The on-going debt crisis in Greece has prompted some controversial remarks from the internationally renowned scholar and Open Book author Noam Chomsky. Since 2010, Greece has been implementing austerity measures (i.e. reduced government spending) as part of its bailout deal with the joint powers of the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission. The austerity measures were enormously unpopular, particularly among the Greek left, and led to a strong response at the polls when the left-wing Syriza party, led by Alexis Tsipras, gained an overwhelming majority in the 2015 legislative election. Tsipras’s much-publicized opposition to austerity led to fears among the international community that Greece might be forced into leaving the Eurozone if it failed to continue paying off its debts.
Since 2010, Greece has been implementing austerity measures (i.e. reduced government spending) as part of its bailout deal with the joint powers of the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission. The austerity measures were enormously unpopular, particularly among the Greek left, and led to a strong response at the polls when the left-wing Syriza party, led by Alexis Tsipras, gained an overwhelming majority in the 2015 legislative election. Tsipras’s much-publicized opposition to austerity led to fears among the international community that Greece might be forced into leaving the Eurozone if it failed to continue paying off its debts. With unemployment at over 25%, there were fears within Greece that austerity was doing more harm than good. In the historic ‘Greferendum’ held on the 5th of July this year, 61% of Greek voters rejected the austerity measures imposed on the country by its creditors. However, under the threat of expulsion from the Eurozone and faced with the continued closure of the Greek banks, Alexis Tsipras was forced this week to capitulate to terms even harsher than those rejected in the referendum, involving outside supervision of government spending. The agreement will have to be carried through the Greek parliament but is being heavily criticized as an undemocratic imposition.
To many, Angela Merkel’s insistence on Greek austerity measures is questionable in view of the enormous debts to Greece left unpaid by Germany after the Nazi occupation of Greece from 1941 to 1944. Professor Noam Chomsky has previously expressed his support for Tsipras’s government and their popular mandate against austerity. In an interview with Euronews earlier this year, Chomsky explained why he firmly believes that the Greek debt should be written off, just as Germany’s debts were written off in 1953 to enable the country to rebuild and recover after the Second World War.
According to Chomsky, the crucial issue is how to allocate responsibility for the debt. In the case of formerly fascist-led countries such as Greece, Portugal and Spain, Chomsky argues that, “in part, the debt was incurred by dictators”, and the responsibility for its repayment therefore does not lie with the country’s population. International law states that ‘odious debt’ of this kind need not be repaid. “Much of the rest of the [Greek] debt,” Chomsky continues, “what is called payments to Greece are in fact payments to banks, German and French banks, which had decided to make extremely risky loans with not very high interest and are now being faced with the fact that they can’t be paid back.”
The economic arguments for imposing austerity measures on Greece are, in Chomsky’s view, unsustainable. Austerity has not been proven to increase revenue; in fact, “the effect of these policies has been actually to increase Greece’s debt relative to its wealth production”. Chomsky has described Europe’s reaction to the rise of Syriza as “extremely savage”, and warned that the erosion of Greece’s welfare state as a result of austerity is little more than “class war”. The possibility of a potentially extreme right-wing response is evident throughout Europe in the growth of right-wing parties such as Greece’s Golden Dawn and the Front National in France.
In view of the continued debt crisis and the possibility of a Greek Eurozone exit, the questions raised by Professor Chomsky remain pertinent and compelling. Over the course of his 60-year career, international politics (particularly as relating to US foreign policy) has featured consistently among Chomsky’s wide-ranging interests. He visited India in 1996 and 2001 and spoke on a variety of subjects, in venues jam-packed with enthusiastic listeners – for an intellectual speaker, the turnout was extraordinary.
Chomsky has recently published his lectures in Open Access format, making them freely available online at www.openbookpublishers.com . He remains interested in India and has recently addressed some comments on the “indifference of privileged sectors” of Indian society to the endemic poverty in places such as Delhi.
Now 86, Professor Chomsky plans to visit India again within the next few years. Noam Chomsky’s 2014 book Democracy and Power: The Delhi Lectures is available for free or in digital, paperback and hardback editions at https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0050 For readers interested in Greek history, the revised edition of William St Clair’s classic work That Greece Might Still Be Free: the Philhellenes in the War of Independence is available for free online at https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0001