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Greece: Election day I - some background

by talos Sun May 6th, 2012 at 06:23:35 AM EST

Tomorrow, Sunday May 6th, is not only election day in France (and Serbia and Armenia), but in Greece too. If the French elections monopolize most of the international coverage it is likely that the electoral outcome in Greece could have a much more drastic global effect, despite the country's small size and relative weakness. Unlike France the result of the Greek electoral process could result immediately in triggering actions from the main players of the European crisis, that could lead to its resolution, one way or another, including the dismantling of the Eurozone.


Stathis Gourgouris - Greece at the global forefront:

Any assessment of this situation would have to confront the fact that Greece marks the terrain of a specific experiment: How far can the commands of globalized economy push against a specific society's endurance or will? From the perspective of global capital, Greece is a low-risk entity if the experiment fails. It is a small economy, rather inconsequential worldwide, hence of limited liability from a strictly economic standpoint.
The political stakes, however, are of unprecedented consequence. As the institutions of the European Union are failing and national sovereignty is waning, the only option for European peoples to protect their future is to mobilize broad and defiant democratic movements that will regain control of the political terrain from global market forces. The experiment cuts both ways, and as rebelling youth all over the globe explicitly articulates, Greece is, right now, at the forefront of this battle

The background
Greece was the Guinea Pig where the New Austeritarian Order was to test its political effectiveness. I have described this collapse on this blog many times as it was occuring but here is the recap:

As a compliant and subservient Greek government assented to the most vile and unfair measures against Greek society while protecting its elites, living standards declined steeply, large segments of the population were pauperized, economic activity ground to a standstill and the rudimentary and corrupt welfare state decayed into complete decrepitude. Now, thanks to the inherent instability of the austerity programme, with its series of failed promises and estimates along with the massive resistance of the Greek population as a whole after a first few stunned months, the Greek electorate will have a chance to either go voluntarily into servitude and surrender a century of societal progress, however problematic in its implementation (including such basic things as healthcare and collective bargaining) or declare its intention to fight the fiscal colonialism of the New Austerians. But one should note that the whole troika / corrupt party ststem was dragged to these elections. It was not their choice.

Three times the government was shaken by popular protest and political upheaval this past year: First in June 2011, when the Indignant movement joined the unions to force Papandreou into a maneuver as the failure of the First Memorandum with the troika, brought on a Mid-Term Adjustment deal, with punitive and debilitating extra measures against an already suffering population. First Papandreou invited the conservative leader Antonis Samaras to a joint government, then changed his mind in the same day bringing to the position of Finance Minister the till then Defense Minister and most significant intra-party competitor Evangelos Venizelos, who was considered a more "capable" negotiator. Still the unrest was quelled with unprecedented amounts of force by the riot police who went on a rampage around Syntagma, sending people to the hospital, and suffocating down town Athens with tear gas on three days 15/6, 28.6 and 29/6. 2860 canisters of tear-gas (worth a quarter of a million euros) fell in Syntagma Square in the 29th of June alone and the smell of CS gas was felt a mile away from the square. And the mid-term programme passed with some MPs lost on the troikan side. And a new government with a New Co-Prime Minister for all practical purposes.

Then on October of the same year an unprecedentedly massive two day strike immobilized the country as the Papandreou government was negotiating the next disaster after the Mid-Term programme. A day  after the ill-fated deal of October 27, the National holiday of October 28 (celebrating Greece's entry into WWII) was turned spontaneously to a nation-wide mass protest, that panicked the government and led Papandreou to his hurried decision to call for a referendum on the new deal - a referendum that was ditched after Merkozy considered it unacceptable and gave its place to a new government, a Banker's government led by former Central Bank of Greece and ECB Vice president Lucas Papademos, who was put in place to placate the populace, dragging the conservatives into the government and de facto acceptance of the Memorandum associated with the PSI deal. Until that point the Conservatives by distancing themselves (declaratively if not substantially) from the austerity as practiced (they wanted a more "balanced mix of measures" whatever that may mean) seemed to be in a position to place themselves as the only "serious" alternative, despite the fact that they, of course were the bozos that lost all control of the fiscal situation in the first place and were (are) seen as both corrupt and incompetent. After that moment however, by being forced into government so that the ECB and the rest of the troika could feel safe about compliance to the troika memorandum (its leader was forced to sign, what amounts to a letter of capitulation to the relevant EU authorities), New Democracy ceased to be viewed as less culpable for the peoples' predicament. The delegitimization  of the whole political system was complete, society had reached a bursting point and the largest demo ever to be held in Athens, against the signing of the second memorandum was held and brutally dispersed by the police on February 12, after protesters remained in streets filled with teargas for 8 hours, some in passive resistance some in running street fights. This agreement mandated slashing private sector wages by 22%, cutting pensions even more and further defunding basic social services, as well as demanding the selling of public utilities (such as privatizing the Athens and Thessaloniki water companies).

Thus the political system was dragged to these elections, with little that it could do but threaten the population with biblical destruction if the IMF/ECB line is not followed. That didn't work that well. So they tried the Nazi option.

Fascism:  the ultimate weapon of the elites
I won't go here into the rhetoric and the ideological fireworks that the liberal elites turned to as they started sensing that they're losing their grip on popular consensus. The history of the elites and their obedient intellectuals in Great Depression Greece requires a careful study because it is emblematic of the true contempt with which they view democracy and popular participation, or protest. But these past few months we have seen the political system naked, evil and ready for destruction.
Immigration is a big issue in Greece. Although nobody knows the exact number of immigrants that have entered the country illegally, a number of half a million to 600.000 seems probable. In nationalist rhetoric the numbers reach 2 to 3 million people, an absurdity. Most of the recent crop of "illegal immigrants" are from the East, and Africa: Afghan, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian, Iraqi, Somali etc. These are people who for the most part have no desire to stay and leave in crisis-hit Greece (although Greece does not really have a serious asylum request process), but are on their way to the West. However since Greece is a signatory to the Dublin II treaty, it is obliged to keep them in Greece and deport them back to their countries, an impossibility in most cases as the migrants ditch their papers as soon as they enter Greece. Because there was never an immigration policy in the country, the only thing the authorities can do to these desperate people is to carry them to Athens, pending their extradition. This has created Ghettos of immigrants, in which ethnic gangs have thrived, in areas where already poorer Greeks coexisted with "legal" immigrants (mostly East European or African). The police wasn't that interested in the problem and in fact there were (are) zones of Athens in which the gangs, blended into an environment of drug trafficking (an epidemic of heroin use is creating far more junkies than the defunded rehab programs can even conceive of accepting) and deteriorating buildings and infrastructure, making large swathes of downtown, dangerous places - at least for a city where crime was never that big a problem till recently. Dublin II, is a lose-lose situation for both city dwellers and migrants, who now are drowning leaving Greece not only trying to enter it...

As the police exited these down-town areas, Chryssi Avgi Golden Dawn, a neo-nazi group whose members include, underworld figures, racist maniacs and murderers and similarly dangerous people, went in with the backing of the police, continuing a relationship between the far right and law enforcement that goes back to the cold war. These goons started playing a guardian angel role: they escorted grannies to ATM machines, kept the other gangs away from their area and went on racist rampages against anyone that even looked vaguely foreign. This has resulted in Golden Dawn having a seat in the Athens City council, and pumped up its reputation as a protector of Greeks. This gang of course is behaving like an organized mafia, and rumors suggest that they might be involved with all sort of deals with other "white" ethnic gangs in the area...

But outside the Athens city center and a few more hotspots, this is hardly a national issue, apart from the extreme right. And it was nowhere to be found on the radar as the election were coming up.

That is until the minister of public order decided to campaign on the immigration issue.

As PASOK has excellent relations with the media moguls and establishment, this was picked up by almost all media in Greece in reached a hysterical pitch as days went by. First they were a "health hazard", then they were criminal, then there were a threat. The conservative party was on an even harder line, claiming that if they came to power they would "reoccupy" the city center and send the immigrants back where they came from. Conservative MPs were suggesting that not much food should be provided for them and they should have no health care, otherwise they would "flood in" in even greater numbers. It has become difficult these days to tell apart mainstream politicians and nazis when the issue of immigration is discussed... As Antonis Vradis writes:

But mainstream discourse in Greece seems to be spiralling beyond xenophobia. Soon after the above press conference, Antonis Samaras, leader of the conservative government partner of New Democracy (Nea Demokratia) and touted as the next prime minister, was quick to chime in - and to overbid, even: "our cities have been occupied by illegal migrants", he declared. "We will reoccupy them." Such martial tone in leading politicians' denunciations could appear peculiar at first sight. A country that is still a full member of the European Union, still enjoying one of the longest peacetime periods in its otherwise turbulent recent history, sees politicians use a language of war. Yet still, this language is used only when it comes to external enemies. For domestic matters, the economy, political representation, discourse has changed little, if at all - even though Greek society has seen some of the most dramatic changes ever recorded in the country's peacetime history.

Political prostitutes

So Chrysochoidis, the minister of public order announced his intention to set up detention camps all over Greece (meeting great opposition from locals) and opened one such "hospitality center" in a few days time in a poor suburb of Athens, at Amygdaleza

This has had no significant effect on the socialists' polling numbers it seems, but it exploded the polling numbers of Golden Dawn around the country, which just before the poll blackout two weeks ago, were polling around 6 to 7% well above the 3% limit to enter parliament, and on their way to becoming the first openly Nazi party to enter a European parliament since WWII.

But social conservatism as an electoral tactic didn't stop here. Some days ago the health minister, the same minister who gutted AIDS awareness, and needle exchange programs, claimed that "foreign prostitutes" were endangering the population by spreading the AIDS epidemic. Along with the Public order minister they actually raided the underground Athens brotherls, and arrested hookers, mostly addicts and young trafficking victims, forced them to undergo an AIDS test, and published their names and their photos, on the grounds that those that had unprotected sex with them should be aware of what has happenned. This is a practice so irrational and extreme that even Bild felt the need to scold it... Interestingly, most of the HIV positive hookers arrested were Greek, junkies, hardly in control of their situations. No pimps were arrested and named, and none of their despicable and idiotic clients who demanded and paid extra for unprotected sex...

I have witnessed and denounced the ruling parties' crimes and disgraces for all my life. For some reason this panicked reaction from a corrupt political system trying to throw the witches to the fire, the poorest, the most helpless women in Greece, to save their political skins (and failing to do even that) has been the saddest statement of their utter bankruptcy. And these two parties selling xenophobia with rhetoric that would make Marine Le Pen cringe and trying to survive politically on a medieval witch hunt, are the two parties that the full force of the ECB, the IMF and all of "serious" Europe is urging (indeed blackmailing) Greeks to vote for. We will soon find out if they will pass...

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