The interview of Syriza’s Lafazanis, hardcore Left-platform Minister

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You can read the original interview in the website of the Ministry of Reconstruction of Production, Environment & Energy, here. The interview was given to newspaper “ΚΕΦΑΛΑΙΟ,” and specifically to journalist Niki Zormpas. Below, you can find my translation of the interview in English.

 

Interview of the Minister of Reconstruction of Production, Environment & Energy, Panagiotis Lafazanis, to the newspaper “ΚΕΦΑΛΑΙΟ” and journalist Niki Zormpas [Athens, 28 March 2015]

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The first interview of The Greek Analyst (to German network n-tv)

So, yesterday, I gave an interview to Hubertus Volmer, of the German n-tv network, on the current situation in Greece. You can read the whole thing in German, here. Or, you can read an English translation of the interview right below.

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Hubertus Volmer: Let’s start with a simple question: Whose fault is it that Greece is in the state it’s in?

I wouldn’t call that a very simple question! Allow me to address this issue at length, since I find it an extremely important determinant of many skewed narratives about Greece – both domestically and abroad.

For most people – citizens, journalists, analysts, and politicians alike – it is very easy to attribute blame on some factor they deem unequivocally responsible for the state Greece is in today. Unfortunately, such hasty judgments are heavily guided by lack of information, economic interests, personal benefits, or ideological presuppositions.

For many Germans, blame lies in the decades-long fiscal imprudence of the Greek state, and the stereotypical image of the Greek citizen as a lazy, selfish, and corrupt individual who refrains from paying his or her taxes. For most Greeks, on the other hand, the prevailing narrative wants Germany to have exemplified a cruel hegemonic stance since the beginning of the crisis, luring Greece in a series of bailout packages with excruciating terms, wrecking both the country’s sovereignty and its future economic prospects. Interestingly enough, you will also find many people assigning blame to one of the two big parties of the former status quo – the conservative New Democracy or the socialist PASOK – depending on their ideological inclinations, or how much they had benefitted under the former clientelistic system.

Then again, there are the so-called “experts”. Many of those tend to have an absolute and unbending belief about what went wrong. Some will blame austerity, some will talk about the flawed design of the Memorandum of Understanding, others will talk about the imbalance between countries within the entire European structure, while others will focus on Greece-specific issues, such as the overwhelming public bureaucracy, the lack of efficiency and fairness in the functioning of the Greek state, mock compliance of the past three Greek governments towards our lenders, or the lack of competitiveness of Greek products.

All of those views share some elements of truth in them – of course not to the same degree. But foolhardy blame-attribution does not help. What we need to do each time we are faced with this question is to refrain from giving a monolithic and Manichean response. Rather, what we should try to be doing is pointing out the synthesis of reasons, and the iterative steps, that led us where we are.

HB: The January elections seem to have made things worse.

This is absolutely true. The 25th January elections were the last thing we needed in Greece this year. Although I am no fan of the previous government, or the former status-quo for that matter, I cannot but admit that since around Q2 of 2014 we started seeing small – but definitely detectable! – signs of recovery in the Greek economy, both in the real economy and in the numbers made available by analysts and state authorities. Of course, this does not mean to say that things were ‘good.’ But they had finally stopped getting ‘worse.

I believe that things would have turned much better had we waited until next year for elections to be held normally, even with Syriza coming out on the steering wheel of the country. Not only did we throw a year of relative economic stability and growth out of the window, but we also returned right back to 2010. This time, however, the prospects for recovery seem much gloomier, and the EZ seems much readier (and more willing!) to handle a potential exit of Greece from the euro.

HB: Varoufakis said on Wednesday that Schäuble had told him, he had lost the confidence of the German government. Varoufakis answered, he never had it. Would you say that is true: Did the German government never give him any chance?

True enough, many German officials were aware of Varoufakis’s character and ideas well before he was elected to the Hellenic Parliament. Add to that the media storm that built on his quirky persona once he became appointed as the Minister of Finance, and I am sure that the German government did not have the most positive image in their minds. In that sense, I do agree with Varoufakis that he never had the full confidence of his German counterparts.

Nevertheless, Varoufakis never tried to win Germany’s confidence either. Despite grand claims about how much he respects the German Finance Minister, or his vision of creating a better and more united Europe, he did not use pragmatic actions in order to honestly persuade, not only Germany, but every other country member of the Eurozone, of why his government needs to be trusted. He turned the negotiations into a big show for domestic consumption, caring more about being viewed as a true warrior by Greek citizens, rather than putting meaningful and much-needed, yet highly delayed reforms on the table. How could he expect to win over the trust of his counterparts at the Eurogroup meetings by lecturing them as if they were his students?

HB: Should Germany and the rest of the Eurozone have given Tsipras and his government a warmer welcome in their midst? After all, Syriza could have been a fresh start for Greece.

I think that the response of Germany to the newly elected government in Greece is perfectly rational. Do I like it? As a Greek myself, not really. Do I understand it, though? Definitely. The German government is not a fool, and it definitely does not want to be seen as one. The government of Tsipras, despite its proclamations of fighting everything that is wrong with Greece, is not exempt from negative elements either. True enough, the former status-quo of the ND-PASOK alternate rule in power was highly corrupt and responsible for constructing a huge web of clientelism all across the public sector. Yet, the fact that Syriza is ‘fresh’ does not necessarily mean that it is also ‘better.’ One would hope that it would be better, especially since it is the first time that a Leftist government rises to power in Greece and since it enjoys wide support by the people, but a cold-hearted yet pragmatic look at the matter shows how false such hopes are.

Syriza depends heavily upon its clientelistic linkages with the unions and syndicates that voted for it, it has been continuously opposing any meaningful reforms since the beginning of the crisis (on the matter of anti-corruption, especially, which it espouses as its primary goal while in power, it either abstained or voted against most policies), and it has already established close ties with the oligarchy it so much wants to fight. Tsipras and many of the higher-ups in Syriza have championed an extreme nationalist-populist discourse, and have promised the stars to the people of Greece. Not only are many of their pre-electoral proclamations unfeasible, but even if there were no economic constraints, they would also be leading Greece to regression rather than progress. This can be seen now more than ever, with the non-fiscal changes that the government wants to pass in areas such as education and healthcare.

HB: Do you think it’s a plausible scenario that the Greek government actually wants to leave the Euro?

I really do not want to think of that.

On the one hand, the attitude of the Greek government towards its partners – and Germany especially – has become exceedingly confrontational. One simply has to look at the statements made by Minister of Defense, Panos Kammenos, earlier this week, who threatened to send waves of economic immigrants and jihadists to Western Europe. Or the attempt of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias, since the beginning of his tenure, to make Athens cozy up with Moscow. Or even the comments from two days ago, made by the Minister of Justice, Nikos Paraskevopoulos, who said that he is ready to implement a ruling by the High Court of Greece that would lead to the confiscation of German state-owned property within the country. So it definitely seems as if there is an intentional and directed attempt to infuriate Germany and our other partners, perhaps using a potential harsh retaliation as a ‘scapegoat’ for whatever plan they might have.

On the other hand, exiting the common currency involves an extremely difficult, complex, and arduous procedure. From the moment that capital controls are imposed, until the moment that the old (or new) currency is actually printed and distributed to the people, weeks or even months will go by. This will be devastating for the Greek economy, perhaps beyond repair in the future. Black markets will arise almost instantly, the poor – who have already lost so much from the crisis – will finally get their final blow, and the vested interests and super-rich oligarchs that Syriza proclaims to want to fight will benefit the most, since they will have most of their wealth in foreign banks. Realistically, the government does not seem ready at all to carry the burden of a ‘Grexit’ in its shoulders. It also seems to have no plan whatsoever for the ‘day after.’

It seems to me that rather than actually taking any action honestly and valiantly itself, the government seems ready to pass the burden of the choice to the people. While Varoufakis has denied the possibility of a referendum on the euro, both him and Tsipras have left quite open the possibility of a referendum on other matters, such as the reform program. Given the intransigence of the Greek government to offer the deep-reaching structural reforms requested by our partners (and to continue the previous program), and the “not backing down” stance of our partners, such a prospect does not seem impossible.

HB: Could you reveal anything about yourself?

Unfortunately not. I can only say that I have lived and worked both within and out of Greece in areas relating to public policy, and that I am younger than 30 years old (although I cannot say whether by a day or by a decade, haha).

HB: Why do you work incognito? Is the overall mood in Greece so bad that you fear publicity?

I never expected my coverage of the Greek crisis to get such traction so fast. The Greek Analyst was created mostly as a fun pet-project. Working in incognito mode has two basic benefits: first and foremost, I do not really have to tone down much of my commentary. I say things the way I see them. I can also poke some fun out of the ongoing developments. Of course, always ensuring that I do not cross any lines or insult people. Secondly, it allows me to protect myself from vicious attacks within the Twitter-sphere. The Greek Twitter-sphere – much like the Greek public sphere today – is a particularly nasty place. Anyone who disagrees with even the slightest thing done by the current Greek government is immediately accused of as a neoliberal, or a fascist, or a traitor, or even a German quisling. I want to avoid that drama.

HB: You follow Greek politics on twitter and you translate Greek texts like Tsipras’ speech about German reparations to Greece or an interview that Varoufakis gave a Greek radio station. Why do you do that?

I have been following the developments in the Greek political economy very closely for a while now. At some point, I realized that there is a gap (both in terms of time and of substance) between the happenings within Greece and what international coverage from abroad reports on. I kinda slipped right into that gap. At this point, I have to make clear that there are no specific interests hiding behind me (such accusations are the negative part of anonymity). Some people might not believe that, given how randomly I just popped up in the Interwebs right before the Elections of 25th of January, but I sure hope that most of my followers can see that. At the moment, it is a one-man show, and I intend to keep it like this in the near future.

HB: What do you hope for regarding Greece’s future?

Given its wide support by the Greek people, Syriza has a unique opportunity to do what no other Greek government could do in the past: implement drastically needed, progressive structural reforms that can create a more open economy (appealing to the domestic population and foreign investors alike), an accountable political system, as well as a fair and respectful society. Tsipras must not yield to the extreme voices of the hardcore Left platform within the party, and put the good of the entire society above any personal political ambitions. It is his duty to the Greek people. Valuable time has been lost, but there’s still time to turn the tides around.

Tsipras’s speech on WWII German War Reparations owed to Greece

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Wordcloud of the Speech by Derek Gatopoulos (@dgatopoulos).

 

Speech of Greek PM Alexis Tsipras on the War Reparations owed by Germany to Greece. The speech was given as part of the Inter-party Parliamentary Committee for Claiming the German Reparations, today, March 10 of 2015.  (You can find the original text, in Greek, here.)

Madam President,

Ladies and Gentlemen MPs,

I take the floor today in this historic meeting not only for symbolic, but also for substantive reasons.

First and foremost, in order to pay tribute to the victims of WWII. But also in order to honor the male and female fighters from all over the world who gave their lives for the freedom of their homelands, who gave their lives in order to defeat Nazism that threw its poisonous fog over the people of the world.

I also take the floor in order to honor the fighters of the Greek national resistance, who gave their lives in order to rid the country from the Nazi atrocities and occupation. In order for us to have today a homeland free and sovereign.

Some people tell us – why do you tackle the past, look at the future. But what country, what people can have a future if it does not honor its history and its struggles? What people can move forward, erasing the collective memory and leaving historically unjustified its struggles and sacrifices?

Indeed, not much time has passed since then, ladies and gentlemen. The generation of the Occupation and of the National Resistance is still living. And the pictures and sounds from the tortures and executions at Distomo and Kaisariani, at Kalavrita and at Vianno, are still fresh in the collective memory of our people.

The crimes and destructions caused by the troops of the Third Reich, across the Greek territory, but also across the entire Europe, are still fresh in the memory of our people. And these memories must be preserved in the younger generations. We have a duty – historical, political, and ethical – to preserve them. Not because we want to retain the suspicion and hatred in-between people, but in order to remember forever what Nazism means, what fascism means. In order to remember that when solidarity, friendship, cooperation, and dialogue between different people are substituted by a sense of superiority and historical destiny. When respect is substituted by intolerance –both ethnic and social – then what prevails is war and darkness.

And this darkness, Europe has known well. It lived it and it hated it. This was one of the reasons that the European people decided to begin the procedures in 1957, so that the sirens of war would never ring again. And we should not forget that the German people suffered too from the Nazi atrocity. And that in Germany, Nazism prevailed because earlier the German people were humiliated.

This, of course, is not an excuse but an explanation. It is the lesson of the short 20th century – if we remember Eric Hobsbawm as well. After WWI, what prevailed was hatred and revanchism. What prevailed was a short-sighted logic of humiliation of the loser for its sins, the logic of humiliation and misery of an entire people because of its loss. And this choice was later paid with the blood of the youth of the entire world. Including Germany’s.

The people of Europe and their leaders must be remembering and drawing conclusions from the modern European history. Because Europe must not, it is not allowed for her today, to make the same mistakes.

Ladies and Gentlemen, after WWII, indeed, the lesson was learned. Germany, despite the crimes of the Third Reich and of the Hitleric hordes that burned the world to the ground, despite the totalitarian evil of the Holocaust, was benefited – and rightfully so – by a series of interventions. The most important of these were its WWI debt write-off, with the Treaty of London in 1953, and of course, with the humongous sums that were disbursed by the Allies in order to rebuild the country.

London’s treaty, however, recognizes at the same time that the final German Reparations for WWII remain, and they should have been resolved by the final peace agreement – which wasn’t signed until 1990, due to Germany’s separation.

The reunification of the two Germanies has created the necessary legal and political conditions in order to resolve this issue, but the German governments since then have opted for silence, legal tricks, deferment and dilatory tactics. And I wonder, ladies and gentlemen: is this stance actually ethical?

I talked about legal tricks, and since these are very important issues, I would like to explain clearly what I mean so no shadows [of doubt] remain. When Germany even accepts to talk about the issue of its debts towards Greece since WWI, it evokes the Bilateral Agreement of 1960.

This was when, by its own initiative, it paid 115 million Marks, as reparations, and the (then) Kingdom of Greece acknowledged that there are no further claims to be had. This agreement, however, did not have to do with the reparations that involved the damages suffered by the country, but with the reparations to the victims of Nazism in Greece. And, of course, in no case whatsoever, did it concern the Occupation Loan, or even the claims for reparations given the atrocities of war, the almost-complete destruction of the infrastructure of the country, and the destruction of the economy during the war and the Occupation.

All these, I know well, are issues both highly technical and highly sensitive, and perhaps this is not the place or the time to say more about them. The necessary clarifications and the technical work will not be done by me, but by experts – legal scholars and historians.

What I want to reassure both the Greek and the German people of, however, is that we will approach this issue with the necessary sensitivity, with a sense of responsibility and honesty, and with a sense of communication and dialogue. But we expect the same thing from the German government. For reasons political, historic, and symbolic.

Ladies and gentlemen, against the moralizing tone that has prevailed in the past few years within the public debate in Europe, we neither choose the position of the student who bends his head and closes his eyes against moral teaching from on high, nor do we choose the position of the on high moralizing teacher, who wiggles his finger reproachfully, against a supposed sinner, asking him to pay for his sins.

On the contrary, we choose the path of negotiation and dialogue, of mutual understanding and justice. We perform no theodicy here, but at the same time we do not give up on our inalienable claims. We are not performing lessons on morality, but we also do not accept any lessons on morality either. Because, you know, often lately, when listening to provocative statements from abroad, I am reminded of the famous passage from the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says: “They see the spike in their brother’s eye, but not the pole in their own.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Mrs. President [of the Parliament], in closing this brief intervention, I would like to assure you that the Greek government will work tirelessly, so as with equal footing, and through dialogue in the framework of an honest negotiation, to contribute in order to find a solution to the most complex problems faced by Europe. The government will work in order to honor fully its obligations. But, at the same time, it will work so that all of the unfulfilled obligations to Greece and the Greek people are met.

And in the same way that we commit to fulfill our obligations, so do the other sides have to fulfill them too. Because morality cannot be invoked a la carte. It cannot be happening by occasion.

The new Greek government will actually support, with all its powers, the initiative to rebuild, reconstruct, and upgrade the Commission for Claiming the German Reparations to Greece. We will support it truly and substantively, and not for communication purposes. We are ready to offer any political and legal assistance, so as the efforts of the Commission bear fruit.

And in the framework of its tenure, to bring a meaningful result. To bring a solution. To vindicate the unfulfilled ethical, but also historical debt, not only towards the Greek people, but towards the entire peoples of Europe that fought, bled, and won over Nazism. We owe it to our history. We owe it to the fighters of the [Greek] National Resistance. We owe it to the victims of WWII. We owe it to Europe and its peoples, who have the right in memory and in a future unfettered from any kind of totalitarianism.

Thank you.

Reply of Greek MinFin on ‘distortion’ of Varoufakis’s words

Regarding the distortion of what the Minister of Finance said to an Italian newspaper [Transcription from the Greek original announcement. Link here.]

In the framework of the Aspen-Chattam House conference, which took place in Venice on the 7th of March, and in which the Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis participated with his Italian counterpart, the Greek Minister, in answering to a relevant question of the organizers, repeated the established stance of the Greek government that the position of the country in the Eurozone is non-negotiable and that any other thought or planning goes against the interests both of Greece and Europe. This point of view [of the MinFin Yanis Varoufakis] was substantiated in the context of his speech on the creation of a more cohesive architecture for the Eurozone, as well as in the section of the Conference where he was asked to answer a series of questions from selected participants.

In an interview that followed to “Corriere dela Serra,” the Minister repeated the same stance, highlighting in various ways that the position of Greece in the euro is a given, and that it is in no way part of the negotiation concerning the reforming program of the government, which is being processed in coordination with our partners and the institutions. In terms of this program of reforms, and the issue of financing, the Minister has expressed his optimism for the successful conclusion of the process of compiling the final list of reforms before the end of April, in accordance to the Eurogroup agreement of the 20th of February 2015, as well as in accordance with the subsequent agreement of the country with our partners and institutions for the post-June era.

Asked by a journalist about what will happen if Europe does not “hear out” the Greek positions, the Minister replied that Europe listens and knows how to find solutions, as well as succeeding in making mutually beneficial agreements. And when the specific reporter insisted with the hypothetical question “yes, but what would you do if all of your proposals are rejected?” the Minister replied that – as the Prime Minister has stated himself – “we have not come to love our chairs – if it is needed, if we find ourselves in front of intransigence, we will resort to the Greek people either via elections or with a referendum” – obviously in terms of the content of the reforms and fiscal policy. At this point of the interview, the editing team of the newspaper added “for the euro” – something that the Minister neither said nor meant. 

In general, the last few days we observe incidents of systematic misrepresentation of the statements of the Minister of Finance by many media. These misrepresentations, as well as the continuous scaremongering about the non-payment of the obligations of the Greek state to its lenders, comprise voluntary or involuntary attempts to undermine the good path of the consultations of the Greek government with the institutions and its partners.

In spite of the distorters, the Eurogroup agreement of the 20th of February progressed normally and the country is ready to fulfill all of its repayment obligations, on time and in full.

GR Political Economy Digest #18

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Here are the top articles on the political economy of Greece to read today:

  1. Greece: The gathering storm, by Nick Malkoutzis | Macropolis.gr, Mar 5 2015
  2. Eurozone QE is here. What could possibly go wrong?, by Alen Mattich | The Wall Street Journal (Moneybeat), Mar 5 2015
  3. Greece Struggles to Make Debt Math Work in Bailout Standoff, by Nikolaos Chrysoloras, Rebecca Christie and Vassilis Karamanis | Bloomberg, Mar 5 2015
  4. Greece outlines radical immigration reforms, by Preethi Nallu | Al Jazeera, Mar 5 2015
  5. 5 questions ECB boss Draghi will face at Thursday’s meeting, by Sara Sjolin | MarketWatch, Mar 5 2015
  6. Spain insists Greece will need a third bailout – as it happened, by Angela Monaghan | The Guardian, Mar 4 2015
  7. Germany says third Greek aid package not on Eurogroup agenda, by Andreas Rinke and Madeline Chambers | Reuters, Mar 4 2015
  8. Can Greece avoid going bankrupt this month?, by Mehreen Khan | The Telegraph, Mar 4 2015
  9. Greece’s survival depends on more than debt agreements, by Peter Foster | Financial Post, Mar 3 2015
  10. Austerity is not Greece’s problem, by Ricardo Hausmann | Project Syndicate, Mar 3 2015
  11. Syriza’s about-face, by Stathis N. Kalyvas | Foreign Affairs, Mar 2 2015

Photo: Ilias Makris (Kathimerini, 01/03/2015)

The interview of “Varoufakis’s shadow”: Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Euclid Tsakalotos

Greek finance minister Varoufakis in Germany
The dream team of Tsakalotos and Varoufakis, ready for action.

Euclid Tsakalotos, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and responsible for the international economic relations of SYRIZA, is one of the key figures in the ongoing negotiations between the Greek government and its partners. A Sussex- and Oxford-trained Economist, he is a Professor at the University of Athens (currently on leave?), and has been a member of SYRIZA for more than ten years (in its earliest form, of course).

Interestingly, Tsakalotos and Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek Finance Minister, have spent a number of years as colleagues in the same department of Economics at the University of Athens. Now, I am not familiar of their personal relationship, but given how closely they have been working since the 25th of January and the election of the SYRIZA-led coalition, it should be quite good. Tsakalotos has accompanied Varoufakis to most (if not all?) meetings with ‘TIFKAT’ (The Institutions Formerly Known as Troika) and Ministers of other Eurozone countries. In a sense, he has been the shadow of Varoufakis for the past 6 weeks, following him reverently and quietly.

This past Sunday, Tsakalotos gave an interview to SYRIZA’s “unofficial” newspaper, Avgi (it translates as “Dawn” in Greek). While the interview is nothing like Varoufakis’s spicy ones, it nevertheless gives a good understanding of someone really high up on the ranks of SYRIZA, other than Varoufakis, who is not a very vocal representative of the hardcore Left platform (albeit a heterodox economist). I believe that Tsakalotos makes some very interesting remarks in the interview, and as such, decided once again to translate the whole thing. Thankfully, it is quite short this time.

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