Ten years ago, I went to live in Greece. I knew I would love living in a culture where everyone dances, and so it turned out. I also loved the generosity, hospitality, connection, mutual support, and positivity embodied by the dance, a set of values which goes back thousands of years to Old European culture as articulated by Marija Gimbutas, Carol P. Christ, and Riane Eisler. When the economic crisis struck in 2008, I saw firsthand how Greek people used these values to help each other survive.
On Sunday, Jan 25th, 2015, the Greek people decisively voted into power the anti-austerity party Syriza (SEER-ih-zah), after six years of intense suffering under brutal austerity measures imposed by the IMF, the EU and the European Central Bank.
These three powers together are known as the ‘troika’. The austerity measures required by them in return for the so-called ‘bailout’ loans have been devastating, causing soaring rates of poverty, hunger, unemployment, sickness, and suicide. Times are harder in Greece than in the US during the Great Depression, though you won’t hear the details in the mainstream media. And the cost of this humanitarian crisis is not being counted by anyone.
Here’s what you need to know: those suffering are not the ones responsible for the Greek economic crisis. Those responsible, those who emptied state coffers into their own pockets, are not only not suffering, they are continuing to profit from the situation. While more than three million people – a third of the population – have been traumatically plunged into deep poverty, the rich in Greece have been getting richer – just as in the US and the UK.
Despite inaccurate scare-mongering in the European media, Greece does not wish to default on its debt, nor does it wish to leave the euro. But the troika’s programme of loans, with ever-increasing interest payments, is only throwing the country deeper and deeper into debt. The debt is now a larger percentage of the Greek GDP than it was before the crisis, and none of the loans benefit Greek society anyway.
Austerity doesn’t work. The experiment has failed. This concerns us all, because Brussels and Germany want the same brutal cuts which have destroyed the Greek economy to be applied to other EU nations. The UK government also favours austerity: social cuts for the 99%, tax cuts for the 1%.
The current debt repayment plan is simply not sustainable, and the new Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, has the guts to say so. Greece is asking to renegotiate the terms of the loans – to have more time, since there is simply no money to pay. Until now, the ‘solution’ has been to borrow more money just to pay the interest on the previous loans – that’s how Greece fell into the crippling debt spiral in the first place.
Varoufakis has likened Greece’s debt situation to a drug addict needing ever-increasing amounts of the substance – in this case, cash. The desperate need for money has led to a staggering programme of privatisations, liquidating Greek resources for a short-term cash fix which only worsens the problem.
Here’s what Varoufakis said about this in his interview on BBC Newsnight on 31 January: ‘The privatisations that have been pursued in the last five years have been a kind of fire sale in the middle of a deflationary process, where assets that are potentially very valuable to this nation are being sold off for peanuts, and even those peanuts are being thrown into a black hole of unsustainable debt.’
The new Greek government wants to break this addiction to debt. They are naming and challenging the whole unsustainable system and seeking a new way to benefit everyone.
Despite having already been tried in Latin America, Eastern Europe, East Asia, and Africa, austerity has not yet benefited the economy of any country in the world. The IMF itself cannot provide a single example. Austerity’s benefits to the global financial elite, however, are clear: it plunders communal assets and hands them over to the billionaires of the world, turning disaster-shocked nations into ‘debt colonies’ who must convert every possible resource into cash just to pay the interest on their loans.
This is why Greece’s current challenge to the austerity doctrine matters. And this is why Greece needs our support. If Greece is crushed now by global financial powers in punishment for speaking the truth, what hope for the rest of us? We’re next in line.
In its first days in power, the Syriza government repealed the 1€ charge on prescription medications, the 1€ charge to make a doctor’s appointment and and the 5€ charge to see a doctor. The fact that many people could not afford these charges should give an idea of how deeply ordinary people have been driven into poverty under austerity. Syriza members of parliament are driving to work in their own cars, so that luxury cars bought by previous governments can be sold to help pay people’s pensions; government ministers fly economy class on normal airlines. The new Minister for the Environment, Giannis Tsironis, is a member of the Green Party.
My partner tells me he watches the news now ‘in order to feel proud of his government.’ We should all be proud that someone, finally, is speaking up for social and economic justice in a way that, we hope, can be heard by the world. Not by desperate individuals setting themselves on fire, as happened in Tunisia, but by a peaceful and democratic process.
Please, send your thoughts and prayers to Greece. Please inform yourselves enough to know why our solidarity with Greeks matters now. Please read between the lines of mainstream media sources who do not support Greece’s new goverment. (How could they? Just look who owns them.) Please speak up for Greece when the false stereotype of the lazy, thieving Greek is used to justify the economic annihilation of an entire people. The people of Europe are being ripped off – but by the global financial system and the 1%, not by ordinary Greeks. We are all in this together.
Morton Mintz once said: ‘The human being who would not harm you on an individual, face-to-face basis, who is charitable, civic-minded, loving and devout, will wound or kill you from behind the corporate veil.’
Economic policy enacted ‘from behind the corporate veil’ has indeed been lethal for Greeks. It is time to exchange austerity for ‘charitable, civic-minded, loving’ values – the values of Old Europe – and to remember that we all share a common humanity. This sacred ethic of the past is the best way to ensure our future.
Carol Christ, The Greek Election and the 1%
Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine
Joseph Stiglitz, Globalization and Its Discontents
Sign the Avaaz petition, A New Deal for Greece and Europe and please forward to your friends
Laura Shannon has been researching and teaching traditional women’s ritual dances since 1987. She is considered one of the ‘grandmothers’ of the worldwide Sacred / Circle Dance movement and gives workshops regularly in over twenty countries worldwide. Laura holds an honours degree in Intercultural Studies (1986) and a diploma in Dance Movement Therapy (1990). She has also dedicated much time to primary research in Balkan and Greek villages, learning songs, dances, rituals and textile patterns which have been passed down for many generations, and which embody an age-old worldview of sustainability, community, and reverence for the earth. Laura’s essay ‘Women’s Ritual Dances: An Ancient Source of Healing in Our Times’, was published in Dancing on the Earth. Laura lives partly in Greece and partly in the Findhorn ecological community in Scotland.