It's not just the economy stupid!


“Greeks are protesting new austerity measures” is a common headline these days. It definitely captures some of what protesting Greeks are doing, but certainly leaves a whole lot out of the picture. Many Greeks are protesting not only the deterioration of their standard of living, but equally importantly, what they experience as a political disenfranchisement that has been orchestrated by the government, with the collaboration of the European heads of state. The situation in Greece is going to get much worse not only because of the economy, but also because of the repressive politics that are threatening to ignite Greek society.

To understand the Greek political cauldron you need to put yourself in the shoes of the average salaried Greek and what she has experienced these past two years. Picture this:

You are the average Greek. You make about 800euro a month in a city where the cost of living compares to Paris. You pay your taxes, which are as high as in some of the northern European welfare states, yet you get none of the services they do. Your family is your safety net. You are guilty of the everyday acts of corruption that you need to survive in the system, such as bribing public hospital doctors to do their job. And you are barely making ends meet. All around you you see evidence of the affluence of a political class in cahoots with the business circles that monopolize Greek markets and keep consumer prices high. In 2009, the prime minister you voted for on a platform of “tax the rich” and fight corruption, tells you that because of your high wages and the public sector inefficiency the country needs a bailout. The corrupt politicians who have borrowed money to turn it into lucrative public procurement projects for themselves and for the companies that bribed them are still in place. Not one of them is persecuted because they have voted into law an amnesty for themselves, while the foreign press-which you can read online- is buzzing with multibillion dollar scandals involving the government and foreign companies, or the government and land swaps with monasteries, or the government and the corrupt procuring of military equipment from France and Germany. To add insult to the injury, your government largely contributes to the European press depiction of you as southern welfare drone, overpaid, underworked, definitely not of the Protestant ethic. The vice-President of the government informs you that you and he have eaten the money together. Your government explains and the troika agrees that you need to be reformed, while the political class remains in place. You get poorer. You get angrier.

You respond by joining other peaceful protesters in Syntagma square. In 2011, right before another loan is voted by the Parliament you join another three hundred thousand Greeks to protest against it. Without having yourself been violent and without even having been close to people who are violent you find yourself tear gassed and clobbered by the police, who are caught on camera behaving like thugs(viewer discretion advised). The press largely ignores all of this and instead only reports on the usual suspects throwing Molotov bombs at the police. You get angrier, you get poorer. You demand elections, because you think the government has no mandate to be taking the decisions it is taking. You are told by the very same people who have brought the country to the brink, and who are still in place, that elections are dangerous, elections are bad, elections are what will doom the country. The troika agrees. 

Then the government institutes a regressive property tax that essentially means you need to lose the house if you are to pay the tax, given that you have also lost your job. The political architects of this system are still all in place, explaining to you why YOU are to blame for all this. You are so angry that on October 28th, a national holiday celebrating Greece’s resistance to Mussolini’s threats, you hit the streets of your town and along with thousands of citizens all around Greece, you boo, jeer, and even chase the representatives of the government (including the President of the Republic) from the celebration. The media brand you a minority and the government prosecutes you for “insult to the public authorities”. Right after this episode, your Prime Minister almost causes a global financial crisis by announcing that he will ask your opinion about whether you want to sign onto a new bailout or not. Sarkozy is caught on camera calling Papandreou a madman. Papandreou asks for a vote of confidence, retires the referendum idea, retires himself, and passes the premiership to an unelected banker called Papademos, as if it were a baton, in a procedure that is foreseen nowhere in the constitution. It is said that Papademos is an uncorrupted technocrat who is well trusted by the Europeans. You have been threatened with an exit from the EU so you are temporarily relieved. Then you remember that Papademos was the Greek central banker when the capital sin of fudging the numbers was committed by Greece. You are confused. Quickly you go back to being angry. 

By February 2012, you are near explosion. You join about a hundred to two hundred thousand Greeks who are protesting in front of the Parliament and watch as the police attack even peaceful protesters with tear gas with the apparent goal of dispersing them. The only foreign reporter on site (BBC) describes the scene as "collective punishment of a peaceful majority." The usual suspects slash and burn, but you don’t care anymore. While Athens is burning the Parliament adopts the most draconian bailout yet under conditions of political breakdown. The minister of education repeats that elections now will be a disaster and the government announces that it will promote restrictive changes to the conditions for protesting in the center of Athens. You are once again depicted as an irrational, unruly, spoiled child, who will not take his well-deserved spanking and will instead only throw expensive tantrums. Or as a crony syndicalist despite the fact that you have been working in the private sector and have not dared to ever participate in a strike.

This time you can’t get much poorer. But you are probably not done getting angry. Next time around, you are ready to pick up a stone and throw it at the police yourself