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The Eurozone Debt Crisis: A Greek Tragedy or a new European Peripeteia?

 
Wednesday, 29 July 2015 07:29
 
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by Dr. Christos N. Tsironis*
EPOS Insights

 

The fiscal and debt crisis in the European Economic and Monetary Union is affecting in miscellaneous ways the public sphere across Europe. The limits between descriptive and normative modes of economic analysis are quite turbid, while role-conflicts and contradictions between EU "partners"continue to occur in the complex political scenery of the EU. This situation profoundly challenges micro- or macro communities to readjust their own normative patterns, to re-conceptualize their social contemplations and to reflect on their own ends - means balance. Under these circumstances, economic resurgence is emerging as an inclusive social aim that requires "sacrifices", "responsibility",  and "devotion".

The Greek case is typical of dramatic changes in the conceptualization of economic dangers and societal consequences. Last January the Greek elections resulted to a scenery that mirrors the puzzlement of the Greek society. The signs of corrosion in the Greek political system were obvious. Due to fatigue caused by the long downward economic spiral, the Greek people hoped for a shift of Austerity paradigm and asked a change of plans. Bounded by systemic failures, economic misconceptions and the Eurozone malfunction, local and international political dysfunction and by their own mistakes they faced uncertainty, despair and cynical nihilism. In this case, the Great Depression, as terminus technicus, does not refer only to the lack of (economic) development. It is also a depression in psychical terms. At this point in time, almost 6 years after the outbreak of the economic and financial crisis, the "saving" plans still suffer from faulty assumptions and half-hearted decisions with an undeclared albeit clear intention to create a firewall that only prevents the immediate crisis contagion without necessarily offering a sustainable solution.

This complex and ambivalent reality caused ambiguous challenges and generated controversial political phenomena. The hope of Greeks was to overcome the new- fangled economic alchemies in favour of a Plan suitable for times of peace and social cohesion. However, the Austerity norms remained unchanged and the Greek political arena proved to be unpredictably fluid. Just after the elections SYRIZA, the left political party, formed a coalition governement with ANEL (Indepented Greeks) a party with a different political background that belongs to the Anti-Memorantum block. The afterschock of the Referentum of July still has a tremendous impact. The SYRIZA faces an internal discord, the EU partners enforced a Plan that is understood by many in terms of idiomorphic colonialism, the hardest austerity measures have to be supported by the opposion, a coalition of "Europeanist parties" e.g. Nea Democratia, To Potami, and Pasok. The dilemma of the Referentum itself split the Greek society into pro-bailout and anti-bailout camps.

The greatest challenge of the Greek government right now is to ensure the basic social rights of the general population and to protect at the same time the democratic tradition of the country away from the dangers of polarization, populism, anti-democratic and anti- European extremist voices. Since 2008 the economic hardship disfigured the social reality in Greece: most people lost around 40% of their income and one in five are experiencing severe material deprivation. The unemployment rate climbed to 26%, 50% among young people, while Unicef reported that 40.5% of children in Greece were living in poverty in 2012. We assume that the situation of children in several migrant households became ever more dramatic. Under these circumstances, unthinkable for times of peace, a significant part of the Greek population (along with other fellow Europeans) considers the EU project, the Human Rights and the democratic procedures as failed narratives or even instrumentalized wording that hurts the very essence of a political community by creating losers and hegemons.

One way or another the energy needed to create the EU of the near future should not be spent in the domestic micro-politics and the national arenas across EU. Who wants to rule on the ruins of the European idea? For us, the Greeks who studied in Germany is almost unbearable to see our lives in the current dystopian scenery. We made German friends, some of us made Greek-German families just a few decades after the devastation of the Greek population by the Nazi.

Nowadays the word "responsibility" takes its place in the headlines as a call to the "corrupted" and ineffective political elite to implement the so called "generous" Austerity measures in order to save Greece. We fought for decades against the collective guild of the German population for the Nazi savageries in our country. In just one night, we found ourselves defending the Greek society from accusations of laziness, corruption, irresponsibility and other much worst. No one will erase the mistakes of the Greek political elite or the ineffectiveness of our administration system. No one could overlook the fact that in the major economic scandals the companies involved are major players in the economies of the most powerful of the creditor-countries.

No one can easily accept the fact that although the increasing of the Austerity measures are disqualified by Nobel prize economists, political philosophers, social scientists and other economic agents, the "saving packages" or "bail-out agreements" stand alone as medication in the table. The political solution is out of question for the Greek issue as the EU officials claim, the Keynesian proposals of major economist are out of consideration and more austere policies are proposed. In the frame, however, of a shrinking economy whipped by global turbulences, accompanied by distrust and lack of solidarity and exposed to greedy speculations the aim to redeem the growing fiscal problems is a chimera. In addition, one should not forget that the fabric of society has been damaged as welfare nets were deconstructed in accordance to mainstream economic proposals.

The present situation is a tremendous challenge for the Greek society as a whole. The fragmented political field, the damaged moral of the democratic parties and the polarization of society are the most significant weaknesses of the current political system. Any possible strengths can only be expected directly from the heart of despair. Since the situation within EU and Eurozone cannot be harder, anything can go better. The governement along with the opposition have to defend the democratic pillars, the social cohesion and the European dimension of the Greek society.

What the other European governments should do? There is a lot of discussion about the rising of the so called "non- traditional" political parties across Europe, the role of populism and the changes in the European political arena. However, what is at stake now is well beyond the considerations about the dynamics of the political parties we used to know. As promises given by statistics are not in accordance with people’s ideas on dignity and quality of life, the results of elections at European level provide cause for apprehension. Under conditions of structural unemployment, welfare nets deconstruction, and social distress people might lose their feeling of belonging, their dignity and their creative vitality.

Fear, xenophobia and social apathy are gaining ground while extremist voices are rising and irrational arguments are taking their place on stage bringing a mixture of political destabilization, populism and extremism all over Europe.

The European federalism is not an actual problem of the Europeans as the almost chaotic combination of circumstances at this very passage of time generates new transformations and challenges. The European idea is now planted in the toxic ground of the resurrected old prejudices, hidden nationalisms and chauvinism, stereotypes and lack of will. The economic fragmentation leads to political fragmentation and power asymmetries. In this situation the most weak member-states have no financial instruments to face the crisis while others can even benefit from it.

The European vision, despite the dynamic that it afforded after the darkness and dichotomy of the World War II, did not manage to ward off xenophobia as Europe’s people became more sceptical, and neo-nationalistic political groups came to the frond.

How can we understand the political extremist parties in EU and especially in Greece without focusing on the prolegomena of the crisis? The local and European elites supported the idea that a continuous, steadily increasing global and European economic growth would be the precondition of EU power in millennium geopolitics. This overwhelming narrative contributed to a misconception of the public sphere as a stage where high consumerism, extensive commodity fetishism, and living on credit attitudes are acknowledged as "normalities". The implications of this kind of economic growth had never been thoroughly explained in time. Official documents and State of Affairs reports were emphatically underlining the prosperous horizon of EU with less –if at all- attention to the issues of sustainability. The Euro has been praised as the "flag" of EU vitality while no warning was given and almost no tools were prepared for the possibility of devitalized economies. The dangers of nations’ and households’ accumulating indebtedness remained invisible behind the lines of fiscal projections.

After the shock of the Memorandum assignment and the aftershock of its economic and socio-political implications the Greek society became extremely polarized. Everybody had to choose to belong to those in favor of the Memorandum Agreement as a "necessary evil" (Mnimoniakoi) or to those against (Antimnimonikoi). Greeks were trapped in a lose-lose situation as they had to deal only with  unipolar understandings of the debt crisis. The events of July right after the Referendum proved that the hopes for recovery without draconic measures were illusionary and the promises on the part of the creditors for fairness and collaboration in equality were only euphemisms.

The loans have been renamed as "gifts" to unworthy and the deal between partners became a humiliating surrender. The crisis is spreading from one institutional field to the other in the form of concentric circles, like ripples on the surface of a lake. It was more than easy for the political extremism to  take advantage of this situation. Conspiracy theories, a mixture of despair and anger, devaluation of the democratic parties, accusations against the hostile creditors, romanticization of the past, callings to defend the dignity of the homeland, all the above have been used as a raw material of the far-right rhetorical success. The mass media in Greece and around Europe reinforced a mythology consisted of accusations on misfit bon vivants-Countries and willingly reproduced national prejudices and ideological misconceptions.

The attitudes of the creditor powers — the European Central Bank (ECB), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Commission (EC) — toward Greece didn't seem to be effectively different. Moreover, didn't seem to be different toward the European future. Although the European Commission certainly has a different communication culture and we assume that EC offered a back up to the re-negotiations against the "Grexit", at the end of the day a different option for Greece and EU is not at the Horizon to be seen. The inequality in between and within member – states in EU seems to be steady as the recession impacted on labour-force participation, poverty rates remain disturbing and, depending upon the country, new social pathologies are arising. Sometimes it is like the dealing with the debt crisis in Eurozone is based on a hidden ideoscape: indebted citizens and member–states should never become an example of a crime without punishment. In this line, an acceptable way of dealing with them would be a limited support that will allow them to fight for the redemption of debt but will not make them strong enough to overcome the crisis without suffering.

Not surprisingly perhaps, as the debt crisis frames more and more indiscriminately the European reality, the loss of hope endangers the possibility of a common European future. A "rescued Euro-zone" that can’t ensure peoples’ dignity and quality of life cannot also inspire hope and solidarity bonds. Currently the Euro-zone resembles to a train without a driver, on trucks that no one can see where they are heading to. In this respect, EU never stopped being in danger to earn the golden crown it supposedly deserves at the cost of losing its soul.

The Greek case is an emergency situation that seems to be the Gordian Knot of the European Politics. A deal with harder austerity measures has no chance of realization under the democratic European premisses. If there is any chance to put the country back on track, this is to make a deal that allows the loans payment in lockstep with countries' economic development rates implementing sincere measures that stabilize economy, ensure the welfare nets for the most vulnerable and keep the education system at European level. A course of this kind could preserve the Eurozone stability as a sub-system of the EU, if the latter is understood in terms of its old fashioned democratic and cosmopolitan narrative. Unfortunately the European Union became comfortably numb.

"Responsibility" is a motto that comes from all parts as a strange mantra so much hypnotizing as dangerously distressing. Only the "irresponsible" will face the doom of the invisible hands of Markets. In times of turbulences, when European people desperately need Statesmen, politicians are ready to implement projects, plans, or packages admitting that they cannot or they don't want to create the roadmap of the future course of EU.

Two days ago I saw a reportage from Portugal, one of the success stories of the Eurozone Austerity Policy. People had to leave their homes facing eviction. So simply sad. As the poorest of the poor within European societies are accused as losers and guilty of their own failure, it is more obvious that it is not only the future of Greece and Greek people that has been diced. Contrary to what one could expect in the current political environment, I believe that we need more Europe, not less. A new peripeteia for the "Europeans" has just started, if the earlier one ever stopped. In this case, we are Europeans, we have to become Europeans.

 

*Dr. Christos Tsironis is Ass. Prof. Contemporary Social Theory, Sector of Ethics and Sociology, Dep. of Theology, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

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DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect EPOS WorldView’s

Last modified on Wednesday, 29 July 2015 07:55
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