Spas (htpcl) wrote in talk_politics,

Falling prey to endless populism

Kalispera, filoi mou! Good evening, fellers!

First of all, as you know, for atmosphere play this in a separate tab:


Well, seems like Greece is heading toward a new election on June 17. The leaders of the parties who reject the rescue plan of the Holy Trinity (IMF, EU, ECB) successfully torpedoed every possible chance for a compromise solution and scratched off the work of their predecessors, the mainstream PASOK and New Democracy party, plus the tiny Democratic Left, which seemed somewhat willing to help for the creation of a stable government, but that proved too little, too late. Curiously, the two big absentees from the whole game were the neo-Stalinist Communist Party (KKE) and the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party (XA). So what we've got is a curious situation where the political landscape is now dominated by two opposite radical formations (the populist left-wing SYRIZA party, and the national-conservative Independent Greeks party (ANEL)), but still not the most radical of them all (i.e. two lesser evils). So typically Greek, lol!


Unfortunately, Greece is now in its worst shape since WW2, but anyone who's been living within 1000 km around Greece, and who has cared to look a bit closer, must've already realized that this crisis is not so much economic as many foreigners (and many people within Greece) still seem to want to believe, but rather it comes from deeper within the Greek society. It's largely a cultural thing, and originates from some curious national traits that've been carved there for generations. However this didn't prevent a horde of demagogues and populists from exploiting the well known old conspiracy card, claiming that the Greeks are under the yoke of the international banksters(tm), and under the dictate from Brussels. On the last election they used some pretty awkward claims to win votes:

1) Some "bad Europeans" and agents of the "New World Order" are after their nice country, plotting to blow up its debt seven-fold, and "crush" the Greek people with new austerity measures and tightening of the belts - all of this, of course, orchestrated by no one else but George Soros himself, with the help of Goldman Sachs and Frau Merkel herself;

2) The only salvation is to tear up all prior agreements, legalize a new sort of super-nationalization scheme, hire another 100 thousand bureaucrats in the public sector (which already has 700 thousand, while it only needs 200 thousand), and this will somehow bring back the living standard from the pre-crisis times. Just refuse to pay any of the debt, and everything will sort out itself on its own. In their desperation, people saw a hint of hope in this, and they voted the mainstreamers out, and brought the populists in. But because they failed to form a government, a new snap election is on the way next month, and they're expected to cement their positions even more (Because, "see? nothing is being done, the incumbents are to blame!")

Number (1) of the above 2 arguments belongs to Panos Kammenos, the chairman of the Independent Greeks (read: ultra-nationalist) party which won 10% of the vote. Number (2) belongs to Alexis Tsipras, the chairman of the far-left SYRIZA party (a coalition of radical leftists) which in fact unites 12 radical groups like Maoist, Trotzkyist, as well as some marginalized social elements who've been previously convicted for arson, looting and pogroms in Athens.

SYRIZA got 16% which is a huge leap compared to their previously usual 3-4%. They probably wouldn't have gotten these votes if there wasn't the charismatic young demagogue Tsipras at the helm. He sensed the pulse and the big pain of the Greeks and, together with the far-right Kammenos, he said the old big parties like New Democracy and PASOK should be punished for all the evils they've brought upon the country. Now, obviously those really did fuck up big time in the recent decades, but meanwhile some of their achievements are being conveniently omitted in the Tsipras and Kammenos speeches. Like the EU entry (1980, New Democracy's achievement), the Euro-zone entry (2001, PASOK), the well organized Olympic games (2004, PASOK and then New Democracy), and the rising living standard overall. Unsustainable living standard though, and that's the main problem.

In practice, the two radical parties embraced blatant demagoguery and populism, and it brought them a result much above what anyone had expected, and more importantly now, way beyond their ruling capacity. On May 6 they punished the big traditional parties and brought things to an impasse situation where nothing could be done without their consent. And they ain't giving it so easily. In fact they ain't giving it at all. Still, the most extremist parties, the Communists and Golden Dawn still remain left out of the big game. For now.

Meanwhile, many Greeks still appear to be getting further out of touch with reality, some really weird ideas keep popping up these days, and the media have blown them out in no time and made them mainstream. Examples:

1) The Europeans are little else but a bunch of usurers who demand money that's not being owed, therefore all prior agreements with the Big Three should be scratched off, no money should be paid to anybody, or at least just a small part should be paid (because the Greeks are such nice guys, you know).

2) The whole planet is now gripped by the tentacles of the NWO, there's an international plot against Greece, they want to steal their wealth (It remains unclear what that wealth constitutes exactly).

3) If all agreements are scratched off, the Germans and the other Westerners will be begging Greece to accept them, because without Greece the Euro would crumble, and the price for the West would be much steeper. So the Greeks are holding the strong cards in this game and are in the favorable position to blackmail the West. (Way to go, Greece!)

4) The evil banks and the shady banksters (Greek ones and foreign) are to blame for everything. Not the Greek people. Those annual 13th and 14th salaries and all the awesome bonuses, and taking Euro subsidies for agriculture and tourism and spending it for cars and houses - all that doesn't really count. Irrelevant. We're talking about the banksters now, aren't we? Stop diverting the topic, Europe!

5) And what about the workers in the public sector and the huge ineffective bureaucratic machine that practically ate much of the private sector? They should be protected at any cost, and all their demands should be met. Because they're the backbone of this society.

SYRIZA went even further, initially proposing to confiscate the money of those citizens who have above 20,000 euro of annual income. I.e. over 1.5 million Greeks. And using the remaining savings of the Greeks still residing in the Greek banks (worth 165 billion euro) to prop up the finance system. How? Through forceful nationalization of all banks. Finally, SYRIZA officials told CNN that "The wealthy should pay for the crisis, because they're to blame for all of Greece's ills". What is meant by "wealthy" and where exactly the line between "wealthy" and "not wealthy" is, remains unclear. So I assume some special tribunals would be needed? Nah. That's too much work. Better put another arbitrary threshold like the above mentioned 20,000 euro.

The most heroic example to emulate for Tsipras, the SYRIZA chairman, is probably Hugo Chavez. And also some other heroic revolutionary personalities of the past, with a mostly anarchist profile. Panos Kammenos of the Independent Greeks on the other hand doesn't seem to have such idols, but nevertheless he emulates Tsipras' rhetoric, only he's on the opposite end of the spectrum. What distinguishes him is his extensive use of church phrases and religious memes to gain influence among the religious Orthodox Greeks (and believe me, Greeks are very religious), most of whom are usually leaning center-right. Hence, his popularity is growing.

The populists on either side are exploiting the atmosphere of societal collapse in the post-election period in Greece, and they're doing it very skillfully. But the goal is not to work toward a constructive solution, but rather to shoot down any efforts for working together with Europe. As if Greece is a separate island universe on its own. Also doing self-advertisement based on the election results. Seems like SYRIZA is on its way to becoming the top political force after the June election (if it takes place at all), possibly with 110 seats out of 300, including the special 50-seat bonus that's being given to the winner of the election, by law (presumably, that's meant to guarantee a stable majority in parliament). So, it's very likely they'd try to form a coalition with the Independent Greeks and some other smaller formations, and will try to form a far-left-far-right government. Which ultimately brings things into Weird-o-stan.

If this becomes reality, we'll see Greece sliding well into the basement (just when you thought it had reached the floor), because there'll soon come a moment when these formations will be urged by IMF and EU to ultimately state their stance on the rescue agreements recently signed by Greece. And obviously they don't intend to respect those agreements. Which practically means Greece will be out of the Euro-zone, as it'll become technically impossible to find enough money to cover their deficits.

I deem it highly unlikely that a new agreement with EU would be reached on the PSI deal (the one about cutting private debt to 53%), and if these parties do even half of the things they say they intend to do, they'll inevitably bring the country to a complete economic Titanic/iceberg rendez-vous. Economic catastrophe, coupled with complete diplomatic and trade isolation. That's expected to happen as early as the end of this summer. And EU will probably try to create a quarantine zone around Greece so that they isolate the ulcer and prevent the disease from spreading wider and affecting other economies. So, hello new banana republic.

Thing is, for the populists and radicals a situation of complete economic ruin and societal disintegration is often the most fruitful soil to thrive and gain more influence. But the reality will likely be very different from what they're hoping for. It won't be a controlled chaos, it'll be absolute chaotic chaos and Greece will be a Third World country for a very long time. The current problems in the Greek society will be just a kids' game compared to what's about to follow next, if the collapse of the entire banking sector and the closing of the biggest industries is allowed to happen. Because Greece still has some real economy, but as soon as that's scrapped too, there'll be nothing to drag it out of the mud any more. There might come a moment when the populists will be realistically evaluated by the people, but the tricky thing with democracy is that no matter how viable and open it is, sheer democracy alone still won't be able to recover the missed opportunities when Greece's partners, one by one, decide it's no more use to keep trying to help, and start quitting this futile effort.

The bleak reality is that today Greece lives and breathes solely thanks to the tax money from other European countries that's being poured into this broken bucket. That money deserves respect because it's hard earned, as does the immense patience of those millions of Europeans who are still compelled to put up with the constant tomfoolery of a small nation who just won't "get it", who can't ever be pleased by anything, who blames everyone else but itself, and who's not ready or willing, or capable of self-introspection and auto-criticism. A nation which unfortunately wasted too much time partying and living a life beyond its means, pumping up an artificial living standard, creating an uselessly ballooned bureaucratic machine, where double and triple salaries and bonuses compared to those in the respective private sector were being spilled all over the place for zero work being done. A country where 200 thousand pensions were being regularly given to fanthoms, and EU subsidies for agriculture were being systematically used for personal gain, and easy loans from banks were being piled up and delayed for the future generations, and the EU was being lied to about the true scope of the budget deficit.

And now Merkel is being compared to Hitler, and the Greek documentary propaganda movies blaming Europe for Greece's own errors abound, containing such nice parallels like the bombing of Greece by the Luftwaffe in WW2! We have a nice proverb here in Bulgaria for cases like these: "You feed a dog, it barks back at you".

The Greek politicians never told their people the hard truth, they chose to conceal it and ignore the coming iceberg. And the truth is that this was all a huge balloon that has already burst, and everybody should roll up their sleeves already, and start working together really hard, to turn Greece into a real developed society, with real purposes and real values. Not the values of the 2-to-4-hour afternoon nap, but the ones of hard working people who are honest with themselves and with the rest. The populists chose to step on this lack of realism on part of their people, and they gave them false hopes that there's really a way back to the old non-stop party lifestyle. Well, no. In practice, they're now leading their country into a dark room, and they're about to throw the key through the window. It's evident from the fact that they managed to convince 3 million voters not to vote for the pro-development parties, with all their flaws and errors, and not to go the hard but constructive way of working to reform their broken society from the inside, step by step. Instead, they've chosen the easy way of sitting and doing nothing, and postponing the problem. But this time it won't work that way. It's too late to afford to do nothing.
Tags: balkans, crisis, elections, extremism, highly recommended
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