Thursday, December 11, 2008

Greece Isn't The Way We Are Feeling

I didn't know what to make of the riots in Greece. For the last 30-odd years, riots by "youths" in Western European cities have meant riots by immigrant "youths" - as in France last year and the year before. I can't remember large scale riots by natives since - when ? Paris 1968 ?

Yet in the French riots it was easy to translate and see who the rioters were. I didn't get the impression that it was an immigrant underclass rioting in Greece. Everyone seems cheesed off over there. Yet, as I blogged in October, there is a perceived problem with immigration and crime in Greece. What's going on now ?

Time to do some Googling.

A quick look at Greek demographics. Pretty much par for the European course - ageing population, not enough children. Not tremendously high numbers of immigrants compared to say the UK - but they've probably arrived over a shorter period of time. I must say, if you were running one of the most corrupt countries in the EU, do you think another half-million Albanians would improve things ?

Majority Rights (apologies in advance for the commenters) reckon it started with trouble involving asylum seekers, and a leftist demo in support thereof, during which the youth got shot.

Seems eminently possible as a trigger, and a blackout on the asylum angle likewise - but why are the riots going on and on, with seeming widespread anti-Government feeling ? Greece has had an anti-Western far left for 30 years or more - where's all the support coming from now ?

EU Referendum

"What marks this out is the comment from Stathis Anestis, spokesman for a federation of private sector unions. He says: "Participation in the strike is total, the country has come to a standstill." Banks, schools and public transport are shut and hundreds of flights in and out of the country have been cancelled as air traffic controllers also went on strike.

The level of unrest here, and the huge support for direct action, is clearly more than a rump of disaffected youths running amok. The whole country is crying out, and there is clearly something seriously and fundamentally wrong."
An English Teacher in Thessalonika describes what appear to be Left-Right battles :

In Greece's second city anarchists occupying caused extensive damage to the Law and Theology department in the university campus.

In Patra and Larissa angry citizens attacked protesters in the cities universities. In addition riot police allowed groups of youths to throw rocks back at anarchist protesters in the university of Thessaloniki (see video here).

Greek prime minister, Kosas Karamanlis last night went on TV to make a call for national unity after pleas by the government for claim over the death of 15 year old Alexandros Gigoropoulos went unheeded.

But it's Ambrose Evans-Pritchard at the Telegraph who reckons he's nailed it. The Greeks apparently fiddled the stats to gain Euro entry :

Greece's euro membership has now led to a warped economy. The current account deficit is 15pc of GDP, the eurozone's highest by far. Indeed, the deficit ($53bn) is the sixth biggest in the world in absolute terms -- quite a feat for a country of 11m people.

Year after year of high inflation has eroded the competitive base of the economy. This is an insidious and slow effect, and very hard to reverse. Tourists are slipping away to Turkey, or Croatia. It will take a long time to lure them back.

The underlying rot was disguised by the global credit bubble, and by the Greek property boom. It is now being laid bare.

Plenty of underlying rot in the UK, too. I guess it takes a lot to get the stolid English going, unlike the excitable sons of the Med.

While the violence was triggered by the death of a 15-year old boy, the underlying motives of the protest obviously run deeper. The hard left can mobilize demos because the youth unemployment is endemic and because the goverment is being forced by economic constraints to adopt a hair-shirt policy at a very bad moment. At some stage a major political party - perhaps PASOK - will start to reflect whether it can carry out its spending and economic revival plans under the constraints of a chronically over-valued currency (for Greek needs). Then there will be a problem.

I am a little surpised that the riot phase of this long politico-economic drama known as EMU has kicked off so soon, and that it has done so first in Greece where the post-bubble hangover has barely begun.

The crisis is much further advanced in Spain, which is a year or two ahead of Greece in the crisis cycle.

I've been wondering about Spain, too. Catastrophic demographics much worse than the UKs, an idiot left government that makes Tony Blair look like Franco (did you know that some human rights legislation was extended to "our evolutionary comrades", apes and gorillas, this summer ?), mass immigration and a property collapse worse than the UKs, the highest unemployment in the EU - it doesn't look good at all.

My old job as Europe correspondent based in Brussels led me to spend a lot of time in cities that struck me as powder kegs - and indeed became powder kegs in the case of Rotterdam following the murder of Pim Fortyn, and Antwerp following the Muslim street riots (both of which I covered as a journalist). Lille, Strasbourg, Marseilles, Amsterdam, Brussels, all seemed inherently unstable, and I do not get the impression that the big cities of Spain and Italy are taking kindly to new immigrants.

The picture is going to get very ugly as Europe slides deeper into recession next year. The IMF expects Spain's unemployment to reach 15pc. Immigrants are already being paid to leave the country. There will be riots in Spain too (there have been street skirmishes in Barcelona).

Hedge funds, bond vigilantes, and FX traders will be watching closely. In the end, a currency union is no stronger than the political will of the constituent states.

No doubt events will be ugly in Britain as well.

Mr Evans Pritchard is a hell-in-a-handcart merchant who even I think may be a tad too pessimistic (he also thinks that the recent Chinese devaluation may trigger 1930s style protectionist wars - with all their concomitant unpleasantness) - and I'm not at all sure what the link is between immigration to Greece and the wrong valuation of the drachma at Euro entry, or immigration to Spain and the Spanish housing boom. But our government seem to share his fears, if the recent police harassment of political opponents and attempts to extend powers of detention without trial are any guide.

UPDATE - I'm still not sure that the above totally explains things. If anyone has any decent links, please drop them in the comments - remembering that blogger comments can't deal with links longer than 40 or 50 characters. Chop them up or use tinyurl to shorten them.


The Refuser said...

"I must say, if you were running one of the most corrupt countries in the EU, do you think another half-million Albanians would improve things ?"

Unlikely. Even the comparatively small numbers in Britain have allowed them to take control of prostitution in London. Doubtless they have fingers in other pies such as the Securitas robbery in Kent

Homophobic Horse said...

"I'm not at all sure what the link is between immigration to Greece and the wrong vaulation of the drachma at Euro entry, or immigration to Spain and the Spanish housing boom."

The thing underlying the points in bold is cheap credit. The credit has now dried up because it needs to be paid back etc.

On Greek Anarchist vandals: Baring in mind the left has the same objective's of the EU anyway--transnational bureaucratic state to benevolently manage society in a harmonious and progressive fashion--and given that opposition to the new Greek 'dictatorship' is likely to be framed in a left-wing sense, then it seems to be likely that the future of Greece is going to be bad as the upsurge of popular anger may be frittered away into EU-safe lefty cause's.

JuliaM said...

"Doubtless they have fingers in other pies such as the Securitas robbery in Kent."

I thought for a moment you meant this one:

Odd story. Fourth time lucky, maybe?

Laban said...

Julia - you'll need to use tinyurl.

Blogger comments can't cope (unless perhaps you use html - I've not tried)

Laban said...

Can't cope with urls longer than about 40-50 chrs, that is.

paul ilc said...

A footnote on Albania...The EU's CAP has wrecked Albanian agriculture. For example,in 2005, it cost an Albanian farmer €0.09c to grow a melon, while EU-subsidised Greek farmers across the border could grow a melon for €0.03c. The result is that Albanians have been forced off the land and have turned to banditry, other forms of crime and emigration - and, in the host countries, these unskilled immigrants tend to practise banditry and other forms of crime.

JuliaM said...

"Can't cope with urls longer than about 40-50 chrs, that is."

Ah, no, it seems not. Got too used to commenting at Wordpress blogs... ;)

Here's the link again in HTML.

TDK said...

I recall that Greece had a fair share of student rioters and that that they both pre and postdated 1968.

There were student demos in the early 1960s and even more during the twilight of the Generals. For example 1974 Athens Poly

Anonymous said...

Britain was the 'sick man of europe' in the 70's. Maybe the long boom that started in the 80's temporarily hid that reality.

paul ilc said...

Anonymous 11:06. Undoubtedly! For too long, and encouraged by short-termist and welfare-orientated politicians, the UK has lived beyond its means, while posturing as a great power. The readjustment will, I surmise, be very painful but not terminal. Economically at least, the UK's long-term future looks relatively bright to me. Socially, for all the reasons that our great and very talented Laban details d2d - which will undermine the economic prospects - I fear for the future.

Anonymous said...

So the bubble has burst?

Little Richardjohn said...

'It is difficult to discern any logic in such a situation. This is a country with a state that is in shambles, a police force in disarray, mediocre universities that serve as hotbeds for rage instead of knowledge and a shattered healthcare system. It is also on the brink of financial ruin. And now, here we are, debating whether we have a police state, turning back to 1974 and having the same conversations again and again.'

Antonis Tsipropoulos, of '', was arrested for offending a public figure through the satirical blog Funel. The status of online pamphleteers is shaky under Greek law, putting Greece in the same bracket as Iran, China and Vietnam.

TDK said...

Article here on Spiked that might be of interest.

Anonymous said...