Sunday 16 September 2012

Caught between Scylla and Charybde

Members of the neo-Nazi group invaded the markets of the towns of Mesologgi and Rafina this week, raiding the stalls of non-white vendors and smashing everything in sight. Wearing black shirts and carrying Greek flags the thugs requested that vendors show them their I.D. cards and then proceeded to pull apart the stalls and smash the merchandise. One of the police officers who was assigned security of MPs was also involved. In a video they suggested that it was their duty to step in, given that the police had failed to root out illegal vendors. The video is horrendous - so reminiscent of Germany in the 30s. I don't intend to give them a platform by posting it here.

An appeal has been made for parliamentary immunity to be lifted from the fascist MP who led the group of party members and supporters in the raid on the open-air market so that he can face charges of defying authority by demanding that vendors show their ID cards and of damaging private property.

I have made the connection between high levels of unemployment and the rise of fascism before, here
and here. It is not the whole picture however. There are major structural factors at work that provide an excuse for the neo-Nazis to pursue their thuggery and which partly explain the support they are getting.

There is a lawlessness that characterises Greek society due to the inability of the Greek state to enforce any kind of law. Greece has more laws than any country I can think of. There are laws about everything, but few are enforced and the consequence is chaos. I will give three examples.

Firstly, the anti-smoking legislation. Following the rest of Europe, Parliament passed legislation three times, prohibiting smoking in enclosed public spaces. It is not enforced - there is smoking going on in nearly all enclosed public spaces at all times.

This is the photograph of an illegal quarry in Markopoulo. The firm of Staurou Bros looked at the site, fancied it and decided to start excavating with the resulting blot on the landscape. Ten senior members of the firm were arrested and a case was prepared against them. A huge bureaucratic process followed their arrest resulting in nothing being done. Meanwhile, work in the illegal quarry continues. An article in Kathimerini on 19 July reported that the prosecutor is re-admitting all the papers so that the whole process can start again with a view, once again, to taking them to court. I am not holding my breath.

Thirdly, there is corruption which is rife to the point that one Minister, Pagalos, has just published a book titled 'we all ate' (translated as we all took part in the plundering of the nation's wealth) to universal outrage as the 'we' only includes the few who consistently have helped themselves to taxpayers' money and does certainly not include the majority of the population who are suffering now to the point of penury.

The Greek media is full of tales of corruption. There is a running soap opera of the arrest, testimony and gory details of fat cats who have been arrested for either siphoning and laundering state money or for tax evasion. At the moment it is the sordid story of ex-Defence Minister Tsohatsopoulos, with the extra tittilation of stories of his wife who is also in jail. Two years ago it was the biggest scandal of them all: the Vatopaidi monks who managed to steal millions from the state. Nothing ever comes of any of this - it's like this enactment is a sort of tranquillizer for the populace: 'look, we are going to punish these naughty people'. There is hardly any punishment ever, and the money is never recovered.

These are major gaps in Greek society because the State is unable to do what it is meant to do. The success of the neo-Nazis is also partly due to the fact that they are seen to be filling in those gaps. The black market is huge in Greece and one of its consequences is that 'legal' sellers who are increasingly burdened with higher and higher taxation are suffering from this. To these people the neo-Nazis are seen to be doing the job that the State is unable to do, e.g. control the black market. The success of the neo-Nazis is therefore not solely an ideological one but a case of  'getting the job done'.

There are new stories about the 'helpfulness' of this group every day. They go to neighbourhoods and set up blood donor centres: the donors have to be able to prove their Greek identity and the blood will apparently go to Greek donors. Only yesterday a corner shop owned and run by a Pakistani family was raided: they stole the stock and distributed it to passers by.

I read with horror the story of a primary school Head who the day before yesterday, at the beginning of the school year assembly mentioned the neo-Nazis. He had been trying to get funds from the government to get the roof fixed to no avail. He thought he might ask the neo-nazis to fix it.

This is not an ideological approchement to the neo-Nazis. This is trying to find someone to step in and put some order into the chaos that years and years of incompetent government have created. It is such a depressing picture, it is unbearable.

It is unbearable because the Greek people are caught between Scylla and Charybde, caught in the middle between an incompetent, corrupt, inefficient, uncaring State on the one hand, and the Troika on the other which is squeezing harder and harder.

The majority of the Greek population have been struck by austerity measures that have been forced down their throats resulting in: a 40-50% reduction in salaries and pensions; an unbearable series of extra taxes; layoffs on a gigantic scale; a massive increase in unemployment and poverty; the destruction of employment rights; the implosion of healthcare - measures that are not working and are increasingly leading the economy to further stagnation.  It is unthinkable that any of these things would happen in the rest of the countries in Europe, yet nobody seems to give Greeks the credit for bending over backwards to implement the diktats from the Eurozone. They cannot help it if a substantial part of the political and industrial elite are corrupt, tax dodging and siphoning money to foreign banks.

Fortunately, Greek people are not taking this lying down: they have organised general strikes, massive demonstrations and occupations and have voted in large and increasing numbers for left wing SYRIZA. The rise of the neo-nazis is yet another complication in an extremely complex picture.

Greece is becoming the laboratory for a savage form of neoliberalism - wholesale privatisation of public goods, deregulation of markets and turning the workforce into a powerless and financially precarious underclass at the mercy of the employers.

What is to be done?

Sources: Kathimerini
               Greece is not a Dog: the Arrogance of the Austerians, by Ingeborg Beugel

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  1. A great post. I've tweeted a link to it. I hope you don't mind!


  2. Thanks Callum.

    Nice to hear from you and I hope you're well.