11 July 2015
I’d love to be in Greece right now. Why? Because the Greek people are engaged in a real political debate over the future of their country. It’s a debate I would love to see occur in this country at the same level of intensity.
Yes, the Greek people are going through some pain right now. Over 25% of the workforce is unemployed, the welfare state is in tatters, and many people risk losing their savings. But there’s also a sense of hope and empowerment, which could be seen in the jubilance ― particularly amongst young people ― that accompanied the “no vote” to austerity.
Something that’s been largely missing from the coverage here is what the majority of Greek people were actually voting against. The austerity measures being forced on Greece as part of the repayment of its debt to European bankers were extreme.
They included more cuts to pensions and benefits, higher taxes, slashing of public sector wages, but most crucially the wholesale privatisation of airports, harbours, railways, water and power companies, motorways, post offices, thermal springs, seaside land and cultural treasures. Greece was to be sold to international corporates at bargain basement prices. What future did this represent?
No wonder for many Greeks the better alternative, as tough as it might be, is to default on the national debt and try to rebuild the economy on their own terms. And this is where something else going on in Greece at the moment is instilling confidence.
Since the economic crisis began in 2009 there’s been an explosion across Greece of democratic and cooperative enterprises that have gone a long way to creating a parallel economy.
Food cooperatives have been set-up bypassing supermarket chains, doctors and other health professionals have established free health clinics, neighbourhoods have founded social kitchens where people pool their food and eat together. The Internet is being used to coordinate bartering and sharing of private and community resources. There’s even a trend towards Greeks offering up their homes for tourist accommodation in exchange for Euro dollars, bypassing the often foreign owned hotels.
These practical attempts to do what simply needs to be done have their base in a new ethos that’s about self-sufficiency, sustainability, local economies and community democracy.
Christos Ciovanopoulos from Solidarity for All, one of the many citizen networks now operating in Greece, says the movement is “politics from the bottom up, that starts with real people’s needs. It’s a practical critique of the empty, top-down, representational politics our traditional parties practice. It’s a kind of whole new model, actually. And it’s working.”
Tonia Katerini, an unemployed architect, who has helped set up a food cooperative in Athens, says all these new initiatives “are about people taking responsibility for their lives, putting their skills to use, becoming productive again.”
In many ways what’s happening in Greece, both the good and the bad, is the future. The debt fueled unfettered exploitation of people and planet has to end sometime. At least the Greek people are waking up to reality and realising the benefits of communities doing things for themselves in a sustainable and democratic manner. It’s a model that holds lessons for the rest of the world.
For that reason I wish the Greek people lots of luck and encouragement. Kalí tíhi and náse kalá!