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Professor John Weeks explains how the current Greek government’s failure led to the rise of Syriza

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: We’re in conversation with professor John Weeks about the Greek elections coming up on January 25 and austerity measures and how the European press is covering the austerity measures. As you know, John Weeks is professor emeritus of the University of London and author of the book The Economics of the 1%. Thank you so much for joining us, John. John, in an article that you have recently written, you call the governing party and the government of Greece the “ungoverning party”. What did you mean by that? JOHN WEEKS, PROF. EMERITUS, UNIV. OF LONDON: They are not governing Greece so much as they are grinding it down. As I say, normally you think of governments as managing the economy and to the extent that they can manage society in the interests of the population. This government is not managing it in the interests of the population. They’re mismanaging it in the interests of speculators and European Commission, and specifically the German government and the German central bank, the Deutsche Bank, which are–all of these are the big–are the ones that give a big push for austerity. So, basically, we have a Greek government. I’m tempted to call it a puppet government, which is carrying out policies in Greece which in no way are beneficial to the Greek population, except for a very small portion of the Greek population, which is tied up with European and international financial interests. So this is–in the United States, for the most part, the government governs in the interests of the 1 percent. But there are programs that cover the entire population, and these, while they are reduced and constrained and starved of funds, they do continue. In the case of Greece, there is–the government’s taken a completely destructive approach to social services, in which it says, as long as we have a deficit, there’s nothing we won’t cut. We’ll cut health care. We’ll make it so when you go to the hospital there are no nurses there. You can’t get them–if you go to a pharmacy, you can’t get the medicines; if you go to a school, there are no books; and so on. I mean, this is quite extreme. This is the type of thing we would expect to go on under a country which is being occupied by a foreign power, which really gave–which was unaccountable to its population. And that, in effect, is what the current Greek government is, and I very much hope they lose the election. But it is possible they won’t, because in the election of 2012, the European Union, financial interests carried out, in propaganda terms, a reign of terror in which they sought to terrorize the Greek population and say, if you elect these left-wing loonies of SYRIZA Party–I mean, I was in a debate with a Greek–an advisor to the Greek government, who referred to SYRIZA as wanting to introduce–turn Greece into another Albania. I mean, these are–this is the propaganda of terror and desperation. Well, they were reasonably successful in 2012. SYRIZA came in second, but it didn’t come in first, so it couldn’t form a government. But now, as you said, it looks like that they’re ahead. And I think in the next few weeks, three weeks or so, two and a half weeks, there will be a renewal of this extreme language. But it does appear it’s not as effective this time. PERIES: Now, while the platform of the SYRIZA Party, particularly in relation to the anti-austerity measures that they would implement, has great support on the part of the Greek public and it’s reflected in the opinion polls that are being carried out now, it is a very small margin that is supporting SYRIZA. And part of the discussion is also this exiting the euro. You’ve seen that that has been attributed to SYRIZA. But they’re not really talking about exiting the euro/European Union any longer, are they? WEEKS: No. I mean, this–the term that’s used, “Greeksit” or whatever it is, Greek exit, no. Their official position is to maintain Greece in the European Union, and using the euro, and to renegotiate the debt. I think it’s a very reasonable position. However, I think one must recognize a extreme possibility–and I know that the people in SYRIZA do. It’s possible that the German government, should SYRIZA win, would say, would decide that any weakening would result in a bigger disaster for German capital. German financial capital holds bonds from Italy and Spain and Portugal and France. And so the German government might say to itself, Greece is just a little country. If we say no, absolutely not, and force them out, it’s not going to hurt very much. It’ll hurt a little bit, because German capitalists holding, oh, maybe 50 billion euros in debt–but this drop in the bucket compared to the total assets of German banks. And we will, you might say, take the nuclear solution for Greece and force them either to comply or get out. And should that happen, it would be very serious indeed. But given how much the Greek population has suffered, probably the better choice in the long run would be to call Germany’s bluff. I think that is the position that my good friend Costas Lapavitsas takes, and I think that is correct. PERIES: John, thank you so much for joining us, and we will be following the Greek elections in the upcoming weeks. And I hope you join us for further analysis. WEEKS: Thank you very much. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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John Weeks is Professor Emeritus and Senior Researcher at the Centre for Development Policy and Research, and Research on Money and Finance Group at the School of Oriental & African Studies at the University of London.