Interview with Mr. Odysseas Boudouris, MP for Democratic Left in Greece

Posted by Dimitris Rapidis on 07/01/13
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Mr. Odysseas Boudouris is a Medical doctor, MP for the B’ District of Athens for Democratic Left, ex-president of the Médecins Sans Frontières (Greece).

1. Politics and Surgery. Is there something in common?

There is something missing in the question which, in my case, is the common ground which connected surgery to politics. This is my involvement with the humanitarian movement which was, in some ways, the logical continuation of my studies in medicine and specifically in surgery which took place in the politicized atmosphere of the 70’s in France. I participated in the Médecins Sans Frontières. The humanitarian movement left behind any ideological and political differences and was based on a simple principle: human disaster and pain has no skin color, religion or any other distinguishing features among human beings. My participation in the humanitarian movement made me experience the most intense moments of my life as a “social being”. However, I had always the urge that I owned something to my country. This strong feeling was transformed into a kind of obligation. From this sprang out my decision to get involved in politics in Greece. Earlier on, I had participated in the “Common Program” (Programme Commun de la Gauche) of the ’70s in France. This project reached its limits in the ’80s, but for me it always remains a blueprint for the unity of the left. Nowadays for the unity of the left in my country.

2. If Greece were not to sign the Memoranda of Agreement with troika, what would be its position now?

It seems to me that the 1st Memoranda of Agreement -the so called Mnemonio- was rather necessary. It aimed at a significant decrease of public deficit as a percentage of GDP and initiated an age of reforms that Greece so desperately needed. However, the 2nd Mnemonio, given the inefficiency of the Greek government to bring about the necessary reforms and the conflict of interest among our European partners, adopted a completely different approach. Instead of focusing on the implementation of a radical reform program and on fostering economic development, it introduced an additional number of austerity measures. More importantly, these measures dealt not with the public deficit and the inefficiency of the public sector that produced it, but extended to the private sector. The minimum wage and collective agreements were abolished on a Sunday night with the undemocratic procedure of “urgent” legislation. From that moment onwards it became clear to me that the priorities and aims of our partners for Greece had changed totally.

3. Many in Greece have criticized your shift from PASOK to Democratic Left as well as your general standpoint in the voting of austerity measures. What is your response?

I am not really aware of the “many” to whom you refer to. I would like to make clear that the reason I was expelled from PASOK was that I refused to support an economic program that put the country in a vicious circle: recession-austerity and again austerity-recession. Then, the President of the Democratic Left, Fotis Kouvelis asked me to support DIMAR and so upgrade it to a Parliamentary Group, which requires 10 MPs, in April 2012. This was important for a good performance of the party in the elections.

As far as my voting against the 3rd Mnemonio is concerned, the only thing I heard was sincere thanks from diverse sections of Greek society. If other colleagues, who voted for them, felt  uncomfortable due to the widespread social pressure, this is something they have to sort it out with their consciousness.

4. Why do you believe there is no specific plan for growth and development in Greece, and further in Europe in the midst of the crisis?

I do not claim that there is not specific plan. Actually, the opposite is the case. There is plan, a neo-liberal plan, which aims at making Greece a cheap labour country and there are political forces ready to promote and implement it at any cost. Greece is in its 5th consecutive year of a severe economic recession with all the social consequences that this implies. Quite a number of times the IMF and the European Commission have criticized the plan, they themselves proposed, as ineffective. However, they still go on with the same failed recipe. The 3rd Mnemonio puts many additional burdens on Greek society. Salaries and pensions have been reduced by 35%-50% in the last three years and official unemployment has risen to 23% and 2013 will be one additional recession year. The only positive prospect would have come about if the Mnemonio had focused on economic development and structural reforms. For instance, tax evasion is estimated at 30 billion a year! The cause is, by common belief, the Inland Revenue.  Given the inefficiency of the Inland Revenue, it is obvious that what is required is not higher taxes, but radical structural reforms. Unfortunately, the Greek government submitted to Parliament a tax law which taxes even further employment and pensions, but leaves intact the inefficient structures of the Inland Revenue. There is no really hope for improvement if this remains the orientation of the Greek government.

5. How do you explain the growing rates of SYRIZA-EKM in the Greek electorate?

SYRIZA-EKM had a good result in the last elections and this was mainly due to its stand against the Mnemonio. Perhaps, the rise of SYRIZA-EKM would not have been so steep, if the will of the great majority of Greek society, as expressed in the last elections, had been taken into consideration by the governing parties.  However, after the elections the three governing parties continued more or less the same policies. They were all committed to the renegotiation of the extremely painful terms of the Mnemonio as well as to no further cuts of salaries and pensions.  But just 5 months after the elections a 3rd mnemonio was signed and once more the Greek Parliament was asked to vote and give its suport to it. Following this course of action the governing parties have opened the way to power for SYRIZA-EKM. On the other hand, SYRIZA-EKM gradually but surely makes the neccesary changes and prepares itself for power.

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