“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear” – Antoni Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (1971)
“The boom years were based on the belief that if we all ran faster the past could be left behind. Instead we had the crash, history moved on and it is the future that has been consumed” – John Gray, Forward to ‘False Dawn’ 2009 edition.
Over the last month traders are entering a new code for the Drachma into their registries throughout the continent. The final moments of a long term self-fulfilled prophesy might be approaching fast, and the term ‘Grexit’ is already in place to describe it. Still Europe will have to face a bigger truth when Grexit takes place.
It is now the moment that the Greek debt crisis is undergoing a profound transformation into what makes it an argument on democracy. The austerity recipe, the leaders of Greece, have accepted in exchange for bailout money two and a half years ago has proven to be a disastrous idea, provoking enormous social cost and damaging profoundly social cohesion.
The argument is whether Greece deserved better treatment or should it be mute and swallow the bitter pill of austerity. As a result the debate has been consumed over ideological and moral issues at the expense of grasping the real cause factors of the eurozone’s default.
Denial of austerity by many of us is not about getting yet another free ride on the European project. Contrary to that while struggling to come to terms with the realities of our bankruptcy we have become more aware of the problems that created it.
This country has been a manifestation of where modern democracies are led when politics becomes the monopoly of experts. The last three years in Greece are a sad story of a people attempting to comprehend a reality in which they have been nurtured for over four decades.
Unlearning is not easy, not when everyone blames you for a crisis you did not create, when you feel you are becoming a scapegoat. European elites and ours alongside fought hard into convincing us that the crisis, created by uncontrolled market forces and speculators which for decades recruited our politicians and administration officials on pay rolls, was the product of spending beyond our means. The solution was a punishing fiscal consolidation plan which in fact aimed at letting market forces roam free amidst social ruins and socialize costs while privatizing the profits produced in the process.
Perhaps we did spend too much borrowed money. But put the numbers down and they don’t add up, the missing amount is way much bigger. Our responsibility is that in exchange for that we withdrew our eye from the place where power meets with organized economic interests. The few times we could denounce corruption we remained silenced. In a country like Greece this produced corrupted political elites that still today, while society is falling apart, fight to maintain their privileges. It also gave birth into a conformist, indifferent, electorate that exchanged its political allegiance for public sector jobs or small benefits.
The protest vote on May 6th has been a subconscious response against what people considered an unequally distributed punishment that wrecked the weak while offering an apology to the strong. It took a tremendous effort inside the Greek society, and it became feasible only after its middle class sensed the pains of austerity and lost its conformist privileges, to persuade a serious critical mass that the old regime has to be removed.
The response of European elites to warn Greece that their loans and the country’s participation in the common currency are conditional as long as the country does not commit again to the bailout program is a profound neglect for the democratic standards of Europe. It is also proof that European elites are far from the people and unable to grasp the messages they are trying to send them. After this first election we know that the advocates of monetarism in Europe will maintain as their priority a political project motivated by national interests and manipulative by market forces despite of any social costs this provokes.
Consequently the elites have explicitly connected the debt crisis in Greece with the future of the country in the common currency. They threaten to punish Greeks for voting austerity out. By making this an instrument of coercion to force people accept more austerity they have perpetrated a grave mistake. They have transformed the next election into a referendum between membership in the eurozone, and perhaps a compromise of its European membership, or democracy in Greece. There is no choice in this question; we all know what we ought to stand for.
After the change of leadership in France some people see that Greece has a choice between a planned, careful departure from the euro or remaining in on the best terms Hollande can help them squeeze out of Germany. Honestly this choice doesn’t exist. Not if you live in Athens and you expect another 11,5 billion of austerity in the coming months if a pro bailout political force prevails in the election. Austerity is destroying this society so fast and Hollande cannot get a way out for us, only a less painful death. But nowhere in our drifting dreams says we would depart this life in silence.
The problems and failures occurring from the experiment of the common currency, whether this eventually is going to work out or not, should not annul what Europeans have achieved since the end of the Second World War. The most open and free federation of peoples in the history of mankind.
Monetarism and austerity are elements of a vulture religion that circles over the harmed body of European civilization. Under the same burden Spain now starts shaking and its gigantic proportions let no doubt that the final act of the common currency drama are somewhat closer. We can not allow the neo-liberal creed to terminally harm democracy in Europe. Its history, our history, does not tolerate this. Many of us in Greece, flawed and confused, defamed and isolated, betrayed and scared, in the next elections will stand up to fight for this. It is not a perfect choice, and it is one that will inflict immense pain on this society and extreme distress throughout the continent, but the only way is by voting austerity out again. You Europeans should stand by us.