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Saturday
Dec152012

The Price Of “Collective Trauma”: Greece At The Brink of Civil War

“I’m wondering how much this society can endure before it explodes,” said Georg Pieper, a German psychotherapist who specializes in treating post-traumatic stress disorders following catastrophes, large accidents (including the deadliest train wreck ever in Germany), acts of violence, freed hostages.... But now he was talking about Greece.

He’d spent several days in Athens to give continuing education courses in trauma therapy for psychologist, psychiatrists, and doctors—for free, this being a country in crisis. He was accompanied by Melanie Mühl, an editor at the daily paper Frankfurter Allgemeine. And in her report, she decries how “news consumers” in Germany were fed the crisis in Greece.

It was “no more than a distant threat somewhere on the horizon,” defined by barely understood terms, such as bank bailout, haircut, billion-euro holes, mismanagement, Troika, debt buyback.... “Instead of understanding the global context, we see a serious-faced Angela Merkel getting out of dark limos in Berlin, Brussels or elsewhere, on the way to the next summit where the bailout of Greece, and thus of Europe, is to be moved forward another step” [also read... The Curse Of The “Irreversible” Euro].

But what is really happening in Greece is silenced to death in the media. Pieper calls this phenomenon a “giant feat of repression.”

And so they report their findings that cannot be dressed up in the by now normal euro bailout jargon and acronyms. There were pregnant women rushing from hospital to hospital, begging to be admitted to give birth. They had no health insurance and no money, and no one wanted to help them. People who used to be middle class were picking through discarded fruit and vegetables off the street as the stands from a farmers’ market were being taken down.

[I have seen that dreary activity even in Paris; if Mühl spent some time looking, she could see it in Germany as well. It’s not just in Greece where people, demolished by joblessness or falling real wages, are deploying desperate measures to put food on the table. And the largest consumer products companies are already reacting to it: The “Pauperization of Europe”.]

Heartbreaking, the plight of the Greeks. There was an old man who’d worked over 40 years, but now his pension had been cut in half, and he couldn’t afford his heart medication any longer. To check into the hospital, he had to bring his own sheets and food. Since the cleaning staff had been let go, doctors and nurses, who hadn’t been paid in months, were cleaning the toilets themselves. The hospital was running short on basic medical supplies, such as latex gloves and catheters. And the suicide rate doubled over the last three years—two-thirds of them, men.

“Collective trauma” is how Pieper described the society whose bottom had been pulled out from under it. “Men are particularly hard hit by the crisis,” Pieper said, as their pay had been decimated, or their jobs eliminated. They’re seething with anger at the utterly corrupt system and a kleptocratic government that have done so much damage to the country; and they’re furious at the international bailout politics whose money only benefits big banks, not the people.

These men take their anger to their families, and their sons take that anger to the street. Hence the growing number of violent gangs that attack minorities. The will to survive in humans is enormous, Pieper points out, and so humans are able to overcome even incredibly difficult situations. To do that, they need a functioning society with real structures and safety nets. But in Greece, society has been hollowed out for years to the point where it is collapsing.

“In such a dramatic situation as can be observed in Greece, the human being becomes a sort of predator, only seeing himself and his own survival,” Pieper said. “Sheer necessity pushes him into irrationality, and in the worst case, this irrationality transcends into criminality.” At that stage in society, he said, “solidarity is replaced by selfishness.”

And so he wondered, “how much this society can endure before it explodes.” Greece is on the brink of civil war, he went on, and it seems only a question of time before the collective desperation of the people erupts into violence and spreads across the country. A ricocheting indictment of the euro bailout policies.

As the Eurozone flails about to keep its chin above the debt crisis that is drowning Greece and other periphery countries, and as the EU struggles to duct-tape itself together with more governance by unelected transnational eurocrats, Sweden is having second thoughts: never before has there been such hostility toward the euro. Read....  Sweden’s Euro Hostility Hits A Record.

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Reader Comments (16)

This is simply about dysfunctional government and only for a small part about austerity. Greece is simply a rich Somalia or Afghanistan.
Greece has a pro capita GDP of something like 25 000 USD. Greece also spends as a percentage still more than Germany on government (roughly half of its GDP). Therefor Greece has roughly USD 12500 per Greek to pay for government stuff. Which is several times higher than some countries with a functioning eg healthcare system have to pay for everything, food, housing, cars.
It is simply a home made problem (not have their priorities right) and a problem that if there was proper governance would not occur.
But when it is more important to keep employing your cousin as a civil servant and pay train driver more wages than Jumbo jet captains you simply end up that way. And if you look long enough away from problems the problems will at some point determine the chain of events. That is what is happening in Greece.
May be collective suicide (traumatic people are supposed to do that) is the solution at least they would not bother the rest of us anymore with their silly talk.
December 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRik
I wish I could puke on Rik directly, after reading his comment, so I wouldn't have to flush my toilet and spend water for it
December 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMe
Considering all the misery the euro has brought Greece and the strict demands and conditions clearly voiced by the Troika, one has to ask:

Why did the Greek majority just last summer vote for keeping the euro as their currency and the leadership of the old corrupt parties? And since they voted to keep the euro, why are they now rioting in the streets?

Thinking in terms of Fukuyama's book "Trust", societies can be characterized by the amount of trust on three societal levels: familial, private organizations, and state institutions. When there is little trust on a particular societal level, contracts on that societal level will not be kept.

So somebody, who lives in a society where there is little trust on state institution level, will expect others to betray a contract established on state institution level. And be ready to betray in return. Therefore anyone, who makes contracts with an entity on low trust societal level, should seriously consider the counter party risks.

I see Greece as a society that has high trust on familial level, but low trust on the levels of private organizations or state institutions. If I'm correct in my assessment, Greece with its current social norms and institutions, is incapable of keeping organizational or state contracts. And correspondingly, majority of Greek citizens must have low expectations about the strength of such contracts. I'm not blaming the Greeks. I'm claiming that any rational individual living in a society with low trust on organizational and state institutional levels would rationally take that into account in their expectations and decisions.

So there are a couple of alternative, but not mutually exclusive, answers to the questions above:

1) Greeks voted to stay in euro because they thought that northerners could be smooth talked into giving credit without Greece actually fulfilling the conditions. Now they protest, because they didn't expect the conditions to be actually enforced. Thus the calls against austerity as "Germanization of Europe".

2) Greeks voted to stay in euro because they wished to get rid of the corruption in their state institutions. Now they protest against austerity, because they realize that the Troika is not going to be of any help in the fight against corruption. On the contrary, Troika's activity has propped up the corrupt institutions as a way to secure the wealth transfer to the TBTF banks. The protesters are morally outraged and claim that the debt was taken against the interest of the citizens and against their consent, and is therefore odious. Odious debt should not be paid. Thus the calls for "banksters to pay the debt".

3) Greeks voted to stay in euro because they panicked. The old parties claimed to provide knowledgeable leadership, and promised committed responsibility to see the nation through the crisis. The protesters have realized the parties are not working to fulfill the promises, but are spending their time to hide Lagarde's list of wealthy Greeks with Swiss bank accounts. In the land of starvation, they view as extravaganza the 100+ euro daily allowances allotted to the Troika bureaucrats chauffeured in black cars to and from the airport. They protest because they have nothing to lose and nobody cares.
December 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCool river
I am a Greek living in Greece.
I can tell you there is not a homogenous group named "the Greeks". Cool river is pretty much right in that there is a major and growing subgroup feeling traped between their still corrupted elit / government and the lack of alternative leaderships. But the majority is just naive, family-centric, uninformed, unhistorical, plain people. Cool-blood thinkers in Greece know that an attempt to throw away their corrupt political elit would pass only through a major catastrophe (current austerity being far away from anything like this). And it is their very elit (politicians including most of Opposition (!), bankers, business fat-cats, media owners and possibly 1/5 of civil servants of certain positions) that acts like Talibans; keeping in the front naive people harshly hit by their finances collapsus, knowing that an EU "bombing" would not dare to hurt them more. Of course key EU officers were always aware of this Greek elit's profile. On can assume that all those together, EU and Greek officials, comprised the -alive and kicking- gang that insisted on Greece entering Eurozone on falsified greek statistics and hidden swaps, as well as organizing the 50-plus bn Euros-Olympic Games few years before the debt explosion they knew that was coming...
December 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKonstantin Kayes
Rik - I hope you were completely drunk or otherwise out of your mind when you wrote that last sentence of your comment. And even then, it's inexcusable. What a hateful thing to say! You've made lots of astute comments on my blog before, and from them I assume that you're not a hate monger, but that sentence sure makes me wonder.
December 16, 2012 | Registered CommenterWolf Richter
Rik has expressed a very strong viewpoint but as a Dutch tax payer I'm sick and tired of seeing my taxes poured into that Greek black hole.
I just wish they would go away, maybe the Chinese can buy the country, or the Turks can occupy it; clearly Greece and the Greeks are incapable of governing themselves.
December 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJose
Rik has made an excellent analysis. Jose not. But both have come to the wrong conslusion.
We Greeks do suffer and most of us know we deserve it. But give us a break; the rest of the world is not at stake because of little Greece. Northen Europe tax-payers, before sending their bill to Greece, should first check if their own bankers have prioritised EU unification (aka bank union) in expense of every possible obstacle, including 1-2 lost generations of real people out there all around the most of Europe. A global austerity and the use of a scarce Euro as a nuclear weapon is part of their strategy.
If you had asked me, I would never wanted your bank to save mine. I would be glad to proudly serve you ouzo under the Greek sun, as always, and make you suspect the existence of a sunnier side of life. And keep my ancient myth and civilisation intact to keep inspiring you. What a horrible mess...
December 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKonstantin Kayes
@ Konstantin Kayes

I'm intrigued to know your opinion about how bad a crisis, and what kind of crisis would it take for Greeks to get organized into a "revolution" against their elite?

I totally agree with you on the point that the other EU countries should not have bailed out the Greek sovereign. It would have been healthier to let it go bankrupt (as far as sovereigns can go bankrupt) so that the Greek citizens would have had an opportunity to challenge/change their elite.

But since the EU started with the bailouts and continues on that path, the sanest thing to do at this point would be to abandon the euro experiment. We will all still be Europeans, with or without the eurocrats.
December 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCool river
We are all in this together, or so I thought. The elite love it when there are battles going on around them. That is how they win, through division. Is that what life is suppose to be about? I think not. Everyone deserves the right for a real standard of living. The world has so much wealth, and the elite are stealing it from the people. But yet we still put on the blame game, stating it's the peoples fault. Wow, what a way to live.
It's not like the money just vanished... the wealth was shifted from one place to another... and where did it go? Right in the bankers hands. What good will that money be when its worth nothing? The bankers had their fun, and the people had their misery.
The only thing we are guilty of is expecting our politicians to look out for us. Yeah, they sure did. They love to be loved by their elite friends. The people don't matter....
It's so sad... and yet, we still blame the people who put their trust in government which was unsustainable due to greed and power.
December 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterconfused
@confused
The problem of democracy every idiot has a vote (which often buys him/her all sorts of entitlements) but subsequently they are as responsible for who is in power as anybody else.

@Konstantin
There is a difference between North and South. All are uptil their necks in a crisis, but the North has basically an economy that can be used to start things up again or even get through the crisis without your GDP tanking.

@Wolf
Best way to write that most people think you actually mean it.
December 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRik
@Cool river, thanks for asking.
A lot of propagandistic work has already been done in order to assure that any possible Greek revolution will be the wrong one. Our politicians, almost universally, aggree with Troika whenever there is a matter of money (they imply a genuinelly benign purpose of humanistic western nations), but totally disagree with them whenever long-term institutional or structural reforms are suggested (the purpose here is presented as malivolent aiming to dominate our nation through neo-liberal misery). And yes, there is a lot of neoliberal misery out there, but neofeudalism is just what we have alternatively been left with!
Alas, Greeks are just far away from realising that exactly the reverse is true. Bailouts have devastated our sovereignity for the next decades - reforms would leave a chance. What is being going on is actuallly coming out of rather insincere purposes (different between Greek governors and EU bureaucrats, but with common intermediate targets so far) while greek people would benefit a lot if reforms had been the non-negotiable "prior action" of a well-intentioned Troika. But the chance for any radical change has been actively forbidden so far, as long as TINAs and no-time-for-this practices are implemented.
So, if you ask me if a real armageddon for Greece is near under 1) the present living conditions and 2) self-awareness and political orientation of the average civilian, I evaluate it as possible. Increasingly too many have nothing to lose and increasingly too many are in holly rage. But if we are looking for a really avandageous revolution for Greek people, we will have to wait.
December 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKonstantin Kayes
I read the above comments with a great deal of admiration. I think @Cool river and @Konstantin Kayes make powerful analyses. Then it struck me that the "elephant in the room" was being overlooked. Let me put it this way: The entire structure within which this debate takes place, I mean the power structure, the political structure, the economic/financial structure, the whole international globalised THING is a corrupt, criminal enterprise that cares nothing for the welfare of people. It feeds on them. If we imagine a nation, like Greece, say, is like a family that is facing threats from the Mafia, then the Mafia are saying to them that they are not being successful enough criminals to pay to the Mafia protection money. "Structural reform", in this context is just a way of saying "be a better thief". If you deal with criminals EVERYTHING is corrupted. Do you see what I am driving at? So the question is this: are the Goldmans, the rating agencies, the politicians, the media, the EU bureaucrats the arms and oil interests a criminal structure or not? That is the first question. If the answer is yes, which I think it plainly is, then the second question becomes "how do we deal with it?" It may be better for our families to go along with the Mafia rather than seeing their children killed. Families in criminal neighbourhoods will often do that. But don't let us delude ourselves. Greece is being asked to do without hospital drugs to pay a criminal syndicate. In the UK where I am we are doing better (so far) because we ARE the Mafia.....I was born not so far from the City of London and now live in Bristol, an arms manufacturing and financial services city. The Greeks are keeping the price of my food down. I know responses to this will be "we have to face reality and pay our way". Yes, of course, pay your way and pay to maintain a criminal cartel that controls everything. It is called appeasement. The Mafia makes a reasonable argument too. They tell us that it is either the Mafia you know or a far worse Mafia. Can we live with rule of law?
December 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRoger Yates
Could we perhaps look at what Greece could do, for which what is being done to itwould seem good reason to look for something better.

Greece deserves something better than the Eurozone's catalogue of 18th Century remedies from the dismal science. If medicine was as ideologically constipated as economic fundamentalism we’d still be using bleeding and leeches.

Globally, there is universal denial that both equality and recovery will benefit from much more interventionist industry policy, government business enterprises, socialism, and strategies to develop productive and new industries. It means ending middle- and upper-class welfare, suppressing local and global corruption, a prominent role for statutory authorities and government business enterprises, creating a culture of efficiency, and improving tax collection.

A socialist Hellenic Bank (not run by a gangster, sorry, bankster) would provide capital to:
(1) fund enterprises whenever the profit-seeking banks withhold capital,
(2) ease the pain of leaving the Eurozone, and
(3) build Greek industry in its own right through selective and monitored lending to promising GBE and profit-seeking enterprises. An example of a weakness that is a potential strength is that Greece has long lacked substantial foreign investment, which combined with the comparatively small-scale of enterprises contributed to a €19 billion trade deficit in 2010.
Obviously a culture of efficiency within business and government, and political support, is as important as any such plan. Many good schemes are destroyed by mal-administration, or administrative and political sabotage.

Other options include:
-- ending the tax exemption of the Church (which given Greece's situation a Church with integrity would accept) and shipping,
-- taxing large capital transfers.
-- enforcing tax collection, which would collect €15-20 billion – very greatly reducing the budget deficit. There'll be plenty of hollow logs out there with a stash of loot in the far end.
-- providing better and cheaper public services and strategic GBEs by selective nationalisations (e.g. transport, housing and health).
-- firm enforcement of fair wages and comparative wage justice is an extremely important but much underrated public policy. Income from employment will generally dictate a household's present and future situation.
-- Reducing unemployment and the consequent poverty by reducing Greeks' above-average working time while increasing the participation rate is likely to share income less unequally while reducing overwork stress. In 2007, for example, Greece's GDP per capita was lagging behind the EU-15 and the US by 15% and 35% respectively due primarily to lower productivity and lower labour participation rates.

Public provision of a wide range of social and economic services - assuming sober and responsible management - will also mean the difference between modest comfort and poverty. Similarly, public investment to repair and improve public assets will be much more beneficial than further subsidies (invariably pocketed by profit-seeker greed). Debt thus incurred is productive debt - it yields a real, proportionate and sustainable socio/economic return.

Though standard denialist practice is to blame the victim (Greeks, in this case) so as to avoid focussing on the real causes, some of the real issues are political inertia, and corruption and the associated issue of poor standards of tax collection.

Last but not least a real issue is denial of the cost to a small, open economy of not having an effective and vigorous national socio-economic strategy. A failing Greece's ruling class shares with many others.

Greece needs unreconstructed 20th Century socialism, not criticism. Note the utter refusal of Eastern European countries to learn from this situation and abandon moves for entry - even though joining NATO/EU will worsen their own desperate financial situation in due course (once the bribes end), they are besotted and obsessed with laying hands on the pot of gold they delude themselves is at the foot of the Euro rainbow.
December 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterR.Ambrose Raven
What is happening in Greece is all part of the master plan to transfer wealth from the ninety-nine percent to the one percent. It has spread to Portugal and Spain and will eventually spread to all countries in Europe.
January 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Haymar
Greece is simply, or it has become a simple geographical turf in the EU condominium. The Greeks have no say at ll , at all in their affairs, contrary to conventional wisdom. The political class is a self centered , self perpetuating elite , paid and supported by the Eurocrats. Greece is a protectorate, a fiefdom, an " economic zone", but not a sovereign state anymore . The question asked is why did Greeks to stay in the Euro ? Well the average Greek is well informed on matters of football, basket, and other insipid activities; but ill informed or totally a blank slate when it comes to national issues of politics, social issues, labor and other. The Elite and its legions of the controlled press and media bombarded the Greeks with the message of " the Euro or disaster" ; no one was smart enough to discern that the disaster they were living is with the Euro, and that there can be no more disaster than staying inside the Euro. Greece's production effort has reached zero levels. They have to import almost everything because of EU ordinances. They export very little. How then it is possible to recover within a straitjacket, asfixiating and constricted Euro frame ? They have no control over the currency, it is not theirs to devalue or realign it with reality. The Greeks have to rid themselves of the current generation of the poitical class./ or political elite--- the satraps of the EU--- and replace it with a new generation of elites outside of the political system ring. These class of malingerers ,corrupt and negligent politcos has brought the country to the border of the abyss, neigh into the abyss; it woud be naive and ingenuous to expect the same malingerers, corrupt and negligent class to lift them out of their current disastrous predicament. But don't hold your high hope in achieving such a transformation through electioneering circusses and the ballot box. Electioneering perpetuates the existing miasma, it is the main weapon of the system to maintain and perpetuate itself. I feel terribly pained by the misfortunes of the Greeks, the Greek people have been blinfolded and cornered into a corral. The political class, thriving and enriching itself even in present conditions, bear the entire blame, solely and only /
January 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbelluccio
I think that a lot of countries, not just Greece, are having troubles, these days. The goal is to keep the lights on, and keep the people fed, and hopefully, employed, but neither government nor riverboats loaded with educated financiers are 'gods', per se, there is always some degree to which people, individual people, no matter what country they live in, must intelligently act to some degree to be the instrument of their own salvation. There is a problem, a trap, if you will, called 'learned dependency'. Much as America's major current economic problem is learned dependency on imported petroleum, so the problems in some countries devolve to learned dependency on government services. Government has always done thus-and-so for the public, and thus will continue always to do thus-and-so for the public. Well...up until they can't afford to do that, anymore. Then comes the Big Ugly, and recriminations, and hate and discontent, and, well, people need to learn to 'deal', and remember that part of the problem is that people are fighting the 'mirror', kind of like a bird will attack the mirror, and getting all upset and outraged over...not much, come right down to it. Bring the common sense, both feet rooted to the ground, don't get caught up in a bunch of anger, and 'work the problem'. Rome wasn't built in a day, and it probably took a lot longer to rebuild it after it burnt to the ground, so....patience, reason, common sense, refer back to the Bedsheet Boys...Greece is traditional historical home to math and science, there's nothing the Greek people can't do, accomplish, or deal with, once they put their minds to the task. Non illegitimati carborundum...
January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBert

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