Greece: The home of democracy


It was in Athens around 500BC that the world’s first experiment in direct democracy developed. In classical Athens citizens didn’t elect representatives, they voted directly on legislation and executive bills in their own right. The electorate was limited and women and slaves among many other groups were excluded, but it was here that the idea of democratic self-rule was born.

In Greece today we couldn’t be further away from that ideal. The citizens of Greece have made it perfectly clear that they are not willing to pay for the banking crisis by sacrificing themselves to years of mass unemployment and a tragically diminished public sector. The Greek people assert that they did not create the crisis and that they will not pay for it. Especially as the bankers[1] have made literally no sacrifices themselves. In 2011 bankers will receive literally billions of pounds in bonuses, for them it is business as usual.

But more than that the bankers are now once again applying the logic of the financial markets to government debt and insisting that governments across the world cut public spending to pay for the debts that were accrued in keeping that very market from a fatal crash. This feudal bare-faced, cynical, self-serving irrationality sees ‘the people’ as nothing more than a ‘human resource’ to be exploited in order to maintain the wealth and privilege of the new economic aristocrats.

And of course this has all happened before. John Newsinger in his moving book, The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History Of The British Empire, dedicates a chapter to the joint British/French invasion of Egypt in 1882. By 1876 the Egyptian government had foreign loans amounting to £68 million. After bank charges and fees the Egyptians had actually received less than half of what they had borrowed but had to pay interest on all of it. Britain and France supported a puppet regime that imposed poverty on the mass of Egyptians in order to pay the British and French bondholders who were owed the £68 million – including Prime Minister, William Gladstone. This ‘pro-West’ government imposed public spending cuts and sold national assets like the Suez Canal to try to pay the debts but these measures led to terrible poverty for millions and in response a popular “Egypt for the Egyptians” movement developed. When the Nationalists rebelled in 1882 the British & French invaded to protect the interests of the bondholders. Tens of thousands of Egyptians were slaughtered by the British & French who took colonial control of the country and assured over the following decades that the interests of Gladstone and his fellow bondholders were protected.

Just as in 1882, if Greece defaults on its debts the whole global financial system becomes under threat. There are fears of ‘contamination’ with Portugal, Spain, Ireland and now Italy, also being vulnerable to debt default. If this were to happen the global financial system would be exposed as the hall of smoke and mirrors that it really is.

For the Elite there is a lot to play for. If ‘the people’ refuse to play the game by acting as guarantors for the system that makes and maintains the wealth of the elite then their whole world of privilege is under threat.

So the question is how much force are our supposedly democratic leaders willing to use to protect the integrity of the global finance system?

Will the European Union and the other Western governments support the Greek government in the use of troops to suppress it’s own people and impose the cuts required by the markets? How many Greek citizens will have to die before Angela Merkel or David Cameron call for a halt to the oppression? (As they have done in Libya and Syria for example).

If they fail to do so then the veil of democracy will have been ripped away exposing the underlying reality, which is that our Western democracy is not “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” as Abraham Lincoln claimed in his Gettysburg Address. No it will be clear that our system is actually ‘government of the people by the banking system, for the banking system’.


[1] I am using the term ‘banker’ to mean all those involved in the financial system including stockbrokers, hedge fund managers, merchant bankers, commodity traders etc, etc.

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