Tyranny Engulfs Europe: Neo-liberalism in Greece and Spain

When I was a child, friends and I would waste time on the railroad tracks behind my house. The funny thing about industrial trains is that you’d think the massive hulk of steal and engine would be audible from a mile away and yet we continued to find ourselves surprised at how silently it approached.  Unless the whistle was blowing, you would almost always see it before you heard it. There were a few close calls, or at least it seemed that way to a young mind.

Totalitarian states are similar in that they have a way of sneaking up faster than you might expect. Even when you’re lucky enough to see it coming, it’s still a surprise because your other senses are telling you that everything is fine.

Today, tyranny is quietly moving westward. Not the soft tyranny of nude body scanners or inflation but the hard tyranny of rubber bullets, the seizure of private property and imprisonment. The problems are not limited to Europe; they are global, and as the global economy continues to deteriorate, the problems that have enveloped these nations will come to America. Let’s examine just two of the European powers currently facing a crisis. 

Greece

The Greeks have suffered all kinds of humiliation. They’ve been called lazy and irresponsible. Wages and public services are collapsing. Youth unemployment is over 50 percent. The nation’s public beaches, ports, sewers, islands and tourist attractions have been privatized and sold off to European investors.

Meanwhile, the puppet government installed by bankers and other European nations continues to harvest whatever wealth it can from the nation all while promising to help Greece back to growth. They don’t care that this is a contradiction in terms. A Greek default on these debts, a natural part of capitalism which might return Greece to prosperity in a few years but would hurt international banking interests, is never seriously considered by the establishment.

Instead they continue to cut programs and break down public infrastructure. According to Reuters, Greece will soon have the deepest depression in the history of mankind. Its economy is expected to contract by about a third and even then there is no end in sight.

In order to meet interest payments on the debt, this puppet government has taken some extreme steps. Instead of being paid for the month of March, some publicly funded employees were paid nothing and some were even forced to return some of their previous pay — in effect, they received a negative salary. About 64,000 teachers, hospital workers and others are expected to have worked in February without pay. No advanced notice was given.

In addition, in order to meet Greece’s PSI (a type of Greek bond purchase) on March 9th, the government raided the accounts of public depositors, taking (stealing) money appropriated to hospitals, schools and public utilities again without notice. Some blogs report:

“70 percent of public utility funds in various large, interest-bearing accounts at the Bank of Greece were raided. These included most of the State’s regional hospital budgets, various universities and (it is alleged) at least one utility company… The shortfalls came to light late last week and this morning as various hospital purchasing cheques in particular began to bounce. The monies appear to have been used to pay off the tiny minority of private sovereign creditors.”

Athens News later confirmed the transfer had taken place to pay for the PSI.  Seventeen universities had collectively lost up to 75 percent of their deposits including six schools which lost everything and may have to close.  They note, ”Their accounts hit rock bottom following Bank of Greece’s conversion of their funds into state bonds.”

The cuts to hospitals are endangering cancer patients and unborn children. Relatively inexpensive testing is being cut to save money. One healthcare worker said, ”If the institute’s funding does not come through, or if it is closed down, national neonatal testing in Greece will stop. We will see children dying from disorders that we know how to detect and know how to treat.”

UPDATE 6/3/12: According to the Greek press, the financial crisis in Greece is starting to result in a widespread infrastructure collapse. Most recently, several prisons have been at the mercy of local charity to supply prisoners with food and prevent them from starving.

UPDATE 6/21/12: Bloomberg reports that Greece’s stock market has been put under review for a downgrade. If the downgrade occurs, it will make Greece the “first advanced country to be cut to developing status.”

Austerity in the country has caused suicide rates to skyrocket, including one high profile suicide in the public Syntagma Square just outside of the Greek parliament. 77-year-old Dimitris Christoulas shot himself and left behind this suicide note:

“The Tsolakoglou (a collaborator during the Nazi Occupation) government has annihilated all traces for my survival, which was based on a very dignified pension that I alone paid for 35 years with no help from the state. And since my advanced age does not allow me a way of dynamically reacting (although if a fellow Greek were to grab a Kalashnikov, I would be right behind him), I see no other solution than this dignified end to my life, so I don’t find myself fishing through garbage cans for my sustenance. I believe that young people with no future, will one day take up arms and hang the traitors of this country at Syntagma square, just like the Italians did to Mussolini in 1945.”

The Wall Street Journal reported the note “linked his tragic act to the country’s deepening economic crisis.” They didn’t post the entire letter and never noted it was a protest against the government itself, which is plainly clear.

Economist Michael Hudson notes that Greece is just another step in a much longer journey.

“A great experiment is being conducted… The basic premise of today’s model builders is: you don’t know how far you can lower wages and pensions until people begin to press back… They’re moving towards Greece on the way to Spain and Portugal and Italy, and they’re trying to figure out how much can wages be lowered, how much can an economy be drained until there is unrelenting pressure from the afflicted population…

Finance today achieves what military invasion used to do in times past. So the new mode of warfare is financial, not military. It’s much cheaper and it’s much safer for the country doing the attack.”

Hudson continues to say the “technocrat” bankers don’t seek to restore growth to Greece, but seek to bleed the economy, “very much like a medieval doctor would bleed blood.”

Update 5/29/12: Kit Juckes, head of foreign-exchange research at Société Générale (a large European bank based in France) agrees that the best case scenario for wealthier European nations is “the status quo.” In a CNBC interview he said, ”A Greek economy in depression, austerity that guarantees they will stay in depression and living on life support from the rest of Europe, is the best.”

The private intelligence firm STRATFOR reports that the demands for privatization is being driven by foreign nations looking to acquire assets on the cheap.

“It presents opportunities for other countries to gain assets at below market value… Greeks see the forced privatization drive as a loss of sovereignty and a plot by Berlin to cheaply acquire control of lucrative companies.  China would use the Greek ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki to bring its goods to the Balkans, former Soviet countries like Ukraine and Belarus, and Central European EU states like Hungary, Slovakia and Poland.  Russia is interested in using Greece to block a key European alternative route for natural gas supplies.”

The Greeks are set to have an election on May 6, but it is unlikely to change the government’s role as an enforcer of neo-liberal austerity. CNN writes, “Under the terms of the second bail-out, the leaders of the main parties were required to agree to continue to the austerity measures after the elections were held.” The European powers have already rigged the game.

Spain

Meanwhile, austerity that has devastated Greece may be heading to Spain. In anticipation for worsening conditions, the government has taken steps to make peaceful protesting and online organizing illegal. The proposed changes in the law would put peaceful protesting on par with a physical assault on a police officer, a felony under Spanish law.

If a nation makes the punishment for assault on a police officer equal to that of a peaceful protest, where’s the deterrent to not commit acts of violence? Of course, if the protesters do commit acts of violence, it only further justifies the crackdown of an authoritarian police state.

From the Spanish news site, The Daily Information:

“Interior Minister, Jorge Fernandez, announced that before the month of June, the Government will submit the draft Act to amend the Criminal Code. The new change is intended to tighten all the articles of Chapter II, Title XXII, which regulates public order offenses. Among the new features is includes ‘peaceful resistance” within the “attacks on authority.’

International Business Times has more on how the government is viewing online organizing as an extension of these soon to be illegal acts.

“Spanish bloggers could face up to two years in jail for organizing street protests, according to draconian new laws proposed by the country’s interior minister…

According to [government officials], ‘serious disturbances of public order and intent to organize violent demonstrations through social networking’ would carry the same penalties as being involved in a criminal organization, London’s Daily Telegraph reported.

The proposed amendment has raised fears the government could stifle further protests and has evoked comparisons with Spain’s late fascist dictator, Generalissimo Francisco Franco.

[The government] added that the new laws would also give the authorities power to clamp down on the protests themselves, making it ‘an offense to breach authority using mass active or passive resistance against security forces and to include as a crime of assault any threatening or intimidating behavior.‘”

While the specifics of the law are not clarified, the way the press describes it would seem to indicate that any gesture deemed hostile would be an assault on police and would warrant a multi-year prison sentence. They conclude:

“The move echoes growing determination among European governments to punish those who use social media and instant messaging to organize and co-ordinate street protests.”

Spanish bond yields are rising and are now hovering near 6 percent, considered the danger zone and making it more difficult to borrow money. Like Greece, the government is planning on extensive cuts to education and healthcare to pay creditors.

A Brave New World

Things are increasingly unstable and nation states are employing desperate measures to keep people in line. The pillaging of countries by way of austerity and privatization is the newest form of colonialism, only instead of some far off land, we the people are the colony. European and American oppression intrinsically understood by former colonies all over the world has now come home. We are getting a taste of what they have experienced for centuries.

The use of military force, faux trials and indefinite detentions is used to enforce these unpopular measures. Meanwhile, propaganda and patriotic calls for shared sacrifice is used to divide popular opinion. The story is the same all over the world, but nations in crisis, like many of those in the Eurozone, are in the sights of the neo-liberals who seek to gut the welfare states and privatize all public property.

When a crisis hits, a population is most vulnerable to what Journalist Naomi Kline calls the Shock Doctrine, a process of using or even creating a crisis to promote the radical restructuring of society, specifically in the form of privatization and austerity for social welfare programs. Previously, only third world and relatively poor first world nations were vulnerable, but now nothing is sacred.

For more on how privatization is likely to take place in America, read our recent piece, The Great Privatization.

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