It was October 2011 and Greece had just gone through the most explosive summer in its recent history. Early in the summer, protests that had started reluctantly and peacefully at Syntagma Square turned into something more pronounced with masses of Greeks surrounding Parliament. They were met with outright violence by the Greek police. After a brief respite in August, social tension rose again during September and at the start of October.
Greece was right in the thick of its crisis. It was consistently ridiculed in the northern European media, especially Germany. Greeks were berated as a people, the medicine prescribed by the troika was not working for reasons that have now been admitted by the administering doctors and the austerity policies were having a progressively stronger hold on the economy and society.
It was in the environment created by these unprecedented developments that this blog come into existence. What started on occasion as a diary, on others as a punchbag for venting emotions, evolved and grew beyond any expectations.
Some quick notes on the primary surplus ‘miracle’ that got many wondering yesterday:
- First of all, the finance ministry is yet to release the detailed budget execution for the Jan-Jul period
- It reported preliminary revenues for the period of €27.7bn vs. €21.4bn in the previous six months
- This includes €1.5bn of SMP profits that were transferred to the segregated account at Bank of Greece which is used only for debt servicing purposes. It was agreed in the end of November last year, post budget submission, and is an exceptional item.
When you read that foot-dragging might leave Greece short of 2 billion euros, you probably instantly think that those pesky Greeks are up to no good, again. Well, not this time. The shortfall lies with Greece’s eurozone creditors as national central banks (NCBs) did not roll over their Greek debt, the so-called ANFA holdings.
This special relationship between Greece and the central banks across the eurozone started early in 2012, prior to the conclusion of the PSI. Then, a law passed through Greek Parliament converted the ECB and NCBs Greek debt holdings into new paper with identical coupons and maturities, which was subsequently excluded from the PSI. A clause was inserted stipulating that the bonds eligible for the debt exchange were those issued before the end of 2011. It was that simple.
Extracts from The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler by Laurence Rees. Given recent political developments in Greece, food for thought:
Even though Nazi membership stood at around 100,000 in 1928, there seemed little objective chance of a breakthrough for the party. The lowest point was the election of May 1928 when the Nazis polled just 2.6 per cent of the vote. More than 97 per cent of the German electorate still rejected Adolf Hitler and his policies.
It was Tuesday the 28th of June 2011. The Greek Parliament was starting a two days session for the debate and vote of the Medium Term Fiscal Strategy – Mesoprothesmo in Greek – and the demonstrators were gathering by the thousands at Syntagma square to protest against yet another austerity package demanded by the troika. The entire world was looking at Greece. The balconies of the hotels around the square were filled with camera crews and numerous journalists in the crowd were interviewing protesters.
Around midday, I was standing at the spot in the picture when a journalist followed by a cameraman approached two teenage girls standing next to me. Politely he introduced himself, he was from a Danish channel and asked them if they thought that Greek MPs should reject the proposed austerity package, a question to which the girls without much thought responded to saying yes. He then went ahead reminding them of the blatant blackmail from the troika that failing to pass the new measures Greece would not receive the program tranche and will be led to a messy default.
It was at that point that I found myself spontaneously stepping in and asked him why he thought that this ultimatum was the only option. Why he thought this type of blackmail was acceptable between partners, who was really benefiting from this ‘bailout’ program and why given Greece’s mounting debt problems a debt restructuring that would lift large portion of Greece’s fiscal efforts was not considered as a realistic option.
At the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Council of Ministers in Paris on Wednesday, Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras challenged the institution’s forecast that Greece will remain in recession next year, which would mean a seventh straight year of contraction. Stournaras thinks the OECD will be proved wrong. There isn’t a Greek in the world who doesn’t hope he will be proved right.
The OECD’s recent Economic Outlook contains some alarming messages for Greece, messages that are in contrast with the recent wave of positivity from the government and upbeat assessments from the media domestically and abroad. The Paris-based organisation does not see a return to growth in 2014 but predicts a further economic contraction of 1.2 percent, a gap from Stournaras’s projections that translates into about 3.6 billion euros of economic output. It goes as far as suggesting that additional financing from the EU/IMF program will be required for Greece so automatic stabilizers are allowed to kick in if the recession turns out to be deeper than initially anticipated.
Out of all the visits to my homeland during the crisis, the trip at the end of summer of 2011 was the one that gave me the sense that Greece’s social fabric was close to tearing point. In June of that summer, the protests of thousands of Greeks outside Parliament were met with extensive repression and police brutality. The scenes of clouds of tear gas remained in people’s minds and the distinctive smell lingered for those who participated in the protests. It was evident that Papandreou’s government had lost all contact with society.
In early September of that year, the disagreement over how to rectify the fact that the deficit had deviated from set targets led to the hasty departure of the troika, Greece was entering a long period of uncertainty and that summer was the most tumultuous period of the crisis in social terms.