After almost two years of fierce struggle, the people of Greece have re-arranged the political map and demand the restoration of democracy, economic and social justice, writes Matthaios Tsimitakis.
As of Sunday evening, the main political forces in Greece are striving to form a broad coalition government in order to “save” the country’s European prospect that appeared to come under threat when prime minister George Papandreou proposed to host a referendum on the bailout agreement, causing the furious reaction of European leaders. Having stepped on the verge of the exit from the eurozone, conservatives, liberal democrats, social democrats and extreme right-wing populists have agreed to form an interim government of unknown duration, probably lead by banker Lucas Papademos, an ex-vice president of the ECB.
While the composition of this new government and its broad majority in parliament are not yet clear, its agenda is already well known: Heavy cuts in public spending, privatization of public assets and unpopular reforms described in the agreements signed between the Greek authorities and the real governors of the country - the Troika, Germany and France. Opposed to these developments are now standing the two parties of the left (the CP and the Coalition of SYRIZA), along with large sections of society, which are sinking in deprivation due to the dogmatism of these policies, dictating that Greece should remain “western European” in terms of costs, while turning rapidly “Balkanian” in terms of income and rights for the majority of the population.
This is the new political map of the country; the Left and the rest. Behind it there is the schism between society and politics, as the rulers lack any kind of democratic legitimacy. This rearrangement on the political map, caused by almost two years of fierce resistance by the Greek people to the imposed policies, is in a sense a correction of reason that reveals the cynical nature of power relations and sets the frame for the expression of the antagonisms in society. After decades, all three fundamental issues of a nation state, namely democracy, economic and social justice, are open. The Greeks are demanding the restoration of these principles with consistency and persistence - even presenting a sometime ugly spectacle of anger and discontent.
Despite the systematic and continuous calumny they suffered, at the hands of their governors as well as the Europeans and the international media, they decided from day one to politicize this “financial” problem. They reminded everyone that the economy is subject to political and social affairs and as such reflects the balance between opposing forces in society. They refuse to accept extreme poverty, which has been caused by the neoliberal reforms and Brussels' determination to bail out the banks at the cost of the European taxpayers, as their inevitable fate; and they show that the ruling elites in Europe should not only worry about restoring the confidence of the markets, but more importantly they should be wary of the lack of confidence by their own people and the democratic deficit on the continent.
Greece was small enough to serve as an experimental laboratory for a new political rationale in Europe, but look what is happening to Italy and throughout the South at the moment. Following Papandreou’s resignation, Berlusconi's position in Italy is fragile, and Thapatero is preparing to lose the elections in Spain in a couple of weeks' time. Sarkozy’s socialist rival is threatening the French president’s dominance while the alliance between socialists and the green party in Germany looks like it will finally put an end to the Merkel era. And yet, judging by the case of Greece, these rearrangements could prove insufficient to bring political stability to the continent. The reason is the radical nature of the mix of neoliberal reforms, escorted by financial nationalisms, and a neocolonial discourse emerging in Europe's north.
One of the comments that has not been heard enough with regard to Papandreou’s “blackmail” around the referendum is the cynical claim by European leaders that the lack of time would cause further turmoil in the markets. The social democrats have traditionally served as the effective mediator between capital and labor through the democratic process. But even that is not necessary anymore, as Europe is entering a state of continuous and unresolved crisis. True hope for Europeans is only coming from the wave of revolutions that is rocking the planet from one edge to another, expressing in a local context the very same universalist values. After the Arab spring and the summer of the indignados in Spain and Greece, the wave of the occupy movement in the United States and all over the world is carrying a message to the winter of the economic recession. Real democracy is the request of our times. Whether the markets like it or not.
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