Letter from Greece – “Who will the salvation government save”?

By Dafni Sfetsa – Greek Left Review*

One could not quite figure out where to start regarding previous week’s events. Rapid political developments occured leading to the so-called ‘national salvation’ government also described as a ‘coalition of the memorandum defenders’ or even a ‘democratic deviation’, pick and choose. What’s for sure is that a new historical period started when the two leaders of the so-called major parties that have been governing Greece for the last 37 years (!) signed the Agreement on Government Cooperation together with Greek President of Democracy.
How relieved must Greek citizens now feel?

Lately Greece has become known for corruption and interweaving, lawlessness, bureaucracy, the false financial statements called ‘Greek statistics’ and so on. Well, the truth is that 37 years is a long time and the two major parties had plenty of ‘opportunities’ to bring about a lot of awkward situations! So… how can one be optimistic when those responsible for the current plight join their forces?

Let’s however take a look at the recent facts.

On Thursday, October 27, Greek PM returns from Brussels celebrating (once again!) the great agreement that saved the country (once again!) from bankruptcy, total collapse and chaos.

On Friday, October 28, the national holiday celebrating Greek peoples resistance to Nazi forces during World War II, the established military parades turn into an opportunity for expression of popular anger against the government and its austerity policies. We shall recall that a week earlier, on the 19th and 20th, the country was paralyzed by the general strike in which hundreds of thousands of protesters demanded the resignation of the government. The parades became the next stopover for the angry crowd. Two elements especially indicate the magnitude of the reaction. On the one hand there was the cancellation of the official military parade in Thessaloniki. On the other we witnessed the outbreak of various protests and riots by people watching and students partaking in each and every parade, in every single town, in every village, municipality and community. The protests once more evolved into a popular uprising able to threaten the political establishment. The governmental celebrations for the agreement of the EU summit cut short and and government starts seeking a way out.

This is how we reach the 1st of November and the announcement taking aback not only the PASOK (ruling party) members of parliament, but also the opposition party (New Democracy) and the far-right and ultra-liberal parties which had voted in support of the ‘Memorandum’ (LAOS and the parliamentary group of MP Dora Bakoyianni), not counting Merkel and Sarkozy, the stock markets and all national economies around the world:George Papandreou’s announcement of the referendum on the new loan agreement. In his speech to PASOK MPs, Greek PM also announced that he calls for a confidence vote triggering an explosive political situation.

The first explosion takes place on the TV news: The private channels which have consistently supported the government’s Memorandum policies are absolutely panic-stricken. The journalists and commentators try to ‘kill’ the Greek PM for his choice which ‘endangers the stability of the Greek economy’. The next day it is the MPs’ and serving ministers’ turn. Two PASOK MPs withdraw from the party, while a dozen others declare their intention to follow the latter, not to mention their reluctance to give a confidence vote. Everyone who has up to now supported the efforts of George Papandreou to ‘save the country from bankruptcy’, including his closest allies, such as parliamentary spokesman Elias Mossialos, abandons him. The funny story is that the sworn enemies of Papandreou’s austerity policies, namely the left parliamentary parties (KKE and SYRIZA), are the only ones seeing eye to eye on the referendum decision yet without giving up their critical attitude and their demand for direct elections.

On Wednesdays ‘menu’ is the meeting between Papandreou, Merkel and Sarkozy in Cannes. The Merkozy press conference stops Greeks dead in front of their TVs and creates two competing factions: on one hand the aforementioned Memorandum defenders go mad. They demand Papandreou’s resignation and without making a single reference to national elections they suggest government cooperation as the one and only solution. Already around 6 am Finance Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, having attended the meeting in Cannes, dissents from Papandreou’s referendum decision.
At the same time the left parties, trade unions and a large part of society are shocked by the cynicism. Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy do not hesitate to indicate the time, content and -let’s be honest- the result of the referendum through a brutal blackmail. Many speak of a direct interference in the internal affairs of the country, of a straight violation of the democratic rules. The judgment is accepted surprisingly easily by G. Papandreou as if it was a charge not worth being concerned about. This appearred quite surprising given that it was the very same person who a bit earlier struggled for Greek peoples’ right to decide on their future. G. Papandreou employs democracy as a bluff, as a threat while the stock market reacts as democracy is a destruction. ‘We must avoid the elections because we do not know their result’, cynically announces E. Venizelos last Friday evening. ‘We must avoid the elections and referendum at all costs’ notes Minister of Education, Anna Diamantopoulou, a day earlier.

Still this chronicle cannot be over without recounting the outrageous facts going on behind the scenes. While the confidence vote process is still underway inside the parliament, the benches are almost empty as all Memorandum-supporting MPs join secret meetings lobbying behind the scenes and sorting out the ‘next day’. The information citizens and radical progressive journalists receive is ‘informal’, ‘unconfirmed’ or simply misleading. The foundations of the ‘next day’ are being built on the ground of a furious denial of a referendum or put in other words on the stubborn turndown of the right of people to decide. Would they inform us about their doings?

And that is how we reach Friday evening. PASOK MPs unexceptionally vote in favor of Papandreou government, setting only one condition: as soon as Papandreou government wins confidence vote it must resign for another government to be formed! In this case we are faced with democracy as a hoax.

The impasse is nevertheless overcome. While we are all expecting the announcement for our new leader we cannot but consider some questions left up in the air throughout the course of this ‘adventure’. One of them is what G. Papandreou really had in mind when he announced his referendum decision. The truth is that he acted under the pressure of popular rage. What then was his purpose? Intimidation? Or was he just bluffing?

The crucial question to be answered does not however concern the Greek settings, not even merely the Eurozone. The global system came up against the danger of collapse owing to the possibiity that an itty-bitty country might hold a referendum. Or even worse, global economy was threatened by a bit of ‘democracy’. How relieved shall we then feel that the deadlocks of the country were overcome and the two leaders reached to an agreement?
And like so we arrive at democracy as an aspiration for the ‘next day’. For the past few days the country’s constitution and institutions are being disgraced and humiliated, the current government lacks popular legitimacy and, as was correctly pointed out by SYRIZA’s leader Alexis Tsipras, the Parliament itself lacks democratic legitimacy. The ‘salvation’ government, as cynically labeled, is here to save only those who established it: the major private TV channels, behind which hide those controling the Greek capital, namely shipowners, owners of large public work projects, owners of football teams and so on. It was established by the markets, by “Markozi” and the EU leadership, as was by neoliberal ideologies and those sold out to them. It is here to save the interests, that G. Papandreou tenaciously served for as long as he governed. Needless to say, his failure could not threaten the interests that stood behind him. Business and friendship are two affairs of unequal size. This is by now probably crystal clear to the President of the Socialist International.

Now back to our business as usual: preparation of new measures, new taxes, unemployment, closing down of businesses, a bit more raising in prices of necessary goods, the selling out of what is left of public enterprises.

Whew! We avoided bankruptcy, we have survived.
And now the mighty ones can forward this “business as usual” to Italy, France, Portugal and so on and so forth.

They must avoid bankruptcy too. They must be saved.

*Dafni Sfetsa is a political journalist for Angi Newspaper

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