On the occasion of recent developments in Greece, Telepolis spoke to the Greek Ambassador Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos. The restless diplomat has been involved since some time with EPAM, one of the many organizations that have been fighting against the austerity measures. The leader of EPAM, the economist Dimitris Kazakis speaks on a daily basis on radio broadcasts, providing an analysis of the existing situation, with very high ratings, but has not yet convinced many voters.
Chrysanthopoulos was responsible for an issue that made news in the Greek press last week. In an interview that he gave to the Canadian Electronic Newspaper Millstone, he announced in December 2012,that the Greek Government had signed a contract with the American security firm Blackwater-which has been renamed to Academi, by which it would protect the Government and Parliament against civil unrest. It probably represents the first use of mercenaries outside an official war zone.
Only then did the topic became an issue in Greece. From the blogs it found its way to the printed press. Further Reports are expected in the weekend press as well as in the New Statesman.
What do you have to say about this?
Still no denial from the Greek Government.
Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos: It is correct that I raised the issue of Blackwater (Academi) first in a Canadian newspaper. From there it reached the USA. As to the best of my knowledge there is an agreement signed between Academi and the Greek Government concerning the protection of the Government and Parliament from civil unrest.
How can you prove that? How did you get the information?
Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos: I found this information from an announcement of the Blackwater Corporation themselves. I must however underline that to date there has been no denial. Instead the Minister in charge of Protection of the Citizens, Nikos Dendias announced in December that he would strengthen the security forces with heavy weapons and jeeps in order to combat enhanced criminality.
The news came out with delay. Was there any reaction from anybody during this time?
Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos: The political parties did not raise the issue. There was no question about the issue that was submitted to Parliament. Only a former colleague of mine who had been working in Parliament called me for clarifications. He told me that Parliament would deny the information. I replied to him that in my statement I had mentioned of an agreement between the Government and Blackwater but nothing about parliament. There was no denial, just the simple statement, which government in this respect could do what they wanted. Instead the government should make a denial and if it did I would be the first to welcome it.
It seems strange that there was also no reaction from the Independent Greeks?
Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos: Panos Kammenos in a morning TV transmission of Antenna 1 mentioned it and criticized it but so far has not submitted any question in Parliament.
You mention instructions given to the media not to cover negative aspects of the crisis. Today we saw in Athens, crowds queuing in front of the Ministry of Agriculture to receive free food that was being distributed as a protest by the farmers.
Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos : There is also another issue concerning the burial of the deceased which the media does not mention.
Are you talking about the decision of the City Council of Ioannina that graves have to be cleard after only seven years?
Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos: I meant something else. I am talking about the fact that there are many corpses in the refrigerators of hospitals and cemeteries because the relatives of the deceased do not have money for their burial anymore. Donations from the church are helping them in their urgent needs and take care for the funerals. If someone dies in a hospital and is not taken by relatives then it is the hospital’s responsibility to bury the body. And the hospitals are facing serious economic problems. Fortunately the Church has intervened and is covering the costs of funerals in some cases. Many bodies are being placed in carton coffins, though.T his is a macabre aspect of the drama Greece is facing.
A drama which as the IMF admits, is happening due to its mistakes.
Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos: Yes the IMF has admitted that it miscalculated the multiplier which created a higher level of recession. For practical reasons let us suppose that the damage done to Greece is 40 billion euros. The true amount should have been calculated by the government and asked to be removed from the Greek debt. I had suggested to to the Ministry of Finance but it thinks that it is not possible.
They further increase the taxes and the people do not have the money to pay them.The former IMF representative of Greece said that too. Ok, but I have a question. Do you really think that the IMF has imposed it on the Greeks to reduce their wages from 400 Euros to 300, their pensions to 300 to 200 euros and then ask then for 500 euro tax per person? Must a government at a certain point not say “NO” to protect the citizens of their country?
Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos: From 2010 it appeared weird. It was clear that the measures could not work effectively. I had said from the outset, that with the existing wages it would be impossible to pay the debts in such a short timeframe by imposing taxes. The IMF had proposed a program as basis for discussion, but the government did not make counter-proposals that would reflect Greek realities. Lets take a recent example concerning the heating oil. The tax on it was increased to be the same with diesel fuel in order to prevent oil smuggling.Of course any university student would know that it would be impossible to increase income from such high taxation and would be flunked from examinations if answering the contrary.
We are suffocating from the smog. Hardly anyone can afford heating oil, forests, parks and trees on streets are being chopped down. Government revenues are falling instead of increasing. Statistics show an increase in heart and asthma attacks while an increase in cancer is expected. The government must see that.
Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos: They will come up with further taxes. People do not have money to pay further high taxes. The government does not understand anything as we can see from the oil tax..
I do not think the government is so stupid not to understand.
Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos: It is possible that it does not care
How to resist? In the last 10 days we have now seen the second case of forced mobilization. First was the Metro strike, who demonstrated against the decision that they from now on were to be paid according to their achieved school diplomas. Since there are no recognized professional qualifications, a metro driver ,after 30 years of service gets his salary of based on his high school diploma while a newcomer with a university degree gets almost double the wage for the same job. The government ended the strike with forced mobilization.
The situation for the dockworkers and sailors was even more dramatic. They are trying to protect themselves from pay cuts and fight for receiving their wages that have not been payed to them for the last couple ofmonths. Instead of having their problems solved, they were also mobilized. As of today, ships will be leaving and coming to Piraeus harbor with sailors who have not been paid for five months. How legal is this? An obligation to work without pay? How will the population oppose this madness?
Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos: I cannot judge on the legality of the Government’s actions. The fact is that the law under question was adopted in 1974 after the fall of the junta when we were ready to wage war against Turkey for its invasion of Cyprus. The law was adopted for an entirely different situation for reasons of defense. Since 2006 the law has been used for facing strikes. This is why I would prefer the solution of a political strike.
What is that exactly?
Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos: With EPAM we are preparing a permanent political strike that is directed against the State and not against the citizens. Everybody will go to work as usual but no revenue will be collected by the State. Hospitals will function, but the patients will not be charged, transport services will function free, the tax authorities will service the citizens but will not collect taxes. The civil service can easily accommodate such a form of striking. It is more difficult in the private sector, where the patron must also agree to it. We are in the phase of informing the population. Once we reach the necessary threshold we shall launch the strike. The normal strikes have no effect at all.
Nightmare of a fascist Europe
That sounds interesting ,as interesting as the theories of Dimitris Kazakis. Which drives me to the next question? Why does EPAM have so few voters? Why is Kazakis not represented in Parliament.
Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos: Kazakis knows the economic issues better than anyone else and EPAM belongs to the anti-memoranda front like SYRIZA. However SYRIZA was a political party before while we were a movement providing intellectual and scientific input to the anti-memoranda cause.
Fine, but I have another opinion. There are numerous groups and parties against this mad economic course. And there is also the 50 bonus seats the party gets which comes out first in the elections. The diversion of the alternative parties thus is directly punishes. Why does the opposition not join forces. At least some of the groups have basically the same goal. Considering the percentage rule and the bonus regulation voters are hesitant to vote for the smaller opposition parties and rather give their votes to the bigger parties. In this way, nothing will ever change. What do you think?
Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos: According to certain rumours Samaras is contemplating of changing the electoral law that provides the bonus system, because he is afraid that SYRIZA may benefit from it. There is an anti-austerity-bloc that is functioning. EPAM is cooperating with other groups and movements .We support the activities of “I do not pay” and of other groups. However, we are Greeks after all, and each of us has his or her own opinion. From antiquity division has been the main problem of the Greeks.
The division of the democratic opposition is quite dangerous when it comes to violations of the constitution by the government. This is directly leading to fascism and the call for the “strong leader”.
Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos: If it was only the constitution that was violated. But all the European Treaties that are being violated. The Rome Treaty, the Maastricht and the Lisbon Treaties are mere paper. In Greece, the human dignity is violated. I already warned in 2009 about the nightmare of a fascist Europa in an that I had given to “Eleftherotypia”.
Mr Chrysanthopoulos – thanks for the interview.