Friday, October 26, 2012

The Irish Left welcomes the Greek. A weekend of debate!

Last weekend I was given the excellent opportunity to work as a translator for a Greek SYRIZA MP, Mr. Yannis Stathas in his visit to Ireland. He was invited to give a series of talks in Ireland by the ULA (United Left Alliance) party, with the support and coordination of an Irish ULA MEP Mr. Paul Murphy.

The two day talks were given in Dublin and Dungloe in County Donegal, the north western tip of Ireland. Mr. Stathas was not the only speaker of course. A series of talks were given by many other ULA members and supporters, together with some guest speakers from the Irish Left.

The first discussion took place in the "Teacher's Club" in Parnell street in Dublin central. There, the speakers included Paul Murphy, Yannis Stathas himself and John Molyneux, a British Trotskyist, former senior lecturer in the University of Portsmouth and member of the Socialist Worker's Party in Ireland.

The discussion was obviously about the crisis in Greece, how it evolved and what impact it had to the Greek society. How the Greeks are dealing with it and what can Ireland learn from Greece and be prepared. Paul Murphy and Mr Molyneux mentioned the facts and the history of the Greek crisis. The audience showed interest in what is going on in Greece and many expressed their inspiration they get from the Greek "resistance."

To most of them, Greece is setting an example to the rest of Europe on how to fight, admitting that Greece is only the forefront of the battles that all European people are and will have to face in the future. They really hope that Syriza will manage to gain more votes in the next Greek elections, that many predicted will come soon, even come into power.

With Syriza forming a government in Greece, many left wing supporters hope that this will turn the tide for the Left in Europe.Only with a strong Left the European people will be able to protect themselves from this ruthless attack by the Banks, the Markets, our rich governing elites and the Capitalist system.

They also discussed why the Left is so fragmented and how this affects its success. While the Right is united, rich and strong, tactical in its attacks to the European workforce, the Left is divided and constantly squabbling with infighting.

They mentioned that the EPP (European People's Party) is the strongest party in the European Parliament and most Governments in Europe right now are Right wing and conservative. They also discussed the rise of the Far Right, the nationalism and fascism in  Europe and how we can tackle it.

Mr Paul Murphy described how it is very hard to win any fights in the EP, while the Right is so strong, organized and dominant in it. The Left is a minority. Even the Irish delegates are all business and money oriented, that is the culture of most of the EU officials.

Mr. Stathas explained how the far right has gained so much prominence in Greece and he predicted that like many times before, once the balance is restored, they will weaken and their influence will diminish. But it is important to stop the spread of nationalism by stopping the ever growing power of the capitalist system.

 "The far right is there to serve the interests of the conservatives," he said. He brought as example the fact that during Mrs Merkel's visit in Athens recently, the Golden Dawn party was the only one who did not protest, made a statement against her visit, or went down the streets to show their disapproval of the policies she promotes.

Then he explained Syriza's views and future plans once they get into power, or the party's actions to help the Greek society fight against this organized attack by the Greek and European capitalist elites. He described how they have organized patrols to stop bank and state officials, together with the Greek police to proceed with the repossession orders of houses that their owners can not pay the loan repayments. They physically block them and stop them.

Mr Stathas is also an activist of the "I Don't Pay" movement. A movement in Greece that denies to pay any money for public services, like road tolls, hospital fees, subway ticket machines etc, showing the Greek public's anger and discontent for the growing taxes and salary cuts they have to accept.

 The role and corruption of the unions and syndicates in Greece and Ireland was also discussed and their role in the weakening or loss of many worker's rights. Their compromise means a leaderless worker's movement, that needs to be addressed and solved.

One of the questions asked by a member of the audience was about the violence the Greek public has to endure while protesting for their rights. Most of them called it suppression of democracy and free speech. The Syriza party, as Mr Stathas explained, intends to remove the MAT police force and forbid it from using violence on the Greek public again. The force will be dissolved and absorbed into the rest national police and defense force.

Questioning what action will be best and bring results both in Greece and Ireland, Mr Stathas suggested that we must have extension of the strike period for at least 5 days in a row, paralyzing the country. One day of strike here and there, organized by different unions do not have much impact. We need to get all organized and unite together. "As the capitalists are uniting and working together to suppress us, likewise we need to unite, have no fear and resist all together against them," claimed Mr. Stathas.

He repeatedly encouraged the Irish audience not to have fear and revolt. He reminded them their past, when they were fighting against British colonial rule. Like then, they are now faced with another kind of oppression and they need to stand up and fight, according their own culture, mentality and beliefs.

They must find a way, their own way of resisting. Answering to a question on why the Greek youth are so active and take to the streets while the Irish remain more idle, Mr Stathas expressed his confidence that the Irish youth will rise up in their own way, once the times become too dire for Ireland.

He also announced some of the policies that Syriza will promote once and if it gets into power, like the nationalization of the Banks and the refusal to pay any debts. He brought as an example the Ancient Greek mentality of the money usage.

The ancient Greek currency was called the "talanto" and it weighted almost 2 kilos, for the reason that it would not be carried around. Money was used only to buy things. Not to make profit out of it, by usury and lending or exchanging and trading it.

So what we need right now is a euro and a kind of European Union that will promote people's interests first and safeguard them against the greed of the ruling capitalist elite. Syriza is not against the euro and the EU, rather against the type that we are being offered. 

And for all the slander that Greece went through, all for one purpose to bring the country to its knees and steal all its natural resources, the fight must still go on. All Europeans, unions, syndicates and leftists together must coordinate their efforts to offer an alternative to the citizens of Europe.


The next day we drove up to Dungloe to attend the Peadar O'Donnel Weekend, a three day leftist political ideology debate and festival. We gathered in the town's public library and the debate was again about the situation in Greece, but this time with a focus on the Irish perspective and many local issues. Who runs Ireland, the weak Irish Capitalist elite, local unemployment, emigration and if the Irish people have to pay their debt or not were the issues discussed.

Mr Stathas spoke about Germany and its debt to Greece. He explained to the Irish audience all the actions of the Nazi Germany against Greece, how they stole the country's gold and forced the country to get a loan that it would have to pay off, while Germany received the money to fund their war against the rest of Europe.

There was an agreement after the end of WW2 that once the two German states were re-united, Germany would compensate Greece for the damages, something that it failed to do so far. Many in the Greek opposition, notably Syriza are pursuing to bring the issue to the European Court of Justice in Hague. Cooperating with the Italian authorities, because the Greek have compromised already following the pressure from Germany.

The discussion then focused more on Irish issues and after the end of Mr Stathas speech we were joined by Mr Thomas Pringle TD, an independent left wing politician, Mrs Bernadette (Devlin) McAliskey, a renown Irish socialist and political activist and Mr. Tommy McKearney, a former hunger-striker and volunteer for the Provisional I.R.A. MEP Paul Murphy also joined them in the discussions.

They analyzed the state of the Irish economy and how the local community suffered the recession. Donegal they claimed never really benefited from the "Celtic Tiger" years in Ireland and the region lacks in investment. Now with the economic crisis the situation got only worse and massive emigration has hit the region.

They blamed the "weak" Irish capitalist elite. That elite that did not really do much good for the country, rather rely on foreign capitalist elites. This elite is not as creative or capable in serving the country's interests. Their reliance on foreign investment actually compromises Ireland's sovereignty, forcing the state to become a tax haven in order to play by the foreign investors rules and keep them in the country.

 But those investors do not do much good in the country, apart from the few ghost enterprises they set up in Ireland, employing a small only number of Irish workforce. "Not that we should scorn any number of jobs during these times," they added, but they do not bring ever lasting stability and long term solutions.

So who really governs Ireland? The foreign capitalist elites, that was the message that they tried to pass on to the audience. Mr Thomas Pringle in his speech, argued that paying the debt won't do much good to the country. Just like in Greece, it will only add more debt and will push Ireland the same road, deeper into a debt that will be impossible to pay.

Repudiate this debt is one solution, though not without any consequences. Generally the debate focused on trying to find the root of the problem for Ireland, that included weak unions and syndicates, weak capitalist elite and leaders, the unchanging attitude of the Irish public itself and the lack of organized protests.

That is why they are seeking inspiration from Greece and other countries that resist. They have serious interest in seeing how Greece is coping, despite everything that is going against the country, notably the absolute surrender of the Greek political and capitalist elite. And because the Irish public fears that the same will happen to them, they are hoping for a massive Europe wide surge of power of the Left.

I am so glad that I had this chance to be part of this debate, and get to know an alternative political conscience growing in Ireland, more awareness and more respect and understanding for Greece.And that is not happening only in Ireland, but in many countries all over Europe. The public opinion is mostly in favor now for the Greek people.

I am also glad that I spoke with ordinary people of Ireland, especially from the rural areas and got to know the other side of this country. The side that never progressed but it still hopes, thinks and it expresses its concerns. The side that gets active and organized, the part that speaks out. That discuss real problems of real people and comes up with real solutions.

A lady noted in the Teacher's Club the previous day, that "we hear about protests in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy or even France and I feel ashamed sometimes that Ireland is not included in those countries, even though that we are in the same kind of trouble with the above countries." She then expressed her wish to see more action in her own country. "The Irish youth will revolt in its own way when time comes," Mr Stathas reassured her. Now I think I am confident to see this happening.

(A special Thank you to Mr. Paul Murphy MEP, Mr. Yannis Stathats MP, the members and supporters of the ULA that organized this event, as well as my friend Ioanna Dionysopoulou that suggested me as the translator for Mr. Stathas).

No comments: