Tricks, lies and anger as Greece goes to the polls

A full moon, a meteor shower and a rare astronomical phenomenon will set the stage for the Greek parliamentary elections. A nebulous political environment, marked by the fall of the two-party system and the exacerbation of the class struggle, will characterize the day after 6 May.  

The images ranged from disappointing to ridiculous. Barely 1,000 people had gathered for the PASOK campaign rally in the Greek port of Thessaloniki. The so-called socialist party with the neoliberal policies attempted to hide the fact through smart filming techniques, like close-ups and low-angle shots. But the shadow of the rallies of the 1980s and 1990s, which attracted hundreds of thousands or even millions of people, was more present than ever.

In the city of Serres, New Democracy wasn’t faring any better. A crowd of just 400 citizens had come to hear its leader speak, creating a fair amount of panic at the centre-right party’s headquarters.   

The turnout at the rallies is largely consistent with the parties’ likely percentage at the polls. PASOK and New Democracy have been alternating in the government of Greece for almost 40 years now, always collecting between 70 and 80 per cent of the votes. In the forthcoming elections, they are expect to gather a lot less than 50 per cent combined – paying the price for their support of the austerity measures that followed the Greek ‘rescue’ packages.

The seven million Greeks who are being called to vote saw their income fall by 25.3 per cent in 2011. Their ballot will be cast with rage and, for the first time in recent history, the election seems to have many ‘serious’ contenders. The fragmentation of the political landscape is phenomenal. In the sphere of the Right, for example, there are five parties vying for the citizens’ vote. In total, 9 to 10 parties are expected to pass the 3 per cent barrier in order to enter parliament. Many of them belong to the political centre and are promoted by the media as ‘safe’ receptors of social discontent.

In this framework, unable to treat the country’s woes, PASOK and New Democracy have resorted to ‘tricking’ the voters. The PASOK leader is comically trying to present himself as the ‘Greek François Hollande’ who, together with his French comrade, will change the balance of power in Europe for the benefit of the people. It is also widely believed that his party was behind the recent arrest of a former PASOK minister for money laundering. While the scandal was common knowledge for many years, the deeply corrupt politician was arrested on the same day as the proclamation of the elections, passing a message of internal ‘catharsis’ in PASOK that is extremely convenient during an electoral campaign.

As for New Democracy, its leader pretends to refuse any possibility of post-electoral collaboration, even though it is certain that he won’t be able to form a one-party government. His campaign rhetoric is focused on very conservative, reactionary slogans, in an effort to stop the leakage of his party’s traditional voters towards the extreme right. This phenomenon can to some extent also be observed in the rhetoric of PASOK, and it is interesting to examine it in combination with the narrative about the ‘rise of the extremes’ that is dominating the Greek pre-election mainstream discourse.

(Rightwing) extremism is already at the heart of Greek political life: not only because former supporters of the Greek military dictatorship have occupied key government positions, but also because mainstream politicians are already embracing extremist rhetoric, such as characterizing immigrants as a ‘health time-bomb’ that should be isolated from the rest of the population.   

The Left, of course, decries such attitudes completely. However, the Greek communist party, SYRIZA, and the extra-parliamentary leftist parties remain divided not only on ideological grounds but also on the scope and the conditions of creating a common front between them.

Nevertheless, the only thing certain in these elections is that the presence of the Left in the Greek parliament must be enforced. In the following months, the Greek people will face new austerity measures as well as a reform in the tax system. The pressure from foreign lenders, together with the local financial élites, will intensify and the coalition that takes hold of the country’s reins after the elections will try to crush all popular resistance. The fight must be fought on a double front: inside the parliament and on the streets. 

Photo: Erwss, peace&love under a CC Licence

National Socialism Greek-style: a recipe for destruction

A Golden Dawn demo in Komotini, Greece in December,  2010. Photo by Ggia under a CC Licence.

‘The kid now suffers from serious psychological damage. You can see it when he talks; his voice just withers away. Every time that I put my arms around him, he starts to shiver and cry.’ Working at an NGO focused on human rights, Michalis K gives me a first-hand account of the traumas of an Afghan boy, after he was severely beaten up in the streets of Athens. Trying to escape from a war with Greek participation, the boy ended up in the Greek capital, where he suffered deep into his soul the ‘social policy’ of a party that might soon enter the Greek parliament.

The 15-year-old boy was gravely abused by supporters of Golden Dawn, a party created by a dishonourably discharged military man, who had fraternized in jail with the leaders of the Greek junta. These are not your typical far-right populists. This is National Socialism Greek-style, complete with Nazi symbols, a democracy-bashing rhetoric and killer instincts against anyone who is not white. So much so, that in the past they beat up a Cypriot man because of his dark skin. Criminal attacks against illegal immigrants, members of minority groups, leftists and anarchists are the trademark of the party’s actions. White supremacy, racism, antisemite conspiracy theories and a flirtation with paganism constitute its nebulous ideological stigma. In fact, the Norway killer Anders Breivik includes in his manifesto Golden Dawn as one of the European political forces that could help carry out an anti-Islamic, anti-Marxist and anti-immigrant campaign.

The serpent rises from its egg
Until recently, Golden Dawn’s toxic tentacles had limited reach. Its most alarming connection was with members of the Greek security forces. Leaked confidential documents admit not only to the party’s roots inside the police force, but also to the latter’s active engagement, in order to delay the arrest of a Golden Dawn member prosecuted for three attempted murders. In the same documents, the police are said to provide Golden Dawn with batons and radio communication equipment, in order to provoke riots during leftist and anarchist demonstrations. Countless videos show party members, armed with sticks, among police lines in such rallies. 

In the 2009 general elections, Golden Dawn showed a significant rise in the polling stations where police specials forces were casting their votes. In total, however, its national score didn’t surpass 0.29 per cent. And yet, in the administrative election of 2010 it managed to reap a significant gain. Its leader was elected to the town council of the city of Athens, bringing the fascist organization out of the margins, and giving it publicity and higher hopes of increasing its ranks. Needless to say, the party celebrated its victory with a Nazi salute…

What led to this outcome? For sure, Golden Dawn’s demagogic slogans like ‘Greece belongs to the Greeks’ or ‘Politicians are the scourge of this country’ soothe some people’s ears, people who are tired of hearing every day about new taxes and price hikes. Opening up its rhetoric, from anti-migrant hate speech to anti-austerity formulations, the party has managed to increase its support. At the same time, however, it has opened up its practices, as the political scientist Hristoforos Vernardakis notes: ‘Golden Dawn fills, in specific urban areas, the wide gap that the official state, government policies, and the Left leave. Golden Dawn operates by doing “field work”: taking issue with objective everyday problems, rather than focusing an ideological struggle. It has managed to establish a state within a state in those urban areas, offering “security” – and this is a tangible result for local residents, especially because government agencies are absent.’

Dangerous liaisons
The state might be absent from these areas but mainstream political parties are present in helping Golden Dawn. The aforementioned leaked documents affirm that some members of the party illegally carry guns that they get from MPs, by posing as their bodyguards. In addition, a former high-ranking member of Golden Dawn has stated that the centre-right party New Democracy was printing Golden Dawn’s leaflets, in an effort to reduce the influence of the far-right populist party LAOS. So, if these allegations are true, the centre-right has been reinforcing the fascist right, in order to attack the far right…

As for the relationship between these last two (Golden Dawn and LAOS), while the latter for many years was openly supportive of the former, now they can be considered to be in competition. ‘Under conditions of crisis, the voters of one party are transferred to the electoral clientele of the other, and vice versa,’ writes the Panteion University professor Dimitris Hristopoulos.

Golden Dawn, though, has another ace up its sleeve: the help of mainstream media. Its organized and criminally minded anti-migrant rallies are often misrepresented as manifestations of ‘indignant citizens’ against the problems created by immigrants. Besides, in an effort to reduce the influence of radical left parties, the media often present the actions of the latter as equal to the actions of Golden Dawn, creating a false image of ‘concurrence of the extremes’, and thus legitimizing Golden Dawn’s activities.

These political manipulations are extremely harmful for Greek society. First of all, they shift the political agenda to the right, forcing the whole political spectrum to adopt harsh anti-migrant positions in order to face up to the competition. Secondly, by channelling the attention away from society’s real problems towards nationalistic and racist hatred, they help support the same system that brought Greece to its current situation. Given the recent polls, which forecast that Golden Dawn will pass the barrier of 3 per cent to enter parliament in the forthcoming election, the danger becomes imminent. It is the duty of all of us, both in Greece and abroad, to put it to an end. 

Photo by freddieboy under a CC Licence

Greeks resist crisis through active engagement

Who would have thought that a sack of potatoes would make such a difference? But the initiative of a municipality in central Greece to order potatoes directly from the producers on behalf of its citizens, thereby eliminating the wholesalers, has become a trend that is spreading like wildfire. In the framework of declining wages and rising living costs, the municipality was able to reduce the cost of a kilo of potatoes by 65 per cent. Other municipalities followed suit and other products (olive oil, rice, beans) entered the shopping list. As a result, supermarkets were also forced to lower potatoes’ retail price in order to keep up with the competition.

Market in Corfu

A fruit and vegetable market in Corfu. Photo by Lee Cannon under a CC Licence

Potatoes in Greece suffer from a fate that affects all agricultural products: overpricing during their journey from the fields to the citizens’ plate. With the influx of cheap foreign agricultural goods, wholesalers are able to buy from the producers at a very low price, which they inflate when selling to the merchants. As such, they bear a huge amount of responsibility for the high costs in the markets. Nevertheless, the wholesalers don’t determine each product’s price entirely on their own. Big industries fix the cost of fertilizers, pesticides and farming equipment, while the production and commercialization process takes place under the rules set by the state and the European Union.

It is obvious that the alternative distribution network set up by the municipalities cannot affect the totality of this process. But it remains a very positive sign of self-organization, as well as an expression of solidarity in action between the poor producers and the impoverished consumers. And given that Greece is now suffering its third year AM (After the Memorandum) it is fortunate that this is not the only such effort. With traditional social protection mechanisms crumbling, it rests upon the citizens to ensure social cohesion. And there are many who believe that the best way to resist the crisis is to help others – not through philanthropy, but through active engagement. Free polyclinics provide their services to the uninsured, from the northern city of Drama to the Cretan port of Rethimno. University students offer free courses to schoolchildren, in order to help them pass their exams. Musicians organize concerts for families in need; and volunteers coach a football team of homeless people, in order to help them reintegrate in society.

The reaction of the state to these initiatives is usually indifference. Nevertheless, there is a caveat: such movements should not be openly political and they should not get in the way of institutionalized welfare providers, like the church or state-funded NGOs. In Greece, state tolerance to self-organization always has a limit.

The most characteristic example is soup kitchens. In Athens, they have been organized for years by autonomous collectives, in a spirit of solidarity and respect for the personality of the people in need. Thus, they created bonds that gradually became deeper and, as the crisis unfolded, escaped the confines of specific localities. Seeing them getting stronger, the state decided to step in. And, in an era when people are starving, it forbade food distribution by ‘non-qualified organizations’. The excuse was health concerns. The real reason was its intention to keep the monopoly of social care to itself and its industrial partners – which treat social solidarity as an advertising opportunity.

As far as the ‘potato movement’ is concerned, the reaction of the state and the mainstream media has been welcoming. But this has nothing to do with the positive social effects of this action. The movement rightly stands up against the abuses of a vested interest group and, in this time of national emergency, it just doesn’t address the question of national and European agricultural policies. Mainstream journalists, however, use this understandable omission to serve their own political goals: to show that the causes of the Greek crisis are questions of corruption and other market distortions, for which the citizens and some bad political decisions are to blame, and without which the capitalist structure of the European and the Greek economy would work just fine. In other words, they use the movement’s understandably limited focus in order to justify their deliberately shortsighted view of the economy.

The peaceful character of the ‘potato movement’ is also used to serve the goals of the mainstream press. Many journalists present it as the only true leftist action and use it to condemn the official Left as ‘negation-focused’ or ‘violent’. These are the same people that extolled the Greek Indignados as the ‘only true demonstration movement, which is peaceful and apolitical’, but promptly called for the evacuation of the tents in Syntagma Square, when the Indignados proved a threat to state authority.

The abuses of the ‘potato movement’ should only work to make it stronger – more political and broader in its demands. Then, it might lose the support of the press, but it will gain more support from the people, since it will really be building the foundations of a better future.

Greeks decry bailout madness

Anyone listening to the news from Greece about Monday’s Eurogroup could be forgiven for thinking that the streets of Athens will soon be lined with gold – or Euros, at least. The propaganda mechanism seems to be the only thing spared by the crisis, portraying the deal about the new Greek loan through a distorting and deceitful lens.

‘We are saved!’ cried out exhilarated TV anchors. ‘Each Greek citizen just received a present of €10,000!’ wrote a ship-owner/media mogul on his twitter account. ‘Those who didn’t support the memorandum don’t have the right to rejoice,’ declared a government minister on TV. After Monday’s Eurogroup, the effort to create an artificial feeling of euphoria for Greece’s new loan was clear.

The atmosphere on the streets, however, remained as gloomy as always. With record austerity measures plunging the country further into recession, how could one be happy about a deal that turns Greece into nothing more than a European fiefdom? The devil hides in the details of the decision to grant Greece a €130 billion ($170 billion) loan, only to come clear when the deliberations for a 53.5 per cent ‘haircut’ are concluded with the country’s private bondholders.  

First of all, the government agreed to set up a special account to service the debt, which will be financed by the loans and by domestic resources. The Constitution must change, in order to prioritize loan payments in comparison to other government expenses. On a practical level, this means that, if the government doesn’t have enough money to service the debt, it will have to implement deeper cuts in pensions, salaries and social spending. It means that the question of default is no longer ‘external’ (ie towards foreign lenders), but ‘internal’ (ie towards the population). This decision also proves that the so-called ‘Greek bailout’ doesn’t rescue the population, but the lenders.

In order to secure its money, the Commission will set up a permanent monitoring group in Greece, hugely reinforcing the Task Force that it already keeps in the country under Horst Reichenbach. Such heavy international supervision renders ‘outdated’ the notion of independent policy-making in Greece. Given the aforementioned dictates for constitutional changes, as well as the European leaders’ expressed concern vis-à-vis the prospect of elections, one realizes that sovereignty has also become a thing of the past for the country. ‘Greece is living in a post-neocolonial situation,’ Costas Douzinas, director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, told me.

A part of the population would justify such measures, if they were to alleviate the country’s financial burdens. In fact, Eurogroup’s promise is that by 2020, Greek debt will reach the ‘sustainable’ level of 120.5 per cent of GDP through the haircut; through lower interest rates for the Greek loans; and thanks to the fact that the European Central Bank has agreed to give up its profits from the Greek bonds. Nevertheless, a confidential report of the Troika which was leaked to the public just before Monday’s Eurogroup, recognizes that the programme is highly ‘accident-prone’ and that the more pessimistic scenario expects that debt will rise to 160 per cent of GDP by 2020. It is obvious that the spectre of a third ‘bailout’ and a new haircut is still alive and kicking, threatening the population with even harsher austerity measures.

Besides, it is not given that the Greek people will in practice accept even the current list of requirements in order to conclude the deal. Protests, in the form of strikes and marches, are organized almost daily against its harsh conditions. One should note that, even though Greece is repeatedly presented as ‘rescued’ by the IMF and the EU, Greek GDP will in the next financial year probably fall to even lower levels than the GDP of Argentina when it had defaulted! Greek people understand this, so it is not surprising that, according to a recent poll, 59.4 per cent reject the new loan deal, while 78.2 per cent think that the danger of default is not yet eliminated.

Last but not least, one should note that Monday’s Eurogroup deal doesn’t specify any measures to stimulate growth and help the country escape from stagnation, given that the austerity measures will deepen recession without actually increasing Greek competitiveness. The Greek drama is far from over, while Portugal is already waiting its turn to be ‘saved’.

Photo by fdecomite under a CC Licence

Politicians set the stage for another Greek Tragedy

‘Darn!’ I thought, rushing through the cobbled streets of Exarchia towards Syntagma Square. ‘Am I already late?’ It was only half an hour after the time fixed by the unions for the demonstration. But not only did the main thoroughfares seem full, but people were already looking red-faced and crying from the tear gas. Just like me, hundreds were swarming towards the parliament building, to join the hundreds of thousands protesting in advance of the vote in parliament on new austerity legislation. The image would be similar in all major Greek cities. Videos of demonstrations of support would also arrive from abroad.

As I approached the central square, the crowd got denser and the situation tense. ‘They have nothing more to take from us!’ cried a former middle-class, middle-aged woman, while people stared on with gloomy faces. She was referring to the new €3.3 billion ($4.4 billion) austerity package on which the government was voting in order to receive a new €130 billion ($172 billion) loan. The measures would bring the largest income cuts of the last 60 years, through wage and pension reductions, layoffs in the public sector and liberalization of labour laws. Their likely effectiveness was seen as doubtful – even the Prime Minister had accepted that they would deepen recession in the following months. ‘If one of my students proposed [these austerity measures], I would throw him out of the class,’ an economics professor and former parliamentarian had declared. In any case, with the minimum wage reduced to €16 ($21) per day, the people already knew that the measures would bring further destruction in a country where a third of the population is already on the verge of poverty.

‘You’re trampling on the constitution, you f***ing traitors,’ shouted an old man a few blocks down, looking with fiery eyes towards the parliament. Five well-respected professors of constitutional law had just presented a series of solid arguments as to why the current vote was anti-constitutional, and against European and international law. The vote, however, would still go on – with the finance minister claiming autocratically that no detail should be left undone before the opening of the Asian markets on Monday morning.

My efforts to arrive to Syntagma proved fruitless. Each time the vibrating mass of people tried to reach the square from the surrounding streets, the police pushed them away. Again and again the people marched forward. Again and again the police met them with tear gas and abuse. The Greek medical associations would later condemn the use of dangerous chemicals against the population. But the people stayed on, more determined than ever to show their will.

Together with some friends, we lingered at a bus stop until the air cleared of tear gas, trying to listen on our pocket radios to what was going on inside the so-called ‘temple of democracy’. It seemed to us that the levels of the discussion were higher that at any other time. Many of the MPs from the two coalition parties (the third coalition party had departed from government days earlier), had warned that they wouldn’t support the new measures, even though they had supported the previous austerity packages. Their political leaders demanded party discipline and threatened to expel them; meanwhile, during the debate, one MP threw the multi-page text of the memorandum towards the ministers’ bench. ‘At last, maybe something meaningful could be going on in there,’ we thought. Only later did we see the pictures of other MPs calmly watching a basketball game in the parliament lounge while the country’s neck was on the line.

Night had already fallen and the bins next to us were burning with fires lit by the demonstrators so that the smoke would disperse the tear-gas fumes. Among the buildings we could see more flames, shooting higher. Banks had been set on fire, together with branches of transnational companies and other buildings. There was violence on the streets. But, regardless of one’s opinion about it, it was only to be expected, given the level of systemic violence against the population. What worried us was the way that the mainstream media would use reports of the violence as a way to silence the imposing demonstration against the austerity measures.

When I arrived home later that night and turned on the TV, my worries proved to be justified. So I changed channels and listened instead to reports about the fallout in the two government coalition parties. In the elections of 2009, PASOK (the Panhellenic Socialist Movement) won 160 seats and New Democracy 91. After this weekend’s vote, which saw the austerity measures finally passed, PASOK had 131 MPs and New Democracy 62. With the deputies’ resignations and party expulsions, the composition of a fifth of the parliament had changed. It is this parliament which will now make decisions based on measures taken by a government which the Greek people did not vote for. Leading this government is a former banker who represents a party that no longer holds the absolute majority. The imminent reshuffling will probably bring even more technocrats to the higher state posts.

A fire has engulfed the body of Greek democracy. But the people are no longer waiting for ‘national saviours to put it out. They are slowly taking matters into their own hands. And the future remains unwritten. 

Photo by freddie boy under a CC Licence

Greece in debt bondage: the people will pay

Despite the wealth of Greece’s folktales, it is a Danish one that best describes the country’s current state of affairs. Like Hans Christian Andersen’s Emperor, Greece is trying on a new set of clothes, which promise to help it escape the financial maelstrom. The well-paid tailors who fabricate them swear on their excellent patterns, while the people who don’t discern them are presented as ignorant or ill-fit for their jobs. The government shivers, for it suspects they’re right, but the show keeps going on. Why let reality ruin a good story?

The story’s name is PSI (Private Sector Involvement), subtitled ‘bond swap agreement with Greece’s private creditors’. After months of negotiations, its end could be near, since a deal is expected to be reached in the next few days. The story’s addendum includes a new agreement with the Troika and, yet again, a new set of austerity measures at the population’s expense. The story’s writers, on the other hand, have a lot to gain: Lazard Freres SAS, the Greek government’s financial advisor, is estimated to collect €25 million ($33 million) in the process; while Cleary, Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, the government’s legal advisor, is set to gain €6 million ($8 million) for its services until October 2011 and up to €1.5 million ($2 million) for each month that its work is prolonged.    

The downsides of the bond swap agreement for Greece are already crystal clear. Among others, the new bonds will be issued under the British law. This will worsen the Greek negotiating position during a future restructuring of its debt, which the PSI won’t be able to prevent. The reason is that the Greek debt will still reach 135 per cent of GDP in 2020 – testifying shockingly to the utter failure of the programme imposed on the country. Besides, even if the bond swap proves completely successful, Greece will still be considered as practically bankrupt by the markets. Its dependence from the EU and the IMF will be certain for years to come, and the future painted bleaker for the population. More cuts, more layoffs, more insecurity, more selloffs. This is what they’re demanding, even when the bitter aftertaste of the previous austerity package is still strong in people’s mouths.

Thus, it comes as no surprise that 92 per cent of Greeks are dissatisfied with the government, whose popularity is worse than the colonels’ junta. The people resent the costume that they were made to wear, but the tailors are too busy to pay meaningful attention. Absorbed by the inner-party struggle for the leadership of PASOK (the biggest of the three parties in the Greek government), they are lending a sympathic ear only to keep their constituency from totally running away. In most cases, they vocally declare their opposition to the austerity measures, but support them during parliamentary votes, while in other cases they don’t hesitate to admit their criminal inaptness. The furore was enormous, for example, when the current Minister of Development and wannabe Prime Minister publicly declared that he didn’t read the memorandum with Greece’s creditors before voting for it. As for the second-biggest party in government, certain of its victory in the next elections, it is more occupied with boosting its international profile than with policy-making.

In an era when Greece has been reduced from emperor to beggar, the people know that they should be watchful for the plans of the other kings. Some of them are secret, while others leak to the press, such as the German proposal for a ‘budget commissioner’ who would take control of Greece’s spending and tax policy. In the same document it was proposed that Greece should vote a law that obliges the government first to pay the creditors and then use the rest of the money for pensions, salaries, education and health. Democratic legitimacy and people’s will seem not to be an issue in today’s EU. It is high time therefore for Greece to start looking for viable alternatives. 

Photo by Domenico/Kiuz under a CC Licence

A Greek tragi-farce

George Papandreou, 'domestically hated and internationally humiliated.’
Photo by Vasilis Filis under a CC Licence.

What was broadly characterized as a ‘Greek tragedy’ has ended up as a farce. In the name of ‘the people,’ a politician who had long lost democratic legitimacy gave his place to a non-elected technocrat in order to secure the implementation of a publicly despised austerity program.

And yet, the people had spoken in Greece. In their hundreds of thousands, they participated at the strikes and demonstrations of 19-20 October saying ‘enough is enough’ to government policies. In their thousands, they turned the national holiday on 28 of October to a day of rage, forcing the members of the political elite to hastily abandon their place at the celebrations.

On 26 October, the government had reached a deal in Brussels for a 50 per cent haircut of the Greek debt to private banks and insurers. Although this was presented as a victory, its nature was rather pyrrhic: it threatened the viability of the Greek pension funds, it entailed austerity for the following ten years and it placed foreign ‘observers’ at all the key ministries. The people knew that and were ready to reject it. The government also knew that they knew. Thus, the ploy of the referendum appeared.

Right after Brussels, Papandreou announced that he would submit the agreement to a referendum and would ask for a vote of confidence from the Greek parliament. Fully aware of the abyss between his policies and the will of the people, he aimed at calming their anger while avoiding elections.

His means to secure a more favorable outcome at the referendum was blackmail: to terrorize the Greeks with the notion that a rejection of the agreement would be equal to a default of the Greek economy. This was not a new tactic. His government long enjoyed distorting, for example, any kind of mass mobilization as being ‘against the national interest’ in a time of extraordinary circumstances.

The ploy soon led to a full-blown political crisis. The possibility of the referendum (namely, the direct expression of the Greek people’s will) created rifts in the governing party while European leaders were enraged as the markets trembled. The G20 conference in Cannes was chosen as the most suitable time to show who had the upper hand.

In the beautiful French resort, Angela Merkel and Nicola Sarkozy showed the ugliest face of the European Union. While few doubted the democratic deficit of the European institutions, nobody expected that they would dictate to the prime minister of a ‘sovereign’ country the question of his planned referendum (making it a question of whether Greece would stay in the Eurozone) and change the date that this referendum would take place. Domestically hated and internationally humiliated, Papandreou returned to Greece to face certain political demise.

His temporary salvation came through an unexpected ally. Succumbing to the pressures of his European partners (and showing his real political face), the leader of the Greek opposition announced his support for the Brussels agreement. Papandreou survived the confidence vote, only to surrender premiership to a ‘national unity’ government, with no other unifying link than the support of the memorandum.

Under the auspices of the troika, a member of the Trilateral Commission was put forward as the head of the tripartite government: Lucas Papademos, a former governor of the Bank of Greece and former vice-president of the European Central Bank. His speech at the first ministerial council mentioned the word ‘society’ only once (to say that the social tensions are aggravated), while members of his cabinet have shown a clear anti-societal stance, by sympathizing or having connections with the Greek military junta of 1967-1974.

The deadline of the new government is unclear, since the date of the next elections has not yet been set. For the moment, the Greek political elites are still trying to measure their gains and losses from the previous three weeks and Papandreou is working at keeping his place as the head of his party, PASOK.

His party now looks vindicated, since it was long asking for the opposition’s collaboration in the implementation of austerity. The main opposition party, New Democracy, is trying to calm its voters, after sacrificing the political capital it amassed through one and a half years of an anti-memorandum stance.

The far-right LAOS, the new government’s third ‘pillar,’ is enjoying its acceptance by the political mainstream. The left parties –the only remaining opposition– are trying to unify their electoral base.

And the people? Dumbfounded at first from all that was happening in their name without their being asked, the people are trying to see how they will face their new, bleaker future.

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