In a previous article, I have described the devastating consequences of five years of austerity in Greece: soaring poverty, hunger, unemployment, infant mortality, pensioner deaths, malnourishment, sickness, and suicide.
Unemployment has exploded to over 25%, nearly 60% for young people. In contrast to other European nations, Greece provides virtually no unemployment benefits , and national healthcare is only available to those with a job.
The resulting humanitarian catastrophe, ruthlessly and knowingly imposed by Greece’s creditors, the IMF, EU and ECB, is unequaled by anything in European history in peacetime. People have only managed to survive thanks to the intrinsic values of Greek culture and civilisation: generosity, hospitality, connection, positivity, sustainability and mutual support.
These are the values which brought me to live in Greece; they are also the values of the traditional circle dances I have spent my life researching. And they are directly descended from the values of Old European culture as articulated by Marija Gimbutas, Carol P. Christ, and Riane Eisler.
When the economic crisis first struck in 2008, worsening every year since, I saw firsthand how deeply these values are embedded in Greek society.
Here, networks of families, neighbours and friends help one another, even when everyone is desperately struggling; this is how Greeks have managed to survive the terrible effects of the man-made ‘crisis’ until now. As family members have lost jobs, homes, businesses and prospects, often crucial support for the whole family is provided solely by one grandparent’s meager pension.
This picture of grandparents helping support their children and grandchildren throughout their lives is quite alien to western and northern Europeans, and yet it is firmly at the heart of Greek society. Elders are almost universally cared for within the family; old-age homes are extremely few. Like the sacred hospitality offered to guests and strangers since ancient times, elder care is considered a sacred responsibility, and elders themselves are universally treated with great respect.
This respect for elders is at the heart of the Greek resistance to further cuts to pensions. For the same reason, Greece does not wish to consider raising VAT (sales tax) on medicines and electricity bills, two further measures on which the lenders continue to insist, which will of course hit these vulnerable elderly the hardest.
Pensions have already been slashed by 48% overall. The base pension has been reduced to 350 (just over $350), forcing pensioners into a daily struggle for survival. All over Athens you can see respectable elderly persons hunting through garbage in search of food. Two-thirds of pensioners (and a third of all Greeks) are below or at the poverty line. And yet, what they have, they give.
If pensioners’ income is reduced further, people fear they will be unable to support their parents and grandparents as their duty demands. And such a sacred duty, for Greeks, is non-negotiable.
In my view, if the lenders force Greece to default on their loans and exit the euro – the drama unfolding in these very days – it will be because of this one point. Europe wants Greece to throw their old folks on the trash heap, but I do not believe that Greeks will ever do that. So, the grandparents are now precariously on the table, instead of safely at the table, where they belong, to be loved and helped and fed and cared for in the final years of their lives.
Why this insistence by the IMF and European lenders on such harsh measures which will have the worst impact on society’s weakest members? It would be better to ask the wealthiest and healthiest Greeks to contribute a little more in taxes, yet the lenders continue to resist this idea. The IMF, EU and ECB demand that the money Greece uses to pay back its next imminent loan installment (to the IMF, due Tuesday, 30 June) come from cuts to the pensions of the poorest, and not from taxes on the wealthy.
Even the right-wing Daily Telegraph now excoriates the IMF, EMU and other lenders for its irrationally hostile and punitive approach to Greece in the current negotiations. In two recent articles, financial columnist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard articulates the problems now threatening to derail Europe, the euro and by extension the world’s financial system.
Bravo to him for speaking up, while much of the world’s mainstream press continues to circulate the unfounded (but effective) propaganda picture of Greece as a naughty, lazy teenager spending beyond its means.
The real problem, as Evans-Pritchard says, is that the IMF is “colluding in an EMU-imposed austerity regime that breaches the Fund’s own rules and is in open contradiction with five years of analysis by its own excellent research department and chief economist, Olivier Blanchard.”
Greeks have tried the IMF’s austerity regime these past five years, swallowing every bitter pill in the troika’s prescription. At their insistence, Greece implemented more fiscal consolidation, wage and pension cuts, and tax rate increases, and suffered greater unemployment and loss of GDP, than any other country except in a time of war.
Even a child – perhaps especially a child, if we are talking about the hundreds of thousands of hungry Greek children – can see that this method is not working. As the Wall Street Journal has revealed, even the IMF’s own members foresaw the utter infeasibility of the original bailout program from its very beginning.
Evans-Pritchard also says, rightly, that Greek Finance Minister Yianis Varoufakis’ latest proposal for an agreement was thoroughly sound, finding it “rational, reasonable, fair, and proportionate.”
That proposal was rejected by the Eurogroup. Now Alexis Tsipras, the young leader of the Syriza government, has called a referendum to let the Greek people decide whether to accept the latest terms dictated by the IMF. The reaction of the lenders to the idea of a referendum borders on the hysterical, and I fear they will try to provoke the collapse of the Greek government before such a vote can take place.
Yet this is how democracy works. Tsipras’ government, elected on a pro-Europe, anti-austerity platform, does not have a mandate to tighten the screws of austerity further on innocent Greeks. If the IMF prevents this referendum from taking place, as it did in 2011 with George Papandreou in what Evans-Pritchard calls a coup by a monetary junta, it must take responsibility for turning this beautiful country, once democracy’s cradle, into its grave.
EDITORIAL NOTE: Laura’s original post was finalized on SUNDAY, 28 JUNE– Please see the following special addition to this post for her crucial update on the developing situation in Greece as of MONDAY, 29 JUNE
BREAKING NEWS from Laura:
In response to the call for a democratic referendum on the new bailout, the European Central Bank has decided to freeze the emergency liquidity funds that have kept Greece afloat during the recent negotiations. The ECB did not have to do this. Their choice is a deliberate bid to heighten the tension, fear and risk. As a result, Greek banks are closed and capital controls have been imposed.
Paul Krugman states in the New York Times on June 29 that:
The troika clearly… made Tsipras an offer he can’t accept, and presumably did this knowingly. So the ultimatum was, in effect, a move to replace the Greek government. And even if you don’t like Syriza, that has to be disturbing for anyone who believes in European ideals.
It is looking more and more like a slow-motion coup here in Greece, which I expect will be moving more quickly now. Because the Syriza government is currently conducting an inquiry into the legality of the original bailout agreements, it makes sense for the European lenders to do all they can bring down the Greek government before the extent of the illegality and corruption at the root of the crisis can be exposed.
Please stay tuned. Please keep looking behind the veils of mainstream media and please keep praying. When human efforts appear to have reached their limits, it is time to ask for help from the realm of spirit. I believe in the power of ritual and prayer, and I believe that your efforts will be of great help now, when help is needed – even simply to light a candle: for Greece, for democracy, and for a society of social justice and peace.
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.