Here’s a story of a citizens’ initiative in Greece that intended to fight high prices and the politics that rose around it. It’s a promising initiative but the politics gave me a pessimistic feeling and reminded me that we can’t wait much from our political parties. They remain so disconnected from society, caring only about their small political gains rather than the well being of the citizens.
Some weeks ago a volunteer group from the northern town of Katerini decided to bypass the middlemen and the big super market chains in order to get lower prices for a basic good. The potato. In a normal country you would expect capitalism, competition or the state (sic) to work in the benefit of the consumers. In Greece, with its middlemen and cartels, this is not happening. So the Volunteers’ Action Group decided to contact potato producers from Nevrokopi, Drama, in order to ask for a lower price. The citizens from Katerini declared on the group’s website what quantities they needed and the group informed the producers from Drama. The latter hired a couple of trucks and the drove all the way to Katerini to distribute their products in 10 kg sacks. Until then, the citizens of Katerini were buying the same sack for 7 euros but the volunteers’ group initiative they bought them for 2,5! According to the group, a local supermarket responded to the initiative by lowering the price of potato to 0.35 euros (i.e. 3,5 euros for a 10 kg sack).
The success of the initiative was followed by many other citizens’ groups all around Greece who ordered several tons of potatoes. The potato movement reached big cities like Athens and Thessaloniki too. The story was shown by several mainstream media, in a fashion that praised the citizens’ initiative. I was so surprised to see this happening, especially since big super market chains are some of the top advertisers on tv, that I even got a bit suspicious. But before I understand what was happening, there came politics to fuck up the story.
Firstly, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) issued a statement with which it accused the state and the multinationals’ monopolies and cartels for trying to disorientate the people. According to KKE the problem of poverty is not going to be solved by such initiatives and the mainstream media promoted the “potato movement” in order not to let them identify with the labour movement. The real reason behind that statement of course was that KKE did not organize or control the initiative and thus felt the need to criticize it in attempt to limit its success. For the newbies in Greek politics, it’s enough to say here that KKE hates everything it doesn’t control as it believes that only itself is the true leftist and revolutionary party and that only they can and are going to bring the socialist change. Something like a copyright to revolution.
As one can imagine there was an uproar with this statement and some saw this situation as an opportunity to serve their own interests. For example, another leftist party and longtime opponent of KKE, SYRIZA praised the potato movement in an attempt to approach them in view of the coming elections. So did a third leftist party, the Democratic Left. Even the extreme right LAOS issued the following statement:
“Some people are bothered by the potato movement for one reason: They can not control and check it. We believe in these initiatives that can be overcome the fears and inhibitions of the government towards its customers, the middlemen and wholesalers”.
Someone must remind LAOS that they were part of this government for some months and did nothing about its customers.
Finally KKE issued a second statement on the issue and said that they have been misunderstood. Few people were convinced and thus we ended up talking more about the parties’ statements and less about the power of such initiatives, since the state is absent, to make daily life a bit easier.
The initiative is now taking place in at least ten different cities all around Greece and is spreading to other goods as well. Olive oil, beans and rice are among the next in the Greek price wars.