A woman holds a Greek flag during a protest outside of the Greek Parliament building in Athens, November 6, 2012. (Photo: Angelos Tzortzinis / The New York Times)
Greg Palast: Why Are the Greek People Agreeing to Their Own Destruction?
In his career as an investigative journalist, economist, and bestselling author -Vultures' Picnic, Billionaires and Ballot Bandits, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy - Greg Palast has not been afraid to tackle some of the most powerful names in politics and finance. From uncovering Katherine Harris' purge of African-American voters from Florida's voter rolls in the year 2000 to revealing the truth behind the "assistance" provided by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to ailing economies, Palast has not held back in revealing the corruption and criminal actions of the wealthy and powerful. In a recent interview on Dialogos Radio, Palast turned his attention to Greece and to the austerity policies that have been imposed on the country by the IMF, the European Union, and the European Central Bank.
"To me, Greece is a crime scene," said Palast. "Greece is dying, and austerity is one of the things that killed it." He rebuked the recent proclamations made by Greek and EU officials deeming Greece an economic "success story," describing them as "nonsense."
"Austerity has destroyed Greece and the euro has destroyed Greece," said Palast. "Austerity in the middle of a recession is a death sentence."
One of the hallmarks of austerity programs is privatization. Palast, who has investigated the impact of privatization programs in Latin America, drew parallels between those countries' experiences and the demands now being imposed on Greece.
"You see the kind of brutal practices which were first tested on Argentina, Ecuador and Brazil brought to Greece with more severe consequences," said Palast. "You get ripped off. You still need water, you still need electricity. You privatize these things, you're still going to have to buy water and electricity, but now you'll pay a fortune to German and American and Canadian companies."
In his critique of privatization programs, Palast referenced Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who had been the World Bank's chief economist prior to being fired for expressing dissent against its policies. "[Stiglitz] called privatization 'briberization' because ... when we talk about privatization, we talk about a couple of guys who are close to the government in Greece, who are close to the German government, and they pick up the properties for next to nothing."
One of the biggest controversies in Greece over the past year has involved the Skouries gold mine. Originally transferred to private hands by the Greek state in 2004 for the paltry sum of 11 million euros, the mine has since come into the possession of the Canadian company Eldorado Gold, which has commenced mining activities. This has resulted in a vociferous grassroots movement, protesting the mine on both economic and environmental grounds. According to Palast, companies like Eldorado Gold prey on vulnerable countries.
"What they do is, they wait for the moment where a nation is really weak and on its back, and has to give away its gold. Tanzania sold its gold mines for nothing under IMF pressure to Barrick Gold. They've made billions and billions and billions."
"Let's not kid ourselves," added Palast. "Nobody gets a gold mine without making a payoff to the powers that be. That's just how it is ... they're not privatizing, they're stealing your gold."
For Palast, the solution for Greece is to leave the Euro.
"You don't want to be in the euro, take my word for it," said Palast. "To stay in the euro zone is like saying we want to stay in the leper colony. The euro is a monstrous creation. The euro is not about having a happy trade zone. It's about imposing the elimination of the progressive state. The euro is the Fourth Reich ... and you have to give it up."
Palast drew upon the paradigm of several Latin American countries as examples that Greece could follow.
"The Argentines ... disconnected from the dollar; they told the creditors to go to hell and they are a booming economy," said Palast, adding that determined leadership is needed in Greece in order to accomplish this.
"The difference between Greece and Argentina is that the Greek people are gutless. Greek people are cowards by nature, whereas the Argentines are tough. I'm trying to push people to not give up. There's no one standing up against the euro. You had one independent party [Syriza] which completely caved in ... you do need that third voice." Such third parties, according to Palast, were able to attain electoral success in Latin America by saying no to the IMF and to policies imposing austerity and privatization. As a result, he argued, those countries' economies are now booming.
Palast was sharply critical of Germany for its role in the Greek crisis. "I keep saying that the Germans want to change the name of the euro to the Panzer. They're accomplishing through economic manipulation what they tried to do with tanks during World War II. You're going to become a German colony unless you get out of their currency."
Palast also had harsh words for Greece's political establishment. Describing Greece's two major parties, New Democracy and PASOK, as "indistinguishable," he stated: "Morally, the leadership of both main parties is equally responsible for lying to the people and causing massive harm to the public, and I think that they should be held accountable."
Palast cited the actions of Goldman Sachs and other banks in helping successive Greek governments hide the country's deficit."It was a fraud, and they charged almost a half a billion dollar fee to the Greek government to help it hide its deficits. Why would you hide your deficits? For a single reason: to stay within the euro."
Palast's harshest criticism was addressed towards Theodoros Pangalos, a prominent former government minister with PASOK. Palast recently interviewed Pangalos at the Eurasia Media Forum in Kazakhstan.
"I couldn't resist the temptation to interview him," said Palast. "He weighs about 300 pounds, he has a stomach that's about three feet ahead of him ... If someone's overweight, that's usually a personal issue, but in his case, it isn't, because you have people in Greece that are literally starving ... and he's saying that if you complain about austerity measures, you're a communist or an anarchist. You're not a communist or an anarchist: you're just someone that's trying to feed your kids."
"Pangalos has a phrase, 'We ate it all together'," added Palast. "No we didn't. He's fat, and other people are starving."
Palast urged the people of Greece to respond to the crisis by protesting the ongoing austerity measures. "Why are the Greek people agreeing to their own destruction? It's crazy! This is when you have to act. You cannot give up now ... I've seen successful movements formed around the world by people who thought their situation was hopeless."
Palast stated his desire to provide his support to Greece, while expressing his interest to hear from ordinary Greeks, in advance of his upcoming visit to the country in September.
"I would like people to contact me and give me their stories, their ideas, their information, and when I come to Greece, I want to meet you and speak with you. I would like to really speak with people about what the people of Greece think are the best solutions. Let's work this out together, and I will bring the best minds in the field of economics to your side, to discuss how movements are formed."
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