Greece: Idealism versus realism

ALEXIS TSIPRAS2Nick Mangwana View from the Diaspora
The greatest value of worth of anybody is the value they add to their family, people or organisation. Adding value to a family comes with adding material resources or wisdom.

Adding value to an organisation is kind of tricky.

Some add value by a lot of physical presence where numbers are needed. Some add value by being conspicuous at toyi-toyi marches.

Others by bringing a different dimension to the national discourse through asking unsaid questions and others by addressing the elephant in the room.

Whatever the case maybe, if one has to add value, they need find their niche and be sincere about it. The current stand-off between the European Institutions and Greece has brought into focus the impasse between Zimbabwe and major international institutions including the Bretton Woods institutions, the EU and the United States and its surrogates in their different disguises.

A lot has already been said about independence being meaningless without economic independence.

But what does that actually mean? How about the proposal to tamper sovereignty with pragmatism? Is this concept a betrayal of the ethos of the Liberation Struggle?

Is this a capitulation to superior forces or just embracing practical considerations and doing right by the people?

These are questions that can only be meaningful when answered with sincerity. If a wrong answer is given in sincerity then it is okay to be sincerely wrong than to be right and disingenuously so.

There is a clever person who said that a little but sincere person is more valuable than an esteemed hypocrite.

Is it not a tragic irony that our quest for economic independence through broad based empowerment programmes has had an ever present attendant suffering for the common man? Are there fault lines in this ideology or it is simply that the broad-based agenda is hijacked by a selfish few who empower themselves to the detriment of the general public? Does every independence come with real sovereignty? Is any country that depends on another country to maintain the dignity of its people truly a sovereign nation?

Politicians will tell you different. Nothing amiss with that.

You wouldn’t expect no less from them. It comes with the trade. Yes, “trade” for that is what in most cases what it is. Maybe examples will help illustrate the point.

Greece (the country from which this piece is written), borrowed a lot money from international financial institutions and was meant to pay these in tranches.

To be able to pay this money back, Greece was supposed to make certain reforms to the structure of its economy. At this point the reader is asked to cast their mind back to ESAP. These reforms would have been felt the same way by the population. Greece complied but not far enough. Some of the reforms included streamlining its civil services (retrenching).

Some included increasing the tax rates as well as increasing the retirement age because at the moment some Greeks start drawing the state pensions from their 50s until they die (statutory retirement age is 45-65 for men depending on profession).

With people living long lives these days it becomes unsustainable.

Pensions generally were predicated upon people living short times post retirement and not to live longer in retirement than you did at work. Where would the money come from? So as an austerity reform the way forward would be to shorten the post retirement period by increasing the age by which someone retires.

The other issue to reform was the amount of money known as social security. These are monies people are given by the state in most cases without doing anything.

They are given to alleviate poverty.

Greece is said to be too generous with these to a level its economy is not primed to sustain. So far Greece has been bailed out twice and it came for a third time. This time it is asking for €54 billion. In previous occasions it borrowed €265 billion which it used for consumption rather than for reforming and driving economic productivity.

The creditors led by Germany set up what they believed were the reforms Greece was meant to institute before they could unlock the €56 billion in loans. The interesting thing is Greece is only asking for this money so as to cover its debts until 2018. This is just a coincidence reader, they have no elections in 2018.

In the meantime, Greece had €1.6 billion instalment from the previous borrowings it missed. So here is the problem; Greece defaulted and still wants another borrowing without removing the very things which caused it to miss the payment in the first place. These are the reforms.

So for new money to be released, Greece was given a certain package of measures to implement which would be as painful as ESAP if not worse. The Greece prime minister took this to the people in a snap referendum to ask them to reject. They agree with him and voted no to those reforms which are commonly known as austerity measures.

This brought Greece to where it is today. No bailout money came. Greece ran out of cash (liquidity crunch).

Banks closed. Confidence in the economic system plummeted. The Greeks had spoken and they had declared their sovereignty resoundingly. This was on a Sunday.

Come Monday, there was no money in the banks.

The economy had grounded to a halt. Despite sticking up two fingers of defiance to the faces of the bullies, people were losing their jobs, homes and pensions. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had to take the people out of the fix they were in.

He had the leverage of their vote so his political hand at home was strengthened, but not economically.

He came back to the negotiating table with more severe austerity measures than the ones that had been rejected by the people in the landslide referendum less than a week earlier. To add salt to injury the council of European finance ministers refused to negotiate with the Greek Finance Minster who had called them “terrorists”.

He had to resign, and so he did.

In the referendum the Greeks made a sovereign statement that they could not be bullied by foreign powers and foreign institutions. Soon after they had to tamper their clamour for sovereignty with pragmatism.

Here is the small nation of Greece being pummelled to submission by all the three powers of the European Central Bank, European Commission and the International Monetary Fund all known as the Troika.

Greece had won the battle and lost the war. Zimbabwe faced this question when it came to the Commonwealth.

Most would remember President Mugabe asking, “If the choice were made, one for us to lose our sovereignty and become a member of the Commonwealth or remain with our sovereignty and lose the membership of the Commonwealth, I would say let the Commonwealth go.”

Should the Greeks leave the European Union and revert to the use of the drachma? This will also come with the loss of all the grants and loans. Just like Zimbabwe; surrender the land reform and continue to benefit from debt relief like all the other developing countries?

Should Zimbabwe have looked at the practical consequences of its actions or should it have ploughed ahead like it did. Now that a great deal has been achieved and Zimbabwe vindicated (going by the currents events in Namibia) is it time now to have a bit of a mix between idealism and pragmatism.

Of course what is ideal is that in exercising our sovereignty we continue to hurl defiance at everyone. But those fighting us are more powerful than us, so they will continue to respond by squeezing our industries.

They will continue to do this in a very smart way.

They will have a quiet word or discouragement with anyone of significance who wants to invest in our country to force us to change our set-up, our methods and our ideology. They will make life impossible for our people like what’s happening in Greece.

Alternatively, we ally our idealism with our pragmatism and accept that if we can’t go it alone and we build our greatness upon a bedrock of unlimited pragmatism knowing that as small and new nation (for in the context of nations 35 years is but an infant) our first duty is to preserve the dignity of our people.

For our pride is not in defiance followed by begging. It is not in the arrogance of personal triumph like Tsipras when our people suffer the indignity of leaving their own homes and go under degrading treatments in foreign nations.

This is a sad conundrum which afflicts nations like ours.

When our principles do not bring the prosperity that our people clamour for and they suffer to a level when they are tempted to throw sovereignty in the bin because it has only brought negative effects on their lives.

How many times have we heard the statement, “We don’t eat sovereignty, Cde. It doesn’t pay my children’s school fees!” etc.?

It is when we hear such defeatist statements from our people that we know that an all-or-nothing approach to these matters does not work.

Maybe something in between or something with a bit of both can still bring out a desired result. Something less ideal but a lot more pragmatic. For when it comes to feeding people, to raising their self-esteem and to giving them back that gusto, pragmatism will always trump idealism.

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