During the past twenty four months, Greece has been subjected to the kind of brutal austerity no other European nation had to endure since 1945.
Standard of living for millions of Greeks has collapsed; unemployment is pushing past 20 percent; the economy continues to shrink at a precipitous rate; and although the austerity formula has been demonstrated to lead to economic death and destruction, Germany, seconded by several other EU “developed” member states, continues to extract revenge from what she sees as a peripheral country of loafers and habitual liars and not a member EU state with equal and treaty-established rights. If comrade Lenin were alive, he would have instantly recognized the perfect setup for a popular revolution. “I fear for a social explosion,” a veteran foreign correspondent wrote recently; “Greeks can’t take any more punishment.”
So far, Greeks appear confused, and even, some would say, complacent, in the face of certain mass extermination by austerity and have repeatedly surprised foreign observers with their capacity to absorb the most vicious punishment without racing to the barricades.
Will this behavior though last?
How much is enough?
Would there be an explosion of violence as Frau Merkel and the rest of Greece’s “partners” keep tightening the garrote?
These are questions that occupy many inside and outside Greece.
Here’s then a “quick and dirty” Q&A that attempts to shed some light on the potential for a Greek “Commune” which, when it comes, could put May 1968 to shame and trigger unpredictable ripple effects throughout “united” Europe groaning under the economic crisis and the patent failure of European politicians to provide leadership at this critical moment.
Greece is on the rack and Greeks see their lives implode daily. There are violent protests but nothing of magnitude that could herald regime change and catharsis. How long will Greeks persevere like this and remain inactive witnesses of the drawing and quartering of their country and society by Greece’s “partners?”
To say that this question invites a “complex answer” would be an understatement.
In the last thirty years Greek society experienced a period of growth unprecedented in her modern history. Unfortunately, this “growth” was the product of largely artificial “progress” based on borrowed money. It resulted in a widespread sense of false “income empowerment” that permeated the Greek middle class comprising the armies of government workers, small businessmen, independent professionals, and the emerging petite bourgeois business “success stories” wallowing in conspicuous but parasitic consumption.
Overall, this atmosphere created the mistaken perception of a secure future for all, free of the vagaries of the previous fifty years. Participation in the EU further cultivated the false assumptions of a European “safety net” which somehow would prevent any and every crisis in the future and protect the Greek people’s standard of living.
Then, suddenly, in 2010, and with one short burst, the European bubble was exploded and the nakedness of the “Greek economic model” began to shine in all its counterfeit glory. “Empowerment” collapsed, entitlements buckled, permanent job security disappeared, family budgets exploded, and private property became subject to IMF-induced “domestic devaluation” and to literal confiscation via taxation and the economic genocide fomented by EU “rationalization.”
To say that this combined assault on what appeared as “inalienable rights” in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of Greeks has left the entire Greek society stunned, numbed and severely shell-shocked would not even begin to describe the emotional and psychological collapse of the proverbial “average Greek;” he seems totally paralyzed by the enormity of the catastrophe and the prospect of even worst days to follow well into the distant future, but still unable to translate his rage and desperation into an all-engulfing violent reaction.
One would think that this ongoing catastrophe would be plenty capable of spurring people to rise and try to defend what is being taken away from them, wouldn’t you say?
That is correct, at least according to conventional wisdom. But in the case of Greece, a number of important footnotes must be mentioned, footnotes that seem to weigh against a “bourgeois rebellion.”
First, socialist governments since 1974 consciously pursued a “politically correct” line that methodically devalued patriotism, the notion of sovereign space, and the desideratum of territorial integrity as the “red lines” for the nation, not to mention the sense of personal sacrifice in defense of the country if a conflict arises. These ideas were viciously attacked by government propaganda and eventually debased to the status of collective disease as opposed to being the connective sinews for Greek society.
Second, the same governments promoted a unique mixture of provincial populism and “cosmopolitan liberalism” that went hand in hand with the almost universal, but ultimately bogus, sense of income security as the anchor of the new “Greek individualism.”
Third, this bogus sense was reinforced through government largesse, the creation of hundreds of thousands of “jobs” in the public sector empty of practical and productive content, and the substitution of meritocracy and personal productivity with the generalized, all-pervading notion that permanent entitlements and “rights” came without any obligation on the part of the individual.
As a result, the great majority of the emergent “middle class” has been made unconscious as to the longer term effects of the current catastrophe upon the integrity and continuing existence of Greece and has terrified everybody at the possibility of one losing “what can be still salvaged” if large-scale violence against the troika and the government erupts.
Supposing that eventually the pressure is such that widespread violence does erupt, what would be the estimated reaction of the Greek government?
So far, both the failed Papandreou regime and the administration of “technocrat” Mr. Papademos (of constitutionally questionable legitimacy) have proved themselves prepared to allow the use of extensive police violence in suppressing popular protest.
However, if unrest develops beyond the ritualized clashes in downtown Athens with the routine participation of provocateurs, and spreads into other cities and towns, the challenge will be of radically different nature. The Greek national police will be vastly outnumbered overnight and if we assume that the rioters would target government buildings and possibly banks, and begin seeking and attacking individual politicians and other public and business figures, as it happened in Argentina under similar circumstances with the resultant 25,000 dead, the only force capable of deploying in force to oppose mayhem would be the army.
But, given modern Greece’s recent and more distant past, the decision to mobilize the armed forces in suppressing a popular uprising would be anything but automatic. Furthermore, the willingness of military commanders to mobilize troops upon government orders under the present circumstances is anything but given. The military though could change its mind quickly if riots begin to involve undocumented aliens, who might perceive the unrest as an opportunity to “teach” Greece a lesson for “ignoring” their human rights.
If indeed there is a popular uprising, what would be the most likely future course of Greece?
The last time Greece faced a real internal challenge was in 1946-49 when the communists attempted to seize power by force of arms. That was a shooting war though with each side receiving outside help as the battle unfolded and as the world entered the Cold War. The results were catastrophic, with the conflict’s political ramifications directly affecting the course of the country toward the military putsch of April 1967.
A popular uprising today would unfold in an entirely different international environment. A crisis like the present was unthinkable as late as 2009. History would almost certainly take a special interest in how Mr. Papandreou pulled the country into the IMF vortex and initiated the ongoing process of national disintegration. What transpired since then has created conditions that would be almost impossible to reverse perhaps for decades to come.
Provided that a popular uprising succeeds in sweeping aside the crumbling political edifice, Greece will find herself in need of new political forces; the uprising would be in effect the first truly “grassroots revolution” in Greece’s modern history. And as history teaches us, a violent socio-political event also tends to produce its own potential leadership.
It is impossible to estimate the exact impacts of a popular uprising on Greece’s international position, but exit from the EU will be almost guaranteed. The violent collapse of a member state won’t leave the European “union” unaffected either. The EU will find itself in the position of trying to stem not the infamous “economic contagion” but the real possibility of the Greek uprising triggering social reverberations in other European countries suffering similarly. And a Greek chaotic transition could easily whet the appetite of “friendly” neighbors looking for an opening to create a fait accompli, which directly raises the possibility of a local war.
For sure “Great Power” policy-makers would do themselves a dire disservice if they choose to underestimate the effects of a Greek violent collapse, kindled by Germany’s take-no-prisoners economic madness, on regional and, even, global stability. Throughout history huge magazines have exploded in the faces of those who insisted on ignoring the obvious thanks to a humble, insignificant fuse.