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Photo: Panayiotis Tzamaros / FOS PHOTOS

Athens or London?

An analysis of the Greek economic situation from the UK: how economics is not everything.

By Steve Mcnought / Arkbound

To the hordes of tourists who visit Athens, it is a city whose status rests upon history: the ancient Agora, the museums and, of course, the Acropolis. It has a past steeped in achievement, struggle, and various periods of decline. The tragedy of its greatest historic monument, the Parthenon, is perhaps a reflection of humanity as whole: proudly erected through adversity, surviving Roman conquest and later incursions, only to be chipped away by new religious ideas and then recklessly blown apart before finally ransacked by a foreign aristocrat. Thus it is that civilizations rise and fall, some outlasting others, but all seemingly caught in the same cycle of creation and destruction. The Greek economic crisis in 2010 is an example of the latter, and one that is no less connected to foreign agents than Lord Elgin’s looting of the Parthenon.

The greed of the international banking community, coupled with accruing demand for ‘luxury’ foreign products touted by capitalism, has forced Greece to borrow from its European neighbours and the unyielding International Monetary Fund. The Government has had little choice but to comply with a programme of social spending cuts and privatisation in order to pay off this debt, essentially seeing the country’s assets being absorbed by foreign corporations.

Yet amongst Athens’ sprawling, graffiti-fied streets is a spirit of hope that is born from rebellion. It arises from the same rebelliousness that defied the trend towards right-wing and ‘right-of-centre’ parties in Europe by electing a true left-wing, socialist Government. Such a spirit is one that other countries have failed to fully kindle, despite savage cuts to core public services and a gradual erosion of civil liberties. Countries like the UK have hinged their electoral decisions on ‘the economy’, as crudely defined by ‘Gross Domestic Product’ rather than actual living standards of ordinary people or indeed happiness. To that end, these countries have been ruled over by Governments whose interests lie in maintaining and strengthening the grip of a privileged minority.

The loss of public assets is not unique to Greece, but arguably much deeper in the UK. For every struggle to close ‘the deficit’ and increase GDP, the UK has sacrificed investment into civil society. Systematically, the state has been dismantled and handed over to one private company after another — many of which, it has to be said, have well hidden connections to ministers. At the same time, top-level executive salaries have been boosted whilst thousands of lower-level employees are laid off, including in the public sector. Local councils are facing budget cuts that bring their level of spending back to that of the 1950s, when there were 15 million less people. Rates of homelessness, incarceration, deaths in state custody and other hallmarks of instability are sky-high.

Against all this, the UK’s right-wing Government has made electoral gains. Faced with a weak and divided opposition, they are set to sweep into power in 2020 with an even greater majority. Under the shadow of ‘BREXIT’, they can also continue to erode key civil rights and environmental protections that were safeguarded by membership of the European Union. Already Britain has the most extreme spying powers in the developed world, which include unrestricted rights for authorities to access emails, phone messages and online search history. The leadership of the present Government has also made clear that they wish to abolish the country’s only Human Rights Act (in the absence of any written constitution), and have even stated a desire to leave the crucial post-war European Convention on Human Rights.

Meanwhile, marginalised and misrepresented groups have seen an escalation of abuses — from refugees and migrants to the disabled and incarcerated. Looking back on history, it could be observed how such groups are always the first to feel the brunt of impending totalitarianism.

There are, of course, pockets of rebellion. But against a wall of centralised media, most of which is owned by three corporations with close Government connections, the struggle to raise awareness and present an alternative option is huge. Contrast this with Greece, and the pulsing heart of Athens, and you begin to realise that economics and debt is not everything. The question has to be asked: if the choice lay between the polished skyscrapers of a totalitarian state and the rubbish-strewn, graffiti-covered lanes of a democracy, where would you prefer to be?

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