Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How can we tackle global inequality?

During the past few years we notice the issue of the "inclusive growth," (i.e. economic growth that is broad-based and benefits the majority of the population).

The last decade has seen the steady rise of developing countries across the world, led by the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China). However, rapid economic growth has often been accompanied by rising inequality (Debating Europe).

How can we expect to have equality in this world, when our very our civilization and nature of our economies are capitalist. Meaning that we all are constantly striving to accumulate ever increasing wealth at any cost.

The only thing our economies and countries must work to achieve is growth. More money and power gathered into the hands of few. This greedy attitude is the root of all evil that our world experiences. Once a group of people or countries get rich or powerful enough, then all they are trying to do is accumulate more wealth, plus trying to prevent others of getting access to it. Because if too many nations have access to the same amount of wealth, that results to less of it for the already wealthy.

Under these conditions, how can we promote equality in the world? In reality such idea is only a utopia that will never be fully achieved. But at least we can try to make our societies a bit more equal and less painful for those in the lower classes. Because if we want to try to achieve absolute equality, then we have to proceed with wealth redistribution among the different levels of societies and among states and regions.Something that the rich nations would no doubt oppose.

So in a utopia vision, which most likely will never come to reality, the following should be achieved in order to achieve equality.

a) Reduce the importance of all tax haven states, if not scrapping their taxation policies and encourage them to integrate in a bigger state or international organization for their survival. The only purpose of their existence is to promote tax evasion. How on earth can we tackle such issue, when we have countries on our planet that they are fostering it and of course make profit out of it.

b) Limit the power of the banks and the markets, or at least regulate them. Create rating agencies in Europe and Asia or other regions so that we will have more competition in this industry too. Now the whole world is rated according to American interests, their way of doing business and mentality. Not necessarily the right one for all nations or cultures.

c) Scrap the Security Council in the UN, or at least reform it. The countries in it are still representing the post WW2 status quo of global power. The permanent members are the world's so called "super-powers," (USA, China, Russia, France and Britain). The non permanent members are selected for a two year membership, that can be from any region of the world. How can a small African country that is elected for just two years can make any real difference representing its region's interests, when having to deal with giants like the USA and Russia?

d) Allow all countries to be able to exploit their natural resources without the intervention of third parties, blocks, corporations or countries. The main problem is that some countries are free to exploit their natural resources freely for the benefit of their people like Norway, yet in other regions the global players and powers are corrupting the national elites of a certain country with money.

So that they will sell out their national resources for scraps, benefiting only the political elites and those corporations/groups/countries involved. How can we talk about “equality” when there are forces who promote inequality by corrupting the political elites of certain states?

e) Promote transnational organizations and formations like the EU, to promote integration and break the traditional “national” politics. In some countries like Greece and Ireland, politics are still decided under the influence and legacy of the divisive post civil war politics. All these countries suffered bloody and destructive civil wars that left a mark in the political life of the state, until today.

There are usually two main parties that represent the two rival sides of the civil war and traditionally families vote according to their family’s allegiance to each. How can we ever move on and progress with this mentality? We need a new blood of thinker politicians with a vision, not an ideology.

f) Reform the capitalist system, stop the accumulation of money and power in some corporations, states or organizations at any cost. Reverse the growth oriented GDP economy and focus in creating a fair society that works, not a society that knows only to consume. Control the influence of the markets and the rating agencies, that are pushing for growth evermore.

If “growth” means that we as a society have to go backwards, scraping all worker’s rights and quality of life of our citizens in the name of "growth" and "competitiveness," then it is immoral. Also health and education should be free for all and not be privatized, they are a human right not a commodity.

g) Stop the "commodification" of everything: from fish to land, plants, animals, natural resources and soon even the water or the air that we breath and even worse, the "commodification" of people themselves. When we are talking about work force and the so called "labor market" that must be flexible, non-permanent with as less social rights as possible, then we are turning humans into another asset.

Any country with strong social policies is avoided by the "investors" and is considered as "less competitive." It is heaven for them after all, to have workers that work a lot with as little money as possible. How can we expect young people to create families, to start up a career or a new life, when we create unfavorable conditions for them to get a job, unless they get exploited.

h) No to privatizations of all natural resources. A nation's government must have at least partial control over them. A country's government represents the democratically elected by the people decision makers, they are their voice and the care takers of these resources. Their best interest and those of the people are better served when the resources are under the control of the government.

Foreign multinationals do not care about the people, the environment or any issues that may arise. Their only care is to make profit. So why pass full control to them over your resources in exchange for a few jobs? While just as Norway has done with its oil reserves, a government must manage the resources and invest in a fund that all the country's citizens will benefit out of it.

If just a few of the above points are ever achieved, global inequality will be limited if not eradicated. The problem is, who will dare to proceed with these drastic but necessary reforms, when they will radically transform our world for the better but to the detriment of the rich nations and their elites?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

State of the European Union Hangout+ with President Barroso on Euronews. That is the video of the "Ask Barroso" program in Euronews today, that I was a guest and participated LIVE from the Google head-quarters in Dublin. Watch and enjoy!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Barroso's State of the Union speech gave me hope for a better Europe..But will our leaders oblige?

Like many other citizens and fellow bloggers, I have watched and read Mr. Barroso's speech in the European Parliament yesterday. The President of the EU Commission gave an inspiring speech, that every sentence sounded like a music to my ears. Many of my fellow bloggers have been discussing everything that Mr. Barroso mentioned in his speech for years now.

The question is: we know what it needs to be done. Will our leaders oblige and follow through? Britain is on the brink of a referendum on their EU membership. The crisis in the eurozone has created a lack of trust between our governments and of course divisions among the European populations. Populist parties have gained access to many countries' parliaments. How easy will it be for the Commission and the European Parliament to implement all that Mr. Barroso mentioned?

Most of the ideas are not new. Many European think tanks, institutions, MEPs, top European and EU politicians and officials and many bloggers have been proposing the same solutions for many years. But I was more than happy to listen to Mr. Barroso presenting the EP with a new road map and committing to push for those necessary reforms in a pan-European level. It has to be done. And it was about time!

A few of his comments that I would like to comment further: In the beginning Mr. Barroso explained very accurately the analysis of the situation in Europe and the reasons we are in this crisis. Particularly he noted the irresponsible practices in the financial sector, the unsustainable public debt and the lack of competitiveness in some Member States. I will stop in one very important thing that he mentioned, the vicious circle of European summits.

In he speech he talks about " very important decisions for our future are taken at European summits. But then, the next day, we see some of those very same people who took those decisions undermining them. Saying that either they go too far, or that they don't go far enough." And he continues by saying that "It is not acceptable to present these European meetings as if they were boxing events, claiming a knockout victory over a rival. We cannot belong to the same Union and behave as if we don't. We cannot put at risk nine good decisions with one action or statement that raises doubts about all we have achieved."

To me the above is clearly a message to our national governments and he speaks about the summits of the Council of the European Union. Personally I often wondered why we never get to see any discussions or debates that are going on in those summits. We do have access to debates and plenary sessions of the E.P. on youtube and other websites affiliated to the EP and the EU in general. But what our elected leaders discuss, compromise or agree on in the EU Council meetings we never get to see.

Who are those politicians that Mr. Barroso is referring to? Would they act like this if they knew that we would be watching? If we had a platform that it would name and shame them, perhaps their behavior would be much different, their discussions more of a substance and they would be forced to commit to what they have agreed. I would like as a Greek to see what our government is saying to our European partners and why if Greece is agreeing in most things that the EU puts forward, we still as a country have one of the worse records of implementing those rules. Perhaps if our leaders knew that we would be watching and we are aware of what they promised to our partners, there would be no way for them to come back and blame their failures on Europe or not feel obliged informing us about the situation.

The same I suppose goes for any other country. Would the British have the same attitude towards the EU if they saw what their politicians discussed in those Council summits? Would the Germans believe everything that their press is telling them about having to pay for other nations? I personally detest this "intergovernmental-ism" and I would love to see the EU Council scrapped for good. I believe that Europe should be governed in three levels, the local, the national and the European one. So give full power to the European Parliament and the EU Commission for all matters European and leave our governments to deal with our national ones. But since this ain't gonna happen, as I do not see any national politician giving up his/her right to boost their ego and attend "boxing matches" on European playground, then I would happily settle for more transparency.

Let us see what our leaders debate and help us make up our own mind. And since their image is more important to them than any real progress in Europe, well then I guess they would not behave like they did until now once they knew that we will be watching!

Mr. Barroso continued by suggesting a "new thinking for Europe." Europe needs a new direction, a more "European" one. He mentions that if Europe is to be able to compete in the future in a globalized world, we need more unity and integration among our members, thus more democracy; a European democracy. "It means embracing the interdependence of our destinies. And it means demanding a true sense of common responsibility and solidarity. Because when you are on a boat in the middle of the storm, absolute loyalty is the minimum you demand from your fellow crew members," Mr. Barroso continued. He mentioned that Europe can not compete giants like the USA and China and all the emerging countries. The world is changing and so should Europe. And unity brings strength.

Later Mr. Barroso put forward his "Decisive Deal" for Europe. This will involve reforms in pan-European level. A genuine economic and political union are necessary, based on growth, confidence and trust among EU's member states. He went on and announced various programs that the Commission is committed to put forward by 2014, both on economic and on political level. And all that he spoke about made so much sense and they were debated for years by many bloggers in Europe's "bloggosphere."

Boosting the Single Market, promoting competitiveness, boosting our renewable energy potential and investing in education, research, innovation and science. Reforming the taxation system of Europe, forming the (much necessary) banking union among the eurozone member states. Reforming CAP, tackling unemployment, battling tax evasion, moving towards a true fiscal union, empowering the European Parliament and promoting pan-European political parties, are some of the reforms proposed by Mr. Barroso.

I am particularly happy that in the space of the next two years we will see all (or at least some) of the above being implemented, if of course our national governments don't blow it again. I hope they have learned their lesson that if they act irresponsibly the consequences are far harder to deal with in the end, than if they have followed the rules that they themselves have agreed on in the first place. 

I really look forward the Banking Union because as Mr. Barroso suggested, "the crisis has shown that while banks became transnational, rules and oversight remained national. And when things went wrong, it was the taxpayers who had to pick up the bill." The idea of pan-European political parties is also one of my favorites, as I find such move necessary to break traditional national party politics and agreements under the table. It is the only way to fight corruption on national level and weaken the influence of national politics on European level. And of course my favorite announcement of all was the empowering of the European Parliament. Something that I have always believed and dreamed of. Any parliament is the core of a functioning democracy, either national or international. Because democracy can exist in both national and international levels. But so far the EP did not have the powers that it should have. This is why we had the democratic deficit in Europe. Hope this will change and the Commission and the EP will stick to their promises.

Mr. Barroso also announced a necessary treaty change, so that Europe can become a "Federation of Nation States." Which of course finds me in absolute agreement. I will never cease to be a Greek (and a proud one too) by giving a part of my nation's sovereignty to Europe. All nations will do equally the same. I am already a European by geography, history, culture and even politics. We are not trying to erase our identity and suddenly become "Europeans." We are all already Europeans, but this is only a part of our identity. My identity is also Greek, Thessalonian, a Greek-Macedonian by birth and a Dubliner by choice. Besides, as Mr. Barroso already mentioned, we are not talking about a European "superstate!"

What we are trying to achieve is to create a better, fairer, equal, stable and prosperous European continent that we all going to contribute, benefit and be part of. For all the state members throughout the continent, from tip to tip. And that can happen only through a "Federation of Nation States," of countries that will be willing to share, cooperate and work together to achieve all the above goals. Because together we can deal with pressures coming from multinationals and larger countries better. The governments of small countries are proven to be more prone to succumb to pressures from them, leading to corruption. Because together we can have better security of our borders and for our citizens. Because together we can maximize our potential. Europe has vast resources if put together. From human resources, to energy, land, financial etc.

Mr Barroso also called for "a debate of a truly European dimension." That is also find me in agreement. If we want to make citizens believe in the EU/European project, we need to let them speak. In this way, they will feel that they have a say in it, that this project is theirs because they helped its formation and their voices were heard. And not something that it has been imposed on them. This debate will happen all over Europe and in my opinion is a long delayed one too. 

Mr Barroso also defended Europe's social market economy, and the continent's social model and its values. He rejected the claims that Europe's social model is dead, but he did add that if we want to keep it we need to push for the necessary reforms and change the European economies. That is something that I also welcome. There is nothing worse to me than the American model. Besides, we need to safeguard our values and our social model is one of them. That is what makes us Europeans and that is what we can contribute to the rest of the world. 

Closing his speech, Mr Barroso was quick to rebuff anyone who would think that all the above were unrealistic. He instead asked: "is it realistic to see what we are seeing today in many European countries? Is it realistic to see taxpayers paying banks and afterwards being forced to give banks back the houses they have paid for because they can not pay their mortgages? Is it realistic to see more than 50% of our young people without jobs in some of our Member States? Is it realistic to think that we can win the confidence of the markets when we show so little confidence in each other? To me, it is this reality that is not realistic. This reality cannot go on."

And he concluded by noting that "the European Union was built to guarantee peace. Today, this means making our Union fit to meet the challenges of globalization. That is why we need a new thinking for Europe, a decisive deal for Europe." To me this last sentence says it all. That is why we have to keep getting involved, all of us in our country's and in European politics. That is why we need to start having a vision and not be afraid to demand it from our politicians. We need to start believing again in the European project. 

But I only hope that all countries are equal in it. There will be nothing worse if we again see the old European powers trying to dominate the smaller and weaker countries and have their interests put above Europe's. All countries should be equal in this new "Federation of Nation States," and the sensitivities, needs and wishes of every nation taken in consideration. I would love to see the EP protecting its citizens and break the old corrosive patterns of nationalism, protectionism, conservatism and xenophobia.

I also hope that all that Mr Barroso has promised do not stay on paper...again! It is not the first time we hear a speech like this, and the ideas are not new. But can we get on with it and implement them please?  The more we waste time, the more the populist parties will gain the upper hand in our countries. And once they do, even if we would wish to reverse the situation and return to our European values and ambitions, it will be much harder when their bile has poisoned the minds of the majority of the Europeans.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What will the future of Afghanistan and Iraq be?

Last December we saw the total withdrawal of the American troops from Iraq and it is estimated that by the end of 2014 they will leave Afghanistan as well. And that will hopefully end America's campaign on terror, on foreign territories at least. Well that is if they are not convinced by Israel to invade Iran too, or get involved in Syria or even North Korea. They will find a way or an excuse if they really want to, there is no doubt about it.

The thing is, what happens to any country that is "lucky" enough to receive the help of America in attaining democracy the American way, after they and their allies' troops leave. These wars have cost the American and European tax payer a whole lot of money, never mind the thousands of lives of American and European troops, together with the more than one million of Iraqis and Afghans. 

 Well let's face the facts: the US and their allies did not invade simply to find Osama bin Laden, find and destroy the terrorists and bring democracy in these regions. Democracy is established in one nation or region by the will of the people, not by the invasion of another country. The West invaded those lands to promote their interests in these regions. Many have profited out of these wars, but certainly not the ordinary people of the USA or Europe and their allies form all over the world. 

We have the weapon industry, the oil industry and the whole capitalist system benefiting from these wars and the deaths of innocent people. Because introducing "democracy" to any closed and isolated countries that avoid the western culture and goods, equals to opening new markets to sell your goods. Nearly the whole world has been part of this capitalist system for some time now. Few countries are out of it and refuse to join. And we see how they are portrayed as troublesome and that they desperately need our "democracy." It is not the first time that people die so that some countries or lobbies or corporations serve their interests and expand their sphere of influence. 

If we look back in history we will see how different regions, continents or individual countries have been manipulated and "encouraged" to change and reform their economies in order to be part of this economic system we currently have. Europe for example was dragged into it with the famous Marshal plan. The continent after the WW2 was in ruins and if it wasn't for the money it received from America as a part of the Marshal plan, economic recovery would be very difficult to achieve. The money of course did not come for free. Europe was flooded by American goods, boosting the American economy and promoting the American way of life and thinking in to the western part of the continent. 

In that way, certain European elites were established to support and maintain the status quo. And of course keep buying American goods. As long as the money and the investments from America were pouring in, they made sure to transform their countries into an image of USA. Capitalist, market based economies, multicultural and free trading. The same happened in other countries in bigger or lesser extend. Japan, South Korea in the far East are just another example of the expansion of this model. 

But in certain countries the interests differed. For example Palestine and Israel. The West desperately needed to have its foot in this very important region. Plus to solve the Jewish state problem and to compensate the Jews for what they had to suffer during WW2 by granting their wishes for an independent state. But the West has to pour millions of dollars in supporting the state for Israel each year, just to help it keep its military supremacy in the region and thus its existence. At any cost. That is the only reason the West forbids Iran to have nuclear weapons, because the balance of power in the region will shift. And it is so important to them that they are contemplating even an invasion. 

 The situation in the Balkans is no better. Kosovo is only one of the nations that rely on Western funds just to exist. The country even relies on Europe for its policing. FYROM too receives a huge amount of money from various foreign "investors" who stupidly wastes in propaganda and its effort to beat Greece and prove that they are the true descendants of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon. These "investors" have another agenda for the country and the region and that is not of course that of peace and stability.  Europe's and America's policies in the Balkans were always been disastrous and fanned nationalism, ethnic tensions and even in the past many wars. Europe always played one Balkan nation against another in order to serve their own interests or stop the Russian influence or Ottoman domination.  

Of course they have always claimed that they did what they did "for the good" of the people. Well in another article in my blog I explain how they used espionage to involve Greece in WW1 and everybody knows the role of Britain in the Turkish invasion of Cyprus that lead to another problem that Europe faces today: a divided EU nation with no hope of resolution, simply because the interests of different Western states lie with keeping the island nation divided. So I would not be very trusting of any Western propaganda. 

And if we examine the case of my native country Greece, there we see a very interesting mix of meddling resulting in national failures and disasters. Greece after WW2 had to endure a bloody civil war that to many was the first test of the Cold War. It is well know that British troops got actually involved in battles against the communists and Greece almost became one of their colonies. All that so Greece can remain under Western influence. After a two decade peace, America backed a military junta in the country, that rolled back any progress in democracy the country made. Even when Greece joined the EEC, the decision was taken not on economic grounds rather political: the West always wanted to control Greece and the whole region of the Southern Balkans because of their strategic location.

In order to establish a firm pro-western regime, Europe and America poured bucket loads of money into Greece. As part of the Marshal plan, the US was giving the country aid in exchange for the right to establish military bases in the country. After the civil war and the victory of the pro-Western nationalists, there are reports that in many interrogation rooms used by the police to interrogate suspected communists, the police officers were shouting at the suspects "what are you? an American! what are you?" Before beating them up. Any person found to be a communist was expelled from the country only to resettle in the former communist states. That is how there is a large number of Greek diaspora in Eastern Europe! 

American troops were giving food, cosmetics and beverages to the poor and deprived after so many wars Greek folk, that was visiting their bases to receive free goods. All US bases apart one in Crete were closed during the presidency of George Papandreou the Senior, after a spat he had with the American government. 

Greece was also receiving money from Europe. Ever since it became member of the then EEC and later the EU, Greece was receiving special "packages" for development or subsidies from the different EU projects and bodies. The most famous and even controversial was the Delors packet that there was so much talk about in the Greek media when I was growing up. The truth is that while some of these funds were wisely absorbed and the life of the Greek people got better, a large amount was wasted away. Telephone cables, new roads, internet connections, bridges and new air ports were quickly expanding. Anything to make it easier to the Greeks to consume and follow the Western example. But on the other hand, most of the Greek successful companies were forced to close, relocate or were bought by larger Western multinationals. 

In many cases Greece was being given subsidies not to produce and to bury any excess fruit and vegetables it produced, instead of exporting them. And a large amount of this money was abused to make sure that the two major parties that ruled Greece for the past 40 years remained in power. The money were used in bribery for votes and political favors in order to keep the established "pro-Western" "pro-Capitalist" regime. I was only a receptionist in a hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city, when we were receiving bookings from one of those two main parties. Bookings to accommodate "Hellenized" immigrants from Russia and many other former Soviet republics. The party was paying for the flights, accommodation and transportation to our hotel with just one condition; for those people to vote for this particular party in the upcoming elections. That is how political elections were rigged in Greece and how those two parties remained in power. 

Now of course it is the cheated ordinary Greek people who have to pay the price and the European tax payers to see their taxes used once again to maintain the status quo in the continent. Because even when the Greek public eventually woke up and decided to get rid off PASOK and the New Democracy parties that led the country to such decline, it was then Europe actually that told them to stick to them so that they can insure that the country would stick to its commitments to its creditors and the bail out deals. How else would the country sell out all its national assets to multinationals? So after of decades of European and American meddling in Greece's affairs, we are still were we started; Greece being totally reliant to the Western countries.

So what does all this has to do with Iraq and Afghanistan? Well basically history is repeating itself. We invaded to establish a new pro-Western regime in those two countries. We help establish a corrupt elite to make sure that both countries will  remain under American or Western control and influence, but this elite will become addicted to money that will be coming from us and so the countries will never progress. Ain't what our elites and governments want by the way. And we are going to keep pouring money into those countries and the more we do that, the more dependent they will become from us. Africa is perhaps the most tragic example of these kind of policies that our elites are practicing. Iraq and Afghanistan will be bleeding money out of the Western countries for decades to come. No matter if America will be able to pull out by 2014 or not, the elite they want to establish over there will keep asking for support, aka funds to deal with the never-ending threat of the Taliban. 

The moral lesson of this story? Never get involved in another country's affairs in order to serve your interests and change the status quo. If you do, then you will have to be prepared to pay for it for a long time to come. I may sound anti-West and anti-American or anti-European. No I am not. I am a proud Greek, a proud European and a proud Western man. But I am so with the original version of the term. A Greek humanist with a vision for an equal world. Not a war mongering bank and market loving greedy scum!! There is a huge difference.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Pussy Riot and Assange rock Europe!

The month of August was relatively quiet from any political developments, but two political events rocked the continent both in the east and west. The imprisonment of the female punk rock band in Russia, Pussy Riot and the political asylum that the embassy of Ecuador in London offered Julian Assange.

To me it was very interesting to watch the developments in these two cases and see the hypocrisy of the western media and the parallelisms in both stories. One was the case of a punk rock band challenging the ultra conservative Russian establishment and the other the case of the founder of the whistle-blower website, Wikileaks. He challenged not the political or religious establishment of one country, but the whole western propaganda of any war we got involved during the past years.

So which case was more important or serious? Our media portrayed the case of Pussy Riot as a sign of lack of freedom and democracy in Russia. Well, that is nothing new. Russia does not have the same values as the rest of Europe. The oligarchs rule Russia, so any attempt to compare western Europe and Russia in their version of democracy will always be western boasting to me. Not that we should not be proud of where we are as a society. But I find that we focus too much on the shortcomings of others and do not care what is going on in our hemisphere.

We tend to take our "freedom" for granted and try to force everyone else to strive to always to become like us. Have we ever wondered though how free we really are? We may have the privilege to say what we want, be who we want, live the life that we want, buy what we want, believe what we want......As long as we do not challenge the current status quo. In Russia they are not able to challenge their leadership or religion. Despite many protests, Putin is still in power and the Russian Orthodox Church has immense power and influence in the Russian everyday life.

But we are not very different, are we. Our elites have been established after WW2 and even though they keep changing by democratic votes, our societies do not fundamentally change. Has anyone ever questioned the current economic model until the economic crisis of the past 4 years hit our lands? Has anyone really understood why are we engaging in so many wars, who profits from all this and what do we get out of our involvement in them? Are we sure we get the right or necessary information from our leaders so that we can form our public opinion?

What Assange did was to challenge all this. He leaked confidential documents and provided us with information and evidence of many conspiracy theories that we suspected. No, I do not consider him a saint or a great guy. He was a hacker in the past and that to me translates as a very naughty, megalomaniac, attention seeking, spoiled geeky child. But imagine if it wasn't for him and his actions, how we would have access to some confidential and disclosed data from the government of USA and others?

Some claim that his leaks were not of such importance, otherwise he would be dead by now. Then I wonder why all this diplomatic row between four states (US that are after him for the leaks, Sweden that provides the justification for his prosecution, Britain that tried to arrest him and extradite him to Sweden and of course Ecuador), over a megalomaniac hacker with a bad attitude and sex crime allegations from his past. Why didn't those women in Sweden go after him all this time and only try to get him after he leaked those documents? Is that a coincidence? The British government even threatened to enter the Ecuadorian embassy in London by force at some stage, a move that can be received as an act of war in other circumstances. And why the Latin Americans decided to intervene?

I remind you that Latin America is one of the regions that was harmed the most by US foreign policies and intervention. And it is not just Ecuador. All the Latin American states showed their solidarity and support for Ecuador's decision in a summit of the Organization of American States. That left only the US and Canada not backing Ecuador. And there is no surprise there.

Why are the Latin Americans so keen in supporting and fostering Assange? I am sure they are playing their game in the whole story. Perhaps we are being told only a fraction of what is really going on in this diplomatic row and there is more to come. Perhaps he knows far too much and our elites fear that he has far more important documents to leak than those that he leaked already. Perhaps he has put forward some demands and holds our governments in ransom. I do not believe that all this diplomatic row took place just for some alleged rape allegations. Rapes that according to these ladies he committed in 2010 and he subsequently denies.

But our media are portraying Assange's case as the case of someone who has done something very naughty and embarrassed many governments and businesses, not as a case of freedom of speech or information. I believe that we needed to know how our leaders do business, we need more transparency on how some deals and agreements are done. If it takes a hacker to provide us with this information then so be it. I would not expect our governments to reveal those details anyway.

So where is the difference with the Pussy Riot case? In my opinion there is none. These bold girls wanted to protest against their country's political establishment and challenge the status quo there. They are bold, naughty and in my opinion they knew very well what they were doing when they were doing it. They knew they are going to get in trouble. And kudos to them for doing what they did. But while in our societies, singing a punk rock song in a church with anti establishment lyrics can lead in the worse case scenario into a night in jail and lots of controversy (and publicity), those girls now are jailed for 2 years.

Assange wanted to challenge the status quo in our side of the hemisphere, that is that of hypocrisy, secrecy, withholding the truth and  ignoring the wishes of the people. Both did what they did perhaps with a wish to become famous, get attention and create controversy. They both achieved it. The unlucky girls in Russia got jailed for it, Assange escaped thanx to Ecuadorian intervention. If Britain had it its way, he would be arrested too and extradited to the US to be silenced. So where is the difference between the two? And why our media are focusing in portraying the situation in Russia as much worse? Perhaps to make us believe that we are doing better in our societies, and that we should be thankful to be "westerners."

The only thing that annoys me about our attitude is that it is simply arrogant and it does no good in solving disputes with third countries. Yes Russia has a democratic deficit. Hasn't Europe got one too? Yes Russia has limited freedoms in the press and of political campaigning. Well in Europe we have our own problems too. Look at Greece, Hungary, Italy for years with Berlusconi and even Britain with the huge Murdoch media scandal.

If we want to help the citizens of one country to get access to more rights, then the way is not by criticizing their elites or how they lack of democracy. That only gives their elites fuel to keep up the anti-western propaganda. The more we snub them, criticize them or refuse to do business with them unless they change, the more their elites justify their actions and the need for them to keep staying in power, in order to protect their country against any "western" humiliation, propaganda, or intervention. 

The best way to help the Russian (or any other country) citizens in their struggle to better their country would be more cooperation and exchanges between our universities, cultural projects, science, media, volunteering agencies, labor markets and businesses. When the Russian population, after their interaction with the rest of Europe is convinced that "our" way has to offer is the slightest better of what they have, then they will ask for change themselves in their own time, terms and way. And then we should help them, but only if they ask.

I support both Pussy Riot and Assange in what they did and I admire them for doing so. I wish that more people in both sides of our world did more things to challenge their countries' elites and the current status quo. Because apathy brings no changes. Because democracy needs boldness, sacrifices and constant vigilance. Because it is the only way for real change. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Perhaps it is time to have a "Golden Dusk"...?

For the past 4-5 years, since the crisis in Greece has intensified and gripped the nation, one of the phenomena and social changes that we have witnessed is the rise of the far right. The Golden Dawn "political" party has won 7% of the seats in the Greek Parliament in the last elections and now is being seen as one of Greece's new rising political powers.

Though it is very interesting to see the Greeks moving away from the two traditional established political parties that ruled Greece since the '70s, I as a young Greek am embarrassed that a far right party represents 7% of the Greek population in our parliament. The truth is that Greece and in fact the whole of Europe and the "West" is rife with political, economic and social corruption and decline. The fact that the far right is rising all over Europe is only confirming this. 

The Golden Dawn party existed in Greece for at least a decade or more, before the last elections. But before the crisis it was something laughable and it never made its presence felt in anyway in the Greek everyday public life. So what gave it so much support from the Greek public that it was propelled into the parliament? For years Greece had serious "problems" with illegal immigration and immigration in general. Yet our government did nothing to tackle this issue and set up a clear and comprehensive immigration policy, like many other countries in Europe.

Hundreds of  thousands of illegal immigrants are crossing the Greek borders with Turkey every year, with the hope of a new life in Europe. Their main destination is not always Greece, but the rich northern industrialized European states. Yet because of weak or non existent Greek policies on immigration and lack of solidarity or support from Greece's European partners those immigrants are trapped in the country and they become an inconvenient "nuisance." Instead of dealing with it, the Greek political elite chose to ignore it and use it as a scapegoat for many problems that the Greek society was and is dealing with.

On regular basis the Greek media were bombarding the Greek public with news of the criminality coming from immigrant gangs roaming Athens. That is of course partly true, as many of the illegal immigrants were forced into a life in crime, or simply found a gateway to Greece because it was so easy to commit crime. Most of Greece's immigrants are forced to work in the country's black market, selling illegal CDs, hand bags, belts, DVDs, and other hand crafted goods. Few that can speak Greek could find a decent job, mainly people from neighboring countries like Albania and Bulgaria. The rest were forced in jobs like house cleaning, au pairs and as seasonal workers in Greece's agriculture industry. 

 The Greek laws made it very hard for any immigrant to become a Greek citizen, unless he or she could prove a Greek paternal or maternal ancestry. Yet because of corruption of the Greek authorities, many immigrants paid to become Greek citizens; they simply bought their right to stay in the country like many others around the world. But without factories, industries or a functioning economy that actually produced something plus the very discriminating policies of Greece, the integration even of those immigrants that acquired the Greek citizenship was very hard to achieve. Not that the Greek authorities bothered with that.

As long as the economy was doing ok, nobody complained. But as soon as the crisis started to "bite," the Golden Dawn party rose into the country's political life and promised for a "solution." For years criminality was rising in Athens and the state did nothing about it. People, both Greeks and immigrants were not able to walk safe in the city center during the night. Soon ghettos were established and Athenians started feeling threatened. Still the Greek political elite did nothing and the Greek media were pouring more oil to the fire by keep underlining the actions of foreign gangs as the real problem for the criminality surge.

In the past few years Athens looked to be increasingly lawless, with crimes taking place on a daily basis. Recently there was a case of a young student shooting dead an Albanian robber that tried to rob his house twice while threatening his mother with a knife. The residents showed their support for him and branded him a hero. And that is no wonder. Many regions  of the Greek capital were experiencing a surge in break ins and armed robberies that eventually the locals had to arm themselves to defend their property.

Not that all criminals were foreigners or that all victims were Greek. But the newspapers loved to blame everything on immigrants mainly of Albanian origin. While Athens was being transformed into a crime capital, the only ones who seemed to be doing something about it were the members of the Golden Dawn party. They escorted the elderly safely to go and collect their pensions and do their weekly shopping. They even offered to do different jobs for them. That is one of the reasons that they got into the parliament.

But they did not stop there. Now that the crisis is tearing the country apart, they are the only party that are out on the streets helping people, providing them with food and setting up super markets for "real Greeks only!" The angry Greeks, fed up with the "progressive" policies of their past governments and other European governments, have voted for this party. A reaction to what they are going through. Many voted for them to just "beat up a few MPs in case they vote for ridiculous laws ever again" as some people I spoke to said. Others because they were the only party which did not waste public money to print leaflets for their electoral campaign, while the Greek pupils did not have books to go to school. 

With all those populist actions and policies, is there any wonder how this party entered the Greek parliament? But now that they are in, they do not stop just in "helping" the Greeks. Regularly they patrol Athens and the party's members beat immigrants, wearing black t-shirts and waving flags with their emblem. Allegedly in some cases even knifing some of them. They openly attack not just immigrants, but members of the gay community too. Their representatives often stated that after the immigrants, it is the turn of the gay community to be a target of their kind of "solution." 

Now I am a very tolerant person and I believe that anyone should be able to express their political views, even people from the far right or far left. But this is getting out of control. This is not democracy anymore. When a few thugs take the law into their own hands and believe that they can correct the dreadful mistakes that our past governments committed by beating up people and killing them, what comes next? 

It started the same way in Germany in 1933. We are repeating the same mistakes in Europe. The Greek government is using the immigration problem as a decoy to cover their dreadful mistakes in the country's economy and they once again try to focus the public's attention in the killings, robberies, and other crimes that the immigrants commit. But in that way they are making another terrible mistake. The Greek public opinion is turning increasingly hostile to all immigrants, legal or illegal. Racism and hate crimes are on the rise. Immigrants are afraid to walk out their homes on their own, especially when the beatings now even happen on a broad day light. This situation will only solidify the Golden Dawn's prominence in Greek politics and the public's support. How are we going get rid of their presence? 

The Greek and European elites right now are only focusing on how to keep the Greeks under control and make them pay for the debts that themselves have created. They are only interested in finding a solution to the economic crisis but they remain very calm, perhaps with some plan in mind, to the rising threat of the far right. It is not just Greece. In France, Holland, Belgium, Austria, Finland, Hungary and even Britain ultra-nationalist parties are on the rise. But as long as the Greek people continue to pay off the debts of the European elites, they are happy to do nothing and just watch passively. This is scandalous! 

Meanwhile both the Greek people and the immigrants are suffering from the crisis, the austerity plus the violence and the hostility that is brewing. What are we waiting for? Greece and Europe need urgently a common comprehensive and functioning immigration policy and better border security with the contribution and participation of all EU states. We need a debate on what kind of society we need to have and how can we bring all the communities together. We need solutions in how can we integrate our immigrant populations throughout Europe and correct the damages done by the crisis and the influence of parties like the Golden Dawn.

Some claim that the best solution would be the banning of parties like this. In Germany parties like these are banned, a remnant of WW2 and their Nazi experience. I personally support the idea that any political movement should be able to be represent its supporters and they should be able to vote for it in national elections; even the far right ones. But it comes to a point that parties like the Golden Dawn have lost their right to represent anyone. Not through so much violence, not with beatings and (allegedly) killings in the name of a "pure" Greek ethnic society. The 7 % of the Greek population that voted for them did not necessarily supported that. They were just desperate to see some solutions, they were fed up with the lies that the established political parties were feeding them for the past decades. And now they are so numb out of fear for their future that they do not protest anymore to what is happening in their country.

A fear that is enforced to them by constant threats of new austerity measures and different scenarios about a potential disastrous future if they don't do as they are told. And of course a rising sense of insecurity due the absolute lawlessness that grips Greece. I personally do not recognize my country anymore. The rise of Golden Dawn and Syriza in the Greek politics is only an act of desperation, a cry for help of the Greek people. But they do not realize that parties like the Golden Dawn have nothing to offer them than poison their souls with hate and infect our society with segregation and discrimination. 

It is up to our governing elites, both the Greek and the European to take action and ease the austerity measures, invest in growth and give back the Greeks their dignity as a nation. Then deal with the immigration problem and many other economic, social, cultural and financial problems that Greece and Europe in general are facing. Because that is the only real solution to the "Golden Dawn" problem. If people have security, jobs, prosperity, education, opportunities for growth and live in a fair society, there is no way they will vote for far right or far left radical parties. Even if we allow these parties to exist just like in Greece decades ago, they will only represent a significant minority and never come to power ever again. 

This is the only way to reverse the "dawning" of parties like these throughout Europe and drive them back to where they belong: permanent dusk and decline! But will our rulings elites do something about it and soon?