Responding «We can»


A comment on the upcoming European Elections from a Greek perspective


Christos Chrissopoulos

(The following text is the original version of the article published in "Liberation" on 05.08.14)


Elections are rightly considered a pivotal moment in systems of governance as ours in Europe, in which the vote is the sole source of legitimation for the ruling elite. For that reason, it is always useful to keep in mind that, when thinking about elections in general, the fundamental issue at stake (beyond individual political debates) is the transfer of power (from the people to the ruling class) and the establishment of authority (in the name of the people). For that reason, if we wanted to consider the upcoming European Elections, we would have to approach them on both the national and the wider European context. Especially for Greece, the May 25th vote comes at a highly critical moment, as it is doubled by the coinciding local elections. Subsequently, it would be very difficult to separate the two in the consciousness of the Greek voter.  

In Greece, the social and political environment appears as follows. The current coalition government, is unable to formulate policy beyond what the Troika (European Commission, ECB, IMF) dictates. In essence, Greece at the moment can hardly be called a functioning democracy. Bills are often drafted through the issuance of "presidential decrees" (bypassing normal legislative procedures), whereas Austerity Bills are often hundreds of pages long, are never discussed in detail in parliament, and MPs are only given a few hours time (literally) in order to read them and vote.  

The Conservative leg of the ruling 2-party coalition (New Democracy) uses the Troika as a perfect excuse in order to pass the neoliberal policies that it always advocated. The Social-Democrat leg of the government (Elia - former Pasok) is whithering as Greek society has been widely impoverished, with the more liberal middle classes having suffered a heavy blow. Faith in the current political structure is minimal.  Politicians are severely discredited. In order for social order to be maintained, the current coalition government is following an agenda of harsh repression both physical (restriction of the right to congregate, policing) and judicial-legal (control of the media, persecution of industrial and social actions, dissolution of workers' rights, abolition of health care ...etc), whilst befriending the right wing and the neo-nazis (as recently verified by a covert camera scandal). The polls are showing that the Radical Left (Syriza) is solidifying the protest vote, whilst it is difficult to persuasively claim that Greek society has been honestly radicalized in a left direction during the last few years (if there is any sense of true grassroots radicalization, it is more probably towards the extreme-right-wing, which is retaining its reach despite the determent of several key figures of Golden Dawn). 

Within the above context, Greek politics appears to be defined by a long-lasting illusion. With one minor difference: whereas in the past politics was necessary in order to sustain the illusion (of Greece as a prospering society), today politics is the illusion itself (of Greece exiting the crisis, re-entering the money markets... etc). Thus, political discourse is both concretely real (political economic and physical repression, impoverishment, authoritarianism, neoliberalism) and virtual ("Greece is gaining credibility", "Greece is a success-story within the European crisis"...etc).

Respectively, for Greek society, the stakes of this European and Local Elections are both concretely real as well as symbolic. On the symbolic side, it is long time since the austerity-opposition movement could claim a political win. So, a significant gain of Syriza will be important (if indeed necessary) for the viability of the counter-austerity argument, as well as for maintaining the resistance moral of the disheartened Greek people. At the same time, this vote will have a very real effect as a precursor to the forthcoming national elections. Furthermore, the upcoming elections will make a difference, to the extent that Syriza-backed candidates are elected in local governments and the European parliament. In the end, it is of major importance for Greece at this moment, that Syriza proves itself able to secure the majority vote. 

At the same time, the fate of Syriza is very important for Europe as well. Both for practical and symbolic reasons, a strong left voice is urgently needed in Europe. This understanding  is highlighted by the nomination of Alexis Tsipras as a candidate for the presidency of the European Comission. Europe today stands at a crossroads. Most of what we had  long associated with the European paradigm in the realm of social contracts (Freedom, Democracy, Solidarity, Social security, Equality... etc) is already in question by a neoliberal and populist assault that has impoverished major strata of European societies. The core cause of «a united Europe for the people of Europe» is fading amidst an ever-deepening crisis of ideals. 

If the European Left (EL) strengthens its power and if Syriza manages to capitalize on the momentum that appears to be in its' favour, then it can be hoped that the debate in Europe will be turned into a more combative opposition against the sweep of current neoliberal, right-wing policies that, in essence, defeat the European cause itself. This is very important for everyone residing in this continent (and beyond).  

Elections in general, seem to be posing the uniform question: «Will you?». According to their politics, voters always answer: «We will». In these European elections, the left in Greece and Europe should respond by saying: «We can».



  ΧΡΟΝΟΣ 13 (05.2014)