by Stathis Gourgouris, for Greek Left Review
The majority of Greeks voted for governmentability this time, as opposed to registering a mere protest vote as in the May 6 elections. This manifestation was motivated by two contrary sentiments, fear of change and desire for change, which correspond to votes going to New Democracy and SYRIZA respectively.
The new government to be formed will involve collaboration between two nominally vicious opponents of the past, who have been, however, complicit in the degradation of the Greek political system in the last 30 years. Their current collaboration confirms their long term mutual complicity and renders their previous opposition a mere brawl over spoils. In this respect, there has never been greater political clarity as to the primary self-interest of the Greek political elite.
But this new government will represent an electorate that has registered its trust motivated by fear. Such politics can never sustain itself in the long run, especially as the new ND-PASOK government is bound to distinguish itself by even greater capitulation to the interests of financial capital and European bureaucratic elites. The very same people who voted for this sort of political formation (a minority position overall) will quickly turn against their rulers in various manifestations of social unrest. How this social unrest will translate into a different political order is one of the key wagers of Greece’s future.
On the other hand, SYRIZA collected unprecedented popular support. It is evident that voters who supported SYRIZA are no longer motivated by mere opposition to the old political order. Rather, they registered their conviction that SYRIZA is a probable (and indeed desirable) governing force. There is a stunning statistic that shows SYRIZA an overwhelming victor among the ages of 55 years and below, while the population of over 55 years old went to ND. The desire for change and the commitment to change belongs to Greece’s future, while the fear-driven, literally conservative, sentiment that brought ND to power is a force of years past. While not knowing exactly how this will play out, this generational discrepancy must not be underestimated.
Now, SYRIZA as the chosen party of primary opposition cannot return to its habitual mode of parliamentary opposition from the fringes of 5-6%. Parliamentary opposition is essential to democratic governance and must be conducted with impeccable responsibility. As SYRIZA is likely to be the governing power in the near future, it must honor the electoral support it received by conducting an ingenious, vigilant, yet flexible opposition. While occupying the forefront of critique, it cannot afford to recede into obstructionism. Given that the mass media, controlled as they are by major elite interests, will continue to barrage SYRIZA with all kinds of vilification, SYRIZA must become even more vigilant as to its parliamentary conduct. The goal of SYRIZA is not opposition for opposition’s sake – or for the sake of adherence to some sort of legacy of the Left. It is to come to government without compromising the core principles that brought it this trust from nearly 27% of the electorate.
I have argued that the Left must overcome its taboo on governing in a democratic society. As SYRIZA was entrusted with being the primary opposition party, the allure of this taboo looms more intensely than ever. The ND-PASOK coalition will hold on to power with difficulty in the next year. Its majority is slim and so is the trust of the electorate. Although it is likely that the upcoming EU Council in June 27-28 will reward the new government with an extension on its debt payments and may even grant new loans quickly, the terms of the Memorandum will not be substantially renegotiated and the state of Greece’s bankruptcy will continue, as will the general economic decline of the entire Eurozone. Impoverishment will get worse and social unrest will increase. Since the ND-PASOK coalition has shown itself capable of only capitulation to external forces, its internal political legitimacy, now bolstered by insecurity and fear, is bound to collapse. And SYRIZA must remain the primary vehicle for the alteration of the old political system.
Two other aspects of this electoral result must be noted:
First, electoral absenteeism increased even further to 38% of the electorate. This means that governmental representation is extraordinarily partial. It is very hard to figure out what, if anything, this electorally dormant population is likely to do in the future. Electoral absenteeism certainly manifests a socially defeated population, who in the midst of its dire impoverishment has lost all trust in the political process. If SYRIZA aims to develop itself responsibly as a governing force, it also must address itself to this self-depoliticized population.
Second, the fact the fascist Golden Dawn (XA) retained its 6.9% means that it is now a real political phenomenon that cannot be ignored. The Left must come to terms with this force, which is not to say that it must help to authorize its legitimation. XA is still a criminal organization, self-admittedly anti-democratic, which merely uses the openness of the democratic process to bolster its criminal violence. It is imperative that SYRIZA conduct both a parliamentary and a public campaign to revise the Constitution as to judicial immunity granted to members of Parliament. In general, the most important task of the Greek political order right now is not to meet the Memorandum’s numbers (because it can’t anyway), but to reauthorize an independent judiciary and to prosecute relentlessly all criminality – from tax evasion to the racist and political violence exemplified by the public action of XA.
Though this election returns to power the old political elite, the political trajectory of the country has irreversibly changed. And, as the historical conditions that provoked this change remain in place and are likely to become more intense, this new trajectory is indeed the way by which we shall be judging the future of Greek political culture.
Stathis Gourgouris is Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature and director of the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University.