The Greek PM’s decision to uphold a referendum caught everyone off guard. So we are told. The long list includes his own party affiliates, key-members of the government, other political forces in Greece, his european counterparts, various EU officials, the “markets”, the rating agencies, the White House and so on.
But did it really come out the blue? For anyone with an eye on current Greek politics – and there are quite a few these days all over the world – the PM’s decision may seem not as unexpected as it appears in the first read.
The rising social and political tensions which have been making headlines all year long climaxed a couple of days ago with the widespread spontaneous expressions of anger and dismay during the celebrations of one of the most important national days of remembrance in Greece. As is well known, the 28th of October celebrations commemorate the WWII resistance marking the anniversary of the refusal of the Greek regime at the time to confront to the German demands. In a day full of symbolisms, Greek crowds took on the streets disrupting military and school parades, chasing down the representatives of the ruling party and even heckling the emblematic figure of the President of the Greek Republic. These largely symbolic events were yet another indicator of the massive popular dismay fueled by an ever expanding democratic deficit in Greece at the moment. And the government had to take some form of “political initiative” as the journalistic jargon would have it.
The content of the proposed referendum remains vague. But the intention is clear: to link the validation of the so-called “bail-out” plan with an affirmation of Greece’s membership in the Eurozone and possibly the EU. If so, this can be nothing less than a clear-cut blackmail, a mega-version of the well-known drama played out in Greece each time a new austerity measure has to be decided for the securing of yet another installment. As for the alleged engagement of the citizens in the decision-making process and the making of space for their voice to be heard, this is only wishful thinking. The referendum proposal can be seen as a desperate attempt to anticipate a mass scale popular revolt against the government and the ruling political classes. Its only practical use is the hope that it might allow some space for political maneuver. The government could certainly have spared some of its valuable time asking the will of the sovereign people on the occasion of the last year’s first memorandum which has undoubtedly laid the foundations for Greece’s predicament. A government with different pretensions could also use this allusion to the will of the people as a stratagem for the striking of a better deal, one which would not fail so miserably with dire consequences for both Greece and Europe.
There is no wonder then why almost everyone is opposing the idea in Greece and abroad. But the Nays are of different order. For the ones who feel that the problem of the country is that it lacks “national unity” and “leadership” the referendum is rejected on the basis of its divisive content and its “populist” connotations. What is needed, they argue, is a government of national unity preferably by technocrats which will overlook the enforcement of the deal and will probably lead the way to elections once the former is secured. This new “party of order” comes close to the traditional right-wing party which, however, sees the elections as the opportune moment for the seizing of power. The Nay coming from the left, in its different formations, is again a call for elections, but of a different kind: Popular sovereignty can be the answer to an illegitimate government.
The referendum initiative may be proven a fiasco. What, however, remains is the inability of the dominant political forces in Greece to cope with the plain fact that there is a clear breach of the social and political contract masked under a state of emergency and the termination of this state of emergency is the true duty of any democrat. It is often mentioned that “we” live in historic times and current discussions over the crisis in Greece and in Europe are full with 20th century historical analogies whether it is the great depression or the Greek fifties and sixties. But was does it actually mean? It is that “we”, as a people, as citizens of Europe have to once again believe that we can become the makers of our own history in Greece and in Europe, for Greece and Europe.