The Greek elite that tried to push through policies on the back of a deficit it fuelled stands alone and accused
By Costas Douzinas*
The workers of a small bakery and corner shop in central Athens announced yesterday (Weds) that while they would not close because they are serving many vulnerable people they are joining the 2-day general strike by charging all products at cost. It must have been an unexpected surprise in these hard times for their customers who bought their milk and bread at half price. This is an ordinary story of the life of resistance and kindness in Athens. At the same time, no government minister or MP can appear in public without being heckled or ‘yoghurted’ (the Greek style ‘pieing’). Greece is split in two. On the one side, politicians and bankers, rich tax evaders and media barons. Despite party differences, they are united in supporting the most class-driven and violent social and cultural restructuring West Europe has seen.
The ‘other’ Greece that does not get much hearing in the media includes the overwhelming majority of the population. It was in evidence yesterday when according to the Greek TUC up to 500,00 people took to the streets in Athens and in every other town and most shops remained closed. It was the largest demonstration in living memory. The attempt to divide civil servants (ritually presented as lazy and corrupt) from private sector employees (the ‘tax evading’ plumbers) has misfired. The only success the Papandreou government can boast for is the abolition of the old right/left division which dominated politics since the communist-led resistance during the German occupation and its replacement by a new divide between the elites and the people.
The Europeans will decide soon how to deal with the debt, with the Greek government a sad observer of its preordained future on the sidelines. But once the only business Europe cares for has been settled, the political endgame will start in Athens. At that point, the ‘other’ Greece will formulate history’s indictment.
-The Greek political elites will stand accused for fostering the anomie or lawlessness, the term freely used against those who resist. The two dynastic parties and all senior politicians have alternately ruled the country over the last 40 years. They created the inflated and ineffective public sector they now attack in order to reward their clients. They turned a blind eye to tax evasion and created the most generous system of tax avoidance for the rich. They ran up the deficit and the debt and continued doing so well after the problems became clear. Both centre right and centre left parties altered the statistical returns of their predecessors when in government increasing the deficit and eventually leading to the European intervention. Matthias Myers, a troika member, said recently in an interview to Kathimerini newspaper that they did not demand the abolition of collective bargaining in the private sector, the one measure that has led to some opposition in the ruling party. The troika did not demand the wholesale change of the University law, imposed against the near unanimous opposition of academics. It is as if the Greek elites desired the debt in order to orchestrate the wholesale destruction of the welfare state and the massive transfer of public assets to private hands at bargain basement prices.
-The Papandreou government will stand accused of incompetence and moral cynicism. Every authoritarian regime dreams of changing radically society with a magic wand. This government believed that by legislating a few statutes which undermine the Greek ethos of ancient values, conventions and principles, it will create a new people. The mission was to replace the customary care for others with indifference, traditional hospitality with the exploitation of strangers, the consolations of friendship with solitary depression. They failed and only a thick blue line separates the elite from the outraged people now. Their black magic arts were accompanied with postmodern cynicism. Over the last year the government announced on five occasions triumphantly that it had reached a solution only to be immediately disproved. ‘We know what I tell you is a lie’ is the cynic’s mantra, ‘but I still act as if it is true.’ And as youth unemployment is soaring towards 50%, Greece will be paying for decades the destruction of a whole generation, the ‘genecide’ currently committed, to coin a term.
-The ‘troika’ of IMF, EU and ECB will stand accused of neo-colonial arrogance. It is not necessary to know the Sisyphus myth to understand that measures leading to -7 growth do not reduce the deficit and the debt. You don’t need to have read Plato or Aristotle to understand that up to 50% reduction of salaries and pensions mean that people will not be able to pay the exorbitant new taxes. You don’t need to know Greek history to understand that if you keep saying that the sovereignty of a country is seriously reduced people will react furiously.
Yesterday’s demonstration ended tragically with the death of a trade-unionist. The last vestiges of governmental legitimacy are gone and the government will follow soon. The democratic deficit from which political systems suffer everywhere is irreversible in Greece. The responsibility of the ‘other’ Greece is to devise a constitution of social justice and democracy for the 21st century. This is what Greece can offer to the world.
*Costas Douzinas is a law professor at Birkbeck, University of London. His books include The End of Human Rights and Human Rights and Empire. A shorter version of this article is published on the Guardian’s Commment is free today