New Clear Vision

constructive commentary for the chronically farsighted

The Hemlock Debt

December 06, 2012 By: NCVeditor Category: Ecology, Economy, Evaggelos Vallianatos

Greece Struggles With a Financial and Ecological Tsunami

by Evaggelos Vallianatos

When in 2008 the “too big to fail” Western banks brought misery and near collapse in the economies and societies of Europe and America, the same banks hit Greece with a ton of bricks.

Greece is a small country that has no control of its currency. Second, the Greek and foreign elites of Europe and America that control both the euro, the currency of Greece and the countries of the European Union, and the giant banks, decided to shock Greece in order to make the country a pliant customer.

Since Greece can’t pay back the banks, the European Central Bank, the European Commission and America’s International Monetary Fund, known as troika, intervened to make certain the borrowers got their money back. The troika pays the borrowers and then lends Greece more money at high interest rates.

The shock orders of the troika include tsunami-like “austerity” measures assured of making Greece beg for her life: Indeed, Greece does more than begging. The country willingly gave up her sovereignty, which violates the Greek constitution and international law. But just as important the troika demands are rapidly increasing poverty, hunger, suicides, homelessness, unemployment — and brain drain: the most educated Greeks leave the country for Europe and America.

Meanwhile, without money Greece is like an unguarded vineyard. The borders of the country are open to waves of impoverished immigrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Africa and Turkey. Turkey, in fact, facilitates the influx into Greece of these illegal foreigners. The sudden “invasion” of the country by these foreigners adds to the violence of “austerity.” Indeed, some Greek scholars suggest that this “foreign invasion” is part and parcel of a genocide-like policy of undoing the Hellenism of the country, making it a multicultural and largely a non-Greek society.

The overall conditions in the country have become so bad that a November 8, 2012 editorial in the New York Times (“Greece Drinks the Hemlock”) equated the troika prescription to giving Greece the poison that killed Socrates 2,500 years ago.

How is Greece going to repay its debt when troika policies are shutting down the Greek economy? Forcing the Greek government to increase taxation and impose additional austerity cuts worth $23 billion in the already meager social services and pensions constitute nothing short of poisoning the social contract in the country. The New York Times said the failed troika policies are causing “a profound, and profoundly unnecessary, tragedy for Greece.”

The other invisible part of this tragedy has to do with the “protection” of public health and the environment.

The World Wildlife Fund reports that the fires in the summer of 2012 “ravaged” the mastic gum lands in the Greek island of Chios as well as more than 370,000 hectares of forest and farmland in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy. The Greek state is so bankrupt it could not afford to employ its five helicopters to put out forest fires.

Greek forests are rich in biological diversity. Indeed, Greece is only second to Spain in Europe in being endowed with tremendous variety in food seeds, plants and trees, medicinal herbs, animals and other forms of genetic resources.

Greece prohibits GM crops. But, in the midst of the crisis, according to, proponents of genetically engineered food are funding seminars, conferences, and even school texts for the advertisement of their wares. This included smuggling GM corn in northern Greece. also reports that lack of government funding is wrecking Greece’s National Seed Bank that protects the country’s agrarian legacy and culture, especially seeds for food. Since 2008 the National Seed Bank lost nearly a third of its seed collections.

The country’s environmental protection policies are also in disarray. Industrialized agriculture uses and misuses too much water for irrigation; fisheries are almost gone; rich people build homes right in the national forests without fear of prosecution; tourist hotels and rich homes degrade the country’s beautiful coast; urban waste and unregulated construction foul both society and nature.

According to a 2011 report by Athanasios Valavanidis and Thomais Vlachogianni, professors of chemistry at the University of Athens, “corruption and [political and environmental] malpractices” explain pollution and recklessness in Greek environmental policies. Now that state funds are gone, more hemlock will poison even more of the beautiful Greek natural world, Plato’s Mother Earth.

Who is going to fight for the survival of the endangered black vultures, white-fronted goose, spotted eagle, grey wolf, brown bear, European black pine and the turtle Caretta caretta?

The silver lining of the brutal troika attack on Greece is the return of Greeks to the villages where they start growing food. According to the Greek TV Sky, about 38,000 urban people joined farming in the years 2008 to 2011. This is essential because food security is at the peak of all national needs everywhere. And in Greece, this is crucial because the country is not entirely food secure.

Evaggelos Vallianatos teaches at Pitzer College. He is the author of several books, including “Poison Spring” (forthcoming from Bloomsbury Press).

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