SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
I’m in conversation with Michael Nevradakis. He’s a critic of the new SYRIZA government in Athens. And Michael is host of Dialogos radio program. And he is also a contributor to several publications, like Truthout.
Thank you again for joining me, Michael.
MICHAEL NEVRADAKIS, RADIO HOST, DIALOGOS: Thank you for having me.
PERIES: Michael, in our first segment, we talked about the polling in Greece and how polling is used to flex political muscle. And if you haven’t seen that segment, you should go back and look at it. And we were just getting into the conversation on how SYRIZA government is managing the delivery of their campaign platform.
And now we’re going to talk about, in particular, how they’re going to deliver on ending the austerity measures. So let me ask you. So far what the government has announced and said what they were going to do appears to be consistent with their platform. Why do you think it’s not?
NEVRADAKIS: Well, it’s consistent with what they were saying in the past month or two, or really what they were saying since the September speech that was given by Tsipras in Thessaloniki, where he announced SYRIZA’s political platform. It’s not really consistent with what SYRIZA was saying in its entirety. Earlier than that, going back to the elections in 2012, for instance, when SYRIZA finished second in both–I mean, May 2012 elections and the June 2012 elections.
I don’t think there’s anyone or don’t think there’s many people, really, that disagree with a lot of what SYRIZA is saying even now, raising the minimum wage back to precrisis levels of 751 euros. That sounds like a very good thing, even though even 751 euros is not a lot of money, before the crisis there was the so-called G700, the 700 euro generation of overeducated and underemployed youth. But compared to the minimum wage of 300 or 400 euros that we’ve seen in the past few years, it’s certainly a big improvement. So I don’t think there’s going to be too many complaints there, except from supporters, probably, of the previous government. I don’t think there’s going to be too many people complaining about stopping the privatization–I’m sorry–of Greece’s airports and many of Greece’s harbors as well.
All of these things sound good, and I don’t doubt that they will probably do some of these things, because they do have to deliver on some of their promises. This is, however, where things get a little sticky.
SYRIZA is saying that the it would be able to pay for all of these things through a combination of factors. They said, for instance, rather vaguely that they are going to attract private investors, who they said that they will go after tax evaders in Greece. And all of that sounds good and I don’t think anyone says that they shouldn’t do that, but every government that has been elected in Greece for the past 23 years has said that they will attract investment and go after tax invaders, and no one has actually had the political will to do so. And it’s not certain yet–we will have to see about this–if SYRIZA will have the political will to do so. And even if they do, we will have to see exactly what sort of revenue they can raise from going after tax evaders, many of whom have their money in Switzerland or in other tax havens overseas.
So SYRIZA has also said that they will do certain very specific cuts. For instance, I saw Yanis Varoufakis, the new finance minister, on television yesterday saying that he will rehire cleaning women that were fired. They were cleaning women at the Ministry of Finance in Athens. And they were actually–they had built an encampment outside the ministry and were there for several months. He said they will be rehired and that the funds to rehire them were obtained by letting go of some economic advisers that were on the payroll of the finance ministry. So that sounds reasonable as well.
But the issue here is that these are relatively small potatoes. We’re talking about very small numbers compared to the big picture. And SYRIZA hasn’t really given very concrete answers as to how it will manage, on a national level and on a longer-term basis, to pay for all of these things that it has promised, when it can’t really even tell us how much it expects to raise by going after tax evaders. But it can’t even–when there’s really no reason to even be certain that this is going to happen. And they’ve talked about attracting private investors, foreign investors. They haven’t said any particulars about how they plan to do this. So it’s all kind of vague–.
PERIES: Michael, this is days into the SYRIZA government. It’s a little premature to be attacking them on this front, in the sense that they’re still getting their plans together of how they’re going to do what they have promised to do. And there’s no reason to doubt their intention, except for what you’re saying is that they have already moved from their original SYRIZA platform two years ago to now.
Now, the complexity of the situation here, in terms of governing and in terms of inheriting the huge debt and the situation they’re in, is not unlike other left governments who’ve had to come to power and tackle these situations.
Now, one question is really the issue of whether you renegotiate the debt or you default on the debt. Where do you stand on this issue? And what do you think SYRIZA should do about it?
NEVRADAKIS: Well, the first thing that I think SYRIZA should do–and this was something that they were talking about until about a year ago–is to perform an audit of the debt to see what percentage of this debt is legitimate and which percentage of the debt is what is considered in international legal terms odious debt or illegitimate debt. And the sentiment is that a pretty significant percentage of the debt is odious debt. I can’t give an exact number. I’ve seen all sorts of estimates, from very low to very high. But there is certainly a sentiment that a portion of it, whatever that portion is, is odious, is illegitimate, and should not be paid back under any circumstances. So that’s the first thing that SYRIZA should do.
PERIES: And there is legal framework to actually argue this in international courts. Are they actually looking into this?
NEVRADAKIS: I don’t believe they are. They avoid raising this issue. They’ve been avoiding it as of late. But there is precedent. As he said, there have been many countries, including in Latin America, that did perform international audits. And they actually brought in international advisers and international economists as well to perform these audits. And after performing them, they did go ahead and write down that portion of the debt that was considered to be odious and illegitimate. So I think that’s something that SYRIZA should absolutely do.
From that point forward, I think that SYRIZA can take a number of other actions and sort of bring it back into a position of strength. And I think coming back to the issue of the Grexit, even placing that on the negotiating table is something that SYRIZA should very strongly consider. I think that it’s something that the European Union, the Troika, does not want to happen, because of the contagion effects.
PERIES: Why do you think they’re not consider it? Because there’s enough forces within the SYRIZA coalition now that is actually advocating that, and radical elements of the SYRIZA Party itself. For example, Costas Lapavitsas has also argued and still remain true to that position, although the official leadership has advised, probably, him not to do that.
NEVRADAKIS: I’m really not certain what the reason is for them backing off and sort of being so adamant about it, like Varoufakis, for instance. I’m not really sure why. It could be pressure from various actors, from European actors. It could be pressure from banks, from investors. It could just be a lack of political courage.
PERIES: Or it could be an option of last resort.
NEVRADAKIS: It could be an option of last resort, yes. And it’s possible that it is and they are not admitting it. But so far the rhetoric has been very adamant, except from certain individuals within SYRIZA–who are not, by the way, for the most part, in ministries and in very high-level positions. The rhetoric for the most part has been very adamant in favor of a Grexit–not in favor of a Grexit (I’m sorry). And I think that perhaps it might even also to an extent be influenced by the opinion surveys that we were talking about before, the ones whose validity could be called into question when looking at some of the other numbers that they’ve presented on other issues recently.
PERIES: Right. Michael, I want to thank you so much for joining us. And I would like to take up a few more issues in our next segment, if you don’t mind.
PERIES: Thank you very much for joining us on The Real News Network.
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