What Syriza’s Victory Means for Europe

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Exclusive: The Greek election of the left-wing Syriza party sent shock waves across Europe with establishment parties fearing more populist resistance to years of austerity and to putting bankers first. The question now is whether European voters will follow Syriza’s lead, says Andrés Cala.

Traditionally “democracy” has meant government by the people, particularly their ability through voting to make their societies bend to their needs and interests. However, in recent decades, the word has undergone a significant redefinition, made to mean the right of business elites to operate with relative freedom.

That is why “democratic reform” in Eastern Europe has referred to the opening of former communist societies to “market forces,” even if that means the demise of popular safety-net programs. The same has held true across Europe during the Great Recession. What the powers-that-be have insisted on is repayment of debts owed to banks, even if that requires painful austerity and unemployment for average citizens.

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Alexis Tsipras, leader of Greece’s Syriza party. (Photo credit: FrangiscoDer)

 

 

What Syriza’s Victory Means for Europe
February 1, 2015
 

 

Exclusive: The Greek election of the left-wing Syriza party sent shock waves across Europe with establishment parties fearing more populist resistance to years of austerity and to putting bankers first. The question now is whether European voters will follow Syriza’s lead, says Andrés Cala.

Traditionally “democracy” has meant government by the people, particularly their ability through voting to make their societies bend to their needs and interests. However, in recent decades, the word has undergone a significant redefinition, made to mean the right of business elites to operate with relative freedom.

That is why “democratic reform” in Eastern Europe has referred to the opening of former communist societies to “market forces,” even if that means the demise of popular safety-net programs. The same has held true across Europe during the Great Recession. What the powers-that-be have insisted on is repayment of debts owed to banks, even if that requires painful austerity and unemployment for average citizens.
Alexis Tsipras, leader of Greece’s Syriza party. (Photo credit: FrangiscoDer)

Alexis Tsipras, leader of Greece’s Syriza party. (Photo credit: FrangiscoDer)

What happened in last week’s elections in Greece was, in many ways, a reclaiming of the old definition of democracy, which, of course, the Greeks are credited with inventing around the Fifth Century B.C.

Tired of an economy crippled by austerity — and frustrated by moral lectures about the responsibility to pay creditors — the Greek voters threw out the old political establishment and elected the leftist Syriza party which had highlighted popular demands for more economic stimulus and fewer cuts to government spending.

In effect, what the people of Greece were saying was that they want their political system to work for them, not for the banks and other elites. It is a message with strong appeal across other parts of Europe where the Wall Street collapse in 2008 and the ensuing Great Recession have caused years of suffering and despair.

The ruling elites and their supporters now worry that Syriza’s ascent is the inflexion point that may usher in popular resistance to the European Union’s austerity programs that will spread through Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and other countries tired of joblessness.

“The winds of change are blowing in Europe,” Pablo Iglesias, leader of the Podemos told Syriza supporters in Greece ahead of the election. “In Greece it’s called Syriza. In Spain it’s called Podemos” — “We can” in English.

Though Greece itself is small with a modest-sized economy and limited political influence, the message that Syriza is sending is potentially Continent-shaking. Syriza’s leaders are determined to renegotiate Greece’s credit terms, but they also are at pains to show they can govern responsibly and avoid radical moves that would do more damage to the Greeks than to the Continent’s elites.

A Continent-wide Revolt?

Yet, while Syriza may have many sympathizers especially around Europe’s long-suffering periphery, the populist anti-austerity drive has many powerful opponents, too. Germany, with its strong economy, has been most insistent on the poorer countries repaying their debts but Germany’s position is also supported by conservative governments ruling Spain, Portugal and Ireland that have humbly accepted austerity.

Those governments, which are facing their own challenges from Syriza-like movements, were the first to deny Athens any flexibility. These conservative parties are worried less about Greece than empowering their own anti-austerity challengers by admitting mistakes.

Other European leaders, along with most of the media and international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, are resorting to fear-mongering by grouping this new, still undefined Left in the same basket with extreme-right, ultranationalist, anti-immigrant political movements, creating a frightening image of these populist parties.

Such tactics have worked in the past with many Europeans cautious about appeals for radical change because of the Continent’s troubled history with extremist movements over the centuries. The European establishment offers a comforting sense of order but that appeal has eroded along with the living standards of millions of citizens and popular patience is growing thin.

And, though Syriza is regarded as a leftist party outside of Europe’s recent mainstream, it represents an anti-austerity bloc that is actually rather moderate, pro-European and inclusive. What this bloc is demanding is serious reform in how the Continent’s economy is managed to concentrate on making life better for average people rather than comfier for the rich and powerful.

Europe’s Right has exploited the economic pain in another way, by focusing on how immigration from the Middle East and poorer parts of Europe has taken jobs from the white traditional citizens of European countries. But those messages from extreme-right parties, like UKIP in the U.K. and the National Front in France, represent a lesser threat to Europe’s establishment because most Europeans don’t favor these extremist appeals.

The European establishment is more worried about the anti-austerity bloc. Germany and northern European countries – along with the Continent’s business elites – are alarmed that the anti-austerity parties will unite into a bloc able to disrupt first the politics in various nations and then elections in the European Union.

These anti-austerity forces could appeal to centrist voters as Syriza’s victory in Greece and polls in other countries have shown. The internal politics in Spain, Italy and France – much larger countries than Greece – could lead to an alliance that, given their economic weight and population, could push back on austerity in the 19-member Eurozone.

How Radical?

Parties like Syriza and Podemos have surged in popularity by siphoning off votes from traditional center-left, social-democratic parties, which have generally accepted the austerity demands. To a lesser extent, some center-right fence-straddlers have also switched to these new populist movements.

In Spain, Podemos is edging ahead in a three-way sprint with the ruling conservative Popular Party and the Socialist Party, with municipal, regional and national elections starting in March and ending in December. The Podemos base is young, including activists who ignited the global “Occupy” movement in May 2011 when protesters spontaneously took over Madrid’s most important squares.

The party was started less than a year ago by a group of university professors who were involved as advisers in Latin America’s Bolivarian movement, especially in Venezuela. Traditional parties, even those to its left, accuse Podemos of being Chavista, i.e., inspired by Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez.

But Podemos’s broad proposals (details are still pending) are not so radical. They reject the notion of a Chavista-like regime in Spain and don’t intend to flout the country’s financial obligations. But they do want an overhaul of economic policies. And despite mounting attacks from Spain’s establishment, Podemos appears to be gaining momentum after Syriza’s victory.

The Irish cousin of Syriza and Podemos is Sinn Féin, which has recently taken the lead in opinion polls. In Italy, the center-left government, which until now has been the most vocal in the EU against German-imposed austerity, is facing an internal rebellion from those who want it to take an even harder line.

The situations in France and Portugal are more fluid with the Socialists discredited and the Left splintered but increasingly anti-austerity. Perhaps the biggest uncertainty is France. It won’t hold elections any time soon, but the Parti de Gauche is rising. If Podemos gets enough leverage in Spain and Italy’s government moves further to the left, there might just be enough political muscle to confront Germany and offer an alternative to its austerity policies.

“The German risk is a new form of conservatism which is the fetishism of budget balance, the fascination for debt reduction, which is also the symptom of an aging country,” French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron said, signaling the French Socialists might climb on the anti-austerity bandwagon.

But Berlin and northern European capitals are going through opposite political realities, with their constituents demanding more austerity from the rest of Europe. This bloc remains the most powerful when it comes to decision-making, among other things because it has the support of the conservative governments in Spain, Portugal and Ireland.

A Edge to the Populists

Over the next year or so, the electoral cycles also favor the anti-austerity parties, though perhaps not enough to oust the ruling elites and replace the current mindset but still enough to force greater flexibility on debt and budget issues.

This idea of making governments serve the people’s needs rather than the interests of the creditor class is spreading outside the Eurozone as well, including the U.K., the Democratic Party in the U.S., and even in the EU Parliament and among some IMF economists.

The democratic sea change that appears to be sweeping across Europe is also the result of an ongoing generational change as well as a sign of deep divisions in the establishment that have been exposed by the Great Recession. In essence, this movement is calling for Europe’s democracy to be more populist, more direct, more in the service of the people, less obedient to the ruling elites.

While the resistance to austerity arguably started from isolated flickers across the Continent – resentment toward the harsh cuts in the welfare state and the stubborn levels of record unemployment – it has grown into a political firestorm across southern Europe.

But the demands of this nascent anti-austerity bloc are not revolutionary. In short, it seeks to reboot the system, not to replace it. The leaders don’t pitch an alternative order, but rather ways to correct how policies under the existing framework are implemented, with the ultimate goal of rebuilding a system in which governments care more for the common citizens than the banks and the well-to-do.

The movement favors paying back debts, but not at the cost of economic growth, suggesting that payments be stretched out so more public monies can be spent on stimulus to get Western economies out of the prolonged slump that followed the Crash of 2008.

Or as Thomas Piketty, the star economist and best-selling author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, said in an interview: “It’s an act of historical amnesia to tell southern European countries that they have to pay all their debt, down to the last cent, with zero inflation.”

Of course, Europe’s establishment is hoping Syriza’s victory and the burst of enthusiasm for similar movements is just a fad and that the long-awaited economic recovery will finally arrive and begin to trickle down to average Europeans with everything going back to normal. But these elites may be underestimating just how deeply rooted this democratic awakening is.

When one of the top Podemos leaders was asked about the durability of this movement, he said: “If we disappear tomorrow, we will have taught the elite a good lesson. They will be afraid. Just by existing, Podemos has demonstrated the peoples’ desire for a democratic regeneration, it has unearthed like never before the need for rulers to be held accountable.”

Andrés Cala is an award-winning Colombian journalist, columnist and analyst specializing in geopolitics and energy. He is the lead author of America’s Blind Spot: Chávez, Energy, and US Security.

Reports Indicate European Union Countries Rendered People to CIA for Torture

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December 10, 2014
It appears that Poland, Romania and Lithuania hosted CIA “black sites”, which were effectively torture chambers, according to The Guardian. Evidence points to other European countries cooperating with the US spy agency in organizing covert rendition flights, including Britain, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Austria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albania, The Guardian said.

MOSCOW, December 10 (Sputnik), Marina Elagina — There are strong indications that Poland, Romania, Lithuania and other EU allies of the United States were deeply involved in the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program and rendered terrorist suspects to the US spy agency for torture, UK’s The Guardian newspaper reported Wednesday.

The claim comes as the US Senate Intelligence Committee released on Tuesday a 525-page summary of a detailed investigation into CIA interrogation techniques that were used on alleged al-Qaeda agents in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on New York City and Washington, DC.

Despite being a brave attempt by the US government to come clean on its own human rights abuses, the report did not explicitly name nations involved in the unlawful renditions or those that also hosted the CIA’s “black site” torture camps in Europe.

In September 2001, US President George W. Bush signed a covert memorandum granting the CIA unprecedented counterterrorism authority, including the covert capture and detention of individuals. The same year, CIA agents started exploring the “possibility of establishing clandestine detention facilities in several countries,” according to the 2014 torture report.

“To encourage governments to clandestinely host CIA detention sites, or to increase support for existing sites, the CIA provided millions of dollars in cash payments to foreign government officials,” the summary said, adding that foreign governments were encouraged to “think big” in terms of US financial assistance.

Poland

All countries, who cooperated with a US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) torture program, must investigate their role in a global network of human rights violations, Amnesty International has said.
© Sputnik/ Denis Voroshilov
US Global Partners Should Come Clean on CIA Torture Cooperation: Amnesty

In July 2014, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Poland violated an international treaty to protect human rights by hosting secret CIA prisons on its territory. The case was filed by two CIA detainees, Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri, who claimed they had been tortured at a secret CIA facility in a Polish forest before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay. An investigation, opened in Poland in 2008, is still underway.

Romania

In 2012, al-Nashiri, a Saudi national accused by the CIA of masterminding the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, lodged a complaint with the ECHR claiming he was transferred from the CIA’s secret prison in Poland to a “black site” in Romania, where US agents continued to torture him.

Swiss Sen. Dick Marty, who investigated unlawful CIA operations on behalf of the Council of Europe, confirmed in a 2007 report that such sites “did exist in Europe from 2003 to 2005, in particular in Poland and Romania.” Both countries have denied any involvement.

Lithuania

 

1015229439Abu Zubaydah, described by the CIA as the first “high-value detainee” to be captured and questioned by US intelligence in the wake of 9/11 attacks, was held in a secret CIA prison in Lithuania in early 2005, and filed a complaint against the country’s government in 2011.

According to ECHR records, the facility was purpose-built as a CIA detention facility with permission from “high-level Lithuanian authorities.” “The highest state authorities were aware of the CIA’s illegal activities on their territories,” the Swiss investigator said later in his report.

Sweden

To date, Sweden is the only country that has paid damages to the victims of its extraordinary renditions. In 2006, the UN Human Rights Committee ruled that Sweden helped CIA agents render asylum seekers to Egypt for torture in violation of the global torture ban.

In 2001, Swedish officials expelled Mohammed al-Zari and another Egyptian, Ahmed Agiza, to Egypt at the behest of the US spy agency. Sweden permitted the CIA to ship them to Egypt despite its knowledge that Egypt was a “torture state.”

Britain

The British government has so far prohibited any domestic inquiry into its involvement in the CIA’s global kidnap and torture operations, according to The Guardian.

A 2012 report by Human Rights Watch cited official documents unearthed in the Libyan capitol of Tripoli after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s government “showing a close degree of cooperation among the US, the UK, and other Western governments with regard to the forcible return and subsequent interrogation of Gaddafi opponents in Libya.” The Guardian said Mi6 agents were involved in at least two renditions to Libya alongside the CIA, during which male suspects were kidnapped together with their wives and children, aged 6 to 12.

British officers are also known to have interrogated Guantanamo inmates in Cuba and detainees at the Bagram military base in Afghanistan, while the UK government provided secret US rendition flights with logistical support, according to British daily.

Italy

Italy is the only country to have ever convicted CIA agents of abducting foreigners and sending them to a torture state.

In 2003, Americans snatched Egyptian cleric Abu Omar on the street in Milan and secretly transported him to Egypt, despite his official asylum status in Italy. In 2009, an Italian court found 22 CIA operatives, a US military official and two Italian spies guilty of the kidnapping and sentenced them each to five years in jail. All CIA agents were tried in absentia. None were handed over to Italy.

The court established that Omar was first brought to a US air base at Aviano near Venice, and then transferred to America’s Ramstein base in Germany, from whence he was flown to Egypt. The 2007 report of the Council of Europe established that the CIA performed some 1,000 rendition flights over Europe in the previous six years, using a web of European airports and US military air bases.

Germany

Germany was implicated in aiding CIA renditions in 2004 after a German national of Lebanese descent named Khaled El-Masri was mistakenly kidnapped in Macedonia by CIA agents and flown to a US detention facility in Afghanistan, prompting condemnation by the European Court of Human Rights. The German government denied its participation in the blunder.

According to a 2013 report by George Soros’s NGO Open Society Justice Initiative, a total of 54 foreign governments participated in CIA rendition operations in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on US soil. These countries hosted CIA prisons, tortured people, assisted America in renditions and provided information leading to secret arrests of alleged terror suspects.

Obama on Senate’s CIA report: “We tortured some folks”  – watch video

 

 

What You Need to Know About New CIA Torture Report

The US Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to release a long-anticipated 500-page summary of the report on post-9/11 torture practices used by the CIA, on Tuesday, December 9. The White House fears that the “potentially explosive” report could trigger violence against US citizens overseas.

Sputnik –  12/09/14

MOSCOW, December 9 (Sputnik), Ekaterina Blinova — The US Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to release a long-anticipated 500-page summary of the report on post-9/11 torture practices used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), on Tuesday, December 9.

“Two years ago, the Senate Intelligence Committee completed its investigation into the detention and torture of detainees in CIA custody during the Bush administration. The report has been the subject of lengthy negotiations, conflicts and even legal threats between the committee and the CIA, and it has sparked intense partisan battles within the committee itself,” writes Dafna Linzer, Managing Editor of MSNBC.com, in her article “5 things to look for in the Senate’s torture report.”

The comprehensive report dubbed “CIA Torture Report” contains a 6300-page description of CIA interrogation techniques used against detainees including waterboarding, prolonged sleep deprivation, use of stress positions, mock executions, threats against children, use of power drills and etc. These methods have been qualified by human rights groups as inhuman torture practices.

As the CIA has expressed deep concerns regarding releasing the full document, the committee and the White House decided to publicize a redacted 500-page version. However, the White House fears that the “potentially explosive” report could trigger violence against the US citizens overseas. It led “the Obama administration to raise security precautions at US embassies worldwide,” the ABC News reports.

After the tragedy of 9/11, the CIA began a program to capture al-Qaeda members and detain them at secret prisons, also known as “black sites.” At these sites, the CIA operatives carried out interrogation techniques against prisoners, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and his counterpart Ramzi bin al-Shibh, in order to learn more about al-Qaeda.

Only in 2006 did US President Bush publicly acknowledged the existence of the CIA secret prison network. Remarkably, prominent members of the Bush administration, particularly former Vice President Dick Cheney and former CIA Director Michael Hayden, insisted repeatedly that “torture works.” Dafna Linzer cites Cheney as saying that the waterboarding “produced phenomenal results for us.”

The report, however, proves the opposite, according to an official familiar with the document. It should be noted that in April 2012, the committee published a press release, which claimed that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” had not provided any valuable information leading to the finding of bin Laden, the infamous al-Qaeda leader. “The enhanced interrogation techniques produced zero actionable intelligence,” the committee has found.

“The report is likely to blame CIA leaders for false portrayals of the value of the interrogations or for keeping details from congressional leaders and even the White House. Expect every named former CIA official to deny it. And expect to never know the truth,” writes Dafna Linzer and adds: “And don’t look for good guys – there aren’t any in this report.”

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Commonly depicted in European-history textbooks as “Justified Retribution for Nazi Germany’s Wartime Atrocities”