Can Europe Make It?

Why democracy is still in danger in Greece

Ten days after the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, the ND-PASOK pro-austerity government arrested most of the Golden Dawn leadership on the grounds of being a criminal organization. Yet, for a combination of economic and political reasons, democracy in Greece is in more danger today than ever before.

Vassilis K. Fouskas
30 September 2013

Under the yoke of the troika (ECB, IMF and the EU), the ND-PASOK government has created social havoc, presumably, to lead Greece out of the debt-trap: severe wage cuts, lay-offs, extra taxation have placed the country in a state of emergency on the altar of debt repayment and bank recapitalisation by the ECB and IMF. Thus, official unemployment is almost 30%, with youth unemployment over 60% and a GDP contraction of over 5% per year. Even so, recently, Klaus Regling, managing director of the ESM (European Stability Mechanism), said that the Greek government's plan to make its debt serviceable is meaningless and many have also insinuated that the country will soon need a third bailout. Significant debt reduction is being ruled out, not least because, as Regling put it, Greece's bailout terms are extremely good (e.g. low interest rates).

The two-party government, after almost four years of harsh austerity that has destroyed the country's middle classes and fragmented its social tissue, may balance the budget by the end of the year and achieve primary surplus, but this would put more pressure on the lenders to provide more funds (a third bailout, that is) as the total debt of the country is unsustainable. This means more austerity for the Greeks, a cyclical process with no end in sight.

As the middle classes are gradually being destroyed, and given that the political elites of ND and PASOK are so greatly embedded in the old post-1974 regime of bureaucratic corruption and administrative inefficiency, one significant consequence of the austerity programme largely imposed on the Eurozone by its main creditor power, Germany, is the rise of extreme right-wing populist movements. Austerity has revived old nationalist secessionist policies, as in Catalonia; old, quasi-racist imperial spirits, like that of Jobbik in Hungary; and, of course, neo-Nazi movements like the Golden Dawn in Greece. Golden Dawn claims the capital of Greece is Constantinople (Istanbul) and that migrants are responsible for Greece's high unemployment, so that they have to be ousted from Greece. Golden Dawn barely had 0.2% of the vote in the election of 2009, but in the elections of May-June 2012 it received 8% and now many opinion polls give it as much as 16%.

In Greece, matters are getting out of hand. After the killing of Pavlos Fyssas by a fanatic with alleged Golden Dawn connections, the ND-PASOK government took the unprecedented step of arresting almost the entire leadership of Golden Dawn on the grounds of being a criminal organisation.

Why did the ND-PASOK government do this? Did it want to present itself as the sole agent of democratic stability and security in the country, pre-empting the radical left of Syriza from taking more disaffected votes from the middle classes? (ND-PASOK have often employed the "theory of two extremes", according to which the extreme left and the extreme right share similar anti-democratic methods.) Did both parties see this as an opportunity to cleanse themselves of their corrupt past and resume the initiative of democratic and modernising politics, catapulting the "authoritarian populisms of the Left and the Right"? Did they really believe that by arresting and outlawing Golden Dawn they could offer a serious democratic alternative to the problems facing the country? Did the government want to divert public attention from the new austerity measures about to be announced by moving onto the more secure terrain of democratic politics vs. fascism/authoritarianism?

Perhaps a combination of all of these is the most likely answer. But whatever the combination, one thing is certain: this action taken by the ND-PASOK government was necessitated by popular struggles over the last four years for economic and political democracy and transparency, from the vast anti-austerity movement that has dominated Greece over the last three years, a movement with strong democratic, anti-racist and anti-homophobic characteristics. The pro-austerity Greek government, led by ND's leader, Antonis Samaras, has had to respond to these forces. So the credit goes to the social struggles with a significant history, not to bureaucratic decisions aimed at one or all of the reasons outlined above.

But matters are complicated, and democracy in Greece is not a given. Social struggles have shaken up the entire Greek state apparatus, already in dilapidation due to the decades of inertia, bureaucratic inefficiency and nepotistic practices. Factions of the state, especially in the security apparatuses, have clearly moved to the extreme right embracing part or all of the populist-authoritarian agenda of the Golden Dawn. Other state administrative elites rode the ND-PASOK bandwagon, hoping to reproduce their privileges and hold onto their jobs.

These elites have been wholly been recruited by the political programme of the troika imposed on the country.  The Golden Dawn is not an anti-systemic, anti-corruption party. It is very much part of a state system that has generated a number of corrosive phenomena since 1974, phenomena which have multiplied during the harsh austerity period, simply because social anti-austerity struggles have shifted the terrain of bureaucratic politics and altered the balance of power within and outside the state proper.

On the one hand, there is the deep security state, the one with which Golden Dawn has strong connections, which blames the corrupt politics of ND-PASOK for leading the country into its current deadlock, even paving the way for a "Communist" government led by Syriza. On the other hand, there are the "defenders of the democratic system", that is, ND and PASOK, the "guarantors of democratic stability and social security". This power struggle within the state has led to Samaras’ recent decision and it is this power struggle that produces more, not less authoritarianism in the country.

Thus, the euphoria, if any, of ND-PASOK, will be short-lived. The government acted under pressure from the democratic movement, but the decision taken was not dictated by the movement but by the government's own political and electoral agenda.

The decision is wrong and it will soon backfire, as it is a decision that concedes heroic status to the neo-Nazis, while strengthening the authoritarian arm of the Greek state, the one controlled precisely by forces friendly to Golden Dawn, which can at any time be amalgamated with other administrative elites, at present controlled by the government. This fact pushes the floundering ND-PASOK cabinet, whose parliamentary majority hangs on only three votes, to rule more and more by decree in order to pass the austerity measures required by the troika and by way of mobilising the security branches of the state machine. The cracks in the Greek state apparatuses are starkly visible. An internecine battle is already under way between those factions that once upon a time had it all and are about to lose everything.

The decision by Samaras' frail cabinet to arrest the leadership of the Golden Dawn is an ill-conceived decision. It does not address the root-cause of the problem, that is, the policies imposed on the country by the troika; and it accentuates the power struggle between the crumbling factions within the Greek state apparatus, generating more, not less, authoritarianism, while attributing heroic status to the Neo-Nazis. This new blunder by the Greek government, if coupled with the forthcoming disaster in the field of economic policy and the country's obligations to its creditors, will be nothing less than tragic and result in an even more precarious democracy and institutions. Time and again, responsibility for this tragedy lies, as in the past, with the two parties that have ruled Greece since 1974, ND and PASOK. It is time for the Greek people to be rid of them.


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