If our governments want us to feel disinterested and detached from our economic destiny, they’re doing a good job. While counting on our fingers to see if we can afford a bag of coal this week, we become blinded and bored in equal measure by the constant talk of the billions and trillions involved in global economics.
How does this World of Billions affect me? Isn’t it all beyond my control?
Well, if you want a seat at the table with Angela Merkel and Christine Lagarde, you may be out of luck, but there is one thing we can do, which in the long run will make a massive difference to our lives.
We must concentrate less on the pathetic sham of the Troika’s policies, and focus on the human victims they create.
I’m far from bored with the news. In fact I’m hurting: gut-twisting pain born of watching the most terrible mistakes of history being made all over again.
There’s no avoiding the dark irony that by desperately trying to avoid recreating the inflation and unemployment that brought about the rise of Hitler’s National Socialists, Merkel’s Germany is making war zones out of Greece and Spain, where as a result, the extreme Left and Right are thriving.
Forget the billions - focus on the victims. We need to get down and dirty with the people, our neighbours here in our very own continent. Right now in modern Europe basic medical care for children is being sacrificed on the altar of Fiscal Responsibility, while pensioners are raiding wheelie bins looking for something to eat.
There is mayhem on the streets of Greece, where police are telling callers to seek help from the Golden Dawn Party, a neo-Nazi power-base with 18 MPs. When your mother is hungry and your child is sick, you don’t notice the flag over the door that looks so much like a swastika. You take their food parcels, medicines and in return they own your loyalty.
Yet this is where the ironies crash around my soul like jagged rocks in a tumble dryer. The Greeks who resisted German fascist occupation so bravely are now being driven to fascism by a German who’s frantically trying to avoid creating fascism. As Greek Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, said:
“It’s about the cohesion of our society, which is being threatened by rising unemployment, like at the end of the Weimar Republic in Germany.”
Instead of talking over the TV news footage of yet more riots in Athens, take a look at the faces of the people. We’re all from bailout countries, but they’re being screwed more violently than us.
Even if you dare to look inside this World of Billions, it makes no sense. The dreaded Troika doesn’t even agree with itself. The IMF is begging the ECB to agree to OSI (you have to have 3 letters or nobody takes you seriously!), which would allow for either a write-down or a write-off of Greek debt, but the ECB alongside Angela M are not for turning. The Troika’s own report admits that Greece will fail to reach its debt-reduction target, while ‘Brussels Experts’ (oxymoron?) say openly that Greek national debt will be 130%-145% of GDP by 2020.
If you had 130 - 145% of your annual income on your credit card, you’d do something about it, and the Greeks are selling everything they can lay their hands on: palaces; islands; airports; roads; gas and electric companies.
To appease the Troika, Portugal was forced to sell its own €3bn power company to the Chinese, while here in Ireland they’re trying to raise the same amount of money by selling the right to run the lottery, chunks of Aer Lingus, the Electricity Supply Board and the forests.
For centuries you sang plaintive songs about the day Ireland’s rivers will run free, and now that they finally do, the trees that line them are being be sold off to pay your overlords.
More irony cascading out of Portugal, where workers are taking a government minister’s advice to “...leave their comfort zone and look for jobs beyond our borders.” They’re heading to now-affluent former Portuguese colonies. 80,000 Portuguese workers have moved to Angola since 2003, while the Angolan élite are twisting the term ‘post-colonial’ by buying up large chunks of Portugal. Looking down on their old oppressors from their Lisbon penthouses, Angolan business leaders now own 4% of all the companies listed on Lisbon's stock exchange.
José Luis Sousa, who moved from Portugal to Angola to work in a printing company says:
“Maybe some day Portugal will be a colony of Angola.”
While hunger, disease and refugees follow the economic war it wages on its own people, the EU is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Armed only with fury and the human spirit, how can we fight back?
Forget the billions - focus on the victims. Follow the lead of Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, the mayor of Marinaleda, a small town in Southern Spain. Despite Spain’s economic devastation, in his town there is full employment, people rent homes for €15 a month, and everybody who works in the agricultural cooperative, including the mayor, earns the same salary. For themselves, by themselves, the people of the town have built 350 new affordable homes.
Awarded the nickname "Robin Hood" by newspaper El Pais, Gordillo declared “The crisis has a face and a name. There are many families who can't afford to eat.” He then led local farm workers into a supermarket, where they filled their trolleys with pasta, sugar, chickpeas and milk, left without paying, and distributed the food to local food banks.
To survive the World of Billions, we must cling to our humanity. When the Celtic Tiger died, people on the streets of Galway muttered about how we could now be human again. Uncomfortable with material obsession, they longed for the return of that feeling we in the West of Ireland enjoyed in the past: of looking after each other.