The Greek protests are not just about the economic crisis

They’re a rejection of authority – Published on The Guardian, by Aditya Chakraborrty, June 20, 2011.

A sunny Saturday afternoon in central Athens, and Christos Roubanis is sitting outside having a beer, while telling me about the death threats he’s received. We’re in Victoria Square, one of the most racially mixed areas in the capital. The nearby payphones have queues of Bangladeshis waiting outside, and after every few shops comes that telltale feature of immigrant-ville: a Western Union money transfer booth. Locals reckon that more than a third of residents are non-Greek subjects … //

… You see this clearly in the demonstrations in Syntagma Square in central Athens. Writing for the Guardian’s Comment is Free last week, Birkbeck professor Costas Douzinas found “striking parallels” between the protesters there, for whom “no issue is beyond proposal and disputation”, and the Athenian agora, birthplace of western democracy.

It was a finely-written, humane article that sums up part of what’s going on. But just up the steps from the “well-organised weekly debates” that Douzinas talks about is a much rowdier demo. Protesters here chant rather than discuss, and can be seen waving the Greek flag – an indicator of nationalist allegiances. I asked one teenager who he blamed for the crisis. The list began conventionally enough: the prime minister George Papandreou, the IMF, and then “the immigrants, because they take money that could be spent on us.”

Down in the main throng, protesters flash green lasers into the windows of the surrounding hotels to ruin the footage of the TV cameramen stationed there. When the Greek equivalent of Huw Edwards tried to present from the rally, the protesters tried to beat him up.

The revulsion to anything that smacks of authority is about two things: the past and the present. Many Greeks feel they were lied to during the go-go years: by the politicians, the media and the businesspeople who claimed the boom was real and sustainable. And now that voters are enduring job losses and salary cuts, rising taxes and transport fares, there isn’t a single heavyweight politician raising serious objections to the severest austerity ever inflicted on a developed country.

Economic crises usually lead to the electoral guillotine; just ask Gordon Brown. But even if Papandreou and the Socialists are booted out, the New Democracy conservatives also look likely to take their orders from the IMF and the rest of the eurozone. Astonishingly, in the face of what must be among the most unpopular raft of policies ever to be imposed on any European democracy, there is no credible populist opposition.

As for leaving the European single currency, the question is barely raised in the national media. Yet in what was once the most enthusiastic country in the eurozone, polls suggest that one in four Greeks want an exit.

It’s a mistake to think that the nature of the Greek crisis is primarily economic or social; it’s now political and systemic too.And it will deepen unless a party vehicle comes along that can articulate credible alternatives. But for now in place of a mainstream, there is a vacuum.

And as the playground near Victoria Square reminds you, extreme policies in can lead to extremist politics out. (full text).

2 Links in german:

Dossier: Staatsbankrott Europa, auf SF1, vom 29. April 2010 /updated 23. Juni 2011;

Politische Sachzwänge … und wir alle.

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