From Athens to Paris: A ‘European Spring’?Posted: May 2, 2012
A shorter version of this article by Costas Douzinas, entitled “The Greek election could be the start of a European spring” has been published at the Guardian on Tuesday 1 May 2012: Illustration by Belle Mellor Guardian collaborator http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/may/01/greece-vote-european-spring
The month of May is the heart of spring even though we may not feel it in London yet. May 6 may become the beginning of the ‘European spring’. The expected victory of Francois Hollande in the French elections and his rejection of the fiscal pact will be the first defeat of the policies Ms Merkel and the hapless EU technocrats have imposed on Europe. But the result of the Greek elections may have even greater symbolic significance.
The elections mark the end of the second act of the Greek tragedy with a whole cast of formerly dominant parties and politicians exiting stage right. The first act finished last November with the resignation of the Papandreou government as a result of popular opposition and Merkozy’s fear of a Greek referendum on euro membership [http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/nov/06/greek-spring-europe-contagion-resistance?INTCMP=SRCH]. Papandreou was the poor man’s Tony Blair, advised by lifelong party apparatchiks and a small clique of neoliberal ‘experts’, dismissively known as the ‘gardeners’. This closely-knit group of mediocrities who owed their positions to Papandreou’s feudal patronage claimed that they could ‘save’ Greece from the disasters their governments had caused. Evangelos Venizelos, who replaced Papandreou in the leadership of PASOK, is a verbose Gordon Brown who as Economics Minister oversaw the catastrophic second austerity package thus consigning his lifelong quest to become prime minister to the graveyard of broken dreams.
Last week the OECD announced that Greek average income fell by 25.3 % in 2011 an unprecedented reduction anywhere in peacetime (the British fell by 2%), with unemployment at 21% and youth unemployment at 50% [http://www.focus-fen.net/index.php?id=n276580]. Yet the second bailout loan as well as tax income will go to an escrow account and will be used to repay debt before salaries and pensions. PASOK calls itself socialist but, unlike Hollande, it accepted the austerity measures without negotiation or objection, with the young, the old and the poor as modern day Ifigeneias sacrificed to save the skin of economic and political Agamemnons.
In the blue corner, George Samaras, the populist and nationalist leader of New Democracy, voted against the first set of measures to differentiate his party from PASOK. Last November however New Democracy reverted to core ideology, accepted the second package and joined the Papademos government. Lukas Papademos, the technocrat leader of the coalition, was the governor of the Bank of Greece when the country was admitted to the euro through extensive creative accounting aka ‘Greek statistics’. It is an irony of history that the 2001 Simitis PASOK government lied in order to be admitted to the club, which engineered the downfall of country and party.
The Papademos government is a coalition of PASOK and New Democracy, the dynastic parties that ruled Greece in the last 40 years and brought it to its current predicament. Their election campaign has brought surrealism to the hustings. The overwhelming rejection of the IMF-EU measures has made the two governing parties argue against the policies they are implementing. It is as if not just some but all Lib-Dems as well as Cameron campaigned against coalition policies. At the same time, the disastrous opinion polls (New Democracy at 20% and PASOK down from 44% in 2009 to around 15%) and the desperate attempt to promote non-existent differences makes them outstrip each other in the ferocity of rhetorical attacks. Despite the fact that the electoral system offers an astounding 50-seat bonus to the first party, no single party will have a working majority. The only way the two ‘formerly great’ parties can continue the disastrous austerity, as commanded by Berlin and Brussels, will be to form a coalition government again on May 7, if they can tot 151 seats. While personal insults dominate the campaign, it is clear that the mainstream parties operate a Tesco-type policy of ‘get two for the vote of one’.
One of the most worrying aspects is the rush to the right by mainstream politicians who, imitating Sarkozy, compete to display their xenophobic credentials. Coalition ministers – Michalis Chrysochoidis and Andreas Loverdos – have spread panic about immigrants as criminals and carriers of infectious diseases, and have set up detention camps in order to contain this “threat”. Amnesty International has called the idea “deeply alarming” and “discriminatory”. Meanwhile, Athens’ Mayor Kaminis has, with Chrysochoidis, called immigrants “trash” and has organised campaigns to “cleanse” Athens from foreigners, while the coalition plans an anti-immigration wall on the Greco-Turkish border. It is an attempt to mobilise the politics of fear by using the ‘wretched of the earth’ European diktat keeps exhausted and starving in the Greek streets. In this climate, the neo-Nazi ‘Golden Dawn’ party which organises pogroms against immigrants may enter Parliament reminding Europeans the final days of Weimar. It will be a bitter irony for the country with the most successful resistance against the Nazi occupation. (Please see previous GLR posts http://greekleftreview.wordpress.com/2012/05/01/fascist-salutes-return-to-greece-as-anti-immigrants-chase-voters/ http://greekleftreview.wordpress.com/2012/05/01/2725/)
The tragic, the farcical and the simply depressing construct the image of a power system on the edge of nervous breakdown. May 2012 will be a textbook case about how all-powerful elites commits suicide under the delusional belief that serving private interests promotes public virtue. But their fall could become the beginning of the third act leading the tragedy to its cathartic closure. The Radical Left party (SYRIZA) and its charismatic young leader Alexis Tsipras promise to cancel the austerity package and negotiate a debt reduction placing growth and EU reform at the heart of policy. Tsipras proposes to form a government of Left parties supported by popular mobilisation. The opinion polls seem to agree. Such a government is the most popular choice while the three left parties, SYRIZA, the Communists and the Democratic Left, jointly poll at around 40%.The two other parties however, forgetting the history of popular front, reject the proposal. The Communist leadership has turned SYRIZA into its main target. In a schizophrenic way, the Communists participate in parliamentary politics but claim that they are not interested in government unless they have the full power to abolish capitalism. The Europhile Democratic Left on the other hand supports the EU uncritically and acts as a receptacle for disappointed PASOK MPs.
The logic of this proposal is the following. New Democracy party is likely to come first on Sunday, scooping up the 50-seat bonus as a result; Pasok will probably come second. However, SYRIZA, expects to come third. Under the Greek constitution, Syriza, as the third party, will be asked to form a government if the first two parties can’t because they have fewer than 150 MPs between them. At this point, the Left parties as well as the Greens and the anti-austerity centre-right will come under pressure to participate or at least give a vote of confidence to a government of the left.
The tectonic plates of Greek society and politics are moving. This is the first time a radical left government is seriously on the cards in Europe. The many thousands who filled Syntagma and the other squares last year were a leaderless movement without party or ommon ideology. Seasoned trade-unionists and militants alongside the first-time dissidents and protesters of the occupations changed the definition of politics. They now have the chance to supplement their version of direct democracy and social solidarity with strong parliamentary representation. The collapse of the bipolar political elite will lead up to six new and splinter parties to Parliament. But the stake of the elections is the long-term redrawing of the political map with the left replacing PASOK. Post-civil war Greece exiled, imprisoned and persecuted the left confining its parties to symbolic and ineffective opposition. This divide is now coming to an end as a multi-color hegemonic bloc combining the defence of life, democracy and independence brings together people who historically found themselves on opposing sides. As the anti-austerity popular feeling turns from the negation of ‘enough is enough’ to a radical governmental proposal, a new democratic model is emerging which can put pressure on the left parties not to miss their rendezvous with history. If May 6 leads to a French socialist President and a strong result for the Greek left, a scent of spring will travel from Paris to Athens. The French and the Greeks are voting not just for their own countries but for the future of Europe.
Resistance and Philosophy in the Crisis by Costas Douzinas, was published earlier this year by Alexandria Press, Athens.