Posts Tagged ‘greece’

 

The Basque History of the World

by Mark Kurlansky

Penguin (1999)

Book Review

The Basque History of the World is a history of Basqueland, a semi-autonomous region in the Pyrenees straddling the French-Spanish border. Despite the recent declaration of independence by Catalonia, there is surprisingly little attention on historical efforts by Basqueland, to break away from Spanish rule. Like Catalonia Basqueland, which has its own unique language (Eskuera), has been a major industrial and economic powerhouse for the rest of Spain.

Global Mercenaries, Traders, Shipbuilders, Navigators and Bankers

Historically the Basques were traders and mercenary soldiers dating back to the 4th century BC. The Greeks hired them, as did Carthage in their war against Rome. Although Basque was technically “occupied” by the Roman empire for nearly 400 years, the Romans demanded no tribute (taxes) and exerted no military oversight.

In the 7th and 8th century, the Basques became Europe’s leading shipbuilders (which they learned from the Vikings) and iron mongers (which they learned from the Celts). They were the world’s first commercial whalers, establishing whaling stations as far distant as Newfoundland and Labrador. In the 9th century, they also dominated the European trade in salted cod, fishing off Iceland, Norway, Britain, as well as Newfoundland.

Beginning in the 15th century they were sought after by many European explorers (including Columbus and Magellan) as pilots, navigators and seamen.

They were also the first capitalists, financing their shipbuilding via private venture capital. In 1999, when this book was published, they were still global leaders in banking.

Unconquerable

Neither the Moors (in the 8th century) nor King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella (in the 15th century) succeeded in conquering Basqueland. Owing to the immense wealth the Basques generated, they paid no duty on foreign goods imported through their ports. Until 1876, they paid no tax to Madrid and were exempt from serving in the Spanish military. French Basqueland fared far worse after the French revolutionary government eliminated France’s three Basque provinces in their campaign to erase ethnic identities.

Spain was so poor when the second Spanish Republic was declared in 1931, only Basqueland and Catalonia (thanks to their strong industrial base) enjoyed a European standard of living. Both regions demanded full autonomy as a condition of supporting the Republic.

Following the successful coup of Spain’s fascist dictator Francisco Franco in 1939, the Basques provided the only organized resistance against his regime. They also played an extremely important role in the French resistance to Hitler’s occupation of France.

Role in Downfall of Franco Dictatorship

In 1973, ETA, the Basque armed militia assassinated Franco’s second in command, and Basque and Catalan leaders began meeting secretly to plan Spain’s transition to democracy.

Franco’s death and the fall of his government in 1975 would prove disastrous for the Basque economy. The dictator had been heavily subsidizing archaic Basque factories, which were totally unable to compete with modern European industries after Spain joined the EU.

In 1998, after uniting with Catalonia to win constitutional guarantees of legislative autonomy (for both Catalonia and Basqueland), ETA unilaterally renounced violence. This followed a 16-year battle with the GAL, an undercover police/paramilitary operation that engaged in extrajudicial assassinations and torture against Basque nationalists.

 

 

 

The Forbidden Colony

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

This Al Jazeera documentary examines the undemocratic nature of the European Union and it’s role in allowing banks and multinational corporations to colonize Europe. It begins by focusing on the EU Parliament, which meets in secret and bans public observation of its proceedings. Elected members of the EU Parliament lack the authority to initiate legislation. They can only rubber stamp laws proposed by the non-elected European Commission.

Croatian philosopher Srecko Horbat examines the right and left wing movements that have arisen in reaction in response to the massive economic dislocation (job loss, low wages, high housing costs) people have experienced following the creation of the EU.

The far right tends to campaign against the massive influx of migrants, which they blame for their declining standard of living. The left, in contrast, is more focused on rebuilding European democracy from the ground up.

For me, the most interesting part of the film was its examination of various European experiments in direct democracy. Examples include

  • The grassroots movements in Hamburg and 170 other German cities and towns that have bought back electric power companies from private companies to hasten their transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
  • Ada Colau, the radical mayor of Barcelona,* who is working to transform squats into cooperatives and forcing banks to make vacant buildings available for social housing.
  • Greece’s parallel economy, which operatives massive “no middlemen” food markets in reaction to price gouging by corporate supermarket chains.

*The capitol of Catalonia, which is organizing a popular referendum to declare independence from Spain – see Showdown in Spain

Golden Dawn

Konstantinos Georgousis (2013)

Review

Golden Dawn is a remarkable documentary tracing the rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece. Despite their role in several high profile murders, Golden Dawn has held 18 seats in the Greek parliament since 2012.

Their rapid rise to power relates in large part to dire austerity measures the European Union has imposed on Greece. With 28% unemployment (55% youth unemployment) and drastic pension cuts, many starving Greek citizens join Golden Dawn because of their free food distribution programs.

However as Georgousis makes clear, the strong support Golden Dawn enjoys from police (who openly admit to being members), the media, the Greek Orthodox Church and Greek security services is even more instrumental. In all respects the parallels with Nazi Germany are chilling.

Golden Dawn is notorious for openly beating up and murdering both illegal and legal immigrants – with the police looking on and, in many cases arresting legal immigrants instead of perpetrators.

Only anarchist groups have tried to protect immigrants from these attacks. When they do so, the police step in and arrest, beat and torture them.

In 2012, following the murder of a high profile Greek national, the Greek government finally arrested four Golden Dawn leaders on a charge of criminal gang activity. However instead of stripping them of their parliamentary seats, they then directed Greek jail staff to transport them between jail and Parliament.

What I found most remarkable about the documentary is its excellent footage of actual Golden Dawn meetings and its in-depth interviews with some of its members.

Resistance in Athens

Medialien (2016)

Film Review

Resistance in Athens is a short documentary about the ongoing dismemberment of Greece by the Syriza government to satisfy harsh bailout conditions imposed by the IMF and European banks. As brutal austerity measures continue to shrink the Greek economy, unemployment (now at 25%) and hunger continue to increase and more than 200,000 young people have left Greece for other European countries.

Meanwhile a continuing influx of Syrian, Afghan and African refugees across the Mediterranean continues to fuel the resistance movement. Owing to government budget shortfalls and refusal by other EU countries to accept non-European migrants, Greek anarchists and socialists have played a major role in welcoming refugees and meeting their needs for shelter, food and other survival needs.

The documentary focuses on Exarchia, a growing self-governing anarchist community spanning four decades.

For me, the highlight of the film was the personal interviews –  with Exarchia members about their work with traumatized refugee children and with refugees who have turned against capitalism due to their brutal treatment by European authorities.

Click on the cc icon in the lower right hand corner for English subtitles.

Parts 4 and 5 of Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States explore the exaggerated claims of Soviet expansionism that characterized the Truman/Eisenhower administration.

Part 4 begins by contrasting the economic standing of the US and the USSR when the war ended in 1945. The US economy was booming. America controlled 50% of the world’s economic production and most of its gold. The Soviet economy, in contrast, had been shattered. Truman reneged on Roosevelt’s promise to provide the Soviets post war aid to assist in their recovery. During the US occupation of West Germany, he also discontinued German war reparations to the USSR.

The late forties was a period of excruciating poverty for Eastern Europe, with major famine in the Ukraine. With the Soviet economy in a shambles, the claims made by Truman about their intention to conquer the world were ludicrous.

After Henry Wallace, the last holdover from the Roosevelt administration, made a major speech (echoing statements by Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt) opposing nuclear weapons, Truman fired him.

This episode also explores the first implementation of the Truman Doctrine, justifying US intervention in the domestic affairs of other countries. Truman first used it in 1947 to put down a popular uprising against a fascist coup in Greece. In a clear precursor to US intervention in Vietnam, Truman sent in US advisors to train the Greek military in “counterinsurgency tactics,” ie death squads to crush unions and human rights organizations and concentration camps to extinguish civilian support for pro-independence activists.

Part 4: Cold War: 1945-50

Part 5 explores the election of Eisenhower to power in 1952, coinciding with Khrushchev’s rise to power in 1953 and the re-election of Churchill in 1951 (Churchill was replaced by Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee from 1945-51).

Eisenhower, who had opposed using the A-bomb against Japan at Pottsdam, became a fervent nuclear weapons supporter as president. Under pressure from anti-communist hawk John Foster Dulles, he resisted Khrushchev’s and Churchill’s to organize a peace summit to limit the nuclear arms race.

Eisenhower would go on to engage in war crimes in Korean, causing massive civilian deaths by bombing North Korean dams.

In addition to authorizing the CIA overthrow of democratically elected governments in Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954, he paid 80% of French military costs as they endeavored to defeat Vietnam’s pro-independence movement.

In this episode, Stone also explores the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1955 in Java. Members consisted of world leaders determined to remain independent of either US or Soviet influence. In attendance at the first meeting were Ho Chi Minh  (Vietnam), Tito (Yugoslavia), Nehru (India), Nasser (Egypt), Zhou Enlai (China) and Sukarno (Indonesia). The CIA eventually removed each of these men from power, in some cases via assassination.

Part 5: the ’50s: Eisenhower, The Bomb and the Third World

Buy, Buy Europe

Pieter De Vos (2013)

Film Review

This is a five-part miniseries describing how European banks have hijacked the euro monetary union to vastly increase their wealth. The upcoming Brexit vote in Britain makes this a particularly relevant topic.

Part 1 A Bank Crisis a Week

The series begins by describing the history of the European monetary union. Built at the height of neoliberalism it adopted all the rhetoric of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Alan Greenspan promising that globalized capitalism and free markets would end economic crises, increase prosperity and end inequality.

What really happened is that creating the euro massively increased inequality between northern and southern Europe and between workers and the super rich.

In seeking to make European banks as strong and competitive as US and British banks, Eurozone leaders ceased regulating them. Wall Street is often blamed for the EU’s 2008 meltdown. In actuality, deregulated European banks were equally guilty of risky speculation in derivatives and subprime mortgages.

Following the 2008 economic crash, European banks required massive government bailouts to keep European economies from collapsing. Promised banking reforms to prevent a recurrence of 2008 never happened. And according to the IMF, the global banking system is even more unstable today as it was right before the meltdown.

Part 2 Austerity Till the Grave

The bailouts required to keep their banks (and economies) going virtually bankrupted all Eurozone governments. All borrowed deeply (from the global banking system they had just bailed out) to keep their governments going. As a condition of this borrowing, the banks required them to reduce their deficits via deep austerity cuts. To qualify for further loans, they all cut pensions and benefits and laid off public service workers.

This segment focuses on Spain, where workers are organizing to block evictions, and Greece, where unemployed parents are forced to drop their kids off at orphanages because they can’t get welfare benefits to support them.

Part 3 Tax Haven Europe

This segment begins by profiling the Greek shipping magnates who run the largest merchant fleet in the world and pay virtually no tax. Corporations and the super rich pay far less tax than working people in all the EU countries. This massive tax avoidance forces all European governments to acquire major debt to keep from collapsing.

The documentary offers the example of Belgium, where the average tax rate is 12.5% and the most profitable corporations pay only 5% of their earnings in tax.

The filmmakers maintain that workers create wealth, though I doubt most neoliberals would see it that way. In 1981 Europe, 74% of the wealth workers created was returned to them as wages and government benefits. By 2012 only 49% of this wealth was returned to them and the super rich claimed the rest.

Part 4 Bratwurst, Lederhosen and Minijobs.

This was the most eye-open segment for me. It exposes the punitive conditions imposed on German workers from 2000 with the goal of making German export industries more competitive. Under former chancellor Gerhart Schroeder, massive wage reductions were imposed on all German workers – something IMF chief Christine LaGarde likes to call “labor market reform.”

Among other labor “reforms,” were a massive increase in “minijobs” – low wage part-time temporary positions that pay an average of 400 ($US 448) euros a month. Given Germany’s high cost of living, both parents need to work 2-3 “minijobs” (if they can find them) to cover a family’s basic needs.

The result was truckloads of cheap German imports flooding into southern EU countries (Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy), shutting down local industries that couldn’t compete.

In this way, Germany’s vicious attack on their own workers forced wages down in other EU countries. This, in turn, forced countries like Greece and Spain to borrow lots of money from German banks to keep their governments going.

Ironically Germany currently has the highest number of working poor (7 million) of all EU countries.

Part 5 What Kind of Europe Do We Want?

It’s vital for people to understand that the mantra EU governments repeat ad nauseum – that saving the euro is essential to strengthening the EU and restoring prosperity – is pure propaganda. Seven years of austerity is massively increasing deficits and debt by putting so many people out of work.

The truth is that the Eurozone has been hijacked by banks and multinational corporations who are determined to use trade agreements to lock member countries into austerity and statutory destruction of Europe’s proud tradition of democratic socialism.

The only solution is a public takeover of too-big-to fail banks. Continuing to bail them out, while allowing them to privatize all the profits, is simply legalized theft of public monies. And a yes vote on Brexit.

 

The Island of All Together

Directed by Philip Brink and Marieke van der Velden (2015)

Film Review

I was strangely moved by this documentary of European tourists and Syrian refugees interviewing each other on the Greek island of Lesbos. The latter is a common destination for refugees who cross the Mediterranean from Turkey.

I was genuinely surprised by the high educational level of the refugees. All were professionals (lawyers, teachers, mechanical engineers) or skilled trades people (carpenter, cosmeticians) in Syria. It’s no wonder Germany is so eager to accept them.

The postscript to the film indicates that most of the pairs reunited once the refugees reached their destination, with most of the Europeans actively assisting their refugee with adapting to their new life.