David Copperfield, who is promoted as, "the greatest magician of all time," is coming to Athens in early November, and his shows are selling out. That may very well be because the ruling, conservative, New Democracy party Economy and Finance Minister, George Alogoskoufis, is an even greater magician. Last week, Mr. Alogoskoufis "redefined" the always problematic measure of social and economic well-being, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), by essentially adding an estimated amount of Greece’s well-known "black market" activities. In doing so, the government proudly announced that Greece and Greeks are 25% wealthier this year! That makes pulling a rabbit out of a hat look pretty "generic."
The theoretical, methodological, and ideological problems associated with the GDP are well known. The move by New Democracy, however, "officially" begins to count prostitution, drug-dealing, tax evasion, cheating and stealing as "positive" activities for the economy. Apologists and government-friendly media point out that the overall contribution that these less desirable economic activities add to the GDP are negligible. Whatever the actual numbers are, the important point here is that the Karamanlis government is on board "full force" with the global, neo-liberal program that is going out of its way to cater to and pamper both domestic and foreign capital, and Washington.
New Democracy has been leading efforts to privatize, denationalize, and sell off as many state-owned enterprises as they can while "reorganizing" and commencing the dismantling of the "social" (welfare) state. Along the way, there have emerged corruption charges, bribery scandals, job selling accusations, clientelism, and a host of other economic and political issues that the liberal, main opposition Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) have not been able to politically capitalize upon. With local and municipal elections approaching on
October 15th, however, and with social and labor unrest mounting, Karamanlis, Alogoskoufis and company may need to pull off some more magic tricks to avoid – not only defeats locally, but – premature national elections. And with the buzz of early elections, some polls are showing PASOK in a statistical dead heat with the government.
The implications of the "magical" 25% increase in the Greek GDP are significant. With this "success" of the conservative government, Greece takes itself out of eligibility and contention for various EU development and social funds, and places itself in a position to increase its payments to Brussels by millions of Euros – all in the face of rather disturbing economic conditions for Greece in the EU. New Democracy, however, stands behind its decision, even in the face of domestic and official EU criticism and ridicule.
The political landscape has been focused on the aforementioned economic scandals including bribery and corruption with an alleged milk cartel, implicating friends and "koumbaroi" ("best men") of the Karamanlis government. Even more attention, however, is on the on-going and escalating situation in the Greek educational system. Elementary and Kindergarten teachers, who are entering their third week of strikes, are being joined by their middle- and high- school colleagues this week in their efforts to raise themselves out of the basement of the EU teachers’ salaries. Greek teachers’ starting salaries start at about â‚¬900 per month and the top of the scale, after twenty years of service reaches just under â‚¬1,500 per month, with the next lowest in the EU being â‚¬2,400 per month. These strikes are in addition to the on-going and unresolved issues that the government faces with its universities and professors, who closed out their academic year in the spring with strikes and student occupations.
While New Democracy Education minister, Marietta Yannakou, has played hard-ball with all of the nation’s teachers’ unions however. The government has responded with intransigence, a â‚¬17 per month gross pay raise for six months (totaling â‚¬105), and riot police with clubs and chemical weapons! Both materially and symbolically the Greek government has shown its conservative, neo-liberal stripes, with a hint of far Right repression. This is a disturbing development and trend for the usually more labor-friendly EU.
The New Democracy approach is taking a page right out of the Bush administration in its concurrent embrace of the largely conservative leadership of the Greek Orthodox Church. In the same days that Economy and Finance minister Alogoskoufis announces that Greece is 25% richer, Education minister Yannakou says there is no money for the teachers and professors, but Prime Minister Karamanlis meets with and entertains the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Christodoulos and grants his whole list of wishes, including tax breaks, financing, and funding worth more than enough (over the last three years) to address all of the issues facing Greek education.
It must be that the "education" that New Democracy has in mind is the education of the "big stick" of the free market, which runs roughshod over working people. The government is all too willing to exalt "black market" activity as "positive" to the nation’s social and economic well-being while clubbing, spraying and hosing the people that educate their children.
Let’s hope that the people of Greece will see through the cheap tricks of Alogoskoufis and New Democracy, and instead enjoy David Copperfield – who at least admits he is deceiving you.