One of the major intellectual stumbling blocks in having a clear and honest debate about the Greek situation and by extension the situation throughout the entire European Union is an unrelenting and pure naïveté, if not stupidity, in the way that the situation is discussed: wide swathes of the European media talk about Greeks and Greece as though what we are dealing with was simply one monolithic entity.
This kind of thinking seems to be the residue of the most naive form of ethno-national thinking and a desperate fear of returning to a class based analysis. Within any national population there will be a multitude of groups with different behaviours, and most importantly different interests. In Greece at the moment it makes sense to address this in terms of a straightforward class analysis. The free movement of capital in the EU has made this all the more the case. It is simply not coherent or honest to talk about the situation in Greece as though the rich, middle class and poor all behave in the same way, or have behaved in the same way or have the same interests. And yet this seems to be how the discourse in the European media is most often structured.
Wealthy Greeks who have never paid taxes in their lives and have long since moved their money abroad shrug at the thought of a hungry winter for their fellow citizens (as do wealthy technocrats and politicians in Brussels and Berlin); by contrast poor and an increasing number of middle class Greeks now sliding toward poverty are in a state of panic. There is no national unity and certainly no national solidarity spilling from the wealthy suburbs of northern Athens (nor any European unity spilling from the wealthy streets of Brussels’s European Quarter). The non tax-paying upper classes, oligarchs and generations of corrupt politicians who are at the root of the crisis are not one with those who will suffer as food prices rise and pensions and salaries are cut, and they no longer even pretend to represent the interests of those fellow Greek or European citizens who will go hungry and without adequate medical care or housing this winter simply as a result of ideological intransigence in Berlin and Brussels… and Paris, and den Haag and… perhaps worst of all Athens. They don’t have to. No one calls them on it because the debate is too often framed in the most naive of terms: ‘Greeks are like this, Greece is like that, Greece must do this or that’.
Simply put, those who have brought about the crisis in Greece are ideologically aligned with the neo-liberals of Brussels and Berlin who as a way out of the crisis propose dismantling essential safeguards that have been established over the past 50 years (and much more recently in Greece) to protect European citizens from the harsh realities of unregulated free market capitalism. This will come at the expense of the quality of life of the middle and lower classes. Any yet, most of the European media remains shockingly blind or silent about this situation. Even the New York Times – hardly the mouthpiece of social democracy – is thoughtful enough to report that if there is violence in Athens this autumn and winter, it will in large part be because the government in Athens has done nothing to address the crimes of those who have ravaged the country for personal gain:
Unrest seems increasingly inevitable. After two and a half years of cutbacks, a fifth straight year of grinding recession, and a jobless rate that is now above 23 percent, many Greeks are livid at the prospect of more cuts. The public refrained from holding protests during the elections. But now that Mr. Samaras is trying to impose more cuts on average workers — but none on the oligarchs or on wealthy Greeks suspected of stashing their money in foreign accounts — many people have been taking to the streets in recent days, ahead of the troika’s visit.
No big surprise there, the government in Athens is largely composed of and supported by the oligarchs or on wealthy Greeks suspected of stashing their money in foreign accounts.
As Vincente Navarro recently wrote in this journal, the pleas of politicians like Greek PM Samaras for a bit more time do not issue from an understanding of the damage that the neo-liberal demands of the Troika (EU, IMF, ECB) are inflicting on the Greek population, especially the poor and middle classes. Rather any request for more time is for the sake of avoiding civil unrest and violence that may derail the drastic changes to the state that economic liberals like Samaras (and apparently his PASOK partners) fully endorse: cuts in all forms of public infrastructure (including health and education), lowering pensions below sustenance levels and the sale of state assets to private interests.
What may be the most perverse aspect of the situation is that it is the poor and middle classes who are most often publicly blamed. It’s time to change the frame of the debate by returning to a class based analysis that is blindingly obvious in its relevance and is not – as many liberal and social democratic politicians alike would like us to believe – a relic of another age.