The Greek Crisis: Grandparents on the Table? by Laura Shannon


Laura Shannon 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.

 Laura and Magdalina, in northern Greece. In the course of my research, I have been welcomed in countless homes by Greek rural women. Many families may be materially poor by contemporary standards, but are rich in values of community, hospitality and sustainability. Here Magdalina is showing me samples of her peerless embroidery (featuring ancient Goddess motifs, for those who have eyes to see).

Laura and Magdalina, in northern Greece. In the course of my research, I have been welcomed in countless homes by Greek rural women. Many families may be materially poor by contemporary standards, but are rich in values of community, hospitality and sustainability. Here Magdalina is showing me samples of her peerless embroidery (featuring ancient Goddess motifs, for those who have eyes to see).

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.”

Wolfgang Schäuble, German Finance Minister, and the other finance ministers of the Eurogroup this week, as they insist that Magdalina and others like her must accept even deeper cuts to their already-meager pensions. At the same time, the Eurogroup refuses to permit any increase in taxes on the wealthiest Greeks.

Wolfgang Schäuble, German Finance Minister, and the other finance ministers of the Eurogroup this week, as they insist that Magdalina and others like her must accept even deeper cuts to their already-meager pensions. At the same time, the Eurogroup refuses to permit any increase in taxes on the wealthiest Greeks.

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.

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Categories: Abuse of Power, Breaking News, In the News, Poverty, Power relations

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12 replies

  1. It’s all happening very quickly here. As predicted, all the moves from the Troika side (IMF-EU-ECB) are aimed at a) preventing the referendum to let the Greek people decide, and b) forcing Greece to exit the Euro and Eurozone as quickly as possible.

    I am in central Athens and I have to say the mood is very calm and positive. People really see that the troika’s proposals were not a viable choice for the country’s future. In Paul Krugman’s words,
    ‘The troika is now effectively demanding that the policy regime of the past five years be continued indefinitely. Where is the hope in that?’

    And here is Joseph Stiglitz describing that policy regime:
    ‘The program that the “troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) foisted on Greece five years ago has been abysmal, resulting in a 25% decline in the country’s GDP. I can think of no depression, ever, that has been so deliberate and had such catastrophic consequences: Greece’s rate of youth unemployment, for example, now exceeds 60%.’

    Lest you think it melodramatic to call these unfolding events ‘a slow-motion coup’ I invite you to also read these key articles and draw your own conclusions:

    For Greece’s international creditors, regime change is the ultimate goal (Daily Telegraph)
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/11706630/For-Greeces-international-creditors-regime-change-is-the-ultimate-goal.html

    Europe’s Attack on Greek Democracy (Joseph Stiglitz)
    http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/greece-referendum-troika-eurozone-by-joseph-e–stiglitz-2015-06

    Grisis (Paul Krugman)
    http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/06/28/grisis/?_r=2

    Where did the Greek bailout money go? (Guardian)
    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/29/where-did-the-greek-bailout-money-go

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  2. Thank you for this post and the follow-up links. As someone who strongly feels how much we (ie the US) ‘owe’ Greece culturally, it seems to me we should be doing more to help. But our foreign policy generally sways drunkenly from doing too little too slowly to doing too much too quickly. I would be curious what you think or hear other says about what the US role here should be.

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  3. Cases of successful austerity, in which countries rein in deficits without bringing on a depression, typically involve large currency devaluations that make their exports more competitive. This is what happened, for example, in Canada in the 1990s, and to an important extent it’s what happened in Iceland more recently. But Greece, without its own currency, didn’t have that option.from Paul Krugman, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/29/opinion/paul-krugman-greece-over-the-brink.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

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  4. Thanks Laura for an insightful analysis.
    Stuart the short answer to your question is that as long as US economic policies favor the 1%, and US politics are heavily influenced if not dictated by the 1%, the US is in no position to help Greece.

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  5. Is anybody in any position to help anyone else? Is any member of the 1% willing to help the 90%? Sometimes I get so depressed. It feels like we’re living in a dystopic world. George Orwell would be writing another book by now. A scary one!

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  6. Candle lit. Thank you Laura for keeping us informed of the day to day economic reality for the people of Greece.

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  7. This article was fascinating and up to the minute! THANKS!!!

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  8. Thank you, Laura, for all the information. I’m now beginning to feel that maybe the answer should be OXI. At least that would give the generous Greeks hope. After all, the Swedes seem to have made it.

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  9. Thank you to Laura and Carol for keeping us up to date on what is unfolding. With travel approaching to Greece in the very near future I have been reading everything I can with keen interest. And yes, Greece is in my prayers.

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  10. Thank you, Laura and Carol, for your eye-opening posts about how this crisis is undermining the values of Greek culture that are so essential to the Greek people. This culture of community, respect, shared responsibility and sacred hospitality is so important not only to Greece but to the world in this age when we all seem to be more and more fractured from one another. Greece will be in my thoughts and prayers.

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  11. Thanks so much for putting so many things in proper perspective here. It is so disheartening to hear the main-stream media’s ongoing attach on the Greek people. I remember when I lived in Greece in the late 80’s how the German tourists treated the locals like slaves. It appears that sentiment is alive and well, only now the consequences are so much worse.

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