Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Greece situation comes to partial life in Theopi Skarlatos & Paul Mason's hour-long documentary, ThisIsACoup

For those of us who followed, news-wise over the past years, the horrific "austerity" situation in Greece and (to a lesser extent) Spain, along with the behavior of the European Union in the case of Greece, which has appeared profoundly anti-Democratic and unnecessarily, even torturously punishing. The election in both countries of leftist, popular governments seemed to indicate a rise of the kind of Democracy that might put the people in power, rather than, as ever, the banking interests, the wealthy and the already powerful. Instead, the flame-out of Greece's radical left party, Syriza, seems to have left the country and its populace with one less alternative to even more ridiculous and harmful (to anyone except the wealthy) belt-tightening austerity.

What happened and why is the subject of a new four-part -- each part lasting around 15 minutes -- documentary titled #THISISACOUP, being released by Field of Vision, the new "film unit" created by Laura Poitras and others, in collaboration with The Intercept/First Look Media. Directed by Theopi Skarlatos and produced by Paul Mason, the series may prove somewhat eye-opening for anyone who did not follow the story as it was breaking and continuing. But for those of us who read the coverage in, say, The Nation, or The New York Times, the hour proves a distinct disappointment.

The idea that one could cover the whole thing in four fifteen minute episodes seems odd to begin with. Add to this the fact that the series seems to skirt along the surface, interviewing the same few people, including an actress/protester and a dock worker, over and over again. What? Among the protesters, nobody else had anything interesting to say? We also never get underneath the situation to discover what plan -- if any -- Alexis Tsipras (above), leader of the supposedly "radical left" party, Syriza, and the country's eventual Prime Minister, and his head of finance, Yanis Varoufakis (below, left), had ready (or even imagined in their minds) to put into place. No hard questions are asked of either man.

Instead, over the four segments, it seems that just about everyone (everyone we see here, at least) imagined that simply having the people vote against austerity would be enough to change the behavior of the European Union. Yeah, right. For whatever reason, the doc doesn't go into the possibility of dropping out of the European Union, leaving the Euro to return to the Drachma. (Sure there would be a huge "run" on the banks. But, hell, Syriza achieved that "run" anyway by doing little to nothing.)

In Part One, we are promised the Greek story from the inside, and indeed the filmmakers seem to have gotten great access to and support from Tsipras and Varoufakis. We see that, yes, we're all connected. But some, as usual, are connected a bit better than others.

Part Two tells us that most of the bailout money went to the banks, who were in large part responsible for the country's melt-down (does this sound familiar, Americans?), with only eleven per cent of the money going to the people themselves. (I don't think our country even managed that much for the American people, but then we were not nearly in the dire straits of the Greeks.) Syriza then passes a law to give food and electricity to the poor, and Europe responds by trying to stop this. The country's money is running out, and the populace has taken to the streets, demonstrating with placards the likes of "Jesus: Please Save Greece."

That populace becomes bitterly divided by Part Three, during which Tsipras, receiving no help from the EU, calls for a plebiscite. It happens, and the anti-austerity forces win (again). But in Part Four we see that this vote has no effect at all, except bringing the EU to force the Greek PM into even further concessions to austerity, after which Syriza's MPs resign and Tsipras, though still PM, is finished so far as any effective governing and positive change are concerned.

The documentary's most perspicacious sections deal with Zoe Konstantopoulou, a human rights lawyer and Syriza's most senior female MP, who has plenty to say. One wonders how she might have handled things differently from Tsipras. The point of the film seems to be that Greece tried Democracy, but that this did not matter to those in power at the EU. (Jesus seems not to have come through, either.) The IMF, by the way, has since halted its austerity stance, but the EU is still bent on policies that punish. So, now, as the doc points out, who knows to whom the Greek people will turn next? (The threat of the populace voting into power an ever-nasty, right-wing government is here implied.)

What the film accomplishes best is to ask that old question, once again: What kind of real change is possible without a definite plan and at least some power to back up that plan? Cuba, and to a lesser extent Venezuela, are accused of being dictatorships, and indeed they are/were. But they were also successful in many ways: They had a plan and the power to back it up. Evidently, Greece had only the chance to vote against something -- with nothing at all ready or able to replace that something.

We here in America (including me) voted for Obama, who despite his promises, proved to be thoroughly in bed with Wall Street and the banks, offering an administration about as transparent as a brick wall. (Let's not even try to go after the criminals in the Bush administration or on Wall Street. No, let's prosecute whistle-blowers instead!) In far too many so-called Western democracies, voting gets you a change of sleazy politicians, not a change of policies. Revolution, for all its attendant problems, brings real change -- for the better and the worse.

If you know little about Greece's current situation, then by all means, watch #ThisIsACoup. Just don't expect depth or even much common sense or political acuity from the people-in-charge, in front of or behind the camera. The program makes its debut on the Field of Vision site, this coming Tuesday, December 15, with a new episode added each day for the following three days. And, so far as I can determine, the viewing is free of charge. Click here for more information, and here to see the trailer for the first episode.

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