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The causes of the Greek debt crisis and solutions sidelined by the mainstream media

How can you summarize a 74-minute documentary in one phrase? One solution would be to rush to the basic axiom of its creators: “There are no dead-ends” – not in economics, not in politics, not even in the production and distribution of a film.

“Debtocracy” puts flesh and bones to this idea. For the first time in Greece, it is a documentary produced by the public. Its goal is to trace the causes of the Greek debt crisis and to propose solutions sidelined by the government and the dominant media. Aris Chatzistefanou and Katerina Kitidi discuss with economists, journalists and intellectuals from all over the world, who describe the steps that led Greece to the current debt trap. The documentary is distributed since April 6, 2011, subtitled in six languages.

The documentary opens with the observation that after decades of continuous austerity, Greek finance ministers advertised their country as a local financial superpower. When their creation crumbled, these same people called the Greek population 'bums', while their lenders called them 'PIIGS' -as was the case with all peripheral EU states.

“Debtocracy” traces the roots of the current crisis back to the mid-Seventies, when the world entered a period of low growth, recurrent crises, suppressed, if any, rises in workers' income and high unemployment. As the documentary explains, financialisation brought on and intensified these crises. And, when the US housing bubble burst, the financial system came close to total collapse. At the same time in Europe, the structural deficiencies of the monetary union were becoming all the more apparent, since, according to the economist Samir Amin: 'There cannot be a currency without a state '. An outcome of the Eurozone’s structural failures was that the crisis became most intense at the peripheral states, due to a systematic loss of competitiveness in comparison to the countries of the European core.

The documentary draws parallels between the Argentine economic crisis of 1999-2002 and the current economic crisis in Greece. It points to the concepts of “odious”, “illegal” and “illegitimate” debt, with historical examples spanning from the 19th century to modern day Iraq. The documentary then presents the case of Ecuador as an alternative government reaction to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

“Debtocracy” goes on to describe the structural anomalies of the Greek economy that led to debt accumulation, namely the systematic failure of the state to tax fairly, the exorbitant defense spending, the corruption of the political elites etc. As it demonstrates, the measures implemented in order to fight the skyrocketing debt are not only unfair, but also dangerous to the population. According to Nikitas Kanakis, president of the NGO “Medecins of the World”, in Greece “[the situation] is not much different from what we see in Third World countries”.

So, is there any solution in sight? For the creators of “Debtocracy”, an Audit Commission for the sovereign debt would be a useful tool in the fight for economic and social justice –especially since the debt incurred by Greece bears evidence of illegitimacy. For example, the authorities received 'gifts' from companies such as Siemens, who bribed ministers and officials in order to gain contracts. Another example are the infamous swaps of 2001, with which the government made the Greek debt look lower, assisted by Goldman Sachs.

An audit would define exactly what the sovereign debt is about. Bearing this in mind, in March 201, a group of experts from different backgrounds took the initiative to demand the formation of an Audit Commission in Greece. Academics, writers, artists and union representatives from all over the world supported this initiative. An Audit Commission could find which parts of the debt are odious or illegitimate and prove that, as provided by Greek and International Law the Greek people are not obliged to pay such debt. However, the decision is basically political, not financial. Because, as the interviewees point out, even if the debt was legitimate, no government has the right to “kill” its people in order to satisfy its lenders.

The creators of “Debtocracy” worked pro bono. In order to avoid any kind of dependencies, they turned to syndicates and workers’ unions for funding. Mainly though, they turned to the citizens, who helped in co-producing the film. The documentary, however, isn’t an example of citizen journalism. It is the decision of hundreds of citizens to support an independent production of professional journalists.

“Debtocracy” features the academics David Harvey, Samir Amin, Costas Lapavitsas and Gerard Dumenil; the philosopher Alain Badiou; the head of Ecuador’s Audit Commission Hugo Arias; the president of CADTM Eric Toussaint; journalists like Avi Lewis (co-creator of the documentary “The Take”) and Jean Quatremer; as well as public figures like Manolis Glezos and Sahra Wagenknecht (from the German party Die Linke).

The soundtrack was written by Yiannis Aggelakas, Ermis Georgiadis and Aris RSN, while the journalist and economist Leonidas Vatikiotis scientifically edited the whole project. BitsnBytes undertook the production of “Debtocracy”, which was edited by Aris Triantafyllou.

Film Credits

Directors: Aris Chatzistefanou, Katerina Kitidi

Producers: Costas Efimeros

Photography: Aris Chatzistefanou

Editing: Aris Triantafyllou

Sound: Aris Triantafyllou

Music: Yiannis Aggelakas, Ermis Georgiadis, Aris RSN

Production Company: Bitsnbytes


Orginal Title: Hreokratia

UK Classification: None

Subtitles: Yes

Voiceover: No


Language: , , , ,

Length: 74 min

Colour: Yes


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Debtocracy Screening:

  • Tue29May

    at Roxy Bar and Screen

    29 May 2012 9:00 pm

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