No future in austerity: lessons from Greece

By: Danielle Cameron

Max and his father Larry Haiven were riveted over the summer when the drama of the Greek austerity crisis culminated at the July 2015 referendum when Greeks voted 61 per cent OXI-No (against) the imposition of austerity measures.

The Radical Imagination Project, which the Haivens belong to, is based in Halifax and engages activists, organizers and community members in socio-political conversation. Larry Haiven is a professor of management at Saint Mary’s University, who’s involved with Solidarity Halifax and the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives, and Max Haiven is an assistant professor at NSCAD.

The Haivens kicked off part one of a two-part report-back from their recent trip to Greece, having talked to activists and social movement organizers fighting against the European Troika’s austerity measures.

Many of us were heartbroken when mere days later, the same left government (the Syriza) that had waged such a heroic battle against the austerity regime seemed to make a complete 180-degree turn and capitulated to the demands of the troika,” Max Haiven says.

his troika is a representative of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission (EC) – all of which have been trying to mitigate the Greek crash.

Instead, the Haivens say this group of multi-national institutions has been, “putting the screws to Greece and forcing it into this form of debt-driven austerity.”

Their lecture drove home the idea that a country can’t escape recession without building up its economy, but a country cannot build its economy when it is still hemorrhaging money. They say the European South is poor and in debt, existing on the surplus of strong creditor nations in the European North.

The two men are focused on discussing the current landscape for organizing grassroots social movements in the crisis zones of Europe, and breaking down the idea that trickle-down economics is no longer believed to be a viable solution.

The Haivens say the danger in the Greek financial fallout is one of austerity opening the floodgates for fear-mongering, fascism and anti-migrant sentiments. Ultra right-wing groups like Golden Dawn have gained a lot of political support.

The group is responsible for harassment, beating and murdering migrants – only when the group killed a Greek were 69 members arrested in 2013.

As far as Northern Europe’s concerned, says Max Haiven, Greece has is seen as a liability for being an entry point for asylum seekers. The Greeks and the migrants are racialized –they’ve been “othered” he says.

Max Haiven says Germany’s responsibility to Greece is paternalistic in nature. “The political elite in Germany do actually believe they are the best fiscal managers of Europe,” he says.

“It’s about Germany being the workshop of Europe. It’s about Germany having the most robust economy,” he says.

“Germany actually believes it is fiscally responsible to step in and put Germans at the head of the Greek finance ministry; they believe they’re holding Europe together.”

What has the current Greek government been doing in this delicate recovery process? “What we actually heard from a lot of the people we talked to who are in Syriza is that most people and ministers in the government are basically still trying to figure out how their ministry works,” Max Haiven says.

Larry and Max Haiven believe the new government is still trying to find its feet.

The two advocate strongly for the rise of co-operatives over austerity. “If they’re going to be forced to privatize the public assets, they might turn them over to worker or consumer or multi-stakeholder co-ops,” says Larry Haiven.

He says there is a real sense of defeatism in the Greek psyche – the country is unsure how to steer motions through bureaucracy. “They have great ideas and inability or unwillingness to operationalize them – to cut the Gordian knot,” he says.

Next Sunday, Jan. 31 from 3 p.m. until 5 p.m., they will continue their report-back from the embattled nation for all those wanting to learn lessons from the Greek crisis and recovery.