Greek Election, The Real Reason Any Winner Is Doomed

Despite some hopes inside and outside of Greece that a political coalition will emerge in Athens to lift the country out of crisis, the nation's deeper forces do not bode well.

For a third time, Greeks have come out to rally. But what will it change?
For a third time, Greeks have come out to rally. But what will it change?
Jean-Marc Vittori


PARIS â€" Democracy, to borrow from Pascal, has reasons that reason cannot know.

Greeks will go to the polls Sunday to vote in their third national election of the year. In January, they entrusted political power to the left-wing Syriza party on a double promise: to end budget austerity and to keep the euro as the country's currency. But the elected Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis couldn't, or didn't know how to, convince their fellow European countries.

In a July referendum, Tsipras asked the Greeks whether to accept the demands of international creditors. Following his call, they refused. But to abide by his second promise to keep the euro, Tsipris eventually accepted the creditor demands, even as he condemned them as wrong-headed and unfair, before ultimately being forced to resign and make way for new elections.

Sunday's vote will represent the voters' third chance to speak their minds. German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to believe that "the elections in Greece are part of the solution, not the crisis," and that the results will see the emergence of a coalition government with pro-European parties, capable of finally making the reforms that will put the country on a more favorable path. Alas, Madame Merkel is wrong.

Firstly, the agreement reached with much effort between Athens and its partners over the summer won't begin to solve the country's two main problems: too much debt and too little growth.

According to the European Commission, public debt will top 200% of Greece's GDP next year, despite the forecast less than a year ago that it would be "just" 158%. Nobody pretends that such a level of debt is sustainable. Even though repayments have been spread over time as thinly as butter on toast, they still represents a crushing burden on the Greek economy. The International Monetary Fund believes far more should be done and recommends forgiving at least 30% of the country's debt, on top of granting Greece a 30-year grace period before it starts paying off to give it time to recover.

History repeats

The most unfortunate truth about this situation is that, just like their creditors, the Greeks continue to repeat the same mistakes. In a fascinating academic paper published recently, economists Carmen Reinhart of Harvard University and Cristoph Trebesch of the University of Munich pointed out that the same kind of Greek tragedy happened in the 1820s, 1880s and 1920s. Private investors from Europe had placed too much money in Greece, payment difficulties arose, governments took over and imposed suffocating budget conditions on Greece to bail it out.

Of course, the plans developed over the summer also include measures aimed at restarting the economy. But they risk being crushed under the budgetary restrictions imposed on the Greek state, combined with an explosive cocktail of higher taxes and spending cuts, especially in social programs. And without growth, the weight of debt will only increase. Europeans seem to have forgotten that.

But the illness goes much deeper. The Greek government has no grasp on reality. Many reforms that were promised when the first bailout was signed in 2010 still haven't been implemented. For example, astonishingly, the country still lacks a property registry, which explains why it's so difficult for the state to levy property tax. And the Greeks who do pay the tax feel they're paying for the others. But the fiscal disaster hardly ends there.

In the decades before the crisis, Greece's public expenses were in line with the European average (45% of its GDP for an EU average of 47%), but its revenues were much lower (40% versus 45% for the EU). So the deficit stems not from extravagant expenses but from tax revenues that are too low. To make matters worse, when Tsipras was elected in January, many taxpayers simply stopped paying.

Economists have worked a lot over the past few years to understand the connections between culture and cooperation. In a 2008 study, university researchers Benedikt Herrmann, Simon Gächter and Christian Thöni explained how they traveled to 16 different cities around the world to measure the willingness of people to participate in financing a public project.

People were initially asked whether they wanted to help finance the project. As the process was repeated, fewer and fewer people agreed to contribute, understanding that others would enjoy the benefits of the project without paying for it. In a second experiment, it was possible to punish those who didn't pay. After the punishment was introduced, the proportion of contributors went up significantly in Boston, Chengdu, Copenhagen and Melbourne. But in Athens, the number of people who agreed to participate started very low and, most importantly, didn't go up at all with the threat of punishment.

Of course, the importance of this research shouldn't be overstated. But all the evidence suggests that the Greeks are culturally more predisposed to dislike taxes than people in other countries. And more generally, they seem more likely than others to defy the authority of the state. Ancient Greeks indeed passed onto us the beautiful concept of democracy. But the notion of "state" comes from the Romans.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]


• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.


"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.



A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.


How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.

➡️


"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."

— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.


Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Are you more Chicago Bulls or running of the bulls? Let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!!

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!