Monday, May 28, 2012

Spiegel Interviews Tsipras: "If Greece Is Destroyed, Angela Merkel Will Be Guilty"

Mr. Alexis Tsipras, the Syriza leader, promises Greece will stay in euro, and no he won't abide by the austerity diktat. If anything goes wrong in Greece, it will be Angela Merkel's fault, and other European forces.

He probably scoffs at IMF Chief Christine Lagarde too, who told the Greeks to "pay up".

In the interview below, the Spiegel reporters don't sound too happy.

From Spiegel Online International (5/28/2012):

Greek Leftist Leader Alexis Tsipras 'It's in Europe's Interest to Lift the Austerity Diktat'

Alexis Tsipras, head of the leftist Syriza party, wants an end to austerity in Greece. Ahead of Greek general elections in mid-June, he speaks with SPIEGEL about the dangers his country poses to the euro, the failure of economization measures thus far and why Chancellor Angela Merkel would be to blame if the Greek economy collapses.

Tsipras, the 37-year-old rising star in Greek politics, lays his Ray-Ban sunglasses on the table. It's Tuesday afternoon, and he looks exhausted. Indeed, he has a packed schedule: first Paris and then Berlin, where he met with Gregor Gysi and then with Jürgen Trittin and Sigmar Gabriel, senior officials in Germany's Left Party, Green Party and Social Democratic Party, respectively. Tsipras was the surprise victor when his Radical Left (Syriza) party took second place in May 6 general elections in Greece. Because leaders were unable to form a coalition government, a new election will be held on June 17. Most believe that Tsipras will attract even more votes in this second election.

Tsipras' tour through "Europe's two most important capital cities," as he put it, was primarily about cultivating his image. The civil engineer, already politically active in high school as a member of the Communist Youth of Greece, numbers among the strongest critics of the EU-International Monetary Fund (IMF) strategy for Greece, which calls for radical budget cuts and austerity in return for international aid. Should he win the June 17 election, Tsipras plans to ditch the terms of the bailout agreements struck with its creditors. On the campaign trail, one of his slogans has been that Greece is in danger of becoming a "German colony." But he toned things down in Berlin, saying: "We want to persuade, not blackmail."

SPIEGEL: Mr. Tsipras, is Berlin really as bad as you always say back home in Athens whenever you rail against the evil Germans?

Alexis Tsipras: Berlin is my favorite capital city in Europe. It's too bad that I'm always here only briefly. I'd like to have more time.

SPIEGEL: You might be Greece's prime minister the next time you come to Berlin. If that happens, will Greece still be a member of the euro zone?

Tsipras: Of course. We'll do everything we can so that Greece can retain the euro. We're trying to convince our European partners that it's also in their interest to finally lift the austerity diktat. We need policies that don't destroy the Greek economy but, rather, allow for renewed growth. If the austerity course isn't changed, it will result in the complete destruction of the Greek economy. That would indeed be a danger to the euro.

SPIEGEL: But even some parts of Syriza, the leftist alliance you lead and which came in second place in the May 6 election, have been calling openly for a return to the drachma.

Tsipras: That's only a minority. In each party, no matter whether big or small, there are different orientations, different opinions. Then there will be a vote, and the majority decides. What's more, this minority among us isn't in favor of an exit from the euro, for example; it just wants to ensure that Greece can also survive, with the help of another currency, for example, if others have completely ruined our national economy.

SPIEGEL: Which "others" do you mean? The Greek economy is already in a shambles.

Tsipras: What I mean by that is if our economic foundation is completely destroyed and the decisions of an elected Greek government are not responsible for it but, rather, certain political forces in Europe. Then they too will be guilty, for example Angela Merkel.

SPIEGEL: Are you seriously claiming that the reforms which Europe is demanding as a precondition for loan assistance are the reason for Greece's miserable situation?

Tsipras: If we are once again pushed and blackmailed into an austerity program that has so obviously failed, then it won't be long before Greece is in fact no longer capable of paying its creditors. The result will be a halt in payments, one into which we were practically forced. This would not only be dangerous for Greece, but for the entire European economy. These days, the financial systems of all countries are so closely intertwined with each other that one can't limit the crisis geographically. It's a problem of all countries and of all national economies.

SPIEGEL: If Greece ultimately exits the euro, you will also bear some of the blame. You promised your voters the impossible: retaining the euro while breaking Greece's agreements with the rest of Europe. How can such a plan find success?

Tsipras: I don't see any contradiction in that. We simply don't want the money of European citizens to vanish into a bottomless pit. The fact that there is financial assistance is the principle of European solidarity and a mark of being part of a community. That's good. But we think these resources should also be put to sensible use: for investments that can also generate prosperity. Only then will we in fact be able to pay back our debts.

SPIEGEL: For you, other people are always the scapegoat. It's other people's fault that the economy is languishing, so other people also have to rescue it …

Tsipras: That's not correct; we naturally also take a critical look at ourselves. We bear significant responsibility for our situation. We've accepted politicians who have destroyed our country's manufacturing base and created a corrupt state. We have elected the very people who have stashed their money away abroad and not only allowed tax evasion to occur, but also fostered it. Of course we are responsible for that; we allowed it all to happen. But we also have the responsibility to change exactly that right now.

SPIEGEL: Given your dependence on financial support and your rejection of vital structural reforms -- such as that of the public administration -- already agreed on, how do you propose doing so?

Tsipras: We're not opposed to reforms. We're only saying what so many economists, what many German newspapers and what even former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt are saying -- and what the OECD has now reconfirmed in a study: The austerity policies we've been implementing for two years -- the policy of solely relying on drastic belt-tightening -- have failed. We now find ourselves in the fifth year of the recession. This year too, our economy will once again contract by at least 6 percent.

SPIEGEL: Is that the complete truth? Even Alekos Alavanos, your old mentor and the former Syriza floor leader in parliament, has called on you to finally be honest with your fellow Greeks.

Tsipras: Alavanos left the party some years ago because he didn't share our conviction about remaining within the euro zone. It's fairly odd that I now have to justify myself for the fact that we -- like the vast majority of the population, incidentally -- want to stay within the euro association.

The political reality is simple: The austerity programs, as constructed thus far, have failed, partly because they've been based on a false model, namely, that of domestic devaluation. But we're not an exporting country. It is much more the case that most of what we produce, we consume. Our ability to compete doesn't only depend on labor costs, as so many people say; they also depend on other parameters, such as the infrastructure and the mind-set of people and politicians. We really do long for a bit more meritocracy …

SPIEGEL: The concept of merit-based remuneration hasn't made it all that far in Greece. Instead, there's widespread corruption, cronyism and clientelism -- not exactly an advantage when it comes to competitiveness.

Tsipras: I am aware of the problems the Greek state has. It was systematically run down by the politicians of ours who were in power. And many Greeks share in the blame: They've supported this system; they've sustained it by continually electing the same politicians. But this can't be the cause of the crisis but, rather, at most it is a symptom. The financial and debt crisis isn't purely a Greek problem -- otherwise, there wouldn't be high government deficits in other countries, as well, such as in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland. So there must be other causes. That's why we have to analyze the structure of the community, its architecture. Also that of our common currency, the euro.

SPIEGEL: Do you see in François Hollande, France's newly elected Socialist president, a new ally in the battle against the austerity diktat coming out of Germany?

Tsipras: Hollande is clearly a great white hope for us. Now, ideas and arguments that haven't been listened to will once again be heard and discussed, such as a stronger role for the European Central Bank or the introduction of euro bonds. We can't just treat symptoms, or we really will stumble over Greece. That doesn't help anyone. If our country exits the euro zone, all of Europe is in danger. We mustn't fool ourselves about that.

SPIEGEL: The most recent talks in Athens aimed at forming a government failed because you refused to join in any coalition. At the moment, opinion polls indicate that your Syriza alliance is running neck and neck with the conservative Nea Dimokratia (New Democracy) party. Who would you like to partner with after the new elections on June 17?

Tsipras: We would, of course, like to have a left-wing coalition. And we'll do everything we can to make things add up in our favor this time.

Interview conducted by Julia Amalia Heyer and Manfred Ertel

Translated from the German by Josh Ward

Zero Hedge, where I took the link to Spiegel article, says "Well, in the US, it is all Bush's fault".


JAnonymous said...

Watch France blaming Chirac and Sarkozy, Japan blaming Koizumi or even WW2, NZ blaming Kimdotcom, Spain blaming their soccer team and China blaming Chuck Norris. Let's all go scapegoat hunting, it sounds fun !

People have their excuses and I have my reasons why.

Meanwhile, shall we bet who will be left holding the bag ?

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...


Anonymous said...

Of course the Spiegel interviewers were unhappy:

"(I)t is as illogical as it is common for the wayward debtor to blame the thrifty creditor for his dilemma. The Germans now are in the impossible situation of being told they did something wrong by doing things mostly right... Right now the continent’s psychological problem is not that southern Europeans cannot pay the northerners back, but that they are often arguing that they should not have to pay them, as if those who lent are more to blame than those who borrowed. The Germans rightly know that if they were just to write off the debt, such magnanimity would only lead to the same disaster in another five years, as the southern Mediterraneans cited such largess as proof that the Germans were guilty all along of mercantilism and therefore finally evened up with their moral betters. For Germans, this serial blackmail is of course an impossible situation. Would you wish to be lectured by your poorer brother-in-law on why he should not have to pay your $1,000 loan back, as he critiqued your oh-so-conventional workaholic habits?"

Maju said...

I've been saying for almost two years that Greece has two paths before her: being Haiti or being Cuba. Tsipras would probably like to be Venezuela even if Greece has no oil that we know of. But the Papdemos bloc only offers one option to Greece: the Haiti way and that's something Greeks cannot accept nor Europeans in general can either because Greece is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg and whatever we allow to happen in Greece will happen in the rest of Europe immediately after.

The only solution at this point, IMO, is to nationalize banks en masse and declare them bankrupt. In Greece, in Spain and in Germany. Tsipras may know it but he's not going to be as outspoken as I am. After all he has (will have soon hopefully) the responsibility of ruling a country in dire straits.

Whatever the case we all should accept that Greece is bankrupt and that the Greek People can't ethically be held responsible for that. If oligarchs or politicians or international banksters must go to jail, let them go, the sooner the better, but never, as the Catalan poet said, "never must a whole People die for a single man"... nor woman.

All our social structures are, can only be for the People. Only the well being of the People matters. Private business can go to hell if their interest becomes hostile to the People, as often happens.

That is what class war is about: private interest of the few oligarchs or the general interest of the People. And that is what is being fought in the polling stations in Greece in two weeks, Tsipras representing the public interest and Samaras representing that of the old vampires who actually started all this with their corruption and selfishness.

By the way, even the ultra-conservative Spanish President Mariano Rajoy agrees to some extent with Tsipras and that European Obama-like fiasco that is probably Holland, at least verbally:

"The policies that we Europeans believe in, such as controlling state spending and reforms to boost growth, ultimately have no effect. (...) Europe has to come up with an answer because we can't go on like this for long".

I seldom would agree with someone like Rajoy but in this case he's stating the obvious.

Anonymous said...

Oh boy. A full-blooded Communist here...

Anonymous said...

OT: Front page of HP has an active thread discussing the radioactive Bluefin tuna off the California coast. Only second string trolls on it right now.

Anonymous said...

trolls from which side?

Anonymous said...

OT real zombie shot in Miami.

no joke its real, read the link above

Anonymous said...

Maju - I like what you had to say. Well put.

Anonymous said...

So what you're saying is that we should screw over ordinary german workers who deposited their money in banks, so that wealthy greeks can continue to evade their taxes?

Maju said...

No, no. I'm saying guarantee working class type deposits and screw the rich. Most workers, in Germany and elsewhere can't save much anyhow, so we do not lose much if banks go out orderly.

It's banks and banksters/speculators who will lose if anyone.

And let's face it: one way or the other we are going to end there, I say save the state and dispose the rotten banks, as they did in Iceland. They say: save the rotten banks a couple of years more, while we get even more dirty money to the Cayman Islands or wherever, and let the states collapse.

We saw that in Ireland, we saw in Greece and now we are seeing in Spain, where the government is injecting money they do not have to save a private bank that has been giving out dividends and fat salaries until yesterday.

Not acceptable.

Anonymous said...

Maju, sorry but that's too naive.

Who's going to decide who's "rich"? You? Some kind of international committee? Based on income? Asset? Why are you, or anyone else, qualified or authorized to punish people who have saved, and that include a lot of German workers.

Banks will be the last ones to lose. Haven't you seen it in the US? Or somehow Europe is different? One class of speculators got stiffed, yes. They were MF Global customers - farmers, grain traders who traded futures to hedge their businesses. But they were small-time retail future traders who actually needed the hedge, so no one cared.

These banks collected deposits from people and pay out in dividends and salaries to themselves? Have you heard of fractional banking? Do you know how Spanish banks got into trouble? Making residential loans on properties that are now worth far less than the loan amounts.

Maju said...

Obviously the government would choose an arbitrary limit beyond which it would not guarantee anything (the customer would be just in wait for the scraps of liquidation, just as any other creditor). It has been done before.

Your argument is not honest anyhow, Anonymous: it has been for a long time obvious that banks were scamming people with mortgages and pyramid-like savings funds and people have been naive and credulous enough to put their savings there. When a pyramid collapses, everybody loses and the pyramid has collapsed.

All I say is to minimize the basic damage to common people, guaranteeing current accounts and low level savings (in this order and if possible).

Much more important are pensions, which are also savings, mind you (semi-compulsory ones but savings anyhow).

The state has no other obligations but to keep social services like justice, health, education, water and electricity... and pensions, which have already been paid for (Social Security is no gift: you pay for your retirement while at work).

"Banks will be the last ones to lose. Haven't you seen it in the US?"

I saw and disapproved.

"Or somehow Europe is different?"

I hope it is. There European working classes have a much stronger tradition of struggles, however in the last decades we have been somewhat americanized for the bad. But still... France was almost fully stopped with a persistent general strike just two years ago, we have all watched Athens burning and OWS was invented in Madrid.

I still believe we can turn things around. Maybe not today but in a few years almost for sure.

"Do you know how Spanish banks got into trouble? Making residential loans on properties that are now worth far less than the loan amounts".

I know well. I know that all that property bubble (like the ones in Britain or the USA but even worse in many aspects) was designed and promoted by the very mafiosi who have managed and plundered Bankia. Or was not Rodrigo Rato the Economic Vice-President of Aznar, when the bubble took speed and went uncontrolled? Or was not Rodrigo Rato the Director of the International Monetary Fund when the global bubble expanded to its limits and finally burst?

I say that Rato, even without specific evidence, deserves guillotine. Believing anything else, that he is somehow innocent, is being naive.

In the end it's a matter of justice and injustice. And what is happening now is extremely unjust and people will not tolerate it because it's not just unjust: it's pushing them to homelessness and suicide.

And you know what happens when people do not have anymore anything to lose, right?

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