Thursday, June 16, 2011

Getting ugly in Greece

Two years ago, the Icelandic people rebelled and threw out a government who had sold them out to the banks. Now, its happening in Greece. The Greek parliament was supposed to pass a new austerity package last night to satisfy the IMF - the usual mess of public service redundancies and pay cuts, selling everything that isn't nailed down, and imposing harsh and retrospective tax increases. It failed, and now it is teetering on the brink of collapse. The Prime Minister is trying to put together a government of national unity, but that's unlikely to work. When it fails, there will probably be new elections. Which will probably see the right-wing New Democrats - turfed out two years ago after trying a similar sellout - take power and try and impose the same program of radical austerity and mass privatisation. And it will probably suffer the same fate.

The core "problem", from the government's point of view, is that the Greek people will not accept these measures. Greece has always had general strikes and riots, but what they're seeing now is something different. The entire political establishment has discredited itself, and is being told to leave "by helicopter or by hearse". Its the sort of thing seen in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen - not what you'd expect in a western democracy, where politicians are supposed to listen to their electorates. But then the whole point is that Greek politicians aren't listening, or rather, listening only to the IMF and European Central Bank, not to their own voters. Its no wonder they're regarded as quislings and traitors.

This is going to have long-term consequences, and I'm not just talking about default (which worked quite well in Argentina, IIRC). When a political class discredits itself so thoroughly, people look for alternatives. And as we saw in the 1920's and 1930's, some of those alternatives can be pretty ugly. Greece has real live communists in its Parliament as well as some rather unpleasant neo-fascists. And the bankers are driving people right into their arms.

[More commentary on European Tribune]