Greece Before The Elections

Greece is heading to a general election deeply divided in an extremely polarized climate.

greece-electionPolls show a clear lead of the leftist party Syriza, a fact that causes unrest in Germany. The prospect of a “third way” has led to an unprecedented direct involvement of EU and German officials in Greek politics, a fact not appreciated by the Greek electorate. The suggestion that we “do not want to talk to new faces after the election” is more than indicative of the intrusion of a number of officials into the Greek public sphere.

In terms of the expected outcome a number of distinctive criteria may be used to explain the behavior of the Greek electorate. These bear different semantics and may be attributed to a number of factors. First, the troika has exhausted the political capital of the current government. Eventually IMF officials acknowledged in 2013 that they have made mistakes but suggested that the same pattern of structural changes should continue. The bailout program offers no guarantee for success as it has drained what is left from the Greek economy.

The political crisis in Greece did not come out of the blue.

Yet, in the current phase it took the form of a choice between fear and hope. Actually these are the two conceptual tools of the main political rivals in Greece. Operationally the insistence of the troika along with the German leadership austerity-driven obsession in moving on with a policy of exemplary punishment has broken the link between Greek leadership and collectivity. The measures of unsustainable austerity imposed to a developed country have turned a developed into a developing state in a record time.

In a multilevel political-economic and social perspective this has been a negative historical event not appreciated by a wider European public who are only able to see the tree but miss the forest under the impact of simplified, aphoristic evaluations made by certain European political leaders.

The means used to impose the austerity straight jacket were externalized mainly, if not exclusively, in the form of fear. Terrorizing the public opinion has been a sine qua non of all efforts to manipulate a public facing a humanitarian crisis. 1.5 million unemployed, unemployment at almost 27 percent and youth unemployment at more than 57 percent and a dramatic decline of GDP constitute ample evidence of a failed strategy imposed through austerity measures.

Many suggest that German leadership simply needed a scarecrow to tell others (i.e. Italy, France, Ireland, Spain, Portugal) what they should not do to avoid the fate of Greece. This is what I call “Protestant politics,” an ordeal for the sinners. Yet, the ontological question is whether they wish to restructure the country’s economy and get a refund or drive it to its socio-political and economic limits.

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All along the crisis Angela Merkel has insisted on a “take it or leave it” policy. This is part of a mutation strategy that goes beyond any European standard of solidarity or common future. It was only after the intervention of President Obama that German leadership was persuaded not to insist on this policy. Yet, the threat of imposing a Greek exit was always there in Berlin to be used as a weapon of mass socioeconomic destruction.

In terms of real economy austerity has paralyzed the economy to a non-reversable degree.

This is not what happened elsewhere. As Joseph Stiglitz suggested “the US introduced the smallest dose of austerity, and it has enjoyed the best economic performance.” The intensity of austerity, the imposition of restrictive policies as well as the lack of any development policies drove the country to a point of no return. Actually, the way austerity measures were introduced seriously questioned the motives of the debtors, their credibility as economists and their operational plan to save the country.

The fact that German leadership did not offer Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras any carrot to bring home illustrated that he was used as an expendable ally. Today’s crisis is the result of imposing an economic absolutism that goes beyond the canons of European values. The Greek bailout program has buried central elements of the European acquis and European law as introduced by the treaties, a fact officially acknowledged in the European Parliament. Greece is an exception to the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, a fact that sets the electorate questions of survival.

The coming elections will define not only the future of Greece but also the prospects for the EU in the decades to come. Thucydides was clear about the ability of the strong to impose their will on the weak. Yet, nominally the EU meant to be the organizational milieu of Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet.

German-inspired policies have heavily affected democracy and constitutional order in the country. The implied choice between euro or democracy is a historical and sets issues concerning the future of the EU. Will it remain a union of free states or will it transform itself into a regime?

George Voskopoulos is Associate Professor of European Studies, University of Macedonia, Thessaloniki, Greece. Read other articles by George.