Saturday, June 18, 2011

In Greece, we see democracy in action

Costas Douzinas writes for the Guardian:


...Three weeks ago, things changed. A motley multitude of indignant men and women of all ideologies, ages, occupations, including the many unemployed, began occupying Syntagma – the central square of Athens opposite parliament; the area around White Tower in Thessaloniki; and public spaces in other major cities. The daily occupations and rallies, sometimes involving more than 100,000 people, have been peaceful, with the police observing from a distance. Calling themselves the "outraged", the people have attacked the unjust pauperising of working Greeks, the loss of sovereignty that has turned the country into a neocolonial fiefdom of bankers, and the destruction of democracy. Their common demand is that the corrupt political elites who have ruled the country for some 30 years and brought it to the edge of collapse should go. Political parties and banners are discouraged.

Thousands of people come together daily in Syntagma to discuss the next steps. The parallels with the classical Athenian agora, which met a few hundred metres away, are striking. Aspiring speakers are given a number and called to the platform if that number is drawn, a reminder that many office-holders in classical Athens were selected by lots. The speakers stick to strict two-minute slots to allow as many as possible to contribute. The assembly is efficiently run without the usual heckling of public speaking. The topics range from organisational matters to new types of resistance and international solidarity, to alternatives to the catastrophically unjust measures. No issue is beyond proposal and disputation. In well-organised weekly debates, invited economists, lawyers and political philosophers present alternatives for tackling the crisis.

This is democracy in action. The views of the unemployed and the university professor are given equal time, discussed with equal vigour and put to the vote for adoption. The outraged have reclaimed the square from commercial activities and transformed it into a real space of public interaction. The usual late-evening TV viewing time has instead become a time for being with others and discussing the common good. If democracy is the power of the "demos", in other words the rule of those who have no particular qualification for ruling, whether of wealth, power or knowledge, this is the closest we have come to democratic practice in recent European history. ...





It helps to recognise that Greece is very different from other Western European societies. There are, in fact, more similarities to states run by political oligarchies than anyone in the EU hierarchy would like to admit. Shocking examples of kleptocracy by the political elite certainly form part of the explanation for the ferocity of the reaction we are now seeing on the streets of Athens. And it is this ferocity which has intensified the risk of a default, the repercussions of which would reverberate throughout Europe and threaten the existence of the euro as we know it.

[ ... ]

The political class, meanwhile, benefits from Article 62 of the constitution, which means parliamentarians accused of crimes have to be tried by fellow parliamentarians. Payment of taxes is erratic, with some individuals hit hard with demands, while others escape almost entirely. Domestic Greek interest groups are not without blame. From 2001 to 2009, trade unions seized their opportunity for annual pay rises without links to productivity. With easy access to borrowing hard currency, and a big incentive to buy votes, both the left-wing Pasok and its right-wing counterpart New Democracy duly indulged. As long as they had access to easy loans, they could buy enough social peace to deflect attention from scandals and mismanagement. Now the money has run out. ...


Appropriate as a response to these platitudes:

Greece’s self-inflicted woes threaten the rest of Europe

Full Comment’s Araminta Wordsworth brings you a daily round-up of quality punditry from across the globe. Today: The country that brought you democracy now teeters on the brink of destruction precisely because of that system.

For years Greeks have enjoyed the trappings of a modern state, with pensions, public-sector jobs and paid vacations, without being willing to pay the piper. This week’s riots in Athens only spotlight most people’s failure to grasp this point.

Politicians have been voted in on the basis of their ability to continue rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Tax evasion is the country’s major sport, with tax inspectors taking bribes to go away.
Now, Greece is technically bankrupt, unable to pay its billions of dollars in loans. As is usual in such cases, that transfers the problem to the bankers, in the case the rest of Europe and potentially the world. ...



And, on a lighter note, more recognition for the ubiquitous Riot Dog:

One committed protester was at the front line when Greek police fired teargas at protesters outside parliament on Wednesday.

The dog, thought to be a stray called Loukanikos, or Sausage, has been in the centre of the action for years.

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image from http://www.spitting-image.net

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