Magda’s tale

Democracy is not negotiable

Democracy is not negotiable

Greece No Deal

Greece No Deal

Capital controls within a monetary union are a contradiction in terms. The Greek government opposes the very concept. — Yanis Varoufakis

Last winter, I stood outside the Opera House in the centre of Athens looking at the posters in the window. I was approached by a well-dressed and immaculately groomed elderly lady. I moved to the side. I thought she wanted to pass. She didn’t. She asked me for a few euros because she was hungry. I took her to dinner and, in generous and unsolicited exchange, she told me her story.

Her name was Magda and she was in her mid-seventies. She had worked as a teacher all her life. Her husband had been a college professor and died “mercifully long before we were reduced to this state”, as she put it. They paid their tax, national insurance and pension contributions straight out of the salary, like most people. They never cheated the state. They never took risks. They saved. They lived modestly in a two bedroom flat.

In the first year of the crisis her widow’s pension top-up stopped. In the second and third her own pension was slashed in half. Downsizing was not an option – house prices had collapsed and there were no buyers. In the third year things got worse. “First, I sold my jewellery. Except this ring”, she said, stroking her wedding ring with her thumb. “Then, I sold the pictures and rugs. Then the good crockery and silver. Then most of the furniture. Now there is nothing left that anyone wants. Last month the super came and removed the radiators from my flat, because I hadn’t paid for communal fuel in so long. I feel so ashamed.”

I don’t know why this encounter should have shocked me so deeply. Poverty and hunger is everywhere in Athens. Magda’s story is replicated thousands of times across Greece. It is certainly not because one life is worth more than another. And yet there is something peculiarly discordant and irreconcilable about the “nouveau pauvres”, just like like there is about the nouveau riches. Most likely it shocked me because I kept thinking how much she reminded me of my mother.

And, still, I don’t know whether voting “yes” or “no” will make life better or worse for her. I don’t know what Magda would vote either. I can only guess. What I do know, is that the encounter was the beginning of the end of my love affair with the European project. Because, quite simply, it is no longer my European Union. It is Amazon’s and Starbucks’. It is the politicians’ and the IMF’s. But it is not mine.

If belonging to the largest and richest trading bloc in the world cannot provide dinner for a retired teacher like her, it has no reason to exist. If a European Union which produces €28,000 of annual GDP for every single one of its citizens cannot provide a safety net for her, then it is profoundly wicked. If this is not a union of partners, but a gang of big players and small players, who cut the weakest loose at the first sign of trouble, then it is nothing.

Each one of us will have to engage in an internal battle before Sunday’s referendum. I will be thinking of you, Magda, when I vote. It seems as honest a basis to make a decision as any.

— Alex Andreou

We can cite the statistics for the last five years of IMF-EU-German imposed austerity on Greece

  • GDP shrunk by 25%
  • debt up from 125% of GDP to 175%
  • high unemployment
  • high suicide rate
  • increase in food banks

but what brings it home are the personal tales of the suffering of individual Greeks like Magda, which adds up to the pain of a nation.

Which is why Greece must give a resounding NO in next Sunday’s referendum.

This is not about debt or refinancing this is about destroying Greece.

Today ECB announced it would not be increasing its help to stave off a liquidity crisis for the Greek banks, which means Monday their doors will remain closed.

We are seeing a repeat of what happened to Cyprus two years ago.

Lunchtime BBC Radio 4 The World This Weekend had an interview with Greek Finance Minster Yanis Varoufakis.

Yanis Varoufakis took the opportunity to set the record straight and demolished the many lies being propagated about Greece and its negotiations (especially by the BBC).

Whilst Yanis Varoufakis was exemplary in the interview, the same cannot be said of the BBC interviewer Mark Mardell who came across as a moron reading from a script. He did not appear to understand his own questions, let alone the reasoned answers.

Greece has put realistic proposals on the table, it is the bullies who are not listening.

The decision of the European Central Bank to not increase funding to Greek banks whilst they have liquidity problems, is an example of  further stepping up the pressure on Greece.

Last week the eurozone finance minsters met in secret without Greece. Greece is a eurozone member.

There is no mechanism for Greece (or any other country) to exit the euro.

Yanis Varoufakiscan can walk down the street, and get a pat on the back, words of encouragement, stand firm. Can anyone imagine the same happening to George Osborne? More like a slap in his smug face.

This is not an argument about debt write-off. That was settled during the banking crisis when the banks were bailed out. The banks had their debts written off, a few bankers walked out the door with their pot plants, for everyone else it was business as usual, even more obscene bonuses for the bankers.

It was like  a computer game. You get killed by the baddies,and you hit the restart button.

For the banks, the game was reset.

For Greece there is no reset button.

Some get a debt write off, others like Greece do not.

There is a determined effort to destroy Greece. Austerity has failed. It was never likely to succeed, it was a cover for Shock Doctrine, slash and burn of public services, cuts to welfare, sell-off of state assets. Greece is willing to try an alternative, needs a breathing space, but this is not being allowed, the idea may spread.

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One Response to “Magda’s tale”

  1. What the EU has wrought in Greece: the tale of Magda | P2P Foundation Says:

    […] Excerpted from Alex Andreou: […]

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