Tag Archives: Greece

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Refugees, who were forcibly returned from Idomeni at the Greek/Macedonia border to Athens on Wednesday night, queue for food outside Tae-Kwon-Do Stadium in Athens on Thursday morning

After spending Autumn working with refugees arriving in Lesbos Broadsheet’s Olga Cronin returned to the Greek island this week.

Olga writes:

On Sunday, November 29, the EU struck a deal with Turkey. In return for €3billion, visa-free access to Schengen zone countries for the citizens of Turkey and a speeding up of the process of allowing Turkey into the EU, Turkey promised to stem the flow of refugees travelling from Turkey to the Greek islands.

The agreement was made as high numbers of people seeking refugee protection – the majority of whom are from Syria and Afghanistan – continue to travel from Turkey to Greece on inflatable rubber dinghies.

More than 3,440 have died trying to make the perilous journey to date.

After the EU/Turkey deal was struck, the chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel – named this week as Person Of The Year by Time magazine – said the agreement would help “keep people in the region” and out of Europe.

According to the latest figures from the UNHCR, 768,916 people in total travelled across the sea to Greece between January and December 8 of this year – 58 per cent men, 26 per cent children and 16 per cent women.

A total of 447,958 – or 58 per cent – landed on Lesbos alone.

Chios and Samos islands have seen the second and third highest number of arrivals with 105,691 and 91,243 landing on its shores respectively during the same time period.

Although it’s less than two weeks since the EU/Turkey deal, and fluctuations in the number of people arriving are common – with numbers commonly dropping in tandem with political events such as a visit of a politician or dignitary to an island or Turkey’s recent general election – the UNHCR figures indicate the smugglers, perhaps inevitably, may be changing the route upon which they send people.

The winter weather is also likely to be a factor, but smugglers offer those travelling in bad weather a discount.

The daily number of people arriving on Lesbos island decreased dramatically in just a matter of days, from 2,462 on Sunday, November 29 to 1,337 on Friday, December 4.

Boats are very much still arriving on Lesbos, with the figure rising to 3,231 on Monday, December 7, but the location of where the majority of boats are arriving has changed dramatically from the north of the island – where the Turkish coastguard activity has been most visible to date – to the south.

The coastline of northern Lesbos – just six kilometres from Turkey – is unrecognisable from how it looked just a few weeks ago and volunteers and rescue teams present in northern Lesbos now feel it’s a waiting game in regards to deciding where they should place their efforts.

Gone is the necklace of washed-up bright orange lifejackets along the northern coastline, due to a substantial clean-up operation – with a mountain of thousands upon thousands of lifejackets piled high in a dump outside Eftalou – while the unofficial camps outside Skala Sikaminias and in the car park of nightclub Oxy, outside Molyvos, no longer have the swarms of people huddled outside trying to sleep on cold, muddy ground, often without any shelter or blankets.

The south of the island is receiving more and more boats every day, prompting volunteer and rescue groups to send teams to the south, and volunteer groups to increase their night-time operations in Camp Moria where, as of the weekend, all nationalities must register and where those not from Syria must sleep – often outside without blankets.

Sadly, the change has come at a time when the north has seen a substantial increase in both volunteers and returnee volunteers arriving.

New infrastructure and provisions have also been put in place.

The International Rescue Committee has built a camp on the so-called dirt road between Eftalou and Skala Sikaminias, equipped with enough tents to provide shelter for 1,500 people and is scheduled to open in a matter of days, while Médecins Sans Frontières and Greenpeace have launched three rigid hulled inflatable boats (RHIBs) – strengthening the huge rescue efforts of the Spanish Pro-Activa Open Arms lifeguard volunteers who have been present on the island since September.

Much like the south of Lesbos, the other Greek islands have also experienced significant change. Chios, which lies south of Lesbos, saw a sudden spike in arrivals from Turkey with the figure jumping from zero on November 28 to 2,139 on November 29 – placing tremendous pressure on the locals who have led the effort to provide for those arriving, along with the skeletal number of volunteers who were present at the time.

Those working at Tabakika in Chios – a freezing cold and rundown former factory building which serves as a Frontex hotspot and where smoking area-type heaters heat the area officers register arrivals while those waiting to register go without – are currently trying to work out how to provide food to those arriving as the prospect of opening a food station has prompted fears of attracting rats.

Refugees waiting to register may leave the camp to buy food in local stores but, for those who don’t have any money, they could face remaining in their wet clothes and living off of water and crackers provided by the UNHCR for up to three days.

A clothes distribution hut is in place in the camp but it is only opened when there are three volunteers present. If there are fewer than three present, as is often the case, men, women and children sitting in wet clothes must remain in them.

Those helping people off boats try to offset this by hurriedly trying to provide dry clothes – mostly donated – from the back of their cars as soon as refugees reach the shores.

Depending on the number of volunteers present at a given time, and what they have in their car at the time a boat arrives, this can amount to just a pair of socks with a small plastic bag in lieu of dry shoes.

In an effort to prevent – in children especially – hypothermia, volunteers hand these little bundles out, telling people to take their wet shoes and socks off, to place the dry socks on, followed by the plastic bag, and to then put their feet back into the wet shoes.

A bus system is in place in Chios whereby, once a boat arrives, volunteers can call a private bus company to come and collect people and take them to Tabakika – charging €3 per adult while children on the near 60-seater buses travel the 10-minute or so journey for free.

After registering, refugees can go to a makeshift camp set up in the shadow of the Castle Of Chios, called Souda, to sleep. Just a few minutes’ walk from Tabakika it is equipped with two 250-capacity tents and multiple IKEA shelters. Souda is cleaned daily.

On Samos, between November 28 to 30, the number of arrivals rose from zero to 517 while Kos saw the number of arrivals rise from less than 50 on November 29 to 229 on November 30, rising again to 378 on December 7.

Leros also saw the number of arrivals rise from zero on November 28 and 29 to 264 on November 30.

In the meantime, as the number of arrivals from Cesme in Turkey to the shores of Chios rises, so does the death toll.

On Tuesday, it was reported that six children, including a baby, died when a dinghy – believed to have been bound for Chios – capsized off Cesme.

Separately, it was reported Wednesday that at least 11 people, including five children, drowned and 10 are missing after a boat sank off Farmakonisi island.

But change isn’t only afoot on the Greek islands.

On Wednesday night – the eve of the 67th anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution” – approximately 2,400 refugees were rounded up and forcibly put on buses in Idomeni, at the border between Greece and Macedonia, and sent to Tae-Kwon-Do Stadium in Athens.

The move followed several weeks of authorities only allowing the citizens of Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq to pass through the border, putting a blanket ban on those from other countries and prompting smugglers to offer those stranded other methods of getting further into Europe.

The ban disallowing those not from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq to pass forced them to camp out in squalid conditions while some sewed their lips shut in protest. Last week a Moroccan died after he was electrocuted. It’s been reported he had climbed on top of a train carriage when he came in contact with electric cables.

It’s also been reported that, prior to these people being put on the buses, journalists were removed from the area to a place two kilometres away and that some were asked to delete photographs. Volunteers were also removed.

Following the eviction of those at the camp a volunteer in Idomeni wrote on the Facebook page, Forgotten In Idomeni:

“When the camp was re-opened, it was clear that people didn’t have time or weren’t given the opportunity to gather possessions. Refugees reported from inside the camp that people were dragged from tents and some were beaten. Others gave up and left peacefully. All hope lost.”

After refugees register on the Greek islands, Syrians are given a document which allows them to stay in Greece for six months while all other nationalities are given a document which orders them to leave Greece, or return home, within 30 days.

Many of those who had been in Idomeni were there for three weeks meaning their deadline to move is fast approaching.

Different treatment for different nationalities isn’t uncommon in Greece.

In Lesbos, only Syrian families can sleep in a camp near Mytilene called Kara Tepe – which has facilities much more favourable to those provided at the barbed wire-fringed former prison that is Camp Moria, just two miles from Kara Tepe.

As thousands of refugees continue their journey from the Greek islands, via ferries, to Athens and more and more buses return from the border with Macedonia to the Greek capital, many long-term volunteers and solidarity groups on the islands – who are largely dependent on the testimonies of other volunteers via Twitter and Facebook for details of events on the ground – are starting to feel that perhaps Athens will be their next stop.

It’s likely smugglers feel the same.

Previously: A Drop In The Aegean

Don’t Look Away

Letter From Lesbos

Pic: Daphne Tolis

Related: Smugglers are least bad option for border returnees (IRIN, Andrew Connolly)

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Caoimhe Butterly writes:

I’ve spent the past few months working with various volunteer and solidarity structures in Greece, Serbia, Croatia and Calais. In response to the degrading conditions, dislocation and discrimination that many of those seeking refuge face as they travel, volunteer networks have attempted to embody practical solidarity and real welcome.

These groups have spent time with and learnt from the courage, resilience and dignity of the women, men and children who are journeying such long distances in the hopes of re-building lives of safety and stability.

I’m travelling back to Lesvos/Lesbos on November 10 with a group of experienced, calm and dedicated medics from Ireland- nurses, mid-wives, paediatric doctors, EMTs and a surgeon- and logistical support volunteers.

We will work alongside existing medical groups and volunteer networks as a mobile unit, responding to the medical and other practical needs of those surviving the winter crossing in rubber dinghies and decrepit wooden boats. We are covering our costs through friends and family so the money raised here [link below] will be spent on procuring additional medical supplies and vital medical equipment…

Medical support/solidarity, Lesvos (GofundMe)

Yesterday: A Drop In The Aegean

Pic by Radu Buema

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Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaking with Sean O’Rourke this morning

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was on Today With Sean O’Rourke this morning.

At one point in the interview, they discussed Greece and Mr Kenny told how he gave advice to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and how he told the Eurozone leaders to ‘hold on a second here now’.

He also addressed those claims that Ireland didn’t increase income tax, VAT and PRSI.

Sean O’Rourke: “Right now, you and colleagues, around Europe, the European Union and the Eurozone are grappling with the Greece situation. I don’t know if you’ve time to read the letters page in the Irish Times but there was one yesterday, from a man in Limerick, a man called Michael Mahony and he talked about, and you’re somebody who admires Michael Collins and he said, you know, ‘The parallels are striking… The Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed under threat of “immediate and terrible war”, just as Tsipras has been threatened with economic annihilation of Greece if he did not accept the terms of the bailout agreement’. You effectively, along with colleagues in Europe, you threw the Greek Prime Minister under the proverbial bus didn’t you last week.”

Enda Kenny: “Certainly not. The position, in so far as Ireland was concerned, was that we were being used as a reference point by other countries as to an expression of common sense: what did you want here? Greece is about 2% of the European economy. Clearly, the Prime Minister himself had said on many occasions at the European Council meetings that I attended at, that Greece did not want a default, that Greece didn’t want to leave the Eurozone, that Greece would pay its way, that what Greece wanted was an infrastructure investment programme, that he was prepared to deal with corruption, that he was prepared to put in place a functioning taxation collection system and that he was prepared to go down to the OECD and take best advice from them and from every other country.

But I would say this Sean, you see, to be straight about this now, I have attended I suppose maybe 25 or 30 European Council meetings and we’ve had Prime Ministers from Greece before, who came before the European Council and said, ‘I tell ya we’ve got a problem, we’re nearly out of it, almost around the corner, another €5billion and we’ll be there and help us out. Prime Minister Samaras had a primary surplus brought in, he was approaching a 1% growth pattern and Greece was actually able to get back into the markets. All this…”

O’Rourke: “Yes but the people voted him out in the election last year and then it came to this new Syrizia government and they said, and Varoufakis was talking to the New Statesman a couple of days ago  said that their “most energetic enemies” in trying to get a better deal for Greece, one that people could live with, were countries like Ireland, Spain and Portugal. And it’s not just him saying things like that. And there’s a quote in from an Irish businessman, Patrick Coveney of Greencore. He said, ‘If you have kept a country together and inflicted shared and collective pain from some medium or long-term benefit, and someone else comes up with the political equivalent of a get-rich-quick scheme, it undermines the entire narrative.‘ Said Coveney, now whose brother happens to serve in your Cabinet – it just did not suit your political purposes to see the Greeks get some relief that they badly needed.”

Kenny: No I disagree. You see in the run-up to the election in Greece, which was triggered after the presidential election, the rise of populism brought about all of this instability, there was a pattern of growth and a pattern of movement in  the right direction but Syrizia came along and said, ‘Ok, you don’t need to pay for this, we want to reemploy all the people who’ve lost their jobs and everything. And that’s, that’s their right as a political party. The people made a democratic choice. And now that’s put it back further than ever before and yet the Prime Minister himself said, ‘look, I recognise the scale of the challenge that  we face here now’. I have never met the former [Greek] finance minister Yanis Varouvakis, Michael Noonan met him a few time and he said, ‘well, a lot of his comments are, you know, general rather than being specific – where you need to be if you’re in that business of being a minister for finance.’ But I would say this. From our point of view, before last week’s meeting, the all-night meeting, I actually spoke to Prime Minister Tsipras myself, before the meeting started and I said to him, ‘Alexis, let me give you a piece of advice here, if I may, there are people around the table who don’t trust you. You have got to show them that you’re serious about what you say here because you won’t build trust the way it’s being happening. You’ve got to have a step-by-step demonstration and proof of your conviction and you’ve got to go back to your parliament.‘ And I just say on your show here while the pressure was on to introduce X amount of legislation by a particular date, I did say to the Eurozone leaders, ‘Hold on a second here now, you can’t drive that extent of legislation through just like that and gave, for example, the  marriage equality referendum here which the people voted in but which the Government haven’t been able to put through the House yet because of an objection to the Supreme Court which must hear it. So I said like, in any case, there might well be objections, I’m not sure what the situation in Greek is about court objections or injunctions to prevent legislation but he himself, he himself, Alexis Tsipras was very clear and this went on all night between the involvement of the IMF and the monies that were being talked about. He said, ‘I’ll have these four pieces of legislation done by Wednesday’.”

O’Rourke: “Ok, and when you were talking to Alexis Tsipras, did you say to him, as you said publicly afterwards, in Ireland’s case, we did not income tax, we did not increase VAT we did not increase PRSI  and you were flatly contradicted – there was a torrent of contradiction from all sorts of economists because…”

Kenny: “I explained all that.”

O’Rourke: “…because we did it to the tune of €7billion.”

Kenny: “We didn’t increase income tax and what I was talking about was what the Greeks were talking about, they said their hospitality sector was absolutely critical to them and that the island, of which there are thousands have a very different system then operates on the mainland and and they were very concerned about that and I made the point that VAT in this country for the hospitality sector – you could you know  have tinkered about with it, reduce it by a half per cent. You could have put it down by from 13.5 down to 9, stabilises and created 35,000 jobs. I just made the point that our minister here, Minister Noonan and Minister Howlin, actually built a relationship with the Troika and said, ‘we don’t like that’. We’ll give you an alternative but the alternatives were focused on not creating obstacles to work and not taxing employment. Now, when you say, when you quote there that, Ireland didn’t want Greece to get any benefit here, it wasn’t just Ireland that was really upset about the extent of what might be called a write down because Spain, France and other countries have been exposed to Greek banks in a huge way but we always said that debt reprofiling and rescheduling – such as happened in our case with the promissory note and interest rate reductions – were always things that we support and do support and did support in the case of Greece.”

Listen back to the full interview here

Previously: The Man With One Point

Hello Greece

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Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varouvakis.

Into the eyes, not around.

Varoufakis, who resigned a week ago, has been criticised for not signing an agreement sooner, but he said the deal that Greece was offered was not made in good faith – or even one that the Troika wanted completed. In an hour-long telephone interview with the New Statesman, he called the creditors’ proposals – those agreed to by the Athens government on Friday night, which now seem somehow generous – “absolutely impossible, totally non-viable and toxic …[they were] the kind of proposals you present to another side when you don’t want an agreement.”

there was point blank refusal to engage in economic arguments. Point blank. You put forward an argument that you’ve really worked on, to make sure it’s logically coherent, and you’re just faced with blank stares. It is as if you haven’t spoken. What you say is independent of what they say. You might as well have sung the Swedish national anthem – you’d have got the same reply.”

There were people who were sympathetic at a personal level, behind closed doors, especially from the IMF.” He confirmed that he was referring to Christine Lagarde, the IMF director. “But then inside the Eurogroup [there were] a few kind words and that was it: back behind the parapet of the official version. … Very powerful figures look at you in the eye and say ‘You’re right in what you’re saying, but we’re going to crunch you anyway’.”

Varoufakis was reluctant to name individuals, but added that the governments that might have been expected to be the most sympathetic towards Greece were actually their “most energetic enemies”. He said that the “greatest nightmare” of those with large debts – the governments of countries like Portugal, Spain, Italy and Ireland – “was our success”. “Were we to succeed in negotiating a better deal, that would obliterate them politically: they would have to answer to their own people why they didn’t negotiate like we were doing.”

Yanis Varoufakis full transcript: our battle to save Greece (Yanis Varoufakis, The New Statesman)

Thanks Nelly Bergman

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Greek’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras this morning

Bounced into a bailout?

Or returned to GROWTH?

Only you can decide.

We have been fighting hard for six months now, and we fought until the end to achieve the best possible outcome, an agreement that will enable the country to get back on its feet, and for the Greek people to be able to continue to fight.

We faced tough decisions, tough dilemmas. We assumed responsibility for the decision in order to prevent the most extreme objectives from being implemented — those pushed for by the most extreme conservative forces in the European Union.

The agreement calls for tough measures. However, we prevented the transfer of public property abroad, we prevented the financial asphyxiation and the collapse of the financial system — this was planned to the last detail – having recently been designed to perfection, and in the process of being implemented.

Finally, in this tough battle, we managed to gain the restructuring of the debt and a financing process for the medium-term.

We were aware that it would not be an easy task, but we have created a very important legacy. An important legacy, and a much-needed change throughout Europe. Greece will continue to fight, and we will continue to fight, so that we can return to growth, regain our lost national sovereignty. We earned our popular sovereignty. We sent a message of democracy, a message of dignity throughout Europe and the world. This is the most important legacy.

Finally, I would like to thank all of my colleagues – ministers, colleagues and associates who gave, along with me, a very tough fight. A fight, which at the end of the day, will be vindicated.

Today’s decision will maintain Greece’s financial stability and provide recovery potential. However, as we knew beforehand, the agreement will be difficult to implement. The measures include those that Parliament has voted on. Measures that will inevitably create recessionary trends.

However, I am hopeful that the growth package of 35 billion euro that we achieved, debt restructuring, as well as securing funding for the next three years will create market confidence, so that investors realize that fears of a Grexit are a thing of the past — thereby fueling investment, which will offset any recessionary trends.

I believe that a large majority of the Greek people will support the effort to return to growth; they acknowledge that we fought for a just cause, we fought until the end, we have been negotiating through the night, and no matter what the burdens will be, they will be allocated – we guarantee this – with social justice.

And it will not be the case that those who have shouldered the burden during the last years will be stuck footing the bill once more. This time, those who avoided paying – many of whom were protected by the previous governments – will pay now, they, too, will shoulder the burden.

Finally, I want to make this commitment: Now, we need to fight just as hard as we fought to achieve the best outcome abroad – in Europe, to rid vested interests in the country.

Greece needs radical reforms in favor of social forces, and against the oligarchy that have led to the country’s current state. And this commitment to this new effort begins tomorrow.

Greek’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras speaking this afternoon.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ statement following the conclusion of the Eurozone Summit

Previously: Greece In Our Time

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“This has been a pretty bruising experience over the last period but what this allows for is a document that’s agreed now that will be the basis for negotiations for a programme for Greece which will allow the Greek economy to thrive and prosper and to continue to remain a member of the Eurozone.

This was a point I stressed before coming here, that Europe should not do anything to cause a Grexit as it’s referred to. This is a challenging position for Greece, a very challenging position but it’s one that the Prime Minister himself has said that he is up for. The first requirement now is for the document to be voted on by the European Parliament. It then has to be followed through with other parliaments voting on it: Finland, Germany. And there are agreements in respect of pieces of legislation to be put through the Greek parliament this week and for others to follow suit. Clearly, the sticking points were the involvement of the IMF and the €50billion fund. This has been settled and agreed and an arrangement has been made for the use of those funds in respect of Greece in terms of privatisation where 25% of proceeds can be used for investment for and the remainder for debt reduction.

So, the IMF is an accepted point by the Prime Minister and their involvement, in terms of their ability and experience in assessing values and conditions, is accepted.

What’s in this for Greece is the potential to grow their own economy to bring it back to a point of stability where growth, investment and jobs can be created and to remain a member of the Eurozone which was the object of the the exercise from the Prime Minister’s point of view in the first instance.

There were quite a number of periods during the course of the night where bi-lateral discussions and references had to be made to details that were in the document but it does start off, by setting out the critical need and the crucial need for the rebuilding of trust.

So I welcome the fact that agreement has been reached after an all-night session. I welcome the fact that this has been accepted by the, by Prime Minister Tspiras, that it is hoped now that this can go through the Greek parliament with assistance from all sides and that it forms the basis for negotiation for a third programme and the details of that will obviously, you know, be discussed over the coming period.

…There was a great deal of discussion about the €50billion, how that might be used and what the outcome would be. Clearly that’s not something that can happen overnight but I did point out that in our own case in Ireland, on a lesser scale that in involvement with the Troika, we were able to use a significant amount of privatisation funds for investment for job creation, provided that it did not interfere with the deficit targets that had been set by the Troika. So in Greece’s case there’s a 25% opportunity to use for investment as well as for debt reduction

Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaking to journalists this morning after Eurozone leaders talked through the night before reaching a deal with Greece to negotiate a third bailout.

FIGHT!

WATCH: European leaders agree bailout deal with Greece (Newstalk)

Unanimous agreement on deal for Greece (RTE)

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Wolfgang Schäuble (top left) and Yanis Varoufakis; Dan Boyle

Chaos theory.

Casually-dressed politics.

Academics in power.

Please beware.

Warns Dan Boyle

I’m not a man who’s disposed to violence. Whenever I find myself possessed of such thoughts I have to hit myself to make the thought go away. I vicariously live my violence, sometime through daydreams, more often in nightmares.

One of the more unwelcome visitors to my subconscious is the sullen image of Wolfgang Schäuble, the German federal finance minister. The greyness of his features highlighted by thin lips through which the coldest of language comes, creates an urge in me to slap the face of the man.

A Freudian psychiatrist might attribute this to a guilt complex on my part, that on however a peripheral level I was operating from, I didn’t take the opportunity to physically challenge our German economic overlords.

I have long since wondered what those who criticised this softly softly approach actually had in mind. My inner Walter Mitty has me grabbing the lapels of the errant Teuton, confronting him with my finest Elvis sneer while parroting the best James Cagney dialogue from any of his gangster films. Those most trenchant in their belief of the effectiveness of physical force, as a means of persuasion, swear by the success of the baseball bat. That’s never been my sport though.

My vicarious self got a lift with the election of Syriza in Greece. Government in that country badly needed a shake up. Their evil twins of PASOK and New Democracy, like ours of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, had mired the country in nod and winkery, placating most of those whose souls were bought with the promise of an eternal tax free haven where living was easy and many things were free.

The new bosses spoke openly, dressed casually, and much as it disgusted the latent homophobe in me, seemed composed of very good looking men. New and different had to be good. Hadn’t it?

Soon the zeal of the convert began to desert me. My first fears were realised when I discovered the extent to which the new government was made up of academics. Now I have nothing against academics. Some of my best friends are academics. I’ve spent the last number of years, thankfully successfully, trying to acquire a Masters through mine and their efforts. The best learning I achieved through this process is confirmation that political theory and political practice have absolutely nothing in common.

Sorcerer in chief of this new approach to politics, Mr. Varoufakis, was meant to be able to change the entire paradigm by his being an expert in ‘games theory’.

In my own thesis I had struggled with the theory of this theory. The concepts of ‘leverage’ and ‘minimum winning coalitions’ befuddled me. Even more so when I couldn’t recognise where they existed in the Greek situation.

It seems the chosen tool of confrontation was to piss people off. Delay, defer, prevaricate, whatever you do don’t do anything. The strategy seems to have been to traduce Mr. Schäuble to a non-animated version of Wile E. Coyote with steam coming out of his ears.

And then there was the master stroke of the referendum. A brilliant piece of political theatre, it involved asking a complicated though unnecessary question that could be reduced to an essence of ‘Would you vote for more misery?’ The most surprising thing was 40% of those who voted voted yes.

Because I’ve long believed that politics isn’t a game but something that affects people’s lives, Alexis Tsipras has now become my Elmer Gantry (the film character/religious charlatan not to be confused with Bugs Bunny nemesis Elmer Fudd – although that might work as an analogy as well). It’s a pity. We all could have been contenders.

Dan Boyle is former Green Party Senator

(Getty/Cork Independent)

Meanwhile…

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Today’s Irish Times.

Romain Petton writes:

It probably would make a decent movie…

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Celebrations last night in Athens, Greece (top) and a column on Saturday from Stephen Collins, Irish Times Political Editor

It’s Oxi Monday.

Greece has rejected spin, bullying and extreme media bias.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

It is now clear that the NO side has won the referendum in Greece by a substantial margin of 61% to 39% for the YES side. Therefore, the Greek people have rejected the bailout offer from their creditors and associated austerity conditions.

What this does for now is to give a democratic mandate to Syriza to negotiate for a better bailout package with European authorities, which may now involve some debt relief. It remains to be seen to what extent the creditors will be influenced by the referendum’s outcome, however.

The result is a tremendous victory for ordinary people over European elites in every capital, who have tried to bully the Greeks into accepting more austerity while piling up more debts on their shoulders.

The arrogance of power was visible all along. As it became clear that the NO side would win, Brian Hayes, the Fine Gael MEP, called on Syriza’s leaders to “ditch their aggressive, provocative language”. Nevermind that it is the troika, not Syriza, that has inflicted pain on Greece.

It is also important to observe that even if heralded as a great democratic moment, the referendum could only be partially considered as such. Democracy is supposed to refer to the expression of one’s opinion as coming out of a free exchange of ideas and discussion about a subject. There isn’t supposed to be blackmail in that process.

But this is what the Greeks have endured in the days before the vote and before.

First, shortly after Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister, announced that a referendum would be held, the European Central Bank (ECB) decided to restrain credit to Greece, forcing its banks to close and pushing the country deeper into crisis, a move that has been widely recognized as financial blackmail. And the troika has always been opposed to Syriza. Earlier, in February, the ECB had cut off its main credit line to Greek banks in a move difficult to justify on economic grounds.

Second, this has been compounded by the last five years of drastic austerity implemented in Greece, resulting in a deterioration of the economy and social fabric. Effectively, Greece is now faced with a humanitarian crisis. Voting in such a situation of fear and desperation is not exactly one’s idea of ideal democracy.

Third, the Greek and European media have been hysterically in favour of a YES vote, repeating ad nauseam that a NO vote would lead to catastrophe. That’s not a balanced and open discussion of the issues, it’s mere propaganda.

For example, the Irish Times’ weekend edition had four opinion pieces on Greece. Three were clearly in favour of a YES vote.

Alan Ahearne, the right wing economist who was adviser to Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan in 2009-11 when austerity package was rolled out in Ireland, had a piece criticising Syriza for supposedly being guilty of weakening the Greek economy which allegedly was doing great before it came to power. Nevermind that it is the troika austerity policies enacted by the governments that preceded Syriza that crashed the economy.

Recall that Ahearne, not so long ago, authored a report entitled “Condoms and House Prices: The Irish Experience”. In it he claimed that contraception was a “major factor” in pushing up house prices to such high levels.

Ahearne also praised NAMA as a “bold and radical action” and “a proven way of solving banking crises” because it “protects taxpayers”. He also said that austerity was “necessary in countries with large fiscal deficits”, especially in Ireland.

Does it matter to the Irish Times that this record turned out to be wrong on every count? Not at all, it seems, as Ahearne still gets his op-eds accepted for publication.

John Bruton, the former Fine Gael Prime Minister, also had an article trying to discredit the views of Nobel Prize winning economists Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, who both advocated a NO vote.

In the third article, Stephen Collins talked about Syriza’s “juvenile behaviour” which he said was “risking the future of the Greek people”, something which apparently “throws a favorable light on the behavior of mainstream Irish politicians” who he claimed have done the right thing here during the financial crisis (nevermind the policy of austerity). He also says that the last bailout to Greece gave it “the most generous lending conditions ever”, but nevermind the fact that the country has been plunged into a humanitarian crisis.

The fourth piece was by Diarmaid Ferriter, and is supposed to give the balance needed by adopting a position more supportive of Greece. But when you read the piece, it is so mild that you wonder if anybody would be convinced by it. Indeed, it talked about the role of a Cork man in Greece’s war of independence in 1801, whose relevance to the current referendum is beyond me. It also discussed a few things said by the Irish government about Greece in the 1970s, whose relevance again escapes me.

The idea of “balance” in journalism is always brought up by the mainstream media to pretend they are objective and impartial. However, this is problematic for two main reasons.

First, it is not true. The mainstream media is very biased towards the interests of those in power and is not balanced at all. That’s why you see many right wing economists, financial “experts” and politicians from the austerity parties (Labour, Fine Gael, Fianna Fail) writing and talking in newspapers and on the radio and television. However, you very rarely see trade unionists and members of progressive organisations allowed to do the same.

Second, the goal of journalism should not be to reach some kind of mystical “balance”, but simply, to tell the truth. For example, austerity applied in an economic downturn is anti-growth: so just say it like that.

How ridiculous the idea of “balance” is can be understood with a number of examples. Imagine we had a referendum about whether or not to grant the right to vote to women (if they didn’t have it). Would we then really hope to have 50% of news pieces giving us all the supposed arguments why women are too stupid, irresponsible, immature and emotional to get the right to vote? No, we’d just want to be told that women should be able to vote.

It’s the same thing for any other topic. When the subject is inherently debatable, fine, we should aim for “balance”. But there are so many important issues that are rather clear and which only require to be explained for what they are.

In any case, this time, the propaganda lost. But many other battles are coming up this week, as a deal still has not been struck with Greece.

@JulienMercille is lecturer at UCD and the author of The Political Economy and Media Coverage of the European Economic Crisis: The Case of Ireland (2015, Routledge). His new book, Europe’s Treasure Ireland (Palgrave), will be out this month.