The Waterboarding of Greece

I watched the 17 October 2017 White House press conference featuring President Donald Trump and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Trump read a brief but eloquent statement praising Greece for bringing civilization to the world. He cited Thomas Jefferson urging Americans in the 1820s to embrace the Greeks fighting for their freedom. But Trump quickly turned to the benefits to Boeing from the projected modernization of Greek F-16s.

Tsipras spoke in Greek. He, too, praised Greece. However, he immediately appealed to Trump for American investments to Greece. He spoke about his government’s easing of labor and tax requirements for foreign investment. He assured Trump Greece has always been a reliable ally of the United States.

But the invisible agony of Tsipras was the misery of his country being crushed by debt managed by the troika -- America’s International Monetary Fund, European Commission and the European Central Bank. Could Trump help Greece exit that debt inferno?

Trump remained impassive.

The end of WWII found Greece in ruins. The German occupiers left nothing standing.

America poured money into Greece and the country did relatively well in rising from the dust of war. Lots of Greeks emigrated to America and Western Europe, the money they sent home assisting the general uplift of the country. But Greek politicians, who had returned to Greece after an American education, messed up the economy and society of their country.

They borrowed from European and American banks in order to raise state employee salaries and to fund development projects that made them look good. Such a politician and founder of PASOK, a fake socialist party, was the economist Andreas Papandreou. He returned to Greece from Berkeley in 1974.

Next to borrowing, the entrance of Greece to the European Union harmed the country. The agricultural subsidies of the EU unsettled Greek farming. Suddenly, the peasant found himself outwitted and pushed to the edge. EU money enriched those who could fill forms. The number of peasants dropped sharply. Greece lost its self-reliance in food. Millions of rural Greeks filled the cities.

The 2008 American financial meltdown was an earthquake for Greece. Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, son of Andreas Papandreou, asked IMF for help. In cooperation with its European partners, IMF drafted a series of humiliating memoranda that took sovereignty away from Greece. “We will loan you money,” the troika said to Greece, “on condition you obey us.” Obey!

All Greek governments obeyed the foreigners. Austerity became the new dogma: cut government bureaucracy, increase taxes, sell all state assets, cut pensions, decrease state funding of education, public hospitals and environmental protection.

Yanis Varoufakis, Greek finance minister in the first six months of 2015, describes the troika-imposed austerity in Greece like waterboarding. “Adults in the Room: My Battle with the European and American Deep Establishment” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017) is his expose of the crimes behind austerity and the Greek debt.

He should know. A man born in wealth and married to a wealthy woman had the upbringing of the privileged in Europe and America. His often-immoral politics made him controversial. He is untrustworthy to his former press assistant, Demetres Giannopoulos. A reporter calls him a charlatan.

Varoufakis had no trouble writing speeches for George Papandreou, joining the “leftist-communist” Syriza party headed by Tsipras, or hiring Wall Street firms. He had the delusion of teaching Europeans a lesson or two about democracy.

But once at the ministry of finance, he kept telling both Tsipras and the IMF and EU debt officials that austerity was savage to the values and lives of Western people, especially Greeks. He kept pushing for the already bankrupt Greek state to declare bankruptcy. He bemoaned and resented that civilized European and American officials had turned “Greece into a debtors’ prison on behalf of Northern Europe’s banks.”

Yet he admitted the men and women of troika responsible for waterboarding Greece were not to blame for their crimes. These people, he says, were no good or bad actors despite the fact they had imposed on Greece a “debt bondage and crushing austerity.” Imagine the ethical abyss of such conviction: that the instigators of a national tragedy and humiliation were innocent of crimes against humanity. They tortured Greece. Does that not make them guilty for crimes against humanity?

Troika officials justified the torture and collective punishment of an entire country in order to bail out French and German banks. They forced Greece to sign memoranda that dissolve democracy and sovereignty in that country. Is this not a violation of Greek and international law? They accomplished such atrocity because the Greek oligarchy has been in bed with its Euro-American brethren. But the instigators of this crime repeatedly lied to themselves and to the European and American people. Waterboarding of Greece “entailed lying to nineteen European parliaments at once about the purpose of the Greek loans,” Varoufakis wrote.

Varoufakis confirms that the IMF profited hugely from the Greek debt. By mid-2015, bankrupt Greece had paid IMF 3.5 billion euros in interest and fees. This tidy sum averaged thirty-seven percent of IMF’s net income and seventy-nine percent of its internal expenses. “Ever since Greece entered debtors’ prison, the IMF had had an average operating profit of 63 percent, much larger than that of Goldman Sachs or J. P. Morgan…. Greece is caught between the IMF, which correctly proposes debt relief despite having profited from Greece’s being denied it, and the EU, which has used the IMF to deny Greece debt relief,” he wrote.

Despite this legitimate criticism of those who put Greece in Dante’s inferno, Varoufakis, obsessed with Europe, never argued seriously for getting Greece out of the European prison. His Plan X was worthless. In emergencies he concocted a problematic second currency but never returning the country to its ancient drachma.

Read “Adults in the Room.” The book is timely, fascinating and important. It makes mockery of “democracy” in Europe and America. The waterboarding of Greece is an international crime. It’s a stain on Western civilization.

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