Greece : « A country being bled white and destroyed by those who claim to save it »

23 October 2011 by Sonia Mitralias

This contribution in the opening session of the London Conference « Europe against Austerity », organized by the Coalition of Resistance on October 1st 2011, was greeted by a standing ovation.

I come from Greece, a country being bled white and destroyed by those who claim to save it, the International Monetary Fund IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.
, the European Central Bank Central Bank The establishment which in a given State is in charge of issuing bank notes and controlling the volume of currency and credit. In France, it is the Banque de France which assumes this role under the auspices of the European Central Bank (see ECB) while in the UK it is the Bank of England.

and the European Commission. After the adoption, application and above all the failure of the four shock treatments known as the Memoranda, and the current application of the fifth, which is the toughest and most inhuman, Greece is no longer the country that we knew : now, the streets are empty after sunset, restaurants are desperately seeking clients and the stores on the deserted shopping streets fall into ruins. The reason for this transformation is given by these facts and figures : wage earners and pensioners have already lost 30%-50% and sometimes even more of their purchasing power. Which has the effect that approximately 30% of stores and 35% of fuel pumps have closed forever. That unemployment will probably hit 30% next year. That there will be 40% less hospitals and hospital beds, or that the Greek state was a few days ago unable to provide school books to its school children, who were asked to make photocopies, and so on and on. In short, that hunger, yes hunger, begins to make its appearance in the major cities while suicides are growing in a country thrown into stress and despair.

However, Greeks are not only desperate. They are also combative, they resist, and they struggle. Especially, after the appearance at the end of May 2011 of the movement of the Aganaktismeni, the Greek indignad@s, who filled the squares of hundreds of Greek cities with huge radicalized crowds with two key slogans : “we owe nothing, we sell nothing, we pay nothing.” And “all of them must go”.

But beware : to resist in Greece in the epoch of the barbaric austerity of the Memoranda is not easy. First, due to the repression which is terrible, systematic, and inhumane. Then, because of the importance of the issue : Greece is currently a world test case, a true global laboratory in which the capacity of resistance of peoples to structural adjustment Structural Adjustment Economic policies imposed by the IMF in exchange of new loans or the rescheduling of old loans.

Structural Adjustments policies were enforced in the early 1980 to qualify countries for new loans or for debt rescheduling by the IMF and the World Bank. The requested kind of adjustment aims at ensuring that the country can again service its external debt. Structural adjustment usually combines the following elements : devaluation of the national currency (in order to bring down the prices of exported goods and attract strong currencies), rise in interest rates (in order to attract international capital), reduction of public expenditure (’streamlining’ of public services staff, reduction of budgets devoted to education and the health sector, etc.), massive privatisations, reduction of public subsidies to some companies or products, freezing of salaries (to avoid inflation as a consequence of deflation). These SAPs have not only substantially contributed to higher and higher levels of indebtedness in the affected countries ; they have simultaneously led to higher prices (because of a high VAT rate and of the free market prices) and to a dramatic fall in the income of local populations (as a consequence of rising unemployment and of the dismantling of public services, among other factors).

plans is tested during the great crisis of public debt. In sum, all eyes, whether of those at the top or those at the bottom, are now turned to this small European country which has the misfortune of becoming the global guinea pig of the most cynical neoliberalism. The result is that to win the least demand practically means overthrowing the government and, neither more nor less, the revolution !

The lesson that we draw from this totally unprecedented situation is that, today more than yesterday, there is no salvation within national boundaries. Faced with the Sacred Alliance of governments and those at the top, coordination and networking of the resistances of those at the bottom is the sine qua non of any hope of success ! In simpler words, in order for the Greek test not to run to the benefit of our executioners of the infamous troika Troika Troika: IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank, which together impose austerity measures through the conditions tied to loans to countries in difficulty.

, i.e. the IMF, the European Central Bank ECB
European Central Bank
The European Central Bank is a European institution based in Frankfurt, founded in 1998, to which the countries of the Eurozone have transferred their monetary powers. Its official role is to ensure price stability by combating inflation within that Zone. Its three decision-making organs (the Executive Board, the Governing Council and the General Council) are composed of governors of the central banks of the member states and/or recognized specialists. According to its statutes, it is politically ‘independent’ but it is directly influenced by the world of finance.
and the European Commission, we must unite our forces as quickly as possible, to form the Sacred Alliance of those at the bottom !

It was not a coincidence that the first international conference against debt and austerity measures was organized in Athens in early May 2011, by the Greek Initiative for an International Commission of Audit of Public Debt, a movement of which I am a founding member. The great success of this first International Conference had surprised us pleasantly but, in reality, it was doubly premonitory : first, because only two weeks later, the movement of the Greek indignant burst on the social and political scene with the occupation of Syntagma square in Athens. Then, because it became increasingly clear not only that the issue of public debt is was at the root of all the major issues of our time, but that the independent mobilization around the demand for an audit of the public debt was more than possible, because it met a true popular demand !

I think that the lesson that can be drawn from the experience of the Greek Initiative for a Commission of Audit of Public Debt is no longer valid only for the Greece. It is also valid for all other countries attacked by the financial markets, the troika and capital : the audit of public debt may, at first glance, appear a thankless activity, not very attractive and reserved for specialists, but in reality it is able to inspire and mobilise large crowds on two conditions : first, that it is totally independent of the institutions and supported by citizens mobilized in their neighbourhoods, their places of work and study. And then, that it seeks clearly to identify the illegitimate part of the debt to cancel and not pay !

Five months after this first international conference in Athens against austerity measures and the debt, we can measure the ground covered : the Greek initiative is being emulated almost everywhere in Europe, south and north, in western and in eastern Europe. The task that this situation imposes on us all is clear : these movements and campaigns on the audit of public debt should soon meet and establish networks. And this so as to make their action more effective and the meet expectations of the peoples, before it’s too late for everyone.

It is exactly this task that has been taken on by the CADTM, the Committee for Cancellation of the Third World Debt, of which I am also a member, and which combines its expertise - the result of twenty years of struggle alongside the poor in the South of the planet - with its presence in the field of struggles in several European countries. The theoretical and practical contribution of the CADTM in the development of the movement against the debt and austerity in Greece and other countries has been and remains very important. But I fear that in order to meet the new challenges thrown up by a situation of a veritable war to the death between rich and poor, we need much more than the CADTM, or all the other international networks that are fighting courageously against the debt and austerity. We need many more activist forces, much more programmatic development and especially much more coordination across national boundaries.

I would now like to finish with something close to my heart : autonomous organization, or rather the self-organization and the struggle of women against the debt and austerity. If women are the first victims of the current neoliberal aggression against wage earners and all of society, it is not only because they are laid off en masse and as a priority. It is mainly because a cornerstone of this aggression, namely the destruction and privatization of public services, has as a direct result that women are forced to assume within the family public utility tasks assumed until yesterday by the state. In sum, women are now called on to provide at home, in private, the services once offered by kindergartens, hospitals, hospices for the elderly, unemployment funds, psychiatric establishments, and even social security. And all absolutely free of charge ! And more, all this in the ideological packaging of a forced return to home and family by a so-called “nature” of woman accepted only as the obedient slave of others ! In short by a return to the most abject patriarchy, which is combined with a frontal attack against the few rights that we women retain.

My conclusion will be categorical : that is why women need to organize independently to combat debt and austerity. If they do not, there is no one who will do it in their place.

Thank you.

Sonia Mitralias is a feminist activist in Greece and member of CADTM Greece

Sonia Mitralias

CADTM Greece


Other articles in English by Sonia Mitralias (11)

0 | 10



8 rue Jonfosse
4000 - Liège- Belgique

00324 60 97 96 80