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It's Not Just the Economy Stupid!

posted by Philomila Tsoukala

“Greeks are protesting new austerity measures” is a common headline these days. It definitely captures some of what protesting Greeks are doing, but certainly leaves a whole lot out of the picture. Many Greeks are protesting not only the deterioration of their standard of living, but equally importantly, what they experience as a political disenfranchisement that has been orchestrated by the government, with the collaboration of the European heads of state. The situation in Greece is going to get much worse not only because of the economy, but also because of the repressive politics that are threatening to ignite Greek society.

To understand the Greek political cauldron you need to put yourself in the shoes of the average salaried Greek and what she has experienced these past two years. Picture this:

You are the average Greek. You make about 800euro a month in a city where the cost of living compares to Paris. You pay your taxes, which are as high as in some of the northern European welfare states, yet you get none of the services they do. Your family is your safety net. You are guilty of the everyday acts of corruption that you need to survive in the system, such as bribing public hospital doctors to do their job. And you are barely making ends meet. All around you you see evidence of the affluence of a political class in cahoots with the business circles that monopolize Greek markets and keep consumer prices high. In 2009, the prime minister you voted for on a platform of “tax the rich” and fight corruption, tells you that because of your high wages and the public sector inefficiency the country needs a bailout. The corrupt politicians who have borrowed money to turn it into lucrative public procurement projects for themselves and for the companies that bribed them are still in place. Not one of them is persecuted because they have voted into law an amnesty for themselves, while the foreign press-which you can read online- is buzzing with multibillion dollar scandals involving the government and foreign companies, or the government and land swaps with monasteries, or the government and the corrupt procuring of military equipment from France and Germany. To add insult to the injury, your government largely contributes to the European press depiction of you as southern welfare drone, overpaid, underworked, definitely not of the Protestant ethic. The vice-President of the government informs you that you and he have eaten the money together. Your government explains and the troika agrees that you need to be reformed, while the political class remains in place. You get poorer. You get angrier.


You respond by joining other peaceful protesters in Syntagma square. In 2011, right before another loan is voted by the Parliament you join another three hundred thousand Greeks to protest against it. Without having yourself been violent and without even having been close to people who are violent you find yourself tear gassed and clobbered by the police, who are caught on camera behaving like thugs(viewer discretion advised). The press largely ignores all of this and instead only reports on the usual suspects throwing Molotov bombs at the police. You get angrier, you get poorer. You demand elections, because you think the government has no mandate to be taking the decisions it is taking. You are told by the very same people who have brought the country to the brink, and who are still in place, that elections are dangerous, elections are bad, elections are what will doom the country. The troika agrees. 

Then the government institutes a regressive property tax that essentially means you need to lose the house if you are to pay the tax, given that you have also lost your job. The political architects of this system are still all in place, explaining to you why YOU are to blame for all this. You are so angry that on October 28th, a national holiday celebrating Greece’s resistance to Mussolini’s threats, you hit the streets of your town and along with thousands of citizens all around Greece, you boo, jeer, and even chase the representatives of the government (including the President of the Republic) from the celebration. The media brand you a minority and the government prosecutes you for “insult to the public authorities”. Right after this episode, your Prime Minister almost causes a global financial crisis by announcing that he will ask your opinion about whether you want to sign onto a new bailout or not. Sarkozy is caught on camera calling Papandreou a madman. Papandreou asks for a vote of confidence, retires the referendum idea, retires himself, and passes the premiership to an unelected banker called Papademos, as if it were a baton, in a procedure that is foreseen nowhere in the constitution. It is said that Papademos is an uncorrupted technocrat who is well trusted by the Europeans. You have been threatened with an exit from the EU so you are temporarily relieved. Then you remember that Papademos was the Greek central banker when the capital sin of fudging the numbers was committed by Greece. You are confused. Quickly you go back to being angry. 

By February 2012, you are near explosion. You join about a hundred to two hundred thousand Greeks who are protesting in front of the Parliament and watch as the police attack even peaceful protesters with tear gas with the apparent goal of dispersing them. The only foreign reporter on site (BBC) describes the scene as "collective punishment of a peaceful majority." The usual suspects slash and burn, but you don’t care anymore. While Athens is burning the Parliament adopts the most draconian bailout yet under conditions of political breakdown. The minister of education repeats that elections now will be a disaster and the government announces that it will promote restrictive changes to the conditions for protesting in the center of Athens. You are once again depicted as an irrational, unruly, spoiled child, who will not take his well-deserved spanking and will instead only throw expensive tantrums. Or as a crony syndicalist despite the fact that you have been working in the private sector and have not dared to ever participate in a strike.

This time you can’t get much poorer. But you are probably not done getting angry. Next time around, you are ready to pick up a stone and throw it at the police yourself

Comments

So well put, so well said. it draws an accurate picture. thank you Philomila

The resistance of the Greek people to the looting of their country and the demolishing of their democracy is noble. It's small comfort today, but I feel confident that it will be seen as such by history.

As analyses of the Greek situation go, this is a particularly superficial one. It omits a host of critical facts related to political cronyism and patronage, an inbred academia, a rotten public education system, a judicial system so slow that in effect amounts to denial of justice, etc. Greeks have not only tolerated these factors; in many cases they nurtured them.

I believe, however, that the time of analyzing the Greek situation has passed. More or less we know what went wrong. The challenge is to figure what to do next, how to chart a course that will take Greece to eventual prosperity.

To meet this challenge successfully we need to understand two things.

First that the situation will not improve in a short period of time. It will take several years, at least 20, to effect changes. For example, it would take a new generation of teachers to educate a new generation of students about the difference between ad rem and ad hominem, the latter being the foundation of Greece's pubic discourse.

Second that Greece today needs new concepts in redefining itself as a republic. The chronic misconception of ochlocracy (mob rule) as democracy has undermined social order for the past 40 years.

It is time to engage in a new discussion about how to get Greece on a path to eventual prosperity. And the sooner we abandon the urge to analyze the roots of Greece's evils, the sooner we can engage in a forward-looking, problem-solving discussion.

Beautiful, bareboned and sober illustration of things. Retweeted and posted in my Facebook:
https://twitter.com/#!/alabrian/status/170757145380392960

Fairly accurate. The only thing you seem to have ommited is that when the CEO of one of the major corporations that bribed politicians with Greeks and eu taxpayer money is called to justice he is also ...fleeing (!!!) becoming a fugitive (!!!) from Greek justice not to Venezuella, N.Korea or may be Syria but to our fellow ... Germany!!! His name Dr Christoforakos and he is actually protected by German justice the same time Greeks are uniformly accused as corrupt etc.

The dire situation in Greece, and also in other countries of the planet, is not resolvable unless we change from the pseudo-dmocracy model, or better the plutocracy model, to a conemporary authentic participative democracy called DEMOSOPHIA:

http://leregardcretois.blogspot.com/2012/02/demosophia-paradigm-as-solution.html#more

As instructed, I was imagining myself as this hypothetical Greek wage earner when I got to the end --- you know, the part about picking up a stone and throwing it at the police.

It was then that I realized the difference between Greeks and Americans who may someday face the same financial repression: Americans don't need stones. They have guns.

The US revolutionary tradition is top-down, and the ruling class is in no way inclined to lead any revolts. Also, populist movements have been kept divided by racial, religious, and regional back-biting. There are many guns, but the police are brandishing them at OWS, and the Tea Partiers are brandishing them at nonwhites.

Yah thats a nice story. It kind of misses the preceding 30 years where you, the now angry Greek, kept electing the looters and criminals year after year.

Or the Western elites who were blinded by Greek corruption and backwardness and pushed Greece into the EU when it was clearly not ready.

I thought Greece was a democracy.

Didn't all these government officials get elected by the Greek voter?

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