Across Europe women campaign against the Dictatorship of the Debt

In March the European Forum for Alternatives met. With austerity measures imposed over the populations of Europe under the fabricated argument of the need to repay a fictitious public debt, the solidarity among Europeans is growing more organized, especially with the rise of major feminist and feminine voices in Greece and Spain.

Among the many speakers, Zoe Konstantopoulou, recently elected Speaker of the Vouli (Greek Parliament), presented the stakes for Europe as her country has been the theater of the most odious experimentation of European Structural Adjustment Programs, symbolized by austerity. As she said, the neoliberal order reigns in the EU and has created its own destructive weapon with the Troika. It wants to neutralize all opposition and diffuse its power based on debt anxiety.

The forum’s many workshops brought the voices of women who have fought for their rights, including Giorgia Ekonomou, one of the Greek Finance Ministry cleaners; the representatives of the hair cutters of the 57 bvd Sebastopol in Paris; and the hotel chambermaids who won recognition for their workers’ rights.

In her speech about the audit of the Greek debt, a true European issue, Zoe Konstantopoulou acknowledged these feminist battles as well as the brutal destruction of human rights that came as the result of the Troika memoranda. The battle against austerity measures is also a transnational feminist battle.

Regrettably, Zoe Konstantopoulou is the only woman that has a prominent position in Greece since the election of Syriza. Still, as Yorgos Mitralias of the Greek Committee Against the Debt told me, she was not supposed to exist and so is a gift fallen from heaven. She is the voice of reason for many. She wants to shatter corruption, especially financial corruption, while not losing the purpose of political representation as the means of defending the civil society with all its members. “In Greece, we have a systematic infringement on human rights, social rights, worker’s rights on democratic rule of law, on the welfare state,” declared Zoe Konstantopoulou when she was first elected to the parliament in 2012.

Last April in Rome, Zoe Konstantopoulou was keynote speaker at the conference of the European Union parliaments. She began by questioning the title of the session, “A discussion about the Continent of Fundamental Rights. A Europe of Freedom, Solidarity, and Security.” She said, “Is it a discussion about the past, the present, or the future? Is it a discussion about Europe as it used to be, as it is or as it should be? Is it a discussion about the whole of Europe or about part of it?” She remarked that Europe as expressed by its executives, banking and financial sectors, seems to have lost its way during the five last years. She questioned the emphasis on numerical and economic estimation that have been proven to be gross miscalculations, and she ranked competitiveness way below human rights in the European hierarchy.

Her speech addressed the dictatorship of debt: she explained that State debt, as a new European epidemic, is being used as a pretext but also as a tool to retreat the State from its responsibility vis-à-vis human rights and democratic rights. She sees State debt as an extortion mechanism and reminded her audience of the extraordinary trail of misery and death that austerity policies provoked.

Konstantopoulou also reaffirmed the importance of an uncorrupt parliament, a place where no forceful interventions should occur. Since 2005 the Greek parliament has been the theater of all kinds of violence with 800 pages of laws pushed by the Troika, targeting basic human rights, public services, and shielding financial crimes and tax evasion. Just recently a stand off with the Minister of the Interior Panoussis took place with the intrusion of police forces in the parliament that she condemned.

With her anticorruption stand, Zoe Konstantopoulou has become the target of all sorts of attacks including from members of her own government. According to Yorgos Mitralia, But the campaign against her is reaching a new level punctuated with sexist slurs. So far the support to Syriza and Alexis Tsipras’ government is strong with 65-70% approval rate. Although it is a critical moment with the audit of the debt in progress and the hard negotiations with the Eurogroup, Zoe’s initiatives are well supported by the people of Greece and even beyond Greece’s borders

Meawhile, in Spain, three prominent political positions have been won by progressive women in the last elections with the success of Manuela Carmena, the new mayor of Madrid, of Ada Colau in Barcelona, and of Monica Oltra in the Valencia region. All three got their votes for their strong stand against financial corruption, and for defending social consciousness, the only way to reduce the impact of neoliberal totalitarian austerity promises, begetting inequalities, the plague of women’s lives. The movement is growing and a new solidarity is forming in which women are playing a key role.

Zoe Konstantopoulou addresses the European Forum for Alternatives

 

(Lead Photo Credit: http://kaosenlared.net) (Photo Credit: http://www.european-left.org)

A new beginning for Greece and for Europe starts today!

 

In Greece, the new government is bringing optimism to many. I talked with Sofia Tzitzikou the vice president of UNICEF Greece and a dedicated activist for health rights. As a pharmacist she became one of the key volunteers to run a community clinic in Athens that has served the population made destitute after the scandal of the speculative coup on Greece. The Troika was sent with no legitimacy to implement neoliberal structural adjustment program renamed austerity measures.

Sofia first said that the election of Syriza gave her a sentiment of optimism, although she was aware of external and internal powerful pressures from Capital, represented by investors and speculators of all sorts who participated to the destruction of Greece.

She described the reaction in Athens after the election as full of emotion rather than pure joy. “They could not believe what happened,” she said. The evening of the election some in the streets asked, “Is it a dream?” The crowd was not jubilant as for a soccer game. Instead of honking, there was a great lucidity that there will be no magic to recovery. Sofia senses that a new solidarity has been formed through the suffering of the past years. Actually today, 70% of Greeks are convinced that the new prime minister and his team will succeed.

Certainly the women cleaners of the finance minister were aware of this new solidarity. They resisted the pressure of the establishment and challenged the previous government of Antonis Samaras that envisioned privatization and complete removal of labor protection as the future for Greece. The Supreme Court was supposed to decide their case. Instead the new government of Alexis Tsipras re-employed them immediately. It also reestablished electricity to the 300 000 households who could not afford it and raised the minimum wage to the level it was before.

People have been unified in the darkness of unemployment and attacks against unions. In this context the health care system erased about 40 % of the population from the system, immediately depriving them of medical care. Women were not guaranteed any sexual or reproductive health. To the scandal of some, women not able to deliver their babies in a safe manner.

According to Sofia, the country is in ruins and needs to rebuild.

The new government’s first symbolic action was to remove the anti riot barricades that were placed in front of the parliament to block the anti austerity demonstrators. Another immediate measure was to stop the privatization of the public domains such as the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki and the electricity services. They also eliminated the co-pay in public hospitals. Then, the new government declared the end of “Xenia Zeus” a program reported by Human Rights Watch as an abusive crack down on migrants. These symbolic and people-oriented decisions brought confidence needed in order to continue the necessary changes.

Sofia’s only regret is that women don’t hold any of the key ministries of new government: “That is a handicap, I don’t want to be against but it would have been more positive.” Still, Tasia Christodoulopoulou, the new Migration Minister, wants to grant Greek citizenship to all children born in Greece to end this state of no rights for migrants’ children born in Greece.

Sofia recognized that to see Zoé Konstantopoulou becoming the youngest president of the parliament elected with the greatest number of votes in the history of Greece compensated a little for the minimal women’s representation in the government. Zoé Konstantopoulou has been active on every front since her first election at the parliament. She testified in the documentary “Canaries in the Coal Mine.”

As the president of the parliament she pledged to combat corruption. She wants to reopen judicial affairs that have been unlawfully forgotten. This would end the privileges that have degraded parliament over the past years. One example of this degradation is the armaments scandal, involving German companies, occurring while pension and salaries were being amputated. Konstantopoulou is calling for transparency and participation of the social actors and the removal of the formal elite that hold no parliamentary positions. She also will reconstitute the commission on the Nazi war reparations and German debt to Greece. Her program is ambitious but she has proven in the past that she pursues what she believes to be the best for the country.

Sofia expressed confidence but warned, “The feminist movement has even more responsibility now that it can organize. It is the right time to present propositions based on solidarity.” She recognized that solidarity in Europe is crucial against neoliberal powers. Greece is showing the rest of Europe that civil society is still alive and democratic and there is an alternative to the austerity measures and the rule of the market and its oligarchs.

Sofia explained that the urgency is the questions of women’s rights and protection as they have been the first victims of the austerity measures. This is why they are joining the European Caravan of the World March of Women that is “working to build a feminist, solidarity-based economy, one that alters existing patterns of production and reproduction, distribution and consumption”. Sofia Tzitzikou concluded, “Ca commence maintenant” (“It starts today!”)

 

(Photo Credit: Lefteris Piatarakis/AP)