Ögmundur Jónasson: Thank you, Greece!

 Ögmundur Jónasson

When Pandora opened her box, evil in all its guises poured out into the world. In a horrified frenzy, she snapped the lid shut just in time to trap  Elpis, which we non-Greek speakers are told means “Hope”. 
 
The Greek question is about many things. It is about sovereignty. It is about democracy. It is about collective responsibility. It is about collective punishment. It is about the limits of private property. 
 
The most surprising element of the bailout sagas is the almost unfailing consensus among experts. The majority of powerful European politicians speak in unison:  suddenly there are no disagreements about economics or about politics. Differences are put aside and an eerie silence prevails: a crowd fallen quiet on the site of execution.
 
Of the 19 Eurozone nations, 16 are ruled by right wing governments. Does that explain anything? Everybody agrees that austerity measures will have dire consequences for the Greek nation. It is also generally agreed that collective punishment is a crime against humanity. Does that make a difference? Or does it not?
 
Mistakes were made. The former Greek government made a dubious decision in  soliciting Goldman Sachs as their adviser on book keeping when Greece was admitted to the Eurozone. European banks may have lent too much to the Greek government and to Greek banks; the Greek government may have bought too much military equipment from Germany and France; cronies of the government in Athens may have got away with some tax avoidance.
 
The taxpayers of Europe, the governments of Europe, the economic theorists of Europe, the architects of the Eurozone, all may have made mistakes in the structure, funding and running of the Eurozone. 
 
But rather than admitting to their mistakes and instead of shouldering the costs, the leaders of Europe sought scapegoats. They display an appetite for an execution. “Someone must suffer”, they think, and thus they have punished the most vulnerable among them. This is almost a biblical story. 
 
Writing off all of Greece´s debt would not have the disastrous effect on the Eurozone economy that has been marketed. The concern, rather, lies in the example to be set.. The importance of the punishment of the Greeks is its power as parable: the example it will put forth to other vulnerable members of the Eurozone.
 
This is the crux of the matter: The lessons to be drawn, the examples to be set. It is about crime and punishment and the power to decide on a definition of the crime, on the identity of the accountable and on the nature of adequate punishment.
 
When the Greeks called to let democracy reign, Juncker said he felt “betrayed”. The striking element of this response was that it foregrounded basic conflicts at the root of politics: namely, the conflict between direct democracy and government by delegation, and the conflicts surrounding  the limits of property rights – the lengths to which a creditor has the right to pursue his debtor before being called amoral.
 
The variety of forces at work in  this conflict has opened a margin for debate on politics, economics, ethics and the problems of Western plutocracy. 
 
A key moment in this fight has been the Greeks’ decision to resort to direct democracy as the ultimate source of political mandate. This was also the weapon used by Iceland to fend off the attack by the City of London and the National Bank of the Netherlands. A further inspiring element is Tsipras’s language: a rhetoric that resonates with references to the common man´s everlasting fight for human rights. The resultant prevalent term is, simply, “hope”.
 
It comes as no surprise to me that the institutional world is reacting the way it is after the Greek government´s decision to turn to the people in a democratic referendum.  I applaud the Greeks for this decision and I join the millions who condemn the undemocratic and vile reactions of the guardians of capitalism – uncomfortably reminiscent of Europe´s colonialist past.
 
After Iceland suffered a financial crash in 2008 we faced the storm. As a member of the government at a time in which the country was assaulted by big European banks and the capitalist vulture funds supported by the governments of Britain and the Netherlands, I was shocked at the viciousness of these governments. It was war. There was nothing civilized about it.
 
We took the dispute to the people in a referendum and that proved to be the decisive weapon. The political superiority of direct democracy is not easily called into question.
 
All of this, of course, carries an epic dimension in this case: it is the Greeks who are at it again with their democracy. Again!
 
There are millions of people applauding the resolute Greek people. And here in Iceland we are with you in spirit.
 
Thank you for giving all of us hope – hope for a better world!
 
Ögmundur Jónasson is Icelandic Minister of Health 2009, and Minister of the Interior 2010-13.

 
  • Translated by: N/A
  • The original text was first published on: Written for AnalyzeGreece!