Greeks demand dignity – An interview with Taki Manolakos

October 8, 2012

The following interview of Taki, a member of the Winter Has Its End project and Sanhati, will be published in StreetVibes and StreetSense. StreetVibes and StreetSense are street newspapers circulating in the US cities of Cincinnati and Columbus. These newspapers are sold and read by the homeless, generally covering issues of homelessness and poverty. In this interview, Taki discusses the economic condition of Greeks today; the European Union’s role in the creation of the Greek economic catastrophe and more.

StreetVibes: What is the importance of the Greek situation for Americans?

Taki: An important aspect of daily life for many is the tyranny of loneliness and poverty. Our rulers and the governments they control have imposed this tyranny in order to preserve institutions that serve their economic interests. We must break out of our isolation and reestablish our basic dignity as people.

We cannot do this alone. Winning the fight for dignity depends on understanding events beyond American shores. This is a fundamental idea that has a noble genealogy in America going back to Thomas Paine and W.E.B. Du Bois, who I consider great thinkers.

There’s another reason too. Some politicians tell you that the cause of our economic problems in America is that “jobs are going to China.” Not many seem to worry about who buys the stuff that American workers produce. Europe is an important American trading partner. If European workers can’t buy American goods, then who will? Think about it. If Europe continues on its current road, let’s say that a serious financial crisis develops, that would affect America.

The people have put up a stop sign. Enough is enough, in North America, Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa.

StreetVibes: What is it like for the common person to be a Greek today?

Taki: Greeks live in difficult times. The country has always been poor when compared to the other nations of Europe. But today the situation is unbearable. Consider that unemployment is roughly the same as it was in America during the Great Depression of the 1930s. That gives you an idea of problem and suffering of the Greek people. Many Greeks simply don’t have jobs.

The country is facing an economic catastrophe.

Every day is just a battle for survival. Will I have enough money to buy food? Will my kids be hungry? Many people are leaving the country in search of work. Others move in with their parents to cut down on rent. For these and other reasons, working class folk have reached their breaking point and started to defend themselves. Even the “middle class” is suffering. By “middle class”, I don’t mean rich people living in wealthy areas, closed off from the rest of the world. These are people who may run a small business selling not much more than laundry detergent and cigarettes. The result has been resistance.

This spirit of rebellion takes many forms. For example, the government decided it was going to levy a new tax on the people. It decided to use the electricity company as a tax collection agency. A new charge therefore started to appear on everyone’s electric bill. If you couldn’t pay, then the government would shut off your electricity. Lots of people simply refused to pay. When the electric company showed up and attempted to turn off their power, people refused to let them into their homes. There was nothing that the power company could do about it. There were and are lots of strikes by the unions. Workers of the Greek equivalent of the New York Times have been on strike for a long time now and the paper has not printed a single edition in months.

The entire society has been gripped by a new common sense that the current situation can’t continue. It’s everywhere.

StreetVibes: The European Union’s financial institutions have imposed budget cuts on Greece. How have the Greek people responded?

Taki: People have responded with initiatives like the “we won’t pay” movement, as in the case of refusal to pay electricity bills. But they also realize that there is no individual solution to what is basically a national problem. They have organized in new and old ways geared towards defending the people’s interests.

The Greek island of Crete provides a good example. The island is Greece’s largest and sits between Greece and Egypt in the Mediterranean sea. Crete has a rich history of resistance to occupation by foreign forces. During the Second World War, it was a hotbed of Greek resistance against the Nazis. I visited a small village that was the site of a notable massacre by the Germans during WWII. A neo-nazi party called Golden Dawn attempted to enter the village during election season to campaign for their candidates. The villagers would have nothing to do with it. The idea that neo-nazis might enter the village was treasonous to the locals. Everyone knows about the Nazi occupation; everyone knows a story about someone’s grandfather who died during the resistance. Old folk tell these stories to their grandchildren. The general sentiment was clear: my grandfather died fighting Nazis, and you fools have the nerve to try to enter my village. The outcome was that virtually the entire village gathered when Golden Dawn attempted to enter the main square and forbade them from proceeding.

They departed with their tails between their legs.

StreetVibes: Do you see the European Union and Greece being able to reconcile their differences and bring about an end to the crisis?

Taki: The road out of the crisis will not be found in financial and political negotiations between Greek politicos and European technocrats. Greece must refuse to pay the ursurers. The people have rejected supposedly progressive political parites that sold them out; they have rejected the rotten political system. But it is not enough for political parties that actually have the people’s interests at their core to win the elections, like the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), although that is a must. What is now needed is a much broader democratic alliance of patriots, leftists, revolutionaries, and people of character, willing to take the country off the road to catastrophe. Those who sold the country to the EU technocrats, the International Monetary Fund, that great credit bureau of the international banking system, have no place on this new road.

There also has to be productive reconstruction because the European Union has destroyed Greece economically. There must be a nationwide discussion on such reconstruction. All must participate in this discussion: Greek and foreign scientists, government agencies, trade unions, cooperatives, small businesses, assemblies of the people and workers, on a national level. Their findings can be placed before the voters in a referendum.

But we need to move very quickly. If we merely wait for “the great day” to come, all we will get are tanks in the wee hours of the morning.