece as fast as possible back on track i.e. become a competitive economy. Moreover, it is thought this can be done best by removing all obstacles to foreign investments, and in particular by getting rid of a highly inefficient bureaucracy. This veiled attack entails, however, such one sided pre-notions of what are the problems of Greece and which distorts the reality Greeks live in, but which can be enforced now that the country is at the mercy of the Troika.

As said already, many of the tendencies to be seen and experienced in Greece do not fit the term ‘crisis’ at all. For instance, tourism had in 2011 a record year with more than 16,5 Million visitors coming to Greece, and islands like Rhodes leading the way by having an increase of over 27%. Some of the electronic businesses in Greece are doing well, export wise. There is a lot of potential in terms of agricultural products, provided Greece does not have to import its own olive oil from Germany. And there is the entire shipping industry along with the Chinese interest in developing the container port in Piraeus. But by evoking, and even over exaggerating the crisis, these positive developments are overlooked.

However, much more disturbing are the political tendencies manifesting themselves in the stance the opposition parties are taking. Here a careful watching is needed especially of Samaras, the leader of the largest opposition party, namely Nea Democratia. He holds a neo-Liberal position in thinking that the debt can be resolved by lowering taxes and furthering privatization, so as to stimulate economic growth. He seems not to realize that precisely this position got all the economies in the world into ever bigger troubles. Unfortunately while everyone is searching for a European solution, he is on top of it all both an extreme Nationalist and extremely power hungry. It is said that he is motivated by the name of his famous family, but that does not explain sufficiently the role he has been playing since he succeeded Karamalis as leader of Nea Demokratia after the party lost elections to PASOK in 2009. To date the Nea Democratia Party under his leadership has refused to accept any responsibility for the debt debacle, even though it is known that the Nea Democratia government from 2004 until 2009 had falsified for five consecutive years the budgetary report to the European Commission. It was done to present the Karamalis government in a more positive light than what could be accounted for in reality.

The loss of confidence and trust in Greek statistical reports has very much to do with Spin Doctor like reports or cooked books which hid for too long the real extent of the debt. In co-operation with EUROSTAT, an all out effort is being made to ensure that now credible reports are given. With the Troika overseeing things, European politicians seek further reassurance that the Greek government does comply with what has been agreed upon. While the PASOK government under Papandreou attempts to satisfy this demand, for instance by creating an independent institute to do the statistical and therefore budgetary review, the fact that this is still not convincing enough has meant an increase in pressure. Crisis management is no longer sufficient. There are political demands being made now to find either new ways to place the unruly Greeks under still stiffer surveillance and control or else they should be thrown out of the Euro-Zone and be allowed to default.

Unfortunately no one seems to heed the criticism by Jürgen Habermas who said 'either/or' options are false alternatives. But then the feed-backs Europe has been receiving from the Greeks are not ensuring either. It is becoming ever harder to think of other possibilities as to how to resolve the debt crisis. Thus panic is spreading behind the scenes, more in a most quiet equally unsettling way than in an outright or straight forward way. More and more people seem to come to the realization that the entire thing is practically out of control. Some think it is even similar to the situation the Japanese government finds itself in, that is when trying to contain the nuclear disaster at Fukushima after the combination of earthquake and Tsunami struck that nuclear plant on March 11th 2011.

Finding a reasonable political position is, therefore, by all means not easy. Even more difficult is to keep track of all the changes and counter changes while still attempting to anticipate what is still to come. People seek orientation and hear only more rumors, but which are, of course, not strong enough to base their decisions on.

The Greek poetess Katerina Anghelaki Rooke says it is difficult to be Greek and not be misunderstood as a nationalist. Similar it is proving ever more difficult to be critical of the European Union and yet not to be misunderstood as being anti-Europe. To add to the woes, prevailing political structures have not made it any easier to find a rational position which promises overview, practical adaptation to real needs and some reasonable expectation for things to come, including some income, in order to make ends meet.

Primarily European politics has to confront its own mendacity. The use of public lie has to be discarded before EU institutions can be receptive to some progressive thoughts based on real knowledge. It would help if the European Commission would also listen to some solid expert advice. And without knowing the real needs, there cannot be developed truly promising options, by which the future of Greece, Europe and of the world can be guaranteed.

What constraints can ensure a good development? Definitely if it was assumed until now that consumption fuels economic growth, and which depends in turn upon life time income expectations according to the Milton Friedman theory, then what to do in a situation where income expectations are going from very low to below zero? This is the case in Greece now. There are ever more Greek families forced to take up loans, in order to pay all the extra burdens. The burdens include a new property tax.

Indicative of how negotiations can get bogged down, the Greek government and the Troika are entangled in a dispute whether or it is a meaningful measure, if the axe is given to those civil servants who are over 60 years of age and who have served not only the longest in the civil service, but have the greatest amount of experience. They are now subject to the most severe cuts in payments and extra benefits. To loose 50% of income plus reap still more uncertainty about whether pensions shall be paid, is but one part of the story. If this massive restructuring of the civil service comes into force, it will put definitely many into a much lower salary scale, if not completely out of work. There is already a youth employment of 40%. And there is a popular saying of the private sector but who will want to hire inefficient civil servants - an indication of how tainted things have become.

Interestingly enough, something not said in Germany when indignation is being expressed that the German tax payer has to cover the debt of Greece, is that the Greek crisis is driving many to leave, in order to find elsewhere work. Thus the German economy stands to benefit when highly qualified Greeks immigrate take up work in Berlin, Munich or Stuttgart. Certainly this brain drain will affect Greece not merely economically but like all Diaspora before carry with it high personal and social costs.

Contrary to what Sarkozy may want to make believe, Europe is definitely not one big family nor can relationship of citizens to the EU institutions be reduced to such a personal and familiar level. That was precisely the stumbling point when the drafted EU Constitutional Treaty had to be ratified in 2005. It stated as high and lofty ideal that all citizens are equal with regards to EU institutions. What was not said explicitly, but which is a fact, it meant citizens remained outside these EU institutions, while their substance or content was determined by the member states and their corresponding ruling parties. As outlined, the intention of having a EU constitutional treaty was not merely to have a constitution, but it meant simply bringing together the Maastricht Treaty and the Charta of Basic Rights, in order to update the relationship between member states. Progression in the treaty between the member states was claimed by taking formally into consideration the basic human rights every citizen should have and enjoy within the European Union. Unfortunately Europe has not resolved till today this huge discrepancy between member states ruling inside the institutions and the political claim being made that the European Union is an open democracy in service of both citizens and member states. It is unclear what is meant by serving two different subjects with states themselves being abstract institutional entities with interests and problems of their own. There can be added one extra, indeed grave burden: member states laying claim to being a derivative of a mono culture, in order to justify that they represent but one nation.

It would be a terrible judicial and political mistake to give member states a similar legal status as corporations have already in the United States, namely the status of real persons and therefore ever more Rights over the individual. As one woman in Japan writing after the disaster of March 11th stated, real happiness cannot be shared with corporations even though their profits may make some in management happy. The same, and even more so, applies to member states which have within the European Union more Rights than the collective will of the citizens of Europe. Thus by trying to put everything at one and the same level, and more so by making it appear as if a personal level, Sarkozy simply distorts European reality. He does so by calling Europe one big family. Still, Europe needs to be saved from such lunatics in politics. After all, it is one of the most successful peace projects the world has experienced since 1945. It is this which needs to be upheld in the coming years when the basic European premises are going to be challenged ever more.

One of the greatest challenges or more precisely dangers seems to come from a new totalitarian tendency. This is due to a lack of differentiation in judgment and in measures. EU directives cannot be global in orientation, but must be specific to suit the diverse European landscapes and their implementation must be accompanied by a thoughtful communication process. The EU Commission attempts this by having institutionalized public consultation processes, but so often they lack in real dialogue. Although the latter has been the basis of European culture and philosophy, EU policy has not fostered such cultural development. Certainly cultural diversity needs to be observed much more, while policy should be content orientated and relate to real needs. Only then the European debate about the most appropriate economic policies stands a chance to be taken out of the grip of mere monetary and fiscal considerations, and at the same time be freed from the ever dominant lobby interests influencing decisions in Brussels.

Above all one advise should be heeded what the New York Times stated as editorial opinion on 1.10.2011, namely that “conspicuously lacking is any clear plan for generating the economic growth needed to begin paying down those growing debts” (“More of the same”, International Herald Tribune, 1-2 October 2011, p. 8).

In terms of what was argued previously, Greece demonstrates this certainly, namely that severe austerity measures are counter productive as the government shall not collect enough tax revenues once the economy slips as a result of these measures ever more into recession. Equally there must be set reasonable targets to measure success or failures. They should not be prompted by high or over optimistic predictions. Economists at the independent Greek research centre KEPE had warned already at earlier stages not to be too hopeful that the deficit could be reduced by so many percentage points while the economy would not slip that much into recession.

Instead of drawing some practical conclusions out of ongoing developments in order to come up with a truly visionary plan, more austerity measures are announced, applied and reinforced to ensure efforts to implement them is done so in the most rigorous manner. And not in near future, but ‘now’ as if the crisis ought to be resolved in one stroke. Since unrealistic expectations and demands nourish merely doubt and mistrust, it is easy to realize that all these austerity measures go against anything Europe stands for, namely social and cultural cohesion. On the contrary, it means most favored are now external evaluations and more financial controls. These mechanisms are designed to satisfy the banks and the financial markets but it goes with a new ideology in the making that is most dangerous. For there is now a real risk of installing a totalitarian logic of a new kind and if not countered in time, shall mark most negatively the 21st century.

Already the European Union has succumbed to a kind of control fanaticism while having little to show in terms of recognizing the reality people live in. Moreover all these formal and financial controls have failed really to counter increasing corruption in the use of EU funds. This is because questionable deals cannot be challenged on moral grounds. Rather it is the work of a long standing practice. For instance, all computers of the Commission, European Parliament and corresponding institutions are equipped by Microsoft, and this practice has gone on over the past twenty years in a continuous manner. It is a double failure not to counter such practices in time and not to get out of it within a reasonable time of challenge and re-orientation.

Altogether negative practices at European level have been justified for too long a time. Therefore EU institutions risk being without any substantial legitimacy i.e. no longer working efficiently and progressively vis vis national administrations. And this adds only to the already existing problem insofar as the failure to ratify the EU Constitutional Treaty in 2005 has left the EU institutions without any moral legitimacy, something which the Lisbon Treaty cannot paper over.

Countering this totalitarian tendency, it would be important to show to the world that Europe has learned from its past. A most fervent observer of such tendencies in history has been Jean Pierre Faye who describes in his book 'Totalitarian Languages' how prior to Fascism in Germany, there sprang up everywhere so-called 'Tat-Kreise' or 'circles of deed'. People had grown tired of hearing endless speeches; they wanted to see actions, not hear more words. Thus when Hitler came along and promised jobs, they no longer asked under what conditions, but just followed him as they thought at first positive of him since he did what he promised to do. They failed only to anticipate to what extreme he was prepared to go to fulfill his total vision.

Totalitarian language as construct has more in mind than mere suppression by the police when forcing people to pay the high prices and therefore carry the burdens of the debts incurred by others. This was the brutal suppression in Chile after Pinochet took over power by a military coup and installed the experimental field to test the Friedman hypothesis as to how to run the economy in future, namely by regulating merely the money flow since life time income expectations was according to this economist the sole and decisive factor which affected consumer behaviour.

As to the new totalitarian tendency reflecting a loss of reality, it means that the reform will of a democratically elected Greek government is replaced by a promise of 'total engagement' to implement the austerity measures, even if it is acknowledged that this will only be possible at a huge cost to the people themselves.

Behind any totalitarian tendency there is a complete cynicism about individual lives. Within such a totalitarian attitude wishing to resolve everything, solutions to real problems are being reduced to a simple formula e.g. since there are too many people in the world, a solution would be to do without many of them. Quite often that deeply anti human attitude tends to reduce the human being to an animal status or even less as if not worth being kept alive. Yet such an attitude stands in contradiction to other worries. For many economists, politicians etc. warn on the other hand about demographic changes. For instance, it is predicted that in ten years time Germany will see one child facing up to six adults, three of whom shall be over 65. That means soon there will not enter enough young people the labour market, a direct outcome of an ageing society. Therefore, the tax base and pension fund are at risk of drying up. Still, as collective farming leading to millions of deaths in Russia under Stalin has shown, experiments on these massive scales are attempted once some crazy idea grips the imagination of those having the power and come to believe this might work. They are tempted all the more, if those in power see a chance to get away with it, even in case the experiment does fail. Totalitarian tendencies disregard the fact that life is sacred and do not draw any lessons out of contradictions. Totalitarian tendencies are too general to be swayed by reality and to forceful to accept anyone standing in their way.

In the case of Greece, this new totalitarian ideology in the making is reflected in overt and subtle exercises aiming to attain a massive conformity. It forces an entire population not to behave economically, but to adapt blindly to debt presented as a given fact. It sets not a value premise but an extreme case into motion and justifies everything connected with reducing the debt, but leaves out at the same time everything else.

Thus what the Troika demands of Greece misses the point. The austerity measures have nothing to do with resolving the real issue, insofar as they end up punishing merely the wrong people, in the case of Greece fore mostly those civil servants who have been doing their work. Thus one new measure being proposed in September-October 2011 is to simply retire all civil servants over 60, even though sending them into retirement is no guarantee that their pensions shall be paid. If that is the reward for 30 or more years of service, and especially if compared with how elsewhere civil servants are treated in other countries, then such a measure which cuts across the board reflects the gross methods of the outsiders. They make mistakes because they cannot know which of the civil servants has not merely contributed to make an administration work, but who are crucial for upholding a high level of expertise when it comes to apply the law. Yet the general presumption that the civil service is overpaid and corrupt, inefficient and lazy, leads to a justification of such severe interventions. They shall be implemented despite being based on a gross generalization and therefore wrong from the very beginning.

Certainly a reform of public administration is needed, and not only now, but already for a long time. One of the ailments is that every newly elected party into power proceeded to exchange a vast number of civil servants while hiring additional ones as part of a general reward system. Yet such needed reform cannot be done properly in the current climate of privatization as if the only feasible ideology. For it lacks any regard for the public good while its prime concern is only how to outsource as many tasks as possible, so that the private sector stands to benefit. There is no guarantee that public services shall improve but it is an expression of a shift in power and in use of public resources. The many private security companies reaping huge profits in Iraq and Afghanistan such as Halliburton is but one troublesome indication of things to come and why things are going wrong. The huge US state deficit has much to do with such a type of squandering public funds on private firms.

Many politicians are altogether unable to understand how a public administration does, can and should work. Rather they seek to gain influence best done by having a world without regulation. Thus they are champions of deregulation. A contradiction is only that they want at the same time law abiding citizens i.e. a public order which safeguards their private interests, including driving by car over the land but on roads and over bridges which have to be maintained. Obviously when hearing them talk, that contradiction never seems to occur to them. Also they have never learned the lessons of democracy of Ancient Greece. Then advance in democracy was known to depend upon cutting the powers of the rich before they got too powerful. Nowadays politicians do not really challenge the rich and especially those who do not pay taxes.  Instead they want to legalize tax invasion by lowering the taxes especially for the rich and for the corporations. The latter are often exempted from paying any taxes at all as they have influence legislation to favour them in such a crafty way. All this may be the result that politicians themselves are not merely subject to the influence of the rich and powerful ones, including the various lobbies, but wish in addition to all those pressures to become like them, namely rich and powerful.

It is said that power does corrupt. If defined as having the most influential capacity to do something, then naturally an electorate would wish as well only such politicians who do something for them. It means merely to gain something of own interest at the expense of all others. Interestingly enough for some time now it was said repeatedly that the whole truth cannot be known. It was an attempt to get away from totalitarianism as was known in the twentieth century with especially Hitler and Stalin. It meant no overall political judgment was available and merely fragmented knowledge could lead to a just solution. This was furthered by various thought systems and ethical dispositions, including the probability theory of Heisenberg, in order to link indirectly the parts with the whole. Later on, one school of thought adopted the notion of holistic thinking. All this is being replaced lately by something which seems to be gaining ever more ground, and which can be identified as the new totalitarian tendency. Primarily, it seems to stem from a wish to cover up this gap between parts and whole, but due to the crisis reinforcing a new impatience, insofar everything must be resolved ‘here and now’, it attests to the only conclusion left, namely that nothing short of a total solution will do. This impatience with prime focus on the here and now is becoming very explicit in the treatment of Greece with many pointing out especially in parts of Germany that ‘patience has run out’. Unreflective of the fact that this spreads but further panic in the likely hood of a Greek default taking down the entire Euro money based system, and with it cause something similar to a Great Depression, total demands are made as the only conceivable option left. The fault of not having drawn practical consequences when there was still time to do so, that is never considered. By the same token, this tendency towards total demands reflects the fact that people in general no longer understood politics and the proposed measures. Solutions are expressed in terms of sums of money to ensure a stable monetary system, but they have become too extreme for anyone to comprehend anymore. Already the sums of money used to resolve the banking crisis caused by the Lehman Brothers’ disaster in 2008 was beyond the wildest imagination of citizens.

Just as Greece is at risk to be singled out as scapegoat for a failed economic policy within Europe, internally the scapegoats for the moment have become not all civil servants, but essentially a core of about 10 000 to 30 000 who will have to endure and suffer the consequences of a mounting state debt. Most of the measures taken so far reflect what such a state is capable of doing, namely to seize funds and money from those who are on a fixed payroll. And while that is happening, politics attempts to convince everyone else that nothing can be done but to abide not to the law, but to the logic of a largely invisible financial market as conveyed by the Troika. Consequently it lets the fear of a default roll on like a Tsunami wave which threatens to flatten anything in its way, even when wishing to beg to differ with all these assumptions as to what works, what not and what has been used to calculate the debt. It does not tackle the issue of social justice nor does it demand from the rich, corporations and the church to contribute their share. Rather the wrath is directed against only an inefficient civil service, but no account given in terms of social justice due to the dim economic prospects. It shows how unreasonable are the dictated terms under which the loans were given to cover the debt and under which conditions they have to be repaid. That break in lawfulness needs to be understood. For the financial system dictates what needs to be done to restore confidence in the banking and financial system; it has no concern whatsoever for the plight of the people themselves. Hence it is a policy dictated by fear and nothing else – a huge mistake for which future generations will have to pay more than what can be foreseen at the moment.

Within such a negative perspective and outlook, it becomes quite evident that Greece needs to tackle some outstanding issues which persistently could sabotage the best efforts to reform. Yet alone the ouster of Tina Birbili as Minister for the Environment, Energy and Climate Change signals a wrong decision as if bent on perpetuating the same old mistakes, rather than correct them. It is said her departure was due to pressure mounting on the prime minister since she was considered to be an obstacle to building just anywhere. She did wish to enforce environmental protection law especially of areas which the EU has designated as natura 2000. It means politicians even within the governing party were against her for trying to be consistent in terms of regulations to protect the environment. To bring about such a change, Tina Birbili had invested heavily in herself to become knowledgeable about needs of both the Ministry and of the Environment in Greece. She tried to pass a law which would have adapted the EU Water directive 2000 to the specific Greek landscape. Representatives of WWF said, it was the first time that they cooperated with a Minister who proceeded in formulating the regulation by basing her assumptions on a scientific validated knowledge base. She was forced to leave before this piece of legislation designed to protect the wetlands had become a law. Still she managed to create an office of supervision with regards to illegal constructions. Suddenly actions seem to be undertaken against such constructions i.e. identifying houses to be demolished since built in forest and other forbidden areas. If this happens, that would be a positive outcome. There is, however, some doubt in place.

The follow-up Minister to Birbili, namely Papaconstantinou has proposed that owners pay instead a fine and therefore can avoid demolition of their illegal constructions. Yet such reversal of policy is justified blindly and for a wrong reason. It promises to take in money for a state desperately in need of extra revenue sources although the fines Papaconstantinou could impose anyhow, while the building would still be torn down. Indeed, often written laws are cited as proof of being a most progressive state, but what belies the fact is that these laws are rarely ever applied in a consequential way. Greeks want to make believe this is a more humane and social way to deal with conflicts between what the law stipulates and what citizens want, making therefore everything subject to interpretation of what the law intends or not to say. Since acquiescence to vested interests seems to dictate application of policy in practice, the most suitable interpretation is searched and used for purpose of legitimization. Unfortunately the sad truth is that the crisis promises much more a continuation of the same old and bad practices, and which were in the first place a source of the multiple problems Greece has to face now, than to leading on to progressive reforms.

However, before the political substance can be identified in terms of a need to sustain a working economy, people should be allowed to express their own free will. They know that a lot of restructuring will have to take place and shall add to their pain, but they are willing to make sacrifices and own contributions, provided things are fair, just and transparent. But just as the non violent citizen movement was silenced by a wave of violence which swept Syntagma and other streets of Athens on June 27 and 28, 2011, and this in the wake of a general strike, many Greeks feel since then not to have a say in what matters to them most: the future of their children. Thus they know already what shall await them in future are more uncertainties, less work, lower pay and burdens too much to sustain alone. No wonder that people have stopped dreaming! They cannot imagine anymore what kind of life they will have in future and experience only humiliation and despair. Instead horror or catastrophic images begin to haunt them when semi asleep. To have a really sound sleep seems nearly impossible nowadays. Keeping ones nerves calm proves to be a nearly impossible task. No wonder when the suicide rate goes up.

When seeing how the European Union under the will of some main member states like Germany and France has joined the Troika to enforce measures in Greece, and first expressed by the now famous 'Memorandum of Understanding', it seems as if the EU wishes to close the gap between citizens and EU institutions, but in reverse. By denying anyone in debt the Right to speak up, all sovereignty is gone. This is natural when thinking what power money has to sway anyone's opinion and this not merely at individual, but also at collective level. But if the debt of the Greek state is handled as sovereign debt, when in reality it is a complete negation of any sovereignty, then the often belittled or ignored question of social justice will not be resolved in this era of a new kind of Totalitarism.

Sarkozy said during the visit in Paris by the Greek Prime Minister Jorgios Papandreou at the end of September 2011, that only 'total restructuring without any scruples' will do. At the same time, he equated the moral question as to what solidarity should be shown towards Greece with Europe being one and the same family, but like the Mafia knows such family ties are the most effective bondage, these austerity measures can silence everyone for lack of an alternative. Apparently the interest of the whole family goes before anything else. In compliance to this new tone and language, according to the BBC reporting on this visit, Mr Papandreou assured Sarkozy of the "total determination of the Greek government to scrupulously put in place all commitments that Greece has taken on." (“Greek PM presses EU leaders for a new bailout tranche”, BBC News Europe, 30.9.2011; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-15120696). The use of this word ‘total’ underlines already that a totalitarian logic has started to work within the framework set by the Troika and that under the strict condition that the people are kept out of what shall dictate within such a framework the measures to be implemented and under what terms they have to work or resign i.e. fade out.

Consequently the new totalitarian logic in making, as expressed by the demands made of Greece and its government, means the Greek government, and the people to follow suit in silence (total acquiescence) have but one choice: full compliance and cooperation. This totalitarian language goes hand in hand with a decision making process which gives up considerations for the public good since completely in favour of the private sector. For the austerity measures are meant to pave the way for complete privatization. It is a demand that all special barriers, including cultural ones, are removed, so that private investors can roam and exploit the new business opportunities opening up in Greece.

The thinly veiled threat is, if there is no such total compliance and co-operation, Greece shall be left alone to default, that is real. The threat is used as force to discipline the unruly Greeks. More so, it is meant to affirm the images European politicians would like to have of themselves. For they wish to appear as being ever more successful, in order to secure their re-election bid. It requires little imagination that this includes not only forcing Greece into its knees, but there should be added a range of other acts, including the highly praised support Sarkozy gave to the Libyan rebels and which at general level has been notched up as a success story for NATO as well. The message is quite clear in all of this: regime change by force, even if a violent one is a part of the tool kit of politicians in the 21st century.

It is this political understanding of success which overrides all economic thinking. Regardless whether it means pushing ever more people into poverty and the global economy into recession, the real frightening aspect of it all is that the same demands were made of Saddam Hussein prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He had to show such full compliance and cooperation to the weapons' inspectors that only a dead Hussein could have ever fulfilled them. By posing such a total demand, he was subject to fail in the eyes of Bush and Blair. This was a calculated move for the latter two wanted merely a pretext to invade Iraq and bring about a regime change by force but the failure had to be provoked in order to have the justification to going to war and to invade a foreign, equally sovereign country with one of the oldest civilizations in the world as its cultural heritage. Something similar is in the making with regards to Greece and that will definitely not go down well in the world as it is after all the cradle of Western Civilization.

There is another aspect to raising the level of demand to something 'total', if only meant to provoke certain failure: the fact that the invasion of Iraq was an expression of personal revenge is often ignored. Junior Bush wanted to complete a job his father could not when Desert Sturm was stopped from invading Iraq after freeing Kuweit. Indeed Western leaders cannot take anyone who dares to defy them. They can become highly irrational, especially if they feel the other got away with things one too many times. Politics can be defined by having a personal grudge, an ill temper, and on top of it all a kind of vengeance. Often the latter is disguised by military moves being declared into some kind of mission (Joschka Fischer called the bombardment of Kosovo in 1999 a ‘humanitarian’ one), as if the methods (of war or of coercion) can ever be justified i.e. made to appear more 'holy' by the end, than what they are in reality: if not directly criminal acts against humanity then gross political mistakes.

As if a sign for things to come, something similar happened in Athens already before the huge debt was known. “I shall show you what I can do”, was supposed to have been said by the policeman, before he pulled first his gun and then the trigger, when he challenged and was being challenged by three boys in Exarchia, a district of Athens, on 6th December 2008. After firing the shoot the sixteen year old Alexandros was killed. Immediately the entire city exploded. Many street fights erupted especially in the Excharia area. An entire youth was disgusted by how corrupt Greek society had become in the meantime.

Unfortunately that lesson (many parents were ready in the aftermath to 6th of Dec. to admit their faults) seems not to have been learned by the older generations when the debt issue was made public by the newly elected PASOK government at the end of 2009. Critical self reflections have become rare as to who had wasted public money galore, and who profited off a fettered system, with politicians always good, if they were ready to give them a share in privileges and lucrative posts inside and outside the state administration. Most likely this collective response of denial of reality stems from the need to face now altogether the Troika and the demands made before Greece can receive further bailout funds to avoid a default of the state.

Yet if this totalitarian logic shall come down hard, in order to demonstrate not only to the Greeks but to others and especially to the Financial Markets what Western and European power can do, and this in view of a huge financial crisis not caused by Greeks alone, then European politics shall miss the point to act with prudence vis a vis one member state, namely Greece. It will be impossible to claim thereafter a moral high ground when trying to chide, for instance, the American justice system for upholding still the death penalty. Because then only a politics wishing to punish shall dominate, not one attempting to find a workable solution. This wish to punish is expressed very much by the character of the austerity measures. They seem not to have any consideration for people needing to have an income before the state can raise revenues by 'just' taxes. Rather the tendency is towards imposing ever more and in an one sided manner unjust taxes. It will leave people having ever less an income and by same token nothing to base their assumptions on, in order to know what they shall have in the end at their disposal to make a life be worthwhile.

Indeed, there shall follow quite another wave of aggressive outbursts prompting a new quality of suppression at work and in public life within Europe, and this to the detriment of a democracy based on striving together to become a just society with equality between all people not just expressed as a constitutional Right, but practiced as well in reality. Instead the austerity measures are unbelievable crude and ever more one-sided in favour of the rich and the privileged.

In politics and civic life, it is shown repeatedly by those who pretend to be democrats, that they cling often out of vanity to power. They are ready to deny any kind of democratic governance and therefore culture. Instead they follow the advice and rule by highly intelligent people who form a new elite and which sets the rules of the game. This elite is made up by so-called experts and apparently successful bankers, but who all require repeated bail-outs from governments to appear successful in society. They continue to act independently from state politics. They do so with such an arrogance that is frightening, but they can get away with it as they have access to vast resources, in order to play the game at ever higher levels of risks and stakes. This leads in turn to new rounds of speculations. And they put ever more money in hedge funds which promise oddly enough by a worsening of the economy higher profits.

Naturally, they rely upon the myth of inefficiency in government, in order to obtain these bailouts while making absurd claims like only business knows how to spend money. Equally they claim ever more the highly paid jobs as consultants, managers, advisers and experts, to form the intelligentsia elite, but they do so by turning upside-down the entire system. This includes undermining any kind of morality by countering the need to work in accordance with ethical standards. In knowing that they are doing really things which will have many bad consequences, they accumulate as much fear as profits. It leads them to a wish to exercise still more control from the outside, and to do so in semi-secret forms of networks, in order to know what is happening inside all institutions, in particular the political ones. They need to secure that access because their livelihoods depends upon having unlimited amounts of money available, for otherwise they would not know how to survive.

The formal methods used for evaluation and decision making reflect in such a near totalitarian context cold blooded managerial and financial schemes. It is like a mode having come into fashion with everyone reckoning only external experts can deal more efficiently with the debt crisis. It no longer honours anyone with serious interest in content and in the welfare of the country as a whole. The first to be removed from the job are, therefore, those willing to doubt the deployment of these harsh methods. What the Bologna process has produced at university level is now being applied by the Troika at the overall level with regards to Greece. Experts may be right that there is an inflated civil service apparatus, but by simply cutting out 30 000 or more, this crude measure alone says what has priority over substantial content and the need for internal mediation processes. It was called at university level till now academic freedom and self administration while within public administrations it would have meant working within ‘flat hierarchical’ relationships but with accountability to things being implemented and not to serve just someone higher up in the hierarchy.

The austerity measures do not allow for human, only for brutal solutions. As Sartre would say the moment the purchasing power is lost, it can only be regained by producing unemployment. By having more people compete for the few jobs left, they are willing to work at a much lower salary. They have no leverage to demand anything like a decent wage which would allow them to live at a level where they could begin to break even. Certainly to drive the people of a country in debt into still further debts and with it into one sided dependencies, that is no solution to the problem which the wild use of money for speculation purposes has created. Morally any human being would not stand idle by if someone is bleeding or about to be run over by a car, but the hedge fund bettors wish to earn their money by things getting only worse. They stand idle by while an entire country slips into recession. What moral stance is that? It is this perverse speculation that reflects a truly moral crisis in the history of humanity and shows to what extent those in power, with all the money, are prepared to go when ignoring the plights they inflict upon other people. Practically they are completely insane, namely to draw a success out of the failure of the other(s). Their own financial successes make them believe to be better i.e. superior in intelligence than all the others. This includes Soros and others like him who all believe they are right to advocate that Greece should default while knowing very well they stand to profit as hedge funds holders from such calamity.

Culture is built upon dialogue, diversity and human dignity. It would mean according to Michael D. Higgins the need to acknowledge that culture is after all 'a search for truth'. And even more so culture is something to be shared with others, not to hoard just for oneself. Yet when it comes to treating Greece, the birthplace of European cultures, it is odd that European politicians are inclined not to share anything with the others. They simply wish Greece to pay dearly for all the mistakes made and thus ended up with such a huge debt. As punishment it is meant to set an example, since there is the risk that other member states follow suit, including Portugal, Ireland, but also Spain and Italy, or in future other member states do not uphold financial discipline. Hence the demand is made that there is to be written into the constitution of every member state that no more certain budgetary limits can be exceeded. It means Europe is not growing together into a mature political unit, but forced by circumstances, adopts procedures to pretend things can be resolved without any serious democratic reform.

Historically speaking, all this negativity of a totalitarian kind comes in the form of defeating any chance for letting Greece get out of the full or semi colonial position that country has been stuck in all too long, that is before and after entry into the European Union. The latter is a mechanism and a process which define the working of the EU institution and the kind of decision making process foreseen so far by member states and the European Commission.

In a most recent editorial commentary of the Greek Conservative newspaper Kathimerini, this danger in the making has been most apt described as the risk to kill the white elephant in the room: that unspoken about secret everyone knows. The comment relates to a story written by George Orwell and points out the danger of violence erupting in a colonial system due to the silent majority demanding blindly such a punishment which can end only in death of the elephant.

Note: The editorial by Nikos Konstandaras, "Orwell's elephant" in: Kathemirini, 3.10.2011 can be found at following website:


So far the European Union has been used by those in power throughout Europe as a convenient mask, when it comes to the redistribution of resources. Thus the very same people who name Presidents of Committees in the European Parliament steer at national level the process to gain more power and to use the power in a way that would leave Machiavelli holding his breath at the sight of such outright audacity.

Berlusconi is such an example. He was given a seat in the European Parliament to have political immunity, so that a Spanish judge could not prosecute him and that gave him enough time to prepare for his sweep to power in Italy by melting public and private interests within his own media based empire of control. Alone the kind of imprint by just one man upon public communication, this Jürgen Habermas has called rightly so pathological. It is the same with Murdoch who could evade any serious questioning of his practices even when asked by members of the House of Commons whether or not he knew anything about illegal ways the company he owes to obtain information. Naturally he denied knowing anything and got away with it, even though it is known that Murdoch keeps a total control over his entire empire. Again Cameron like other politicians stands in dependency to him since Murdoch helped him into power. No questions are asked but a fake morality is advocated when street protest erupts and the clamp down so severe that this peculiar Western aggression and all the hypocrisy which goes with it, is manifested in the most visible way once again. The astonishing thing is that the double standard goes unchallenged and is accepted by the silent majority.

All this is a sad indication to what extent European politics has failed to emancipate itself from the past, but also to what extent the decision making process is cut off from a real dialogue with people. Instead they rely ever more on public relations and propaganda to sell their policies as being successful in affecting things in a desired direction. They no longer really hide their wish to use a new ideology to get things done, but in so doing, they contribute to the new totalitarian language in the making.

As a matter of fact, this fiction of Europe requiring a totalitarian kind of propaganda needs to be questioned before money and what accompanies it can get a total grip on everything. People in Europe want just solutions. They ought to be brought about by a democratic decision making process. What takes place at political level has to be open to debate and be transparent in what affects the outcome of decisions. For that is needed a culture which gives to people an understanding of the reality they live in. This is only possible if people do not exclude themselves from any critical reflection, and if they do not silence themselves for the sake of giving only to money all the value and none to themselves.

After-thought: after the EU decided Oct. 3 / 4 to postpone the decision whether or not to grant Greece the second bail-out payment, it was stated that they shall await the 'compliance' report from the Troika before taking up this matter.

Athens 5.10.2011

^ Top

« The migrant as central figure of the 21st century | Europe remembering 1914-1918: Vincent Van Gogh and things to come - Hatto Fischer 2014 »