By Lois Woestman, Guest Contributor
Dr. Lois Woestman, both a Greek and US citizen, is a Lecturer in Anthropology of Contemporary Greek Society at Arcadia University (Athens branch), an External Funding Officer at the Agricultural University of Athens and an independent research/policy advice consultant (including for UNWOMEN, Europe-based WIDE+ Network, global Association for Women in Development – AWID).
Today is Thursday, four days after the second round of elections in which more Greeks voted against further austerity than for it. And yet, because the New Democracy party obtained just under 3% more of the vote than Syriza, we narrowly missed the opportunity to shock ourselves, our politicians, and the world, by refusing to go along with the austerity-only path we have been on the past two years, and are projected to be on for at least a decade to come.
In other words: It is pretty much back to business as usual in Greece – at least, for a bit.
There are a few changes within this continuity, however. For one, free market leaning New Democracy, instead of center-left “socialist” Pasok, is leading in the coalition between the two parties that have run the show in Greece for decades, and led us into the quandary we are in. And, these two are joined by the small “Democratic Left” party as well.
Monday and Tuesday’s New York Times headlines suggest that these election results mean EC institutions, and the G20, have lost the sense of urgency to make real, radical, changes in a clearly faltering global economic system that the potential for a Syriza win had evoked. “Greek voting Past, Europe Returns to Fiscal Rescue”; “After Greek Vote, Europe Still Has a Host of Problems”; “World Leaders Make Little Headway in Solving Debt Crisis”. Our “leaders” are back to putting out fires, instead of burning bridges with the past.
Their respite may be short-lived, however. Another of yesterday’s New York Times headlines declared “Before Greek Coalition Forms, Question about Its Resolve”. Today’s Kathimerini notes that “Democratic Left backs coalition, won’t join cabinet”. The same decision was made by Pasok. Wary of the political fall-out, the two junior parties are reneging on the responsibilities that come along with accepting to join the newly-formed government. They are limiting their participation in the cabinet being formed by Mr. Samaras, New Democracy’s leader, by not placing any of their primary figures in it. Instead, they are proposing, inter alia, that some of the previous interim ministers remain at their posts. Such a lack of political responsibility could arguably be called yet another certainly not encouraging change within continuity.
And, all three parties are calling for renegotiation of the adjustment agreements while remaining in the Euro – essentially Syriza’s position. As today’s Kathimerini also notes, “Creditors seem open to talks” – meaning the EC is indicating it may be open to extending the fiscal adjustment period, on (the rather disingenuous) ground that the recession in Greece is deeper than expected. German officials, however, continue to insist that what is needed is “greater decisiveness in the implementation of what has been agreed”.
As Greek, EC and global leaders revert back to business as usual, Greece continues to slide ever so steadily from its status as a “normal” “PIIG” southern European country, toward membership in the global south. The misery here increasingly resembles that which I saw in Mexico in the mid-1980s, after the world’s first debt crisis broke out, and the first adjustment programme was implemented.
If more evidence were needed: The case of Greece demonstrates that the combined economic shock doctrine and accumulation by dispossession “the north” has been pressing on the global south has come home to roost in the Eurozone. The example of Greece should - and is increasingly being - understood by many other European citizens as the potential picture of their future; they, too, are slated to become “southerners in the north.” I am talking not only about residents of the other “PIIGS”, but also the majority of those in the “core” Euro countries, who have been living through adjustment over the past decade or more, just to an (as yet) lesser degree, and at a slower pace.
As a Peruvian colleague told me a while back: “Now you are getting a taste of your own medicine.” Her schadenfreude is understandable. However, for all our faults, many of us Greeks – as the Syriza vote attests – are not and have never been advocates of this model. And many of us (at least as old as I am) have been continually denouncing it as it has been implemented globally under different guises and mantras.
The time may still come, and perhaps soon, for Greeks to shock the world and ourselves. Predictions are that the current coalition may not last long. It will have to implement the even tougher austerity measures, further tax hikes, and privatizations, stipulated in the second adjustment package. As the vote for Syriza shows – a jump from 3 to 30% within two years – Greeks are rapidly reaching the end of their ropes.
Argentina took a number of rounds of elections before a government emerged that led the country out of a dollar-tied currency regime, out of austerity, and into growth. So, as Argentina shows, there is some hope – if/when we might eventually depart from the Euro. However, while it lasts, hope – even for traditionally upbeat Greeks - does eventually die, as the rapidly rising suicide rate in Greece documents. Newly sworn-in PM Samaras’ comment that he will push his ministers to work hard in order to bring the Greek people “tangible hope” provides as yet nothing of substance.
Today’s New York Times’ “Samaras Takes Office as Greece’s Prime Minister, Facing Major Challenges” notes that the new Greek government came together just a day before European finance ministers are to gather today in Luxembourg, to discuss Greece’s latest troubles. George Zanias, the departing finance minister, is expected to represent Greece at today’s meeting in Vasilios Rapanos’ stead, the president of the National Bank of Greece, who is expected to be named Greece’s finance minister.
If some tangible hope is to emerge, it will be seen in today’s meeting, and/or in the outcome of the (re)negotiations at next week’s European Union summit in Brussels.
In the interim, as our politicians and world leaders turn back to business as usual, many of us in Greece have no business(es) to turn back to - except trying to eek out a living, and continuing to hold onto hope for hope’s sake.
Also see: Lois Woestman, 17 June Election Mood in Greece and Germany, WhirledView, Tuesday, June 19 ,2012